Racism ‘on the buses’?

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In the 1880s London buses (more properly ‘omnibuses’) were privately run. This meant that they sometimes switched their routes to take advantage of a sudden influx of passenger business. So instead, for example, of the modern 242 going to Dalston from Liverpool Street it might choose to run to Islington if sufficient people wanted to go there. I can’t imagine a situation where that would happen today but if it did there would be uproar from the stranded passengers left waiting at the stop.

This is exactly what happened in June 1880 however, as Jacob Allen was trying to get home late at night on a Sunday from Bank. An omnibus pulled up and the conductor shouted: ‘Burdett Road and Mile End’ and a number of people boarded, including Allen.

Then, as a number of other ‘buses appeared, all heading in the same direction, the conductor shouted ‘Limehouse and Blackwall’, thereby ‘altering the direction altogether’. He ordered everyone to get off declaring:

‘Come out, come out, I wont carry you to Mile-end’.

Everyone did get off the bus except for Allen; the engineer realized that  this revised route suited him much better anyway so he sat down and puffed on his cigar and waited to be carried home. The conductor still insisted he leave however, and when he tried to explain the bus man abused him verbally, calling him a ‘stuck up monkey’ and grabbed the cigar out of his mouth.

Allen complained at the man’s rudeness but it did no good, the conductor manhandled him off the bus and left him fuming on the pavement. Determined to have satisfaction Jacob Allen applied for a summons and had the man hauled up before Sir Robert Carden at the Mansion House Police court.

The conductor’s name was Moore and he had little by way of a defence. Allen had found at least one witness who supported his version of events and added that Moore appeared to be drunk at the time. Apparently he had told Allen that ‘he would not carry such trash’. Given that the complainant was an engineer and smoking a cigar I wonder if Allen was black and this was a case of racism? All Moore would say was that the man was intoxicated and that was why he refused him travel but this was vehemently denied. If he’d been out in London late on Sunday Jacob Allen may well have been drinking but this seems like a slur and Moore could produce no evidence for it.

Sir Robert found for the complainant and commented that Moore’s ‘omnibus was one of those private ones which went anywhere. It was clearly proved  that he had used bad language’, adding that ‘the sooner his master got rid of him the better. Civil language cost nothing’ after all.

He fined him 20s or 14 days in prison.

London had (as it has today) an extensive transport network involving omnibuses, trams, over ground and subterranean trains and the ever-present hansom cabs. This allowed Londoners to move around the city from east to west, south to north, at almost all times of the day or night, regardless of the depth of their pockets. It may also have helped one deeply disturbed individual carry out some of the most heinous murders this country has ever known. For more about the man who might have been ‘Jack the Ripper’ see Drew’s new co-authored study on the Whitechapel and Thames Torso murders of 1887-1891 available now on Amazon:

[from The Standard , Saturday, June 26, 1880]

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