A family nursemaid and her fellow servant were taking the children in their care to the park when they ran into an angry pedestrian. The case was trivial but reveals the deeply ingrained class distinctions of late Victorian London.
Evelyn Thatcher lived and worked for General Knox and his wife in Portman Square. The couple had two children, a boy of five and baby under 12 months old. On the 11 November 1891 Ms Thatcher and her assistant nurse, Annie Leadbitter, were on their way to Regent’s Park for the afternoon. The little boy was in his go-kart while Leadbitter pushed the infant along in a perambulator. Together, however, they occupied most of the pavement which as they made their way two abreast, with a yard between the children’s vehicles.
Meanwhile Captain Saunders, of 3 Upper Spring Street, (off nearby Baker Street), also enjoying the late autumn air. Looking up the captain suddenly saw the approaching women and their charges. He stopped in his tracks, ‘stamped his feet, raved, and flourished his umbrella’ before telling them to get out of his way as they were ‘obstructing the footway’.
Leadbitter (possibly ill-advisedly) was in no mood to be gracious enough to move aside. She said:’Good gracious man, are you mad […] what is the matter?’ before pointing down the street at a policeman and telling him to call him to arrest them if he really felt they were causing an instruction. After all there was clear yard of pavement between them he could easily pass through.
At this the captain started his ‘ravings’ again and Leadbitter decided to ignore him and set off again. This enraged Saunders who grabbed her by the shoulder, shook her and then proceeded to drag her along the street. The boy on his go-kart started to cry and the little baby looked terrified by his display.
The policeman soon arrived and while he agreed that the women should perhaps not have occupied all the pavement they had broken no laws. Nevertheless the captain seized hold of the nurse and shook his umbrella ‘violently’ at her and even in the face of the children. A nearby cabdriver saw the whole thing and when the captain was summoned before the magistrate at Marylebone, he testified in support of the servants against the military man.
Captain Saunders was seemingly apoplectic in his rage. The cabbie, Henry Canning, reportedly called him a ‘Zulu’ so fierce was he at having his daily perambulation interrupted by a pair of lowly nursemaids and a boy in a go-kart.
Mr Newton (the magistrate) had heard quite enough of this nonsense and it was making a scene in his courtroom. Given that the public galleries often attracted the ‘meaner’ sort of Londoner we can imagine that they were enjoying the sport of watching a member of the ‘better’ class being bested on the street and in court by a pair of working-class women.
Captain Saunders vehemently denied assaulting Annie Leadbitter, the children, or indeed anyone else, ever. The nurses were in the wrong for blocking the pavement with the pram and cart. Mr Newton agreed with him on this at least but supported the view of the policeman at the time; it might be wrong but it was not against the law. Grabbing hold of the nurse and hauling her up the street was wrong however, and a crime. He fined him 2s 6d – a trivial amount for what he described as a ‘trivial offence’.
With a snort that probably reflected his contempt for both the fine and the decision, the captain paid the money and left. Annie and Evelyn were also free to return to Portman Square with an amusing tale to relate over supper in the servants’ quarters later that day. Whether their employers were quite as pleased is another matter of course.
[from The Standard, Thursday, December 01, 1892]