Three suspicious characters on the London Bridge line

John Davidson was an experienced City of London detective. In February 1882 he was walking in St Paul’s Churchyard (which in the past was a much less ‘respectable’ area than it is today). Davidson was not keeping an eye out for terrorists (as he might have been today, given our state of high alert) but instead for thieves.

He soon spotted three women he knew to be ‘habitual’ criminals and decided to follow them.

The women made their way to Ludgate Hill railway station before carrying on to  Cannon Street and boarding a train heading for London Bridge. The women had third class tickets but Davidson had his suspicions that they weren’t travelling for the purposes of going somewhere, but to steal from the other passengers.

He was correct.

He followed them on to the train and got off when they alighted at London Bridge. He hadn’t seen them do anything in particular but he remained sure they had. The detective now approached some of the other travellers and enquired whether they had lost anything.

One lady told him she had lost his purse so he decided to arrest the women. With the help of a nearby constable the three were taken into custody and back to a police station where they were searched.

No purse was found however, but he still charged them with picking pockets and they appeared at Southwark Police court on the following day.

Leonara Gray (23), Jane Fowkes (25) and Mary Kay (23) were presented and denied all charges against them. Detective Davidson was able to bring along Mary Ann Watts, a schoolmistress from Southwark Park Road who said she had been travelling on the train when the three got into her carriage.

Kay sat on one side of her while Gray occupied the other side, Fowkes sat opposite her. She kept her purse safely (she thought) in her ‘dress pocket’ and she was sure it was there when the women sat down. As the women left the train Detective Davidson entered the carriage and asked if she had lost anything. She checked and found her purse was gone.

She told the court if contained ‘a sovereign, a shilling, and her railway ticket’. Not a massive haul but enough to cover the three third class tickets and plenty left over.

A female warder from the Westminster Prison testified to knowing the three as ‘clever pickpockets’; ‘they had all been convicted at various terms’, she added. Although the evidence against them was circumstantial at best and I doubt a jury would have convicted them now, in 1882 that was enough to earn each of them 3 months hard labour.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, February 21, 1882]

P.S apparently Ludgate Hill station (which closed in 1929) was built over the site of the old Fleet prison, which seems an appropriate connection for our three light-fingered felons.

Late Victorian humour in the Police Courts

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The London Police Courts were the equivalent of today’s magistrates’ courts although they dealt with considerable more ‘civil’ and non-criminal business than the modern courtrooms do. In London Police magistrates (not members of the Police it should be said) sat alone not as  bench of three, and had considerable power to punish offenders. This was quick and faulty rough justice but it had its amusing moments and so the newspapers despatched their reporters daily to record the goings on in these summary courts.

The Illustrated Police News (which was not an official ‘police’ paper) was ‘one of Britain’s very first tabloids and one of the first periodicals to tap into the British public’s morbid appetite for crime and sensation’.* It had dramatic printed covers and carried news from all over Britain about murders, robberies, accidents and disasters.

When the infamous Whitechapel murderer struck in the late summer of 1888 the IPL was on hand to provide a gruesome commentary on the horrors and alert its readers to possible sightings of the suspect.

It was a sensational newspaper in a period in which ‘sensation’ came to the fore in popular culture; the papers began life in the 1840s and benefitted from the rise in newspaper consumption, the development of ‘New Journalism’, as well as the Music hall, melodrama and much faster communications (with railways and the telegraph).

In February 1897 the IPN reported on the daily round of cases at the Police Courts as usual. There was a case of domestic  violence at Guildhall in the City, one of child neglect at Marylebone; violence between neighbours in the Borough was dealt with at Southwark; and a jealous lover was jailed for a week for beating up a young woman who spurned his attention.

All of this was fairly typical of the sorts of hearings magistrates conducted during the 1800s and, as again was normal, the press were careful to place some light relief amongst all these tales of human misery.

On 20 February 1897 there were two cases that served this purpose.

Patrick Sweeney was a 27 year-old comedian who was of ‘no fixed abode’. He had been charged with stealing a ‘safety bicycle’ belonging to an actor named George Power. Sweeney had taken the bike and then tried to sell it to a cycle manufacturer in Battersea for £5.

He was arrested by Detective Stephens and when asked his name he handed over his calling card. On this was printed: Patrick Sweeney: The Champion Clog and Jog Dancer’. In the South West London Police court Power testified to being the owner of the bicycle but when it was pointed out that Sweeney was a fellow entertainer he said: ‘Really? I don’t know him’, drawing considerable laughter from the public gallery. Poor Patrick clearly wasn’t as famous as Dan Leno.

The clog dancing comedian was committed for trial for the theft despite his protests that he had bought the bike in Scotland and knew nothing of what he was accused of.

Meanwhile over at Thames another case tickled the editor of the Illustrated Police News.

A man (unnamed) was summoned for an unspecified offence (probably domestic violence). The defendant (who was the husband of the complainant), told the magistrate – Mr Mead – that his stepfather had married his wife’s mother and that they had had a family.

‘Then you are married to your sister?’observed the magistrate.

‘Well I suppose its something like that; its a kind of dual relationship’ the man replied.

‘And you sister is your wife?’ Mr Mead continued, clearly enjoying the man’s discomfort and so playing to his audience. ‘It seems so’ came the ‘despairing’ response.

‘And you married your father’s daughter?’ Mr Mead continued, ‘I suppose I did – in law’.

‘Then your stepfather’s daughter is your sister, and she is also  your wife?’ concluded the justice.

‘Oh I don’t know. It beats me’ declared the defendant to raucous laughter.

We all need some cheering up from time to time and, as the Victorians knew, nothing beats laughing at the discomfort of others.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc,  Saturday, February 20, 1897]

*’The Illustrated Police News: “The worst newspaper in England”’, by BNA (http://blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/author/violetmacdonald/) [accessed 20/2/2017]

A Mancunian tea-leaf is nabbed by the volunteers

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A volunteer from the 29th Middlesex Rifles, c.1870

A just after six on a Saturday evening in early 1878 Mr Walters was watching the Volunteer Corps band parade in Camden Town. The Volunteer Corps (or Force) was formed in 1859 in the aftermath of the Crimean War. The war with Russia had drained the nation’s services and the Volunteers were created to plug a gap in the home defences. By 1862 the Volunteer Force had a collective strength of just over 162,000 men.

As Walters listened to the band he felt a tap on his shoulder. As he turned round to see who it was he felt a ‘tug at his [watch] chain’.  He reacted quickly but not quickly enough because his watch was missing, stolen by a young man in the crowd who was now making his escape.

Unfortunately for the thief one of the volunteers had also seen the ‘daring robbery’. He grabbed hold of the  man and between them Walters and the part-time soldier, John Sachesman, took him into custody.

The young man – Thomas Jones, a 23 year-old hawker from Manchester – handed over the watch but there was damage to the clasp and chain. He apologised and said he would pay for the damage. He also begged Walters not to take him to court: he said ‘he would allow the prosecutor to beat and kick him if he would not lock him up’.

The case came before the Marylebone Police Court where Jones pleaded guilty to the charge of stealing a silver watch valued at £6 6s. The magistrate, Mr Cooke, sent Jones to prison for six months at hard labour.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, February 19, 1878]

Technology and pornography clash in the summary courts of the capital

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Today’s story from the London Police Courts combines two changes in the mid nineteenth century; one technological and the other legal.

In 1851 David Brewster exhibited his stereoscope at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. His stereoscope, invented by an Edinburgh mathematics teacher named Elliot and developed by  Jules Dobosqc, was not the first but it became very popular very quickly. The stereoscope allowed people to view 3D images on a handheld device, and had obvious entertainment and educational possibilities (sound familiar?).

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Brewster’s stereoscope

However, as with the still relatively new science of photography, some people soon realised that the stereoscope had other, less high brow or wholesome applications. In short, it opened new avenues for pornography.

The problem of pornography and its capacity to corrupt the morals of the population (especially young minds) was not lost on the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Campbell. While he presided over a trial for the sale of pornographic material Campbell was also involved in a  Lords’ debate on the restrictions of poisons. He recognised parallels between them and condemned pornography as ‘a poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic’.

He introduced a bill of parliament that became law in 1857 as the Obscene Publications Act, the first of its kind. The sale of offending material was now an offence and powers were given to seize and destroy obscene publications. The offence came under the powers of summary jurisdiction and was therefore dealt with in the Police Courts before a Police magistrate.

Lord Campbell may not have had the stereoscope in mind when he conceived his legalisation but technology and the obscene publications law were soon interwoven at Bow Street Police Court.

In February 1858 Sidney Powell of Chandos Street, Covent Garden appeared at London’s senior Police Court charged with the sale of obscene ‘representations’ in stereoscopic form.

The court report doesn’t detail exactly what these slides contained but Powell was adamant that they weren’t pornographic. He argued that they were intended for ‘medical men, being of an artistic nature’. They were no more explicit, he contended, than the poses adopted by artists models.

He assured his worship that he had plenty of experience of selling images and of the law and he was ‘well known amongst artists, who told him that the representation of a single figure would not be deemed “obscene”.’

Mr Henry, the magistrate, rejected his case out of hand. He had seen the slides. There was, he concluded, ‘a very wide distinction between the representation of a nude in a  graceful attitude, and the coarse disgusting pictures produced in this case’. While he gave Powell leave to appeal his decision he ordered the slides to be destroyed. The unhappy Powell accepted the decision and made his exit from the court.

He was not the only person prosecuted under the term of Lord Campbell’s act that morning. Two men were prosecuted for selling pipe heads which were indecent. One of the sellers, a Mr Bush, complained that the pipes were not covered by the act and had been licensed for sale by Customs House. Henry was having none of it and order the entire stock destroyed.

One wonders why someone would want to own (or smoke from) a pipe with ‘indecent’ images on it, but then again our society uses sexually explicit images of women to sell just about anything so who are we to judge our Victorian ancestors? We might also reflect that the invention of new technology, from the printing press to photography, to moving pictures and the internet, has allowed pornographers to find new and creative ways to exploit a new medium.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, February 18, 1858]

Extortion and an accusation of rape in 1830s Shoreditch

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“Even if I keep on runnin’, I’ll never get to Orange street”, (The Prince, Madness)*

Mrs Thomas was the wife of a respectable surgeon living and working at 225 Shoreditch in East London. When the door was knocked on 8th December 1833 she much have assumed the caller had come to inquire after her husband for a medical matter.

She was half right.

Samuel Hewson, a bricklayer from Orange Street in Bethnal Green, presented himself at her door and declared that her husband had sexually assaulted his wife.

‘This is a bad job between my wife and Mr Thomas’ Hewson explained, ‘he has violated my wife; I must have means to leave London’.

Mrs Thomas was horrified and refused to believe it. Hewson was undeterred and insisted it was true. He added darkly that ‘unless he had money to take himself and wife from town , he go and make a charge before Mr Broughton [the sitting magistrate] at Worship Street’. Until 1842 rape was a capital offence and so Hewson was correct in warning Mrs Thomas that her husband ‘could be tried for his life’.

Faced with this threat (regardless of whether she believed what her husband was alleged to have done) Mrs Thomas broke down and asked what amount Hewson required.

He said it was up to her, effectively inviting her to make him and offer for his silence. She offered him £20 (close to £1000 in today’s money) but he angrily rejected that.

‘That’s not enough’ Hewson complained,, ‘If you wish to see your husband where I said he should go [i.e. in court] you may do so. If you like to make it £20 more, that will do. I will take £40 but not less’.

She handed over the money and he went away. Mrs Thomas said nothing of this to her husband but at the end of January she again heard from the bricklayer. As is common with blackmailers they don’t stop when you pay up. He now demanded an extra £5 for his continued silence about her husband’s supposed crime.

Eventually she told her husband what had happened and he immediately declared that he would prosecute Hewson for extortion. The bricklayer was tracked down (having left his address for Mrs Thomas to send money to) and he and Mr Thomas met. The surgeon denied any indiscretion with Mrs Hewson whom he had treated for a four month period in 1833. Hewson apologised but having conned the Thomas’ out of at least £45 the surgeon was in no mood to let it rest.

On the 16 February 1834 Hewson was formally charged at Worship Street – the very police court he had threatened to bring the medical man before – and whilst he said he was sorry and begged forgiveness the magistrate remanded him in custody to face a later trial.

There are no trials recorded at Old Bailey involving a surgeon named Thomas or a Samuel Hewson (for rape or deception or extortion) so perhaps the case was not written up (not all of them were published) or , more likely, it was settled by Hewson apologising and agreeing to repay what he had extorted. It is a reminder that those that place themselves in one-to-one private situations with others risk being the victim of false accusations.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, February 17, 1834]

*Madness’ homage to Prince Buster in their first single on 2-Tone (in 1979) name checked the legendary singer-songwriter and producer’s home in Jamaica. The B-side of that early release was a cover of Buster’s (real name Cecil Bustamante Campbell) 1960s hit ‘Madness’. Madness, along with the Specials, Beat and a number of other UK bands helped bring Jamaican Ska and Rocksteady to a new audience and developed in the wake of a political movement opposed to racism in society.

 

Of disorderly elections, drunkeness, and a ‘borrowed’ Hanson cab

In February 1880 the death of John Locke, the sitting Liberal MP for Southwark seat brought about a by-election. In due course 15,312 eligible voters turned out to cast their ballot and the seat was won by the Conservative candidate,  Edward (later Sir Edward) Clarke. Clarke is most famous for being the barrister that represented Oscar Wilde in his unsuccessful prosecution of the Marquis of Queensbury for libel (which ultimately ended with Wilde being tried and then imprisoned for ‘gross indecency’ in 1895.

Elections can be rowdy affairs even today and in the past (especially in the 18th century) they were raucous, sometimes fairly corrupt and drink tended to play a significant role. It seems the by-election in Southwark led to at least two Police Court appearances that month.

The first was a bricklayer named Frederick Evans, who ‘borrowed’ a Hanson cab when he was drunk. Evans admitted to having ‘got too much drink’ at the election (which caused much laughter in Wandsworth Police Court. He noticed that William Cheeney (a cab driver) was slumped in a chair in the Ballot room the worse for alcohol, and presumably thought he wouldn’t mind if he borrowed his vehicle.

Cheeney did mind. He appeared in court to give evidence that he wasn’t drunk at all and had only stopped off in the Ballot room to collect his fees for the night (presumably he had been ferrying voters of the receiving officers).

Mr Paget, the magistrate, wasn’t convinced by his story and while he fined Evans for being drunk in charge of a vehicle (so drunk in fact, that he fell off the cab!), he refused the cabbie’s request for expenses and told him to expect a summons from the police for ‘leaving his cab unattended’.

The second case was heard at Southwark and again involved drunkenness.

Ellen Harley (a 49-year old ‘stalwart Irishwoman’), was charged with being drunk and disorderly at the by-election, and ‘causing a mob to assemble’. PC Anker (305 M) was on duty outside a polling station in Fair Street, Horselydown, and witnessed Harley ‘on several occasions’ whipping up the voting public.

She marched up and down shouting ‘Home rule and Irish independence’ (a hot topic in the late 19th century) and the policeman asked her to go away and stop causing an obstruction and a nuisance. At six o’clock she was back and clearly quite inebriated and had gathered a ‘mob’ around her. PC Anker felt ‘obliged to take her into custody’.

In court she apologised and said she had been plied with drink by ‘some of her countrymen; and had got ‘rather excited’. The justice asked if she was known to the court or the gaoler. Fortunately it was found that she wasn’t; this was her first time in court. She was fined 10s or 7 days in prison.

Having stood for my local council at the last general election in 2015 I can attest that the process is a lot more sober these days but the campaigns can be quite lively for all that. Of course poor Ellen couldn’t vote. Although about 2.5 million more Britons had been enfranchised by the Parliamentary Reform Act (1867) this didn’t include women, she would have to wait to 1918 , if she lived that long (she would have been 87 so I doubt it).

p.s The loss of Southwark was temporary. in the 1880 general election (where Disraeli’s Conservatives were trounced by Gladstone, the Liberals regained the seat under Arthur Cohen MP)

[from The Standard , Monday, February 16, 1880]

An drunken imposter in Belsize Park exposed in court at Hampstead

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John Davey or George Stubbs (as they were one and the same apparently) was a curious fellow and his appearance at Hampstead Police Courts may well have caused considerable excitement. He certainly did enough to catch the attention the Morning Post‘s court reporter who wrote up his story for his readers.

The Hampstead court was presided over by a bench of magistrates (unlike those in the Metropolis that feature in most of my blogs). Messrs Marshall and Prance, along with Captain Redman, listened to a number of witnesses relate Davey (or more likely Stubbs) ‘extraordinary conduct’ in February 1864.

A merchant named Castle who resided at 3 Buckland Terrace, Belsize Park came to the court to complain about Stubbs’ conduct and the behaviour of one of his servants. Mrs Castle had employed Mary Daley as a ‘house and parlour maid’. On the previous Thursday however both Mary and George had turned up at the Castle’s residence at 10 at night, both quite drunk.

Mary was admitted with her bags because she had a ‘good character’ but Stubbs was refused. The next day he was back at 7 in the morning demanding entrance. Again he was turned away but he persisted and came back later in the morning.

He managed to get in during the afternoon and sat himself down in the kitchen and ‘told the cook she was to do whatever he ordered, and the first thing she must do was make him some tea’.

The servants informed the lady of the house who promptly asked him to leave, which he refused to do. He was still there when Mr Castle got home and gave him his marching orders. Mary followed him out of the house because Mrs Castle had found some items of linen that the careless maid had allowed to singe by the fire.

When they were out both in the street Stubbs started a row, banging on the door and being abusive, until the police were called to take him away.

Back at the Police Station Stubbs first claimed to be Mary’s brother and said he had gone to help her. He insisted he was a coach spring maker called Davey who resided in Portland Town*, before changing his story when pressed. He then claimed his name was George Stubbs and that he lived in Camden Town and made pianofortes. Goodness only knows what the truth was.

As for Mary, when she appeared in court she said first that Stubbs was her brother then her lover. She told the bench the name he had given her was John Sandon and that they were to be married.

Poor Mary, she was as much a victim of deception as the Castles. The policeman involved (Inspector Webb) informed the court that Stubbs was already married. At this Mary said she did not believe it and asked Stubbs to prove it by introducing her to his wife.

Stubbs said he was happy to do so which drew down condemnation from the bench and Mary. ‘You are a wicked young man’ Mary told him, ‘and a gay deceiver’. The justices dismissed his attempts at a defence and fine him 20s plus costs or 14 days imprisonment in the house of correction.

As for Mary nothing was reported and it doesn’t seem she was charged with anything (except with being a poor domestic). She was released from the Castle’s employment without references so unless she was lucky she may have found it hard to pick up work in a similar occupation. She had also been abandoned by the man she claimed intended to marry her, so I fear her life took a downwards turn from here.

[from the Morning Post , Monday, February 15, 1864]

*Portland Town was ‘a metropolitan suburb and a chapelry in Marylebone parish, Middlesex’. [http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/23887]