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]