The most common charges heard at the London police courts were those of being drunk and disorderly or drunk and incapable. In fact, whilst being drunk was not in itself an offence, once another misdemeanour was added (assault, using obscene language, refusing to quite licensed premises, etc.) you were likely to whisked off to the police station and produced in court in the morning.
Because such charges were so common and generally not very newsworthy, the press rarely reported them. Much better, they presumably believed, to offer their readers a staple fare of wife beaters, fraudsters, juvenile thieves, and robbers than a depressing catalogue of London’s inebriates. Just occasionally however, a case was reported because it had something out of the ordinary, as this one does.
Thomas Phillips (50) from Clarkson Street, Bethnal Green, and Robert Cable (64) from Millwall, were charged before the magistrate at Worship Street Police Court with being ‘drunk and incapable in the public thoroughfare’. Both men were described as ‘master greengrocers’ and they had clearly been out drinking at the end of the working week. They had been arrested by PC Kitchener (630K) as he made his beat along Green Street in Bethnal Green.
He had found them in a cart at about 10 o’clock at night. Phillips was sitting (or rather sat slumped) in the driver’s seat holding the reins but ‘quite unable to take care of the horse’, according to PC Kitchener. Cable was asleep (or passed out from drink) and face down in the back of the cart.
In court the constable and his sergeant (Johnson KR) fully proved the charge to the satisfaction of the magistrate, Mr Hannay, who imposed a fine of 10s on Phillips. Neither men had denied the charge anyway but Hannay was unsure whether the law applied to Cable. After all what had he done wrong? He was merely drunk in someone else’s cart, he wasn’t causing a nuisance or attempting to drive the vehicle.
He declared that:
‘It would be a monstrous thing if a gentleman going home in his carriage from a dinner was to be taken out and charged because he had drunk too much wine’.
So applying the law and common sense he discharged Cable without penalty than the night in the cells he had already ‘enjoyed’.
[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, September 23, 1877]