One man’s convenience is another’s inconvenience, or, there are two sides to every story

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Mr T Coggan ran a baker’s shop in Chelsea, to the side of which was a ‘dead wall’ (a wall without openings). Perhaps because of where it was (near the corner of Moore Street) or maybe because it wasn’t lit, this wall seems to have become very popular with those gentlemen that found  themselves ‘caught short’ on their way home.

James Tagg was one such person. Tagg, a provisions merchant who lived in Durham Place (close to the Royal Hospital, home of the Pensioners), was out with friends. It was about 9 o’clock and Tagg needed ‘to go for an ordinary purpose’ to use the wall.

However ‘he had scarcely reached it when [Coggan] came and took hold of his arm, [he] said something he didn’t understand, [and then] struck him a violent blow across the nose’.

The merchant was knocked over and out, losing consciousness in a pool of blood. He came to in a ‘doctor’s shop’ with blood continuing to flow from his nose and mouth. It only temporarily stopped, starting up again the following day. He plugged his nostrils and ‘applied ice to his head’ but the doctors declared he was in a ‘dangerous state’.

Tagg had suffered such a blow as to cause him to haemorrhage. A summons was issued to bring Coggan before a magistrate but it was a couple of weeks before Tagg was strong enough to testify against him. When he did, in mid August 1850, two different two versions of the incident were aired, demonstrating the difficulties that magistrates had in  unpicking the truth from contesting accounts.

The baker was represented in Westminster Police Court by a solicitor, Mr Seale. Seale queried whether the provisions merchant was rather the worse for drink at the time and perhaps suggested that he did not fully understand his client’s reasonable protests about people using his property as a toilet. Tagg responded that he was ‘perfectly sober’ and the wall in question was a long way from the baker’s front door. In fact it was just the sort of place he would have expected Mr Seale to use in extremis.

Tagg also produced three witnesses (presumably his companions on the night) who supported his statements. They helped fill in the gaps left by Tagg’s loss of consciousness (and therefore any memory of the attack itself). It sounded brutal:

‘It was proved that the defendant got complainant’s head under his arm and then struck him while in that position at least three times; that the complainant, when dropped by the defendant immediately after, remained insensible for ten minutes’.

The witnesses reported that the ‘pool of blood in the street would have induced a person to believe that a sheep had been slaughtered rather than a human being had been struck’.

Now Seale tried to explain the incident from his client’s point of view, presenting an alternative  narrative for the magistrate. The baker was sorry for the injury caused, it was not deliberate he said.

In fact, on the night in question he had been stood at his ‘own door with his wife, when observing the complainant crossing over to his wall, and having experienced the most intolerable annoyance and damage from persons committing a nuisance there, and sometimes even at his street door, he walked towards him and said “it won’t do; I won’t have it here”.

As he challenged the man who was attempting to pee on his property he claimed that the merchant ‘threw his hat off, and and struck [him] two blows’. Thus in Coggan’s version of events he was acting in self-defence and only after great provocation. It was not the first time that passers-by had used his wall as a public convenience and for Coggan, enough was enough.

Recalled by the magistrate (Mr Burrell) Tagg denied squaring up to the baker or throwing any punches. He stuck to his story that the attack came out of nowhere without warning. Even if he had hit the baker first the magistrate said, Coggan had not used ‘reasonable force’ in retaliating. It was an extremely violent assault which had gravely injured the victim.

However, while Mr Burrell felt it was an appropriate case to be heard by a jury he asked the provisions merchant whether he wished to take the case any further. Tagg said he had ‘no vindictive feeling’ towards the baker despite his injury, and said if Coggan would pay him compensation of £10 and cover the cost of his medical treatment (which was not free in the 1800s of course) he would be satisfied. After some wrangling they agreed and both left court.

So, gentlemen, when you are next making your way home after a night’s entertainment with your mates, be aware that what looks like a convenient place to undertake a ‘necessity’ is probably someone else’s property, and they may not be quite as understanding of your needs as you might hope.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, August 16, 1850]

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