When sleeping rough or accepting a dare lands a teenager in prison

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Sir Robert Fowler,  by Theobald Chartran, Vanity Fair (June 1881) 

I am currently trying to write a research paper on the Police Courts for a conference in Liverpool this September (2017). I’ve only got 20 minutes to deliver my talk which always feels far too short (perhaps not to my audience however!) and so I’m considering what I need to say and what I want to say. Part of the talk is about the ways in which I’m combining fairly cryptic archival records of the Thames Police Court with the more narrative newspaper accounts, to better understand what is going on in them.

One of the offences that emerges occasionally in the 1881 register for Thames is that of being found on enclosed premises. Most of those charged were teenagers or even younger children (like Alfred and William Gay and their friend George Clarke who were 11,9 and 10 years of age). Walter Cummings was 17 when he was found in a building at 165 Queen Victoria Street in August 1887.

A policeman on his beta noticed that the door to the property was ajar and went to investigate. He discovered Walter in ‘a lumber-room under some papers’. He told the policeman that he had been dared into entering the premises by someone he only knew by a nickname.

The pair had gained access but broken a window in the process. The other lad had scarpered telling Walter to get out too, but he had presumably got scared and chose to hide. When the constable found him he was barefoot, the lack of shoes probably testimony to his poverty. The pair may well have been intent on mischief or even theft but Walter may well have made his ‘friend’ up and was simply looking for some shelter to sleep for the night.

Sir Robert Fowler (magistrate and former Lord Mayor, the last to serve two terms in fact) had no pity for the young man’s plight and sent him to prison for six weeks at hard labour. Under the rather extensive remit of the Vagrancy laws any person found within a house, warehouse or other building deemed to acting suspiciously or otherwise up to no good could be imprisoned for up to 3 months at hard labour, so Sir Robert was following procedure outlined in legal texts such as Oke’s Magisterial (my copy is 1881).

Quite what he hoped to gain by sending a teenager to prison for six weeks is anyone’s guess but I doubt it did him much good. I suppose the alternative course might have been to use some discretion and get him admitted to the workhouse. I’m not sure Walter would have much liked that either. At Thames the younger boys were discharged if they were under about 14 although if no parents appeared to claim them the magistrates may well have been within their rights to consider sending them to a reformatory or industrial school. That too was harsh punishment but at least it carried the intention of ‘helping’ them by intervening in their lives.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, August 24, 1887]

A man with a mission and some chalk

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It was not Edward Barnbrook’s first time in court. He had appeared before the magistrates at Marylebone Police court on a number of occasions. He was described on the charge sheet as having ‘no home’ and ‘no occupation’, but he certainly believed he had an important task to complete.

His crime?

– ‘defacing walls and hoardings by chalking verses from Scripture on them, [and] also sentences  satirising our statesmen and country’.

In late August 1861 he was brought up before Mr Mansfield having been arrested by PC Gaze (356S) between one and two o’clock that morning in Little Albany Street, close to Regent’s Park. The constable had interrupted the men while he was chalking a message on a wall. What was that message, the magistrate asked.

‘What nation can fight?’ replied the policeman to stifled laughter in the courtroom. Since Barnbrook had refused to stop writing the constable had arrested him and taken him back to the station to charge him.

Thomas Taylor, a man with the wonderful title of ‘inspector of nuisances’ appeared next, to explain that Barnbrook was  serial offender and his daubing was a constant source of irritation to local residents.

Mr Mansfield asked the slogan writer why he did it.

‘Prisoner (solemnly): To fulfil the prophets and prophecy, also the saints, and to make the Bible universal. I have a mission’.

Religious zeal was as prevalent in Victorian society as it appears to be in our own and seemingly dismissed or tolerated as harmless unless it was attached to violence. The magistrate remanded the prisoner for two days. In effect the man was being imprisoned without being convicted of any offence,a fairly standard practice for those caught doing something but not really guilty of doing that much.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, August 23, 1861]

Robbed by a neighbour; an everyday hazard for London’s many tenants

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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.

The jilted rifleman, the gipsy and the ungrateful lodger’: ‘a shockingly immoral case’ at Thames

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A murderer and a villain,
A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe
Of your precedent lord, a vice of kings,
A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,
And put it in his pocket—
                             Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4

When Samuel Ford stood in the dock at the Thames Police Court he was flanked on one side by the prosecutor, Peter Stephens, and on the other by a woman whose name was given as Mrs Bullock. Ford was charged with theft; specifically the theft of ‘a shirt and other articles belonging to Stephens. In court Ford was defended by Mr Pelham while the prosecution was conducted by Stephens himself.

Stephens explained that until recently he had lived with Mrs Bullock (who was not his wife) at his home in Eltham Place, Stepney. Ford was a friend of his, he told the magistrate (Mr Yardley) and when he heard that he had been turned out of his lodgings he invited him to come and live in his rooms until he got another place.

It was an act of kindness but it rebounded on him. It very soon became clear that Ford and Mrs Bullock were getting closer and within a short space of time, he had ‘undermined him’ in her ‘affections’.

However, this had not been noticed at by Stephens and so when he left home early on a Saturday morning and did not return until midnight on the Sunday he had no real suspicions about the couple. Imagine his shock then when he got back to find that ‘his friend and his mistress had taken French leave’*. Not only had they fled but they had taken some of his property with them.

As Pelham cross-examined the prosecutor an alternative view of the relationship between Mrs Bullock and Stephens emerged. It seems that her mother had given them quite a lot of help in the form of (quite possibly money) and domestic goods and other ‘gifts’. Ford’s lawyer suggested that Mrs Bullock’s mother had recently given them a clock  and other things, which the eloping couple had taken with them.

Mrs Bullock was, it seems, something of a character. In court she was described as a ‘handsome, well-dressed’ but rather bold-looking woman, whose beauty was of the gipsy kind’. She intervened in the course of the cross-examination and at several points reportedly shook her parasol in Stephens’ direction. Mr Yardley was forced eventually to tell her to be restrain herself.

Mr Yardley didn’t appear to have much more time for the prosecutor though. He discovered that Stephens had met up with Mrs Bullock (a widow with three children) whilst he was on his travels with a rifle show. Perhaps the magistrate felt that he had reaped what he’d sown by picking up a gipsy woman at a travelling fair; maybe he simply regards the whole sordid thing as a ménage à trois which he would have preferred never to have demeaned his courtroom.

In the end there was little the justice could do anyway. It was clear that Mrs Bullock did not want to live any longer with Stephens and had instead chosen Ford as her new ‘paramour’. Stephens had benefited from the relationship materially and in other ways for nine months, but had never made the woman his wife. Ford had stepped up and asked her to marry him so she and her children would have the respectability and stability she desired.

As for the stolen property well, ‘the shirt alleged in the charge-sheet was made and sent up by Mrs Bullock, and as that lady has made her selection [in choosing Ford over Stephens]’ the magistrate declared, ‘she has a right to dispose of it as she pleases’.

‘It is a shockingly immoral case altogether’, he concluded. ‘Let them go away. Give the prosecutor the shirt, the woman the clock, and the prisoner his liberty’.

The reporter finished his article by stating:

‘The woman went away in triumph, hanging on the arm of her new paramour, who, in outward appearance, was not a “twentieth part of the tithe of her precedent lord”.’

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 21, 1853]

*French leave: ‘to go away without permission’ (OED)

A waiter’s attempt to ‘over egg the pudding’ backfires.

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Many (indeed most) of the cases that ended being tried before a jury at the Old Bailey in the 1800s started with a hearing before a Police Court Magistrate. It was the duty and role of the magistrates to determine whether a person brought before them should be dealt with summarily (in other words by them without recourse to a jury) or be sent for trial at the sessions or Old Bailey. The less serious cases were sent to the Middlesex Sessions while the more heinous offences were generally reserved for the Bailey. In effect this meant that homicides, serious fraud or forgery, and violent theft and burglary ended up before the juries of London’s Central Criminal court (CCC).

When a case made it to the Old Bailey the pre-trial hearing in the Police Courts was often refereed to. If a defendant tried to change their tune at this stage the prosecution could and did use this against them. So, many of the cases that I’ve traced from the Police Courts to the CCC look very similar; in some cases we get a greater level of detail at the Bailey (because the reports of the summary hearings were often limited by space) but the basic fact are the same. In this case from 1898 however, the pre-trial hearing and the final jury trial seem to have several differences, and this probably contributed to the acquittal of the defendant.

In August 1898 William Farrington was drinking with his brother in the Hero of Waterloo pub in Waterloo Road, Kennington. It was 10.30 at night and Farrington taking a day off from his job at the Oval cricket ground where he was employed as the head waiter. At some point a man wandered across the room and thrust a pint pot under his nose and invited him to drink with him.

The man, Thomas Checkley, had been sitting with some companions and appeared to know the waiter. Farrington however, made out that the 30 year-old was a stranger to him and turned down his offer. Soon afterwards the Farrington brothers rose and left the pub. Once they got outside they were attacked by Checkley and his friends in the street. A policeman soon arrived and while most of the gang scattered, PC Frederick Habtick (45L) managed to secure Checkley. On the 19 August 1898 both Checkley and Farrington were in court at Southwark, the former charged with highway robbery and assault.

At Southwark Police Court Farrington complained that Checkley had punched him in the face, cutting his lip and then knocked him to the floor. Once he was down the other men had moved in to assault and rob the helpless man. One of the gang help his legs while another rifled his pockets and stole 28s from him.

The magistrate, Mr Fenwick, was told that the men were well known thieves. Detective Sergeant Divall of M Division, explained that Checkley belonged to  ‘Pickett’s gang’, a ‘notorious Waterloo-road’ group of criminals that had recently come out of prison. Checkley himself had recently served 15 months for robbing a ‘tipsy man’ of a watch and chain.

Faced with all of this evidence it was not a difficult decision for Mr Fenwick to commit Checkley to the CCC for trial and, on 13 September 1898 he appeared at the Old Bailey, charged with robbery with violence and theft from the person.

Here though a slightly different version of events emerged which probably helped to sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of the jury. The court heard much the same set of evidence from Farrington but under cross-examination the waiter stumbled a little. He admitted that he had actually shared a drink with Checkley in the pub, if only a small one. The defence argued that the men had in fact once been acquainted with each  other and had a fight some three months previously.

Checkley’s barrister then suggested that Farrington had invented the charge of robbery to ‘make it hot’ for his client; in other words he accused the waiter of inventing an additional and more serious crime as part of his ongoing feud with Checkley. The waiter denied this vehemently but I think the jury were convinced by the argument.

Curiously (given the evidence about street gangs offered by DS Divall at Southwark) the police seemed to have supported the defence (if not deliberately). Both PC Habtick and his station inspector (who was called to attend on the second day of the trial) stated for the record that when they had brought Checkley in they thought the charge was assault, not robbery. The inspector told the court that:

‘I saw the prosecutor when the prisoner was brought to the station—he had been drinking heavily all day, but was sober—he knew what he was doing—he said he had been out for a holiday that day and treated the prisoner to several drinks – the charge was striking the prosecutor in the face with his fist and kicking him on the head—nothing was said about his having been robbed’.

So had Farrington decided to use Checkley’s former criminal record to his advantage? It would seem so. Previous convictions dogged the footsteps of felons in the 1800s (much more than they do today) and were cited as reasons to prosecute and impose more serious sentences on those convicted. Had the jury not been distracted by the inconsistency in Farrington and the other police accounts of the incident I suspect Checkley would have been facing a spell of 5-10 years of penal servitude with all the horror that entailed. In this case, due in no small part to the honesty of the police a known criminal was acquitted of robbery and therefore in effect, acquitted also of assault.

Personally I would not like to have been William Farrington in the weeks and months that followed because I am  fairly sure that ‘Pickett’s gang’ would have been quite prepared to meet out their own form of ‘justice’ to someone that had tried to get one of their number sent away for something he had not done.

[from The Standard, Saturday, August 20, 1898]

Officer down on the Ratcliffe Highway

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Police Constable William Izzard (133H) was walking his beat on Ratcliffe Highway on the 5 August 1866 when he heard raised voices. It was late at night and this was not uncommon in such a rowdy and notorious area. He moved towards the disturbance and found a small group of ‘foreign sailors’ quarrelling in the street.

PC Izzard approached the group and, since they were making a great deal of noise and disturbing the peace he asked them to disperse. No one seemed to be listening to him and one man in particular seemed very agitated so he lightly tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. The man turned around and the policemen indicated that he should ‘go home and sleep’.

As the man moved off another one stepped forward and drew a long bladed knife which he thrust at the copper. Fortunately PC Izzard stepped back quickly, avoiding the attack. As he did so he pulled out his truncheon (or ‘stick’ as it was described in the report) and used it to ward off more attacks from the sailor.

Meanwhile another unconnected man had seen what was going on. Charles McCarthy was a stevedore who worked on the docks and he noticed a ‘a short stout man’ come up behind the constable holding a knife. McCarthy shouted a warning to Izzard but it was too late; the man (an Italian sailor named Ferato Lorenzo) had caught his victim off guard and stabbed him in the belly.

The policeman fell to the ground with blood pouring from the wound as the sailors scattered. McCarthy set off in pursuit of Lorenzo, catching him and hauling him to the floor. Amazingly PC Izzard picked himself up and helped secure the prisoner with the help of a fellow officer (H56) who came running from a nearby street.

The Italian sailor, who was much the worse for drink, was presented at the Thames Police Court charged with violent assault. He offered no real defence and was fully committed to trial by the magistrate, Mr Partridge. The policeman appeared in court but was still suffering from his injuries even though the attack had taken place over two weeks earlier. He had lost a lot of blood and was unable to return to duty. He had been examined by the H Division surgeon, George Bagster Phillips who was to go on to achieve some kind of fame as the police doctor who investigated the Ripper murders in 1888.

In the end Lorenzo took his trial at Old Bailey on the 13th August 1866 where he was found guilty of felonious wounding and sent to prison for 12 months at hard labour. PC Izzard was lucky; the surgeon told the Old Bailey courtroom that the knife had entered his abdomen, ‘penetrating through the muscles to the peritoneum,’ but had not reached his bowels. He survived; had he not the Italian may well have found himself facing a charge of murder with the very real prospect of being executed if convicted – so Ferato was also ‘un uomo fortunato’.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 19, 1866]

A squabble over oxtail soup

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Letitia Horswell ran an eating house (the nineteenth-century equivalent of a café or fast food restaurant) on the Blackfriars Road. At about 9 o’clock on the evening of 16 August 1877 two men (brothers) entered her shop and ordered food.

The men asked for soup and bread, paying 6d each. However when one of the men (a plasterer named Albert Crockford) tasted his oxtail soup he spat it out, declaring it was bad. He told Mrs Horswell that ‘he was a good judge of soup, and demanded his money back’.

Letitia refused his request telling him that it was very good soup and that none of her customers had ever complained about it before. Crockford insisted she reimburse him and threatened to call the police if she continued to refuse to. Mrs Horswell was equally intractable and stood her ground; the soup was good, she ‘sold a great quantity of it’ and he would be getting no refund from her.

At this Crockford rose from his seat, marched over to the front door and shouted for a policeman. Although an officer soon arrived he could not (or would not) do anything. Mrs Horswell had broken no law and was powerless to compel the landlady to reimburse her customer.

Frustrated, Crockwell now seized his bowl of soup and threw it in Letitia’s face. The poor woman was temporarily blinded and her dress was ruined. She was angry, not just at the damage caused to her clothes (valued at 3s) but at ‘the insult she had received’. She took the only course of redress she had available and had the constable arrest Crockford for the assault.

The next day the pair appeared in the Southwark Police court before Mr Benson. He sympathised with Mrs Horswell and told the defendant that it was ‘rather expensive for [her] to have a dress spoiled by every dissatisfied customer’.

In his defence Crockford said he had not intended to throw the soup at Mrs Horswell but out into the street, he was very sorry for the harm and damage done. He had been drinking with his brother he explained, before they decided to get some sustenance.

Mr Benson suggested it might have been better ‘had they commenced with the soup and ended with the beer’, as drinking on an empty stomach was never a good idea. He advised Crockford to compensate Mrs Horswell for the damage and insult or he would be forced to fine him ‘heavily’. After a brief conversation the two parties agreed an undisclosed fee and both went their separate ways. This was an example of the magistrate helping smooth social relations by brokering a deal between the two combatants.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, August 18, 1877]