A captain deploys desperate measures to keep the cheesemongers from his door.

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On the morning of Thursday 29 November 1877 the Wandsworth Police Court was full of shopkeepers and traders keen to witness the outcome of a case brought by one of their number, a cheesemonger on the High Street. Henry Lickfield had brought a charge of assault against one of his customers while another businessman, Mr Barrantz (another cheese monger) charged the same individual with fraud.

The defendant was Captain Edward Miller who lived at Spencer Road in Putney. The court heard that Captain Miller had ordered a leg of pork and 3lbs of sausages to be delivered to his residence. The goods were duly supplied but when the bill wasn’t paid Lickfield called on the captain in person to demand his money.

However when he knocked on the door no one answered. He tried again and this time a servant answered but refused to open the door. Finally he tried shouting through the letter box. As he attempted to get the attention of the household a lighted firebrand was thrust through the letter box towards him, striking him in the face!

Captain Miller was represented in court by a lawyer who offered a different version of events. He suggested that when Mr Lickfield’s assistant had called earlier he had been told that Mrs Miller would settle the bill on the following day and he had gone away. He denied any violence towards the cheese monger and said that he had no need to come in person, and that he should have waited for the money to be paid as promised.

The household was ‘alarmed’ by the repeated knocking on the door and no tradesman had the ‘right to recover their debts by a system of tyranny’, he insisted. Mrs Miller was ill and ‘the prisoner did nothing but protect himself’.

The magistrate, Mr Bridge, accepted the charge of assault and bailed the captain to appear at the next sessions of the peace.

The case then turned on the next accusation, of fraud. It was claimed by Mr Barrantz, that the Millers had ordered ‘one of the best hares to be sent to his house, to be paid for on delivery’. Again the goods were supplied but not paid for. Clearly Mr Barranz had done business with the Millers before and said he would not have sent the hares if there hadn’t been a promise to be paid on receipt.  He therefore charged Captain Miller with a fraudulent intent. Mr Bridge didn’t see it that way however. This was simply an unpaid bill not a deliberate attempt to defraud and he dismissed the charge.

Nevertheless I suspect the mere appearance of the captain in court was enough to ruin his reputation in his local community. The court was packed with local businessmen, all come to see ‘justice’ for a fellow tradesman. They would surely be reluctant to offer credit to the Millers in future and given the associations with credit and reputation this was social suicide for the captain and his wife. Unless they settled their bills quickly, or moved away they could hardly hope to hold their heads up in the streets around Wandsworth in future. As for the assault charge, while it was likely to end in a financial settlement (some compensation to Mr Lickfield) it was another example of the desperation of the family and further evidence to anyway dealing with them that they were best avoided.

[from The Morning Post , Friday, November 30, 1877]

A case of cold feet or something more sinister? Child abduction in 1880s Hoxton and an echo of the ‘Maiden Tribute’.

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William T. Stead in his prison uniform

At Worship Street Police Court in late November 1887 a man was brought up on a charge of abducting an under-age girl. Harriet Regan was allegedly just 17 when she was enticed to leave her step father’s house in Hoxton to travel to Fulham to live with William Wilkinson.

Wilkinson was a 40 year-old traveler who had some friends living in the same house as  Harriet’s step father, George Hubbard. They had plied the girl with drink so that she was rendered (by her own account) ‘partially stupefied’. Nevertheless the court heard that she had lived quietly with Wilkinson in his home at Fulham for several weeks and so there was some doubt as to whether she had left willingly or not.

It was now nine weeks since she’d left and the couple had fallen out and quarrelled. Harriet had written to her mother, apologising for leaving and begging to be taken back and away from Wilkinson. She got away and was ‘restored to her friends’, but in the meantime a warrant was issued for Wilkinson’s arrest.

The case was brought by the Treasury and there was some debate as to exactly who should be charged and for what. Mr Hannay, the sitting magistrate, declared that while there was some suggestion that Wilkinson’s accomplices might have a case to answer for the abduction, there was not enough of a case to proceed with. The Director of Public Prosecutions, on the other hand, made it known that he didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to proceed against the 40 year-old traveller on the grounds that there was some doubt as the the girl’s age, and left it up to Worship Street magistrate’s own judgement.

Mr Hannay was clear that a prosecution was appropriate. A certificate was produced that confirmed that Harriet was just 17 years and 11 months old. She was under age therefore and should not have been taken away without her parents’ consent. Mr Hanney formally committed Wilkinson for trial. As he put it, ‘if a man abducted a girl under eighteen he must take his chances’.

This has echoes for me of modern cases where older men have run away with teenage girls, such as that of Jeremy Forrest who tried to escape to France with a 15 year-old pupil. We don’t know the circumstances of Wilkinson’s relationship with Harriet. It may have legitimate in their eyes but Harriet clearly got ‘cold feet’ quite quickly. Then again it might have been something much more sinister.

Wilkinson was being prosecuted under the terms of the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1885) which had been forced through Parliament after a campaign by Benjamin Scott supported by William T. Stead, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette (pictured above). The legislation was aimed at tackling the problem of the sexual exploitation of young girls in London and elsewhere and Stead crewed a sensation by organising the abduction of Eliza Armstrong, a 13 year-old girl who he ‘bought’ for £5.

The action cost Stead his liberty (he spent three months in prison) but it was effective. The expose (entitled ‘the Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’) was a media sensation and whelped force the bill through the House of Commons and into law. It raised the age of consent from 13 to 16 and also made it illegal to abduct to abduct a girl under the age of 18 for the purposes of carnal knowledge. I can find no record of Wilkinson’s prosecution before a jury but this doesn’t mean he wasn’t tried and convicted. Cases with a sexual content weren’t aways reported.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, November 29, 1887]

NB: the Director of Public Prosecutions role was relatively new in 1887. The post had been created in 1879 under the Prosecution of Offences Act and emerged with the Treasury Solictor’s Department in 1884. So in this case we see both these new roles in action, the case was brought a Treasury solicitor and an opinion on the public prosecution of Wilkinson was expressed by the DPP. 

 

 

The sad story of an elderly seamstress and her Majesty

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In the light of yesterday’s happy announcement of a royal engagement I thought I’d feature a (sort of) royal story from Victorian London’s Police courts.

In 1871 Queen Victoria had been on throne for 34 years. Her husband Albert had been dead for a decade and she was yet to adopt the title of Empress of India. Victoria had a big influence on her subjects but her withdrawal from much of public life following the loss of her consort increasingly isolated her from public affection. 1870 had seen the overthrow of the French monarchy and the creation of the Third Republic, dark echoes in England called for a similar revolution, one that never transpired. In late November Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, fell ill with typhoid (probably the same disease that had killed his father) and Victoria must have feared she would lose him as well.

Meanwhile, for ordinary Londoners life went on as usual. The ‘widow of Windsor’ was almost an abstract concept since she’d ducked out of view but her name, and what she symbolised, mattered  considerably.

It certainly mattered to an elderly seamstress called Mrs Lyons. She told the magistrate at Clerkenwell that she had been promised work by her Majesty but ‘court intrigues’ were preventing her from pursuing it. Mrs Lyons lived off the Caledonian Road in north London, close to where the new St Pancras terminal was being constructed. She was poor and in ‘want of money’ she explained, but was confident that with the queen’s patronage she would be fine.

Sadly Mrs Lyons was not very well; she suffered from some form of mental illness, as a police inspector told Mr Cooke, the justice sitting on her case at Clerkenwell Police Court.

‘About two years since the poor woman began to get strange at times in her speech, said that her room was full of rats, that she had an interview with the Queen and members of the royal family, and that her Majesty had promised her money, but that she was prevented from getting it by court intrigues’ .

He went on to say that up until recently Mrs Lyons had lived quietly but in the last few months her condition had worsened and she had started threatening people, including her landlady. A doctor had been called to examine her and he’d declared she was ‘not right in her head’ and she’d been carried off to Islington workhouse. From there she was to be sent to the Colney Hatch Asylum, Europe’s largest such institution.*

She had left her room with rent arrears and her landlady was refusing to give her sister leave to take away her sibling’s few possessions until that was paid. Mr Cooke said he was glad the woman was now in safe hands (although I’m not sure I’d consider being in the ‘care’ of a Victorian asylum ‘safe’. I suppose he might have meant the public were safe from her). He ordered the court to pay the arrears so she could be reunited with her ‘things’ and dismissed the case.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, November 28, 1872]

*(and now my gym!)

for another story that feature Queen Victoria see: “Let me see the Queen, I know who the ‘Ripper’ is!”

 

Sharp practice by a Bermondsey landlord is averted by a sensible application of the law

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A brush-maker drilling holes in the backs of brushes

The Police courts weren’t there just for the prosecution of petty criminals, they could function quite well as a court of redress for ‘ordinary’ people. The magistrate’s courtroom  became a sort of  unofficial advice centre for London’s poor; quick, inexpensive, and accessible. Men like Mr Partridge at Southwark offered their opinions on a range of day-to-day problems and sometimes, in cases like this, upheld the law in favour of the ‘little man’.

Thomas Clark was a brush maker who supplied a number of businesses in the Bermondsey area. It was a family affair, his wife helping him to make and repair brushes. The couple lived in Hunter Street, off Dover Road, renting a room there. 50 years later this was a dreadfully run down and poor area, and in 1869 it was hardly a fashionable address.

The Clarks were struggling to make ends meet and had fallen behind with their rent. This was fairly common in nineteenth-century London and landlords were often quick to move in and evict tenants. Equally tenants were known to do midnight flits, packing up their belongings and moving in with relatives or friends while they found somewhere else to live. The frequency with which people abandoned homes when they were in arrears is celebrated in the popular early twentieth-century music hall song, ‘My Old Man’ (popularised by Marie Lloyd):

We had to move away,
‘Cos the rent we couldn’t pay
The moving van came round just after dark
There was me and my old man
Shoving things inside the van
Which we’d often done before let me remark
We packed all that could be packed
In the van, and that’s a fact
And we got inside all we could get inside
Then we packed all we could pack
On the tail board at the back
Till there wasn’t any room for me to ride.

Written & Composed by F. Leigh and C. Collins, performed by Marie Lloyd

One of the strategies landlords applied was to seize the goods of tenants who hadn’t paid them. This ‘distraint of goods’ was legal but only after they had served notice and given the tenants time to pay.

Thomas Clark was 11s behind with his rent and his landlady was making threats to evict them.  Thomas now decided to lock up his room and move his family elsewhere while he worked out what to do. Was is going to try and avoid paying what he owed? Or was he genuinely hoping to find a solution? It is impossible to know from such a distance but his landlady wasn’t keen to take the risk.

Since he’d left all his tools in the room Clark sent  girl to fetch some of them. But when she arrived she was met by the landlady who ‘took the key from her and bundled her out’. When Thomas visited on the following day all his possessions were gone, cleared out by Thomas Farrell, a ‘sworn broker’ called in by the landlady.

The Clarks had now lost their home and the tools they required for their livelihood. It was a disaster and so Thomas turned to the courts for help. He summoned Farrell to the Southwark Police Court and appeared their to prosecute him for illegal distraint in November 1869.

Thomas Clark complained that Farrell (and his son) had seized his goods but given no notice and left him no inventory. He calculated that they had taken £7 worth of items when he owed just 11s in rent. Mrs Clark supported her husband’s claim. She said she was there  when Farrell had arrived at the property demanding the rent arrears and told him her husband would deal with it when he got home in the evening. Farrell refused and demanded and extra 5s costs on top of the rent that was owed. When she was unable to pay the pair began to remove the brush-making tools from the room.

Farrell’s son said he had left an inventory and claimed not to know that he had to give notice of distraint of goods. Mr Partridge ignored his excuses and told the pair that they had acted illegally. He ordered that they return the goods as soon as the rent was paid, and only the 11s, nothing more. If they failed to do so they would be liable to pay the Clarks the full value (£7) of the tools less the rent, in other words a sum of £6 9s plus 21 costs.

In the end it was a compromise that applied the law fairly. Thomas Clark did owe 11s rent and the magistrate acknowledged that. But he could hardly be excepted to find the money if he couldn’t work to earn the money to pay it. The Farrells had been too eager to make a profit from the brush maker’s difficulties and now the law was holding them to account. In this way the Police Court magistrate was regulating daily life in the capital and doing it quickly before a worse situation arose.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, November 27, 1869]

A footman’s pledge lands him in court

Saturday Night Pawnbrokers

In a society where large numbers of Londoners lived quite close to the what became termed the ‘poverty line’* in the early twentieth century, people had to find a variety of strategies to survive. Obtaining credit if you were not already wealthy (or at least comfortable) was all but impossible. So, just as today’s society is blighted by ‘pay-day’ loan sharks that charge crippling amounts of interests on small amounts of borrowing to those who have no real capital to offset loans against, Victorian Britain had the pawnbroker.

You could take items of value to the pawnbroker to be exchanged for cash. In all probability you wouldn’t get the true value of your possessions or even close to it but, as the saying goes, ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ (Proverbs, 615.6). He would give you a ticket for your item and the cash. Hopefully you would then get enough money in the following week or so to be able to return to the ‘broker and redeem your coat, or hat or jewellery (or whatever it was you had ‘pledged’).

If you failed to redeem your possessions in the time allowed then the pawnbroker was allowed to sell it in his shop for whatever he could get. Today we see shops such as Cash-converters who operate in a quite similar way, providing a place for people to sell things they no longer want or buy cheap household goods that others have exchanged for much needed cash. This trade in second-hand (or ‘pre-owned’/’pre-loved’) goods has existed for centuries of course, its just that today we have taken it to a new level with car-boot sales, cash-converters and online auction sites like Ebay.

Pawnbrokers had earned a poor reputation in the late eighteenth century for stimulating a trade in stolen goods. When someone presented them with a item of clothing, some jewellery, or a watch, asking for a relatively small sum of money in exchange, many must have put aside any qualms they had and issued the ticket.

However, not all of them did and, as the courts tightened their grip on petty crime in the 1800s pawnbrokers increasingly came under scrutiny. The pawnbrokers was one of the first places the police would visit to enquire after stolen goods in the Victorian age and the ‘broker who had unwittingly (or wittingly) placed pilfered goods on his shelves would lose them or worse, risk prosecution himself. It therefore behoved the ‘respectable’ pawnbroker to ask a few questions before he accepted a pledge.

Henry Ayling was a footman working in the service of a fine London household run by Lady Stracey in Belgrave Square. Like most servants Ayling would have been paid monthly or annually (and not paid that much anyway) and so ready cash was at a  premium. Lady Stracey had hired a bicycle for her son but allowed Henry to use it when her son was at the family seat in the countryside. The footman must have found it useful in running errands across the capital and on his days off.

In November 1888 however, as he began to run out funds he seems to have decided that he could find another use for it besides hurtling round the streets of London. He deposited the bike with a pawnbroker in exchange for the princely sum of £2. He had apparently hoped to redeem the machine when he was paid. However, Lady Stracey had in the meantime decided her son no longer required the bicycle, so asked Ayling to return it to the hire firm in Maidenhead. Ayling promised to do so but it soon became clear that he hadn’t. When it was found that he’d pawned it the footman was arrested and charged with stealing it.

The case came before the police court magistrate at Westminster where Ayling explained what had happened. Fortunately  for him (and perhaps on Lady Stracey’s recommendation) Mr Partridge (the magistrate) opted to use his summary powers to deal with him. He applied the law, using the offence of ‘unlawful pawning’ (35 & 36 Vict. c.93. s.38) as set out in Oke’s Magisterial to fine the footman £3. This included the pledge of £2 to get the item back, so in effect he was being penalised to the sum of £1 for the offence. He was warned that if he failed to pay he’d go to prison for a month at hard labour.

Whether Lady Stracey penalised him further by dismissing him is not stated in the newspaper report but I rather suspect it is quite likely. Ayling was the loser here but so was the pawnbroker; the bike was worth £14 and he had only offered £2 for it. Had the footman defaulted he stood to make up to £12 profit on the deal, or around £750 today (about the cost of a modern high-end bicycle).

[from The Morning Post,  Monday, November 26, 1888]

One of there first investigators to use the poverty line ( which ‘denotes the minimum standard of necessities for life (fuel, lighting, rent etc) plus a calorific intake’) was Seebohm Rowntreee (1871-1954). His examination of poverty in York (published in 1900) was, (along with Charles Booth’s mapping of poverty in late 1880s London), a seminal study underpinning future social policy in the UK. 

A Frenchman’s ‘foolish frolic’ in Wardour Street

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Part of the role of a Police Court magistrate in Victorian London was to determine whether cases that came before them ought to be sent up through the justice system. Much of the ‘crime’ they dealt with was petty, but far from all of it was. The magistrate was often the first stop in a longer process of prosecution; he heard the initial case put by the police (or a private individual) and decided if it required to be heard by a judge and jury.

The magistrate had quite considerable summary powers (the ability to sit in judgement on prisoners alone and without a jury) and these increased after the implementation of the Summary Jurisdiction Act (1855). Nearly all juvenile crime and a growing amount of petty theft, non fatal violence, and a huge variety of disorderly and anti-social behaviour was left to these law men.

Today’s case is an example of a justice having to decide whether he was going to deal with something himself, as a minor offence, or whether he felt it was serious enough to warrant a jury trial at the Middlesex Sessions or the Old Bailey.

Mr Bingham was presiding over a number of cases on a cold Monday morning in November 1851. He might have preferred to have been taking in the sights at the Great Exhibition which was in full swing at the time. Sadly for him, a steady stream of drunks, vagrants, petty thieves and wife-beaters demanded his attention instead.

At least Theodore Guibelei offered some light relief and a touch of continental sparkle to his morning of deliberation. Guibelei (most probably a Frenchman) was initially charged with theft by the policeman that brought him into Mr Bingham’s courtroom.

PC Martin (C68) deposed that he had found his man knocking at doors on Wardour Street in the early hours of Sunday morning. It was about 2am and so this strange behaviour attracted the attention of the beat ‘bobby’. As Guibelei left the doorstep on No. 43 PC Martin stopped him. Clearly unhappy with whatever response the Frenchman have the constable asked him to accompany him back to the door he’d just left.

It was then that PC Martin saw that the house’s door knocker had been wrenched off completely. Assuming that it was an accident or a prank the officer demanded that Guibelei raise the occupants of the house so that he could ‘square the matter’ with them (in other words apologise for the damage and offer to pay to repair it).

When the man refused he was arrested and taken to the nearest police station. On being searched two knockers were discovered, and it was found that the other belonged to a house in Princes Street. As a result Guibelei was charged with theft and damage.

In court the justice had to make a decision. Was the man a thief or some sort of prankster or nuisance? It mattered because if he sent him for trial for theft there was a very real risk that, if convicted, he could go to prison or worse. In court Guibelei had support from a ‘professional person’.

He told Mr Bingham that his friend was no thief and there was no ‘animo furandi’ [no intent to steal] on his part. It was all just a ‘foolish frolic’. And the magistrate chose to believe him. He said he would deal with there and then and fined him £3 plus £1 in damages for each door knocker. The Frenchman paid the money and left a free man.

Perhaps because of the class of the defendant or his representative, or maybe b

 

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, November 25, 1851]

The student who thought he knew the law better than a magistrate

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John Williamson was a Law student who lived in Queen’s Road, Bayswater. In November 1874 he entered the Spread Eagle pub  accompanied  by a soldier he’d spent the afternoon drinking with, and demanded to be served.

The publican, Mr Barwell, took one look at Williamson and his companion and decided they were drunk and so refused to serve them. Victorian landlords were wary of serving drunks because they were obliged (under the terms of their licenses) to keep ‘orderly’ houses and overly inebriated customers could be troublesome.

The law student took this refusal badly however, and when he got outside he took out his anger on the landlord by smashing one of his windows before running away. The police were called and Williamson was arrested in Davies Street nearby and taken into custody.  He was then held overnight at a police station before being presented at Marlborough Police Station in the morning charged with being drunk and causing criminal damage to the value of £4.

Williamson, as a student of the law, decided (unwisely it has to be said) to challenge the legal basis for his arrest. He declared the arrest was unlawful because the ‘constable did not see him break the window’. Instead of arresting him and holding him in custody the policeman should have taken his name and address so that Mr Barwell could have applied for a summons.

Mr Newton (the sitting justice at Marlborough Street) told him he was wrong. The constable had acted correctly; the young man was drunk and acting in a disorderly manner. He convicted him of the damage and ordered him to pay for the damage he’d caused. In addition to the £4 for replacing the window he fined him 20s (a not inconsiderable amount) for being found drunk. The magistrate warned him that if he failed to pay either of the sums owing he would go to prison for six weeks.

It was an object lesson in presuming to know more than one’s ‘betters’ and I’m fairly sure the experienced legal professional enjoyed making his point absolutely clear to the precocious young undergraduate. Whether the  lesson was learned is a moot point.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, November 24, 1874]