The Common Law Clean Up of the ‘Workshop of the World’: More Realism About Nuisance Law's Historic Environmental Achievements



This article examines the environmental benefits arising from compliance with common law nuisance injunctions during the British industrial revolution. It argues, based on the outcomes of industrial nuisance actions involving allegations of serious air and river pollution, that many millions of pounds were invested by corporate polluters in designing and implementing clean technologies within the framework of the common law. Nuisance law was not an unqualified success in the field of environmental protection at this time, but overall the findings contribute to the on-going critique of the nuisance law histories of Brenner and McLaren, which argue that various limitations of the common law are at the root of modern environmental problems. The discovery of historic practical measures of environmental protection through common law enforcement raises important conceptual, policy, and legal questions for today, and disciplinary questions regarding the rigour of realist legal scholarship concerning the historic performance of the law.