Two enterprising con artists almost fool the well-meaning folk of the City

In 1836 (the year before Queen Victoria began her long reign) two women appeared before the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House police court. Mary Jones and Harriet Wilson were charged with attempting to get charity by presenting forged begging letters and petitions.

A string of witnesses were called to testify as to whether they had signed the various documents the women had presented. All of these were upstanding members of the community, described by the newspaper reporter as ‘the highest names in the charitable vocabulary’. All of them denied signing any petitions or writing a letter for either woman; several though were puzzled as to how the pair had managed to gain what looked like genuine signatures.

The women’s attempt at forgery was clearly quite effective and many of those that had seen (and were familiar with) the handwriting or signatures of prominent parishioners were fooled by the ruse. One man even said that he had no recollection of signing anything for them but it looked like his writing (this prompted laughter in the court).

The Lord Mayor (sitting as chief magistrate for the City of London) sent the women to prison for their pains as ‘first-rate hands in the trade of mendicancy’.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, October 12, 1836]

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