Given the narrowness of the High Street and the unpredictability of horse-drawn traffic, there have been many road accidents over the years. Here is the account of one tragedy from the 17th century which sheds an interesting light on criminal responsibilty at that time.
On 22nd September 1623, John Mountier (alias Christmas) was driving Mr. William Cooper’s horses and cart, loaded with 14 deal boards, towards the Towngate. The horses became unruly and the under horse ran up against a post alongside the road, upsetting the cart. The unfortunate John Mountier was thrown out and the deal boards, landing on top of him ‘bruised his body so that he died presently’.
In the following coroner’s inquest, the cart, the boards and the under horse were all found to be guilty of Mountier’s death and therefore ‘forfeit and lost to the King’. The boards were said to be worth 7 shillings, the cart 7 shillings and the horse, 6 shillings. The horse and cart were ‘demised’ into the custody of William Cooper and the boards into the custody of Mr. Walter Newbery, Gentleman. The post had to pay the penalty of being taken away and burned.
The only innocent parties to the affair were the two other horses because they had broken away from the under horse and not contributed to the accident. They were therefore discharged, characters intact.
Source: Poole archives, Coroner’s Inquests CI4