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Case Analysis of Wood v. Leadbitter, [1845] 13M & W 828

Facts of The Case - Wood v. Leadbitter, [1845] 13M and W 828

Wood had bought a ticket to view horse race that was held on property owned by Lord Eglintoun( Lord E.) . The ticket entitled Wood to enter Lord E.’s property and remain there during the races. Leadbitter (defendant), by the order of Lord E., asked plaintiff to leave the place and on his refusing to do so, the defendant, after a reasonable time had elapsed for his quitting it, Leadbitter had put him (Wood) forcibly out of the property. Wood sued Leadbitter for assault and false imprisonment. Wood claimed that his ticket gave him an irrevocable license to remain on Lord Eglintoun’s property during the races.

Procedural History
The trial court in Middlesex, directed the jury that Lord Eglintoun had the right to remove Wood from the property for any reason and had no obligation to return the money that Wood had paid for his ticket. The reason given by the court was that mere licenses which do not attach any interest with it do not create any interest over the licensor’s property because it is not under seal and the nature of the privilege conferred. The court held the judgement in favour of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed to Court of Exchequer challenging the trail court Judgement.

Rule of Law/Precedents Referred

This remains an important case for understanding the tort of tresspass. The reasoning was given that as the revocation of contractual licenses leads to breach of contract, the contractual damages are available for the plaintiff. For this the authorities cited were Fentiman v. Smith’s case, Rex v. Horndon-on-the-Hill. Moreover, in the pleadings the following authorities were referred to in the argument:

  1. Tayler v. Water
  2. Hewlins v. Shippam
  3. Thomas v. Sorrell

Legal Issue
Whether or not the licence granted to plaintiff was revocable?

Plaintiff’s counsel Mr. Jervis argues, that he is not driven to claim the right in question strictly as grantee. He contends, that, without any grant from Lord Eglintoun, he had license from him to be in the close in question at the time when he was turned out, and that such license was, under the circumstances, irrevocable. And for this he relies mainly on four cases, which he considers to be expressly in point for him and the cases are Webb v. Paternoster[1], Wood v. Lake[2], Tayler v. Waters[3] and Wood v. Stanley[4] . The counsel contends firstly, that the license, being a license for profit, and not merely for pleasure, and being also for a certain time only, namely, till he could sell his hay, was not revocable and, secondly, even if the license was revocable, still that the lease to the defendant was an implied, and not an express revocation.

As per the second case on which plaintiff relied, there the defendant had, by a parol agreement, given liberty to the plaintiff to stack coals on the defendant's land for a term of seven years. After the plaintiff had enjoyed this privilege for three years, the defendant locked up the gate of the close. Court proceeded on the ground that the plaintiff had acquired the easement by the parol license.

In the third case, it was an action by the plaintiff against the door-keeper of the Opera house, for preventing him from entering the house during the performance of an opera. The judgement was on the ground that the right under the silver ticket was not an interest in land, but a license irrevocable to permit the plaintiff to enjoy certain privileges thereon; that it was not required by the Statute of Frauds to be in writing, and, consequently, might be granted without a deed.

In the fourth case, there was an action for trespass plea, that defendant was possessed of a large quantity of hay being on the plaintiff's close, and that by leave of plaintiff he entered on the close in question to remove it. A verdict was found for the defendant with the reason that the license to come from time to time to remove the hay was irrevocable.

The defendant’s counsel came up with the following, In the cases of: Fentiman v. Smith[5] and Rex v. Horndon-on-the-Hill [6] which were before Tayler v. Water[7], the court expressly recognized the doctrine, that a license is no grant, and that it is in its nature necessarily revocable, and the further doctrine, that, in order to confer an incorporeal right, an instrument under seal is essential. And in the elaborate judgment of the Court of King's Bench, given by Bayley, J., in Hewlins v. Shippam[8].

The necessity of a deed, for creating any incorporeal right affecting land, was expressly recognized, and formed the ground of the decision. It is true that the interest in question in that case was a freehold interest.

The judgement was in favour of the defendant stating that the mere licence purporting to create in the licensee a new ring of privilege is revocable at law at the will of the licensor. Judge Alderson referred to Lord C. J. Vaughan's elaborate judgment in the case of Thomas v. Sorrell[9] . The question there was as to the right of the Crown to dispense with certain statutes regulating the sale of wine, and to license the Vintners' Company to do certain acts notwithstanding those statutes. A dispensation or license properly passes no interest, nor alters or transfers property in anything, but only makes an action lawful, which without it had been unlawful.

That no incorporeal inheritance affecting land can either be created or transferred otherwise than by deed, is a proposition so well established that it would be mere pedantry to cite authorities in its support. All such inheritances are said emphatically to lie in grant, and not in livery, and to pass by mere delivering of the deed. In all the authorities and text-books on the subject, a deed is always stated or assumed to be indispensably requisite.

The mere licence purporting to create in the licensee a new ring of privilege is revocable at law at the will of the licensor.

Case Comment
This case is one of the land mark judgement relating to the tort of trespass. ‘Trespass’ means interference with the possession of land without lawful justification. In the present case, the plaintiff having purchased a ticket went to see a horse race and the defendants were the occupiers of the race course. While the race was still going on, the defendants asked the plaintiff to leave the premises and on his refusal to comply with that, he was forcibly ejected by the defendant’s servants.

The plaintiff brought an action of assault. It was held that the revocation of the license was effectual and after the revocation of the licence, the plaintiff had become a trespasser and ejection of the trespasses out of the premises was not an actionable wrong.

The foundation of this judgement is that the plaintiff was not a grantee, and if not grantee, the licence was revocable. The court treated that no incorporeal inheritance can either be created or transferred otherwise than by a deed, as a principle not depending upon the quality of interest granted or transferred, but upon the nature of the subject-matter, and therefore as the right claimed by the plaintiff, a right to go and remain upon Lord. E’s property was a right affecting land, being a right of way and something more.

In the present case, a distinction might exist, by reason of the plaintiffhaving paid a valuable consideration for the privilege of going on the stand. But this fact makes no difference: whether it may give the plaintiff a right of action against those from whom he purchased the ticket, or those who authorized its being issued and sold to him, is a point not necessary to be discussed; any such action would be founded on a breach of contract, and would not be the result of his having acquired by the ticket a right of going upon the stand, in spite of the owner of the soil; and it is sufficient, on this point, to say, that in several of the cases we have cited, ( Hewlins v. Shippam[10]), the alleged license had been granted for a valuable consideration, but that was not held to make any difference.


  1. 78 E.R. 165; (1619) Godb. 282
  2. Sayer. 3
  3. (1816) 7 Taunt. 374
  4. 11 Ad. & E. 34; 3 Per. & D. 5
  5. (1803) 4 East 103
  6. (1832) 4 M. & Sel. 565
  7. 1816) 7 Taunt. 374
  8. 5 B. & C. 222
  9. (1672) Vaughan 330 at 351 per Vaugham CJ
  10. 5 B. & C. 222

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