CASE COMMENT: Bradford Corporation v. Pickles [1895]



Court: House of Lords

Decided on: 29 July 1895

Appellants: The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Bradford

Respondent: Edward Pickles

Facts of Bradford Corporation v. Pickles 

The old waterworks company was incorporated by an Act passed in 1842(5 Vict. Sess. 2, c. VI.). It was dissolved and re-incorporated in 1854(17 & 18 Vict. c. CXXIV.) –  known as Bradford Waterworks Company with a view of the immediate transfer of the undertaking to the corporation. The founders of these companies acquired a pack of land known as Trooper Farm and also certain streams and springs. From these streams and springs the Appellants and their forerunner have previously acquired a valuable supply of water for the domestic use of the resident of Bradford city. The act of 1842 also included certain lands which the company was empowered to take. Among that there was a farm known as Trooper Farm or Many Wells Farm which was belonging to Seth Wright.

The appellant obtains the supply of water from two resources which is near to the west boundaries of the Trooper Farms. Primary source is a large spring known as Many Wells which is twenty or thirty yards to the east of Doll Lane. The city water supply came from this spring, the Many Wells Spring, seven miles from Bradford city. The land on which the spring was located was owned by the Corporation of Bradford, the municipal authority responsible for the town’s water supply. Secondary source is a stream to the south of Many Wells which has its origination in a small spring on the respondent’s land which is close to Doll Lane after that water is being supplied from a point known as the watering spot from there water suns through definite channel into the Trooper Farms.

Adjoining the Many Wells spring there was land owned by Respondent. Respondent’s land has steep slope downwards to the land and on a higher level compared to Trooper Farm. The spring water was the source of the town’s water supply which came from underneath Respondent farm.

In the early 1890s Respondent began constructing a series of shafts and tunnels on his land that had the effect of diverting the supply of water running into the Many Wells Spring which resulted in decline of water flow and to the land of the Appellant and it has become apparent that it would result into permanent diminution of water supply obtained from those sources the town`s water supply was threatened. Respondent claimed that this construction was part of a plan to mine for flagstone on his land. Respondent then approached the Appellant and offered to sell his land at an exorbitant price. The Appellant felt that respondent had maliciously done it so that the appellant would purchase his land at an exorbitant price but the Appellant refused to purchase.

The appellant, believing that either statute or common law will protect them from such malicious action then the appellant brought the suit against him in which they asked the court to issue an injunction to restrain the respondent from digging the shaft and to cease from doing anything with results in stoppage of water supply or diminished in quality or injuriously affected or polluted.


Can a use of property, which would be legal if due to proper motive, becomes illegal because it is prompted by motive which is malicious?


The appellants claimed in their statement that the respondent had not a bona fide intention to work with minerals, and that his intention was to harm / injure the appellants and so to endeavor to influence them either to purchase his land or to give him some compensation. For the forty years the Appellant have supplied water to their town, they were empowered by an Act of Parliament in 1854, which authorize them to do so.

The Appellant seek to restrain the defendant from doing certain acts as they have allegedly interfered with the supply of water whereas they should be the reason of better supplying the town of Bradford.

The acts done by the defendant was all done upon his own land and further more he interfered with the flow of water, which is underground and percolating water and flowing in any defined stream which would undoubtedly reach the Appellant`s works, and in that sense does deprive them of the water which they get.


The appellant has no case against us unless they can show that they are entitled to the flow of water and further that the defendant has no claim to do what he is doing. Respondent claimed that this construction was part of his plan to mine for flagstone on his land. Even after doing that act Respondent approached the Appellant for selling his land. But the Appellant refused to purchase it. It was all done within the ambit of his own land.

JUDGEMENT – Bradford Corporation v. Pickles 

The House of Lords held that the respondent was not liable even though his act which caused harm to the appellant was done maliciously. The respondent`s act was a lawful act and if it caused any harm to the appellant then he was not liable. Further stated, I am, therefore, of opinion that this appeal should be dismissed with costs.

This is not a case in which the state of mind of the person doing the act can affect the right to do it. If it was a lawful act, however ill the motive might be, he had a right to do it. If it was an unlawful act, however good his motive might be, he would have no right to do it. Motives and intentions in such a question as is now before your Lordships seem to me to be absolutely irrelevant.

Lord Ashbourne said: “The plaintiffs have no cause of action unless they can show that they are entitled to the flow of water in question and that the defendant has no right to do what he is doing…”.

Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam, IV - Year.

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