A wary theatre man avoids the ‘dippers’ and H H Holmes is linked to London

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Distraction theft is still one of the commonest forms committed by pickpockets in London. There are frequent warnings on the underground of ‘thieves operating’ and crowded areas like Oxford Street, Camden Town and Covent Garden are happy hunting grounds for ‘dippers’. If someone stops and asks you the time, says they know you from somewhere, or points out that you’ve dropped something – maybe even just brushes against you in the street and apologies – check your pockets!

Edward Walpole was pretty clued up and had his wits about him as he strolled along Shaftesbury Avenue one morning in July 1894. The concert agent lived in Pimlico and was presumably in the West End for work. He knew the area, was no stranger and certainly no wide-eyed tourist.

Two men approached him and one of them started to talk to him. ‘We’ve met before’, he said, ‘in Chicago, at the exhibition’. Walpole had never seen the pair before in his life, and had never been to the USA. He was suspicious, and uncomfortable as one of the men had got very close to him.

He looked down and saw that the chain of his watch was hanging loose from his waistcoat pocket and the watch itself was in the other man’s hand. As soon as they realized they’d been rumbled the other man told his companion to give Walpole his watch back and began to move away.

Edward seized the thief and the two of them struggled, falling to the pavement in the process. The fracas alerted a policeman and having ascertained that a theft had been attempted he arrested the stranger. The man gave his name as Henry Saunders but he was also known to the police as Henry Reginald Mason. He was charged before Mr Hannay at Marlborough Street Police court and sentenced to a month’s imprisonment.

The Chicago Exhibition that the men mentioned was the World Fair (or the ‘World’s Columbian Exposition’) that took place in 1893 and drew people from all over the globe to Illinois. Many locals profited from this influx of business but one man allegedly, exploited the event for a much darker purpose. Dr Henry Howard Holmes (or HH as he is almost always referred to) had built a hotel to accommodate gests for the fair but rumours soon circulated that several individuals, mostly women, had disappeared whilst staying there (although he never traded as a hotelier). HHH

Holmes (right) was a serial fraudster, coming money out of businesses and making false insurance claims and eventually when the going got too hot he quit Chicago. He was tracked down to the east coast where it was suspected he’d killed his business partner Benjamin Pitezel for the insurance money.  Meanwhile agents operating on behalf of companies Holmes had defrauded searched the hotel in Chicago. The property was very odd, with secret passageways, trap doors and windowless rooms.

Holmes was convicted of the murder of Pitezel and admitted killing many more (some of which were false claims, as the people concerned were still alive!). The hotel (dubbed ‘the castle by locals) was searched more thoroughly and human remains were found there. HH Holmes was executed in 1896 and remains a mysterious figure and possibly America’s first serial killer. Indeed, some people have suggested that he might have come to London to commit the Whitechapel murders, but having studied that case I think it unlikely. In fact if you want to know who I believe was ‘Jack the Ripper’ you might find my latest book interesting. Holmes, however, will form a small part of my next one.

[from The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, July 21, 1894]

What we all need is a right royal knees up

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Given that the Metropolitan Police courts sat six days a week, every week of the year, and most of them from 9 or 10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon it is fair to say that the magistrates that presided over them were kept fairly busy.

Mondays were probably the busiest days because the courts dealt with all of those that had been picked up by the police on the preceding Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Most of those charges would have been for drunkenness, disorderly behaviour, or refusing to quit licensed premises (or a mix of all three). There would be a steady stream of wife beaters, pub brawlers, vagrants, unlicensed peddlers, to swell the ranks of the cheats, fraudsters, thieves, burglars and robbers.

The day after a bank holiday could also be particularly busy, as a day off tended to bring Londoners out to the various parks of the capital where drink was enjoyed and inhibitions were left at home. Fights, indecency, bad language, and criminal damage could all become prosecutable offences once the park police moved in to clear trouble makers from the grounds.

So it was something of a surprise to the magistrate at Marlborough Street on the day following Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in July 1897 that his court was virtually empty. Incredibly where he might have expected the usual caseload of 50-100 defendants to be swelled by those overdoing the celebrations, in fact he had just seven prisoners to process. At 11 o’clock the chief clerk turned to Mr. Plowden and said:

‘That is all’.

The justice ‘looked up in astonishment’ and asked for confirmation that he had no more business that day. He noted that ‘the jubilee seems to have extinguished’ both ‘crime and disorder’ and it was quite remarkable. He then made a point of praising the police (not something often heard from the bench in the 1800s).

‘It is most notable’, he said, ‘that the police have shown themselves the best friends of the public, and the public the best friends of the police’, before leaving his seat and retiring early for once.

The message here might be, if the country is beset by crime and disorder, discord and division, then the ideal thing to do is stage a royal pageant. Nothing brings peace and harmony to British life more quickly than a happy royal occasion. Teresa May should take note.

[from The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, July 3, 1897]

Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available on Amazon here

A disgusting and cowardly attack in Hyde Park is a reminder that the past could be just as bad as the present

 

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The idyllic view of Hyde Park (by Count Girolamo Pieri Nerli), which was very far from the reality for Sophia Freestone in 1865.

Not surprisingly there was considerable outrage in early June this year when the news broke that a group of youths had attacked two women on a London bus. The women were targeted for being gay and abused when they refused to kiss for the entertainment of the youths, several of whom were soon in custody. The assault which can viewed as both homophobic and misogynistic occasioned social media posts along the lines of ‘what have we become’ and ‘what sort of society are we living in?’

Not for the first time however I think that we can be too quick to compare our own society unfavorably with that of the past. The attack on Melania Geymonat and her partner Chris was disgusting but sadly not that unexpected nor was it without historical precedent.

154 years ago, in June 1865, in a period of relative stability and low crime levels, John Nally was prosecuted for an similarly disgusting assault on a woman in Hyde park.

Sophia Freestone was minding her own business sitting on a bench in the park when Nally and three other lads came up behind her and tipped her onto the grass. That might have been a prank – unpleasant certainly, but possibly attributable to youthful excess. What happened next escalated this assault well beyond the boundaries of any sense of common decency.

As the other held the unemployed servant down John Nally  forced open her jaws and ‘thrust a quantity of sheep’s dung into her mouth’. Then he and his friends ran off, delighted with their exertions.

Fortunately for Sophia, someone saw what happened and went in search of a park constable. PC Lippett (no.31) chased after the boys and managed to catch Nally. He dragged him back and Sophia identified him as her abuser. In court at Marlborough Street the lad tried to excuse himself as merely an onlooker and blamed his confederates but Mr Mansfield wasn’t in the mood to believe him.

It was a shocking, cowardly attack and by fining him a huge sum (£5) that he knew he would not be able to pay, the magistrate ensured that justice of a sort was done as Nally was sent to prison for two months with hard labour.

Both this attack, perpetrated as it was on a vulnerable and random innocent, and that on the two women recently have in common the fact that some people think that it is acceptable to use violence towards others for their own self gratification. I don’t know why society produces people who are so morally bereft that they can imagine and then carry out such horrific assaults on people that have never done them any harm whatsoever.

I would agree that certain forms of hate crime are on the rise, and that some nasty people have been emboldened by recent political events but that doesn’t take away the fact that our society has produced cowardly (and usually) male bullies for centuries.

I am not an advocate of prison as a useful means of correcting behaviour but in the case of John Nally and in that of the persons responsible for the homophobic attack on those Ms Geymonat I think it is entirely appropriate and I hope the law takes its course.

[from The Morning Post  Thursday, June 22, 1865]

Misogyny was at the heart of two brutal sets of murders in the 1880s: the Jack the Ripper or Whitechapel killings of 1888 and the Thames Torso murders which began in 1887 and continued to 1889. Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available to order on Amazon here:

‘I’ll knock your brains out, Policeman’: the perils of being a ‘grass’ in Victorian London’

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Working class communities were tightly packed in Victorian London. This meant that everyone knew everyone else’s business and gossip was rife. Communities also tended to band together against outsiders, be they immigrants, newcomers, or the police.

Stephen Dempsey had broken one of the cardinal rules of working-class communities: he had given information to police that had led to the arrest and prosecution of some of his near neighbours. That act had marked him out as a ‘grass’, a ‘snitch’, a police informant and the consequences were dire.

He was regularly abused, verbally and physically, and on Saturday the 8 June 1872 he was in his room when he heard a shout outside his door:

‘I’ll knock your brains out, Policeman’.

This was followed a crash and yelp as a pail of water was thrown at his wife as she climbed the stairs to their room. Then the door was kicked in and a man was standing there armed with a poker. The man, William Reardon, rushed at him and hit him twice about the head before another neighbor helped subdue and wrestle him clear.

The affair ended up with Reardon in the dock at Marlborough Street charged with assault. He denied the charge but admitted throwing water over Mrs Dempsey, but alleged it was in retaliation for her swearing at him.  She corroborated her husbands’ version of events and Dempsey’s role in informing on Reardon’s associates was revealed. Dempsey had earned the nickname ‘policeman’ for being a well-known police informer. Mr. Newton accepted bail but committed the prisoner for a jury trial. Reardon was indicted for wounding but acquitted on that charge and released.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, June 16, 1872]

Five go wild in Wardour Street…until the police pick them up

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I can imagine that for some parents making sure their children go to (and stay at) school can be something of a challenge. The Police courts of late Victorian London fairly regularly witnessed prosecutions of fathers who were accused of allowing their sons and daughters (but usually sons) to play truant.  Fines were handed down which did little to help because in some instances parents needed the children at home to help either with piece work or, more often, to care for infants or elderly relatives while they went out to work.

Some tried very hard to ensure their offspring gained an education but this could be hard when the kids didn’t have boots or decent clothes to go to school in. We shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which pride existed in working-class communities where maintaining an image of ‘respectability’ was every bit as important to them as it was to the middle classes with whom the term is often more associated.

There was tremendous poverty in 1880s London but that didn’t mean that families were not striving every day to keep standards up. Mrs Rochford and her neighbours seemed to fighting a losing battle with their collective brood of five youngsters. Walter Rochford (11) and his brother  James (10) appeared in court at Marlborough Street alongside Ernest Flowers (10), Albert Carey (11) and Thomas Copeland, who was just 8. This ‘interesting youthful quintette’ as the paper described them, had been picked up by the police because they were begging in Wardour Street.

Four of them had no boots and they all hailed from Hammersmith, quite some distance away. Their mothers were in court to answer for them and to listen to the story they gave Mr De Rutzen.

The boys said that they often played truant from Board school, preferring instead to hide their boots in an empty house in Shepherds Bush to go begging house to house or in the streets. They slept in empty properties, tramcars and one even admitted to occupying a dog kennel! If they were ‘nice’ children in the countryside the whole episode would have something of Enid Blyton about it.

But they weren’t. They were five ‘little urchins’ and their mothers were at their wits end, not knowing how to control them. Some of them had been absent from home now for a week and so sending them to Board school was clearly pointless.

The magistrate had a solution however, he would have them confined in an industrial school, where they wouldn’t be able to run amok or indeed run anywhere without permission. It would probably mean the five would be broken up and would be separated from their families. I have no idea whether the parents were consulted or merely told this would be happening, but under the terms of industrial schools, they would (if they could) be expected to contribute something to their care.

The five boys were dispatched to the workhouse while the industrial school officer was sent for to determine their fates.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, June 12, 1887]

‘Such a state of things is not permitted in any town in Europe. The sooner a stop was put to such places the better’: Soho in 1888

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Berwick Street market in the 1950s or 60s.

Much of the housing would’ve been there in the late 1800s

Madame Akker Huber ran a lively club in Soho, ostensibly for members only. Le Cercle des Etrangers (or Circle of Strangers) was situated in Berwick Street and seems to have attracted a mixed clientele, especially from London’s multinational immigrant community.

One such person was Nestor Lacrois who enjoyed the hospitality of the club but didn’t always have the funds to pay for it. On the evening of 19 May 1888 Nestor was at the bar of the club pleading with Madame Huber to lend him some money so he could carry on enjoying himself.

Madame Huber was disinclined to help however. Lacrois already owed her money and wasn’t at all forthcoming about when that debt would be settled. Her refusal only enraged him; he picked up a glass and threw it at her. As she evaded the missile he tried again, then swept several glasses from the bar, smashing on the floor before storming out.

It took a while (and possibly some failed attempts at reconciliation or recompense) but in June Madame Huber obtained a summons against Lacrois and she and him appeared together at Marlborough Street Police court. Lacrois was accused of the criminal damage, assault and challenging her to a fight when drunk. Lacrois counter-sued, claiming that the landlady had smashed a glass in his face, drawing blood.

Apparently ‘five or six fights occurred in the club’ that night and Mr Newton listened with mounting alarm to the description of the club as a chaotic, drunken and disorderly venue. Several women were produced who claimed they could come and go as they pleased without being members and it was alleged that drinking continued late into the small hours.  In the end he declared that he didn’t believe any of the witnesses before him in the case between Huber and Lacrois and dismissed the summonses.

As for the club itself: ‘such a state of things is not permitted in any town in Europe. The sooner a stop was put to such places the better’.

One imagines the local police and licensing officers took note.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, June 10, 1888]

On June 15 Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available to order on Amazon here

The milk man, the general, and his trousers.

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General Robert Onesiphorus Bright (above) was an unlikely occupant of a Police Court dock but that is where he found himself in June 1888. General Bright had enjoyed an illustrious military career since he’d joined the 19 Regiment of Foot in 1843. He had seen service in Bulgaria in 1854 before taking command of the 2nd Brigade of the Light Division in the Crimea. According to the regimental record Bright was one of the very few officers who remain in service throughout, never succumbing to the disease that ravaged the forces fighting and Russians.

After the Crimean War Bright went on to see service on India’s northwest frontier and was cited in despatches. When he left the 19thFoot in 1871 he was given a commemorative silver cup engraved with a scene from the battle of Granicus, one of Alexander’s victories over the Persians. Bright fought in the 2nd Afghan War of 1878-80 and again was mentioned in despatches. He became colonel of the Green Howards/19th Foot in 1886 and then was raised to the knighthood by Victoria in 1894.

So how did a man with his pedigree end up in front of Mr De Rutzen at Marlborough Street? Well, perhaps not that surprisingly the general was there for losing his temper.

He was summoned to court by Charles Heffer who had been pushing ‘a milk perambulator’ in Oxford Street and he made his way towards Hyde Park. He was waiting to cross Duke Street and the general was waiting in front of him. As a carriage came close by the general stepped back to avoid it and collided with Heffer’s barrow. The wheel scraped against Bright’s leg, soiling his trousers with the mud from the road.

It was an unfortunate accident but the military man’s instincts took over and he swiveled in the street, raised his walking cane and ‘dealt [Heffer] a severe blow across the face’. Whether he had apologized at the time or not is unknown but clearly Heffer had been hurt enough to demand satisfaction from a magistrate.

In court the general was apologetic and admitted the fault was his. Mr De Rutzen said he would take into account the fact that the assault was committed in ‘the heat of the moment’ but regardless of the general’s status he had to treat this case as he would any other. He fined General Bright £4 and awarded costs to Heffer of £1. Having faced the Russians and the Afghans I doubt this was the worst moment of Robert Bright’s life, he paid and left with his head held high.

Today is Queen Elizabeth II’s official birthday and, as I type this, the regimental colour of the 1st battalion Grenadier Guards is being ‘trooped’ on Horse Guards Parade in London.  The Grenadiers have a long history, being the first guards regiment to wear the bearskin following their actions at Waterloo when, under the command of Major General Peregrine Maitland, they repulsed the attack of Napoleon’s elite ‘Old Guard’. Wellington supposedly gave the command for the guard to stand and face the French, crying ‘Up Guards, and at them!’ although like so many moments in history the exact words are disputed.

Trooping the colour has been linked to monarch’s official birthday since 1748 (when George II was on the throne) but no one has done it as many times as the present queen, and I doubt anyone ever will. It wasn’t always held, partly because the British weather is so unreliable, and this caused Edward VII to move the day to June when (hopefully) the watching crowds might not get soaked.

Happy (official) birthday maam.

[from The Standard, Friday, June 08, 1888]

On June 15 Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available to order on Amazon here