A ‘fashionable’ young barmaid avoids prison in Lambeth


Lambeth, c.1850


Charlotte White was a young lady who liked to look her best. Just like many today she tried to keep up with fashions and enjoyed buying new clothes and accessories. Unfortunately for Charlotte her earnings as a barmaid were hardly sufficient to keep her head above water, let alone allow herself the indulgences she craved. Although undoubtedly she worked hard behind the bar in the Horse & Groom in Lambeth, she needed a little extra to supplement her weekly wages.

Thomas Cook had employed her in April and presumably he had appreciated her looks and thought her  a suitable candidate to serve his customers and perhaps thought she might even attract some trade; he wouldn’t have been the first or last publican to employ a pretty face to bring in the punters.

But after 6 months or so he began to have some doubts about Charlotte and wondered if she was dipping into his till to fund her ever-changing wardrobe. He started to watch her more closely and when he was sure that his suspicions were correct he called on the police and asked them to investigate.

PC William Guest (62L) searched her rooms and found a deposit box. At first Charlotte said she had lost the keys and couldn’t open it for him. PC Guest persisted however,and on searching her person found the key and opened the box. Inside he discovered a bank savings books which showed a series of entries from August that revealed she had deposited £13 and then another £4 a week later. In addition one of Mr Cook’s shirt studs was also found in the box.

The policeman had found Charlotte’s key in a pocket in the dress she was wearing and the Lambeth Police Court was told that she had numerous dresses, all with numerous pockets. A more thorough search of these had uncovered a purse containing £1 16s in gold and silver coin. Her personal boxes were opened and these were apparently full of ‘the most elegant and expensive dresses’.

The magistrate asked Charlotte if she had anything to say in her defence but she remained silent. He remanded her for further examination and she was taken down. Charlotte reappeared on the 26th November, five days later. This time Mr Cook’s representative in court (Mr Child of Wire and Child solicitors) said his client wished to withdraw the charges. He told the court that ‘there were some circumstances connected to the case which induced his client to… take a favorable view of the matter’.

The justice commented that in his opinion there was little of substance that Charlotte could be charged with anyway, the theft of the stud was probably all there was, so he agreed. Mr Child agreed but asserted his client’s belief that Charlotte was at the very least guilty by intention of taking his money but he still wished, on account of her age and ‘all circumstances’ not to take it any further.

So Charlotte was released, and presumably ‘let go’ from her position. The court reporter described her as ‘fashionably dressed’ and having ‘highly respectable’ friends. Perhaps they offered to compensate Mr Cook and find a new place for Miss White. If so she was a very lucky young woman, many others would have found themselves on the streets after being dismissed from service and brought before the courts, regardless of whether a case could be proved or not. Hopefully Charlotte found a new path and just maybe, a new position in a dressmakers.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, November 21, 1851]

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