Ice cream, pears and a tram ride: stealing from the church ears five lads a trip to a Reformatory


Highgate United Reformed Church

In early October 1873 five young lads appeared before Colonel Jeakes,  the magistrate at Highgate Police Court in North London, accused of stealing from the church. Specifically the five were charged with stealing the contents of missionary boxes (collecting boxes we’d call them today) from the Congregational Chapel on Southgrove, Highgate*.

Benjamin Woodward had discovered the loss about a week before the case came to court. He found that 12 missionary boxes had been been taken from a drawer in the school room of the chapel. The bottom of the drawer had been cut out in order to remove the boxes, so this suggested that the thieves knew exactly where to look. It took the police  a little time to track down the culprits but after one of the ‘gang’ turned informer the five were eventually dragged into custody.

William Alcock told the magistrate that he had been out with Frederick Taylor (13) on the previous Sunday and saw him take some money out ‘of a heap of dirt on Holloway-hill’. When he asked him where it had come from and who had hid it, Taylor told him it ‘was his week’s wages’.

A little further on down the hill Taylor unearthed some more and when pressed by Alcock admitted he’d got it from the Congregational Church. Later that day Alcock and Taylor were joined by John White and Alfred (both 13 and described as labourers), an errand boy of 10 named Herbert Warr, and Herbert Tuck who was just 9 years old. The little group of lads took their ill-gotten gains and hopped on a tram towards Moorgate Street. When they got into town they blew some of the money on ice cream and pears.

The police, in the person of Henry Webb (a detective with Y Division) investigated the case and apprehended the lads, with Alcock’s help. In court the youngest boy (Tuck) confessed to having entered the chapel via a window while the others stood watch outside. They had made the thefts over two nights it seems, their fear at being caught being overcome by the thrill of doing something illegal and the delight of finding such a bounty of ‘treasure’. Mr Woodward told the court that each boxes has contained upwards of £5 so in total the lads might have got away with nearly £60.

All five lads were remanded in custody so that places could be found for them in Reformatory schools, their criminal escapades (as adolescents at least) were at an end.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, October 09, 1873]

*now the Highgate United Reformed Church

A ‘passenger incident’ on the late Victorian Underground


As someone who lives in London and regularly uses the ‘tube’ (the underground railway,  for those unfamiliar with the metropolis) I am used to the occasional delay in services caused by that saddest of announcements, a ‘passenger incident’. This can mean that someone is ill and a carriage has been stopped so that medical assistance can be sought, but it can also indicate that a person has thrown themselves in front of a train.

While I can just about imagine what motivates someone to do this I can’t begin the understand how the poor driver of a train must feel when he or she sees someone fall out the racks in front of his eyes, and they are unable to stop the vehicle from crushing them. Between 1993 and 2015 over 1400 people attempted to take their own lives on the Underground, that is an average of 64 a year, and over one a week.

The London Underground has been operating since the 1860s and it has been used for suicides attempts throughout that time. According to one piece of research, suicide on the railway increased after 1868 (just three years after the first train ran) when newspapers published details of the methods would-be suicides used.*

If that was the case then this example, from The Standard in 1893, was probably just as unhelpful.

Isaac Shelton was a 63 year-old ‘house decorator’ who lived on the Edgware Road.  At a quarter to six in the evening on 27 June (a Tuesday) Isaac was seen entering the tunnel at Baker Street underground station, heading for Edgware Road. A fellow passenger shouted to him but he was ignored. At the same time a train was arriving in the station and the driver was alerted and the service was detained.

The station inspector, Mr Coleman, was summoned but in the meantime a young man named Albert Swift set off in pursuit of Shelton.

‘In the darkness he could hear somebody scrambling about on the ballast, and going in the direction of the noise, he found [Shelton] about 150 yards into the tunnel, lying across the metals of the upline’.

Albert tried to get the man’s attention and lift him up, but all he got back was the request: ‘leave me alone, I’m going home’. Fortunately the young man was soon joined by Mr Coleman and a porter and eventually the three manhandled Shelton up and off the tracks and back out to safety.

He seemed ‘sober, but excited’, they later testified.

The case came before the Marylebone Police magistrate, Mr Plowden. Shelton claimed she had no recollection of how he had got where he was. He said he had been having epileptic fits for twenty years and one had come on as he made his way home that evening. His wife appeared and confirmed that her husband suffered from epilepsy, and was subject to fits.

I’m not an expert on epilepsy but I have known people who suffer. This seems something quite unlike a fit and more akin to an desperate act by someone who did not wish to carry on. It seems this was also the opinion of the justice, who remanded Shelton in custody, perhaps to seek a medical opinion on his condition. Fortunately his attempt (if thats what it was) failed, because someone was quick witted enough to spot him and do something about it.

I imagine that is how most attempts are foiled today – by someone caring enough to see what their fellow passengers are doing and to notice when a person looks like they need a gentle word or two to bring them back from the edge, literally and figuratively.

[from The Standard, Thursday, June 29, 1893]

*O’Donnell, I.; Farmer, R. D. T. ‘The epidemiology of suicide on the London underground’. Social Science & Medicine 38 (3): 409–418. February 1994



A ‘mad drunk’ Irishwoman defies the Westminster beak


At Westminster Police Court a ‘middle-aged Irish woman’ named Johanna Hearne was brought to the bar. PC Edwards (241A) was on his beat on Queen’s Road East, Chelsea, near the Chelsea Hospital at about 12.30 in the morning when he heard what he was a groan.

Crossing over he soon discovered Johanna hanging on the railways by a handkerchief. He struggled to free her and took her back the police station.

She was quite drunk and clearly attempting to end her own life. The magistrate asked how she could have managed such a thing and the policeman elaborated. She had apparently attached the hankie ‘by pieces of string and other things’ to the Chelsea Hospital’s railings.

It wasn’t easy to get her back to the station either, she struggled and was violent. Once there she tried to kill herself again and had to be subdued.

The justice, Mr Arnold turned his attention to the prisoner. ‘What have you to say for yourself?’ he asked.

‘Oh, I’ve got nothing to say. I was mad drunk’ replied Johanna with ‘an impudent laugh’.

Mr Arnold was not amused. ‘ shall not deal with you for the attempted suicide’ he said, but instead sentenced her to a 10s fine or a week in prison. ‘then I’ll do the seven days’ said a defiant Johanna.


[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, October 28, 1863]

NB on the faint chance that my good friend Simon is reading the may I take the opportunity to wish him a happy birthday. He was born 100 years to the day after this case reached the newspapers.

Two lads cause a rumpus in Highgate

Walter Howe and Josiah Flanders were, by all accounts at least, a pair of tearaways. Despite only being 16 years of age Walter had already racked up a considerable amount of ‘gaol time’. He had been confined in a juvenile reformatory as a boy and had been to prison twice in his early teens. Josiah had so far avoided imprisonment but his appearance, in October 1881, at the Highgate Police Court was not his first.

The Reformatory Schools Act (1854) established a series of reformatories across England and Wales. Pioneered by Mary Carpenter in Bristol these became (along with Industrial Schools) the forerunners of more modern forms of youth custody centres. Their aim was to  remove young people from damaging influences and environment (especially the slums of London and other major British cities) and set them to learn useful skills alongside a ‘moral’ education.

A further act in 1854 allowed juvenile offenders  aged up to 16 to be sentenced to between 2 and 5 years in  reformatory school as an alternative to prison. However, they still had to go to gaol for 14 days – to soften them up and give them a taste of what they might have to look forward to should they not choose to mend their ways.

Clearly this had little effect on Walter Howe.

The boys appeared before the magistrate at Highgate accused of wilful damage and assault. A nurseryman in Highgate (Henry Glass) was disturbed by the noise the blade were making and came out of his house to find them attacking his wall. When he told them to stop they turned on him.

In court Glass testified that Howe struck him twice in the face with a stick while Flanders thumped him with his fist. A police detective appeared to confirm that the boys had a history of bad behaviour; he detailed their convictions and described Howe as ‘a very bad character’.

The magistrate sent Walter to prison for two months and the other lad for one. Clearly neither were good examples of the success of Victorian youth intervention policies.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, October 25, 1881]

An ex-Boxer in Finsbury Park knocks a policeman off his beat


Edwin ‘Nunc’ Wallace had been a prizefighter of some renown in the late 1800s. Born in Birmingham in 1867 he was a small man that ‘hit hard’. At least one member of the capital’s constabulary was able to testify to the power of his right hook. In August 1899 Wallace appeared at the Highgate Police Court charged with assaulting PC Kendall 635Y.

The boxer had retired two years earlier and had taken up the position of a bookmaker. His pal, Walter King, was also charged that afternoon, with obstructing Kendall is his attempt to arrest Wallace. The report tells us nothing of the circumstances of the fight; no reason his given, but King is described as the ‘punch of Holloway’ and said to be operating from a premises in Fonthill Road, Finsbury Park.

Wallace  surrendered himself to the police as soon as he was made aware that a warrant was issued for him. The ex-boxer had several previous similar convictions and so he was fined £5 plus cost by the magistrate (with the alternative of a month  in prison). King was fined 40s which he paid.

In April 2015 a 19th century boxing belt won by Wallace came up for sale with an estimate of £200-400. It was accompanied by the following information: Wallace ‘became one of the most successful boxers of the Victorian era, winning multiple National Championship titles and the 8 stone championship a number of times between 1887 and 1892. His most famous fight was against the American lightweight George Dixon in 1890 in the Featherweight Championships of the World. Although Wallace lost the fight, it took 18 rounds for him to finally surrender. Wallace continued to compete until 1897.’

He sounds a formidable character and so it not surprising that PC Kendall was off duty for over a month with the injuries he sustained.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, August 19, 1899]