Stealing His Grace’s kippers

John Williams was a ‘labourer of no fixed abode’ when he was charged at Clerkenwell Police Court with stealing a hamper. The charge was brought by the Great Northern Railway Company, whose representative testified that Williams had been seen removing a hamper of fish from one of its  delivery vans parked in Charles Street, Farringdon.

Williams approached the front of the vehicle, reached in and took up the hamper and ran off pursued by a member of railway’s staff. He was soon captured and handed over to the police.

The hamper was addressed to the Duke of Northumberland* and while its contents were not disclosed in court one imagines they included smoked haddock and salmon, both staples of a good breakfast or supper for those that could afford them.

John Williams clearly could not but saw an opportunity to make some money or put some food in his belly. Williams was described as a ‘man of colour, and a native of Jamaica’ which reminds us that London had a diverse population at the turn of the 19th century (as indeed it had at the beginning of it).

Williams did not get to eat the sea fruits of his opportunism, but he was soon to taste prison food; the magistrate sent him to gaol at hard labour for a month.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, October 17, 1897]

  • this would have been the 6th Duke, Algernon Percy who had succeeded to the title in 1867 and who had a long political career, serving under Disraeli and Lord Derby. He was also a Garter Knight and by 1897 was in the twilight years of his life, dying as he did two years later.

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