Playing With Fire
At what point does common sense stop being common sense and start having to be The Law because some people don’t actually have any common sense?
I was ploughing through The Thames Conservancy 1857 – 1957 this weekend. It logs the way the Thames was administrated through a hundred years and although frankly rather dry in places, threw up a couple of curious ideas.
Under a chapter jazzily entitled Constitution and Administration 1894 -1908 (Byelaws) I discovered that it took until the late Victorian age to revise and apply the 1875 Explosives Act to the river Thames. This is presumably because it hadn’t occurred to anyone that carrying large cargoes of really, really flammable/explosive material in any old boat up the river might not be a fabulous idea. But apparently they suddenly noticed that that’s exactly what rather a lot of inappropriate vessels were doing, and after some hasty revisions, five convictions were obtained very quickly (sadly no details) for basic infractions of hastily-revised laws and a code of who could carry what was put together.
Even then they hadn’t bothered including things like petroleum – that addition to the list of dodgy flammable cargoes didn’t happen until 1904. It was still a pretty ineffectual law – they’d forgotten to include petroleum spirit if it was for ‘export purposes’, an omission only discovered when a vessel was found in the river at East Greenwich laden with petroleum spirit – and a fire roaring in the cabin – with the excuse was that it was for abroad.
Interestingly the other burning (ahem) issue of 1904 was the public nuisance problem of ‘disorderly conduct’ on board party launches – we are told ‘a number’ of convictions were obtained that year, which makes me think that what with boats full of petrol with fires in the grates and launches full of drunk Edwardians, the Thames must have been a pretty scary place in 1904…