The ‘exorbitant’ cost of a West End hotel

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We all know that staying overnight in a London hotel can be expensive. The closer you are to the centre the higher the prices and I’ve talked to people who have booked ‘cheaper’ accommodation in London only to find that they are actually commuting in from Hertfordshire!

So it is well known today that the capital is expensive but what about in the past? Was London a trap for visitors in the nineteenth century as well?

Well, if this case from 1830 is anything to go by then yes, it was.

An unnamed gentleman and his wife had come up to London for the night and checked in to a ‘well known hotel and the west end of town’. They took their room and ordered some food and drink, stout for the lady and a brandy and soda for her husband. When room service arrived the waiter brought them a pair of wax candles and the gentleman attempted to send them away.

‘My wife and I are very moderate persons, and have no desire to pay for extravagances, so common candles [i.e tallow ones] will do for us quite as well as wax’.

The waiter said they could do as they liked but they would be charged for wax ones whether he left them or not, so they might as well enjoy them. The hotel clearly had a policy of charging customers for ‘extras’ (a bit like the way that some hotels today add hidden items to your bill).

In the morning the guests were presented with a bill that they felt was extortionate:

1830, 29 September

One bed – waiter, chambermaid, and porter, 6s

two suppers, 5s ; stout 1s, brandy and water 24d;

Apartment, 76d; wax lights 2s 6d; two breakfasts, 4s; ham with breakfast, 2s;

Total £1 10s4d.

So the overnight stay had cost the couple about £100    in today’s money, the candles alone were £8.50. Now £100 for one night in the west end may not sound too much given  that included breakfast, drinks and supper but in 1830 that represented a week’s wages for a skilled tradesman whereas today £100 might buy you a plumber or carpenter for a day. In reality then the hotel had charged them about £500 for their night’s accommodation; today you might easily pay that or more.

The gentleman refused to pay his bill on the grounds that he was being overcharged so the hotel manager seized his luggage. The man took his complaint to Bow Street and Mr Halls. The magistrate agreed that the bill was excessively high but there was nothing he could do about it, the hotel was well within its rights to charge whatever they liked and told him that ‘persons that went to houses like the one in question went with their eyes open’.

The gentlemen left in a grump muttering that he would put the matter in the hands of his solicitor.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, October 01, 1830]

 

‘If you had been pursued all over London and were hated by the government, you would wish to shoot yourself’: drama at Bow Street as a respectable citizen tries to take his own life.

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This story is both sad and dramatic as it concerns a man’s very public attempt at suicide. Most of the cases that I’ve written about previously that have involved suicide have been women and most of those have chosen to end their lives by throwing themselves into the River Thames or one of the canals that ran through the capital. Most were prevented by quick-thinking policemen or passers-by and ended up before magistrates because attempting to take one’s life was against the law in the 1800s.

In this example the defendant was a man, and a respectable one at that. Robert H. Rhodes lived in St John’s Wood and worked for the Land Revenue Record Office. So Robert was a middle class white-collar worker, he was married and he had children and so was a very long way, it would seem, from the desperation of the usually poor and destitute women (and men) who chose to throw themselves from the various bridges that crisscrossed the Thames.

Appearances can be deceptive of course, and mental illness is no respecter of class or wealth. Rhodes was under some sort of pressure: in his appearance that Bow Street he told Mr Bridge (sitting as the duty magistrate) that he had ‘been pursued all over London, and [was] hated by the Government and bullied by everyone’.

While we don’t know why exactly Robert decided to end his life we do know how. In mid September 1886 the revenue man walked into a gunmaker’s shop in Cockspur Street near Trafalgar Square. He showed the assistant a cartridge he’d brought with him and asked to see some revolvers that might fit it. The shopkeeper brought out some examples and Rhodes calmly selected one and loaded it with his cartridge.

Then he ‘turned the revolver round till the muzzle pointed to his head and was trying to pull the trigger when the shopkeeper seized his arm’, and saved his life. The police were called and Rhodes was led away. As the constable took him to the nearest police station Rhodes begged him to let him end his life saying that otherwise ‘his wife and family would be forever ruined’.

We get no further clues as to what had led Robert Rhodes to make this terrible decision to kill himself but perhaps he was about to lose his position, or owed a large amount of money, or was suffering in some other way with the pressures of his job? Two gentlemen approached the bench and said they would take care of him and be responsible for his future conduct. I presume these were his friends or colleagues.  They agreed to be bound for six months as sureties at £250 each (about £16,500 today, so a huge sum of money) and Mr Bridge duly released Robert on the condition he did not repeat his attempt within that period.

[from The Standard , Tuesday, September 21, 1886]

For other cases involving attempted suicide see:

A man is driven to attempt suicide because of his ‘reduced circumstances’

A bad week in London, full of personal tragedy

A destitute Essex girl in London makes the news

A circus artist for whom the show cannot go on alone

Pickett climbs a fence and saves a life

‘I thought it would give a man a job’; one man’s weak excuse for breaking windows

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George Jackson had a strange way of helping the late Victorian economy. On Sunday 19 August 1883 he picked up a handful of stones in the Strand and put them in his pocket. He walked on down the Strand in the direction of what was then the Charing Cross railway and foot bridge, heading for Whitehall. In 1883 this was where the majority of the government buildings were, including the Home Office on the corner of Charles Street and parliament Street.

At ten to one in the morning he was seen by PC 31 of A Division who watched as the young man lobbed two stones at the windows of the Home Office building. As the plate glass window smashed the police officer rushed over and seized the culprit as he calmly walked away. Jackson was taken away and brought before the sitting magistrate at Bow Street on the Monday morning after.

Mr Flowers wanted to know why he had thrown the stones, telling him he ‘had acted like an idiot’. The magistrate declared that:

I cannot understand a man willfully breaking a window and walking off’, adding: ‘You are not a glazier, are you?’

No, but I thought it would give a man a job’, was Jackson’s reply.

Yes, and you a month’s imprisonment’, quipped Mr Flowers.

It was a case of willful damage to government property but not overly serious. Certainly it was something the magistrate was well within his power to deal with summarily. However, he was inclined, he said, to send Jackson for trial where he could expect a more severe sentence. The prisoner’s situation wasn’t helped by the appearance of a policeman from L Division who said that he’d previously been convicted for breaking windows in Lambeth. The justice there had sent him down for a month but he’d not learned from his experience.

Mr Flowers decided to remand his for a few more days ‘for enquiries’. George would have to sweat it out in a cell for the time being as he waited to find out his fate.

In the end Jackson turned up at the Middlesex Sessions having been committed for trial almost a year later on a separate charge by one of Flowers’ fellow magistrates, Mr Vaughan. He was tried on the 5 February 1884 for ‘maliciously damaging three panes of glass, the property of Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Works’.

George Jackson clearly had a problem with authority and government. He pleaded guilty but despite this, and probably because his previous convictions now counted hard against him, the judge sentenced him to eight years in prison. Jackson was listed as being 33 years old and a carpenter. Perhaps he was a disgruntled former government employee, now out of work (as many were in the 1880s (the decade that coined the word ‘unemployment’).

Maybe also he was suffering from some form of mental illness. Either way, eight years was a very stiff penalty for breaking windows and reflects both the harshness of the late Victorian ‘justice’ system and contemporary fears associated with terror attacks in the capital, of which there were several in the 1883-5.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 26, 1883]

A Dickensian tale of two drinking buddies who confound the ‘old bill’.

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There are moments of genuine comedy in the newspaper reporting of the police courts that offer a clear and (I expect) deliberate palliative to all the domestic violence, callous villainy, and desperately sad tales of poverty and attempted suicide that otherwise filled the daily columns. You can also see the influence of Charles Dickens and indeed the inspiration for many of his characters. Dickens was an observer of life as his saw it on his long walks around the capital and the crowded courtrooms of London must have been a rich source for the writer.

I’m sure that the readers of the Chronicle on Monday 23 August 1858 were well aware that the previous sitting at Bow Street Police court had heard the cases of 50-100 or more drunks, thieves, disorderly women, wife beaters, fraudsters and juvenile delinquents, let alone the ‘jumpers’, ‘crazies’ and numerous homeless beggars, but the first story they saw was one designed as ‘light relief’ from the grim reality of criminality and poverty in mid Victorian London.

Mary Ann Glover was brought up from the cells at Bow Street to answer a charge of stealing a watch and chain. The victim was Charles Johnson, and the two were apparently well acquainted. The evidence against Glover was presented by the arresting officer, PC Rook of F Division, Metropolitan Police.

PC Glover described how he was on beat near Clare Market at about 5 or 6 in the morning when he heard cries of ‘police!’. Hurrying towards the sounds he entered a house in Plough Court and found Glover and a man (Johnson) locked in an embrace and it appeared that she was trying to remove his watch and chain from his neck.

When the policeman intervened Mary said she was only going ‘to mind it’ for him but PC Rook grabbed it from her and said he would look after it and arrested Mary for the attempted theft.

In her defence Mary told Mr Hall (the Bow Street magistrate on duty) that she and ‘Charley’ were old friends, and called across for Charley’s confirmation:

‘Haven’t we Charley?’ ‘Yes’, said the victim (‘in a sleepy tone’) ‘we have’.

‘And I should never think of robbing Charley any more than I should you, please your worship. But I was out in St. Paul’s Churchyard* last night with the woman as keeps the house where I live, and she, poor thing, suddenly dropped down dead, and I ought to be at the inquest, please your worship, at this very moment, I did’.

Mary then began to recount the full events of that night and how she, with Charley, went on a drinking spree around several of the local pubs.

‘we went and had some drink at the Dark House, and then a little more at the Green Dragon; and after that…’

Here Mr Hall cut her short.

I don’t want to know the names of all the places where you drank. No doubt you drank at every public-house that was open’, he grumbled.

Mary went on to explain that Charley had got so drunk she thought she’d better look after him (‘there being so many bad characters in the district’) which was why she was helping back home and relieving him of his valuables. She would have continued to defend herself with a blow-by-blow account of her life and times but the justice had heard enough.

‘Stop. Stop. Hold your tongue for two minutes’ he told her and turned to the supposed victim.

Do you think she meant to rob you’, he asked.

Lord, no sir; she wouldn’t do it’.

Then what did you give her in custody for?’ Mr Hall demanded.

 

Charley started at him, amazed: ‘I did not give her into custody’ he spluttered.

The policeman had of course, and whether Mary was actually robbing her old acquaintance’ or protecting his valuables was moot; they saw themselves as fellow travellers on one side of the law and in their world the police were most definitely on the other. The last laugh then was on poor PC Rook who had effectively wasted the court’s time by bringing a charge ‘that never was’.

Mary was discharged and the pair waddled off together towards the inquest which with another little story to tell their chums down the Green Dragon (or wherever) later. Dickens might have written it himself.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, August 23, 1858]

A remarkable woman challenges the patriarchy

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Mrs Georgina Weldon

In August 1883 a woman appeared at the Bow Street Police court to ask for a summons against a psychiatrist whose name is perhaps family to researchers interested in the ‘Jack the Ripper’ case. Lyttelton Forbes Winslow was born in London in 1844 and trained as a physician, like his father. He became a psychiatrist like his father but was a controversial figure, falling out with his family and making seemingly spurious claims about his knowledge of who the Whitechapel murderer was.

Winslow believed the killer was the Canadian born G. Wentworth Smith who had arrived in London for work and lodged with a couple in Finsbury Square. Smith was apparently overheard declaring that ‘all prostitutes should be drowned’ and this was reported to Winslow by Mr Callaghan, the Canadian’s landlord.

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Winslow told the police, who investigated and dismissed his thesis, but the doctor persisted to talk it up at every opportunity. When he was eventually interviewed by Chief Inspector Swanson Winslow crumbled and said he’d been misrepresented in the press (which had carried the story). One Ripper theorist (Donald McCormick) suggested that the police even suspected Winslow himself of being the murderer.

Forbes Winslow’s real notoriety however, and his rejection by the mainstream medical community, was down to events before 1888 and linked in fact to this case at Bow Street. In 1878 he had attempted to commit Mrs Wheldon to a lunatic asylum at the request of her husband. This ended up in a long running court battle of which this request for a summons seems to have been a part.

Georgina Weldon was an opera singer who led a colourful life and become estranged from her husband Harry, a former officer in the Hussars. She’d filled her house with orphan children and when Weldon became increasing exasperated at the expense of keeping his ex-wife (at £1,000 a year) he tried to do what many Victorian men did and have his wife put away as a lunatic on account of her interest in spiritualism (which was increasingly popular at the end of the 1800s).

Her examination was conducted in an underhand manner by doctors who pretended they were interviewing her about her orphanage and Georgina soon realised something as amiss. She couldn’t sue her husband directly until the law changed in 1882 but seems to have sued everyone involved at some point and to have been a champion of litigation (‘the Portia of the Law Court’s as she was dubbed).

At this appliance in August 1883 Georgina had requested a summons to bring Dr Forbes Winslow to court to prove she was not insane. Mr Flowers, the Bow Street magistrate, declined her a summons but stated that he was entirely satisfied she was not mad. He added that she could of course apply at a higher court to bring Dr Winslow to book, which of course she went on to do.

Georgina Weldon went to prison, gave public lectures, wrote a number of books and articles about her experiences and sang and published songs. She died just over six months before the outbreak of the First World War and perhaps deserves to be better known than she is. She certainly stands out as a woman who was not prepared to accept the lot that life dealt her; that is (or was) to be a submissive wife of a Victorian military man.

She carved out her own destiny and challenged the medical and legal patriarchy at every turn and its a shame she didn’t make it to the end of the war to see the sisterhood win the right to vote. She was a quite remarkable Victorian lady.

[from Morning Post, Monday 13 August 1883]

‘When the fun stops, stop?’: the ‘curse’ of betting in late nineteenth-century London.

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When Augustus Peake asked to speak to his employer it wasn’t to ask for time off or for a rise, it was to make a deeply embarrassing confession. Peake had worked as cashier to Mr. W.H. Chaplin, a London wine merchant, for a decade but had been stealing from the till for the past 15 months.

In 1887 Peake earned £150 a year (about £12,000 at today’s prices) but had run into difficulties at home. He had a growing family and was struggling to make ends meet. At some point in the mid 1880s he’d taken ‘a few shillings’ and ‘invested’ them in a speculative bet. This paid off, he won but before long he was hooked. The shillings turned into pounds and by July 1887 he was confessing to having embezzled upwards of £250 (or £20,000 now).

We would now recognize that he had a gambling addiction, something that afflicts very many people in Britain today. Unfortunately for Peake he had compounded his addiction by stealing from his employer. While he admitted his crime in July he also begged Mr Chaplin not to act on the information straight away as his wife had just given birth and he feared the effect it might have on her nerves and health. To his credit the wine merchant took pity and agreed.

Peake was then arrested at his home in Leytonstone in August and brought before Mr Vaughan at Bow Street Police court. There he admitted his crime and  the circumstances that drove him to it. Like all deluded gamblers he said he ‘always had before him the vision of getting all the money back again in one grand coup’ but it never happened and when he realized the half yearly accounts would expose him he confessed all to Mr Chaplin.

The magistrate had heard and seen it all and took the opportunity to warn the public, via the newspapers, of the perils of gambling which he viewed as ‘a curse to this country’.

I wish that the clerks in mercantile houses of London could come to this court and see what I see and hear what I hear. This is only one of a multitude of cases where prisoners placed in your position have confessed that their robberies are entirely due to betting’.

Peake was clearly well thought of by his master who pleaded leniency. Nevertheless Mr Chaplin and Mr Vaughan agreed that an example had to be made and Peake was sent to prison for three months. That would not be the end of his punishment of course. No one was likely to trust him as a cashier in the future unless Chaplin took pity on him. So he would be out of work, massively indebted (unless the wine merchant chose to write it off) and with a new mouth to feed at home. In a society without support for unemployment (beyond the workhouse) or for those suffering from addictions, Augustus’ future looked bleak indeed.

Personally I think gambling and the companies that promote it is, as Mr Vaughan put it, a curse on society. I suspect we all ‘have a flutter’ from time to time which is fine so long as we realize that the odds are massively stacked against us. After all ‘the house always wins’, and it is no coincidence that betting shops proliferate in areas of the greatest deprivation.  Quite why drugs are illegal and gambling is promoted on television I shall never fully understand.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, August 10, 1887]

Shock and anger as a ‘respectable clerk’ assaults a six year old girl in the park

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The Duke of York’s Monument, c.1840

A heightened awareness of child abuse in the last decade has raised the media profile of this awful crime to the extent that it is one of the key concerns of 21stcentury Britain. From the discovery of Saville’s historic abuse of children at Stoke Mandeville and elsewhere, to the grooming of young girls in several British cities, to stories of abusive football coaches and priests, it would sometimes appear that we have witnessed an epidemic of paedophile behaviour in the UK. It is more likely of course that what we have experienced is a rise in the reporting of incidents.  This is not a modern crime, it is something that has always happened but it is likely that in the last 10-15 years society has taken victims’ testimony more seriously.

At the end of July 1862 Thomas Percy was relaxing in the band enclosure at St James’ Park. The musician was watching the promenaders and the families enjoying the summer sunshine in the late afternoon when a fellow musician drew his attention to a little girl holding a baby. She was about six years of age and a well-dressed young man was sitting near to her. Percy saw the man throw a penny to the girl, who threw it back. To his horror the man then moved over and started to sexually assault the child.

The man named Brown was on his feet in seconds and raced over to the offender, pulling him off the girl. He ‘boxed the child’s ears and sent her away’ and then turned his anger on the young man. Several other bystanders had seen the ‘filthy conduct’ of the man and as he tried to run away they gave chase. He made it to the foot of the Duke of York’s monument near The Mall where he was surrounded by a mob. A soldier on duty kept them from attacking him and the young man apparently bribed the sentry and clambered up the monument to temporary safety.

Eventually PC John Richardson (C167) arrived and forced his way through the crowd. The young man, who’s name was William Pinkstone, denied doing anything wrong and said he was a married man with children himself. Ricahrdson took him into custody and he was presented at Bow Street Police court on Friday 1 August.

There Percy’s evidence was heard along with that of Mr. Blake, (a French polisher), John Dickenson (a baker), and Francis Tyman (who was unemployed). All of them had been in the park and had seen what happened. The person missing was Brown and there was something suspicious about his absence. The magistrate, Mr Henry, asked for him to be fetched if possible and was told he worked at the Pavillion Theatre. After the case was heard new information came to light that suggested that Brown and some friends had been ‘seen drunk outside the court’ having been paid money (by the defendant?) to stay away.

By that time Pinkstone, a ‘respectable’ clerk, had been bailed for 40but committed to face a trial for indecent assault on a minor. On the 18 August Pinkstone appeared at the Bailey on three charges of indecent assault. He was acquitted of assaulting Amelia Porter (who was under 10), convicted of assaulting an unknown girl (probably the child in St James’ Park who had run away), and pleaded guilty to assaulting Rosina Masters.  He was sent to prison for 15 months but no other detail is recorded in the Proceedings (which is normal, they very rarely gave any detail of sexual assaults for fear of offending public morals).

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, August 02, 1862]