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]

A missing husband at West Ham

If you have been following this blog you will have noticed that while the focus is on the Police Courts of London in the 1800s the work of the courts and magistrates that presided in them covered a lot of business that can not be described as ‘crime’. People used the police courts as a sort of first-stop help centre; to prosecute crime certainly, but also to complain about poor working conditions, a lack of support from parish officials, and sometimes as way of getting important information into the public domain. They were helped in this by the presence of the media of the day, the newspapers, who reported stories they thought would interest their readers.

Today’s story is a case in point; a crime may have been committed but it is unlikely.

Mrs William Blay presented herself at West Ham Police Court to seek the help and advice of the sitting justice, Mr Phillips. She and her spouse had been married for 15 years and had never had a cross word she told the beak. William Blay was a Thames lighterman but had recently been working as a labourer at a dry dock at Ratcliffe.


Ratcliffe in the 1890s

The couple lived in Stratford and William had left the family home on Livingstone Road at just past 5 in the morning, getting to work ok. He’d left there at 9 (people worked long hours in the nineteenth century) but never made it home. She knew he was ‘in the habit of coming home by the tow path of the Rice Mills River, as it was a short cut’, and she feared he might have fallen and drowned.

The court usher intervened; Mr Izatt told the magistrate that had William fallen in and perished he thought his body would quickly have been found, as the canal drained daily. Mrs Blay continued, giving a description of William. He was 41 with a fair complexion, blue eyes and light whiskers and mustaches. He had been wearing ‘a dark jacket over a blue guernsey, fustian trousers, and a flannel shirt’. His clothes were old and tatty, she told Mr Phillips, because his work was hard (and not well paid she might have added).

He had a cut on his head which had healed to leave a scar, one of his kneecaps had been broken and ‘on the foot of the same leg his his toes were bound up, him having met with several accidents recently’. William Blay was probably working as a day labourer because he could no longer operate as  lighterman due to the state of his poor health. Little was done to support workers who were injured at work and William was probably doing his level best to keep the family out of the workhouse.

Mrs Blay asked for the press’ help in finding him and the magistrate thought it likely they now would, she thanked him and left. In reality there was very little she could hope for. No one was going to mount a search for a poor half crippled labourer who had probably fallen into the canal or a ditch so exhausted must he have been having tramped to Ratcliffe from Stratford (about 6 miles, so perhaps an hour or more’s walk) for a minimum of a 12 hour working day in the heat of summer.

We might remember that our society has imposed rules on how long people can work and made great strides towards protecting workers from accidents and supporting them when they are unable to continue in the same employment. We should never take these hard won rights for granted.

[from Daily News, Saturday, July 22, 1882]

A bargeman loses his ear in a tussle over a fishy snack

Thomas Williams, a Thames lighterman,  was enjoying a drink in Buckmaster’s beershop in Lower Thames Street when Lawrence Lawrenson entered the premises, carrying some sticks under his arm. Lawrenson immediately began to ‘flourish them as if about to conjure’. He was probably going to try and raise some funds for a drink or two but then he noticed Williams.

Thomas was holding a small parcel of cooked fish wrapped in his handkerchief and the would-be entertainer made a grab for it. When the lighterman resisted and pushed him away Lawrenson fell on him, and they both tumbled on the floor of the shop. As he tried to escape his attacker Williams felt Lawrenson’s teeth on his ear, biting him.

The assault resulted in a piece of Williams’ ear being bitten off. The offending item was then produced in court (‘preserved in spirits of wine’, the reporter noted). Poor Williams testified that he had bled badly from the wound and the justice in the Mansion House court remanded Lawrenson in custody while a medical opinion was sought.

[From The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, July 21, 1877]

An early train vandal

In July 1881 a teenage boy was produced before the magistrate at Mansion House charged with criminal damage. Frederick Wilkinson was 16 and worked in service. His employer appeared in the Police Court and said he was a very well behaved young man and had never given cause for concern.

What a surprise it must have been then to learn that Fred had been carving obscene words into the seat of a third class carriage on the South Eastern Railway. The company, formed in 1836, took passengers from London to Dover and all points in between. As the train Frederick was riding came into Charing Cross a signalman noticed him all alone in third class.

At the station Frederick was stopped and the station master called to investigate what the signalman thought he had seen. Despite Frederick’s denials the words (not identified in court) were clearly inscribed on the bench and he was arrested.

Sir Robert Carden, a City magistrate ‘as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair) December 1880′.

The justice, Sir Robert Carden was sure the lad had done the damage and ‘expressed his sorrow that a boy with such a good character should have such a filthy mind’. He fined him 40s or a month’s prison. The money was paid and Fred released.

[from Daily News, Wednesday, July 20, 1881]

Two Italian musicians in a row about a monkey

Pietro and Tomaso Marsini were described in the Guildhall court as ‘Savoyard brothers’. Savoy was a historical region in what is now territory shared between France, Switzerland and Italy. The House of Savoy was an old Italian family, reaching back to the 11th century, which rose in power throughout the medieval and early modern period eventually ruling Sicily from the early 1700s. We might imagine then that the Marsini brothers were the ancestors of the Mafia that rose i the early twentieth century. I might be being a little fanciful however.

What we do know is that Pietro and Tomaso were in court accused of assault and wounding. John Mullins and John Geary, two London bricklayers, were making their way along Phillip Lane close to London Wall one evening in July 1860 when they encountered the two Italians. A quarrel broke out  and the four men fell into fighting. The ‘Savoyards’ had knives, the English men merely their fists, and so the outcome was perhaps inevitable. Mullins was helped into court by two friends but Geary remained at risk in hospital, his life in the balance.

The Italians spoke little English and so the evidence of one of the victims (Mullins) had to be translated for them. Mullins claimed they had been attacked for no reason but the brothers said they had been provoked. Another witness, a chimney sweep and his mate, seemed to support this. He saw the two Italians (and one other not in court)  in the street with a flageolet, a harp and and monkey and noticed John Geary approach them. Geary (who was clearly very drunk according to the witnesses present)  tried  ‘to shake hands with the monkey’ and this caused the animal to fall off its perch. Pietro shoved him out of the  way and Tomaso aimed a blow at him with  his cane. He hit Mullins and it all kicked off.

The four tumbled in the street and while several bystanders watched in horror knives were produced and both Englishmen were stabbed. The police were called and the two Italians arrested while the third escaped with the monkey and the instruments.

The court was told that Geary had suffered  a wound to his thigh and another which had penetrated his lung. he was not out of danger but it was hoped he would recover. He did survive and the Marsini brothers were eventually brought to trial at the Old Bailey in August. They pleaded guilty and were sent to prison for six months.

[From Daily News, Thursday, July 19, 1860]

‘An anti-Malthusian magistrate’ saves the day

Edward Gibbs was lying on the pavement in Farringdon Street when a policeman came across him at ten o’clock one July night. The bobby on his beat found him in a state of intoxication and asked him what he was doing there. Gibbs told him he had taken poison and in a rush the policeman took him to get help. At a Mr Henderson’s he was given an emetic which drew off some laudanum before he was then taken to hospital where his stomach was pumped.

One of Gibbs’ friends swore that the man had been jilted at the altar by his fiance but Edward denied this was the case. Instead he said he not the funds for the wedding as money that was being sent by ship had not arrived in time.

Edward said he had ‘no quarrel’ with his sweetheart and the magistrate clearly took pity on him. While suicide was a crime he did not think people generally attempted it for reasons such as this. Instead of punishing the young man he ordered the court to pay him 7s so he could proceed with his marriage.

The paper headed the report: ‘An anti-Malthusian magistrate’ and we might wonder why. Thomas Malthus was an economist whose ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’ (1798) was very influential at the time. Malthus argued that the world needed to either curb its population growth or find new ways to feed an expanding number of people. He doesn’t always get a very good press, perhaps because he is sometimes misquoted or misinterpreted. However, the reporter here might have been suggesting that by encouraging marriage (and thereby procreation) when there were insufficient funds available (to Edward Gibbs at least), the magistrate was going against Malthusian principles.

[from Daily News, Saturday, July 18, 1846]