Many of the cases prosecuted and heard by the magistrates of the Victorian metropolis were fairly mundane and soon forgotten.
Everyday across London drunks, disorderly prostitutes, pub brawlers, petty thieves and swindlers, took their place in the Police Court dock along with the occasional middle-class trader charged with selling meat unfit for human consumption or for adulterating milk or other goods. Landlords were fined for failing to maintain premises and cab passengers summoned for failing to pay their fares. Sad stories of suicide, poverty and child neglect were tempered by amusing tales involving country ‘bumpkins’, cross-dressing entertainers and defendants who showed a bit of bravado in the face of adversity.
Just occasionally however, the cases were quite serious and reflected the courts’ role as a court of first hearing for many of the trials that reached the Old Bailey.
In 1888 (the year that ‘Jack the Ripper’ perpetrated a series of brutal murders in the East End) Robert James Matthews stepped into the dock at Worship Street Police Court charged with wounding and attempted murder.
His victim was Henry Blaming, a 22 year-old ‘potman’ who had previously worked for Matthews at his pub in Brick Lane. Matthews ran the the Two Old Brewers and lived there with his wife, son and two daughters. Blaming took a fancy to one of his employer’s daughter and in January of 1888 there was some kind of incident and Blaming was sacked.
It seems that Blaming was accused of indecently assaulting Eliza Matthews and he was formally charged and tried at the Old Bailey, but acquitted. Blaming later claimed that Eliza was 14 years old at the time, but the Old Bailey puts her age as under 13. Whether there was simply insufficient evidence of Blaming’s guilt or he was indeed as innocent as the jury found him is impossible to know. The proceedings of the Old Bailey rarely went into any detail in publishing accounts of rape trials and this is typically uninformative.
After leaving the Old Bailey at noon Blaming decided to celebrate his acquittal by going for a drink with two of his friends. All fair enough we might think, except that the former pub worker chose to rub his old boss’ nose in the mud by opting to have his celebration at his old place of work. He took a position at the bar and asked to be served.
Matthews saw him smiling at him and demanded: ‘who are you laughing at?’
‘I have nothing to cry for’, was the younger man’s response. Things now escalated fairly swiftly. Matthews reached behind the bar and grabbed his revolver. He levelled it at Henry and fired.
Blaming was hit in the stomach and tried to run away. A second shot caught him in the buttocks before he escaped into the street. The wounded man was soon treated by a doctor and then taken to the London Hospital were he was an in patient for ten weeks.
In the meantime Matthews was arrested and taken to the station by a young detective, Walter Dew. Dew was to go on to serve on the ‘Ripper’ case (supposedly being the first policeman into Mary Kelly’s home) and, more famously, to catch the murderer Dr Crippen in a chase across the Atlantic.
Matthews told Inspector Bavington, who had questioned the landlord at the pub, that he had fired two shots but that he was provoked. He clearly believed that Blaming was guilty of raping his daughter and had gotten away with it.
On the way to the police station Dew said to Matthews: ‘This is a bad job;” only for his prisoner to reply: ‘What! I wish I had killed him, there would be an end to the b——then’.
There was a third bullet because when the police examined the gun they found one remaining in the chamber. Blaming had been lucky: the first bullet had entered his thigh but had missed his abdomen by a ‘faction of an inch’. The first bullet had been removed but the other remained lodged in his buttock and he was still receiving ongoing treatment.
When it came up to the Old Bailey Matthews was, unsurprisingly, convicted. The jury was sympathetic to him however and strongly recommended mercy on the grounds of provocation. The judge was lenient, sending him to prison for six weeks at hard labour she he could easily have spent much longer inside. If he was able to return to his management of the pub one imagines Blaming gave him a wide berth in future.
[from The Standard, Thursday, April 12, 1888]