One in the eye for a foreign national in London

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Mr (or perhaps Monsieur)  Goughenheim was strolling along Bear Street near Leicester Square in mid August 1839 with an English friend (named Richardson) when he noticed a man across the road that he recognised. Goughenheim was a translator and he’d spotted one of his former clients, Jean Jaques Covin, who happened to owe him money for his services.

Crossing the road, Goughenheim hailed the man and demanded he honour his debt. Covin was literally taken aback, and took a moment to step backwards before lifting his cane and aiming an attack at the translator. It was a vicious assault and caught Goughenheim in the eye, seemingly popping it.

Richardson grabbed hold of the assailant and he was quickly given into he custody of the police with the help of some passers-by. It took some time to come to court (because of the victim’s injuries) but eventually the case was heard before the Marlborough Street Police magistrate in early September, 1839.

There several witnesses gave evidence but were unable to comment on what was factually said because the entire exchange had been in French.  One was able to testify however, that:

as he ‘was passing a portion of the aqueous humour [from Gugenheim’s eye] fell upon his clothes, and at first he thought the prisoner had squirted water over the prosecutor, until he saw that his eye was totally destroyed‘.

The justice, Mr Dyer, was pretty clear that this was too serious a case for him to deal with  summarily. Covin, through his solicitor, denied any attempt to injure the other man, saying he thought he’d been assaulted himself when Gougenheim placed his hand on his shoulder to get his attention in the street. He accepted he’d raised his stick but never meant to hurt Gougenheim. His solicitor asked Mr Dyer to be lenient and to fine his client rather than send it up through the system.

Gougenheim challenged Covin’s version of events and insisted he’d not acted aggressively himself. Probably on the strength of this and the seriousness of Gougenheim’s injury, the magistrate decided he would commit the Frenchman for a full jury trial. There would still be an opportunity for this to be settled however, if Covin offered to pay the translator what he owed him and added compensation for the injury he might have escaped an embarrassing public trial and a potential prison sentence.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, September 3, 1839]

The RSPCA exposes appalling cruelty to a cat

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By 1883 the Society for the Protection of Animals had received royal approval and so carried the name we know it by today – the RSPCA. Britain prides itself on being a nation of animal lovers, and pets are very much a part of family life in this country. I’m on holiday at the moment and our villa is overrun with the local feral cats which we – as cat lovers – dutifully feed morning and night. As a result the pair of cats that turned up on day one has grown to a pride of 5-6 daily.

Not everyone shares our affection for cats however and plenty of people would rather not share the planet (or at least their neighbourhood) with our feline friends. There are still daily instances of animal neglect and animal cruelty which necessitates having an organisation dedicated to protecting them.

The RSPCA was founded in 1824 (more than half a century before the NSPCC, indicating , perhaps, where British priorities lie) and campaigned to protect animals from routine exploitation and cruelty. Officers of the charity investigated and brought prosecutions against abusers, as this example from 1883 shows.

Thomas Scoines, a bookmaker living near Berkeley Square in central London, was summoned before Mr Mansfield at Marlborough Street Police court, accused of maltreating a cat. The summons was taken out by John White, an RSPCA inspector and he produced three witness to testify to Scoines’ cruelty.

Mrs Hannah Beattie said that she’d seen the bootmaker beating a cat to try to get it out of his rooms. She challenged him and said such violence was unnecessary. It was also ineffective, as the cat kept coming back (as the one’s round our holiday home do). Here they try to sneak into the building and we shoo them out (in Greek!) but they still try. She added that Scoines had finally drowned the cat in a copper kettle.

Scoines was much less tolerant than us however, and William Stone declared that he’d seen the defendant knocking a cat out through a window with a broomstick. Another witness said he’d later seen that the poor animal’s back legs had been broken, allegedly as a result of Scoines’ violence.

In court he defended himself, denying cruelty but admitted he’d killed the animal. The cat’s legs had been broken as he shoved it into the kettle, but he clearly didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. The cruelty was appalling and the magistrate saw it for what it was. Mr Mansfield told Scoines that he was guilty of cruelty and declared that the ‘unfortunate cat had been brutally treated’. He fined him 20with 126d costs, so the RSPCA was not out of pocket for bringing the prosecution.

I can understand that stray cats can be a nuisance but I can’t understand why people feel the need to hurt them. Cats can be chased away with a simple spray of water and if you don’t feed them they will quickly realise that there might well be better pickings somewhere else.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, September 2, 1883]

‘The most merciful thing I can do for you is to send you to prison for a month’: a magistrate’s advice to a ‘fallen’ woman

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A year after the Ripper first struck in Whitechapel the problem of vulnerable, often homeless, ‘streetwalkers’ remained. The police had urged all of the East End’s prostitutes to refrain from trading in the aftermath of the ‘double event’ (when both Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes were murdered on the same night in September 1888) but that was hardly likely to be a request that was complied with for very long. The vast majority of London’s sex workers were forced – by their bullies or by circumstances – to prostitute themselves, and very few could afford the luxury of being able to bring a client back to their rooms.

Elizabeth Sinclair may not have been a prostitute but she had certainly fallen on hard times and existed in the liminal space between legitimate and illegitimate work. Once upon a time she had been ‘a successful music-hall artiste’ but in late August 1889 she was mentally and physically unwell.

On Monday, the 26 August, she was found wandering in the streets in the early hours of the morning. She was dressed in just a ‘man’s old flannel shirt, and a ragged black skirt, wrapped tightly around the lower part of her body’. She had no shoes or stockings on. This was not a ‘normal’ or ‘respectable’ look for the late 1800s.

She was picked up by a policeman (PC 37C) who discovered her lying on her back and screaming at no one in particular in Compton Street. Elizabeth was quite drunk and abusive. Seeing she was incapable he decided to take her back to the police station but she wasn’t keen to walk, and told him to ‘fetch his barrow’ (meaning the Bischoffheim handcart the police used to ferry bodies, like that of Polly Nichols the previous year)*. The constable got her back without the ambulance and she was booked into a cell for the night.

In court she was loud and antagonistic, as I imagine she was at the station. The court was told she was regularly up before the magistracy, was suffering from an incurable disease (which may have been syphilis), and was an unrepentant drunk.

The most merciful thing I can do for you is to send you to prison for a month’, Mr Hannay told her.

I do not care whether you give me forty months’ Elizabeth declared from the dock.

Why don’t you send me up for six while you are about it?’

As the duty officer dragged her away to the cells she cried out:

‘Give us a drink, old chap, when I come out, won’t you?’

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper , Sunday, September 1, 1889]

*See Neil Bell’s Capturing Jack the Ripper,p.123-3

No mercy at Marlborough Street for a lad down on his luck

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London can be a perilous place for visitors, especially if they don’t keep a close eye on their valuables. Thieves operate in crowded streets and quieter backwaters and victims often don’t realize they have been robbed until it is far too late.

Miss Caroline Coplestone was hardly guilty of taking no notice of what she was doing or where she was but she still fell victim to a desperate criminal. Miss Coplestone, who had come up to town from Wimbledon, was walking on Bond Street in the middle of the day, taking in the diverse array of fashionable items in the shops.

Suddenly, out of nowhere a young lad rushed past her, grabbing her purse from her hand as he did so. It is reminiscent of modern phone robberies; snatched from your hand before you can react and take evasive action.

As the boy ran away Caroline must have yelped and a nearby policeman saw what happened and set off in pursuit of the thief. PC Maidment caught the lad and demanded to know what he had in his pockets.

‘Nothing’, the boy replied, all innocent. On being searched however Miss Coplestone’s purse, complete with the £4 and 9dit contained was found in his jacket pocket. On the following day the lad, policeman and Miss Coplestone appeared at the Marlborough Street Police court for the case to be heard by Mr. Mansfield, the sitting magistrate.

The boy was 15 and his name was William Kelly. He was described as ‘a labourer’ but was out of work and such descriptions are pretty unhelpful anyway; ‘labourer’ was often a default term for any working-class person who did not identify himself or his occupation otherwise.

William pleaded poverty and a lack of employment but it didn’t help him much. He said he was very sorry for what he’d done and that could sometimes help in cases like this. Magistrates liked to hear contrition after all, and some young men could be quite belligerent in the dock. Sadly for William Mr Mansfield wasn’t in the mood for ‘second chances’. He looked at William and saw a thief that needed to be taught a lesson. He sent him to prison for three months at hard labour.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, August 29, 1887]

p.s curiously Coplestone is an unusual surname but one to which I am related. My Coplestones are from Cornwall so I wonder if Caroline was a distant ancestor who moved to the ‘smoke’?

‘De ombrella, he fall down’; the British press amuse themselves at the Europeans’ expense.

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Amid all the squabbling and back-biting that surrounds the UK’s prolonged exit from the European Union one of the more depressing traits that has arisen is a revival of anti-European sentiment. Even the newly appointed Foreign Secretary was quick off the mark in warning the Brussels negotiators that any failure to achieve a good deal for both sides, leading to the “very real risk of a Brexit no deal by accident’, would be blamed on the EU by the British people.

Anti-European rhetoric has been stoked up over the past few years building on decades of often fake news stories peddled by some sections of the English press. All those tales of straight bananas, renaming ‘Bombay mix’ or there being more words on cabbage regulation than there are in the Gettysburg Address were false. If that is added to the drip feed of tabloid articles blaming ‘foreigners’ for an upsurge in crime, pressure on the NHS or even the number of traffic jams on English motorways and you have the underlying xenophobia that fueled the rise of UKIP and, ultimately, won the Brexit referendum.

Not that any of this is new of course; being unpleasant to, or making jokes at the expense of our European neighbours is as a British as fish and chips (which was probably invented by Jewish migrants but let’s not go there). In 1828 Londoners at least remembered a time when they or their parents had fought a war in Europe; a decade after Waterloo the scars of the Napoleonic Wars were still quite angry even if the chief protagonist had been dead for 7 years.

In July of 1828 two men appeared before the magistrate at Marlborough Street Police court, one French and the other German, following an altercation in the street. Louis Courquin was a ‘French cook and confectioner’ and he accused Philipe Bohn, a German tailor, with assaulting him. The magistrate, Sir George Frannat, asked the pair to explain what had gone on between them. The Morning Post’s reporter chose to render the exchange in dialect, for maximum comic effect, something we still see in the occasional tabloid headline.

Bohn told the court that he was standing in the street talking to an English friend when Courquin approached. His friend supposedly said to him, ‘here is one oder fereigner, you can talk together’. Bohn then addressed the chef in German which he didn’t understand, speaking only French (and Bohn said he spoke no French).

Bohn’s English pal presumably thought that all ‘foreigners’ would be able to understand each other, because the English couldn’t understand any of them.

As the pair tried to communicate it seems that the Frenchman’s umbrella fell over and either hit the German or Bohn was blamed for tipping it over (Bohn said that ‘de ombrella, he fall down’ when Courquin ‘he schict his ombrella on de iron shpike, to take a pinch of shnoff’). The argument – if it even was an argument – carried over as both men proceeded to a nearby washhouse.

A parish constable saw the two of them quarrelling, decided the German was to blame, and took him in charge. In court Louis denied bringing  a charge against the other man but did say that he’d now lost his ‘parapluie’ (his umbrella) and his hat. In the confusion both men had left their possessions at the public washhouse and Sir George thought the best solution to it all was for the pair to go back together to retrieve them.

They discovered that they had lived close to each other for several years, with the Frenchman resident in London for nine years and Bohn for five. They were part of a European community in the British capital, and of a wider immigrant populace that included migrants from all over the known world. Nineteenth-century London was, like the modern city, a multi-cultural society.

I like to think they wandered off, arm in arm, muttering about the peculiarities of ‘ze Engleesh’.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, July 26, 1828]

Skinny-dipping in the Serpentine: Two brothers end up in hot water as they try to beat the capital’s heatwave.

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I imagine that you, like me, are suffering from this prolonged bout of hot weather. The British trend to grumble whatever the weather of course; it is either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, rarely ‘just right’. But weather like this is causing problems, from moorland fires and potential crop shortages, to increased levels of pollution and higher mortality rates. Now perhaps, skeptics are waking up to the idea that global warming is a reality and not just scaremongering by environmentalists and climate change experts.

This year is not exceptional however, we’ve had heatwaves before. In 1976 temperatures sored to 35.9C, in 1990 they topped 37C in Cheltenham. There were similar heatwaves when the temperature reached the mid 30s: in July 1933, August 1932, July 1923 and August 1911 but this one may be one of the most sustained.

What do people do when the weather gets so hot? Well in July 1900, at the tail end of Victoria’s reign, two brothers decided to cool off by going for a swim in the Serpentine. However, their actions scandalized the public and so the pair found themselves up before the magistrate at Marlborough Street Police court.

Reginald Ingram, a 32 year-old medical practitioner, and his brother Malcolm (25) lived at the same address in Pimlico. On Tuesday 24 July they were seen swimming in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Not only was it against the rules of Royal Park to swim or bathe in the lake at that time and place, the men were also stark naked!

Police constable 74D was called to the incident and witnessed the men running ‘about in a nude condition’. He arrested them, secured their clothes, and ferried them to the nearest police station where they were charged.

Both men pleaded guilty to swimming in the lake but said they were unaware that they’d broken the regulations, not realizing that bathing was prohibited in certain areas of the lake. Ignorance of course, is no defense in law and Mr. Denman fined the brothers 40each for their offence.

I’m a little surprised he didn’t add an extra penalty for indecency, but perhaps that is making assumptions that the late Victorians were more obsessed with decorum than they were. Regardless, their attempt to cool down by skinny dipping in a public park had landed them in hot water.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, July 25, 1900]

‘I looked after them as well as I could’: a mother’s plea as her children are taken away.

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This morning I am working on the latest draft of my next book, which offers a (hopefully) plausible solution to the Whitechapel murders of 1888. So I’m currently sitting (fairly comfortably) in the National Archives at Kew. The sun is shining, the lake is full of geese, and the air conditioning in on. This is a world away, of course, from the trials and tribulations of the folk that were brought before or sought help or redress from London’s Police courts in the nineteenth century.

I’ve taken this case from July 1888, just before the series of murders associated with an unknown killer given the sobriquet of ‘Jack the Ripper’, began in August. I think it reveals the poverty and desperation of some Londoners at the time, and the casual cruelty that sometimes accompanied it.

However, this wasn’t a case that occurred in Whitechapel, but instead in Soho, in the West End. The area in which the murders of 1888 is so often portrayed as a degraded, godless, and immoral place that it can be easy to forget that other parts of the capital were equally poor, and that thousands of our ancestors lived hand-to-mouth in grinding poverty. It took two world wars to create a system that attempted to deal humanely with poverty; in 1888 this was still a long long way ahead.

Patrick and Mary Ann Lynch were tailors but they were also very poor. They lived in one room in a rented house in Noel Street, Soho. They had four children who lived with them, all crowded together in circumstances we would be shocked to discover in London today. In fact their circumstances, while not uncommon in late nineteenth-century Britain, still had the power to shock contemporaries. This was especially so when evidence of cruelty or neglect towards children was shown, as it was here.

The Lynch’s situation was brought to the attention of a local medical man, Dr Jackson, by neighbours of the couple. He visited and found the four children ‘in a wretched state’. He informed the police, and Inspector Booker of C Division paid them a visit. This is what he later told the Marlborough Street Police Magistrate:

The children ‘were in a filthy state. Three of them – Charlotte, aged four years, Michael, two years and ten months – were lying on a dirty old mattress. On the other side of the room was Henry James, aged ten months. They looked haggard and weak, especially Frank. They were so filthy that he could scarcely recognize their features. Frank seemed to be gasping’.

These were the days before social services and child protection but the policeman didn’t wait for permission from anyone, as soon as he could he had the children removed to the nearest workhouse in Poland Street. He arrested Mary Ann and charged her with neglecting her children. Mrs Lynch was taken to the police station where she was reunited with her husband, who had been arrested earlier the same evening for drunkenness  – it wasn’t his first time.

At the station Mary Ann said she’d tried to look after her kids but her husband hadn’t let her. ‘I looked after them as well as I could’, she pleaded, but ‘I had to work, and if I left off to look after them, my husband would kick me out of the place’.

In court the Inspector said that he’d tried to get the poor law relieving officer to intervene but he’d refused; no one wanted to help the family it seems. Another policeman, sergeant Castle, added that the relieving officer didn’t seem to think the Lynchs case was one of ‘actual destitution’, so weren’t inclined to act.

Mrs Lynch’s position was typical of many at the time. She had to work because he husband’s wages didn’t provide enough for the family to live on, especially as he chose to drink much of them away. Dr Jackson also gave evidence in court, telling the magistrate (Mr Hannay) that when he’d visited Patrick Lynch was lying on a mattress in drunken stupor, next to his son Henry. When he rose to his feet he pushed down on the little boy hurting him, and making him cry.

At this point little Henry was produced in court. This caused quite a stir as the child ‘appeared to be no bigger than a child’s shilling doll’. Mr Hannay was amazed the Poor Law Guardians hadn’t taken up the case adding that he was sure that the authorities would either realize that they had a duty to intervene, or would find themselves being prosecuted for neglect. For the meantime he remanded the couple and sent the children back to the workhouse.

[from The Standard , Tuesday, July 17, 1888]