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]

Gamblers lose heavily at the police courts

Newspapers report crime as a useful staple when there is little else ‘newsworthy’ going on. Crime has remained high of the agenda of editors since the early days of the press in the 17th century but the amount of coverage ebbs and flows according to other events and to the prejudices and obsessions of the owners and editors of the day and their perception of what interests their readership.

In midsummer 1897 it seems to have been gambling that was exercising the editor of Reynold’s Newspaper. The paper (published weekly on a Sunday) was aimed at the working classes and often championed working-class issues in opposition to the political establishment. Gambling was often depicted as a working-class problem  (the rich gambled of course, but they could afford to lose), alongside drink and petty violence. It was seen a moral issue as it destroyed families and took men away from work.


The East End of London c.1882

So on the 20 June 1897 the paper covered a number of prosecutions for gambling at the capital’s police courts. At Thames Police Court a Limehouse photographer named James Curran was fined the princely sum of £70 for allowing his premises to be used for betting. Another businessman, William Chandler was similarly punished, being fined £22 because his tobacconist shop had been a venue for illegal betting.

Over at Worship Street in Shoreditch the court was packed as 22 men (all foreign Jews resident in Spitalfields and Whitechapel) were prosecuted for gaming. The venue was Bernard Green’s bakery on Underwood Street, MIle End and he was deemed the most culpable. All the gamblers were required to enter into their own recognizances against their future behaviour, at £5 each. Green was sentenced to five terms of imprisonment for six months, the terms to run concurrently.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, June 20, 1897]

No bread is no excuse


Mrs John Green had taken some laundry to the public baths on Orange Street, off Leicester Square. Most families would not have had running water at home in the 1860s, much less  facilities to wash their clothes. Wealthier women would have sent their laundry off with a char woman but Mrs Green was far from well off.

As she was putting up her clothes on the line another poor woman approached her and offered to help. Mary Bridgeman took a couple of shirts to hang but instead wandered off with them. Mrs Green alerted the bath’s matron and Mary was soon apprehended.

The case came to Marlborough Street Police Court where Mary appeared in the dock with a child in her arms. She was clearly poor and pleaded poverty; ‘she said she was sorry. She did it from hunger, the child having no bread to eat’. Mrs Green didn’t want to press charges, presumably she had her husband’s shirts back and she could see the distress Mary was in.

Unfortunately the sitting justice was less sympathetic. He told Mary that poverty was ‘no excuse’ and that ‘she could have gone to the parish for relief’. The reality was that had Mary asked for poor relief she would have condemned herself and her child to the workhouse and the magistrate knew that.

He felt he could no ignore this theft from a fellow member of London’s poor and so he sent Mary to prison for 7 days, with hard labour. Hopefully she had someone close to look after the child. Not that the justice would have cared that much either way.

[from Daily News, Monday, June 19, 1865]

An Irish ‘cook’ tries her luck (and fails to impress)

Ellen Riley (or Lucy Collins as she sometimes called herself) was an accomplished liar. She had once ‘escaped’ from a Chelmsford convent  taking with her some of the house’s property. She swore she was owed nine month’s wages and had stolen nothing.

In June 1865 she turned up at the house of a Mr Pereira in Finsbury Circus asking for work. She sought a position as a ‘plain cook’. The merchant asked to see her references and she promised to obtain some and return.


Finsbury Circus in 1872

A reference was an important document for a servant in the 1800s, it was very unlikely anyone would employ you without one. So it seems puzzling (to me at least) that Ellen didn’t have them with her when she knocked at the Pereira’s house. The next day she tried Mrs Pereira and again said she could produce a character dating back for the last five years. Mrs P asked her to do so and sent her away.

A few days later she was back, this time saying that a local priest, the Rev. Pycke, had agreed to write a certificate for her. This she brought to Mr P a day alter but he soon saw that it was a fake and had her arrested.

The name of the certificate was Mrs Kesiah Swan who denied all knowledge of Ellen Riley (or Lucy Collins for that matter). Now another clergyman appeared in court to state that he knew of her but had not authorized anyone to write her a reference.

The Rev. Leo Fucke had helped her after she had told him she had recently left a  convent in the area and was looking for a position. Unfortunately the position he found her (with a Father Donovan) she abused by absconding with a pair of boots!

Ellen  complained that she couldn’t find or keep any work because the ‘influence of the nuns and priests was always brought to bear against her’. The Alderman who sat as the magistrate at Guildhall was unimpressed. She had, he told, committed an offence (forging a character) that allowed him to fine her £20. He showed some mercy by offering her the chance to pay a fine of £5 or go to prison for one calendar month. I doubt Ellen had the £5 so suspect she ended up inside.

There are several convents in and around Finsbury Park today and the convent of the Tyburn Martyrs near Hyde Park. Did any of these offer temporary shelter to Ellen Riley who had come to the capital like so many Irish migrants in the second half of the nineteenth century. She may have started life in Essex (hence the Chelmsford link) or perhaps had traveled there for work. The Irish were amongst the poorest and least appreciated of London’s immigrants, something I explore in more detail in my study of the late nineteenth-century capital.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, June 18, 1865]

An ongoing case of child abduction

Dipping into the pages of the nineteenth-century press in the way I do means that sometimes you come across a story part of the way through. This is a blog of snapshots; moments in history captured from the cases that contemporary journalists or editors thought worthy of attention. Occasionally it is possible to follow these up through the system to the Old Bailey, but often they simply disappear. This is the nature of working with this sort of primary source; we are at the mercy of the editor’s knife or the archivist’s need for space. History can only be written from the material that survives and that can be quite problematic – just ask anyone who studies ancient history!

In June 1893 the law writer of the The Illustrated Police News (not it must be said an official police publication) attended Lambeth Police Court to follow the case of a woman accused of abducting children. It was a case that was bound to have shocked and concerned the paper’s readership, just as it would have done today.

Mary Boyle – a 30 year-old woman from Walworth who also went under the names of Green, Campbell and Kemp – was charged of stealing a six year-old child by ‘means of a trick’. The child’s mother, Mabel Louisa Read, had also reported that the accused had taken £3 from her. The police investigation had now uncovered several more victims and this hearing was convened to listen to their testimonies.

Alfred McKinder, ‘a bright little boy’ told the court that he saw a woman carrying a child wrapped in ”long clothes’. Some fifteen minutes later he saw the woman again but without the baby. Mary Jefferies who, like Alfred lived in Maidstone, reported hearing a baby crying as she walked down a lane. She soon found a child wrapped in a cloth marked ‘J’ lying in the grass.

The caretaker of the Duke Street Board School in Deptford also found a small child lying at the foot of the stairs of the school. This child belonged to a Matilda Kent who had given her into Boyle’s care (it is not stated why).

The Detective investigating the case said that Boyle had asked him ‘have you found any more babies?” He replied that he hadn’t but said ‘we have found two more mothers’ these were a Miss White and Miss Kent.

Herein lies the probable explanation for the case. If these women had had their children out of wedlock they pay have been paying Boyle to care for them. The Victorian period witnessed several high profile case of ‘baby farming’ (the most notorious being the case of Amelia Dyer who was hanged in 1896). Children were given up to be raised and looked after by women such as Dyer for a fee. This was an early form of fostering or adoption but was unregulated and dangerous. Unmarried mothers were driven to it by the stain of illegitimacy and by the desperation of not being able to support their children.

When Mary Boyle was told of the appearance of ‘two more mothers’ she baldy countered, ‘those two babies are dead’. She later changed her story and said one child was alive but in the Greenwich workhouse. The case was adjourned and Boyle remanded.

No one named Mary Boyle, Green or Campbell was tried at Old Bailey for child theft or murder. She may have been tried in Kent (as the offences or some of them, happened there). So this remains unfinished and perhaps like some of the mothers, we may never know what happened to those missing babies.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc , Saturday, June 17, 1893]

A bigamist is finally cornered

   “Now come, you gentleman soldier, and won’t you marry me?”
“Oh no, my dearest Polly, such things can never be,
For married I am already and children I have three;
Two wives are allowed in the army but one’s too many for me.”

The Gentleman Soldier, Traditional

William Henry Brinsden Hinder had quite a handle* and seemingly quite  a number of wives.  It was (and is) an offence in law to marry multiple people in England and when he was brought before the magistrate at Thames Police Court William denied the charge. The evidence however, suggested he had married at least two, if not three women in his lifetime and had try to fake his own death to get out of at least one relationship.

Mr Henry Gwilliam, a newsagent and pork butcher from Cirencester deposed that he had been present when Hinder had married Fanny Sterry at the Baptist Chapel in Cirencester on 3 September 1887 (two years previously). A marriage certificate proved the veracity of his statement and the court was told the couple now had two children.

However the next witness was Jane Burns, a resident of Canning Town, who claimed to have lived with the accused in April 1880. She knew him as Henry William Brisden and he told her he was unmarried. Jane and Henry were married at Henley-on-Thames on 16 July 1881 in the local parish church. Jane said they had split up and he had gone to live with another woman, but he had then returned to her; she added that they had three children from the union.

The police constable that had arrested him told the court that when he had presented Hinder with Jane he declared ‘she is not my wife’. The prisoner had failed to provide sureties for his appearance in court and so was currently residing in Holloway Prison (which later became a women’s prison in 1903  and is now set to close).

It emerged in court that Hinder had appeared at Thames before, some three months earlier, charged on that occasion with threatening behaviour towards a women who claimed the pair were engaged to be married. He had told her he had been to a seance at which her dead father’s spirit had blessed their intended  marriage. At the time it was ‘stated that Hinder had three wives, and had been in the army’. While he was stationed at Aldershot he had paid for a newspaper advertisement to announce his death by drowning, and posed as a detective to write to his grieving wife adding ‘some hints as to obtaining a livelihood for herself and children’.

It seems he was a serial liar and bigamist and it had taken some time to bring him in as he had been traveling on the Continent. Now he had him the magistrate fully committed Hinder for trial. Life finally caught up with Hinder and on 24 June 1889 the judge at Old Bailey sent him to prison for five years penal servitude.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, June 16, 1889]

  • English slang for ‘name’