Thomas Cottingham vs. Sir Thomas Stanley

The 1821 and 1822 court cases

Thomas Cottingham (Little Neston colliery) brought two court cases at Chester assizes against Sir Thomas Stanley (Ness Colliery). The first, in 1821, related to the use of the underground canal, or navigation, which had been built under Cottingham’s land, the lease having expired in 1819. There was much argument over where the township boundary lay but the case was found in favour of Cottingham and he was awarded £100 damages for trespass.

The second case, in 1822, was more serious. Cottingham sued Stanley for trespass and wilful damage to his mine. His claim was for £10,000, representing lost sales and a punitive element for Stanley’s malicious intent.

Two days after the end of the first court case, Stanley’s men were seen to bring up equipment, boats and horses, through No.6 pit. Tall boards were erected on the surface to prevent Cottingham from seeing what was going on and Stanley’s men also hid their faces. Explosions were heard and Cottingham found that his tunnel leading from his pit No 21 leading to the navigation, had been wrecked. In court, Robert Johnson, Stanley’s agent, did not deny that Stanley’s men had destroyed the tunnel, but justified the damage done as being part of a scheme to manage the ventilation of Ness Colliery and “to prevent Cottingham’s men from destroying the canal”.

The judge’s view was that there was no malevolence involved and Stanley acted on his agent’s “best intended” advice. The jury found in favour of Cottingham and awarded him just £2000, adding that no motive of malice could be attributed to Stanley.

This article is based on research by Anthony Annakin-Smith.