Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 016

"The Phonograph as a Witness in a Nuisance Suit," Scientific American, April 21, 1894, p. 247.

In the Chancery Division, London, Mr. Justice Stirling had this case before him.   The action was brought by certain occupiers and leaseholders in Manchester Street, Manchester Square, where one of the company's central stations is erected, to obtain an injunction against the defendants on the ground of a nuisance caused by vibration.  Mr. Graham Hastings, Q. C., and Mr. Beaumont appeared for the plaintiffs, while Sir R. Webster, Q.C., Mr. Phipson Beale, Q.C., and Mr. Vernon Smith, represented the defendants.

Mr. Graham Hastings, in opening the case, said the object of the injunction sought for was to prevent the continuation of the nuisance created by the defendant's works.   The nuisance was so material that the vibration consequent upon it made it intolerable to the occupants of the houses, or some of them, to dwell there.  It seemed to be the most mysterious thing.  Sometimes the vibration affected the top of the house, sometimes the bottom.  According to the view of one gentleman, it arose from the fact that that part of the city of London was built on the bed of the river which once flowed over the locality, and the soil was of that character that it conveyed the vibration produced by the engines.  It was said that this could be got rid of, but the learned counsel contended otherwise.  The real defense, he contended, was that they had been doing all they could to abate the nuisance.  Mr. Hastings proceeded to dilate upon the effects of the nuisance complained of, and quoted instances where families were shaken in their beds, and prevented from sleeping, clocks stopped, and to touch certain objects in the house caused the fingers to tingle, and alarmed the residents.

Prof. Silvanus Thompson, in giving evidence, produced a phonograph, which was placed on the bench before his lordship to give a repetition of the vibration and jarring caused by the working of the defendants' machinery in premises adjoining Marylebone Station.   The phonograph had been set in various rooms in the houses affected, and witness produced it in support of his statement of the results of his examination of them.   On the instrument being put in position on the ledge of the witness box, his lordship quitted his seat, and, walking to the end of his "bench," held the tubes to his ears.  Apparently satisfied, his lordship, after listening for a minute or two, returned to his seat and made, as usual, a short note of the "evidence."