You are ‘ruining my brains’:the effects of imprisonment on one Londoner

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Kate Driscoll was a regular in the Clerkenwell Police Court. The 25 year-old book folder* of ‘no fixed abode’ had been sent to prison on numerous occasions in the late 1890s for acts of violence or criminal damage, usually when she was much the worse for drink.

On Saturday, the 7 January 1899 she was entered Frederick Glover’s music shop at 185 Upper Islington. It was just before midnight (and so we learn that in those days shops were sometimes still open, even very later a night) and, as usual, Kate was drunk. This time her ‘poison’ was rum but I imagine she drank whatever she could get her hands on.

Having pushed her way into the shop she collided with a music stand sending it, and the musical score on it, tumbling to the floor. Mr Glover, understandably concerned for his merchandise, remonstrated with her and got a mouthful of abuse for his trouble. As Kate tried to pull over another display Glover grabbed her and managed to manhandle her off of his premises and in to the street.

Kate sat down on the pavement, and removed one of her boots. Slowly pulling herself upright she turned and aimed the heel at the window to express her displeasure at being so rudely ejected. As the boot made contact with the shop window it smashed the plate glass, doing an estimated £4 10s worth of damage.

The sound alerted PC Jones (222C) who arrested her and marched Kate off to the station, but not before she had managed to land him a punch in the face. On Monday she was back in court at Clerkenwell before Mr Bros, the sitting magistrate. There Kate admitted the damage and the assault on the constable.

‘I admit I struck him and knocked his helmet off’, she told Mr Bros, ‘but the officer threw me down. What I did was in self defence’, adding that ‘the drink was in me’.

‘I have no doubt about that’, countered the magistrate, ‘what have you to say’?

”Well these long terms of imprisonment you are giving me are ruining my brains’ was Kate’s riposte; ‘I only came out after doing six months on Saturday last, and, you see, the least drop [of alcohol] upsets me’.

There was little alternative to prison for Kate in 1899; the Police Court Missionary Service had been attending courts for the last couple of decades but they only really helped those willing to ‘take the pledge’ to abstain from alcohol and Kate wasn’t quite ready for that. After 1887 courts could release offenders convicted of certain crimes on their recognisances but this applied only to first offenders, and Kate Driscoll hardly qualified.

So Mr Bros, whether happily or against his better judgement, did what he had to do and sent her to gaol once more. She got two months for the criminal damage and three for the assault.’Five months, oh my heart!’ cried Kate, ‘I can do it’ she added, before she was taken away to start her latest period of incarceration.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, January 10, 1899]

*someone employed by a printer or bookbinder to fold sheets of paper to form the pages of a book. We can now do this mechanically. 

You can use this site to search for specific crimes or use the Themes link in the menu on the left to look for areas or topics that interest you. If you are interested in a particular court (such as Bow Street or Marylebone) you can also limit your search to one court in particular. Please feel free to comment on anything you read and if something in particular interests you then please get in touch. You can email me at drew.gray@northampton.ac.uk

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