Stepney Green in the Victorian Period
This is what might be described as a ‘cautionary tale’ for the readers of the Morning Post. William Jarvis was a brickmaker who worked for a contractor named Thomas Morris based at Bow Common. At the end of August 1868 Jarvis was seen driving his horse and cart along Stepney Green in what was described as ‘a furious and reckless manner’.
The offence of ‘furious driving’ was created by statute in 1861 as part of the Offences against the Person Act (1861) from which many of our laws concerning injury to people are derived. The full charge is as follows:
“Whosoever, having the charge of any carriage or vehicle, shall by wanton or furious driving or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, do or cause to be done any bodily harm to any person whatsoever, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years …”
People are occasionally caught and prosecuted under this charge and in 2014 a man was brought before the courts in Leicester after colliding with a cyclist. More recently the law was mentioned in regard to the case of Charlie Alliston who is facing a trial for manslaughter after the death of a woman he hit whilst riding a bike which was not fitted with brakes.*
One of the Commercial Gas Company’s inspector witnessed Jarvis hurtling along the street, swerving to avoid pedestrians and other road users before he ran smack into a lamp post on the corner of Hannibal Street. The post was badly damaged – he had ‘knocked it out of the perpendicular’ as the report stated – at a cost of 7s 6d (or around £18 today) the court was told.
When he came to he was arrested by the police. He gave his address as Bow Common but the the police could find no trace of a man under his name there. He later explained that his boss, Mr Morris kept his horses there; perhaps he had no address. Jarvis admitted his fault and apologised, adding that he had been ‘tipsy’ at the time.
Mr Benson the sitting magistrate declared that it was ‘most disgraceful and dangerous’ to be driving ‘through the crowded roads and streets of Stepney on Sunday evening’, Presumably he meant at speed and under the influence of alcohol. He fined 2s 6d for being drunk and a further 7s 6d in damages to pay for the bent and broken lamppost. Jarvis had no money, or at least not the 10s he needed to settle this bill. A failure to pay one’s fines meant a spell in custody and William was marched off to start a 10 day sentence at hard labour in Holloway prison.
He could count himself lucky perhaps; had he hit a person – a child perhaps – instead of a piece of street furniture, he may well have been facing a much longer ‘holiday’ from his brick-making career.
[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, September 01, 1868]
*update: Charlie Alliston was cleared of manslaughter but found guilty of wanton and furious driving. He could face up to two years in prison for the offence.