A fracas in an Islington fish and chip shop

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This story reveals that London was very much ‘open all hours’ in the Victorian period, but also that violence could erupt at any time, and not necessarily from the sources one might expect.

Mary Ann Keeley was one of the capital’s ‘unfortunates’. By this description the Standard’s newspaper reporter meant that she was a prostitute, a problematic term then and now. Did this mean Mary Ann identified herself as a sex worker or that she resorted to prostitution when times were hard? It may also mean that this is how the police at the time identified her others like her, who were out on the streets late at night without an obvious male escort.

In the early hours of Saturday 19 March 1870 Keeley and some of her friends or associates were eating ‘supper’ at a ‘fried fish shop’ in Pierpoint Row, Islington. While they were chatting and eating Ada Hatwell came into the shop and became the focus of the women’s attention. They commented unfavorably on her appearance, teasing her about her ‘chignon’ (the way she’d tied up her hair in a bun) and she reacted badly. Ada hit out at them with her umbrella and then seized a fork from the counter at flew at Keeley with it.

In the fracas that followed Mary Ann was stabbed no less than nine times with the fork and knocked unconscious by the younger woman’s attack. The police were called but it took considerably effort to restrain her and march her to the nearest police station. Keeley was taken to get medical help and Hatwell was brought before the Clerkenwell magistrate later than morning.

Dr Francis Buckell sent a note detailing the victim’s injuries that included puncture wounds to her temple and arms, all of which were consistent, he added, to her being attacked with a fork. Ada was adamant that she’d done nothing wrong; the fault lay, she insisted, with the complainant and her companions who ‘were low women’ who had provoked her. The justice decided to lock her up for a week to see how Keeley’s injuries developed.

No Ada Hatwell appears after that in the pages of the newspapers or the court records so either Keeley dropped the charge or the magistrate dismissed it for lack of a belief that there was enough proof to sustain a conviction for assault. This was pretty normal for casual non-lethal violence in the 1800s.

[from The Standard, Monday, March 21, 1870].

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