This was probably a fairly typical property crime: the theft of a lodger’s property by another person living in the same house. Many Londoners lived cheek by jowl with others in the 1800s in lodging houses that had little privacy or security. Individuals would share landings or rooms and sometimes (in the poorest homes) even a bed, so these Victorians often knew their neighbours intimately.
Frederick Hart lived as a lodger in the home of Mrs Clough in Shepherds Bush. The shop assistant wore a watch a chain on special occasions and kept it safe (or so he thought) in a locked box in his bedroom. He had worn in on Sunday 16 August 1886, perhaps to church or to for some occasion on his day off, and when he got home he careful locked it away.
On the following Tuesday (the 18th) he noticed that the box had been interfered with and the lock forced open. There had been a crude attempt to refasten the box and when he opened it to his horror he found that his Albert chain* was missing.
Fred’s suspicions immediately fell on Mrs Clough’s daughter, Florence. He questioned her and she told him she knew where it was. When he pressed her she admitted taking it and pledging it at a pawnbrokers. Fred summoned a policeman to whom Florence admitted both the crime and tearing up the pawn ticket. This would make it hard for the young man to get his watch chain back but it is was not the most worst thing about her crime.
Mr Paget, the magistrate at Hammersmith, told her that ‘breaking open a box was a serious matter’. It wasn’t as if Hart had been careless and had left his valuables lying around for anyone to steal. He had gone to the trouble of locking them away but she had still violated his privacy and stolen from him.
Florence Clough was given a good character reference by her mother, who told Mr Paget that she always helped her. ‘And robbed the lodgers’ quipped the magistrate, clearly in no mood to be lenient. He sent Florence to prison (most likely to Westminster house of correction where most summarily convicted women were sent in the 1880s).
Her sentence was three months at hard labour. She was 15 years old.
[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 22, 1886]
*meaning it had a bar at one end for attaching to a buttonhole.