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]