The Defence of the Realm Act came into force on 8th August 1914, just four days after the declaration of War. What follows is the coverage of the first case in North Devon to be brought before the Magistrates regarding the visibility of light from a property facing the Bristol Channel. Any light visible from the waters surrounding Britain could have been used by enemy vessels intent on attacking the coast, just as they had done six months previously with devastating consequences in Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby…
The First case in North Devon under the new lighting regulations was heard before the County Bench at Barnstaple yesterday, when John Burrow Parsons, proprietor of the Bath Hotel, Lynmouth, was charged that on June 8th, having control of certain indoor lights, these being visible from the sea, contrary to the Defence of the Realm Act. The Magistrates were Mr W. Fisher (presiding) and Mr.W. T. Buckingham.
Defendant, represented by Mr. R.E.C. Balsdon, pleaded not guilty.
Supt. Hulland, prosecuting, said in the majority of cases the police had no trouble, people, when spoken to, drawing their blinds, and everything being satisfactory. But defendant, although repeatedly spoken to, failed to see it was absolutely necessary that lights should be screened. He hoped that, if the case was proved, the Bench would deal with the defendant in such a manner that they would have no further trouble. It was absolutely necessary that the order should be carried out, and it was only by proceedings of that kind they could enforce it.
Mr Honeybon, a member of the Coastguard and chief coast watcher at Lynmouth, spoke to going out in a boat with the Surveyor and P.C. Bibbings on the night of May 15th. From the sea they could see defendant’s windows, and all the lights were burning, and no blinds drawn. On returning he asked Mr. Parsons if he would screen his lights, defendant promising to do all he could. He had spoken to defendant on four or five occasions.
Cross-examined: Defendant had now provided dark green blinds. There was a standard lamp outside the house, which latterly had been shaded.
Mr. Balsdon suggested that this standard lamp caused the light seen, and not the lights of the vestibule lights from the sea.
Richard Burgess, coast watcher, stated that at 10.15 p.m. on June 8th the blinds were not drawn in the coffee room or the vestibule, these apartments being brilliantly illuminated. Asked by witness to draw his blinds, Mr. Parsons said “It is all — bosh,” adding that the way he managed his blinds suited the head coastguard. Told he would be reported, defendant replied “You can report it if you like.”
Mr. Balsdon suggested that the blinds were drawn in the coffee room, and in the vestibule, to within a foot from the bottom?—No, sir. The blinds in the vestibule were not drawn. Twenty minutes after being warned, Mr. Parsons had drawn the blind partially down, possibly a third of the way.
The house opposite the Bath hotel is cream washed, and the standard lamp casts a reflection on the hotel from the house?—Nothing of the kind. The standard lamp is beyond the vestibule.
The only part of the Bath Hotel visible from the sea is the coffee room?—The coffee room and also the windows of the vestibule are clearly visible from the sea.
Are there no other lights visible ion Lynton and Lynmouth other than Mr. Parson’s lights?—There were no other lights that I saw that we had any complaint to make against.
Re-examined: Had been inside the Bath hotel, and could clearly see the sea from the rooms.
Isaac Moore informed the Bench that at 10.20 p.m. the lights at the Bath Hotel were on, and the blinds were not drawn. At 10.40 he saw them partially drawn.
A.B. Pennicott, coast watcher, gave similar evidence.
P.C. Bibbing’s evidence with regard to May 15th was similar to that of Mr. Honeybon. Following the subsequent complaint of the coast watchers, he saw Mr. Parsons regarding the lights. Witness told him he had been warned on several occasions, and he should have to report it. Defendant replied “Go and report it, and be —-.”
Addressing the Bench, Mr. Balsdon said after the first complaint, on May 15th, Mr. Parsons, realising it was necessary in the interests of the Realm that the regulations should be complied with, had a set of dark blinds specially made for the coffee room. The blinds were drawn on this particular night, the only ray of light visible coming from the side. One could not get blinds, unless they were fastened all the way down, that did not throw a ray of light from the side. With regard the vestibule blinds, these were down to within a foot of the bottom, just sufficiently high t clear some plants. His client had done all he could to comply with the regulations. It was practically impossible unless they had total darkness, not to show any light. Mr. Parsons was anxious to obey the regulations, and at the most it was only a technical offence.
The defendant bore out his advocate’s statement. He thought it impossible to see the sea from the vestibule, unless one was standing on something three or four feet high. On the night named other lights in Lynton and Lynmouth could be more easily seen than those on his premises.
Cross-examined: On June 8th he did not point out that the vestibule blinds were within a foot of the bottom of the window. The statements made by the witnesses for the prosecution regarding the lights were lies.
William Barber, a visitor at the Bath Hotel, corroborated Mr. Parsons’ evidence. The coffee room blinds were down, and the vestibule blinds were down to within a foot. The lights inside had cast a reflection on the glass roof overhead, and, at his suggestion, Mr. Parsons had shaded these.
The Bench found the case proved, and the Chairman pointed out that they had the power to inflict a penalty of £100, with six months’ imprisonment. As it was a first offence, they imposed a fine of 40s., the alternative in default being fourteen days’ imprisonment. It was of vital importance that the regulations should be observed, and in the case of any future offenders undoubtedly great severity would be shown.
On the application of Supt. Hulland, the expenses of the witnesses (at a rate of 5s. per day and railway fares) were allowed.
transcript taken from the North Devon Journal 1915 page 8 columns b-c. This just one of many articles about North Devon’s experiences during World War One published in the local newspapers. For more visit our North Devon War Items Album on our Facebook Page…Barum Athena