Hellawell v Eastwood (1851) 155 ER 554
Whether machines firmly affixed to a factory floor are fixtures or chattels
The claimant was the tenant of a factory and owed rent to the defendant. The defendant entered the claimant’s factory and seized several cotton spinning machines in order to recover the rent owed. The machines were fixed to the floor of the factory with screws and the claimant sought to assert that the machines were not of the type of property that could be distrained for debt because they were not chattels but were rather fixtures.
The facts are complex with regards to whether a replevin granted for the wrongly ceased machinery was valid or invalid on the basis that the court which granted it had ceased to exist. In practice however, the judgment has no modern relevance on this point, but rather the issue relates to how the difference between fixtures and chattels should be addressed.
It was held that the question that must be asked when considering whether an item is a fixture or a chattel is firstly to consider the degree in which the item is annexed to the land and whether it can be removed without damage to it or the land. Secondly, the purpose of the annexation must be addressed. If it is placed to be enjoyed better as an object it is likely to be a chattel. If it is placed for the benefit of the land, it is likely to be a fixture. Each issue is one of fact in the circumstances. The cotton spinning machines at issue here be found to be chattels because they could easily be removed and because the purpose of the annexation was to steady the machines in use. It was not for the benefit of the property.