A teenager’s cunning plan falls apart

Regular visitors to this blog will now be well aware that the Police courts of London (the forerunners of today’s magistrate courts) dealt with a wide range of offending behaviour. I have written up (among others things) cases of assault, drunkenness, domestic abuse, fraudulent behaviour and theft. Some of the defendants were committed to trial at Old Bailey while others were dealt with summarily.

Today I have found the case of a young man who was stealing from his place of work, something that was particularly frowned upon in the 1800s. However, in this example the papers at least acknowledged the ingenuity of his pilferage.


David Dennis was just 17 years of age and for some months had been delivering boxes to a ribbon manufacturers in central London. His job was to take new boxes to the manufacturer’s warehouse in St Paul’s Churchyard (a road in case you wondered, not a graveyard – see the image above) However, the supervisor at Lyell & Co had begun to notice that some of his stock was missing – in fact this now amounted to over £300’s worth of missing ribbon and silk goods. His suspicions focused on the delivery boy and so he had him watched.

David deposited his boxes as usual but before he could leave with the old used ones he was stopped and taken to one side. When the first box was searched the supervisor found £15 of ribbon inside and the lad was arrested and taken to the nearest police office. A further search there revealed that the other boxes contained upwards of £30 worth of stock. Bear in mind that at today’s prices his haul (of £45 worth) would represent about £2000!

The system David was employing was beautifully simple and (he must have thought) pretty fool-proof. The court was told that he ‘substituted an empty box for every full one he took out of stock’; superficially all would have looked well in the warehouse until a closer inspection revealed the truth.

The newspaper appears to have had a grudging admiration for his cunning and bravado but this was not shared by the supervisor or the magistrate; he was remanded to face a full trial at Old Bailey at a  later date, with a possible  prison sentence to follow. As it turned out David was tried at Old Bailey where he pleaded guilty. For this reason perhaps and probably on account of his youth judgement was respited at that session and he drops out of history at this point.


[from The Morning Chronicle , Friday, June 8, 1860]


One thought on “A teenager’s cunning plan falls apart

  1. Good story – where the ingenuity of the thief demands some admiration; one would only wish the ingenuity could be turned to better use! Theft from employer is still regarded as a particularly heinous crime.


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