‘If you attempt to go to work today, I will tear you to pieces’. Dark threats of eviction at the Arsenal

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This is a case of conflicting versions of ‘the truth’, which has probably been lost somewhere in between.

On 25 November 1888 four people appeared at Woolwich Police court in South East London. John and Ellen Moore had been summoned for threats that they were alleged to have made towards George and Charlotte Tuffnell, from whom they rented an upstairs room in their house.

George Tuffnell explained that he and his wife lived at 2 Stanley Villas in Bullfields, Woolwich and that he worked at the Royal Arsenal. As he was leaving for work at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning John Moore confronted him.

‘If you attempt to go to work today’, he warned him, ‘I will tear you to pieces’.

Mr Marsham, the incumbent magistrate, wanted to know why on earth Moore would say such a thing, what had Tuffnell done – if anything – to provoke that reaction?

‘Well, you shall judge for yourself sir’, Tuffnell continued, ‘when I tell you what happened on the previous night’.

He went on to describe how he and his wife had returned home at 11.30 on the Friday night with the determination to evict their lodgers. We don’t know why, they didn’t say, but very few if any protections were in place for tenants in the 1880s and so while the Moores might have been behind with their rent, their landlords might simply have taken against them for no good reason.

Either way, Tuffnell loudly turned to Charlotte and declared, ‘Are the lodgers in?’, adding, ‘I mean to have them out’.

At this the Moores, who’d overheard (as I’m sure they were meant’) came rushing downstairs ‘like a couple of tigers in their nightshirts’. This dramatic description brought laughter from the court but covered the fact that a family was about to be turned out in the cold just a month before Christmas.

Tuffnell presented the altercation as one that threatened his wife and family: ‘Our three children were in a bedroom upstairs’, he said, ‘frightened out of their wits’, and he and his wife couldn’t get to them.

One wonders why they had gone out and left them in the first place if they cared so much.

John Moore presented an alternative version of the situation. He said he and his wife were ‘decent people, while the Tuffnell family were given to strife and mischief’. On Friday night he and Ellen were asleep in bed when they were rudely awakened by someone banging on their door.  Tuffnell was ‘raving and roaring like a caged animal’ and ‘battering the staircase with a hammer to emphasise his threats and imprecations’.

He and Ellen got up and opened the door and asked him to keep quite until morning when they would answer his requests for them to leave. At this Tuffnell said:

‘What did you say [to me]?’

‘I said, “Go in, Looney!”’ Moore admitted (and once more Mr Masham’s courtroom collapsed into laughter).

The magistrate turned to Moore and demanded to know if he nad his wife had vacated their rooms. ‘Not yet’, Moore told him. ‘We are going next week’. In that case, the justice replied, ‘I will adjourn the case until Thursday, and if you have left the house you need not appear again’.

Regardless of the truth of that’s night’s events it seems evident that the couples did not get on and so it was probably best that they went their separate ways.

[from The Standard, Monday, November 26, 1888]

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