“Only the bravest people will take part” in Donoghue v Stevenson tour says Paisley Historian

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Paisley‘s infamous tale of the Donoghue v Stevenson case (the snail in the ginger beer bottle) is one that many people around greater Glasgow are familiar with.

Local historian and Yellow Badge tour guide of the Scottish Tourist Guides Association, Les Fernie, began his tour guides, Walking Tours on Wheels, in 1994.

He said: “I offer visitors wide information and an entertaining tour of Paisley, highlighting the historical and architectural parts of the rich history of the town.

“I say to everyone on the tour if they want to take part we will give you the exact same as what May Donoghue had got on the 26th of August 1928 and we have the ginger beer, we have the ice cream and we have the pears.

“We give the bottle and you can pour it in yourself – but it is only the bravest people that will take part because you don’t know if there is going to be a snail in the bottle. It’s a wee bit of fun!”

It was the very first case of negligence and set out principals that we have a duty of care to one another. The story took place in Paisley, which is what makes the case so well-known across Glasgow.

On the evening of Sunday August 26, 1928, May Donoghue and her friend visited Wellmeadow Café in Paisley. Her friend ordered a pear and ice-cream and so the café owner, Mr Minghella, brought the order to their table. Donoghue then poured some of the ginger beer into a tumbler containing the ice cream.

Donoghue drank some of the contents and when her friend lifted the bottle to pour more ginger beer onto the ice cream, when the remains of a partially decomposed snail allegedly fell out of the bottle and into the tumbler.

Later, Donoghue complained to her doctor that she was having stomach pains and the doctor diagnosed her with having gastroenteritis and shock.

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Donoghue argued that Minghella had a “duty of care” for his customers, but he defended that the bottle was sealed so he would not have known this before serving it. He also claimed that because Donoghue’s friend was the one that bought the drink, it was then purchaser’s responsibility.

Donoghue then brought action against Stevenson, the manufacturer, claiming around £500 as damages for her injuries which were manufactured by him.

When they went to inspect the yard factory of Mr Stevenson’s they found that there were all sorts through the back such as snails crawling up the sides of the factory.

Fernie said: “After the court session we never heard anything of May Donoghue. We didn’t know where she went, whether she went back to Glasgow or not – we couldn’t be sure.

“So she is a bit of a mystery at the end and the case itself is still well known today but it is not as well-known as it probably should be.”

The expression “Gie’s a slug ae yer ginger” can still be heard today, which means “give me a drink of your lemonade”.

 

 

Author: Rebecca Graham

19-year-old student journalist, intersectional feminist, orca whale enthusiast and aspiring author!

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