In the Media

Defending your home was an issue in 1909

PUBLISHED October 23, 2012

A new book has disclosed that the debate on a person's right to use force to protect their homes was discussed in magazines and newspapers as early as the 1890s.

The discussions have been revealed in a book that details the best 200 letters from Country Life magazine, which have been chosen from more than 50,000 it has published since 1897.

The book details readers' problems ranging from the serious, such as shooting burglars, to the bizarre, such as whether it is allowed to keep a rhinoceros, monkeys or meerkats as pets.

It also included a reader suggesting the introduction of mock tudor van cottages towed by horses, women at work - not in the boardroom but in the hayfield - and the antics of footballers at a Chelsea and Aston Villa match.

In one letter to magazine, published on November 27th, 1909, an anonymous "Justice of the Peace", writes about the predicament facing homeowners at that time.

Under the headline, The Law and the Burglar, he describes how a newspaper story described a case that grappled with the issue from Manchester 16 years previously.

The writer then concludes that it "stands to reason that if a man finds a burglar in his house it would be folly on his part to wait for the burglar to shoot or maim him without having the first shot".

The issue recently made headlines when a judge defended the rights of people to protect their homes after telling two burglars shot during a break-in on a rural property in Leicestershire: "That is the chance you take."

In another letter, published on February 18th, 1922, Ursula Middleditch writes about whether someone can keep a rhinoceros as a pet, accompanied by a picture of a young animal caught the previous year on Kajaba Plains, East Africa.

He wrote: "He weighs 10 stone, and is very strong for his size. He fought gallantly before being captured, and it took three natives to bring him into camp.

"Once he was there, however, he became perfectly tame and affectionate and ran loose about the camp. Later he was taken to a coffee plantation, when he continued to be a most engaging pet."

Mark Hedges, the magazine's current editor, told The Daily Telegraph today that he never knows what to "expect from the postbag and it is best to expect the unexpected" with many letters "scarcely believable".

"There are many problems we face today as readers faced 100 years ago," he said.

"It is fascinating to see that things have not necessarily changed and history really does repeat itself.

"It is a typical letters page and it has a number of serious things and a number of slightly more amusing things."

He added: "It is a jolly look at really how the world has been seen though the eyes of these groups of people… who in many ways make up the upper and middle classes."

THE LAW AND THE BURGLAR [November 27th, 1909]

Sir,-If "Country House" will refer to Stone's Justices' Manual, fortyeighth edition, 1908, page 813, note G, he will see that he has a perfect right to shoot a burglar. The following is an extract: "As to killing a burglar, see Stephen's Commentaries, fourteenth edition, vol. 4, page 40, where it is laid down that: If any person attempts the robbery or murder, or to break open a house in the nighttime, and is killed in such attempt, either by the party assaulted or the owner of the house, or the servant attendant upon either, or by any other person present and interposing to prevent mischief, the slayer shall be acquitted and discharged."

I have beside me a cutting from a local paper, dated November, 1893, which under the heading of "Should Burglars Be Shot?" says, "the Saturday Review discusses the theory as to the right or otherwise of householders to shoot persons whom they find occupying their premises, after a felonious breaking and entry, especially at night." Commenting on the decision of a recent case at Manchester, it says, "Mr. Justice Grantham must clearly be enrolled among the followers of the late Mr. Justice Wills, and who could be in a better following?

Mr. Justice Wills was asked, 'If I look into my drawing-room and see a burglar packing up the clock, and he cannot see me, what ought I to do?' He replied as nearly as may be, 'My advice to you, which I give as a man, as a lawyer and as an English judge, is as follows: In the supposed circumstances this is what you have a right to do, and I am by no means sure that it is not your duty to do it: Take a double-barrelled gun, carefully load both barrels, and then, without attracting the burglar's attention, aim steadily at his heart and shoot him dead.'"

Whether the above is a true record of what the (then) late Mr. Justice Wills said or not I cannot vouch for; it is only a copy of what appeared in the paper, but it stands to reason that if a man finds a burglar in his house it would be folly on his part to wait for the burglar to shoot or maim him without having the first shot.-Justice of the Peace