It is sometimes hard for us to imagine a London without cars, vans and buses. The internal combustion engine has become ubiquitous in all modern cities but in the last decade of the nineteenth century it remained a novelty. While the steam locomotive represented a massive leap forward for the most part Victorians literally relied on horse-power for their everyday transport needs.
London was served by a staggering 300,000 horses in the 1890s and so, in the absence of motorised transport until the late 1890s (the first horseless carriage took to London’s streets in 1896), the horse was a valuable commodity. So just as people steal cars cars today, the theft of horses (and horse drawn vehicles) was a problem for the Metropolitan Police.
George Davelians was a car-man – a white van man in today’s terminology – and in May 1894 he found himself in court charged with stealing a van, its horses and the goods that were in it. Alfred Fillingback had ‘parked’ his van outside the South Devon Wharf, on Lower East Smithfield, while he popped into the offices to pick up some paperwork. When he came out the van was nowhere to be seen.
It was next sighted by John Reeve, the gatekeeper at the nearby British and Foreign Wharf. He was alerted to it because it was moving so fast. He recognized the driver as Davelians, as he’d known him for several years as a regular around the wharves but was surprised to see him ‘thrashing the horses, and urging them on as fast as they could go’.
When the van reached Tower Hill it was flagged down and stopped by PC Thomas Bristow who told Davelians he was arresting him on suspicion of stealing ‘a pair-horse van and ten sacks of flour’ from Perry & Cozens of Brick Lane, Spitalfields.
‘Doing what?” demanded Davelians, ‘I know nothing about that’ and he tried, unsuccessfully, to escape. In court a sergeant from CID appeared and asked that the car-man be remanded as he might be able to help the detective branch with their inquiries into a number of similar robberies. Davalians was remanded for a week.
P.S I can’t find this case in the Old Bailey website so it may not have got as far as a trial..
[from The Standard , Saturday, May 19, 1894]