In the 1860s the Police Courts closed at Christmas but just as we are used to that last minute rush for a present so the Victorian court system (and those caught up in it) were clean to clear the decks and settle down for the goose and the crackers.
At Worship Street in Stepney on Christmas Even 1866 the sitting magistrate was busy. As usual the cells were full of night charges brought in by the police in the evening and small hours, many of them drunk and incapable. The morning visitors were often those seeking the support or the protection His Worship; paupers, the elderly or abused wives.
On the 24 December 1866 the court reporter from the Morning Post noted decided to dispose with the usual reflection on one peculiar or otherwise interesting case and instead give a flavour of the courtroom before the holiday:
‘Mr Newton was engaged for a long time’ he wrote, ‘in hearing applications from the poor-box, and disposing of cases against the incurably drunk and the drunk and disorderly’.
Most of those threatened with incarceration did what they could to avoid being locked up at Christmas, offering ‘all sorts of excuses for their misbehaviour. In most circumstances they were discharged, with the caution, “Don’t come here again”.
However, two men were not so lucky. One (a ‘dirty-looking looking fellow’) had approached two girls in the street holding a bunch of mistletoe and demanding a kiss from each. When they refused he struck out, hitting one of them in the eye and causing her to faint. The bully was sent to prison for 14 days.
The other man had been conning punters on the Mile End Road with the ‘three-card trick’. His ‘confederates’ had kept an eye out for the police which had almost saved him from arrest. Unfortunately for him an officer in plain clothes infiltrated the crowd and when he witnessed one of the onlookers being cheated out of a sovereign he pounced and the fraudster was now going to spend the Christmas season in gaol.
Happy Christmas everyone and thanks for reading – more tales will continue tomorrow!
[from The Morning Post , Tuesday, December 25, 1866]