A smash and grab in the Strand

In May 1861  William Clubb smashed the windows of a jeweler’s shop in the Strand and his hand came out entangled with a gold watch worth upwards of 13 guineas. He quickly drew a crowd and, in part because he stood stock still and looked amazed at what he had done, he was quickly arrested.

At Bow Street he claimed he had undertaken the robbery because he was ‘in great distress’ and wanted to be taken into custody. It was not unusual for contemporaries to argue that prison had become too comfortable, to the extent that the poor and shiftless were willing to break the law for a few months shelter and food.

The magistrate was puzzled: he told the prisoner that if he merely wanted to be arrested he need not have stolen anything, the mere act of smashing the window was enough. Clubb claimed that the chain had got entangled by accident. This contradicted the evidence of the key witness, a lad of 15 who saw the whole thing.

At this point the jeweler, Mr Stewart, intervened on behalf of the culprit, much to everyone’s surprise. Mr Stewart deposed that it was entirely possible for the chain to have become wound around the prisoner’s wrist by accident, in fact it ‘was quite likely’ he thought. After all, he continued, when he saw Clubb outside after ‘breaking the window, he stood like a ghost. He did not run away as a thief would have done’.

PC Wakeham  was unimpressed and presumably took Stewart for a fool, albeit a generous one. He told the court that there were so many people around him he couldn’t have got away if he had wanted to. Mr Stewart thought was adamant and grateful to the small knot of ‘gentlemen’ onlookers who had protected his stock from the ‘mob’, scattered as it was across the pavement.

The magistrate remanded the prisoner four further examination at a later date and Clubb’s brother turned up  to inform the court that William was of ‘unsound mind’, which, the paper noted, seemed fairly obvious from his behavior.

[from The Morning Chronicle , Thursday, May 9, 1861]

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