‘If the trucks had been thrown off the line they would have been dashed into the bridge’: an East End train disaster narrowly avoided

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In mid June 1888, in what was to become a dreadful late summer and autumn of terror in the East End, a young man appeared at the West Ham Police court accused of an act of willful damage that might have caused a localized tragedy.  Henry William Fox (19, and a described as a labourer) was put in the dock to answer a charge that he, and some persons unknown, had placed a large piece of wood on tracks of the railway that served the Victoria Docks.

Robert Clayden, a signalman on the London and St Katherine’s Dock Company railway, testified that at 4 o’clock on Friday 15 June he had been in his box when he noticed Fox and three other men ‘playing around’ on the tracks. They had a large section of wood made up of two scaffold planks bolted together to make about a foot square. They had eased this onto the tracks, just after a bend and before a sharp decline. Claydon stated that, in his opinion, the driver of the next train (due in 30 minutes) would not have seen the obstruction in time to apply the brake.

The signalman immediately left his box and ran off to apprehend the trespassers, shouting ‘do you want any help there?’ The quartet scattered but deciding that Fox was the most responsible Clayden pursued and captured him with the help of a dock constable, Henry Kimpton. Inspector Hamilton was shown the obstruction before it was removed and Fox was taken away to be charged.

In court Fox’s defense – conducted by a Mr Willis (jun) – the bench was told that it was a case of mistaken identity; Fox was one of four others and he wasn’t the person responsible for blocking the railway. His solicitor applied for bail, which was refused, as the case ‘too serious’.

On 22 July Fox appeared at the Old Bailey where the case against him was heard before a jury. Claydon was the first witness and explained that his job was to control the swing bridge that served Bridge Docks. The planks used to block the line were those deployed in the painting of ships at dock. When not in use, as this one wasn’t, they ‘lie about in the dock and are washed about by the water’ he told the court.

He said that when he asked Fox and his friend s if they wanted ‘any help’, the accused told him to ‘Go and f— yourself’. At this Claydon blew his whistle (to frighten them off) and clambered down from his box. A chase then ensued and Fox was arrested, question by the dock inspector (George Hamilton) before being handed over to PC William Richardson (280K) of the Met. Fox’s maintained his defense that it wasn’t him but someone else and said he’d been in the area because he was looking for bird’s nests.

One of the company’s drivers, John Sherlock, took the stand to tell the court that 10-15 trains used that line every day and agreed that the position of the timber would have made it impossible for any driver to stop in time.

‘The curve is sharp’ he explained, ‘if the trucks had been thrown off the line they would have been dashed into the bridge’.

Fortunately the quick action of the signalman had averted a disaster and almost certain loss of life. Fox was young and was given a good character. As a result the judge went easy on him: he was sentenced to six months at hard labour.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday 17 June, 1888]

‘What would become of the little children?’: charity and kindness make a rare appearance in a Police Court

John Tenniel The Nemesis of Neglect

Tomorrow is the last day of February meaning that (as we do every four years) we get a 29thday of this month. Did you know that 1888 was a leap year? Making a very tenuous link today is also the artist John Tenniel’s birthday. Had he lived he would be 200 years old today.

On 29 September 1888 the magazine Punch published a cartoon by Tenniel alongside an article on slum living in the East End of London. Tenniel’s iconic image of the Nemesis of Neglect (above), was published at the height of the Jack the Ripper murders, while London reeled from the terror created by a serial killer the police seemed unable to catch.

Tenniel’s drawing and the text that accompanied it suggested that the murderer was a product of the degraded environment in which all the victims had lived, and died. It also warned polite society of the dangers of not doing ‘something’ about the abject poverty of the East End, which risked the ‘contagion’ spreading to reach the wealthier parts of the metropolis.

In February Whitechapel was relatively quiet; the series lodged in the National Archives at Kew as the ‘Whitechapel Murders’ had not yet started, but poverty was very much in evidence.

At Westminster Police court a 76 year-old man appeared to ask Mr D’Eyncourt for a summons. He wanted to bring a charge against the one of the officers at St Luke’s workhouse in Chelsea. The elderly man moved slowly and spoke with difficulty, clearly suffering as he was from fresh injuries. He told the magistrate that he’d sustained these when he was turfed out of his bed at 6.45 in the morning by a workhouse attendant.

He was, he said in response to the justice’s questioning, 15 minutes late in getting up after the bell rang at 6.30. But he had only just got to sleep having been kept awake by others’ coughing and cramp in his legs.

‘I am so badly bruised that I have not been able to walk upright since’ he complained.

The poor man had no family or friends and had been an inmate of the workhouse for six years. Mr D’Eyncourt granted his summons and said he would not have to pay for it. He would hear what other inmates said and call the accused party before him.

At Southwark Sarah Ann Davis stood in the dock with a baby in her arms. She was accused of begging in London Road, having been arrested by a police sergeant. Sarah denied the charge, she ‘was selling some pins to get some food for her children’ she explained.

Sergeant Ireland told Mr Slade that the prisoner’s husband was currently serving a prison sentence for begging. As if that compounded the woman’s crime and demonstrated she was guilty.

The magistrate asked her why she didn’t turn to the workhouse.

‘I don’t want to break up the home while my husband is away’, she replied.

Mr Davis was, she said, and out of work carpenter who’d do any job if he could get one. 1888 was not a good year for work: this was the year that the word ‘unemployment’ entered the dictionary and for the past few years large numbers of unemployed men and women had gathered in Trafalgar Square to listen to socialists and free traders bemoan the state of the economy and the capitalist system that had seemingly failed so many.

Slade called her landlord to the stand and asked him about the family’s character. He was told that the Davis’ were good, respectable and quiet tenants, but were two weeks behind with their rent.

‘You are not going to turn them out?’ The magistrate asked.

‘On no, sir, certainly not. What would become of the little children?’ the landlord replied.

‘Very well, I will discharge her now. You can go know, Mrs. Davis. You will receive some coal and bread tickets from the Poor-box Fund, and you had better apply to the Relieving Officer for some out-door relief’.

Then he warned her against begging in future, and she left, with applause for the magistrate ringing out in court.

Individual acts of decency by men like Mr Slade and Sarah’s landlord were not enough of course to mitigate the realities of abject poverty in late nineteenth century London. On another day Sarah might have gone to gaol and had her children taken away.  Another magistrate might have told her it was the ‘house or nothing, and she would have again lost her children.

Tenniel’s image of the ghoul raising from the ‘slum’s foul air’ was so powerful because it reflected a sort of stark reality, even if it was as fantastical as his more famous illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.

[from The Standard, 28 February 1888]

William Booth in court, for doing something about homelessness

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The Salvation Army is a well-established charity doing good work with the poor and homeless for well over a century. It was set up in London by William Booth in 1865, adopting the name Salvation Army (formally the Christian Mission) in 1878. Booth was an evangelist Christian who took his religious beliefs seriously, believing that the teachings of Jesus Christ impelled the better off to look after the poor.

As several articles in this blog series have shown the ‘Army’ wasn’t always well received. Their military structure and marching bands drew opprobrium and ridicule from all levels of society but by the turn of the century they were clearly established as a fixture in both British and American society.

In 1888 Booth, who started his mission in the East End of London, preaching in rooms above what is now the Blind Beggar pub on Whitechapel Road, set up a temporary night shelter in Hanbury Street, for the homeless female poor. He was prompted by the murders of Jack the Ripper, who preyed on vulnerable and often homeless prostitutes in the area.

The shelter was basic, and cost users 3d a night (2for children, and just a penny for infants in arms). In December 1889 Booth himself was summoned to the Worship Street Police court to answer a summons brought against him by the police, for running a shelter that wasn’t registered as a ‘common lodging house’, and therefore fell foul of the regulations.

This was the police’s report of their visit to the shelter, delivered by a sergeant (32H) and Inspector Ferrett:

‘The sergeant said that each sleeper had a “box like an egg-chest.” minus the bottom. A mattress made of American cloth and seaweed was in this, and the coverlet was sheepskin the size of the mattress, the sleeper putting their head through a hole at one end’.

The property, an old bath house, was well ventilated and quite warm, served as it was by hot water pipes. It had space for 192 women and for their three pence they got a light supper as well. The mattresses were cleaned regularly and the place was orderly, so what was the problem?

Well the summons seemed mostly concerned with it not being registered and that this ‘temporary’ solution to a crisis becoming permanent by default. The police did bring along some witnesses that to argue that the Salvation Army were operating not merely as a refuge but as a de facto lodging house but Mr Bushby wasn’t convinced by their line of argument.

He dismissed the summons and let Booth go back to his charity work.

We are once again in a period where homelessness and poverty are in focus. Winter is here and people are dying on the streets of British cities. Homelessness is a growing problem in the UK, despite us being in the top 10 richest nations on earth.

Changes to the benefits system (the introduction of Universal Credit and the bedroom tax) by the Conservative government (and before them the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition), and a decade of austerity economic policies driven by a succession of Conservative chancellors from George Osborne to Sajid Javid have directly impacted the lives of the poorest.  726 people are known to have died on the streets in 2018, the highest number since recording began in 2013.

Something to think about when we cast our votes on December 12.

[from The Standard, Saturday, December 07, 1889]

‘If you attempt to go to work today, I will tear you to pieces’. Dark threats of eviction at the Arsenal

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This is a case of conflicting versions of ‘the truth’, which has probably been lost somewhere in between.

On 25 November 1888 four people appeared at Woolwich Police court in South East London. John and Ellen Moore had been summoned for threats that they were alleged to have made towards George and Charlotte Tuffnell, from whom they rented an upstairs room in their house.

George Tuffnell explained that he and his wife lived at 2 Stanley Villas in Bullfields, Woolwich and that he worked at the Royal Arsenal. As he was leaving for work at 9 o’clock on Saturday morning John Moore confronted him.

‘If you attempt to go to work today’, he warned him, ‘I will tear you to pieces’.

Mr Marsham, the incumbent magistrate, wanted to know why on earth Moore would say such a thing, what had Tuffnell done – if anything – to provoke that reaction?

‘Well, you shall judge for yourself sir’, Tuffnell continued, ‘when I tell you what happened on the previous night’.

He went on to describe how he and his wife had returned home at 11.30 on the Friday night with the determination to evict their lodgers. We don’t know why, they didn’t say, but very few if any protections were in place for tenants in the 1880s and so while the Moores might have been behind with their rent, their landlords might simply have taken against them for no good reason.

Either way, Tuffnell loudly turned to Charlotte and declared, ‘Are the lodgers in?’, adding, ‘I mean to have them out’.

At this the Moores, who’d overheard (as I’m sure they were meant’) came rushing downstairs ‘like a couple of tigers in their nightshirts’. This dramatic description brought laughter from the court but covered the fact that a family was about to be turned out in the cold just a month before Christmas.

Tuffnell presented the altercation as one that threatened his wife and family: ‘Our three children were in a bedroom upstairs’, he said, ‘frightened out of their wits’, and he and his wife couldn’t get to them.

One wonders why they had gone out and left them in the first place if they cared so much.

John Moore presented an alternative version of the situation. He said he and his wife were ‘decent people, while the Tuffnell family were given to strife and mischief’. On Friday night he and Ellen were asleep in bed when they were rudely awakened by someone banging on their door.  Tuffnell was ‘raving and roaring like a caged animal’ and ‘battering the staircase with a hammer to emphasise his threats and imprecations’.

He and Ellen got up and opened the door and asked him to keep quite until morning when they would answer his requests for them to leave. At this Tuffnell said:

‘What did you say [to me]?’

‘I said, “Go in, Looney!”’ Moore admitted (and once more Mr Masham’s courtroom collapsed into laughter).

The magistrate turned to Moore and demanded to know if he nad his wife had vacated their rooms. ‘Not yet’, Moore told him. ‘We are going next week’. In that case, the justice replied, ‘I will adjourn the case until Thursday, and if you have left the house you need not appear again’.

Regardless of the truth of that’s night’s events it seems evident that the couples did not get on and so it was probably best that they went their separate ways.

[from The Standard, Monday, November 26, 1888]

A cunning thief who finally runs out of luck

Doctor examines the patient's state of health during home visits - 1896

Joe Jackson was a thief with a clever modus operandi. Operating in the late 1880s he perfected a ruse whereby he approached the houses of ‘well-known physicians’, knocked on the door, and claimed that his mother (or elderly aunt) was ill. In the days before GP waiting rooms he would be shown into the library or study.

He would then ask for a pen and paper, so that he could write known his relative’s symptoms for the doctor, and while this was fetched by the servants, he’d quickly steal anything of value he could and leave.

On the 22 November 1888 Jackson’s mini spree came to an end when he was brought up before Mr Shiel at Southwark Police court. There he was formally charged with stealing a silver salver from the home of Dr Taylor in Thomas’ Street, the Borough.

He’d taken the salver while the butler was out of the room but the servant had chased after him and nabbed him. Thereafter he was handed over the police, in the person of PC Greenwood.  Jackson commented to the officer that ‘it was rather hard that he should be given into custody, as the article he stole was not silver, ‘it was “only plated”.

He told Mr Shiel that his mother really was ill, he himself was ‘hard up’ and so he only stole to ‘get a little money’. Sergeant Hardy informed the magistrate that Jackson was wanted for at least 20 similar cases and that 16 pawn tickets, all traceable to items stolen in similar robberies, were found when they searched him.

The magistrate fully committed him to trial.

[from The Standard, Friday, November 23, 1888]

Doctors were very much in the news in 1888. North of the river from the Borough, in Whitechapel, a series of brutal murders had shaken Victorian Britain. The killer was never caught but in our recent book myself and Andy Wise believe we might have a new suspect to discuss. If you are looking for a good new read or  present for a family member that enjoys True Crime and Victorian history can I nudge you towards Jack and the Thames Torso Murders? Published by Amberley Books it is available on Amazon now, ideal for Christmas! 

‘Give it to him lads!’ Violence and theft at the Lord Mayor’s Show

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“The Ninth of November, 1888” by William Logsdail

I remember watching the Lord Mayor’s Show on television as a boy, fascinated by the uniforms, floats and military bands. I watched it this year in glorious colour (a change from the days of black and white I recall) and was reminded how orderly it is. Thousands of Londoners watch as hundreds of marchers process through the streets of the City of London celebrating the guilds and companies of the capital and the lection of a new Mayor.

It is one of London’s great traditions and it is has been around for centuries.

In 1888 the parade took place as usual, but clearly it didn’t pass off completely peaceably or without incident.  On the Monday following the Show the new Lord Mayor (Alderman Whitehead) convened his first set of hearings at the Mansion House Police court. He started by thanking the clerk and other court officials and by stating that the parade was one of the best he’d attended and remarked that the crowd was well behaved and happy.

Most of them, at least.

Three young men were brought before him charged with the theft of a gold repeater watch valued at £145. This was a very expensive watch which belonged to Dr Adolf Stern, an attaché at the Imperial Russian Embassy in Berlin. He told the Lord Mayor that on the Saturday of the show he had been on his way from his hotel in Blackfriars to the Deutsche Bank on Throgmorten Street when he ran into the procession.

He soon found himself surrounded by ‘roughs’, who insulted him and pushed him around. He struggled to keep his balance and at some point in the scuffle his waistcoat was opened and his watch stolen. He saw one of the prisoners (Frederick Wood, 17) make off with it and as he shouted the lad passed it to another, Thomas Daley, also 17). Daley then threw it to John Connell (22) who started to run off before a mounted constable responded to the attaché’s cries for help and rode down the thief.

All three roughs were sentenced to six weeks imprisonment and the watch was returned to a grateful diplomat.

Next up three medical students were charged with assaulting the police during the Show. Henry Sherwood (19) and George Monkhouse (17) had been part of group of around 4-50 students who joined the procession as it wound down Ludgate Hill. They were all carrying sticks and making a nuisance of themselves; perhaps they were part of the parade or just a group of rowdy hangers-on, it isn’t clear.

The route was lined with police and as Monkhouse and Sherwood passed police sergeant Couldrey of the City force Monkhouse lashed out with his cane, hitting the officer in the face. When the policeman recovered sufficiently to grab his assailant Sherwood waded into the attack shouting, ‘give it to him lads!’

It took the police a while to subdue their attackers but eventually Monkhouse and Sherwood were manhandled back to station and charged. In court they both denied using any violence but the Lord Mayor fined them each £1. Pulteney Garrett, another medical student, was accused of leaping on the back of a policeman and forcing him to the ground, hurting his knees and then biting his thumb! He was fined £5.

The scale of punishment reflects the fact the medical students were all relatively wealthy young men. They could avoid gaol while the ‘roughs’ could not and their behaviour – whilst unwelcome – was a usually seen as a boisterous high spirits while similar behavior by working class lads was symptomatic of their lack of decency and class.

November 1888 was significant for a much more serious crime in 1888. On 9 November Mary Kelly became the  fifth ‘canonical’ victim of the Whitechapel murderer. She had been looking forward, as many Londoners did, to the pomp and ceremony that was the Lord Mayor’s Show. Sadly she never saw it that year.

[from The Standard, Monday, November 12, 1888]

Jack the Ripper appears in court at last

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In late October 1888 a man appeared in court at the Guildhall after admitting to multiple murders. The fact that the magistrate let him go probably tells us quite a bit about the furor that surrounded the so-called ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings that autumn.

By the time Benjamin Graham was brought up before the alderman justice for the second time the unknown killer had struck at least four times and maybe more. Graham had admitted to the crimes and had been escorted to Snow Hill police station by a concerned member of the public. His confessor reported that he’d declared that:

‘he was the murderer of the women in Whitechapel, and that he supposed he must suffer for it with a bit of rope’.

At his first summary hearing he was remanded in custody so enquiries could be made into his mental health. Graham had been examined and the chief clerk at the Guildhall, Mr Saville, now furnished the magistrate with his report. According to the medical man there was nothing wrong with Graham’s mind except that he ‘suffered from excessive drinking’. He was hardly alone in that in late nineteenth-century London, but not all of the capitals inebriates were running off their mouths claiming to be Jack the Ripper.

The alderman was furious, even more so because he really couldn’t see what crime Graham had committed. He told him he would gladly give ‘some punishment for his behaviour, which gave the police no end of trouble’. But since he could not (perhaps at this time there was no such offence as ‘wasting police time”) he simply discharged him with a flea in his ear.

With all the false leads and spurious letters and notes that the police had to take seriously, the last thing they needed was an idiot like Benjamin Graham.

[from The Standard, Friday, October 26, 1888]

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