Sure eggs are eggs - so goes an old adage. But had a firm been misleading Southampton customers about their source?

In 1912, Bristol based Messrs Slinn and Co faced two summonses alleging they had applied a false trade description in claiming they were 'Finest new laid Irish eggs' with intent to deceive.

Such was its uniqueness the Earl of Carrick, the representative for Irish interests in Britain, watched the proceedings at the town's magistrates court from the public gallery and J G Trapnell, one of the leading barristers in the country, was specifically hired by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to prosecute.

Pleading not guilty, their solicitor A J Metcalf immediately lodged an objection, submitting the court had no jurisdiction in the matter as the offence, if any, had been committed in Bristol. That was swiftly rejected.

Trapnell underlined the importance of the case and the double harm being committed - the genuine Irish trader was losing out and the public were being provided with an inferior product.

William Jeavons, manager to Edwin Jones at their Town Quay premises, related how he had received a circular from the defendants offering to supply 'Finest new laid Irish eggs.' When they sent a sample, he noticed they had not been stamped 'Irish eggs' on the invoice but that was later corrected.

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However, he was puzzled by the contents. "The eggs had been placed in pressed straw which is the kind of straw usually used for eggs coming from France. The eggs were dull and did not have the bloom new laid Irish eggs should have. The lower layers were small and dirty. I was certain they were not new laid Irish eggs and I thought they were weeks old. I am quite certain the eggs had not been packed in its original case as there were several nail holes which showed the case had been used before. A name had been scratched out and 'H S' had been put on. I am of the opinion the eggs were Russian."

That remark immediately brought a challenge from Metcalfe who questioned anyone's ability to determine the country of origin: "No man in the world can tell the difference in eggs." But Jeavons poured scorn on that assumption. "Yes, they can if the eggs are in bulk."

His evidence was supported by R A Whyte, an inspector with the Irish Department of Agriculture, who had seen the Town Quay eggs and was adamant the packaging had been used before. When Trapnell asked him about their age, he replied: "The freshest of them would be at least a month old. There was a dullness about them and they were smaller than the average run of Irish eggs. The dullness is an indication they were not Irish."

The ministry's third expert witness, William Wickham, a trader in Irish eggs at London Bridge, said although some of the top layer contained Irish eggs, he believed those in the second and third were inferior Russian and had been packed in continental straw.

Douglas Tearle, Slinn's managing director, said the goods had been purchased in London as Irish eggs and sold accordingly. "They were bought cheaply and sold cheaply. There has never been any complaints about them."

Daily Echo: Theobald Walter Somerset Henry Butler, 8th Earl of Carrick.

When he admitted he could not tell the nationality of eggs, Trapnell asked him on what basis did he believe they were the genuine article. He replied: "I took a dozen home and they tasted like new laid. There was nothing on the invoice from the London firm to indicate they were new laid Irish eggs. I cannot say whether any mention was made on the telephone when the transaction was carried through that they were new laid."

He was supported by the London egg merchant who had sold the eggs to the company. Mr Oatzer, who had 30 years experience in the trade, told the court: "It is almost impossible to tell the difference between Irish and Russian eggs. The only description applied to the eggs was 'Irish eggs' and they were not sold as 'new laid Irish eggs.'

But the Bench rejected their evidence. "We consider this case to be a very bad one," declared the chairman, Mr Dominy, imposing a fine of £10 with 10 guineas costs.