Dyson Holdings Ltd v Fox

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date17 October 1975
Judgment citation (vLex)[1975] EWCA Civ J1017-2
Date17 October 1975

[1975] EWCA Civ J1017-2

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal


The Master Of The Rolls (Lord Denning)

Lord Justice James and

Lord Justice Bridge

Dyson Holdings Limited
Plaintiffs Respondents
Olive A. Fox (Spinster)
Defendant Appellant

Mr. R. SEYMOUR (instructed by Messrs. Straker Holford & Co) appeared on behalf of the Appellant Defendant.

Mr. S. STEVENS and Mr. F. P. ANGELA (instructed by Messrs, Clintons) appeared on behalf of the Respondent Plaintiffs.


So far as we know, Jack Wright was a bachelor and Olive Agnes Fox was a spinster, who met forty years ago and lived happily ever after. They lived together as man and wife. She took his name and was known as Mrs. Wright. In 1940 they were bombed out and went to live at 3 Old Road, Lewisham. The rent book was in the name of Mr. J. Wright. They both went out to work and used their earnings to run the house. In every respect they were man and wife save that they had not gone through a ceremony of marriage.


After 21 years in the house, on 28th August, 1961, Mr. Jack Wright died. She remained on in the house and paid the rent, using the name Mrs. Wright. The rent book remained in the name of "J. Wright", and the records of the landlord still showed the tenant as "J. Wright".


I expect that the ownership changed hands from time to time, but in March 1973 the owners were a property company - Dyson Holdings Ltd. By this time Mrs. Wright (as she was known) was herself getting on in years. She was 73 She wrote to the landlords asking for a statement with weekly rent. She signed herself "O. A. Wright". This put the property company on inquiry. They asked their agents to call on the house. She told them that Mr. Jack Wright died on 28th August, 1961, and that she was his widow. The property company asked their agents to check up on the electoral roll. They did so. They found that she had given her name there as "Olive Fox". The property company inferred that she was not really his widow. If she had been his widow, she could, of course, have had protection under the Rent Acts. But, if she was not his widow, they thought they were entitled in "law to get her out. So on 27th March, 1973, they wrote to her:-


"We are addressing you as Mrs. O. Wright, although we understand from the electoral register that the person In occupation isOlive Fox, and perhaps you would explain this in your reply. Until this matter is clarified, we are unable to accept any rent."


So after all those years, the truth was out. She was not his widow. She was only a woman who had lived with him as his wife for 21 years. The property company refused to receive any rent from her and brought proceedings against her for possession on the ground that she was not protected by the Rent Act. She had, they said, no tenancy and was a trespasser. They had accepted the rent from her, not knowing that the tenant had died. As soon as they discovered it - and that she was not his widow - they were entitled to possession. The Judge accepted their argument. He held that he was bound by the decision of this Court in Gammans v. Ekins (1950) Z K.3. 328. It was sad, he said, to have to turn this lady of 74 out: but felt he had no alternative. He ordered her out in 28 days. She appeals to this Court.


Ever since 1920 the Rent Acts have protected a "member of the tenants family in these words:-


"The expression 'tenant' includes the widow of a tenant who was residing with him at the time of his death, or when a tenant leaves no widow, or is a woman, such member of the tenant's family so residing as aforesaid as may be decided in default of agreement by the County Court."


So in the present case the lady is protected if she was a "member of the tenant's family": but not otherwise. Those words have often been considered by the Courts. The cases are collected in Megarry on the Rent Acts, pages 214-6. The word "family" in this statute is not used in any technical sense: but in a popular sense. It is not used in the sense in which it would be used by a studious and unworldly lawyer, but in the sense in which it would be used by a man who is "base, common and popular", to use Shakespeare's words in Henry V, Act IV, Scene I; quoted by SirRaymond Evershed, Member of the Rolls, in this context in Langdon v. Horton (1951) 1 K. B. at page 669; or in modern words, by the ordinary man in the street, see Brook v. Wollams (1949) 2 K. B. at page 308 by Lord Justice Cohen.


Applying this test, there are two oases in this Court which are near to the present. The first is Gammans v. Ekins (1950) 2 K. B - 329, but more fully in (1950) 66 T. L. R. (Part I) 1139. A dwelling-house was let to a Mrs Smith. A man named Eklns went to live in the house. He lived for a very long time, 20 years or so, in close but unmarried association with Mrs. Smith. He adopted her name and posed as her husband. In 1949 she died. Mr. Ekins claimed that he was a member of her "family" - The County Court Judge held that he was. This Court held that he was not. Lord Justice Asquith said that: "To say of two people masquerading, as these two were, as husband and wife (there being no children to complicate the picture) that they were members of the same family, seems to be an abuse of the English language."


The other case is Hawes v. Evenden (1953) 1 W. L. R. 1169. A dwelling-house was let to a Mr. Randall. He lived there with a Miss Evenden. For 12 years they occupied the same house as man and wife, though they were not married, and two children had been born of the association. She kept her own name - Evenden - but the children used the name Randall, He died. She claimed to be a member of the tenant's family. The County Court Judge held that she was. This Court upheld his decision. Lord Justice Somervell said: "Where the evidence justifies a finding that they all lived together as a family, then I think the mother is a member of the family."


If both those oases were rightly decided, it seems to follow that an unmarried woman (who has lived with a man as his wife for many years) is a "member of the tenant's family" if she has childrenby him: but she is not a member of his family if she has no children. That means this: If the couple had a baby 19 years ago which died when a few days old, or as a young child, the woman would be a "member of the tenant's family"; but if the baby had been still-born, or if the woman had a miscarriage 19 years ago, she would not be a member of his family. Yet for the last 19 years they had lived together as man and wife. That seems to me a ridiculous distinction. So ridiculous, indeed, that it should be rejected by this Court: and that we should hold that a couple who live together as man and wife for 20 years are members of the same family, whether they have children or not.


But, is this Court at liberty to reject the distinction? Are we bound by Gammans v. Ekins (1956) 2 K. B. 328? That case can be distinguished on narrow grounds, such as that the woman was the tenant and not the man, or that their relationship might perhaps have been platonic. But I dislike the device of distinguishing a case on narrow grounds. I prefer to say, as I have often said, that this Court is not absolutely bound by a previous decision when it is seen that it can no longer be supported. At any rate, it is not so bound when, owing to the lapse of time, and the change in social conditions, the previous decision is not in accord with modern thinking. A recent instance is Cooke v. Head (1972) 1 W. L. H. 518, when we departed from the decision in Dlwell v. Fames (1959) 1 W. L. R. 624. I am glad to find that we are all of one mind on this, but in case there are some who are doubtful, I can put the case on a conventional ground.


It has been decided by the House of Lords that, when a statute uses an ordinary English word in its popular meaning as distinct from its legal meaning, it is for the tribunal of fact to decide whether or no that popular meaning covers the case in hand. The tribunal of fact must use its own understanding of the wordand apply it to the facts which have been proved. A Court of Appeal should not interfere with its decision unless it was unreasonable in the sense that no tribunal acquainted with the ordinary use of language could reasonably reach that decision. That was the very ground of the decision of the House of Lords in Cozens v. Brutus (1973) A. C. 854. In the light of that decision, it appears to me that Gammans v. Ekins (1950) 2 K.3. 328 was wrongly decided. In that case - the tribunal of fact - the County Court Judge - gave Judgment for the man, finding him to be a "member of the tenant's family". The Court of Appeal recognised that the words were to be given their ordinary and popular meaning, but nevertheless they reversed the County Court Judge. I do not think they should have done. To my mind the decision of the County Court Judge in that case was a perfectly reasonable decision, as Sir Raymond Evershed, Master of the Rolls, recognised - see the top of page 334: and, on the authority of ...

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23 cases
  • Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 23 July 1997
    ...links by the ordinary man." 16A heterosexual unmarried relationship of long standing required consideration by this court in Dyson Holdings v Fox [1976] 1 QB 503. A spinster lived with the statutory tenant as his wife for 21 years before his death. She took his name, and in every resp......
  • Watson v Lucas
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 4 July 1980
    ...Mr. Lucas was a member of her family or not, have answered 'yes' or 'no'?" We are bound by the decision of this court in Dyson Holdings Ltd. v. Fox 1976 QB 503 to place the ordinary man not in 1920when Parliament first used the phrase in this context, but in 1977 when Mrs. Sullivan die......
  • Khorasandjian v Bush
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 16 February 1993
    ...Cyanamid v Ethicon Ltd [1975] AC 396; [1975] 1 All ER 504]. Burnett v George[1993] 1 FCR 1012. Dyson Holdings Ltd v Fox [1976] 1 QB 503; [1975] 3 WLR 774; [1975] 3 All ER Foster v Warblington UDC [1906] 1 KB 648. Fresh Fruit Wales Ltd v Halbert and Others (1991), The Times, 29 January. Horn......
  • Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd
    • United Kingdom
    • House of Lords
    • 28 October 1999
    ...is not equally enjoyed by those living together as man and wife but who are not married." 22The high water mark the other way is Dyson Holdings Ltd. v. Fox [1976] Q.B. 503 . This decision has however been confined to its own facts or doubted by Roskill L.J. in Helby v. Rafferty [1979]......
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