‘I’m afraid that I will actually have to keep him’. A newly wed wife’s complaint at Westminster

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1888 was an horrendous year for the people of London, especially the denizens of Whitechapel and Spitalfields. From August to November there had been at least six unsolved murders and the whole of that area of East London remained caught under the ‘spell of terror’ the killer known only as ‘Jack the Ripper’ had cast. The police patrols had been wound down and most of the world’s press had lost interest by the end of year but the district would forever be associated with the case.

The role of the press reporting of the metropolitan police courts was partly to inform, to warn and highlight, but also to entertain. On New Year’s eve 1888 (after such a dreadful five months) the first story readers were presented with fell firmly into the last category.

An unnamed married ‘middle-aged’ woman presented herself at Westminster Police Court and asked for Mr Partridge’s help in solving a domestic issues. She had wed an old soldier – an army pensioner infant – just before Christmas but was regretting her decision to do so. Just like so many of us at Christmas (judging by the crowds filling the exchange queues at the shops on the 26 December) she had got something she no longer wanted.

She asked the magistrate if he would help her get back the furniture she had brought into the marriage, having left her new husband a few days ago.

‘And you have only been married a fortnight?’ Mr Partridge asked her.

‘Yes. He has not turned out what I expected. I can’t do with him at all’, she replied (prompting peals of laughter in the courtroom).

‘But you have not given him much of a trial’, protested the magistrate.

‘It’s long enough. What he said on Boxing Day was quite sufficient. He’s getting on in years, and I’m afraid the end of it might be that I should actually have to keep him’.

She was happy for him to go ‘where he likes’ she just wanted her possessions back. Mr Partridge was in no mood to assist however, he told her go home and try and patch things up. ‘I don’t wish to’, she replied. Then she would have to go to the County Court he explained, he could not do anything for her.

As the disgruntled wife and a younger women (her daughter it transpired) withdrew and elderly man shuffled forward to present himself, wearing ‘a cast-off military overcast’. This was the woman’s husband and he too had come to ask for Mr Partridge’s help.

He was a widower with three three children and had married the lady in question, presumably hoping for some comfort and support in his final years. She had one daughter of her own and it seemed a reasonable match. It very quickly became clear however that it was a mistake.

The Boxing Day squabble arose, he explained, ‘over a spoon’.

‘One of my children asked for a spoon [a teaspoon to be precise] to eat his dinner, and my wife said to me: “Do you want one too?”.’ At this the public gallery collapsed into ‘loud laughter’.

The old soldier tried to carry on with his narrative.

“Father is not a child”, his son replied. ‘She took offence at that, and began to storm away at a fine rate, so that I said I should have to hit her. But I did not’.

This statement prompted the woman to walk back towards the dock and challenge her husband’s version of events.

‘He’s a wicked man, your worship, and don’t you believe him. The fact is, he said he would blind me; he called me a cow, and I am not used to it. I am not, indeed; and if I had not had my daughter with me I am sure I should have  had a pair of black eyes’.

The army pensioner carried on. He told Mr Partridge that his wife had left him on Boxing Day and he’d tried to persuade her to come home and try again, but she’d refused. He had pawned his medals to pay for the wedding ring and had ‘done his best for her’. If she wanted the furniture back then she was welcome to it; he ‘did not want any unpleasantness’. He just wanted a quite life and so must also have regretted marrying in haste. Mr Partridge again admonished them to reconcile their differences and leave his court in peace. There was nothing he could do for either of them.

It was a non-story in terms of the usual domestic abuse tales the papers reported. No one had been hurt or robbed, or even deeply traumatised. But it was an amusing cautionary tale for the reading public to consume over their toast and marmalade and a fairly mundane and gentle  one to finish a year that had been anything but.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, December 31, 1888]

Prison is no deterrence for an East End watchmaker

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Edward Oakey was seemingly a man for whom frequent court appearances and even prison were no deterrence, at least when he was under the influence of alcohol.

The 32 year-old German-born watchmaker lived with his wife in east London but the pair were far from happily married. Described as ‘somewhat addicted to drink and abusing his wife’, Oakey had already seen the inside of a London prison when the Thames Police court magistrate sent him down for assaulting his wife earlier in 1883.

Now, in late December he was back, charged once more with assault, on this occasion by ‘kicking her on the body’.

Oakey had returned home from his workplace at dinner time and set about his partner, grabbing her by the throat and propelling her around the room. He dared her to go back to the law again, saying he ‘wanted to do six months for her’. Mrs Oakey tried to calm him down and eventually he went out again with her pleas to avoid the drink following him down the street.

Her good advice was ignored however, and by 10 at night he was back, ‘very drunk’, and the violence and abuse started again. He punched her in the face and knocked her to the floor, before starting to kick her with his booted feet. Someone must have heard her cries and a police constable was summoned to help. Oakey was arrested and the next morning was hauled up before the magistrate at West Ham Police court. There he received not six months but just three, with the additional penalty of hard labour.

Did it do him any good? I doubt it. Domestic violence like this was endemic in the working-class communities of London and had little regard for ethnic origin. Oakey was probably lucky he hadn’t come up before Mr Lushington at Thames because he was particularly intolerant of wife-beaters.

Mrs Oakey may also have a part to play in the relative leniency he received. Many wives wanted their abusive husbands reprimanded, they wanted the violence to stop, but often not at the cost of losing his pay-packet for any significant period of time. Two months’ loss of earnings must have been hard to bear; three months was worse but to send him away for much more than that may have plunged the family into rent arrears, critical debt, poverty and the workhouse. For some a ‘bad’ husband was better than no husband at all in a society which provided little or no support for this occupying the bottom rungs of the ladder.

So let’s hope that when the watchmaker came out of prison in early 1884 he had mended his ways as skilfully as he usually mended timepieces and that, for Mrs Oakey at least, there was a happy new year ahead.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, November 30, 1883]

A rogue servant and the sealskin coat

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Ann Waring was a confident thief who had a clear modus operandi.

In 1876 Ann was 22 years old and she applied for work at a succession of houses in Pimlico. Ann had no references with her but told her prospective employers that they could write away for them. One after another a number families in Pimlico took her in as a domestic servant in Eaton Square, Denbigh Street and the Fulham Road.

Within a few days however, Ann absconded and the families soon realised that they had been robbed. The Aplins of 130 Ebury Street lost a sealskin jacket valued at £20, while Ann Thomas (another sergeant there) had missed a gold sovereign coin.

Louisa Chapman Lewis reported that a gold watch and chain, four gold rings, some ear-rings, a cameo brooch and some other items, valued in total at £30 had been plundered from her home at 26 Denbigh Street. Elizabeth Goldspink, who lived at 57 Fulham Road, told the police she had discovered that ‘a gold watch and chain, a guinea, a 7s piece, trinkets, etc.’ had gone missing shortly after Waring left her employ.

All in all then this was quite a sizeable haul of jewellery and cash that Waring had allegedly stolen and the police were hot on her heels. Detective Buxton of B Division was following up leads about her and eventually tracked her down and arrested her. Once he had her he began to make some enquiries at a number of pawnbrokers and was able to trace most of the items. The sealskin jacket, ‘which was quite new […] had been left for £8 10s at the wardrobe shop of Mrs Caplin , 1, Richmond Road, Kennington Cross’.

In late December Ann Waring was again presented before the magistrate at Westminster where she admitted her crimes. Her plea was simply that her father had ‘been in deep distress, and as his daughter, she had been driven by sheer want to steal’. Detective Buxton said there was a ‘vast amount of property’ that he had yet been unable to trace and therefore asked for another formal remand. The magistrate agreed but also committed her for trial at the Middlesex sessions in January.

On the 8th January 1877 Ann Waring was tried and convicted of stealing a variety of expensive luxury items, including two gold watches and the sealskin coat. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 29, 1876]

Detectives nab a home made roulette wheel in Bethnal Green

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When detectives Cook and Lillystone from K Division turned into a Bethnal Green  thoroughfare at half past 9 o’clock in the evening of Saturday 27 December 1873 they found what they were looking for. They had information of an illicit gambling scam involving at least two men they’d been after for weeks. As they rounded the corner they saw a large group of men and excitedly surrounding a pair of men.

John Hambleton and his mate were operating what might to our eyes have looked like a fairly crude roulette wheel. It was numbered and players were placing bets on where the dial landed after it had been spun by the operator. The board was illuminated by candles placed on the ground around it which must also have lit up the faces of those involved. This probably meant that no one noticed the approach of the police until they were almost upon them.

Gambling in the street without a license was against the law and Lillystone and Cook watched for long enough to establish that Hambledon was the operator while his partner acted as cashier, taking the bets and paying out any prizes.

The device was called a ‘spinning jenny’ in the newspaper report, which was also the name of the famous weaving machine invented by James Hargreaves in 1764 and credited with being one of the key innovations of the early Industrial Revolution. Hambledon’s device was far less ‘industrious’ however.

Satisfied that they had enough evidence against the two men the detectives moved in, one seizing Hambledon and the other going for the cashier. A struggle ensued as the rest of the crowd of players scattered before they too could be nicked. The cashier got away with the help of one of the players but Hambledon was dragged back to the police station and searched.

The police found 9s 6d in silver and 26d in copper coins on him and charged him. They weren’t able to find the missing partner by the next morning and so it was just Hambledon that appeared in the dock on the Saturday morning. The police said Hambledon was well known to them as a man that ran betting scams on the streets, and that he involved young boys in them. The magistrate, Mr Hannay, said this was ‘almost the worst form of gambling’, and warranted more than simply a fine. He sent the spinning jenny operator to prison for six weeks at hard labour.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, December 28, 1873]

The Marlborough Street magistrate helps Big Ben’s missus deliver a knock-out blow

In the 1840s the biggest name in English boxing was Benjamin Caunt. Ben Caunt (pictured below) was one of the first English prize-fighters to seek international acclaim. In 1841 he traveled to the USA to look for rivals to fight for a world title but ended up bringing an American boxer home with him to manage instead. Caunt was so famous that some have suggested the bell within the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster was named after him, which seems unlikely.

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By 1846 ‘Big Ben’ was running a pub in St Martin’s Lane with his wife, although he continued to box well into the 1850s.

John Gill was a baker who lived in Cumming Street, Pentonville. On Saturday 19 December 1846 he had been drinking in the Caunts’ pub and got up to leave. Mrs Caunt asked him to settle his bill of 5s and at this point the baker made some wrong choices.

First, while he acknowledged the debt, he argued that since  her husband owed him 5 guineas it was a bit unfair of her to ask him to pay up in full when ‘Ben’ was already in his debt.

Such familiarity didn’t go down terribly well with Mrs Caunt. She came around from the other side of the bar and stood toe-to-toe with him.

‘Does Ben owe you anything?’ she asked, ‘Then I’ll pay you this way’, and punched him twice in the face.

Regaining his feet if not his composure, and finding his mouth full of blood, Gill staggered to the bar and launched a stream of abusive words at the landlady.

That was his second mistake.

Ben Caunt heard the foul language aimed at his wife and loomed into view, hauling the baker to his feet and throwing him out on to the street.

All of this of course landed Mrs Caunt in court before Hardwick at Marlborough Street. In her the dock Mrs Caunt didn’t deny the assault but said she had been provoked. She alleged that Gill had used bad language towards her before she had thrown any punches and was able to produce a witness to that effect.

The newspaper reporter for Lloyd’s Weekly clearly enjoyed the story and its associations with the English champion. Mrs Caunt had delivered a punch that ‘would have done no discredit to her husband’s powers’. The hapless baker was the butt of the story and that is how the magistrate saw it as well.  So Gill’s third mistake was in not simply putting the whole episode down to experience and going home quietly. Mr Hardwicke told him that he had ‘provoked the assault, by using language that was almost certain to cause a breach of the peace’, and he dismissed the summons.

Gill was beaten again, this time by a justice system and a magistrate that favoured the ‘weaker’ sex (who was clearly not the weaker one on this occasion).

[from Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, Sunday, December 27, 1846]

Dancing ghosts and conjuring tricks in Old Street

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You might be surprised to know that in 1875 there were newspapers on a Sunday. The Police Courts were closed on Christmas Day so this report must have been from Friday’s business however. It is one in which definitions of the law, and of what constitutes ‘music’ were the at centre of proceedings, but it also involved dancing ghosts and a conjuring trick.

William Wallser ran a traveling fairground show and in December 1875 he set up a tent between two houses in Old Street, in the parish of Shoreditch, and ‘parked’ his caravan next to it. Each night he performed magic tricks and ‘a “ghost illusion” similar to that of the Polytechnic the Worship Police Court was told. This was the use of glass and mirrors pioneered by John Henry Pepper at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London which became known as ‘Pepper’s Ghost’.

Wallser’s must have been a cheap version of Pepper’s trick and he only charged a penny to get in. As a result it was probably a pretty rough and ready form of entertainment with a lot of noise and boisterous behaviour from the (probably) tipsy paying customers and their children.

It was certainly noisy and disorderly enough to cause a number of people to complain to the parish authorities. The vestry clerk of St Leonard’s brought a complaint that the showman was operating  ‘disorderly house’ and Wallser was informed that, if convicted at the Sessions, he faced a possible fine of up to £100, a huge amount in 1874 and an awful lot of penny entrance fees.

Wallser was well-off enough to be defended in court and his lawyer claimed that the act was concerned with places of public entrainment that allowed music and dancing. It had recently been decided, he explained to Mr Hannay (the magistrate) ‘that a booth used by strolling players for the performance of stage plays was not a house within the meaning of the Act, and did not require a license’.

The vestry clerk was adamant that music was being being played as Wallser had both an organ and a triangle and he had heard reports that dancing had taken place. Mr Abbott (defending) said it was the ‘ghosts’ that were dancing and the people that played them were not ‘seen’. In other words they were part of the theatrical performance, dancing and music wasn’t the purpose of the entertainment.

Mr Hannay said an organ and a triangle ‘meant music’. Mr Abbott disagreed but he didn’t win the argument. The magistrate  committed the showman to appear at the next Sessions at Middlesex but released him on his own recognisances. I wonder if he managed to magic himself out that one.

This is not the first time Pepper’s Ghost has made an appearance on this blog, if you want to know more then follow this link ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ and the disgruntled scene painter 

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, December 26, 1875]

‘Twas Christmas Eve in the Police Court and lots of drunken women were lying all around…

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I don’t often feel sorry for members of the establishment, let alone the privileged few that served as magistrates in the nineteenth century. I some cases I see moments of compassion and leniency, but these are really few and far between. Most of the members of London’s impoverished working class could expect little truck from men like Montagu Williams or Thomas Saunders; anyone presented as a disorderly drunk would get little sympathy from them, or their colleagues.

But I do have some sympathy for Mr Benson, tasked as he was with clearing the cells at Thames Police court on Christmas Eve 1867. I expect he just wanted to get home to his wife and family, or maybe just to the port and stilton. Instead he was faced with a procession of drunken women, not all of them of the most ‘depraved’ class either.

The first up was Matilda Walker who appeared in court with her face shield by a black veil. She was charged with being drunk and incapable, a common charge for much less ‘respectable’ women than Matilda. Mr Benson pointedly rebuked her.

‘You are described as a married woman, and call yourself a lady, Mrs Walker. It is not ladylike to be drunk’.

The defendant was keen to point out that she had not intended to get drunk at all.

‘I went home with an old lady, and, as it was Christmas-time, I took a glass of the very best Jamaica pine-apple rum diluted with cold water; nothing upon my honour, sir. The rum just elevated me’.

With excellent comic timing the magistrate declared:

‘And lowered you; you were on the ground’.

Warning her to lay off the rum in future he discharged her.

Next into the dock was Mary Stevens, also for being incapable under the influence. Mary’s only defence was that it was ‘Christmas time’. ‘That’s no reason you should degrade yourself,’ Mr Benson told, dismissing her from the courtroom with a flea in her ear.

Mary was swiftly followed by the next prisoner, Margaret MacDonald who had also tried to pass herself off under another name – Ann Corradine. She told the magistrate that she had been a teetotaller for almost 12 months, slipping ‘off the wagon’ just three days short of a full year.

Mr Benson wanted to know why she’d failed to keep the Pledge.

‘Iver [sic] since last Boxing Day, I have been solid and sober, but last night I met with a few friends from the ould country, and we drank bad luck to Fenianism, until….’

‘You were drunk’, Mr Benson interrupted her, ‘Go away and keep sober in future’. The Irish woman made a hasty exit before he changed his mind.

Finally the last of this group of inebriates was brought into court, and these two  were by far the worst. Ann Jones had been carried to a police station on a stretcher as she was incapable of walking by herself. According the police witness she was singing a popular music-hall ditty called ‘Strapped on a stretcher were Sarah and I’, but this didn’t endear her to Mr Benson.

‘I am very ill’ she told him.

‘Ill? I wonder you are not dead!’ he said, before dismissing her.

As for the last occupant of the dock, Jane Fry, she was either still very drunk or simply more combative than the others. She had behaved so badly and presumably was not at repentant that Mr Benson sentenced her to a day in prison. ‘It is Christmas time’ moaned the woman. ‘Lock her up till 5 o’clock this evening’ the magistrate ordered.

‘What a scandal it is to find so many women brought here for drinking to excess’ he thundered and headed home for his own favourite (but controlled) tipple.

Merry Christmas one and all. Have a lovely day whatever you are doing and thank you for reading this blog over the last 12 months.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, December 25, 1867]