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New ‘Snail Bench’ Unveiled To Mark Historic Legal Case

An unassuming corner of Paisley’s west end has received a makeover to mark a historic Paisley case which changed the legal system forever.

The work has been carried out by Renfrewshire Council with contributions from Co-op Funeralcare and Reid Kerr College, ahead of the 80th anniversary of the landmark legal case which originated from the site.

The area, on the town’s High Street, at the top of Lady Lane, sits on the site of the former Wellmeadow Cafe where in August 1928, a Mrs Donoghue met a friend who bought her a bottle of ginger beer.

As she enjoyed her drink, part of a decomposing snail fell out of the bottle, leading to Mrs Donoghue suffering shock and a severe stomach upset as a result.

However, because she hadn’t bought the drink, Mrs Donoghue had no legal contract with the café owner. Instead, the case made on her behalf focussed on whether the manufacturer and bottler of the drink, David Stevenson should be held responsible. This was ground-breaking as previously the law had declared there was no legal connection between consumer and manufacturer. The matter got as high as the House of Lords who ruled in 1932 that there was indeed a case to hear. One of the five judges, Lord Atkin, looked to the Bible story of the Good Samaritan and the principle of loving your neighbour to help him decide. He found that just as neighbours should look after each other so should manufacturers care about the consumers of their products.

Although the Donoghue v Stevenson never actually came to trial and was eventually settled out of court, it established the precedent of negligence based on the ‘neighbour principle’ and has been followed internationally by courts since.

An original commemorative bench was put in place in 1992 by the Canadian Bar Association to mark the 60th anniversary of the historic legal case but after the bench fell into disrepair Renfrewshire Council and Reid Kerr College teamed up to restore the local landmark.

Renfrewshire’s Provost Celia Lawson, said: “The case of the ‘snail in the bottle’ is not only a significant piece of Renfrewshire’s history but it also had a major impact on the legal world and is still used around the world today. The original bench had unfortunately become badly damaged by the weather because of its soft wood and couldn’t be saved.

“This project forms part of the regeneration of Paisley Town Centre and was co-ordinated through Planning and Transport Services of Renfrewshire Council. Integral to the project was the installation of two key features within the newly improved space – a commemorative bench and a memorial stone.

“I am very grateful to Reid Kerr College for designing and producing the new bench which I am sure everyone will be surprised and impressed with and also to Co-op Funeralcare for replacing the badly damaged memorial stone.”

The new bench has been designed and created by students from the college’s Institute of Construction and Engineering, while the memorial stone has been designed by Renfrewshire Council and carved and provided by Co-op Funeralcare. High quality hard landscaping has also significantly improved the appearance of the site, creating an attractive place for people to enjoy.

Tommy Campbell, Head of Construction at Reid Kerr College, said: “We were delighted when the Provost contacted us to help with this local project. Construction Lecturer Derek Smillie and the College’s Carpentry & Joinery students have produced a stunning piece of work that proudly represents not only their unique carpentry skills, but will continue to retain a lasting tribute to this historic case. We have also put into place a planned maintenance programme to ensure that the ongoing life of the bench is preserved.”