A generous marquess and a light-fingered tutor

The marquess of Salisbury had employed Charles Marchand (a German national) to tutor his son, the little Lord Cranbourne for a little over 18 months. Unfortunately while Marchand may have been an excellent teacher he was also a little dishonest. Perhaps the family hadn’t paid him that much or perhaps it was all too easy to for him, but in 1837 (the year Queen Victoria ascended to the throne) Marchand helped himself to some of the household’s possessions.

He appeared at Queen’s Square Police Court in Westminster on a charge of taking a harp that belonged to the family’s governess and a ‘very valuable’ gold watch owned by the young lord himself. He was also accused of pinching a ‘handsome cloak’ from the Rev. Mr. Lite of Brixham in Devon. Whether this means the cleric was a family friend or visitor or indicated that Marchand had previously been employed away from the capital is not made clear. Marchand had pawned the cloak and the harp and had handed the duplicates (the pawnbroker’s tickets) over to the arresting officer.

This looked bad for Marchand; as the magistrate noted the thefts amounted to a serious felony and had he been convicted before a jury at Old Bailey he could have expected a lengthy prison sentence or transportation to Australia.

But it was also embarrassing for the Cranbournes. Their family name was in danger of being further dragged through the courts (and the newspapers) and it would have unsettled noble families up and down the country to think that one of their most ‘respectable’ servants could steal from them. Marchand was also German and given the background of the new queen and her consort (who had been crowned just over a week before) the sooner this could be hushed up the better.

The court was told that no prosecution would be brought against the tutor. The boy had his watch back after all, the family could hopefully recover the items from the pawnbrokers. The justice was uncomfortable but there was little he could do. He was told that the marquess would pay the costs of the tutor’s travel back to the continent and there was an end of it.


A footnote: the little lord was to grow up to be Lord Robert Cecil (later Viscount Cranbourne). He was 7 at the time of the thefts and his father (the 2nd Marquess) was a prominent politician. Lord Robert followed his father’s path and became Prime Minister three times between 1885 and 1902. He was the last PM to lead his party from the House of Lords and was considered a safe and very conservative Conservative.

His motto was (allegedly) “Whatever happens will be for the worse, and therefore it is in our interest that as little should happen as possible.”

[from The Morning Chronicle , Friday, June 30, 1837]

Pilfering at the Great Exhibition of 1851

In 1851 the Great Exhibition opened at Crystal palace in London. It was the event of its age, a glittering and marvelous demonstration of the Empire’s wealth and reach which drew in visitors from all over Britain, Europe and the wider world. Of course with all those people the exhibition also attracted some less savoury visitors and police detectives were deployed to keep order and watch for thieves.

One of the many visitors was Charles Forn, a Frenchman who was charged at the Marlborough Street Police Court in June of stealing ‘numerous small articles…portions of wood, cotton. Wheat, coal and stone’ from exhibition displays. He had drawn attention to himself and the police were watching him. An officer saw him in the south gallery moving between the exhibits of wheat. He lifted up glass shades and took handfuls of wheat specimens placing them in his pocket.

He then moved on to ‘France’ and helped himself to some handkerchiefs, before entering the American section and taking some ‘Indian corn’ and some samples of cotton and wool. He was challenged by the officer and told them he was a jeweller at the exhibition, and this seemed to be borne out by the red ribbon he had sticking out of his pocket (‘a distinctive mark of the jewellers at the exhibition’). But he then he was seen trying to get rid of the ribbon and the policeman arrested and searched him.

He had ‘half a pint’ of grain on him and two ounces of cotton, and about half that of wool. None of this amounted to anything of value so the police were curious as to his intentions. Forn claimed to be a student and said he took the items as samples for his studies. The magistrate agreed the items were hardly worth the trouble and accepted the man’s motive was unlikely to have been profit. In fact he felt there was no intent to commit felony (or, as he put it, Forn did not take the various articles ‘animo furandi’) and so he could deal with him summarily without the need for jury trial.

I’m not sure this benefitted the French scholar as he sent him to prison for six weeks!

[From Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, June 29, 1851]

An ‘extraordinary scene’ in Regent’s Street

The Victorian press were selective in the court business they reported. Crime news then, as is often the case today, reflected the concerns of society, the attitudes of the press (or at least its owners and editors), and catered for the amusement of the readership. This is why they so often filled their column inches with burglaries, domestic violence, unruly youth and, just occasionally, the bizarre. This story, from 1891, falls into the last category.

An elderly man, who refused to give his name when required to do so by the magistrate, caused quite a stir at Marlborough Street Police Court. He did tell the court he resided at Ormonde Street in Regent’s Park, that he was ‘of no occupation’ and was 65 year’s old. His ‘crime” (which is no crime in modern law) was to have been ‘found in female attire in Regent-street on the previous night’.

Detective Sergeant Scott had been on duty just after midnight when he saw what he took to be two ladies walking arm-in-arm along Regent’s Street in the direction of Oxford Street. At that time of night this is itself was probably unusual. But as he watched them DS Scott observed that one of them – dressed in ‘a light blue gown, a white cape with Medici collar, and a matador hat of black and amber, trimmed with parti-coloured pon-pons and streamers a yard long’ walked with a ‘peculiar gait’.

A nearby woman (who was not English) gestured to the policeman and said “My Got! that voman is a man; look how he vorks”.


As he gave his evidence the courtroom echoed to peals of laughter. The detective approached the pair and raised the skirts of the unusually perambulating ‘woman’. He saw she was wearing ‘ladies drawers and Paramatta boots’ and ‘her’ companion complained on her behalf: “What impertinence! Kindly leave the lady alone”.

But our doughty copper knew his duty and persevered. He resumed his search and found the disguise continued up the legs. Eventually he pulled up her heavy veil and revealed ‘false hair on the forehead and a moustache’. Finally he whipped off the woman’s hat (despite the protests of her friend) to show a ‘veritable bald’ pate.

At this point the man confessed saying he had ‘donned female attire with the object of gaining some experience with the ladies of the West-end’, as he claimed to be about to deliver a lecture of women’s dress and fashion. His companion fled leaving him in the arms of the law.

The magistrate quizzed him and while he gave no name he said he was a published author. He went on to try and explain his bizarre choice of clothes, including the Spanish bullfighter’s hat  and the cape (which he said was reminiscent of those worn at the court of Henry VIII). He added finally that he was a well known figure in the West End but the detective denied ever seeing him before.

While the audience in court found the whole story and the appearance of the ‘grotesque’ man hilarious the justice didn’t share their amusement; he remanded the poor old gentlemen for a week so the police could check his story.

Perhaps he was a writer doing his research but it is more likely he was cross-dressing but doing so in an age which had little tolerance for such ‘strange’ behaviour. Not for the first time am I pleased we live (hopefully) in a more enlightened epoch.


[from Reynold’s Newspaper, Sunday, June 28, 1891]

Psst…Want to buy a Babylonian tablet?

William Catter kept an antiquities shop in Great Russell Street, close to the British Museum. He employed a young lad named Frederick Franklin as a clerk and at some point in 1889 Catter began to notice some of his possessions had gone missing. His suspicion fell on Frederick and he accused him of theft. The boy attempted to fake a letter from ‘a friend in Tokio [sic] claiming they were e a gift. The dealer was unimpressed and summarily dismissed him from his service.

Sometime later Mr Catter was visiting the museum when to his shock he saw they had twelve of his Babylonian tablets (which he valued at £12) on display! He applied for a warrant and had Frederick arrested.

On June 26th 1890 Frederick appeared at the Bow Street Police court accused of stealing the antiquities (the tablets and some Japanese items). A detective from the Met was there to prove the boy’s guilt and to his credit Frederick admitted his crime. His lawyer said he was sorry but he had been in debt and had sold the items to a third party ‘on the representation that they were his property’.

Sir John Bridge, the justice at Bow Street, sentenced Frederick to three months in prison. In 1998 Christie’s offered several cuneiform tablets of Babylonian origin for sale at around £450-550 each but in recent years the collapse of the Iraqi state means you can pick them up ‘for a song’ on eBay. In 1890 their value (as suggested by Mr Catter) was around just £60 each but I imagine it depends quite how good an example or how rare they were.

Mr Catter’s shop is no longer there but there is an old antiquities and coin shop just opposite the museum which has been trading since the 1960s, I wonder if they ever find their stock across the road?

[From Daily News, Friday, June 27, 1890]

Mr ‘Pooter’ is burgled and a policeman is stabbed


Police constable Tappindin (123Y) was on duty in a field in North London in the early morning of the 12 April 1870. Looking up at  Whitley Villas he saw a man leaving one of the houses in a suspicious manner and he set off to intercept him. The individual noticed the policeman and fled into a nearby empty house with constable Tappindin in hot pursuit. The two grappled and, having been obliged to hit several times with a staff, the copper finally secured the burglar.

On the way back to the station at Caledonian Road the man managed to stab the constable in the arm and effect an escape. However, the burglar (Thomas Haw) was later re-arrested and charged with a series of crimes at Kingsland Road Police Station.

When he appeared in court Haw was charged with burglary and wounding. The house he had raided in Whitely Villas belonged to Thomas Waddle, a collector from the Inland Revenue. Waddle told the court that before 11 he had made a check on all the windows and doors in his home to make sure they were secured. He was awakened at 4 by the police and  discovered that the scullery window was now open and a number of his possessions were missing. As  member of the emerging middle class Mr Waddle seems almost to be a model for Charles Pooter but sadly the robbery predates him so the journalist is not able to offer us any amusing asides.

PC Tappindin was the real victim here. He didn’t return to work for a month and for the Victorian reading public, obsessed as they were with the dangers posed by the ‘criminal class’ this would have been a disturbing read. As for Thomas Haw he was remanded in custody  so that several others burglaries could be investigated to see if was responsible for any of them too. He doesn’t appear (under that name at least) in the Old Bailey but I imagine he spent a considerable time in one of Her Majesty’s prisons.

[From Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, June 26, 1870]

A champagne thief with a generous nature

I have to admit that I enjoy a glass of fizz from time to time. My preference was always for champagne rather than prosecco but in recent years I’ve been really impressed by the quality of English sparkling wine prosecuted in Kent and elsewhere. I had thought this was a new thing; an unexpected beneficiary of global warming. How wrong I was.

In June 1860 John Henry Piper was presented at Bow Street Police Court accused of stealing 24 bottles of ‘British champagne’. Piper was described as ‘elderly’ and ‘respectable looking’ and worked as a foreman at Batchelor’s wine merchants in Queen Street, Cheapside. He looked after the cellars at 139 Drury Lane where the wine was made and bottled. Piper was paid 1s per dozen bottles ‘in lieu of a salary’.

Mr Batchelor , a young man of 27 years, suspected that some of his stock was ‘being clandestinely removed’ and employed a former City of London police officer to keep watch. The old PC (John Storey) saw Piper emerge from the cellar with two bottles of champagne, one under each arm. He followed him to Lincoln’s Inn Fields where he ‘accosted two ladies’ and then gave them one of his prizes. When the coast was clear Storey questioned the women who could give no explanation for Piper’s generosity.

Storey now brought in the police and he accompanied a constable from F Division to 43 Alfred Street in Islington, where the prisoner lived. There they found two dozen bottles of wine which Piper claimed were his own. In addition there were ‘also some larger bottles or jars containing a mixture which the prosecutor, after tasting it, appeared unable to describe, except that there was a taste of “sherry” in it’.

In court the ‘ladies’ also appeared to give evidence. One stated she was the wife of a ‘photographic artist’, and told the court that he had approached them in the park and asked if ‘they would object to drink his health’. She asked him what was in the bottles and he replied. ‘Champagne’. She thanked him and said they her friend was suffering with toothache ‘which they thought it might cure’ and so were grateful to him. They’d never seen him before and had no idea who he was.

In his defence the prisoner admitted to experimenting with drink to try and create ‘an entirely new wine’ and that was why he had taken the bottles. He was recommended to mercy by his employer and jailed for six weeks.

[From The Morning Chronicle, Monday, June 25, 1860]

The case of an eiderdown quilt and an exasperated wife

This is a strange case of theft from the late nineteenth century. Alexander Matthews, an unemployed clerk, was charged at the Westminster Police Court with stealing an eiderdown quilt. The item belonged to his landlord, a Mr John Bowley of 11 Margaretta Terrace in Chelsea.

Matthews was no stranger to the law as he’d twice served short prison spells for assault and threatening behaviour towards his wife. He had been released from gaol just a few weeks previously and had returned to live with his wife at Margaretta Terrace where he seemingly resisted all of her efforts to get him to seek gainful employment.

Mrs Matthews was a dressmaker working from home and she complained that Alexander ‘was constantly pawning her goods, and the materials entrusted to her by customers’. It was Mrs Matthews who had rented the house from Mr Bowley and he had left her in charge of many of his possessions. Mr Bowley was away in Paris at the time and so when Alexander pawned her landlord’s quilt it was Mrs Matthews that had him charged with theft.

This raised the issue in court of whether she, as a wife, was able to prosecute her husband. The magistrate, Mr D’Eyncourt, declared: ‘it won’t do, and you cannot give evidence’. ‘This is a serious matter’ she retorted, ‘Mr Matthews pawns by dresses and he will not work’.

The court asked if there were any independent witnesses and a local police man, PC Cotton, testified that he had been called to the house for a disturbance. He had found Alexander in the garden ‘kicking at the door’. He had then arrested Matthews at his wife’s request. He added that a pawn rticket for the quilt was found on Matthew’s person. The defendant now told the court that the quilt wasn’t his wife’s property, it belonged to her landlord and the justice took this for an admission of guilt sufficient to remand him.

So could a wife give evidence in law against her husband in the period? Under legislation passed in 1992 ‘if you are the spouse of the accused you are competent to give evidence for either the defence or the prosecution (unless you happen to be a co-accused).’ You cannot be compelled to do so unless the charge relates to an act of abuse or violence against a child under 17. In 1889 the law was different; spouses could testify against each other for an offence ‘committed by one against the other’, but not against third parties. Alexander had not stolen from his wife but from her landlord (as he was at pains to say in court).

As the newspaper reporter said, this ‘was a peculiar case’.

[from The Standard , Monday, June 24, 1889]

Child neglect that led to abuse in 1847

Child abuse and the activities of paedophiles is high on our news agenda for good reason. Whether it is high profile abuse over many years (as exposed in the Saville case and Operation Yewtree  ) or recent reports that the internet is being used daily by ‘tens of thousands’ of abusers  it would be wrong to believe that this is a ‘modern’ problem or a product of our digital society. Sadly children have been abused sexually throughout history and the records of the courts show this.

In June 1847 George Simpson ( a man who gave his age as 32 but who ‘looked much older’) was accused at Guildhall police court of ‘having violated the person of Ann Davis’. Ann was a child ‘of about ten years of age’.

The circumstances of the assault were perhaps very familiar to modern professionals working in child protection. Ann father was a cork-cutter and the family lived in Bridgewater Gardens where Mr Davis also had a shop. On the previous Saturday evening Simpson had driven his truck up to the premises at about 7 o’clock as he was delivering two large bundles of cork.

Ann answered the door and Simpson asked her if her parents were at home. She said she thought they had gone to Newgate market. The market supplied London butchers but contemporary opinion held that Smithfield was superior and cheaper (which probably explains why the market was demolished in 1869). Mr and Mrs Davis may have gone there to buy meat or more likely as a result of the father’s trade. Whatever the reason they had left their ten year-old daughter in charge of the shop and this was to have dreadful consequences.

Having established that Ann’s parents were absent Simpson invited himself into the shop and locked the door behind him. He told her to place a piece of cork against a broken window pane and then forced the girl down onto ‘some cork shavings under the bench’, covered her mouth with his hand and ‘eventually effected his object’.

Pretty much all descriptions of the sexual act were omitted from newspaper reports; the editors preferred to use euphemisms or to allude to rape rather than spell it out for their readers. But I think it is quite clear that Ann was sexually assaulted.

After twenty minutes a knocking was heard at the door and he started up, saying: ‘here’s your father and mother, open the door’. Ann duly opened the door and told them what had happened. They called a policeman and Simpson was arrested. In court Mr and Mrs Davis testified that when they had entered their shop they had seen Simpson ‘buttoning up his clothes and their daughter black and dirty, and to all appearance as if she had been half choked’.

The other material witness in court was a surgeon from Basinghall Street (in the City of London) who deposed that having examined her he was sure that force had been used and that the prisoner ‘had partially but not fully effected his object’. The magistrate, Alderman Sidney, committed Simpson for trial.

NB: This is an unpleasant case and I’ve not been able to find it in the records of the Old Bailey so despite the defendant Simpson being committed for trial there is no certainty that such a trial ever took place.

[from The Morning Post , Tuesday, June 23, 1846]

The theft of a canary bandana

If his description in the papers was anything to go by William Wake (a ‘young gentleman’) was new to London. Dressed in a fine outfit of ‘very green waistcoat, high collar shirt and tout ensemble’ had visited a saloon in the Haymarket, central London.

William entered the saloon on the invitation of Mrs Harris, the proprietress, and enjoyed a bottle of champagne with some ‘girls’ in the bar and followed it up with a fine cigar. Suitably refreshed he then called for tea and sat there till 3, or 4, or 5 o’clock (he wasn’t exactly sure). He was sure that when he rose to leave the only other occupants of the saloon were himself, a waiter and one woman. Reaching for his handkerchief he realised it was missing and immediately concluded that only one of those two could have taken it. He called Mrs Harris and complained.

She made a search and found the missing silk in the kitchen in a drawer. Wakes accused the girl of taking it, suggesting that she must have concealed it as she had been one of the women sat with him enjoying his fizz.

When the case came to Mr Maltby’s court at Marlborough Street the girl, Caroline Field, denied the charge and the waiter doubted she could have taken it as he alleged. Now Wake attempted to play the lawyer and asked the waiter: ‘on your oath, tell me do you think I am made of glass?’

The waiter said he did not. ‘Then as you were on one side of me and the girl on the other, it’s impossible you could have seen her “bone” my handkerchief if I ain’t made of glass.’

The magistrate intervened telling Wake that ‘I don’t think you make out your case’. ‘There’s an evident attempt to crush the evidence’ the young gentleman retorted, ‘there’s a plot to muggle up the fact, but I know you’ll deal with the charge in a proper manner’.

The justice did; given the lack of evidence and the attitude of the young beau he dismissed the case and released Caroline. William left the court ‘looking very much of a piece with his waistcoat’.

The Haymarket was notorious in the 1840s for prostitution and I suspect the magistrate had little sympathy for this brash young buck who sauntered up to London to spend his no-doubt inherited wealth in such a dissolute manner. He probably hoped it had taught him a valuable lesson in life.


[from The Morning Post , Friday, June 21, 1844]