‘A lenient decision’ at Borough Market


Borough Market in the 1860s

Later today I’m off to doing my Christmas food shopping at Borough Market in Southwark.  Today its a cosmopolitan place, full of tourists and Londoners, all mingling amongst the wonderful smells of Asian, Indian, Spanish and Italian cookery or eyeing up the beautiful displays of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. It’s probably a little pricier than it needs to be and die-hards will tell you its not a authentic as it once was, but I love it.

Borough is ancient as well; there’s been a market here for at least a 1000 years, nobody knows for sure. In the medieval period the market at Southwark was a rival to those in London (across the river) and attempts were made to suppress or or even to forbid Londoners to shop there. In the 15th century the Borough came completely under City governance, and as London expanded south the market became an institution.

In the nineteenth century Borough developed from a ‘parochial market’ into a wholesale fruit and vegetable market of national importance. The railway (the South Eastern) brought noise and smoke but customers as well. The development of New Covent Garden in the 1970s nearly killed off Borough but today it is thriving, if not as a wholesale market but a  place to buy anything from purple Brussel sprouts to a Kangaroo burger.

In 1883 Mary Ann Richards was in the market.A policeman saw her standing outside a butcher’s shop wearing a shawl and watched as she lifted a ‘hand of pork off the stall board, and put it under her shawl’.

The copper arrested her and on 22 December she appeared at the Southwark Police Court charged with theft. One of her two daughters came to court to plead for leniency. The court was told that Mary Ann was married and had never been trouble with the law before.

The policeman had made his own inquiries and confirmed that Mary Ann’s husband was ‘respectable’ and their two daughters were ‘industrious’. They were, in other words, a suitable object for mercy.

The magistrate turned to the daughter and tried to reassure her. Mr Marsham said he would deal with her mother not as a felon but instead convict her of unlawful possession. This carried a more lenient sentence; Mary Ann Richards was ordered to pay a fine of 10s or spend 7 days in prison.


[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, December 23, 1883]

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