Three bad apples are locked away at Clerkenwell

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There had been a spate of burglaries in February 1861 in the Clerkenwell area and the police were on heightened alert. Burglary was the quintessential Victorian crime and burglars the apogee of the ‘criminal class’. Newspapers often reported burglaries and carried adverts for anti-burglar alarms and devices; towards the end of the century there was a notable growth in the insurance business to offset the losses from home thefts.  In short then, burglary and burglars were a menace and this put pressure on police chiefs to make arrests and reassure the public that their properties were safe.

Police sergeant Robinson (4E) and PC Blissett (106E) had dispensed with their uniforms and adopted ‘plain clothes’ to keep watch for any unusual activity on the street near Mecklenberg Square (where a number of incidents had been reported). They were keeping watch on Doughty Street at about 8 in the evening when they saw three men ‘loitering about in a very suspicious manner’.

As they watched the officers saw one of the men trying doors on the street, to see if any would open. The other men were ‘piping’ (cant for keeping watch) and when they clocked the policemen they made a run for it. The bobbies followed and quickly overtook them, and attempted to make an arrest.

Unfortunately for sergeant Robinson and PC Blissett the trio decided not to come quietly but instead attacked them. One of the men broke away and threw something into the gutter, another tried to get rid of set of skeleton keys but the sergeant recovered them. The policemen struggled with their prisoners and called for help that soon arrived. Finally the would-be burglars were safely locked up in the station house.

Sergeant Robinson returned to the scene and recovered a chisel that one of the gang had discarded and this was matched to marks made on doors in nearby John Street. The chisel was presumably there to enable them to force locks open if they couldn’t gain access without doing so.

The men were stood in the dock at Clerkenwell Police court before Mr D’Eyncourt. They gave their names as William Green, James Higgins and William Smith. They were all well known to the police who clearly suspected them of being the men responsible for the mini crime wave in the district but on this occasion they hadn’t actually broken into anywhere. There was some strong circumstantial evidence however. A local man, named Abrahams, explained that his property had been burgled and the culprits had gained using a set of skeleton keys.

Mr Abrahams said thieves had broken into his house on Bedford Row and had stolen property valued at £50 from him. ‘What made the matter worse’, he continued, was that ‘his servant’s savings, amounting to over £11, besides some of her clothing, were stolen’. This wasn’t simply stealing from those that could afford it, it was the plunder of the life savings of some poor domestic, someone everyone in the court (and reading the report) could empathize with.

The three men denied doing anything wrong, yes, they said, they had picked up the keys (but innocently, without intent to use them) and as for the chisel ‘they knew nothing of it, nor did they wish to’. This drew a laugh or two from the court which was probably quickly stifled by the magistrate.

Mr D’Eyncourt told them that had they managed to break into a house that evening he would have had no hesitation in committing them for trial at the Old Bailey where, if convicted, they might have face several years of penal servitude. As it was they were lucky that he could only punish them for the attempt and the assault on the policemen that had arrested them. They would all go to gaol for three months with hard labour.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, February 15, 1861]

An unlucky thief is caught as the nation buries the hero of Waterloo

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The morning after the Duke of Wellington’s funeral was a busy time for the Guildhall Police court. By all accounts the funeral was a extraordinary affair, snaking its way through the City streets and drawing huge crowds. Whether we see Wellington as the hero of Waterloo or a deeply conservative and out of touch politician no one can deny his impact on the nineteenth century. He may not have been widely loved but he was respected, and the state gave him the biggest send off since Nelson’s.

As a consequence of the procession that accompanied the ‘Iron Duke’s cortege to St Paul’s Cathedral the court had been closed for the day so the cells had filled up with overnight charges for the aldermen to deal with later.

When the court reopened on the Friday morning Sir John Key had over 30 night charges plus the usual flow of men, women and juveniles brought in by the police and private prosecutors during the day.

Of the 30 or so night charges the magistrate sent eight of them to prison (for picking pockets or assaulting police officers), and fined others for drunkenness and damaging property. This was pretty standard fare for those swept up by the police during the small hours.

Sir John remanded Alfred Povah for further examination after he was accused of stealing clothes to the value of £3 from the Inns of Court in Holborn. When the police had searched Porch they had found a set of skeleton keys on his person, suggesting he was a ‘professional’ thief.

Povah had been spotted heading up the stairs to Mr Rotch’s chambers in Furnivall Inn by one of the clerks. He called the firm’s beadle who nabbed the thief and handed him over to the police. PC McMath (77 City) undertook the search and later told an Old Bailey court that the keys were known as ‘Bramah keys’ and were considered to be ‘more dangerous’ by the police, suggesting perhaps that they were more effective at opening locked doors.

The thief’s professionalism marked him out as a member of the ‘criminal class’ within which the burglar was considered to be the arch enemy of respectable society. The burglar had replaced the highwayman as the symbol of serious crime as the Victorians increasingly saw their homes as sacred places.

Moreover Povah had a criminal record, having appeared at the Bailey two year’s previously for a similar crime. He was just 18 at the time and the judge sent him away for three months, the leniency shown perhaps prompted by his full confession in court. This time the Common Sergeant was not so generous and ordered that Alfred, not yet 20, be transported to Australia for seven years.

He never went however, by that time the colony was resisting the continued import of Britain’s unwanted felons. Instead Alfred served three years in an English prison before being released, on 22 November 1855, at the age of  22.

Had Alfred been 19 in 1815 he might have had the chance to be a hero like the thousands of men and boys that served under the Duke at Waterloo. When they returned to England having helped defeat Napoleon they received little or no help from an indifferent state. Wellington by contrast was feted as a war hero, the savior of Europe, and (a rich man already) was granted a reward of £200,000 (possibly £11m today).

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, November 20, 1852]

‘What business do you have in kicking my boy and ill-using my wife?’ An Eastender’s challenge to a local bobby.

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Who’d be a policeman? Especially in mid Victorian London, and in the East End at that. There a policeman’s lot was most certainly not a happy one, as the song goes. In 1847 the Metropolitan Police had been established for less than 20 years and while they may have ridden out the crisis of the first decade, where allegations of corruption and drunkenness had meant that many of the early recruits had to be replaced, they were still very far from being popular or respected.

The working class resented them for interfering in their day-to-day lives and for being ‘class traitors’, while the middle classes were unhappy at having to pay for them and disliked being told what to do by an ‘inferior’. The upper classes had no more time for time for them either, having effectively lost the control they had over policing to the home office.

So pity poor PC Edward Jessop (215H) who had Thrawl Street as part of his beat in 1847. Thrawl Street was a very poor street in a very poor area, populated by the residents of low lodging houses who lived a precarious hand-by-mouth existence. Thrawl Street was to be home to several of the victims of Jack the Ripper in the 1880s but its reputation for poverty went back much longer than 1888.

On Sunday 10 October 1847 PC Jessop approached Thrawl Street proceeding as he was obliged to do, at a steady walking pace. It was half past eight in the evening and, as he later reported, he saw a group of young men playing a game of chance under a street lamp. He moved in to stop them (gambling was a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine) but as he did a lad scaled the lamp for the purpose, he believed, of turning it out and making it impossible for him to see what was going on.

He grabbed at the boy and pushed him away, the lad fell over and yelped. The gathered crowd let out a chorus of insults and threats, and suggested he might have killed the child. A man – who turned out to be the boy’s father – raced out of a nearby house and started hitting the constable, who did his best to resist. As he tried to arrest the man the boy’s mother appeared and now he was assailed on two fronts. Since she scratched his face he retaliated and hit her about the head with his truncheon.

That was the version of events that PC Jessop told the inspector back at the station when he and a colleague had managed to capture the father and mother and charge the former with assaulting a policeman. However, when the case came before Mr Hammile at Worship Street Police court an alternative story was laid out for public consumption. I doubt very much that 20 or 30 years later, when the police were more widely accepted (and the idea of the ‘criminal class’ had gained greater purchase in Victorian society) this would have played out in this way, so this case is interesting from a police history perspective.

Mr Hammile was told, by the defence’s solicitor (and this in itself is interesting because it suggests that a poor community had somehow clubbed together to defend one of its own) that the real villain was PC Jessop himself.

PC Jessop told the court that he was assailed by a crowd of up to 150 persons, many of whom were throwing stones and brickbats but he seemed to have escaped injury while the boy’s mother, Mrs Hurley had been left ‘bleeding in the arms of a neighbour’ and was still too weak to give evidence in court the next day.

Witnesses (several of them) testified that PC Jessop had been the aggressor. He had had seized the boy while he was playing with some others and had kicked him, knocked him to the floor and then hit him about the head with his open hand. This had brought Mrs Hurley out to remonstrate with the officer who had struck out at her in return. She was punched in the face, the justice was told, and later beaten with a truncheon. As she cried for help her husband arrived and demanded to know ‘what business [the constable] had to kick his boy and ill-use his wife’.

At that the policeman had attacked Patrick Hurley and the whole scene descended into a brawl. Hurley resisted arrest until another officer arrived and he went willingly with him but refused to be led by PC Jessop. A number of witnesses claimed the policeman was drunk and was staggering along his beat and leaning against the walls to steady himself. This was denied by PC Jessop and his inspector who said he was ‘perfectly sober’ and not one to take liquor. ‘He was a remarkably well-conducted young man’.

So now it was left to the magistrate to determine who was telling the truth and whom he should believe. In the end he sided with the Hurleys, which might seem surprising. He discharged Patrick Hurley on the grounds that he was provoked by PC Jessop’s attack on his son and wife. He instructed Inspector Ellis to report the matter to the police commissioners for them to investigate as they thought fit and gave Mrs Hurley leave to bring an assault charge against the constable if she wished.   PC Jessop wasn’t reprimanded but I doubt he would be so keen to return to Thrawl Street in a hurry.

By 1888 it was reported that streets like the nearby Dorset Street were so dangerous for the police that they would only patrol them in groups of four; I rather suspect that this would also apply to places like Flower & Dean and Thrawl Streets and policeman would have been more careful to at least be assured that a colleague was nearby.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, October 12, 1847]

Ripped trousers and little thanks as a guardsman ignores a drunk’s request to ‘go for the policeman’.

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Frank and the fabulously named Tirquinia Keeling were drunk, and soon quite disorderly. It was a Monday night in Septemebr 1890 and the pair were wandering through Hyde Park with their friend Rose Allsopp, probably after an evening of drinking somewhere nearby.

As can often happen when people have had too much to drink, an argument broke out. Frank and his wife exchanged words, then shouts, then blows. Soon they were wrestling and creating quite a scene, so much so that it attracted the attention of the local bobby on his beat.

PC 319A hoved into view and presumed he saw a man knocking a woman about a bit while another woman intervened from time to time. He moved in to separate the couple but received little thanks for his efforts. Eventually he decided he had to arrest Frank and collared him. Frank resisted and the policeman was in danger of being overpowered when a passing soldier and his mate came to his aid.

Private Clarke of the 2ndbattalion Coldstream Guards ran over to help. Soon another brace of policemen arrived and together they all fought to subdue Frank and his wife. It was quite the bar room brawl, just without the barroom setting. Finally Frank and Tirquinia were under the police’s control and were led off in the direction of a police station.

As the pair were led away Rose piled in to try and affect a rescue. The trio spent an uncomfortable night sleeping off their drinking before being presented before Mr Hannay at Marlborough Street Police court in the morning.

They must have looked dejected in the dock and hopefully shamefaced as well. Private Clarke told the magistrate that when he went aid the policeman Keeling had growled that he was helping the ‘wrong side’. Frank was a musician but had served in the army and expected a fellow soldier to recognize a common enemy. But Clarke was a former copper and so he knew where his loyalties lay.

He had fared badly in the fight though: he had been thrown to the ground, damaged his knee, and tore his trousers. He was most upset about the latter however because he would have to pay for a new pair out of his meager army pay. Mr Hannay thought that was very unfair and asked the inspector on duty ‘to report the matter to the Police Commissioner to see what recompense could be made’ to him. The court had a poor box but it wasn’t meant to be used for that purpose.

As for the Keelings, who refused to give their address but stated that they were musicians (and so were possibly itinerant), he fined them 40seach or a month’s imprisonment. Allsopp was fined 20sor ten days. It doesn’t say whether they paid up or not but they would have had a few hours to find the money as that seems to have been the standard practice. They don’t appear in any records of imprisonment for that or any other year so I imagine they found the money soon enough.

Some form of drunk and disorderly behaviour was by far the most common reason for being arrested and presented before a magistrate in late Victorian London. The courts were dealing with dozens every day, very many more after a weekend or – worst of all – a Bank holiday.

Today is the beginning of freshers’ week at my and many other universities and sadly, I fear there will be plenty of  drunkenness on display. So, if you are about to start your studies this autumn, enjoy freshers but spare a thought for the police and bouncers that are (usually) there to help you get home safely, in one piece, and without upsetting the locals too much. Have fun, but know your limits folks!

[from The Standard, Wednesday, September 24, 1890]

A mini riot at an RHS fête

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1829 was the year that the Metropolitan Police Act was passed bringing a fully regulated and hierarchical system of police to the capital’s streets. However, we shouldn’t assume that London was unpoliced before Peel’s initiative, nor believe everything early police historians have told us about the inefficiency or corrupt nature of the measures that existed before the ‘Peelers’ began to patrol their beats.

London had been policed by amateurs and part-time paid police from the medieval period and the networks of parish watchmen and constables had improved markedly in the second half of the 1700s. One of the key improvements in ‘policing’ (and I use that term more broadly than it is used today) was the passing of the Middlesex Justices Act in 1792. This created seven ‘police offices’ across London and complemented the existing ones at Bow Street and the City of London’s Guildhall and Mansion House justicing rooms.

Based on the Bow Street model established by Henry and John Fielding, these police offices were set up as courts with police magistrates (justices of the peace) and court officers (or ‘runners’ as they were known at Bow Street). These institutions later evolved into the Police Magistrates courts and their officers were effectively replaced by Peel’s New Police after 1829.

In July 1829 there was no Metropolitan Police Force and so Londoners were reliant on the old system. And we can get a glimpse of the sort of things they had to deal with in this case that came before the Marlborough Street Office on first Wednesday in the month.

Edward Perry, a coachman, was charged ‘with violently whipping and endangering the lives’ of two Marlborough Street officers. His case was heard by all three appointed police magistrates: Sir George Farrant, H. M. Dyer senior, and his son, H. M. Dyer, junior. The court was packed with several gentlemen who had either witnessed or heard about the events that led to the violence that was alleged to have been meted out to the court’s officers.

One of the officers, Schofield, gave his evidence before the bench. He testified that at 7 o’clock on the previous Saturday evening (27 June) he had been stationed opposite the entrance to Royal Horticultural Society’s annual Fete, which was held in gardens on Wavendon Road on land leased by the Duke of Devonshire. We might have thought that an RHS event (like the modern one at Chelsea) would have been a sober and civilized occasion, but it seems that in 1829 ended in a mini riot.

A queue of coaches had developed, as they waited to collect their ladies and gentlemen from the fete, and this caused some tension as patience worn thin and tempers rose. Perry was employed by Sir Astley Cooper and as he waited outside the gates of the gardens a man approached him and asked him to ‘drive on, and take them up in a few minutes’. At first Schofield assumed this was Sir Astley himself but later established that it was one of the knight’s ‘near relations’, a Dr Patterson.

As the doctor departed into the gardens Schofield, aware of the queue behind, asked Perry to move along. Perry replied that he wasn’t going to move for anybody. The officer took the reins of the horses to lead them away and Perry struck him hard with his whip.

Seeing this one of Schofield’s fellow officers (Goddard) rushed to help his mate. Schofield tried to clamber onto the coach via the running board but Perry pulled it up fast, meaning the officer fell back onto the street. Undeterred he got up, dusted himself down and grabbed at the reins. The driver and officer struggled for some moments before, eventually, Perry was unseated and the coach secured.

In court Perry challenged this account, saying he’d not heard anyone tell him to move and that the officers were aggressive and he’d been injured in the process. He also denied a suggestion that he was drunk, something often leveled at coach drivers who probably drank plenty of beer in the course of their work but were not expected to be get inebriated.

Mr Dyer senior was present at the fete and said that since he could corroborate Perry’s evidence perhaps he should step down from the bench. Another gentleman witness, a Mr Creswell, also supported the coachman. The younger Mr. Dyer had also seen the ‘riot’ but his account verified that of the court officers.

The confusion here is probably explained by the fact that as the incident occurred a throng of servants, attached to various notables visiting the fete, got involved on to try and rescue the coachman as he was led away. A riot ensued and another court officer (Ballad) said that because some of these men were ‘following the officers in a fighting attitude, he was compelled to take out his pistols to keep the mob off’.

This reveals then, that the officers of the courts (or some of them at least) were routinely armed, whereas Peel’s men were only equipped with truncheons establishing the tradition that British police are only given firearms under special circumstances.

Several other witnesses came forward to testify against the officers but this did them little good. Perry was convicted of assaulting Schofield and was fined 40s. The bench agreed that there was less evidence that he’d assaulted Goddard but still fined him 20s anyway. In 1829 60s was a lot of money, around £200 at today’s prices, or two week’s salary for a skilled tradesman.

He wasn’t the only one punished for involvement in a riot that had spoiled the quite peace of Chiswick that night. James Smith, a groom employed by a coal merchant at the Adelphi was fined 20s ‘for attempting to ride over Boothman, a special constable’, and John Wichens, another coachman, had to find £4 as a result of being convicted of whipping two other Marlborough Street officers, Avid and Stone.

While the Bow Street runners wore red waistcoats to identify them it must have been hard to determine exactly who was a policing agent in the early 1800s. One of the advantages of the New Police then was their unambiguous visibility; with their blue swallow-tailed coats and tall stove pipe hats they quickly became a recognized figure of authority on London streets. This didn’t mean that coach drivers became any more respectful of them, but it did make it harder for defendants to claim they hadn’t realized who they were.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, July 02, 1829]

Assaulting the police is never a good idea, especially not if its outside Parliament

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William Pomroy, a police constable in A Division was stationed opposite Westminster Hall in the early evening of Tuesday 27 June 1866.  As the house had just finished sitting and many of the MPS were beginning to leave the building when PC Pomroy noticed a man trying to get in the way of them as they came out. He seemed determined to obstruct and argue with them so the constable asked him to move along.

He didn’t go far though and stood, legs akimbo with his hands in his pockets, blocking the pathway. PC Pomroy came up to him again, placed his hand on the man’s shoulder and tried to propel him the direction of the other bystanders,, a little way off.

Instead of complying with the officer’s command however the man turned around and punched the PC in the mouth, cutting his lip. Not surprisingly he was promptly arrested and produced before Mr Arnold the sitting magistrate at Westminster Police court on the following morning.

The accused’s name was Frederick Michael O’Connor and he spoke with a ‘strange Scottish accent’. The justice asked him what he had to say for himself.

I wished to see some of the members’, the man answered, ‘and was standing there for that purpose when I found I was suddenly in crowd, and I got pushed about, first one way and then another, and I found that I could not get out’.

As the MPs left the palace there ‘was a great deal of excitement, and people showed their feelings’ he added.

It sounds as if it had got quite rowdy and that the politicians were coming in for some stick from the gathered crowds (no change there then). He said that the policeman had pushed him and that he’d lost his temper and had struck out.

He [only] told you to move’ said Mr Arnold.

Yes, but I suppose I did not do it fast enough; and then he pushed me, and I hit him’ O’Connor explained somewhat sheepishly.

He wasn’t the usual rabble rouser or ‘rough’ and I doubt he made a habit of hitting policemen.  The copper had probably acted hastily as well, not being aware that the man was evidently upset at finding himself hemmed in by a crowd.

But assaults on the police could not be tolerated and he was fined 10sand warned he would go to prison for a week if he couldn’t pay.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, June 28, 1866]

‘Fracas in the Seven Dials’: Police hurt as a mob runs riot in London

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Street fight in Seven Dials, by George Cruikshank c.1839

Seven Dials was notorious in the 1800s as a place of desperate poverty and criminality. It was an area that the police were not inclined to go, full of rookeries with traps set for the unwary and locals whose antipathy towards anyone in authorities made it a very dangerous place for the ‘boys in the blue’.

To give just one example of the risks officers took in entering the district we can look at this case from the middle of June 1883.

Officers were called out from the police station at Great Earl Street to tackle a riotous crowd that had gathered in the Dials. One of those involved had apparently been thrusting a muddied cloth into the faces of random passers-by in an aggressive manner. When the police moved in to arrest this man they were attacked and pelted with stones, ‘ginger beer bottles, and pieces of iron’.

The instigator of the violence – the man with the muddy cloth – was rescued by the crowd and it took police reinforcements to recapture him along with another man that had been identified as a ringleader in the riot.

Eventually, and not without a struggle, the two of them were conveyed to the station house. On the way the officers were kicked at, bitten and wrestled with as their prisoners ‘behaved like wild beasts’. A passing solicitor and an off duty police officer came to the aid of the lawmen and helped subdue their charges.

All the while the crowd had followed from Seven Dials and continued to try to affect a rescue of their friends. Stones rained down on the officers and one struck the off duty copper, PC Bunnion, on the ear. He was hurt so badly that he lost his hearing (hopefully only temporarily) and was placed on the police sick list. A woman rushed in and grabbed one of the officers’ truncheons and started to beat them with it – she too was eventually arrested.

After a night in the cells both men and the woman were brought up before Mr Vaughan at Bow Street Police court. William Learey was given four months at hard labour for his part in the assaulting on the police but the other man was cleared. John Hurley’s solicitor was able to persuade the magistrate that his client had taken ‘any part in the original disturbance’. He’d been falsely arrested therefore, and so was excused his subsequent behaviour.

Mary Taylor – the woman who’d used the police’s own weapon against them – didn’t escape justice however. She was given 21 days for one assault and 14 for another, a total of just over a month in prison. An unnamed gentleman who gave evidence in court challenged this decision. He alleged that the police had used unnecessary force in arresting Mary but Mr Vaughan upheld his decision while suggesting that the man take his complaint to the Commissioners of Police.

It is always hard to know who is to blame in a riot. The very nature of the event makes its hard to identify those who are active participants and those who are innocent bystanders, or even individuals whose motive is simply to stop the riot escalating.  One of the functions of the New Police after 1829 was to deal with exactly this sort of disorder but it was not until over 100 years later that the police began to receive the sort of specialist training and equipment they needed to be able to do so.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, June 17, 1883]