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]

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