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CITATION(1870-71) LR 6 QB 597, ALL ER REP 632; (1871) 19 WR 1059


The case of Taylor v Caldwell stands out as a pivotal decision that shaped the doctrine of frustration. Originating from a seemingly straightforward contract for the use of a music hall, this case delved into the intricacies of unforeseen events, contractual obligations, and the limits of liability. The outcome had profound implications, establishing a precedent that contracts can be rendered void if events beyond the control of either party make performance impossible. The principles elucidated in Taylor v Caldwell continue to influence the understanding and interpretation of contracts in unforeseen circumstances.


  1. Caldwell & Bishop owned the Surrey Gardens & Music Hall. They agreed to let Taylor & Lewis use it for events like concerts and shows. Taylor & Lewis had big plans: they wanted to host four concerts with various attractions, including music performances, fireworks, tightrope acts, and even boat rides on the lake.
  2.  Taylor & Lewis would pay £100 for each day they used the hall. They also had to find and pay for performers, including a famous singer named Sims Reeves. The contract mentioned paying the owners on the same day as each event.
  3.  However, before any of the musical performances could take place, an unexpected event occurred: the Surrey Music Hall was destroyed by fire in February 1862. This catastrophic event rendered the hall completely unusable. 
  4. Given the destruction of the music hall, Taylor was unable to use the hall for the musical performances as agreed upon. Consequently, Taylor decided to sue Caldwell, seeking damages for the losses suffered due to the inability to use the hall for the musical performances. The contract had a phrase at the end saying “God’s will permitting,” but it didn’t clearly say who should bear the risk if something unexpected happened to the venue.


  • Whether Caldwell & Bishop breached their contract with Taylor & Lewis by failing to provide the music hall for the agreed-upon dates due to its destruction? 
  • Whether Taylor & Lewis are entitled to damages if the court finds that there was a breach of contract by Caldwell & Bishop? 
  • Whether the destruction of the music hall due to unforeseen events qualifies as a situation of ‘frustration’ in contract law, making it impossible for Taylor & Lewis to fulfill their obligations? 
  • Whether the phrase “God’s will permitting” in the contract clarifies or alters the allocation of risk regarding unforeseen events like the destruction of the music hall? 


  1. Taylor & Lewis asserts that Caldwell & Bishop failed to uphold their end of the agreement by not providing the music hall for the scheduled events. They highlight the specific terms of the contract that detailed the use of the venue on specified dates in exchange for payment.
  2.  The appellants argue that the phrase “God’s will permitting” is vague and open to interpretation. They could contend that such a broad term does not clearly allocate the risks associated with unforeseen events, like the unexpected destruction of the music hall. 
  3. Taylor & Lewis could present evidence or arguments suggesting that Caldwell & Bishop did not have adequate contingency plans or insurance coverage in place. They emphasize that a responsible venue owner should anticipate potential risks and have measures in place to address such situations.
  4.  One of the strong contentions would be the unforeseeable nature of the music hall’s destruction. Taylor & Lewis could provide evidence or expert testimonies to demonstrate that the fire was an unexpected event beyond their control, emphasizing that it was not a risk they could have reasonably anticipated or mitigated.
  5. Lastly, Taylor & Lewis seek equitable relief, emphasizing the need for a fair and just outcome. They argue for a reconsideration of the contract terms, partial compensation for losses, or other remedies that reflect the unique circumstances of the case. 


  1. Caldwell & Bishop asserts that the destruction of the music hall by fire rendered it physically impossible for them to fulfill their obligations under the contract. They would emphasize that this unforeseen event was beyond their control and not due to any fault or negligence on their part.
  2. The respondents point to the phrase “God’s will permitting” in the contract, arguing that it was intended to encompass unforeseen events or ‘Acts of God.’ They contend that this clause implicitly allocated the risk of such events to Taylor & Lewis, absolving them from liability in such circumstances.
  3. Caldwell & Bishop emphasize that they acted responsibly as venue owners and were not negligent in any manner leading to the fire. They present evidence or testimonies to demonstrate that they adhered to all required safety standards and protocols.
  4. Caldwell & Bishop raise equitable considerations, emphasizing the financial and practical challenges they faced due to the loss of the music hall. They argue for a balanced and fair resolution that takes into account the interests and hardships faced by both parties.
  5. Finally, the respondents refer to any contractual clauses or provisions that limit their liability in certain circumstances. They contend that such clauses are valid and enforceable, further supporting their position that they should not be held fully responsible for the losses suffered by Taylor & Lewis.


In the case presided over by Justice Blackburn, the court ruled in favor of Mr. Caldwell. While acknowledging Mr. Caldwell’s failure to fulfill the contract due to the music hall’s destruction, the court held that he was not at fault for the unforeseen event. Recognizing an implied term in the contract based on the frustration of contract principle, the court concluded that both parties were excused from their obligations given the hall’s unexpected demise. Consequently, Mr. Caldwell was absolved of liability, and the contract was deemed void due to the unforeseen event, releasing both parties from their commitments.


The significance of the Taylor v Caldwell (1863) case lies in several key areas within contract law:

  1. Doctrine of Frustration: The case firmly established and popularized the doctrine of frustration in English contract law.This principle acknowledges that a contract can be discharged if an unforeseen event occurs, after the formation of the contract, which renders it physically or commercially impossible to fulfill the contract’s terms, or transforms the obligations into something radically different from what was initially agreed upon.
  2. Allocation of Risk: The case highlighted the importance of clearly defining and allocating risks in contractual agreements.While the contract in Taylor v Caldwell had an implicit term regarding unforeseen events, subsequent cases and legal commentary emphasized the need for parties to explicitly address potential risks and allocate them in their contractual agreements.
  3. Impact on Performance: The decision in Taylor v Caldwell clarified that performance of a contract can be excused if the subject matter of the contract is destroyed or rendered unusable by an unforeseen event, even if neither party is at fault for the occurrence.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/

This Article is written by Pari Gupta student of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU; Intern at Legal Vidhiya.

Disclaimer: The materials provided herein are intended solely for informational purposes. Accessing or using the site or the materials does not establish an attorney-client relationship. The information presented on this site is not to be construed as legal or professional advice, and it should not be relied upon for such purposes or used as a substitute for advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Additionally, the viewpoint presented by the author is of a personal nature.


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