The ‘madman’ who refused to do as he was told.

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St John’s Church, Holloway

Not for the first time I’m struck by how frequently the police courts of the metropolis (the forerunners of modern magistrates courts) prosecuted individuals who exhibited clear sign of mental ill health. Victorian society not only lacked the resources to care for the mentally ill, they also had a much less well-developed understanding of them.

As a result the ‘mad’ and ‘insane’ were locked up in institutions like Bedlam (which gives us a popular term for chaos), small private asylums, or, later in the century, larger public ones such as Colney Hatch. The treatment individuals received in such institutions varied but it very far from being ‘caring’.

This was probably the sort of place that John Hassalt ended up in after his brush with Mr Laing, the sitting magistrate at Hatton Garden, in May 1837. At the start of Victoria’s reign John may have been sent to Hanwell in Middlesex, which opened in May 1831. But he might equally simply have been housed in one of the capital’s many workhouses, especially if he was poor. There he would have had virtually nothing that might be described today as ‘specialist mental health care’.

So what had John Hassalt done to earn his appearance in court and a possible relocation to an asylum or workhouse?

John was a bricklayer – or so he was described in court – and he was charged, by the churchwarden of St. John’s in Holloway, with ‘having disturbed the congregation in church on Sunday’.

Mr Povey, the churchwarden, explained that on that morning he’d entered the church just as the curate was reading prayers. Hassalt had approached the pulpit and was about to enter it and take over the service when Povey and several other parishioners seized him and led him away. It was not the first time John had tried to interrupt proceedings he added, but enough was clearly enough for the exasperated churchman.

Apparently all John Hassalt wanted to do was ‘expound the holy truths of religion’ to the gathered audience. When questioned by the magistrate he said nothing other than this in defence and clearly thought he was entitled to do just that. He had written to the curate to express his wish and determination to preach and thought that would or should suffice as explanation.

Povey piped up to say that Hassalt was clearly ‘touched in his intellect’ (in other words he was ‘mad’).

No, I am right enough’ countered the bricklayer.

To which the justice declared that:

his notions of religion could not be very correct or he would not disturb a Minister of the Gospel in the performance of his duty’. He must promise not to do so again.

Hassalt would make no such promise. Indeed he solemnly swore notto! At this the magistrate lectured him on his conduct at some length and warned that if he was brought before him again he would be forced to send him to prison.

I doubt that would have done much good – the warning or a prison sentence – because Hassalt was convinced of the rightness of his beliefs. I fear the only logical outcome of this was likely to be his future confinement, not to a prison, but a mental hospital, either on the command of the state or at the expense of his family, if he had any.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, May 23, 1837]

This has similarities to another tale over interruptions to church services (this one at St Paul’s) and for other stories that involve mental illness see:

A lack of ‘care in the community’ at Lambeth Police Court

‘I won’t have a month, you must give me more’: an unhappy drunk at Westminster

‘I wish I had finished the pair of them’: dark threats at Clerkenwell

Laudanum, primroses and mental health collide as the millennium approaches.

 

‘The very image of the Devil himself, with horns and eyes of flame’; Spring Heeled Jack in Kentish Town

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At some point in the late 1830s a new monster appeared in the public consciousness. A humanoid figure with glowing eyes, that breathed fire and leap over walls attacked and frightened women across the capital. The fearsome creature – dubbed ‘Spring Heeled Jack’ – disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived, leaving the police baffled and the public in terror.

In February 1838 Lucy Scales and her sister were terrified by ‘Jack’ as they walked home in Limehouse. The cloaked monster shot ‘a quantity of blue flame’ into a face, temporarily blinding her and bringing on what sound like epileptic fits for several hours.

In Kentish Town in March 1838 PC Markham (S24) was walking his beat one Saturday evening when he screams and shouts ahead of him. Suddenly he saw ‘women and children running in all directions, screaming out “Here’s Spring-heel’d Jack’.

The constable drew his ‘staff’ (his truncheon) gathered his wits and courage and set off to confront the demon. Several women who had run to the policeman for safety pointed at a man in the street as the ‘terror of London’ in person.

‘Perceiving that a sort of blue froth was at his mouth, and his features were not altogether natural, [PC Markham] went up to him, and seizing him by the collar, dragged him to a butcher’s shop, by the light of which he discovered that he wore a mask, embellished at the mouth with blue glazed paper’.

The brave constable grabbed his man by the collar and frog-marched him off to the nearest police station. The next morning the monster, who went by the name of Daniel Granville, was set in the dock at Marylebone Police Court. He cut a strange and sorry figure: ‘a simple-looking fellow, with a most bewitching obliquity of vision’ as the paper described him. Granville apologised for frightening the public and said it was never his intention. The magistrate dismissed him with a warning, presumably as a sad rather than bad individual who was trading on the publicity that the real ‘devil’ had generated.

Sightings of Spring Heeled Jack multiplied across the 1830s and into the 1840s, and the phenomenon spread beyond the capital. Jack was spotted in Brighton later in 1838 and by the 1840s had traveled to East Anglia and Northampton Jack became a feature of contemporary popular culture – headlining in several penny dreadfuls and a number of plays and melodramas. ‘Jack’ eventually passed into myth (if he even existed at all) and by the 1950s was appearing in popular comics as a sort of dark vigilante, a caped anti-hero rather similar to Gotham’s Batman.

No one has ever been formally identified at the culprit and the reality may be that there were several ‘Jacks’. For me it is an example of how a growing urban populace retained some of the folk beliefs and ‘monsters’ from their rural past and merged them with the threats posed by the modern city environment. ‘Spring Heel’d Jack’ was embodiment then of the fears of the City at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign just as ‘Jack the Ripper’ was to become symbolic of urban degradation towards its end.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 20, 1838]

Burglary tops the bill in the early records of the London Police Courts

The newspapers did report the comings and goings at the Police Court almost from their inception in 1792 but the early reports are fewer, less detailed, and harder to find with a simple keyword search. Gradually the papers seem to have settled on a heading of ‘police intelligence’ by the later 1820s but before that its use is somewhat sporadic.

The press also appear to have been working out exactly what to record (the London Police Courts heard hundreds of cases each week between them, so the reporters couldn’t include everything). By mid century this had settled into a pattern where the usual types of hearing (assault and petty theft, fraud and embezzlement, drunkenness and disorderly behavior) were augmented by ‘human interest’ stories (pleas for protection, abject poverty, attempted suicides), or the humorous, funny, or just plain bizarre.

On 11 January 1817 the Morning Post (which was, by the early 1800s, a ‘conservative’ daily which had started life in 1772) published a short summary of ‘police intelligence’ which included the following cases:

At Hatton Garden William Grant was brought up accused of burgling the home of Joseph Fisher, a tobacconist. Fisher prosecuted the thief himself and alleged that he, and other not yet in custody, had stolen ‘upwards of £100 in bank notes and cash’ from his ‘counting-house’. The justice remanded Grant for further examination.

John Davies was charged at Queen’s Square Police court with robbing the premises of Robert Smith who ran the Nag’s Head public house in Knightsbridge (which is still trading 200 years later ). The accused supposedly stole a ‘looking glass’ (a mirror) and was committed for trial. Neither Davies nor Grant are recorded as having trials at the Old Bailey so the prosecutions may have collapsed or perhaps they were acquitted and the cases not written up for the Proceedings.

Mary Johnston was not as lucky as these two however. She also appeared at Queen’s Square on a charge of burglary. She had entered the property of a blind woman named Eliza Bond, at 10 at night. This was quite unusual; female thieves rarely committed burglary, preferring to act with others as conspirators or to steal from homes or shops during the day, when they might pass as servants on errands.

Mary was tried at the Old Bailey on the 15 January and convicted by the jury. She was sentenced to death but recommended to mercy. She was 25 years old and pleaded ‘distress’. I can’t find Mary amongst those convicts transported to Australia in 1817 and she certainly wasn’t executed either so she, like so many ‘ordinary’ working-class people, disappears from the public record after her brief appearances in 1817.

Over at Bow Street one man (William Brennau) was committed for trial for stealing lead from the roof of a house belong to a law stationer in Chancery Lane (but this led to no trial at Old Bailey).

Finally, William Crowder was set before the magistrate accused of conspiring with others to burgle a warehouse in Bucklesbury (in the City of London). Crowder was clearly a man of means and the magistrate must have believed his claims of innocence because despite the man having only recently returned from a trip to France, he set him at liberty on his solicitor promising to appear for him if charges were presented at a later date.

Given that only one of these London hearings resulted in a trial at the Old Bailey it helps demonstrate that previous (and future) studies of crime and punishment which rely overmuch on the records of the Central Criminal Court should be treated with some caution at least. Much more ‘crime’ came before the summary courts in London and elsewhere (as I argue in my first book).

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, January 11, 1817]

Charity, mendacity and malingering; what are we to do about poverty and begging?

Do you give money to beggars in the street? Or buy the Big Issue?  Or do you walk on by thinking that by ‘helping’ them with money you are doing more harm than good (as we are often told). Perhaps you pop into the nearest coffee shop and purchase them a hot drink and a sandwich?

We all have our opinions about poverty and begging and often we react emotionally to the person we see. I was particularly struck by the number of beggars I saw in Venice last summer, amidst the crowds of wealthy sightseers gazing at canal views and wearing designer clobber while old women in layers of rags held out their hands or a cup for change.

I have a problematic relationship with beggars; sometimes I give them money, other times I chat to them, but most of the time I think its not my problem, that is is what the state is there for. I’m not comfortable with this and mostly I just feel impotent.

It is often said that there are professional beggars, or shammers that trick us into feeling sorry for them when actually they ‘earn’ plenty of money from begging and choose this form of malingering over actual work. I imagine its true for one in a hundred but hardly widespread.

I suspect the same conflicting emotions faced our Victorian ancestors. In the 1800s charity was a way for upper and middle-class women to find a public role in society. The prevailing patriarchal ideology meant that  they were unable to work or pursue a career  as they are today and confined to running the household and directing the care and education of their children they must have craved something else.

Lady Richardson was one such well-heeled Victorian lady. From her fashionable London home at 42 Bedford Square she played a role in helping ‘deserving cases’ like Jane Alexander and Maria Bogice.

Lady Richardson was aware of and way even have been involved with  the Mendicity Society. Their purpose (as set down in an 1850 note) was thus:

The society gives meals and money, supplies mill and other work to applicants, investigates begging-letter cases, and apprehends vagrants and impostors. Each meal consists of ten ounces of bread, and one pint of good soup, or a quarter of a pound of cheese. The affairs of the Society are administered by a Board of forty-eight managers. The Mendicity Society’s tickets, given to a street beggar, will procure for him, if really necessitous, food and work. They are a touch-stone to impostures: the beggar by profession throws them aside.

In January 1837 Sir John had passed a letter on to his wife which purported to be a request for help from one Maria Bogice. It was delivered to the house in Bedford Square by Jane Alexander.

Lady Richardson was at once suspicious. She had already ‘relieved’ (in the other words, helped) Maria by donating to her daughter some clothes so she would be able ‘to take a position’ (as a servant or shop girl most likely). So she thought it odd that she would write her a begging letter so soon afterwards.

When challenged about this Jane suggested that it was probably a mistake and went to leave. But Lady Richardson added it was a ‘very wilful and wicked’ mistake if mistake it was and decided to look into the matter. She referred the letter to the  Mendicity Society for their thoughts.

When Mr Kynvett replied that Jane Alexander was well known to them and that she had been concocting letters like this since 1834 (using a variety of names) the case was sent to the summary courts.

Jane appeared at Hatton Garden Police Court charged with attempting to ‘practice a gross imposition’ on Sir John* and Lady Richardson. Jane admitted her guilt but ‘begged hard for forgiveness’, she had acted, she said, out of extreme distress.

The justice was unmoved by her act of contrition. He told her that ‘such tricks steeled the heart of charity’ (a reaction perhaps familiar to modern readers). Lady Richardson added her own thoughts, saying that:

‘There are so many frauds committed in this way upon individuals who are anxious to do good that it is difficult to tell whether you are helping a needy person or one who gains his or her living by obtaining sums from the benevolent’.

Poor Lady Richardson, while she had to return to her town house in Bedford Square (below) to lick her wounds over a dinner prepared for her and her family by a staff of cooks and servants, Jane Alexander had the luxury of being sent to prison for 21 days to reflect on her ‘crime’ of being poor. Her children were removed from her and sent to the workhouse.

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Ian Duncan Smith would presumably have wept buckets.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, January 09, 1837]

*Sir John Richardson was familiar with the legal system. He was a judge at the Court of Common Pleas in the 1830s.

An anti-slavery ‘missionary’ is exposed as a fraud

Thomas C. Cook was an American. In fact he described himself as a “a missionary from America for the abolition of slavery”. This was a noble purpose so one wonders why it had landed him at the bar of the Union Hall Police Court in November 1839.

Britain had abolished the slave trade in 1807 and thereafter the Royal Navy intercepted slaving vessels and policed the now illegal trade. In 1834 slavery itself was formally abolished in all of Britain’s colonies and territories, and hundreds of thousands of slaves were freed. So by 1839 slavery had been abolished in Britain and its empire yet it persisted in the United States. Within a few decades the defenders of slavery would find themselves engaged in a bitter civil war that left America divided and millions thousands dead or wounded.

Cook had come over to either lend his support to the opponents of slavery or to learn from them so he could continue to campaign against the practice in the US. Sadly its not really clear what his position was because his appearance in court suggests he was something of a charlatan.

The landlord of a pub in Camberwell (The Perseverance) brought Cook to court to answer a charge of not paying for his drunks and dinner. Richard Petch told the Union Hall magistrate that Cook had entered his establishment and ordered a rump steak with oyster sauce. Having enjoyed his meal he supped on beer and smoked a cigar, while the the public bar filled up.

He soon engaged the locals in conversation and got involved in a long argument on ‘theological matters’ which , at some point, he then declared himself the winner of. He drank heavily and told anyone who would listen that he was an American recently arrived in London to ‘lend the aid of his talents to the abolition of slavery’.

As he became louder Mr Petch suggested he had drunk  enough and might like to settle his bill and leave. At this the missionary replied that ‘he had no cash on him’ but that he was promised some money by the Lord mayor of London. He promised to pay what he owed just as soon at his lordship settled with him. Petch was not inclined to wait on such a nebulous promise however and demanded payment; when that was refused he called for the police and Cook was taken into custody.

The magistrate asked him where he lived and how he maintained himself. ‘I have no home’, Cook replied, ‘I go about from place to place and sleep at those places that suit my convenience’. He added that, ‘I have been driven to great extremities since I landed on British shores, and my funds are all expended’.

When the justice admonished him for living way beyond his means and at others’ expense Cook claimed that he had come over with a manuscript to publish but had not the funds to do so. He had presumably intended (or hoped) that he could live off the proceeds of his polemic writing.

A police inspector testified that Cook had been seen going from place to place behaving in a similar manner, eating and drinking and claiming to be destitute at the end or promising to pay later when in a better situation. In legal terms it turned on whether Cook at wilfully committed fraud, in making the landlord believe he had the funds when he did not. In the end the magistrate (Mr Jeremy) gave the American the benefit of the doubt and possibly did so because Cook promised to endeavour to return to the US as soon as possible if he was released.

However, Mr Jeremy warned him that he came before him again for a similar action he would prosecute him under the Vagrancy Laws and he would face gaol. He advised the landlord to pursue a civil claim for the loss of payment.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, November 15, 1839]H

A bailiff gets his comeuppance

In October 1849 Henry and Margaret Joyce were summoned to the Clerkenwell Police Court to be be charged with assault by Henry Herrick. The Joyces ran an ironmonger’s shop in Wilstead Street, Somers Town (near Euston in central London). Herrick was ‘an officer of the Palace Court’, a court that was concerned with the private prosecution of small debts. It is likely that Herrick was a forerunner of a modern debt recovery officer, or bailiff. The compile were represented in court by a lawyer who was usually attached to the Hatton Garden Police Court nearby.

Herrick gave his evidence, stating that he had gone to the Joyce’s shop to serve a warrant on their son. At the door he declared who he was and showed him his authority to arrest their boy for debt. Perhaps not surprisingly they threw him out and prevented him executing his warrant. The son was apparently hiding in the back yard.

The officer persisted however, forcing his way into the house and seizing the lad. Mrs Joyce now attacked him ‘violently’, pelting him ‘with crockeryware’! Henry Joyce tore his shirt and his wife snatched at his face. Eventually he dragged the son out into the street and tried to bundle him into a cart he had waiting nearby. The lad rested and a crowd soon gathered to see what all the fuss was about.

The defence now challenged his evidence, Mr Sidney (the Hatton Garden solicitor) asked Herrick: ‘Pray, have you got a staff?’ ‘Yes’ the officer responded. ‘Did you use it on my clients?’ Herrick denied that he had, and the staff was produced in court.

This was a heavy staff with a brass crown at the top, a ceremonial symbol of the officer’s authority but something capable of doing great harm. Mr Joyce declared that he had indeed used it on him in his attempts to capture their son.

The solicitor now remained to know where Herrick’s witnesses were. After all he had claimed that a large crowd had witnessed the ‘violent’ attack on him his clients. The only person who supported Herrick was his assistant, who said the boy had not resisted at first, but only after his parents had hit Mr Herrck. It was a confused and inconsistent prosecution and there were no independent witnesses that supported the Palace Court officer.

By contrast Mr Sidney was able to bring in a lady named Frances Stephenson who had entered the ironmonger’s shop as a customer and witnessed Herrick’s arrival. When Mrs Joyce saw the officer she asked him what he wanted.

‘”I’ll soon let you know”, and he stuck her. Witness [Mrs Stephenson] said, “You brute, what do you mean?” Witness then saw the staff in his hand. The children were alarmed, and crying and screaming. He had a large ring on his finger and he struck Mrs Joyce on the head’.

The magistrate asked Herrick if he wanted to question Mrs Stephenson. What we would the point, the officer answered, since she had sworn on oath against him. Mr Tyrwhitt (the magistrate) asked her if she had any connection to the Joyces. She hadn’t she said, ‘I am quite a stranger, and entered the shop accidentally to purchase the bottom of a grate’.

A local shoemaker also saw the altercation and testified that Herrick had struck Mrs Joyce. He said he saw  a small crowd and heard cries of ‘shame’ and hissing; ‘the people also hooted the officer’. He saw no one attack Herrick but he did see the officer and his assistant attack the son and his parents.

The evidence pointed to a counter accusation, that Herrick was the aggressor not the victim. This is certainly how Mr Tyrwhitt saw it and he advised the officer that he could take it to the Sessions of the Peace but he was going to dismiss it here.

Being arrested and then imprisoned for debt was a terrible thing in the 1800s. Thousands were incarcerated in prisons such as the Marshals (which the Palace court served). Dickens had first hand experience of this as his father had been locked up in one. Once in it was hard to get out because self-evidently your ability to repay any debt was complicated by imprisonment.

So this may be an example of collective resistance to the processes of the debtors’ court; Herrick was (as a bailiff character) a ‘hate figure’ and whether he acted as he testified or as the witnesses for the defence did, we shall never know.

I know whose side I’m on however.

 

 

 

 

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, October 30, 1849]

Cholera and charity in mid-nineteenth century London

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Between 1848-9 some 14, 137 Londoners died of Cholera. It was the second major outbreak of the disease to hit the capital in the 19th century and it was not to be the last. At first it was thought that cholera was spread by ‘bad air’ (a ‘miasma’) but later the pioneering work of John Snow established that it was water borne. This led Jospeh Bazalgette to overhaul the capital’s sewage system and ensure that Londoners have had safe drinking water since the late 1800s.

The newspaper reports of the London Police courts were (as regular readers will have seen)  generally concerned with the petty criminals, drunks and brawlers that were trouped before the capital’s ‘beaks’ to be sent for trial at Old Bailey or the Surrey Assizes, imprisoned in a house of correction for a few months, fined or otherwise admonished. Just occasionally however, they paused to reflect some of the other tasks these courts performed as part of their wider role as administrators of social relations in London.

In October 1849 there were two reports of the use of charity at the courts (one of which that related directly to the distress caused by the recent cholera outbreak). The disease not only killed thousands but it also left others bereaved, orphaned and weakened by its ravages. Many of the those that died were members of the urban poor; weakened by years of endemic poverty they often lacked the strength to fight disease. They were also the people that (as Snow’s investigation in Broad Street later in 1854 demonstrated) were forced to share a communal tap.

One report (from Westminster) informed the readers of the Morning Chronicle that the presiding magistrate had managed to distribute money to over 140 people or families, giving them 5 to 10 shillings each. By my calculation that suggests that the people of Westminster had donated something in the region of £100 (or around £5000 in today’s money) to the Westminster magistracy for the relief of those suffering the effects of cholera and its repercussions. Quite apart from the loss of breadwinners or the need to leave work to nurse the sick the poor would also have had to find money to bury their loved ones. This charity must have been very welcome.

A second report, from Thames, detailed individual donations ‘to the poor man Bushell’. These included ‘half a 5L note from a poor sailor’, the same from ‘a lady’, plus smaller offerings of 2s 6d from several people (some who gave names or initials, and others who wished to be anonymous).

Bushell had appeared before the Thames magistrate on the 19th October to ask for help. He had been Custom’s House officer in the City but had fallen on hard times. He spoke in court of his misfortune and his inability to support his wife and five children (the youngest of whom was a ‘babe in arms’). His landlord was trying to take possession of his property and evict them and his wife was now too ill to look after the children. He had approached the Poor Law authorities but what they offered was too little for the family to survive on.

This approach must have cost him plenty in terms of his pride and social standing and perhaps because of this when the readers of the The Morning Post  or Chronicle read his story they reacted so positively, sending small and large sums to him via the magistrate’s office.

This shows us that the Victorian public – like so many in today’s society – were willing to dig deep to her others deemed worse off than themselves. It also illustrates the multi-functional role that the Police Courts played in 19th century society.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, October 24, 1849]

On Friday 28 October I will be talking about the London Police Courts and the cases heard there at the National Archives in Kew. The archives are having  Night in the Archives Event (tickets only) contact the NA directly for details