Desertion, infidelity and death in Little Drummond Street


Little Drummond Street in 1827

John Cein appears to have a been a callous individual, however you look at it. Cein was a tailor who worked for a Mr Cave on Argyle Street (near the Gray’s Inn Road). He had a wife and four children.

However at some point in 1860 Cein left his wife and moved out. As a consequence the family fell on hard times and Mrs Cein was unable to support them. By the end of October she had already buried one child and another lay dead. She had recently gone to the parish to ask for help and so had been directed to the workhouse, the ultimate disgrace for the poor in the Victorian period.

Now the parish officials went in pursuit of John and he was tracked down to a house at 13 Little Drummond Street by the gate porter at the St. Giles workhouse. The porter, Richard Dyer, found Cein in bed with another woman and arrested him.

The tailor was brought before Mr Tyrwhitt at Marlborough Street Police Court and charged with ‘deserting his wife and leaving her and his four children chargeable on the parish of St. James’. Dyer said that when he took Cein into custody the other woman removed a watch and chain from his neck ‘and said she would come to court and settle for him in the morning’. However, there was no sign of her at Marlborough Street.

John Cein claimed he had already attempted to discharge his responsibilities towards his wife by offering the parish 5s a week to care for them, but this had been refused. The magistrate warned him that if he could not come to some arrangement he would send him to prison for  a month, and keep repeating the sentence until he did settle.

Cein and a parish officer briefly left the courtroom to negotiate but were soon back, having not been able to agree a fee to maintain Mrs Cein. Mr Tyrwhitt made good on his threat and sent to tailor to gaol. A ‘pale careworn-looking’ Mrs Cein was in court to hear all of this and voiced her distress telling the ‘beak’ that it was ‘through want and the prisoner’s cruelty that her children were dead’.

I’m sure John Cein was a callous man and in abandoning his wife and children he condemned them to poverty and perhaps even caused the death of the infants. But I can’t see how sending him to prison really helped Mrs Cein and her surviving children. The parish acted not our of concern for her or them, but to indemnify themselves (and the better off ratepayers) from having to support them on the Poor Rates. The Victorian system (especially after the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act) was institutionally cruel and condemned tens of thousands to a hand-bu-mouth existence riven by disease, desperation and death.

[from The Morning Post, Sunday, October 31, 1860]

A bailiff gets his comeuppance

In October 1849 Henry and Margaret Joyce were summoned to the Clerkenwell Police Court to be be charged with assault by Henry Herrick. The Joyces ran an ironmonger’s shop in Wilstead Street, Somers Town (near Euston in central London). Herrick was ‘an officer of the Palace Court’, a court that was concerned with the private prosecution of small debts. It is likely that Herrick was a forerunner of a modern debt recovery officer, or bailiff. The compile were represented in court by a lawyer who was usually attached to the Hatton Garden Police Court nearby.

Herrick gave his evidence, stating that he had gone to the Joyce’s shop to serve a warrant on their son. At the door he declared who he was and showed him his authority to arrest their boy for debt. Perhaps not surprisingly they threw him out and prevented him executing his warrant. The son was apparently hiding in the back yard.

The officer persisted however, forcing his way into the house and seizing the lad. Mrs Joyce now attacked him ‘violently’, pelting him ‘with crockeryware’! Henry Joyce tore his shirt and his wife snatched at his face. Eventually he dragged the son out into the street and tried to bundle him into a cart he had waiting nearby. The lad rested and a crowd soon gathered to see what all the fuss was about.

The defence now challenged his evidence, Mr Sidney (the Hatton Garden solicitor) asked Herrick: ‘Pray, have you got a staff?’ ‘Yes’ the officer responded. ‘Did you use it on my clients?’ Herrick denied that he had, and the staff was produced in court.

This was a heavy staff with a brass crown at the top, a ceremonial symbol of the officer’s authority but something capable of doing great harm. Mr Joyce declared that he had indeed used it on him in his attempts to capture their son.

The solicitor now remained to know where Herrick’s witnesses were. After all he had claimed that a large crowd had witnessed the ‘violent’ attack on him his clients. The only person who supported Herrick was his assistant, who said the boy had not resisted at first, but only after his parents had hit Mr Herrck. It was a confused and inconsistent prosecution and there were no independent witnesses that supported the Palace Court officer.

By contrast Mr Sidney was able to bring in a lady named Frances Stephenson who had entered the ironmonger’s shop as a customer and witnessed Herrick’s arrival. When Mrs Joyce saw the officer she asked him what he wanted.

‘”I’ll soon let you know”, and he stuck her. Witness [Mrs Stephenson] said, “You brute, what do you mean?” Witness then saw the staff in his hand. The children were alarmed, and crying and screaming. He had a large ring on his finger and he struck Mrs Joyce on the head’.

The magistrate asked Herrick if he wanted to question Mrs Stephenson. What we would the point, the officer answered, since she had sworn on oath against him. Mr Tyrwhitt (the magistrate) asked her if she had any connection to the Joyces. She hadn’t she said, ‘I am quite a stranger, and entered the shop accidentally to purchase the bottom of a grate’.

A local shoemaker also saw the altercation and testified that Herrick had struck Mrs Joyce. He said he saw  a small crowd and heard cries of ‘shame’ and hissing; ‘the people also hooted the officer’. He saw no one attack Herrick but he did see the officer and his assistant attack the son and his parents.

The evidence pointed to a counter accusation, that Herrick was the aggressor not the victim. This is certainly how Mr Tyrwhitt saw it and he advised the officer that he could take it to the Sessions of the Peace but he was going to dismiss it here.

Being arrested and then imprisoned for debt was a terrible thing in the 1800s. Thousands were incarcerated in prisons such as the Marshals (which the Palace court served). Dickens had first hand experience of this as his father had been locked up in one. Once in it was hard to get out because self-evidently your ability to repay any debt was complicated by imprisonment.

So this may be an example of collective resistance to the processes of the debtors’ court; Herrick was (as a bailiff character) a ‘hate figure’ and whether he acted as he testified or as the witnesses for the defence did, we shall never know.

I know whose side I’m on however.





[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, October 30, 1849]

Blood is thicker than water on Hackney Marshes


One disturbing report from the London papers on this day in 1888 reads reminds of the panic caused by the actions of an unknown killer on the streets of the capital:

At Clerkenwell, Frederick Dunbar, 48, a hair-dresser, of King-street, Somer’s Town, was charged with drunkenness, and disorderly conduct, in Bayham-street, Camden Town, on Sunday night. – Police-constable 493 Y, said that prisoner, who was surrounded by a crowd of people, was drunk, and he loudly shouted several times, “I am ‘Jack the Ripper.'” He was taken to the police-station, and about 1,000 persons gathered around. – Dunbar, in defence, said he was sorry for what had occurred. He had taken too much to drink. – Mr. Bros: You have made a fool of yourself, and I will send you to prison for twenty-one days’ imprisonment with hard labour.

That was from the Evening News and is one of many such ‘snippets’ posted as part of a huge amount of material on the excellent casebook site for the Ripper murders. London was gripped by the murders and one might think that this pushed all other ‘time news’ out of the news hole, fortunately (for readers here at least) this was far from the case.

While Fred Dunbar was being charged for his disorderly behaviour over at Dalston Police Court a ‘young gipsy’ called Daniel Gumble was brought before the sitting magistrate charged with a violent assault on his father-in-law, John Roster.

Neither man were prepared to be sworn on ‘that book’ (meaning the Bible) because they were gypsies. Roster actually stood up for his son-in-law, describing him as a ‘good father to his three children’ and adding that the assault had occurred when they were both drunk.

Mr Bros (the magistrate that had also appeared at Clerkenwell to deal with Dunbar) turned to the police for details of the crime. Police sergeant Nolleth said he had been informed of the assault at 2.30 in the morning when Roster turned up at the station asking to have his head wound dressed. Nolleth then went to the gypsy camp on Hackney Marshes and arrested Gumble.

He confirmed that Roster had complained that the younger man had hit him over the head with a clothes prop. But Roster again intervened on behalf of his son-in-law, repeating that he was a good man but poor,  he was a hard worker and that only the other night he had declared that Roster was the best father-in-law in the world.

‘You told a very different tale last night’, responded the police sergeant. ‘Oh a man says anything when drunk’ replied Roster. Since there seemed no desire on behalf of the prosecutor to press charges the case was dismissed and Daniel was released.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, October 29, 1888]

NB it seems that true Romani people follow a variety of faiths including Christianity and Islam. For more information see this interesting site

A ‘mad drunk’ Irishwoman defies the Westminster beak


At Westminster Police Court a ‘middle-aged Irish woman’ named Johanna Hearne was brought to the bar. PC Edwards (241A) was on his beat on Queen’s Road East, Chelsea, near the Chelsea Hospital at about 12.30 in the morning when he heard what he was a groan.

Crossing over he soon discovered Johanna hanging on the railways by a handkerchief. He struggled to free her and took her back the police station.

She was quite drunk and clearly attempting to end her own life. The magistrate asked how she could have managed such a thing and the policeman elaborated. She had apparently attached the hankie ‘by pieces of string and other things’ to the Chelsea Hospital’s railings.

It wasn’t easy to get her back to the station either, she struggled and was violent. Once there she tried to kill herself again and had to be subdued.

The justice, Mr Arnold turned his attention to the prisoner. ‘What have you to say for yourself?’ he asked.

‘Oh, I’ve got nothing to say. I was mad drunk’ replied Johanna with ‘an impudent laugh’.

Mr Arnold was not amused. ‘ shall not deal with you for the attempted suicide’ he said, but instead sentenced her to a 10s fine or a week in prison. ‘then I’ll do the seven days’ said a defiant Johanna.


[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, October 28, 1863]

NB on the faint chance that my good friend Simon is reading the may I take the opportunity to wish him a happy birthday. He was born 100 years to the day after this case reached the newspapers.

Frankly, this conman was a bit too clever for his own good

When Frank Wilcox, a boot finisher who lived in the Old Kent Road, visited Middlesex Street market (better know to us as ‘Petticoat Lane’) he noticed a man selling something that seemed too good to be true. Now, I suspect we all know that if it ‘seems too good to be true’ it probably is, but Frank was still taken in.

Another Frank, this time Frank Lowery, was selling purses on the street. The purses were cheap but as showed a watching crowd he was giving way money with them. For a 1 shilling purse he added 3s from his pocket, for  a 2s one you got 4s. It was clearly a bargain, free money – what we all dream of.

But of course it wasn’t.

Wilcox greedy handed over his shilling and took possession of a purse he thought had 3 shiny shillings in it. When he got away from the crowd he examined it and found to his disappointment it only contain 3 halfpences. He had been ‘done’.

He protested and then got a summons to bring the conman before the Guildhall magistrate.

Lowery was bold as brass (if you’ll forgive the pun) and told his worship that he would cheerfully explain how he carried out his scam. A constable handed him a purse and three shillings and Lowery took to his ‘stage’.

‘Now sir’, he began, ‘I wish you to watch me closely, so you see how I do it. Here is the purse  (turning it inside out). Now you all see there is nothing in it. Hand it round’.

This provoked laughter in court.

‘Here are the three shillings, I put them in the purse and then show them, then shake them up. I next take three halfpence out of my pocket, but I do not let them see me do it; and when I open the purse again, I take out the three shillings and put in the halfpence by sleight of hand, so they do not see me do it, and then I go so-so-so-so (slapping the purse from hand to hand) and the  it is done’ (more laughter).’

The magistrate was not amused. He told Lowery that he had demonstrated his guilt by his very actions and that he could hardly plead ignorance of his crime since the police found a newspaper article in his pocket describing  a prosecution for just such an offence.

‘But that was me, sir’ the unrepentant fraudster exclaimed, ‘and the grand Jury threw out the bill’. He was remanded in custody for further examination.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, October 27, 1878]

A coster fights back: evidence of collective action in mid Victorian London?

One of the issues the BBC Series that the Victorian Slum dealt with this week was the impounding of costermongers’ barrow, effectively depriving them of a livelihood. Costers (market tradesmen who sold a variety of goods from a mobile stall)  traded on the streets and throughout the 19th century they were engaged with an almost daily war with the police, who tried to move them on so they did not block the streets.


In October 1844 the street keeper of St Luke’s parish was summoned before the magistrate at Worship Street Police Court charged with assaulting a coster and seizing his barrow unlawfully.

The trader’s name was Charles Thwaites and he complained that on the previous evening Peter Dixon (the street keeper) came up to him while he was wheeling his stall with his stock of cauliflowers. It was about 9 o’clock and Thwaites was on his way to where he usually stood – outside a pub on Fore Street, near the Barbican.

Dixon approached him and told him he was going to impound his cart and take it to the Green Yard. The Green Yard had been the City of London’s ‘pound’ for centuries; wandering cattle and sheep, barrows and abandoned carriages all ended up there and  (just like modern car pounds) owners had to pay a fee to get their property released.

Thwaites objected to being taken there since he said he’d done nothing wrong. When a passing policeman came in range he appealed to him fro help. PC Coley (126G) listened patiently and then instructed him to go to the Police Station instead, to clear things up. However, as the coster set off Dixon once again interfered and tried to lead him off to the yard.

Dixon used force now, trying to take control of the barrow and when Thwaites resisted he threatened to ‘break his arm’. PC Coley now intervened – but on behalf of the parish officer, grabbing Thwaites by the collar and his neckerchief. The poor man complained that ‘he was nearly strangled’ and then ‘thrown to the ground. When he recovered himself his barrow and his cauliflowers were nowhere to be seen.

When he investigated he fondu that his vegetables had been taken to the workhouse and used to feed the inmates there, they had cost him 10s and he had not be recompensed for them. He added that his wife and children relied on him and if it had not been for some charitable donations they would be starving now.

Several witnesses were called to support Thwaites’ case and he had a lawyer as well. The policeman deposed that he had been called to assist the street keeper and that Thwaites was a regular problem, always been asked to move on. Thwaites’ lawyer pointed out that stalls in Whitecross street were routinely left unmolested, and that this seemed like a vindictive action by the police and parish official.

The magistrate agreed and said that PC Coley should also be in the dock, binding both of them over to appear at the sessions of the peace to answer what he considered to be  a very serious charge. However, he suggested that to avoid this the men might come to a settlement with the costermonger and so avoid trial.

I wonder whether Thwaites drew wider support from the coster community. I doubt he could have found the money for a lawyer on his own and this suggests that the traders were keen to challenge the authority of the street keepers and the police in their ongoing war over the use of the footpaths for commerce. In that at least there is a distant echo of collective action to protect customary rights from change.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, October 26, 1844]

Two lads cause a rumpus in Highgate

Walter Howe and Josiah Flanders were, by all accounts at least, a pair of tearaways. Despite only being 16 years of age Walter had already racked up a considerable amount of ‘gaol time’. He had been confined in a juvenile reformatory as a boy and had been to prison twice in his early teens. Josiah had so far avoided imprisonment but his appearance, in October 1881, at the Highgate Police Court was not his first.

The Reformatory Schools Act (1854) established a series of reformatories across England and Wales. Pioneered by Mary Carpenter in Bristol these became (along with Industrial Schools) the forerunners of more modern forms of youth custody centres. Their aim was to  remove young people from damaging influences and environment (especially the slums of London and other major British cities) and set them to learn useful skills alongside a ‘moral’ education.

A further act in 1854 allowed juvenile offenders  aged up to 16 to be sentenced to between 2 and 5 years in  reformatory school as an alternative to prison. However, they still had to go to gaol for 14 days – to soften them up and give them a taste of what they might have to look forward to should they not choose to mend their ways.

Clearly this had little effect on Walter Howe.

The boys appeared before the magistrate at Highgate accused of wilful damage and assault. A nurseryman in Highgate (Henry Glass) was disturbed by the noise the blade were making and came out of his house to find them attacking his wall. When he told them to stop they turned on him.

In court Glass testified that Howe struck him twice in the face with a stick while Flanders thumped him with his fist. A police detective appeared to confirm that the boys had a history of bad behaviour; he detailed their convictions and described Howe as ‘a very bad character’.

The magistrate sent Walter to prison for two months and the other lad for one. Clearly neither were good examples of the success of Victorian youth intervention policies.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, October 25, 1881]

Cholera and charity in mid-nineteenth century London


Between 1848-9 some 14, 137 Londoners died of Cholera. It was the second major outbreak of the disease to hit the capital in the 19th century and it was not to be the last. At first it was thought that cholera was spread by ‘bad air’ (a ‘miasma’) but later the pioneering work of John Snow established that it was water borne. This led Jospeh Bazalgette to overhaul the capital’s sewage system and ensure that Londoners have had safe drinking water since the late 1800s.

The newspaper reports of the London Police courts were (as regular readers will have seen)  generally concerned with the petty criminals, drunks and brawlers that were trouped before the capital’s ‘beaks’ to be sent for trial at Old Bailey or the Surrey Assizes, imprisoned in a house of correction for a few months, fined or otherwise admonished. Just occasionally however, they paused to reflect some of the other tasks these courts performed as part of their wider role as administrators of social relations in London.

In October 1849 there were two reports of the use of charity at the courts (one of which that related directly to the distress caused by the recent cholera outbreak). The disease not only killed thousands but it also left others bereaved, orphaned and weakened by its ravages. Many of the those that died were members of the urban poor; weakened by years of endemic poverty they often lacked the strength to fight disease. They were also the people that (as Snow’s investigation in Broad Street later in 1854 demonstrated) were forced to share a communal tap.

One report (from Westminster) informed the readers of the Morning Chronicle that the presiding magistrate had managed to distribute money to over 140 people or families, giving them 5 to 10 shillings each. By my calculation that suggests that the people of Westminster had donated something in the region of £100 (or around £5000 in today’s money) to the Westminster magistracy for the relief of those suffering the effects of cholera and its repercussions. Quite apart from the loss of breadwinners or the need to leave work to nurse the sick the poor would also have had to find money to bury their loved ones. This charity must have been very welcome.

A second report, from Thames, detailed individual donations ‘to the poor man Bushell’. These included ‘half a 5L note from a poor sailor’, the same from ‘a lady’, plus smaller offerings of 2s 6d from several people (some who gave names or initials, and others who wished to be anonymous).

Bushell had appeared before the Thames magistrate on the 19th October to ask for help. He had been Custom’s House officer in the City but had fallen on hard times. He spoke in court of his misfortune and his inability to support his wife and five children (the youngest of whom was a ‘babe in arms’). His landlord was trying to take possession of his property and evict them and his wife was now too ill to look after the children. He had approached the Poor Law authorities but what they offered was too little for the family to survive on.

This approach must have cost him plenty in terms of his pride and social standing and perhaps because of this when the readers of the The Morning Post  or Chronicle read his story they reacted so positively, sending small and large sums to him via the magistrate’s office.

This shows us that the Victorian public – like so many in today’s society – were willing to dig deep to her others deemed worse off than themselves. It also illustrates the multi-functional role that the Police Courts played in 19th century society.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, October 24, 1849]

On Friday 28 October I will be talking about the London Police Courts and the cases heard there at the National Archives in Kew. The archives are having  Night in the Archives Event (tickets only) contact the NA directly for details

The (literal) suspension of a worker by his colleagues


Dulwich College c.1869

A large group of workmen were engaged, in October 1867, in work at Dulwich School (also know as Dulwich college). The college had been in existence since the early 17th century and in the late 1860s it moved to its present site in south east London and a purpose built school, designed by Charles Barry (jnr) was  constructed.

This was a large project and today’s case (from the Lambeth Police Court) reveals that somewhere around 30-40 carpenters and plasterers alone worked on it the buildings. In any large group of men it is likely that tensions will arise for time to time and this is exactly what happened here.

A ‘slater’s boy’ was climbing a long ladder carrying his slates on his head when he met George Saffell, another worker, wanting to come down. The older man insisted that the boy descend the ladder to make way for him.

This was ‘considered unfair conduct’ by Saffell’s workmates and they applied their own rules to ‘punish’ him. He was charged ‘half a gallon’ as a fine. The court reporter did not specify what that meant but it probably referred to his daily or weekly allowance of alcohol in some way or another. They thought he was out of order and they inflicted a small fine to show their collective displeasure.

Saffell was in no mood to accept his punishment however, but this was a mistake on his part.

One evening soon afterwards he was sent for by his ‘mates’ and taken to the ‘shop’ where he was seized and his legs tied together. The men then hauled him up on a beam and suspended him 15 feet above the shop floor for 25 minutes. Saffell complained that this had caused him to have a rupture and that he was now in pain and incapacitated.

The magistrate quizzed several fellow workmen who admitted (much to the shock of the justice) that this was ‘common practice’ for those that broke their rules or refused to pay the fines. When pressed Saffell admitted that he had already been carrying an injury so his vociferous complaints about his inability to work were somewhat diluted. Nevertheless, the magistrate agreed that (despite the ‘rules’ of the shop floor) he had clearly been ‘assaulted’ in some respects.

The problem was in formally identifying those responsible from out of a large group of work mates. For the time being the court had two men ( William Steer and Frederick Coffey) in custody and so these two were fully committed for trial.

No case seems to have reached the Old Bailey so I suspect it was heard at Southwark or at the Surrey Assizes, or perhaps dropped for lack of evidence. Whether Saffell ever returned to work – let alone to that workforce – is equally unclear, but had he done so I rather suspect he might have avoided ladders in the future.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, October 23, 1867]