‘Road Rage’ in Victorian London

When Henry King ‘parked’ his Royal Mail cart in front of a tram in central London he set in train a series of events that eventually landed him court, possibly costing him his job and nearly landing him in prison.

King drove his cart ahead of George Gurtern’s tram and stopped. The conductor of the tram blew his whistle ‘several times’ but the postman refused to budge. Then he set off again at a snail’s pace f about three miles an hour, only to keep stopping and so repeatedly obstruct the London Tramway Company’s vehicle.

Finally Gurtern left the tram car and approached King, asking him to move. But, ‘instead of complying’ the cart driver struck him ‘several times violently with his whip’. King’s blows wounded the conductor; cutting through his cap and into his head.

In court Gurtern’s evidence was supported by a passenger on the tram who testified to the assault and added that there had been plenty of room for King to have ‘moved off the rails’ that the tram ran on.

The magistrate in Lambeth Police Court said King’s conduct was ‘disgraceful’ and he imposed a hefty fine of 40s plus 2s costs for the assault, and a further 40s and costs for the obstruction. He added that ‘he had a mind to send him to prison without the option of a fine.’

London’s busy streets were always a battleground for the competing road users. Horses, carts, coaches and hansom cabs had to fight for space with pedestrians and increasingly with trams and then omnibuses as the century progressed. From the 1860s the underground railway offered an alternative (if rather choking) means of transport for Londoners. Historically the city’s police courts had been dealing with traffic problems and incidents of ‘road rage’ similar to this as far back at the middle of the eighteenth century and I rather suspect they will continue to do so long in the 21st.

[from The Standard , Friday, September 13, 1889]

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