Two girls go ‘a thieving’ in a long lost Strand arcade

541-001

The Lowther Arcade, Strand 

If you are familiar with Piccadilly in central London then no doubt you are familiar with its grand arcades. Arcades like this used to exist in many British cities but few retain the grandeur of those near the Royal Academy and Fortnum and Mason’s on Piccadilly. In the 1840s London had a similarly elegant arcade on the Strand, now long lost (being demolished in 1904 to make room for Coutts Bank).

The Lowther Arcade was praised by John Tallis in London Street Views as:

‘short, but for beauty will vie with any similar building in the kingdom; its architecture is chaste and pleasing; its shops well supplied, tastefully decorated, and brilliantly illuminated at night. It forms a pleasant lounge either in the sultry heat of summer or the biting cold of winter’.

It was very popular with small children because at one end there was first a science exhibition and later a puppet show and other ‘amusements’. It housed just 24 shops, but all ones of the finest quality and while such shops attracted customers with deep pockets they were also a magnet for thieves.

In early July 1846 Mary Anne Gordon and Anne Brown were brought up before the Bow Street magistrate charged with shoplifting in the arcade. They’d been remanded for the past week while the the case was looked into and witnesses found.

Gordon was represented in court by a lawyer (a Mr Woolf) but Brown was on her own. The case was brought by a Mr West, who ran a shop in the arcade with his wife. He told Mr Jardine (the magistrate) that the young women had approached his shop while his wife was serving a customer. Gordon had picked up a brooch, brought it out to the door, examined it and then thrown it on the ground. West, who was stood outside, remonstrated with her and she moved away.

It was a classic distraction, because while West rebuked Gordon the other thief entered the shop and pocketed some items. Realising what had happened West set off in pursuit but it took him awhile to find them because they’d split up. When he did he saw a brooch in the hands of Anne Brown and called the beadle over to arrest her. A fight broke out as the women tried to escape but between them West and the beadle managed to take them into custody.

Mrs West was cross-examined by Gordon’s lawyer and the justice and she floundered a bit. She said she couldn’t be sure she’d seen Gordon or Brown take anything at all, nor was she completely sure of their identity because they were dressed very differently when they’d come into the shop. Shoplifters did often ‘dress up’ to ‘go a thieving’ in the nineteenth century, especially women. If they looked like any other ‘respectable’ customer they were much less likely to attract attention and suspicion.

In the end Mr Jardine decided that there was insufficient evidence to send Mary Anne Gordon for trial but Brown was not so lucky; she was committed for trial at the next Middlesex Sessions where she would have to take her chances with the jury.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, July 02, 1846]

Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available on Amazon here

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s