From the Derry Journal, 12 April 1929:
“TEST IN COURT
A LADY’S WATERPROOF
INTERESTING DERRY CASE
GARMENT RETURNED AFTER EIGHT MONTHS
A barrister, two solicitors, the Court Registrar and the Court Caretaker spent fifteen minutes in Derry Courthouse yesterday testing the quality of a waterproof coat, a garment which was much on view during the hearing of a claim for £2 by Mrs Johanna Quinn, of Redcliffe, Dunfield Terrace, Waterside, against Messrs. Goorwitch Ltd., for alleged breach of warranty.
Mr Nicholson, barrister, appeared for Mrs Quinn and Mr Tracy for Goorwitch Ltd.
Mrs Quinn said she bought a coat in Goorwitch’s in January 1928 and paid £3 for it. The manager guaranteed the garment to be fadeless and waterproof.
HIs Honour – Proof even against Derry rain? (laughter)
Mrs Quinn added that on the second occasion on which she wore the coat she got wet, and on the third occasion she got we through. Months later she took the coat back, and complained about it. The manager told her she could select any other coat in stock. She could find none suitable, however. She kept the coat all through the summer, but only wore it a few times.
Mr Tracy, said that when Mrs Quinn brought back the coat, it was immediately tested by the Derry manager and the Belfast manager, and found to be quite satisfactory. In addition to their own test, they sent the coat for a test to the Municipal College of Technology, Belfast, whose certificate showed that it had undergone a 48 hour test and was thoroughly waterproof.
His Honour then suggested that a test could easily be carried out within the precincts of the Court, if both parties were agreeable.
Mr Nicholson (for the Plaintiff) Not for a day. (laughter)
His Honour: For half an hour. Water could easily be poured over the coat for that time.
The coat, which was a prominent exhibit on the solicitors’ table, and had passed from hand to hand frequently for inspection, was then taken to the solicitors’ room, and placed in charge of the caretaker.
MrJoseph Loughrey, solicitor, suggested, amidst laughter, that the solicitors engaged in the case should undergo the same test as the coat.
Counsel and the solicitors engaged in the case helped to supervise the test, and in a few minutes Mr Tracy returned and asked Mr Dickson, Registrar, to act as umpire, as the parties were unable to agree as to the amount of water to be used
“I hope the Corporation won’t prosecute us for waste of water,” he said.
At the end of a further fifteen minutes, Mr Tracy came into court and requested his Honour to supervise the test, remarking that so much water was being used that some of it was bound to force its way through. Mr Dickson remarked that the test had by then occupied fifteen minutes, and his Honour, considering that sufficient, directed that the coat be brought back into court.
Mr Dickson, when asked by his Honour what was the result of the test, said the inside of the coat seemed absolutely dry, but the plaintiff’s side claimed that a certain amount of water had edged through.
His Honour examining the coat, said there appeared to be no sign of damp inside.
Mr Tracy – We would require a Sherlock Holmes in the case.
His Honour – I am satisfied this is a good waterproof coat, and I dismiss this process. Even I had found it was not waterproof, I would have held that this lady was altogether long in trying to repudiate the transaction.”
Another Derry coat case came up before the same Recorder in 1937 when John Kelly and Son, tailors., Foyle Street, sued Constable Michael Brennan, for £5.10s the price of a coat made for his wife. Mr Nicholson BL again represented the disgruntled buyer and opened the case for the plaintiff by referring to a case in London, regarding a coat which cost £875, in which the judge inspected the garment as worn by the lady plaintiff.
His Honour – Do you want your lady to try on the coat?
Mr Nicholson: – It might be a good idea.
On the invitation of Mr Nicholson, the defendant’s wife retired to the solicitors’ room and returned to court wearing the coat. She went into the witness box and pointed out to the Judge several alleged faults in the garment.
Judge Osborne: It looks very well on you.
Mr Nicholson – It gives you a good figure. (laughter)
Witness – Thanks for the compliment. If it fitted I would pay for it and take it.
Giving a decree for the full amount, the Recorder said he was satisfied that the coat was all right and that the lady had taken exception to the material.
Two great examples of traditional Irish courtroom humour surviving the severance inflicted by Partition – and of law opting for practicality over glamour in mediating the difficulty when the reality experienced by the consumer fails to reflect the dream as promised by the manufacturer!
The Goorwitch department store empire in Northern Ireland was set up by Nat Goorwitch/Goorvitch, from Russia. Read more about it here.