Trouble in the ‘taxi rank’ 1812

On the 29th April 1812 His Royal Highness the Prince Regent (later to become King George IV), held one of his regular ‘levees’ at Carlton House. These were occasions for the prince to hold court and occasionally to bestow an honour on some deserving individual (such as Sir Humphrey Davy who was knighted by the prince in April 1812). These would have been glorious events, with London’s finest folk dressed to the nines in the latest fashions, desperate to be seen in the company of the future monarch. George ruled in his father’s stead, King George III being deemed unfit (through illness) to keep the throne.


Among those invited on the 29 April 1812 was the Member of Parliament for Lancaster, a Mr Pattern. While he was entertained inside his coachman waited to be called to collect him. When the guests began to leave the coachman, Mr Graham, drove his coach to the front of the house. But his master didn’t appear and soon Graham was causing a traffic jam and he was instructed, by one of the royal marshalmen, to move along.

Graham refused and when the officer tried to pull the horses away himself, and three Bow Street officers (better known as ‘Runners’) came to his assistance. Graham was having none of it however and the coachman leaned forward and struck the poor marshalman several times with the handle of his whip.

This action led to him being pulled unceremoniously from his box seat by several grenadiers and earned him an appearance before the sitting justice at Bow Street where he was remanded to Tothill Fields bridewell before later being bailed.

It is likely Graham was eventually released after promising not to behave so ‘outrageously’ in future; most assaults of this nature were ‘settled’ or dismissed by the summary courts of London. The Regency lasted until 1820 when George III died and his son formally succeeded him.


[from The Morning Chronicle , Thursday, April 30, 1812]

Assault on the docks

In April 1891 (just two years after the success of the Great Dock Strike) John Carey was working on the West India Dock quays when he noticed William Pelling. Pelling was a tierman but he wasn’t part of any trades union. Following the 1889 Dock Strike over 20,000 men had joined the newly formed General Labourers’ Union and within a few years union membership in Britain reached 2,000,000.


One of the leaders of the strike, John Burns, wrote of the long term effect that the experience would have on organised labour: ‘labour of the humbler kind has shown its capacity to organise itself; its solidarity; its ability. The labourer has learned that combination can lead him to anything and everything.’

The Dock Strike (itself partly inspired by the earlier success of the Bryant & May match girls) was a significant moment in labour history, but it had its fractious moments as well. Police reports (held at the National Archives in Kew) show that there were disputes about ‘scab’ labour and accusations of intimidation by pickets. The police were not above acting on behalf of the dock companies either and so (in the eyes of some) betraying their working-class roots.

William Pelling was not a union man and so Carey called out to his fellow dockers, urging them not to work with him. They took no notice of him. This angered Carey who confronted Pelling, punching him about the face and head and knocking him to the ground. The attack left him exhausted and quite badly injured. The court was told he’d lost a lot of blood and ‘both his eyes were blackened’.

The magistrate condemned the attack and told Carey that if ‘he and his friends thought they were going to dictate to others the terms on which they were to be engaged, they were very much mistaken’. Carey was sent to prison a month with hard labour.

[from The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle , Wednesday, April 29, 1891]


A case of (un)mistaken identity


                                                                    The Pall Mall Gazette,  Saturday, April 28, 1866

When Ann (or Anna) Bryant saw the advert in a window in Fieldgate Street, Spitalfields asking for a ‘Servant of all work’ she thought her luck was in. She knocked and a respectable Jewess opened the door. “I’ve come about the position” Anna must have said but her putative employer looked puzzled.

“Why”, she exclaimed, “you are the very person that robbed me last October!”With that Mrs Proops, a tailor’s wife who had moved to Fieldgate Street with her husband just recently, seized her and handed her over to the nearest policeman.

When she appeared in front of Mr Partridge the sitting magistrate at Thames Police Court Anna was charged with stealing £2, two gold rings, some cloth and some clothes belonging to Mr and Mrs Proops. Jessy Proops told the court that the girl had left her employment after just a week in the early hours of the morning, leaving a ‘child in front of the fire, where it was in danger of being burnt’.

Anna protested her innocence and promised she could get a good character from her current landlady in Houndsditch. The magistrate remanded her and from here she disappears from history. Anna might have been sent for trial at Old Bailey – that amount of theft would have sent her to prison if convicted – but she may have been released by the Police magistrate on her reappearance before him.

It would be very unlikely that she still had the ill-gotten gains taken from the Proops’ home and all parties might have decided that a short sharp spell of imprisonment would have served as a lesson. The papers don’t record this and we don’t have the registers for Thames for the 1860s so I doubt we’ll ever know.

One hopes however, that Anna was slightly more careful which adverts she answered in future.


Horror in Drury Lane!

On the 26 April 1801 a dreadful discovery was made at a premises on Drury Lane. In what was once the Queen of Bohemia’s head, Wych Street, police officers and magistrates found the bodies of ‘two children and a man, partly dissected’, along with a number of surgical instruments.

Acting on information the officers had obtained  a search warrant and the Morning Post & Gazetteer reported that they discovered ‘limbs, heads, etc…in different rooms of the house’. The body parts belonged, it seems, to cadavers exhumed illegally from nearby church yards to be practiced on by trainee surgeons and doctors.

Before the Anatomy Act of 1832 sanctioned the legal use of pauper bodies for medical dissection there was a shortage of executed felons to anatomise. As a result ‘resurrection men’ profited by digging up corpses and selling them; in Edinburgh the infamous pairing of Burke and Hare killed the unloved and lonely in order to bring the freshest bodies to the dissection table. The 1832 Act was supposedly passed to to bring an end to the trade but as Elizabeth Hurren’s Dying for Victorian Medicine reveals it ushered in a new era of horror for the poor.

The Queen of Bohemia had once been a lively public house, a ‘noble palace’ the paper recorded, where the Committee of the Corresponding Society had been arrested in 1798 at the height of fears about sedition and revolution. Now this it was ‘gloomy and desolate’ which added ‘to the horror of the scene’.

The dangers of allowing guns to circulate

On Monday 25 April 1836 a young man was brought to the bar of the Guildhall Police Court charged with ‘having fired a pistol loaded with ball’. The young man, Adolphus Gasken, had (literally it seems) been taking pot shots; aiming his firearm at the chimney pots he could see from his vantage point atop a roof in Golden Lane.


Unfortunately for him him one of his shots shattered the window of a Mr Whitecombe, who made some enquiries and soon discovered who had been disturbing his  peace. Quite apart from the damage to his property Whitecombe was concerned for the safety of his daughter, who made it a habit of hers to gaze out of the window in the evening.

He told the sitting justice that ‘it was very fortunate that she was not there at the time, or she certainly must  have been killed’. The young man humbly begged forgiveness and offered to pay for the repair to the gentleman’s window. Satisfied Mr Whitecombe most generously declined to press further charges and Adolphus, suitably chastened and with  a flea in his ear from the beak, was released.

Guns in England were certainly available in the 1830s but there had been an attempt to control their use in the mid 1820s. The wide-ranging Vagrancy Act of 1824 had restricted gun ownership and young Adolphus was likely a member of the middle to upper classes: a working-class youth would have been unlikely to have been practising his skills in this way. Nor would have have been so lucky in his treatment by the court or his prosecutor. When it came to guns (as with so many things in the 1800s) there was one law for the rich and quite another for the rest of us.