Butterworth v West Riding of Yorkshire Rivers Board: HL 26 Nov 1908

The appellants were manufacturers who for fifty years had discharged liquids from their factory into a sewer. The sewer was vested in the local sanitary authority and conveyed the liquids into a stream. The respondents, acting under powers conferred by the West Riding of Yorkshire Rivers Act 1894 (57 and 58 Vict. cap. clxvi) raised an action against the appellants in the County Court in which it was held that the appellants had committed an offence in terms of the Rivers Pollution Act 1876. This was affirmed by the King’s Bench Division. The manufacturers appealed.
Held: A manufacturer who discharges polluting liquids into a public sewer which leads into a stream is a ‘person who causes to fall or flow or knowingly permits to fall or flow or to be carried into any stream any poisonous, noxious, or polluting liquid proceeding from any factory,’ and thereby commits an offence under the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act 1876, sec. 4. He is not exempted from the provision of the Act by proving a prescriptive right to use the public sewer in the manner complained of.


Lord Chancellor (Lorehurn), Lords Macnaghten, Robertson, and Collins


[1908] UKHL 1020, 46 SLR 1020




Rivers Pollution Prevention Act 1876 4 7


England and Wales


Updated: 26 April 2022; Ref: scu.621524