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The People in the Case
The three main people involved in the Snail and the Bottle Case were:
May McAllister or Donoghue, the pursuer or claimant:
May McAllister was born on the 4th July 1898 in Morriston House, Cambuslang. Her father, James McAllister, was a steelworker who probably worked at the Steel Company of Scotland’s Hallside Steelworks at Newton just outside Cambuslang. Her mother was Mary Jane Hannah, who is described on her marriage certificate as a ‘dyefield worker’. Morriston House was a dilapidated mansion house which had been subdivided and let to tenants after 1876.
The 1901 census shows that May' belonged to a large family. She had two brothers (John and Angus) and four sisters (Elizabeth, Mary, Agnes, May and Alice). May was the second youngest child.
On 19th February 1916 May married Henry Donoghue. Throughout the legal papers she is referred to by both her maiden name, McAllister, and her married name, Donoghue.
The steelworks provided housing for their workers in Hallside village and numbers 93 and 99 Hallside (where Henry Donoghue and May McAllister lived before their marriage) can be seen in the plan below.
Henry and May had a son, also Henry, who was born on 25th July 1916 at their new home at 29 Webster Street, Glasgow. Sadly the couple’s next three children were all born prematurely and died soon after birth. This was not unusual amongst poorer people in the early 20th century where the deaths of babies and young children were often the result of malnutrition.
May and Henry separated in 1928 and May went to live with her brother, John, at 49 Kent Street, Glasgow. It was from Kent Street that May departed on Sunday 26th August that year on her ill-fated trip to Paisley.
The records of the case show that May was working as a shop assistant in 1928-29 and that she later moved from her brother’s flat to her own tenancy at 101 Maitland Street, Glasgow – a relatively poor area not far from Sauchiehall Street. Her poverty is confirmed by her application to appeal to the House of Lords ‘in forma pauperis’ (as a pauper or poor person) so that she did not have to pay the legal expenses of the appeal). A certificate of poverty was supplied by the local minister and elders at Milton Parish Church.
May and Henry were eventually divorced in 1945. Their son married twice and had five children, including twin daughters who are pictured with May in the photograph above on the day of the christening in 1952. May died a few years later on the 19 March 1958 in the Gartloch Mental Hospital.
Francis Minghella, cafe owner, defendant
Francis Minghella was the correct name of the defendant recorded by the Court of Session as Francis Minchella. Francis was cited as a defendant in addition to David Stevenson, the manufacturer of the ginger beer, a month after the case was first heard.
Francesco Minghella was born on the 2nd December 1890 to Italian parents and lived in Wellmeadow Street in Paisley. His father worked for many years as a confectioner in Dunoon. Shortly before the incident of the snail in the bottle, Francis returned to Paisley and took on the Wellmeadow cafe.
The Wellmeadow café occupied the lower part of a tenement building, probably built at the end of the 18th century, on the corner of Wellmeadow Street and Lady Lane. In 1928 this was a busy part of Paisley, with trams running past and other shops alongside.
The Lands Valuation (Scotland) Act of 1854 established a system of valuing lands and houses throughout Scotland. Separate valuation rolls were compiled annually for every burgh and county, listing every house or piece of ground along with the name of the owner (the proprietor), the tenant and occupier and its value. The valuation roll for Paisley in 1928-29 includes the entry for the Wellmeadow Café and names Francis Minghella, confectioner, as tenant there.
(National Records of Scotland reference: VR66/117 p.281)
Francis is listed as the tenant of the shop at 1 Wellmeadow in the 1927-28 and 1928-29 valuation rolls, but had given up the business by 1931 to become a labourer in the Paisley Roads Department.
In October 1929, it was determined that he bore no responsibility for the unfortunate incident of the snail in the bottle and his name was removed from the case. May Donoghue was ordered to pay his costs.
David Stevenson, manufacturer of the ginger-beer, defendant
David Stevenson, the defendant in the Paisley snail case, was born in Paisley on the 13th March 1863, the son of David Stevenson, senior, who was a ‘cowfeeder’, ie. who kept cows and sold the milk. At some point David Stevenson, senior, became a ginger beer manufacturer, purchasing premises in Glen Lane, Paisley in 1870.
The Stevenson business was the manufacture and bottling of lemonade and ginger beer. After the First World War ginger beer was bottled in glass bottles which in the west of Scotland were usually of green or black glass. A deposit was paid when the bottle was returned as bottles were re-used. It was therefore perfectly possible for unwanted substances or objects to find their way into bottles between their first use and re-use and washing and sterilising the bottles properly was essential.
David Stevenson bottles had ‘D. STEVENSON GLEN LANE PAISLEY’ written in white on them which made them readily identifiable; however the recycling of bottles did sometimes lead to bottles being returned to the wrong manufacturer.
When the case against Francis Minghella was dropped, David Stevenson remained as the only defender.
The appeal process to the House of Lords took a long time and meant that David Stevenson died before the May Donoghue’s claim against him had been tested in court. Below is a transcript of the entry for David Stevenson in the Statutory Register of Deaths.
(National Records of Scotland reference: Statutory Deaths 573/01 1180)