Miss Elizabeth Cox was disturbed by sounds outside her front door in late August 1831. She opened the door which was next to Mr Ryder’s Yard, Queen Street on Cheapside and was confronted by a young man dressed as a painter and decorator.
Miss Cox looked him up and down and said (rather unnecessarily) ‘You are painting my door’. The painter agreed and added that he would happily paint her as well if she wanted him to. ‘Ay, do’, she supposedly replied.
Incredibly the painter did just that. He dipped his brush into his pot and painted her face.
Was that enough Madame, he asked, or did she want more?
‘Go on, sir’ the lady told him.
So he did, applying paint to her bonnet and dress and, when he’d finished, demanded 3s payment for the ‘work’ he’d completed!
But Miss Cox refused to pay and said she’d take him before the aldermen magistrates at the Guildhall instead. In response the man told her to do her worst, and he’d paint them as well.
The next day he was up before Sir Claudius Hunter at the Guildhall Police court and Miss Cox appeared (holding her bonnet and dress, both of which were covered in paint, as evidence). Naturally, she had washed the paint from her face.
The defendant gave his name as John George Barrett Gill (a ‘high-sounding name’ as the reporter remarked) and came across as an ‘extraordinary’ individual. He brazened out the encounter with the bench, seemingly unaware that he’d acted badly in any way whatsoever.
‘You are a very impudent fellow’, Sir Claudius told him, ‘and I’ll paint you in another way before I have done with you’.
The court now heard from several people that knew of Gill and doubted his sanity. One testified that just the other evening he’d invited a fellow workman to supper but that when he’d arrived he’d discovered the table and chairs, set for a meal, but outside the opposite house in the street!
Clearly Gill was eccentric but was he properly ‘mad’? Sir Claudius decided to bail him on the charge of damage (or possibly assault) but insisted that the surgeon at Wood Street compter (a small City gaol) examine him for signs of mental illness.
[from The Morning Post, Saturday, August 20, 1831]