A cheeky fraud that reveals the deep roots of British industry

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Twining’s Bank, at 215 The Strand 

On 6 June 1870 Elizabeth Smith pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court to ‘feloniously forging and uttering’ a cheque for £120 with intend to defraud. She gave her age as 32 years and said she was unmarried: the judge respited her sentence. No reason is given for this but respites were commonly applied to women who were pregnant or in cases where the law was in some way in doubt.

Elizabeth had first appeared before the Lord Mayor at Mansion House on 22 April 1870 where this charge was laid. The prosecution was conducted by Mr Samuel Mullens on behalf of his client, the Banker’s Protection Association.

The victim (the bank) was Smith, Payne, and Smith of 1 Lombard Street, City of London and the cheque was drawn in the name of William Longman, the ‘well-known publisher’.

The Lord Mayor was told how the fraud was perpetrated. Smith (calling herself Mary Simson) had presented herself at Twining & Co.’s bank in the Strand and had handed over a letter of introduction. This was supposedly written by a Dr Charles Brooke of Fitzroy Square, and described Elizabeth as a ‘dear old friend of mine’.

Elizabeth explained that she would like to open an account and handed Mr Twining a cheque for £120 ‘purporting to be drawn by Mr Longman upon Messrs. Smith, Payne, and Smith’. ‘Mary’ had endorsed it with her own signature. She asked for some money there and then and she was given a chequebook from which she cashed a cheque for £50. The cashier (as was customary) made a record of the bank notes (five at £5 each) he issued. The balance was in sovereign coins.

The bank only realized something was wrong when Dr Brooke arrived later that day and told them the letter was a forgery and that he’d nothing to do with it or any ‘Mary Simpson’. Three days later the cashier that had served Elizabeth – Donald King – recognized her in Fleet Street. She’d just left a ‘refreshment house’ with another woman and King decided to follow them.

As they reached Temple Bar (pictured below in 1870) Elizabeth stopped and turned around. Was he following her, she asked?

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King admitted he was and said that she must now accompany him to Twining’s Bank or he would call a policeman to arrest her. After a brief hesitation she agreed and the pair returned to the Strand where Elizabeth was shown into a private room at the bank. Interviewed there she caved in and promised to return all the money if only they would ‘overlook the matter’. Mr Twining told he could not possibly do that and sent for the police. While they waited Elizabeth took out some papers and letters and tore them up.

As detective sergeant Hancock led her away Elizabeth denied forging the letter and told him she’d been forced to signed the cheque by someone else, but gave no name he could trace. At Bow Lane police station Elizabeth was searched (by a female searcher) and three of the £5 notes that Donald King had issued to her were discovered. In addition Mts Johnson (the searcher) found:

‘three sovereigns, a gold watch, chain, and three lockets, an opera glass, an eye-glass, a gentleman’s ring, a brooch, penknife, [and] three keys’.

It would seem that Elizabeth Smith was not only a fraudster and forger, she was a practiced ‘finger smith’ (pickpocket) as well.

In court at the mansion House Mr Longman appeared and said he knew Elizabeth and her family. She had written to him, he stated, in great distress and asking for money. He’d sent her a cheque for £5 but when she failed to acknowledge it he wrote again, complaining about her ingratitude. This prompted her to write back apologizing and making excuses, before asking for more money. Longman wrote to the local parish priest who was unable to verify the story Elizabeth told about her desperate situation. Nevertheless the publisher sent her another £5.

The Lord Mayor remanded her and we know of course that that remand eventually resulted in a trial at Old Bailey where, perhaps unsurprisingly given the evidence against her, she pleaded guilty.

Thomas Twining had opened a teashop – London’s first – on The Strand in 1706. It did well and the company braced out into banking in 1824. By 1835 banking was successful enough to warrant building a new property next to the teashop. Twining’s Bank lasted until 1892 when Richard and Herbert Twining sold it to Lloyds.

Smith, Payne, & Smiths bank had been established in 1758 as a collaboration between Abel Smith (a Nottingham banker) and John Payne, a London merchant and line draper, and chairman of the East India Company. The bank moved to new premises in Lombard Street in 1837, just two years after Twinings opened their new doors. In 1902 Smiths (which owned 5 family banks in the chain) merged with the Union Bank of London to form Union of London & Smiths Bank Ltd. This new bank lasted until the end of the First World War when it became the National Provident & Union Bank of England, eventually turning into first, the Westminster Bank (1968) and then the National Westminster Bank (Natwest) in 1970.

Thomas Longman founded his publishing house in Paternoster Row in 1724, buying a shop owned by William Taylor who had published Jonathan Swift’s Robinson Crusoe. The firm prospered through the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, most famously publishing Maclaulay’s Lays of Ancient Romeand then his History of England(which sold in excess of 40,000 copies). Longman’s continued into the 1900s, survived a direct hit during the Blitz (which destroyed their premises and their stock), before Pearson bought it in 1968.

I suppose what this little story of fraud and forgery from 1870 reveals is the deep roots that some of our household names have, even if very many of them are now owned by global multinational companies. Elizabeth Smith, by contrast, leaves very little behind her, just one of many who came before the courts in the 1800s accused of stealing or defrauding those with much deeper pockets than she had.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, 28 April 1870]

While Elizabeth Smith is hardly an unusual name for the Victorian (or any other) period there is another mention of someone with that name in the Digital Pantopticon for 1870. An Elizabeth Smith was tried at Clerkenwell (the quarter sessions for Middlesex) in October 1870 and sentenced to seven years. She was sent to Millbank Prison from where she was released, on license, on 19 May 1874. Did Elizabeth have a baby between June and October and find a home for it? Or was it taken away so the law could take its course?

‘Ringing the changes’ in a City pub, has nothing to do with campanology

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The Castle & Falcon Inn in Aldersgate Street, c.1827

What does ringing the changes mean to you? I’d always thought it was a phrase that suggested we might try something new, maybe originating from bell ringing, but it appears that in the 1870s it had another, less innocent, meaning.

In April 1879 Thomas James was brought before the alderman magistrate at the Guildhall Police court in the City of London. James was a young man who lived with his mother in Hoxton and may well have been suffering with some sort of illness. He said he was a sailor but his mother, who came to court to speak up for him, said he was ‘subject to fits and not accountable for his actions’.

Thomas was in court because he had been arrested by a policeman at the Falcon Tavern in Aldersgate Street. According to a number of witnesses  he had approached the barman there and ordered a half pint of beer. The beer cost a penny and the youth handed over a shilling, receiving ‘6d. in silver and 5d. in copper’ in his change.

‘Young man’, James addressed the barman, ‘you have given me only 5 1/4d.’ The barman apologized and handed over another sixpence.

It was a scam, a trick known as ‘ringing the changes’. Thomas was well practiced at it and had conned Ada Slap, a barmaid at the Bell Tavern in Falcon Square out of 2s, and another (Ann Gale, barmaid at the Royal Mail in Noble Street) said he’d tried (and failed) to play her for a fool for a shilling.

Unbeknown to the conman however, a policeman had been alerted to his fraud by the staff at the Royal Mail and followed him to the Falcon. He watched him approach the bar and, as he began to walk away the officer asked the barman if he’d been tricked. When the man confirmed his suspicions PC Hickman (170 City) followed him out and nabbed him.

A search revealed that James was in possession of 8s 6d  in silver, 17in copper and a few farthings. At the Guildhall he was charged with obtaining money by false pretenses, with intent to defraud. He admitted the charge at the Falcon (he could hardly do otherwise) but denied the others. Alderman Hadley sent him to prison for a month at hard labour.

According to Partridge’s Dictionary of the Underworld (1949) to ‘ring in’ or ‘ringing the changes’ was to exchange ‘bad’ currency (i.e. forgeries) for ‘good’. That expression dates back to at least 1811. ‘When a person receives silver in change, to shift some good shillings and put bad ones in their place’ says the dictionary. The term ‘ringing’ (for doing the same thing) can be traced to the middle of the previous century.

Ringing the changes,  as it was by Thomas James (to con people – generally tradesmen), is still a common enough fraud, as this warning from the Devon & Cornwall Policeshows.

The Falcon (or Castle and Falcon Inn) used to stand at 5 Aldersgate Street but was demolished many years ago. The Royal Mail (originally the Coachmakers Arms then the Royal Mail Coach) stood at 17 Noble Street. It was rebuilt in 1898 but I think it too has vanished.  After this current health crisis I wonder how many other London pubs will finally fall victim to the wrecking ball?

[from Morning Post, Monday 14 April, 1879]

 

A routine mugging reveals a Freemason connection

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John Palmer was an ordinary sort of bloke. He gave his occupation as ‘labourer’ (frequently a default term for those appearing before the courts in Victorian London, suggesting he was a casual worker). He certainly wasn’t a rich man, by any stretch of the imagination and, as he walked home one late evening in March 1870, he only had a few shillings in his pocket.

This didn’t stop him falling victim to violence and robbery however. Palmer may have enjoyed a few pints after work, which would have made him more vulnerable to being attacked. He was hardly a prize though, but to James Tyson and John Sadler that didn’t matter. Tyson was a trained boxer – a pugilist to give the contemporary term – and so was well suited to a bit of ‘rough stuff’. Sadler was a betting agent, so also probably quite able to mix it when he needed to.

The pair fell on Palmer as he made his way home; Sadler jumped him, knocking him to the ground before Tyson used his weight to hold him down. They rifled his pockets and extracted 7 shillings and ran off. Palmer reported the incident to a nearby policeman who took descriptions and set a search in motion. The culprits were caught just a few hours later, one of them by a detective.

When Sadler was searched he was found to have quite a haul. The police discovered  a number of pawn tickets (often evidence of theft) all for ‘valuable gold and silver watches’ as well as gold Albert chains and some broken watch-bows. Some of these might be able to be identified but even more significant a find was a gold locket ‘with a ruby heart at the centre’ and a Freemason’s gold medal. The medal was inscribed:

The Most Noble Augustus Frederick, Duke of Leinster, Grand Master of the order in Ireland, 3rdJanuary, 1848’.

Augustus Frederick, the Marquess of Kildare (right, below pictured in 1859) was an old man by 1870. Born in the previous century by the time his medal turned up in the pocket of a petty thief in London he was close to 80 years of age and would only live another three. He became head of the Grand Lodge of Ireland in 1813 and apparently kept a tight rein on how all Freemasonary operated on the Emerald Isle. 2911106-09

In court at Marlborough Street the police reported that both James Tyson and John Sadler were well known to them. Mr Mansfield, the sitting Police Court magistrate, was told that there were ‘frequenters of racecourses’ and known to be ‘magsmen’ and ‘welshers’.

Eric Partridge’s 1949 Dictionary of the Underworld defines a ‘magsman’ thus:

‘Swell mobites’; ‘a fashionably dressed swindler’; or ‘fellows who are too cowardly to steal, but prefert o cheat confiding persons by acting upon the cupidity’. It included ‘card-sharpers, confidence tricksters, begging letter writers, and ‘bogus ministers of religion’.

Perhaps by 1870 ‘magsmen’ was being used more broadly to apply to a member of the more fashionably dressed ‘criminal class’. As for ‘welsher’, Partridge lists:

‘passer of counterfeit money’ or (in the USA) an informer.

However the terms were being applied Mr Mansfield was pretty confident that he had two ‘bad eggs’ in his dock and he acquiesced to the police request to remand them in custody while they continued their enquiries.

Whatever results these enquiries yielded we are, sadly, in the dark about. I can find no record of either man in the higher courts in the immediate aftermath of their appearance before Mr Mansfield. This suggests the police’s evidence was thin or that they were able to buy off Palmer as a potential witness against them. They might have argued they’d ‘found’ the items discovered in their possession at the racecourse they ‘frequented’. Who knows, but like so many of the stories of the police courts carried by the London press this one lacks a conclusion.

[from The Pall Mall Gazette, Thursday 31 March 1870]

Today I have started work on my next book, which is a history of these courts, provisionally titled Nether World: Crime and the Police Courts in Victorian London.  My most recent book (Jack and the Thames Torso Murders: A New Ripper), is available on Amazon and the next one in the pipeline, Murder Maps, will be published by Thames & Hudson later this year. I’ll keep you all posted.

Take care of yourselves in these difficult times.

‘Ring the bell, and put the child on the doorstep’: a young mother is handed a stark ultimatum

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There have been plenty of examples in the pages of this blog of quite stark reminders that the past was ‘a different country’. Periodically today there are news reports of babies being found abandoned. In late January this year for example, a postman found a newborn child on a doorstep in Hackney as he made his rounds. The baby was taken into care and the police ‘appealed to his mother to come forward, assuring her she is not in trouble and will be helped’.

That is invariably the message to mothers who, for whatever reason, feel unable to keep a child they have just given birth to. Come forward, you’re not in any trouble, we are just worried about you.

This was not the way society viewed mothers that abandoned their babies in the nineteenth century however; something clearly illustrated by this cautionary take from 1871.

Elizabeth Fisher was working as a servant when she fell pregnant. She had the child and at first her sister agreed to care for it. Elizabeth’s employer, a Mrs Cruise (of Arthur Road, Brixton), made it abundantly clear that she was not willing for an illegitimate child to be raised under her roof.

Fisher either had to get rid of her baby or leave her service.

That was normal in the 1800s. Servants who got pregnant would often be dismissed and so many hid their pregnancies and then gave away or farmed out their children to relatives or women who they paid to take them in.

This worked for Elizabeth for a while but then in December 1870 her sister explained that she could no longer care for the baby.  With what one imagines was a heavy heart Elizabeth took her baby to the Camberwell workhouse (below right) and asked them to care for it.

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The workhouse refused telling her they were ‘neither a nursery nor a baby-farming establishment, and they could not separate mother and child’. If Elizabeth wanted to place her baby in their care she’d have to admit herself at the same time. Even when Fisher offered to pay a weekly sum for the child’s acre the workhouse authorities turned her away.

She was back to square one.

Her mistress, Mrs Cruise, now suggested she take the child to its father. While Fisher wasn’t married she did know where the father was. Cruise told her to go to Gloucester Terrace, Hyde Park (where the man lived), ‘ring the bell, and put the child on the doorstep for the father to take in’.

So it was that Elizabeth, her sister, and Mrs Cruise set off, taking an omnibus towards Haymarket (where Cruise was going to attend the theatre). The sisters hopped off but seemingly never made it to Gloucester Terrace. The baby was found on a shop doorstep in the Haymarket by a policeman.

It took some time for the police to trace the child back to Elizabeth Fisher who by this time had left Cruise’s employment. The police obtained a summons to bring Fisher, her sister (Mrs Brown,, who lived in Hoxton) and Mrs Cruise to court at Marlborough Street. Mr Tyrwhitt, the sitting Police magistrate, listened carefully to the stories all three women told before reaching his judgment.

Despite her telling her employer to leave the child on a doorstep or leave her employment, the justice exonerated Mrs Cruise. She’d apparently acted ‘only with kindness’ her lawyer had argued, and Mr Tyrwhitt agreed. Nor did he condemn the workhouse for not receiving the child and refusing the mother’s money. The father was not summoned as Elizabeth’s sister did not want to ‘disgrace’ him. Instead he reserved his opprobrium for Elizabeth Fisher. He sent her to prison for 10 days with hard labour.

I doubt she took her child with her and I imagine she would have found it hard to find similar employment thereafter, with the stain of imprisonment added to that of bastard bearing. Elizabeth was ‘ruined’ and yet no fault or responsibility was set at the door of the man that she had conceived her baby boy with.

This was the reality of being poor, female, and a single mother in nineteenth-century London. It may not be easy today, but at least it is unlikely to land you in gaol.

[from Morning Post, Wednesday, 22 February 1871]

Gang fights and assaults on the police – taking the long view

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With all the trouble surrounding the release of Blue Story, Andrew Onwubolu’s (aka ‘Rapman’) new film about love and friendship amongst rivals London gangs the issue of youth violence is back in the news. As this blog has touched on several times already in last few years, none of this is anything new. London has a history of gang violence that stretches back at least 150 years.

Plenty of the early concerns about youth violence and gangs focused on the ‘roughs’ and (later, in the 1890s) ‘hooligans’ who terrorized districts such as Southwark. Marylebone and the East End.

Christopher Eaton and John Marr (both just 16 years of age) were apparently connected to ‘a gang of roughs’ that were ‘infesting Bermondsey New Road’ in November 1875.

An elderly man named Richard Carney testified before the magistrate at Southwark Police court that on Friday 23 November he was walking home when he saw two boys fighting with a crowd gathered around them. He – rather unwisely it had to be said – pushed his way through the throng to try and separate them.

The crowd now turned on him and started to kick and punch him. As he collapsed a reserve policeman came running up to help, only to be subjected to the same treatment by the lads.

As the youths ran away PC Robert Atkins managed to secure the two boys and, having summoned a fellow officers to help, got them to the station and Mr Carney to Guy’s Hospital. Fortunately neither man was badly hurt although the youths had attempted to escape, kicking out at the officers that arrested them.

Mr Benson in the chair commented that ‘these street outrages must be put a stop to, as the peaceable inhabitants of Bermondsey could not pass along the streets without being assaulted after dark’. He sentenced Eaton to 21 days hard labour and Marr to 10.   Whether it did any good is anyone’s guess but given that several police were injured as gang’s clashed in Birmingham just this weekend it would seem that 144 years later little has improved.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, November 28, 1875)

A case mistaken feline identity

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Alfred Mackness was insistent that Robert Couldry had stolen his prize-winning show cat. So convinced was he that he took out a summons to bring the other man to court at Lambeth to answer his charge.

The case was heard before a Police Court magistrate and Mackness attempted to prove that Couldry had somehow obtained the cat illegally after it had won a 25s  prize and had been ‘highly commended’ at a show at Birmingham.

He said he’d seen the cat, a striking white female with distinctive blue eyes, at cat shows at Alexandra Palace and Crystal Palace and had challenged Couldry about it.  Couldry denied any wrongdoing and insisted by turn that the cat – who he called (ironically perhaps) ‘Charcoal’ – was and had always been his.

The court then witnessed the curious spectacle of a number of white cats being brought before the bench for inspection. Three cats were taken out of baskets and examined by Mackness but none could he identify as his own. C

ouldry swore on oath that the cat he had exhibited at the shows in question were his property and, without any clear evidence to the contrary, the justice agreed.

The summons was dismissed and poor Alfred went home empty handed.

[from The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, November 25, 1876]

‘A very serious thing’ means a birching for one young boy

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When Louis Perry sent his errand boy off to deliver some work for him he gave him strict instructions. Lipman Forkell was to take some boots to his customer on a barrow and then drop the barrow off at the hire place. The lad was told not to forget to collect the 10change due from his deposit of a shilling.

However young Lipman – a 12 year-old boy who lived in Eastman Court, Whitechapel in London’s East End – carried out the task but failed to return Mr Perry’s money. This was a second chance for Lipman; he’d been accused of stealing money before but had been let off with a warning. He wasn’t to get a third chance and the boot maker was determined to teach him a lesson.

On Thursday 7 August 1879 the boy was brought before Mr Bushby at Worship Street Police court and formally charged with stealing 10in silver coins. The magistrate warned Mr Perry that he was also liable to be prosecuted, ‘for employing  a lad under age’. On this occasion he got off with a warning.

Lipman was not so fortunate. The magistrate told him that to have taken to stealing at such a young age was very serious and he would be punished for it. On top of sending him to prison for three days Mr Bushby ordered that the boy be given ‘twelve strokes of the birch rod’. These would be administered by a local policeman, which helps explain why the ‘old bill’ were far from popular in the district.

[from The Standard, Friday, August 08, 1879]

NB this post first appeared in August 2018