Police break up a ‘prize fight’ in Dalston as the Ripper case reaches its apogee.


The Havelock Arms in Albion Drive, Dalston in the 20th century

On the morning of the 10 November 1888 the reports from the London Police Courts in The Standard made no mention of the latest ‘Ripper’ murder (that of Mary Kelly, who’s eviscerated body was discovered at her lodgings in Miller’s Court, Dorset Street). But then no one had been arrested, and no one charged for the killing and the court reports concerned appearances not general reports of criminality. There was plenty of  newspaper coverage of Mary’s murder of course, as the extensive links on the most useful ‘Ripper’ site (Casebook.org) testify.

One case that day did catch my eye because highlighted the existence of illegal prize fighting in late Victorian London. The Marquess of Queensbury had published his rules to govern boxing in 1867 (although previous attempts to regulate the sport had been tried in 1838 and even earlier, in the 18th century). But, as both Ripper Street, and Guy Ritchie’s take on Sherlock Holmes in recent years suggest, illegal prize fights, with the gambling that was associated with it, continued.

Like dog fighting (also the subject of attention from the writers of Ripper Street)  such illegal fights were hard to stop; they took place at night in out of the way places and news of them was spread by word of mouth to avoid police informers if possible. Despite this in November 1888 police inspector Alcock and his men successfully raided a premises in Dalston and arrested several of those taking part.

Thomas Avis and Thomas Porter, labourers at the small arms factory at Enfield (which made rifles) and John Hicks, a carriage builder from Mile End, were charged at Dalston Police Court with ‘being unlawfully concerned in a prize fight’.

The raid had taken place on the Havelock Gymnasium on Albion Road, attached to a pub that bore the same name. Avis and Porter had been the ring fighting while a crowd watched,Mr but the case turned on whether this was merely practice (sparring) or an actual fight. The men had excellent characters, the inspector admitted, and a future fight had been arranged and was waiting for official approval.

The police had a ‘spy’ in the gym; a former detective named Rolfe was embedded and keeping an eye on proceedings. The court was told he was ready to give evidence if required but wasn’t called. The Enfield pair were defended in court by Mr C. V. Young who explained that they headed up ‘rival gymnasiums, and were only trying conclusions in a friendly manner’.

The magistrate, Mr Bros, was content that nothing illegal had occurred, or at least nothing that could be conclusively proven.

‘The evidence shows’, he explained, ‘that the men were engaged with boxing gloves or the ordinary character and in an ordinary boxing match, which is no offence in law. The lowering of the gas, however, gave the affair a suspicious aspect, which was intensified by the rush of the people’.

In other words, whilst they had been doing nothing that was technically illegal they were sailing fairly close to the wind and ought, in future at least, to ensure they observed both the letter and spirit of the law. Damage had been caused to the property, which had been attributed to the large numbers who wanted to get into the see the fight, but this, it was accepted, had actually been the result of the police raid itself. All the defendants were dismissed to go back to their places of work and training for the main event.

[from The Standard, Saturday, November 10, 1888]

No news of the “Ripper” as London carries on as normal in the 1880s


Charles Booth’s poverty map of London, areas coloured blue or black represent the worst level of poverty in the capital; red and gold indicated relative comfort or wealth

I thought today I’d peer into the pages of the London press a year after the so-called ‘Ripper’ murders reached their height. In late September 1888 the killer struck twice in one night (30 September), murdering Elizabeth Stride in Berner Street before he later killed and savagely mutilated Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square. The ‘double event’ and the infamous ‘dear boss’ letter raised the level of public engagement with the Whitechapel murder series to fever pitch and helped to make it a global news event.

Researchers do not agree on when the murders ceased. There is some consensus that the last victim was Mary Kelly but three other homicides have been attributed (by some) to the unknown assassin known only as ‘Jack the Ripper’. These are are the headless body a woman found in Pinchin Street in 1889, and the murders of Alice McKenzie and Frances Coles (in July 1889 and February 1891). So given that ‘Jack’ was not (officially at least) in custody in September 1889 is there anything in the Police Court reportage that might link at all to the killer that had terrorised London in the autumn of 1888?

The answer for the 28 September 1889 is no, not really.

At Guildhall a general merchant was prosecuted for obtaining 400 sponges by false pretences. The case was complicated and the magistrate adjourned it for further enquiries. A salesman at the London Poultry market was charged with cruelty to chickens and was reprimanded several by the justice and fined 5s.

At Marlborough Street three men were charged with running a disorderly gaming house in St Martin’s Street. The court heard that the Cranborne Club was, despite appearance sot the contact, a ‘common gambling house’. The men were released on substantial recognises to appear again at a later date.

At Dalston a 22 year-old wood turner was committed for jury trial for assaulting and robbing a vicar. The Rev. Matthew Davison had just got home to his house in Downs Park Road, Clapton when Walter Taylor rushed up and rifled his pockets. The vicar lost a valuable watch and chain and worse, when he set off in pursuit one of Taylor’s associates attacked him from behind knocking him to the ground. Taylor was also charged with a similar theft, that of robbing a young woman named Lucy Millard in Hackney. Taylor (and two others) eventually faced a jury at Old Bailey in October 1889, where they were convicted and sent to prison for between 12 and 18 months.

At the West London Police Court violence was the subject of the newspaper report that day but not stranger violence (as the ‘Ripper’s murders were). James Cook was sent down for four months for for beating his common law wife, Caroline Moore. Cook had fractured his partner’s ribs by jumping on them but Caroline was still very reluctant to bring charges.

Over at Bow Street, the senior police court, four men were brought up to answer a charge of conspiracy to burgle the premises of the Railway Press Company. The men were tracked down by undercover detectives to a house in White Hart Street. The four were all in their twenties but a young girl of 16 was found to be living with them. This may have been what prompted the newspaper editor to choose this story from amongst all the others at Bow Street that day. Rose Harris said she ‘had neither money nor any friends’, and had lived in the sam room as the thieves for three weeks. She was, therefore, a possible witness, and  while the men were remanded in custody Rose was taken to the St Giles Mission to be cared for.

Finally there was a case from the Thames Police Court, one of two (with Worship Street) that covered the East End, the area that has since become synonymous with Jack the Ripper. Thomas Booth, a beer and wine retailer, was prosecuted for selling adulterated beer. Booth’s premises had been inspected by an officer from the Inland Revenue and his beer tested. On two occasions his beer was found to contain too much water. Booth tried to argue that his pipers were faulty and this had led to ‘washings’ (the beer slops) ending up back in his barrels. Mr Kennedy, the sitting magistrates, accepted his excuse in part but not in full and fined him 5s plus 10s costs. Watering down beer was inexcusable.

So a casual reading of the police court news from a year after the most notorious murder series in British history had unfolded would perhaps leave us to think that London carried on as normal. The everyday crimes and misdemeanours continued to occupy the columns of the London press and here was to be found ‘all sorts and conditions of men’ (and women).

The only footnote to this was a letter to the editor of the Standard, published in full at the end of the court reports section. It was from a R. C. Bedford, Bishop Suffragan* for East London. It was a long letter and concerned the ‘East End Poor’. He noted that the levels of poverty in the area were higher than usual by the docks, although had improved from the period of the Great Dock Strike earlier in the year. He was particularly concerned for the plight of the casual labourer in the wake of the strike, because while the workers had secured better pay (the ‘dockers’ tanner’) and some security of employment, those reliant on turning up for the ‘call’ in the early morning probably faced a more unpredictable future.

Bishop Bedford was asking for charitable help to be distributed through his church, and not indiscriminately.  However, he clearly believed that charity was not the solution, the real way to help the poor was to provide them with proper work not ‘doles and shelters’. The letter serves to remind us that late nineteenth-century Britain was a desperate place to live if you were poor and that in the 1880s unemployment was rife, and few areas were as badly affected as the East End. It is no coincidence in my mind that the editor of The Standard choose to position the bishop’s letter on the same page as the Police Court news. Here it would seen by the working and middle classes that read these reports (albeit for slightly different reasons). But it also serves to draw a link between crime, environment and poverty; something that was increasingly recognised in the later 1800s.

[from The Standard, Saturday, September 28, 1889]

*’A suffragan bishop is a bishop subordinate to a metropolitan bishop or diocesan bishop. They may be assigned to an area which does not have a cathedral of its own’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragan_bishop#Anglican_Communion)

A fishmonger takes extreme measures to protect his stock


A brief entry today, if I may be permitted, but an odd one.

We are a nation of animal lovers. I am not sure when that started but it seems to have been in place for much of the Victorian period. Whether this ‘love’ extended past our pets (predominately cats and dogs and small birds) to livestock is a moot point but the RSPCA were founded early in the century (in 1824).

Cruelty to animals has been highlighted in several posts in this blog because on many occasions people were taken before Police Magistrates to answer for their behaviour. Such incidents included stolen dogs (a supposedly ‘modern’ phenomenon), horses worked until they literally died in the streets, or monkeys mistreated as they helped musicians beg for money.

But this one struck me as particularly unpleasant and unusual.

A summons was applied for at the Dalston Police Court in north east London to bring in a fishmonger who lived in Hackney-Wick. The tradesman was not named in the newspaper report but Mr Bros (the sitting magistrate) asked what the summons was for.

The applicant was a woman (also unmanned) and she told him that the fishmonger used a gun to scare off cats that came into his garden, no doubt attracted by the smell of fish.

According to her ‘he frightened everybody by firing across the gardens at the cats that went after his fish. On a recent afternoon the man fired at a cat two gardens off, the shot going through the cats head and killing it’.

This was a regular activity, she complained, and she was ‘afraid to go into the back yard’ for fear of being shot herself.

Mr Bros granted the summons. I have two cats and they roam across the neighbours’ gardens (and we are visited by several other local felines). It can be a nuisance, they are a danger to local wildlife, especially birds, and they have an unpleasant habit of digging holes in the beds and filling them. So I understand people wanting to keep them out.

The fishmonger undoubtedly wanted to scare them away for good reason, but shooting them two gardens away? I hope he got his just desserts.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 5, 1888]

An ‘eye for an eye’ in Whitechapel

Mr Lushington, the notoriously harsh magistrate who presided over Thames Police Court during the 1880s, was said to have little toleration of domestic abusers or of those that resisted the authority of the police, especially when they did so with violence. He sat at Thames during the ‘autumn of terror’ when at least five poor working-class women were brutally murdered by ‘Jack the Ripper’.

On the 15 January 1888 a woman came to see him with her son. One of his eyes was bandaged and she complained that he had been attacked by an older boy in the neighbourhood.

On the previous Wednesday she had sent her ‘little boy’ out on an errand. As he walked along the street there was another lad in front of him who was carrying a lighted torch. I presume this was at night or at least in the early evening. The streets around the Thames Court area were dimly lit if they were lighted at all, so perhaps torch carrying like this was common.

The leading boy turned on the younger one and challenged him:

‘Are you following me, for if you are, I’ll put this torchlight in your eye’, he declared.

The smaller lad denied he was but this did not stop the attack on him. The lit torch was poked into one of his eyes and it was all he could do to stumble home. When his mother saw him she asked what had happened and ‘he fainted away on a chair’.

The unnamed mother, having cared for her son, now went to find the culprit. She spoke to his father who promised to take his own retribution on the lad by giving him a ‘sound chastisement’. This would seem to have been enough for the mother because she didn’t think her son was that badly hurt but when a doctor finally examined him he told her that his sight was likely to be affected for some time.

The boy that carried out this attack was 15 years of age, as she told Mr Lushington when he asked. This was important because it made his father liable to paying some compensation the magistrate told her. He instructed one of the officers of the court to look into the matter and she left court. I wonder whether there was any action to punish the boy through the legal system because despite his relatively young age, 15 was old enough to be charged with assault and this was clearly a lot more serious than ‘fisticuffs’ between two youngsters of equal ability.

Maybe the justice didn’t see it as being serious, or perhaps the unnamed mother didn’t want to make any more it knowing that the boy had been punished by a beating from his father. If her boy was in need of medical help however, it was important to get some compensation so that that seems to have been her reason to take it to court.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, January 16, 1888]

Illegal boxing in North East London


In early November 1888 while the ‘Ripper’ was terrorising the East End, Inspector Alcock and a force of Metropolitan Police officers raided the Havelock Gymnasium on Albion Road, Dalston.

They arrested several men and when they first appeared at Dalston Police Court three were remanded so that more information could be gathered. The three, Thomas Avid, James Porter and John Hicks were brought up on the 9th November to hear the evidence against them. This had come from the Treasury who were trying to determine the nature of the offence they had supposedly committed.

The accusation was that the men had been training for an illegal prize-fight. The prosecution alleged that Hicks and Avis had been staying at a nearby hotel and then training in the gym during the day. When the police appeared they found the men sparring in the ring but the lights dimmed so as not (apparently) to draw attention.

The men were defended in court by Mr Young who said that Porter and Avis (who both worked in a government factory and had ‘excellent characters’) were the heads of rival boxing gyms and were merely ‘trying conclusions in a friendly manner’. This was a strange phrase but perhaps meant they were sparring and might have seemed like they were prepping for a more formal fight*.

Perhaps they were – illegal fights were not uncommon in the period – but the problem the police had was in proving the fact. The men were wearing ‘ordinary boxing gloves’ and were having an ‘ordinary match’ and there was no law against that. There had been a crowd, which had rushed away when the police arrived, and one of the doors had been broken but this wasn’t sufficient to prove that it had been a fight for money.

The magistrate accepted that there was insufficient evidence to send the case to trial although he agreed that the dimming of the gas ‘gave the affair a suspicious aspect’. The rush of the crowd was also suspicious but perhaps explained by the police breaking down a locked door.

The police investigation – presuming there had been one – had gone off ‘half-cocked’. They had probably been misinformed, or set up; it happens. It looks very much like the police were foiled on this occasion and that the men (who were discharged) had managed to get away on a technicality.

[from The Standard, Saturday, November 10, 1888]

*Someone reading this may know more but the modern rules of boxing were created in 1867 (the so-called ‘Queensbury rules’) and set out conditions under which fights were to take place.

Blood is thicker than water on Hackney Marshes


One disturbing report from the London papers on this day in 1888 reads reminds of the panic caused by the actions of an unknown killer on the streets of the capital:

At Clerkenwell, Frederick Dunbar, 48, a hair-dresser, of King-street, Somer’s Town, was charged with drunkenness, and disorderly conduct, in Bayham-street, Camden Town, on Sunday night. – Police-constable 493 Y, said that prisoner, who was surrounded by a crowd of people, was drunk, and he loudly shouted several times, “I am ‘Jack the Ripper.'” He was taken to the police-station, and about 1,000 persons gathered around. – Dunbar, in defence, said he was sorry for what had occurred. He had taken too much to drink. – Mr. Bros: You have made a fool of yourself, and I will send you to prison for twenty-one days’ imprisonment with hard labour.

That was from the Evening News and is one of many such ‘snippets’ posted as part of a huge amount of material on the excellent casebook site for the Ripper murders. London was gripped by the murders and one might think that this pushed all other ‘time news’ out of the news hole, fortunately (for readers here at least) this was far from the case.

While Fred Dunbar was being charged for his disorderly behaviour over at Dalston Police Court a ‘young gipsy’ called Daniel Gumble was brought before the sitting magistrate charged with a violent assault on his father-in-law, John Roster.

Neither man were prepared to be sworn on ‘that book’ (meaning the Bible) because they were gypsies. Roster actually stood up for his son-in-law, describing him as a ‘good father to his three children’ and adding that the assault had occurred when they were both drunk.

Mr Bros (the magistrate that had also appeared at Clerkenwell to deal with Dunbar) turned to the police for details of the crime. Police sergeant Nolleth said he had been informed of the assault at 2.30 in the morning when Roster turned up at the station asking to have his head wound dressed. Nolleth then went to the gypsy camp on Hackney Marshes and arrested Gumble.

He confirmed that Roster had complained that the younger man had hit him over the head with a clothes prop. But Roster again intervened on behalf of his son-in-law, repeating that he was a good man but poor,  he was a hard worker and that only the other night he had declared that Roster was the best father-in-law in the world.

‘You told a very different tale last night’, responded the police sergeant. ‘Oh a man says anything when drunk’ replied Roster. Since there seemed no desire on behalf of the prosecutor to press charges the case was dismissed and Daniel was released.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, October 29, 1888]

NB it seems that true Romani people follow a variety of faiths including Christianity and Islam. For more information see this interesting site

A far sighted optician thwarts a spectacle thief


When Mr Anderson, an optician who traded from premises at 151 High Holborn*, finished his dinner on a Thursday in October 1859, he went through to check on his shop. As he cast his eyes over his stock he immediately noticed that a string of spectacles was missing. He had left these on his counter the night before but now they were nowhere to be seen.

Fortunately for the optician these were marked ‘with a number on the glass’ (rather than on the rim) and so he hoped they would be ‘easily identified’. Anderson now set about advertising the loss amongst his fellows in the trade and this quickly brought results.

On the next day an ‘elderly man, of shabby appearance’ walked into an optician’s shop at 2 Cranborne Street, near Leicester Square. He approached the owner, Mr Whitehouse, and offered him ‘half a dozen eye-glasses for sale’.

Whitehouse recognised the numbers on the glass as those listed on the handbill Mr Anderson had circulated the previous afternoon and secured the goods and the old man. The police were called and he was taken into custody.

Back at the police station the thief was searched and more glasses were found on him. Now he admitted selling to other opticians in and around the area and officers were despatched to retrieve the goods. All of this was revealed at Bow Street Police Court and the unnamed ‘elderly man’ was fully remanded for the theft of over £6 worth (over £250 in today’s money) of spectacles.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, October 22, 1859]

The US have a Museum of Vision with a  large collection of spectacles (many online) – its fair to say that these were a world away from the designer pairs we see (no pun intended) today.

  • in 1860 (a year later than this case, these premises are listed as being occupied by a ‘brass letter and glass letter cutter’  called Nicholas Flogny. Whether he and Anderson were connected or shared a premises is unclear. Cranbourne Street is at the heart of London’s West End, close by the busy Leicester Square (there is no sign today of Mr Whitehouse’s shop.