As the ‘Ripper’ strikes in Whitechapel a wannabe Charlie Peace is nabbed in Clapham.

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The 31stAugust 1888 is etched on the memory of anyone familiar with the biggest crime news story of that year. It was at about 3.45 that morning that PC John Neil (97J) found the body of Mary Ann (‘Polly’) Nichols lying dead in near the entrance to a stable yard in Buck’s Row. Her throat had been cut and (although the constable could not have known this at the time) her abdomen had been ripped open. Polly Nichols is largely accepted to have been the first victim of the killer most commonly named ‘Jack the Ripper’.

Personally I think it quite unlikely that Mary Ann Nichols was the first of the murderer’s victims and, in a new study I hope to publish early next year, myself and a colleague will reveal the person we think responsible for Polly’s, and another dozen or more, murders and assaults.  But that, as they say, is a story for another day, so let us return to late August 1888 and see what was troubling the police court reporter at The Standard that day.

While he didn’t garner many column inches (and nothing that compared to the Whitechapel murderer later that autumn) John Terroad did reckon himself some kind of ‘super villain’.

220px-Charlie_Peace_executionPerhaps likening himself to the infamous Charlie Peace – the self-styled ‘king of the lags’ – Terroad claimed to  have committed over 120 burglaries in London in his short career. Given he was only 23 years of age in 1888 this was some résumé, but on this occasion he’d been caught.

[Right: Charles Peace and his executioner, William Marwood, in Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors]

Up before the ‘beak’ at Wandsworth he was charged with entering the house of Mr Harry Bishop in Manor Street, Clapham, as well as that of a Mr Williams in Putney Common, and Edward James’ home in Ilchester Gardens, Lavender Hill. An older accomplice (Frederick Merce, 45) was also charged with aiding and abetting in the Clapham break-in. Both men were committed for trial. They pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey and were sent to prison for ten months each at hard labour.

Charles Peace was hanged for the murder of Arthur Dyson at Leeds in February 1879, a decade before the ‘Ripper’ eclipsed him as the most famous criminal of the nineteenth century.

[from The Standard (London, England), Friday, August 31, 1888]

From ‘a magnificent long-tailed carriage horse’ to ‘a mere bob-tailed colt’: a horse is the victim of a stable boy’s resentment

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When William Canham returned to the livery stable in Moorgate where he worked he was irritated to find that the two horses he had asked to be prepared for him were not ready. The stables provided carriage horses for London’s well-to-do, and the stable hands needed to have animals in tip top condition for when they were required to pull carriages and traps about the city.

Canham held William Pells responsible and called him out for his negligence. Pell, a young man, bit back and Canham swore he could smell drink on his breath. Was he drunk, he asked? The stable hand denied it and gave his superior a mouthful of abuse and squared up to him. The argument died down as Canham led his horses away to be fed and watered.

A little later Canham saw Pells emerging from one of the stalls looking furtive, and saw him hastily hide a handful of horse hair under his jacket.

‘Beware!’ Canham called out to him, ‘That’s horse hair. I’d like to know where you got that from?”

Pells said he ‘had combed it out of a horse’ but the older man was suspicious and went to check the animals in the stables. He soon found a poor horse that had been plucked (as he put it). The horse’s tail had been so attacked as to make it look as if it had been docked. Not only was this animal cruelty, it had devalued the animal:

‘from being a magnificent long-tailed carriage horse, it became a mere bob-tailed colt, only fit to run in a cart’.

Giving evidence at the Mansion House a few days later the livery owner, Mr. Wragg, said he put the amount of damage at £30-40 (or £2,000-3,000 in today’s money).

In his defence all Pell would say was that he wasn’t drunk but was irritated with his boss because he hadn’t been paid for two days. He might have found a better way to express his unhappiness however, as the very least he could expect now was the loss of employment and being black balled by all livery stables in London.

The Lord Mayor bailed him to appear to answer the charge at a later date where – given the facts stated against him – I rather suspect a loss of employment was to be the least of his worries.

[from The Morning Post , Saturday, August 30, 1852]

No mercy at Marlborough Street for a lad down on his luck

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London can be a perilous place for visitors, especially if they don’t keep a close eye on their valuables. Thieves operate in crowded streets and quieter backwaters and victims often don’t realize they have been robbed until it is far too late.

Miss Caroline Coplestone was hardly guilty of taking no notice of what she was doing or where she was but she still fell victim to a desperate criminal. Miss Coplestone, who had come up to town from Wimbledon, was walking on Bond Street in the middle of the day, taking in the diverse array of fashionable items in the shops.

Suddenly, out of nowhere a young lad rushed past her, grabbing her purse from her hand as he did so. It is reminiscent of modern phone robberies; snatched from your hand before you can react and take evasive action.

As the boy ran away Caroline must have yelped and a nearby policeman saw what happened and set off in pursuit of the thief. PC Maidment caught the lad and demanded to know what he had in his pockets.

‘Nothing’, the boy replied, all innocent. On being searched however Miss Coplestone’s purse, complete with the £4 and 9dit contained was found in his jacket pocket. On the following day the lad, policeman and Miss Coplestone appeared at the Marlborough Street Police court for the case to be heard by Mr. Mansfield, the sitting magistrate.

The boy was 15 and his name was William Kelly. He was described as ‘a labourer’ but was out of work and such descriptions are pretty unhelpful anyway; ‘labourer’ was often a default term for any working-class person who did not identify himself or his occupation otherwise.

William pleaded poverty and a lack of employment but it didn’t help him much. He said he was very sorry for what he’d done and that could sometimes help in cases like this. Magistrates liked to hear contrition after all, and some young men could be quite belligerent in the dock. Sadly for William Mr Mansfield wasn’t in the mood for ‘second chances’. He looked at William and saw a thief that needed to be taught a lesson. He sent him to prison for three months at hard labour.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, August 29, 1887]

p.s curiously Coplestone is an unusual surname but one to which I am related. My Coplestones are from Cornwall so I wonder if Caroline was a distant ancestor who moved to the ‘smoke’?

The perils of coming up to ‘the smoke’; highway robbery in the Borough

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John Roots had come to London in the late summer of 1848 to get treatment at Guy’s Hospital. The elderly labourer traveled first to Rochester (four miles form his home), where he caught a stage to London, arriving on the 22 August with 29sto his name. Arriving at the Borough, near London Bridge, he first took himself off to an inn to eat and drink. He stayed till the pub’s clock struck 6 and went off in search of lodgings, as the inn had no rooms available. At that point he had about half his money left having spent the rest on his fare, food and drink.

He was walking in the general direction of the St George’s Circus and as he sat down to rest for a while on Blackman Street, near the gates of the Mint, he met three men who hailed him.

What are you doing here? let us see what you have got about you’, one of them asked him.

Roots ignored them, and then told them to go away. They didn’t, instead they seized him and his inquisitor punched him hard in the face. The others grabbed him as he tried to recover, and rifled his pockets before running off. It was a classic south London highway robbery, and seemingly one carried out by a notorious gang of known criminals.

The Kent labourer’s cries had alerted the local police and very soon Police sergeant John Menhinick (M20) was on the scene and listened to Roots’ description of what had happened. He ran off in pursuit of the gang and managed to catch one of them and Roots later identified the man as the one that had hit him.

Appearing in court at Southwark a week later (Roots had been too sick from his injury and general ill health to attend before) the man gave his name as Edward Sweeny. Sweeny said he had nothing to do with the robbery; he was entirely innocent and had seen Roots lying on the pavement and had tried to help him, but he’d collapsed. When the policeman came up he said he’d told him to run away lest he was blamed for it, which he did.

Sergeant Menhinick dismissed this as rubbish but nothing had been found on Sweeny that could link him to the crime. All the prosecution had was Roots’ identification and given his age, his unfamiliarity with the capital, and his own admission that he’d spent two and half hours in a pub on Borough High Street (and so might have been a little the worse for ale) it wasn’t an easy case to prove.

The magistrate, Mr Cottingham, said that he’d rarely heard of ‘a more desperate robbery’ and declared he intended to commit Sweeny for trial at the Bailey. However, given the poor state of the victim’s health he said he would hold off doing so for a week so he could recover sufficiently to make his depositions.

Eventually the case did come to the Old Bailey where Sweeny was now refereed to by another name: Edward Shanox. Given the poor evidence against him it is not surprising that he was acquitted. Shanox/Sweeny was 21 years old and makes no further appearances in the records that I can see. Perhaps he was a good Samaritan after all, and not a notorious gang member.

As for Roots, he was still left penniless by the robbery and presumably unable to pay his hospital fees, so his future, as a elderly man and a stranger to ‘the smoke’, must have looked bleak.

[from The Standard, Monday, August 28, 1848]

 

 

A man with (literally) no legs to stand on gets little sympathy from the ‘beak’.

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Richard Wright had lost both his legs. How, is not made clear but he may have lost them in an accident, war or through disease. Wright was also elderly and struggled about the East End on two sticks. His only remedy for the pain and ill humour his disability and advanced age brought him was alcohol. However when he drank he became drunk and disorderly and sometimes quite violent, which brought him no end of abuse and considerable trouble with the law.

He had been court on a number of occasions, once for smashing the windows of a doctor’s shop with his walking supports.

Wright had become the butt of local jokes and pranks, especially those of the street children of East London. A policeman reported that on one occasion he’d come across Wright, back to the wall, fending off 300-400 youths swinging his sticks towards them as they teased and berated him.

In August 1867 he was drunk and facing down another group of children who were ‘shouting, jeering, and laughing at him’. The group had followed him as he staggered his way through Stratford, Bromley and Bow and he’d had enough of them. As he flourished his sticks again, one struck a lad on the head, tearing his cap and drawing blood. The boys scarpered as the police arrived and arrested the old man.

In front of Mr Benson at Thames Police Wright was unrepentant. Some of the boys had pelted him with mud and pulled him around, so he was provoked. He told the magistrate that the boys ‘would never let him alone’.

Because you get drunk and make a fool of yourself’, the beak told him.

Mr Benson had little or no sympathy with the old man and told him he was:

a dangerous, ill-conducted man, and that if did not get drunk, and make a nuisance of himself he would be an object of pity, not of violence’.

He then sentenced him to three days in prison for the assault on one of his tormentors. Wright grumbled a response:

What am I to do, your Worship, when I come out of prison? The boys won’t leave me alone’.

Keep sober’, was the justice’s response, ‘and the boys will not molest you’.

‘Fat chance’ Wight might have replied, but he wisely kept his mouth shut and shuffled off to the cells. I can imagine this happening today but I would have expected to find the lads in the dock not an old man with no legs to stand on.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, August 27, 1867]

‘I thought it would give a man a job’; one man’s weak excuse for breaking windows

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George Jackson had a strange way of helping the late Victorian economy. On Sunday 19 August 1883 he picked up a handful of stones in the Strand and put them in his pocket. He walked on down the Strand in the direction of what was then the Charing Cross railway and foot bridge, heading for Whitehall. In 1883 this was where the majority of the government buildings were, including the Home Office on the corner of Charles Street and parliament Street.

At ten to one in the morning he was seen by PC 31 of A Division who watched as the young man lobbed two stones at the windows of the Home Office building. As the plate glass window smashed the police officer rushed over and seized the culprit as he calmly walked away. Jackson was taken away and brought before the sitting magistrate at Bow Street on the Monday morning after.

Mr Flowers wanted to know why he had thrown the stones, telling him he ‘had acted like an idiot’. The magistrate declared that:

I cannot understand a man willfully breaking a window and walking off’, adding: ‘You are not a glazier, are you?’

No, but I thought it would give a man a job’, was Jackson’s reply.

Yes, and you a month’s imprisonment’, quipped Mr Flowers.

It was a case of willful damage to government property but not overly serious. Certainly it was something the magistrate was well within his power to deal with summarily. However, he was inclined, he said, to send Jackson for trial where he could expect a more severe sentence. The prisoner’s situation wasn’t helped by the appearance of a policeman from L Division who said that he’d previously been convicted for breaking windows in Lambeth. The justice there had sent him down for a month but he’d not learned from his experience.

Mr Flowers decided to remand his for a few more days ‘for enquiries’. George would have to sweat it out in a cell for the time being as he waited to find out his fate.

In the end Jackson turned up at the Middlesex Sessions having been committed for trial almost a year later on a separate charge by one of Flowers’ fellow magistrates, Mr Vaughan. He was tried on the 5 February 1884 for ‘maliciously damaging three panes of glass, the property of Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Works’.

George Jackson clearly had a problem with authority and government. He pleaded guilty but despite this, and probably because his previous convictions now counted hard against him, the judge sentenced him to eight years in prison. Jackson was listed as being 33 years old and a carpenter. Perhaps he was a disgruntled former government employee, now out of work (as many were in the 1880s (the decade that coined the word ‘unemployment’).

Maybe also he was suffering from some form of mental illness. Either way, eight years was a very stiff penalty for breaking windows and reflects both the harshness of the late Victorian ‘justice’ system and contemporary fears associated with terror attacks in the capital, of which there were several in the 1883-5.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 26, 1883]

An ‘accidental’ assault in the City as a sex-pest gets above himself

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Mrs Sarah Ann Mott had just come out of a shop in Fenchurch Street and was heading home with her partner to their home in Ratcliffe, east London when she told her husband to walk on and she’d catch him up. She had noticed a confectioner’s and had decided to pick up ‘some cakes for my baby’ and popped inside. Having made her purchases she hurried on after Mr Mott.

She’d not gone far when a well-dressed man veered into her path and made a grab at her thighs. ‘How do you do, my dear’ he leered and moved around behind her. As she turned to face him he laughed loudly, right in her face.

The man’s actions elicited a cry from Sarah that brought her husband running to her rescue.

How dare you insult my wife in the public streets, do you think she is a common prostitute?’

‘She may be for what I know’ said the stranger, prompting Mr Mott to place his hand on his shoulder and shout for a policeman. Not wishing to be arrested the man aimed a punch at Mott but missed, connecting with Sarah instead.

When the police arrived and Mott explained what had happened the man, who gave his name as Edmund Henshaw, a wine merchant living in Mincing Lane in the City, denied everything and called Mott ‘a ______ liar’.

They all went to the nearest police station where Mott demanded an apology. Henshaw’s attempt at an apology was so clearly a sham that Mott insisted on charging him and bringing him before the Lord Mayor at Mansion House. There he again denied the charge, said he’d brushed against Sarah’s leg by accident and was only defending himself when he’d hit her.

Despite the difference in class – Henshaw being a supposedly ‘respectable’ merchant and the Motts mere ‘slopsellers’ from the rough part of town – the magistrate found for the complainants. Henshaw, a sex pest who clearly thought himself above the law, was convicted and fined 20s, a small victory for ‘the little man’ (and woman).

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, August 25, 1853]