The “uncommon” offence of enticing a labourer away from his employer came before a court in Spalding in 1917.
At a time when the war had brought about severe labour shortages, two well-known Deeping Fen farmers were in dispute over a labourer.
One farmer was claiming £20 damages from a neighbouring farmer for having in November of the previous year “wrongfully induced Colin Cherry” to break his contract of service.
The judge, Sir George Sherston Baker, said it was an uncommon action and that if the facts could be proved, the plaintiff was “entitled to ample damages”.
The judge told the court: “I don’t think it is generally known it is an offence liable to heavy damages to entice a servant away from another master.
“I am afraid that if this law were put into force vigorously many ladies would fall under the ban of the law in the matter of cooks and servants.”
The judge, finding the offence “amply proved” awarded £20 damages and added: “I do hope it will be a warning to other servants and other masters that they must not entice away servants in the employ of others.”
The report on the county court case said the decision was “one of great importance” as the judgment was one that affected all employers.
The report continued: “His Honour’s warning comes at an opportune time, when labour is extremely difficult to get, and there may be an inclination on the part of some employers to hold out inducements to the servants of other masters, which may bring them within the reach of the law.
“There is reason to believe the offence of ‘enticement’ is not nearly so uncommon as the claim for damages for its commission. The case is sure to attract a good deal of attention locally.”