Dueling at Chalk Farm

We are familiar with the idea of  gentleman dueling over some slight to one or the other’s honour and there were some very famous protagonists in the nineteenth century. The Duke of Wellington fought a duel (in secret – by then the practice was at best severely frowned upon ) with the Earl of Winchelsea. While the elites of Europe had resorted to swords and then pistols to settle their differences in the 17th and 18th centuries, by the 1800s most chose to pursue their opponents for libel in the civil courts. The practice was increasingly reserved for military men and became less and less ‘respectable’.


The Duke of wellington fights a duel

The authorities did prosecute duelists in the early 1800s as  two cases from the newspapers in July 1808 show. A pair of officers from Bow Street (Adkins and Rivett) received information that two foreigners, Sandoz (a jeweler) and  Dubois (a journeyman watch-case maker) were planning to fight a  duel at Chalk Farm the following morning. The Runners set off for Chalk Farm early on the next morning but Sandoz and Duboius didn’t show up.

It was later established that they had been tipped off that the officers were after them and their friends persuaded them to ‘shake hands’ on their dispute. Sandoz was taken before the Bow Street magistrate who bailed him to keep the peace towards Dubois.

Meanwhile another case was presented before the justice at Bow Street. This time a letter  was given to one of the Bow Street Runner, Mr Lavender, by a landlord in Wardour Street, London. The letter was supposedly written by a tailor named William MacIntosh and was addressed to an attorney’s clerk named McCreary.

It said:

‘Mr. Mac Craery, you are to come to chalk farm tomorrowe mourning at hafe past six clock, and hare to harm yourselfe with what-ever you pleaise  acept a sworde’                     

                                                                                       “Wm. Macintosh”.

Lavender went to Chalk Farm but again he found neither man there so called on them both in turn. MacKintosh claimed he had turned up an hour too early and went away again. McCreary said he hadn’t been given the note until after the time at which point he had himself gone to the Bow Street office to complain about the tailor’s threats.

The letter (which I have transcribed just as it was written in the paper, complete with poor spelling) was not in Mackintosh’s handwriting (which initially confused McCreary as he didn’t recognize it). This was explained in court when it was revealed that the landlord’s nine year old son had penned it on behalf of the tailor.

The two men made up their differences and so there was no need for the magistrate to do any more than presumably warn them that this was not a legal nor a sensible way to settle their arguments.

Why choose Chalk Farm? In the eighteenth century and early 1800s it was ‘it was particularly suitable for the purpose, as it was near town, and at the same time quite secluded’, as one history tells us.

[from The Examiner, Sunday, July 31, 1808]

a fortunate Frenchman and a callous villain

Two tales today from the Thames Police court, one which shows the sometimes very personal steps the magistracy took to deal with cases before them, the other revealing a rather less appealing attitude, towards the police.


‘Before Whitechapel workhouse’ shows poor men queuing up ahead of the day’s work at the workhouse in Fulbourne Street, London which has since been demolished

Henri Rentiere was a Frenchman living in the St. George’s-in-the-East workhouse, in Wapping East London. Rentiere had come over to England on a cattle ship with an assurance of a return voyage which had not materialized. He now found himself destitute and had to seek help from the local parish. They had sent him to the workhouse but the daily slog clearly disagreed with him. He soon found himself in front of the Thames magistrate, Mr Cluer, on a charge of refusing to work.

The justice had examined him previously and  investigated his story. Cluer wrote to the French consulate asking for their help in repatriating their fellow countryman. They had passed the letter on to a charity who said it was nothing to do with them, they only helped people in London. This exasperated the magistrate who commented that they clearly didn’t know that Thames Police Court was in London.

So there was a problem. Henri didn’t want to be in the English capital, much less having to earn his keep in a workhouse, and yet he couldn’t afford his fare home. He stated that he wanted to join the French army and serve his country. Mr Cluer saw nothing wrong with that and moreover, he didn’t want M. Rentiere in St. George’s either, living there ‘at the expense of the ratepayers’. So he gave him the money to return to France from his own pocket, and sent him on his way.

Meanwhile the next case reported in the Daily News concerned the death of a policeman. John Barker – a 28 year-old labourer – was drunk and disorderly and causing a scene which attracted the police. As one officer tussled with him another tried to help but collapsed. He had died on the spot of ‘heart disease’ having become ‘so excited in the struggle’.

Barker received a ten month gaol sentence with hard labour and as he was escorted from the dock proclaimed: ‘One copper’s dead, and you’ll die too’.

[from Daily News, Thursday, July 30, 1896]

To good a bargain to be true? It probably is

A gentleman (his name was not reported – possibly to save his embarrassment) came along to the Marlborough Street Police Court in July 1850 to complain that he had been conned. He had been walking along Bond Street when a large notice in a window caught his eye. It declared that ‘£7,500 of foreign merchandise, consisting of India, Turkey, China and French shawls, silks and dresses were to be cleared off in six days, at any sacrifice’.

He rushed off to the venue – the ‘New Exhibition Rooms in Bond Street’ and bought a colourful length of printed material for his wife. However, when he presented her with it she thanked him but laughed. She told him the print (which had been sold to him as ‘colour fast’) was actually ‘composed of devil’s dust* and pigment’ all of which would wash away as soon as the cloth was washed.

The angry gentleman immediately returned to the shop to demand a refund but was ‘abused and pushed out’ on to the street. He came before the magistrate looking for ‘justice’. Unfortunately the magistrate told him there was nothing he could for him, if the gentleman ‘had been taken in’ he would have to go to the County Court instead. So off he went.

  • Devil’s dust (according to the OED) is ‘Flock made out of old woolen materials by the machine called a devil; shoddy.’

[from Daily News,  Monday, July 29, 1850]

‘Pepper’s Ghost’ and the disgruntled scene painter

Most of the newspapers I use for this blog are dailies or weeklies and, while they have different (and not always obvious) political alliances, they all tended to report ‘news’. The Illustrated Police News concentrated on ‘crime news’ and the Pall Mall Gazette (by the 1880s at least) had evolved into something of a campaigning journal.

Today’s story comes from The Era, a paper founded in 1838 to serve the pub and then, later, the entertainment trade. By the last quarter of the 1800s it was the paper for anyone working in the theatre, music hall or opera. So I didn’t expect it to be a rich source for the police courts but then again, why not? After all we’ve already had the appearance of the great Grimaldi in recent posts.


in 1888 Mrs Margaret Owston ran a ‘ghost illusion’ in a theatre on Tottenham Court Road. This might have been a ‘Pepper’s ghost’ effect; a well-known theatrical device invented by John Henry Pepper in 1862. This is a magic trick involving mirrored rooms and a sheet of glass placed at a 45 degree angle. A ‘ghost’ can appear to move from one to the other and disappear!

Mrs Owston had come to the Dalston Police Court in July 1888 to complain that a fellow theatre professional was threatening and abusing her. The person in question was Thomas Edward Marshall. Marshall was described in court as ‘gaunt individual’ and said to be ‘a combination of scene painter, actor, and marionette worker’.

Several of Maragret’s fellow workers – a range of different performers – testified in court that Marshall had come to her home in Homerton, East London, and had shouted abuse and broken her windows. demanding money he said she owed him.

The magistrate fully convicted him of the offence and sent him to prison for two months with hard labour. Perhaps he decorated his cell…perhaps he escaped by ‘illuding’ his captors…?


[from The Era, Saturday, July 28, 1888]

A ‘persevering tormentor’ from Seven Dials

Catherine Johnson was a middle-aged women who lived in court off Long Acre, Covent Garden. In the nineteenth century Covent Garden was a much rougher and poorer district than it is today, containing as it did the notorious rookery of Seven Dials. John Keats described Seven Dials as the place ‘…where misery clings to misery for a little warmth, and want and disease lie down side-by-side, and groan together.’

Dudley street, seven dials: 1872
Gustave Dore. Dudley street, seven dials. Busy street scene with sets of shops which can be seen on the right. The shops are selling shoes which are lining up on the floor around the opening from under the ground. Children and their mothers are in front of them. This image was first published in ‘London, a Pilgrimage’ 1872, on p.158.

In the summer of 1849 Catherine was brought before the magistrate at the City of London’s Guildhall to answer the complaint of a Mr Wheeler, a proctor* whose offices were in Godliman Street (near St Paul’s cathedral).

Wheeler complained that Catherine had forced her way into his offices and had refused to leave unless she was given three sovereigns. It wasn’t the first time Catherine had demanded money from Wheeler, he had (he told the alderman justice) been plagued by her for years.

The pair had been close some 21 years ago but he had ‘ceased all connexion [sic] with her about 17 years back’. Since then she had constantly harangued him for money. She came to his work, stopped him in the street, ‘even watching him to or from his private residence’. She simply would not leave him alone and now he was seeking the protection of the law.

Wheeler said he had given he plenty of money over the years and so had discharged ‘ his obligations’ towards her. He was determined to give her not a penny more he said.One of Wheeler’s clerks supported his employer’s evidence that Catherine was a frequent visitor to the office, even coming in via a private door when refused entry at the front. On this occasion he had been forced to call a policeman to get her taken away.

It is hard not to feel sorry for Catherine and to wonder about the situation she had found herself in. Without knowing what ‘connection’ the pair had had some 20 years previously  it seems likely that they had a relationship of sorts. Did Catherine think they would marry? Did she have a child to support? Was she living in relative poverty in the area of Seven Dials when she might have expected a more fashionable address?

Unsurprisingly the magistrate took the man’s part in this. Alderman Challis bound her over to keep the peace for 3 months, on a bond of £5. She was then released and we have no idea if she kept to the agreement she had made.

*proctor could mean Wheeler was employed by a school or university but it is more likely that he was some sort of solicitor.

[from Daily News, Friday, July 27, 1849]

The famous Grimaldi narrowly avoids falling foul of planning legislation


There are few more famous clowns in history than Joseph Grimaldi. By 1827 he had retired from his stage performances but was still closely involved in the theatre, as this case from Hatton Garden Police Court shows.

Grimaldi and the Principal Proprietor at the Sadler’s Wells theatre (Richard Dixon) were summoned to appear before the sitting magistrate at Hatton Garden by Charles Beazley. Beazley was the district surveyor.

It appeared that the theatre proprietor had erected a wooden structure to host pony races at Sadler’s Wells. This must have been an impressive sight and very entertaining but Beazley, as the voice of reason, was unimpressed. Dixon’s erection was of wood when it should – in line with recent changes to fire regulations (as he pointed out) have been constructed from ‘bricks or stone’.

However, he told that court that prior to his bringing his suit he had spoken to  Dixon and had extracted a promise that the theatre proprietor would remove the building in November.

As he ‘had no wish to put Mr Dixon…to any expence [sic] or annoyance, he should agree to the building standing till that time’ so long as Dixon entered into recognizances* to that effect. Dixon agreed and he and his ‘veteran’ companion thanked the court and departed.

Health and safety was presumably not that much of a concern if a building that broke the rules was allowed to serve its intended purpose despite not meeting the regulations.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, July 26, 1827]

A Welsh pugilist suffers for his ‘hart’


John Lewis was a boxer – or rather a pugilist as they were described in the 1800s. Lewis was a small but successful fighter who claimed the nomenclature of the ‘Little Welsh Champion’. In July 1834 he was in (appropriately enough) the Welsh Harp public house in Holborn, London.

He ordered and drank some porter and became very talkative, telling his fellow drinkers about his exploits and claiming that he could beat anyone.He spoke, the press reported, of boxing as ‘a “hart kalkerlated” (an art calculated) ‘to keep up the spirits of the county’, and said he fought for fame as well as the purse.

This went on for a while until one or more of the assembly became bored of his boasts and took issue with his eulogy of the noble art. Lewis, more worse for wear now from his drinking, challenged anyone who disagreed to take him on.

The landlord, a Mr Rowe, had no desire to see his pub turn into a boxing ring so he had him ejected. Lewis picked himself off the street and charged back in whereupon he was asked to pay for the beer he had drunk. Now the Welshman pretended ‘intoxication’ and refused to pay, so he was kicked out once more.

Somehow though Lewis got in again and went upstairs. Mr Rowe’s servant came down to warn the publican that the boxer was outside his sick wife’s bedroom and he feared he would do her harm. Rowe rushed upstairs and confronted Lewis. The pugilist said he was looking for someone else, and when brought before the Hatton Garden magistrate he repeated his claim. The landlord thought he was up to no good so charged him with a suspected felony.

It was a loose charge but the JP felt it was justified. The boxer had been in and out of the court on charges of being drunk and disorderly several times in the past and so he sent him to the house of correction for a month’s imprisonment.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, July 25, 1834]

Illegal gambling in Fulham

Henry Mitchell was a young man and like many young men today he liked a flutter. Watch any sport on television at the moment and during the ad breaks (and sometimes even during the play if you are on Sky) there will be an invitation to bet on the outcome.

Gambling is not illegal now but it used to be much more tightly restricted. I think it is rather a shame that it isn’t still because it ruins lives; the past wasn’t always a worse and less enlightened place.

Back to Henry. In July 1877 PC Ward was patrolling his beat in Sands End , Fulham on a Sunday when he came across two boys playing ‘look out’ for the police. He called a colleague and stationed him at one end of Gas Factory lane while he headed across the nearby field.

Ward soon found what the two lads had been trying to screen him from: eight or nine young men ‘gambling with halfpence’. Mitchell was arrested and found to have 21s in silver and 3s 9d in bronze coins. The court was told that Mitchell and others made a habit of gambling here on Sundays (when it was illegal to do so) and always placed younger boys in positions ‘to watch for the police’.

Henry denied and said he sold fruit and that was why he had the money, he’d only tossed a coin with a man that owed him threepence (for ‘sixpence or quits’). The magistrate was not convince and fined him £1 or 14 days in prison.

[From Daily News , Tuesday, July 24, 1877]

Contrasting fortunes at the London Police Courts


The ‘New police’ taking ‘charges’ to the Marlborough Street Police Court (c.1830)

I have two stories for you this morning, reflecting the contrasting events that brought people to appear at London’s Police Courts in the nineteenth century. For me they also highlight the different ways the capital impacted the lives of the many thousands of people that lived there; it was a hard and unforgiving place in the 1800s and Londoners had to survive as best they could.

James Grey was not surviving very well at all. He had traveled down from Glasgow to look for work, with his wife and two children in tow. They had been brought in to court because they had been found ‘looking [but] not asking for alms’ and a parish officer had taken pity on them and accompanied them to the nearest police court.

Grey and his family were economic migrants: he came  ‘for the purpose of bettering his condition’ he told the sitting magistrate (the Lord Mayor) at Mansion House. Sadly, it hadn’t worked out that way. Grey brought money to support them for ‘five or six weeks’ but that was soon gone and the weather made it hard for him to find any work. Now they had no money and nowhere to live.

The Lord Mayor asked him: ‘Why, what a fool were you to leave a certainty for an uncertainty. Why did not ask some of your countrymen about London before you left?’

The Scotsman replied that he had, and everyone that spoke for leaving said there was money to made there whilst those that ‘spoke against it never returned home’. This provoked laughter in the courtroom. James must have felt ashamed as well as desperate. When prompted by the Lord Mayor Grey asked him for help in getting them all home to Scotland where he was sure he would find work again.

The Lord Mayor extracted a promise that he would never again  come to London to  seek his fortune and directed him to a charitable organization that then provided the funds for the long trip north.

The next (and contrasting) case concerned two members of the so-called ‘swell mob’ – the ‘well-dressed thieves’ that lived (as best they could) from the profits of crime. Henry Vincent and Richard Jones  appeared at Marlborough Street Police Court charged with picking pockets. A former Bow Street Runner named Reardon had seen the pair while he worked as police constable during the King’s levee on St James. They were working their way through the crowd, dipping into the pockets and removing wallets and coins.

When Reardon apprehended them he found over £8 in cash between them, quite some haul! Where Grey and his family brought themselves low by refusing even to beg in the streets these two had determined to live well by their cunning and dexterity, knowing that London would always provide them with rich pickings.

The magistrate sent them to the house of correction for two months.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, July 23, 1830]