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Mr Lyle's crimconmeter

If the word crimconmeter means nothing to you that is hardly a surprise. The word was invented by a judge in the 1850s to describe a device that – as far as is known – was only used once. “Crimcon” was short for “criminal conversation”, which was itself a concept that disappeared when abolished by the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. Even stranger, the activity in question – namely causing another man’s wife to commit adultery – was a civil offence and not a criminal one.

Mr Lyle had strong suspicions that his wife was being unfaithful to him and that the other man was his business partner, Mr Herbert. However, in order to bring an action in court for criminal conversation against Mr Herbert, Mr Lyle needed proof.

Mr Lyle was in the upholstery business and he knew an excellent cabinet maker, Mr Taylor, with whom he had worked in the past. MrTaylor made the crimconmeter to Mr Lyle’s instructions.

The crimconmeter was a lever that fell to a certain level when one person got into bed and to a lower level when there were two people on board. The occupants of the bed would have no idea that their presence was being measured in this way, especially as Mr Lyle had set up the device so that it operated via a hole in the wall to a room in the adjoining terraced house, which Mr Lyle had rented for this express purpose.

On a day when Mr Lyle was pretty sure that his wife would be entertaining Mr Herbert, he and Mr Taylor went to the room next door and got the proof they needed from the crimconmeter. They then rushed round to confront the guilty pair.

It might be thought that this story was odd enough as it stood, but it now it descended to the truly bizarre. Mr Herbert had taken a bottle of gin with him to the Lyle abode, and Mr Taylor took it upon himself to grab hold of the bottle which, so he said, should rightfully belong to Mr Lyle, as the injured party, and himself – as his fee for services rendered.

So Mr Lyle and Mr Taylor then left the house with the bottle of gin and made their way to the local pub, where there was plenty more to drink after the gin was finished. They finished the day completely out for the count.

And what about Mr Herbert? He stayed behind at the Lyle house – he had little choice in the matter, because Mr Lyle and Mr Taylor had taken the precaution of taking Mr Herbert’s boots with them to the pub. So presumably Mr Herbert and Mrs Lyle carried on where they had left off, but without the benefit of a drink or two to relax with afterwards.

When he sobered up, Mr Lyle brought his case to court for criminal conversation against Mr Herbert. When the full story was told, the learned judge ruled in Mr Lyle’s favour – and awarded him damages of one farthing (a quarter of a penny). 

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