In 1862 a series of attacks in London (starting with one on Hugh Pilkington MP ) by robbers who grabbed their victims from behind and throttled them, initiated a wave of reports of similar incidents up and down the country. Before long Britain was in the grip of a ‘moral panic’ and the police and courts clamped down on anyone they suspected of being a ‘garrotter’.
The key suspects were the so-called ‘criminal class’ and in particular those criminals that had been released earlier from imprisonment on license. These were known as ‘ticket-of-leave’ men and I’ve written about them before on this blog.
The 1862 panic soon faded from the attention of the public as the press moved on to new stories but the term lingered. Thereafter street robberies with violence were occasionally referred to as ‘garrotings’ as this example from 1867 shows.
James Perring, an Islington resident, was riding in his cart on Fann Street when a young man stopped his vehicle. Mr. Perring may have been elderly, the report is not clear, but he was certainly not able-bodied. He had suffered a recent wound in his leg and was forced to walk with a crutch for support.
The person that stopped his cart, later identified as 19 year-old William Brown, (a ‘stout looking fellow’), was not alone, he had three companions. Regardless of this Mr. Perring asked him to let go of his horse ‘or he would be kicked’.
As he said this one of the other men leaped into the cart and grabbed him around the throat, pulling him over. Perring suffered badly from this attack and the wound in his leg was opened up causing him to lose a lot of blood.
Brown saw this and pressed his advantage, kicking the cart owner in the knee when he tried to grab at him. As he shouted for help the four men or boys all ran away. Mr. Perring checked his pockets and found he had lost five sovereign coins (quite a bit of money for the 1860s). The robber had also dropped his cap which Perring later found it in his cart.
The police soon arrived and started to search for the gang but only managed to discover Brown. He had run into a lodging house, crept upstairs into a room and had thrown ‘himself on a bed, pretending to be asleep’. The landlord said he had never seen him before and the police took him away protesting his innocence.
Brown appeared at Clerkenwell Police Court in late January 1867 charged with felonious assault. He wasn’t charged with the robbery because fortunately for him and Mr Perring the sovereigns were found when a thorough search of the cart was made.
Probably because of this or because none of the other protagonists could be found this case never made it to the Old Bailey. It may have been an attempted robbery or simply antisocial behaviour by a group of young ‘hooligans’ (although that term wasn’t coined until the 1890s). Either way it was very unpleasant for James Perring and evidence that the notion of the ‘garroter’ was still very much in the public domain five years after the panic had subsided.
[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, January 26, 1867]