Cowboys in the dock at Westminster as the ‘Whitechapel fiend’ makes his first appearance.

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On the 3 August 1888 two Americans appeared before the magistrate at Westminster Police court. John Dunn was probably every small boy’s idea of an American – a cowboy and ‘professional horseman’, part of Buffalo Bill’s travelling Wild West Show, he would have cut an exotic figure in the dock. The other man was darker skinned, described as a Mexican and giving the name Richard Chester Dare.

Dare (described as ‘a powerful man’ with the press) was charged with assault, and Dunn with aiding him. On the Thursday night both had been drinking at a pub on the Broadway when they had fell into an argument with a gun maker’s assistant called William Head. We can probably imagine the nature of the dispute, two US citizens in London arguing with a local about the merits of American vs British firearms.

Head left the pub but Dare hadn’t finished the quarrel and took it outside. As the gun maker walked home Dare and two others came up behind him and pushed him. A fight ensued and Head was knocked to the ground. Head and Dare grappled together before William escaped and made his way home.

He had been wounded quite badly, sustaining a bruise to the side of his face which had closed his left eye and had been stabbed in his side. It is likely that in the chaos of the moment and being a little the worse for drink he hadn’t noticed the American pull out a knife at the time. However, in court before Mr Partridge he testified to seeing a knife in the cowboy’s hand.

Both men were remanded to appear again but on application Dunn was granted bail. His was the less serious charge and Mr Partridge was told that Dare was supposed to be on his way to Brussels to join up with ‘Mexican Joe’s’ troupe, so perhaps the chance that he might slip away from justice was uppermost in the magistrate’s mind. He also instructed the police to inform the American consul of the men’s arrest.

William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody toured Europe several times between 1887 and 1906, the first in 1887 which coincided with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. One of the reviews of the 1887 show in London (at the American Exhibition) gives us a flavour of the event:

The size of the enclosure was one element of the impressiveness of the coup d’œil and this was cleverly increased by the picturesque scenery which enclosed half of the circle. At the edge of the ash-covered circle in the center were drawn up on parade the whole strength of the Wild West company. There were the various tribes of Indians in their war-paint and feathers, the Mexicans, the ladies, and the cowboys, and a fine array they made, with the chiefs of each tribe, the renowned Sergeant Bates, the equally celebrated Buffalo Bill, the stalwart Buck Taylor, and others who were introduced by Mr. Frank Richmond who, from the top of an elevated platform, described the show as it proceeded. 

Cody took his troupe back to the USA in May of 1887 having performed for both the Queen and the Prince of Wales. Yet some of the performers stayed behind, enjoying the life they found in London’s bustling city streets. Presumably two of these were Dare and Dunn. Sadly, at this point they both vanish from the pages of the Victorian newspapers so we don’t know what happened to them.

A few days later the body of Martha Tabram was discovered on a landing in George Yard, in the heart of the Whitechapel slum. She had been viciously stabbed and her killer was nowhere to be seen. Although there is considerable dispute as to whether Martha was the first victim of ‘Jack the Ripper’ a consensus is developing that suggests she was killed but he same person that murdered five or more women that summer and autumn.

As the police searched for a serial killer in 1888 the idea that the killings might have been perpetrated by a native American or another member of Buffalo Bill’s travelling Wild West circulated. After all, it was said, what Englishman could do such a terrible thing?

[from The Standard Saturday 4 August 1888]

A drunken mother loses her temper and then her liberty

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Royal Army Clothing Factory 21/6/1918 during a visit by King George V and Queen Mary (IMW collection)

On Wednesday 28 July 1875 Emma Leven was set in the dock at Westminster Police court to face a charge that she had tried to kill her own baby. She was remanded overnight by the sitting magistrate Mr Arnold, who wanted to hear from a number of people, including the key witness, who had not appeared that day.

The case hadn’t been reported at the time but we should read nothing into that. Hundreds of summary hearings took place every day at London’s police courts and the papers only carried reports of one or two from each of them daily. This case was ‘of interest’ however, so when Emma was brought back from the cells on Thursday a scribbler from the Morning Post described the hearing for his readers.

Emma was married and – according to Mrs Elizabeth Turner, Thomas Tullogh, and William Rush – on the night of 27 July she was drinking in the Eagle public house on Grosvenor Road¹ and was ‘very drunk’. Her baby had been left outside and it was crying its eyes out. One imagines Emma was under some pressure to deal with the crying infant, and no doubt felt a mixture of anger, resentment, and embarrassment as all the eyes of the pub were turned on her.

Suddenly he declared that she would throw the child in the Thames, and rushed out of the pub. She lifted the child into her arms and set off at a run in the general direction of the river. Alarmed, Mrs Turner hurried after her and managed to catch up with Emma just before she hurled the poor thing over the railings and into the water.

A policeman was summoned and Mrs Turner took charge of the baby as Emma was led away. While Mrs Turner suckled her child Emma screamed abuse at her all the way back to the police station. For some reason however, Mrs Turner did not appear in court on the Wednesday, while Tullogh and Rush did. Turner somehow managed to sign the register of witnesses attending that day, despite not doing so, this would impact on her, as we shall see.

In court on the Thursday Emma Leven had sobered up and was contrite. She was ‘too fond of her children’ to ever intend to hurt them she told Mr Arnold. She had gone to the pub that evening to meet her husband and some friends; one drink had led to another and she had drunk too much. She was sorry.

Her husband was more belligerent. He told the magistrate that he didn’t believe a word of what Mrs Turner had said. Perhaps there was some bad blood there; local jealousies and neighbor disputes were all too common, feuds could develop out of the smallest slights amplified over time.

What mattered here though was not what  Mr Leven believed but what Mr Arnold (as presiding magistrate) did. And he believed the case was proven.

He rebuked Mr Leven for ‘having little regard for his child’ and challenged Emma’s declaration of ‘fondness’ for her child. If, he said, ‘she chose to get so drunk that she rushed to the side of the river to throw the child in she must put up with the consequences’.  She had been drunk and disorderly and he would send her to prison for a month. On her release she would have to find sureties of £20 against her good behavior for the following six months.

Having dealt quite severely with Emma Leven he turned his attention to the witnesses.

He was full of praise for Turlough and Rush but very disappointed to hear that their employer had stopped their wages for coming to court the previous day. The pair worked at the Royal Army Clothing Factory on Grosvenor Road in Pimlico (where the Eagle pub was) and he instructed the chief inspector of B Division to pay the factory a visit.

‘The men had attended in the performance of a public duty’, he said, and ‘if they were stopped of their wages it would have the effect of deterring people from coming forward and giving evidence in the public cause’.

Arnold recognised that justice relied on the participation of the general public. The men deserved praise not a penalty.

The same was not the case for Mrs Turner however. When she asked for her expenses (presumably for attending court and looking after Emma’s baby) Mr Arnold dismissed her abruptly. He had ‘no fund at his disposal expect the poor box; he told her but as she ‘had not attended the court on Wednesday, although she had signed the sheet, he should not allow her expenses’. The suspicion is then that the magistrate, while keen to recognize public spiritedness was less impressed by self-interest and dishonesty.

The Royal Army Clothing Factory was established in Pimlico in the 1850s to make and supply the British Army. It was part of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and remained in Grosvenor Road until 1932, when it closed.

Today the site is covered by the private housing development Dolphin Square which was erected in the 1930s following the factory’s demolition. In recent years it has been home to a number of famous people (including the tennis star Rod Laver and Princess Ann – not together I hasten to add) and several politicians including Harold Wilson and David Steel. Oswald Mostly, the most prominent British fascist of his generation, was living in the Square in 1940 when he was detained as an enemy of the state during the Second World War. Having once stayed in an apartment in Dolphin Square I can attest to its general air of opulence, but I never met any celebrities

from Morning Post Friday 30 July 1875

¹ The Eagle is still operational in Pimlico, now renamed the Grosvenor though.

‘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]

Sheep rustling in Holloway; a reminder of our rural past

The new Metropolitan Cattle Market, Copenhagen Fields

Today I am starting a new blog series which will look at the smaller events (and some larger ones) associated with London’s streets and the people that lived in them in the past.

I am going to start with Tufnell Park Road in north London because it very close to where I was born and my family lived. Today it is a very urban, built up area, with some fairly well heeled residents living alongside rougher areas of relative deprivation. In that respect then Tufnell Park and Holloway is quite like a lot of the capital in the 21st century.

In May 1867 Richard Allcock was walking along Kentish Town Road at about 10 or 11 at night when he saw a man approaching, driving a ‘drove’ of lambs towards him. He knew the man, John (or ‘Jack’) Read as a fellow drover from the Highgate area. He counted 30 lambs and recognized as a breed native to the Isle of Wight.

He hailed his colleague who replied with a cheery,  ‘holloa Dick, is that you? Will you have a glass of ale?’ Allcock happily agreed and the pair enjoyed a few beers at a nearby public house.

On the following Thursday Allcock ran into Read again, this time at the Metropolitan Cattle Market at Copenhagen Fields by Caledonian Road. The market had moved there just a dozen years earlier from Smithfield as the City authorities attempted to ‘improve’ the built up centre of London. This, and the fact that Allcock later stated that flocks of lambs were regularly graved in Tufnell Park reminds us that, in the mid Victorian period, the area was very far from being as urban as it is today.

At market Allcock was speaking to another drover about his conversation with Jack when he came over and took his mate to one side. ‘Don’t say anything to anyone that you saw me on Monday night’, he said. If Allcock was puzzled it all soon became clear. On the night in question the lambs, part of a larger flock of 71 belonging to John Fuller, had vanished. Police sergeant David Older (16Y) had arrested Read following a tip off.

Read denied stealing them and said he was in bed by 5 o’clock that night, and didn’t get up again that day. Allcock’s evidence undermined that because he’d been drinking with him between 10 and 11. The police were sure they had their man but he wasn’t acting alone. Read himself came close to admitting his crime but muttered that he was ‘not going to take this all alone’.

His solicitor asked for bail when he appeared before the magistrate at Clerkenwell but Mr Cooke refused. Apparently Read had previous for stealing livestock and the police were reluctant to see him at liberty. Off to prison he went while the investigation continued.

Looking at George W. Bacon’s map of London for 1888 Tufnell Park Road is much less built up that it is today. There is a cricket ground and considerable open space on the north side, in Upper Holloway, although there are buildings along most of the street. By the early 1900s the cricket ground is surrounded by housing and other property; all the green space has gone and a railway (the Tottenham and Hampstead Junction) runs across its northern edge.

In Charles Booth’s 1889/90 map of the northern suburbs Tufnell Park Road is solidly red in colour, marking it out as a comfortable middle class area with, as one might expect for a major thoroughfare, plenty of commercial property. Tufnell Park Road looks then, like a respectable street in a mixed working-class area but the situation does vary across Holloway, something I’ll pick in more detail by looking at Booth’s notebooks in the next blog.

[from Daily News, Thursday, June 6, 1867]

A riot caused by a clergyman’s violence

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Mary Barrow surrendered her bail and appeared before the magistrate at Highgate Police court to answer a charge of being ‘drunk and riotous’. However, what was often a fairly straightforward example of working-class inebriation clashing with police attempts to ‘keep the peace’ seems to have been rather more complicated in this case.

Sergeant Fickling was called to an incident in the Archway Road on the 11 November 1885 because a woman, much the worse for drink, was creating a disturbance outside the house of Major Platt. A crowd had gathered and some bricks had been thrown at the major’s windows, breaking some of them.

The police sergeant asked the crowd to disperse and told Mary to go home. When she refused he arrested her, taking her back to the station where she was charged. Oddly it seemed that major Platt did not want to press any charges of damage against the woman and the reasons for this only became clear when the case was heard in court.

Mary denied being drunk that night and instead accused a clergymen (not present) of assaulting her. She said that she’d been standing at her gate on Landsdowne Terrace when a man of the cloth had run up to her, used offensive language, and kicked her to the ground. As he ran away she followed after, a crowd joining in with the pursuit. He’d taken refuge in the major’s property.

Major Platt explained that the clergyman in question was his brother, Thomas, who had been staying with him that week and had indeed come home chased by a mob led by Mary.  Given this new information Mary was bailed, the sum put up by her husband, and the case adjourned while a summons was issued to bring the Reverend Thomas Platt before the court to answer Mary’s allegation.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, November 29, 1885]

A paedophile walks free, despite the evidence against him

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On 27 October 1863 a ‘well-dressed’ man, who gave his name as Thomas Martin, appeared in the dock at Southwark Police court accused of molesting a child. Well that is how I think we would see the case today but in 1863 the law was a little different.

For a start the age of consent was 13. It was not raised to 16 until 1885 following a long campaign and a sensational intervention by the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, William Stead. Stead had run a weeklong exposé of the trafficking of underage girls for prostitution under the headline ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’. While Stead ended up going to prison for his part in the ‘kidnapping’ of Eliza Armstrong the scandal of the case helped force Parliament to pass legislation which has existed to this day.

The complaint against Thomas Martin was brought by a spirited young girl called Martha Wells. Martha was aged between 12 and 13 and described by the newspaper writer as ‘rather precocious looking’. This was probably an attempt to undermine her testimony; the hack was perhaps suggesting that she was bringing a spurious complaint against a social superior. The girl could certainly expect to be closely examined by the magistrate, Mr Combe, no concessions being made to her age or her gender.

Martha said that she had left her father’s house in Southwark to visit her uncle in Greenwich. A man had ‘annoyed’ her on the train to Greenwich but she did her best to ignore him. In court she wasn’t sure that it was Martin but he looked familiar.

After she arrived at her uncle’s shop (he was a fruiterer) she noticed a man outside peering in through the window. He was looking directly at her and indicted she should come out to talk to him. That man was Martin and she ignored his request.

At eight in the evening she left her uncle’s and made her way back to the station for the train home. As she walked Martin accosted her. She told him to go away but he followed her. She boarded the train and he entered the same carriage and sat next to her. Martha again tried ignoring him and steadfastly looked out of the window as the train made its way to London.

Now Martin had her close to him he made his assault. He put his hand on her leg and then slipped it up her skirts. The magistrate wanted to know if anyone else was in the carriage who might be able to confirm this.

‘Yes, sir’, Martha told him. ‘I think a lady and a gentleman. I was, however, ashamed to speak to them’.

She had at least one ally in court who was able to testify to Martin’s behavior. PC Alfred White (427P) was on duty on Southwark High Street that evening. When Martha left the train Martin again pursued her and the policeman saw him tap the girl on the back and then lift her skirts.

That was enough evidence for Mr Combe. He committed Martin for trial but agreed to bail, taking two sureties of £100 and one from Martin (for £200). The battle would now be to actually bring the man before a jury when the girl’s father might have preferred to take a cash settlement and avoid his daughter’s reputation being dragged through the courts.

Martin was brought to the Surrey sessions of the peace in mid November, surrendering to his bail. The case against him was outlined and his brief did his best to undermine Martha and the policeman’s evidence. The jury was told that Martin could not have been the man that hassled and insulted Martha on the train to Greenwich or outside her uncle’s shop as he was at work in the City until 5 o’clock. Moreover if he had assaulted her on the rain as she’d suggested why hadn’t she alerted the other passengers or the guard?

PC White reiterated the evidence he’d given at the Police Court hearing adding that when he had arrested Martin the man had attempted to bribe him. ‘For God’s sake let us compromise this affair’, he said; ‘if £50 will do it?’. The officer had been in plain clothes having been on duty at the Crystal palace during the day. Whether this hurt his credibility or not is unclear but the jury close not to believe him.

In the end the jurors acquitted Thomas Martin of the charge of indecent assault and he walked free from court with the applause of his friends being hurriedly suppressed by the court’s officers. It was a victory for middle-class respectability over a ‘precocious’ working-class girl who travelled third class on the railway. The jurors saw themselves in Martin’s situation rather than seeing their daughter in Martha’s.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, October 28, 1863; The Standard, Tuesday, November 17, 1863]

Police break up a prize fight in the East End

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The East End of London is synonymous with boxing. I was fortunate enough to be invited to watch a series of bouts at York Hall a few years ago and the place was packed with locals, all knowledgeable about this sport. I’m aware that boxing isn’t everybody’s idea of a sport but when its fair, properly regulated, and boxers are protected, I think it is captivating.

There has been boxing in the East End for centuries, with pugilists drawn from all communities. In the late 1700s for example Daniel Mendoza (or ‘Mendoza the Jew’) held the English heavyweight title. He lived in Bethnal Green for over 30 years. Another son of Bethnal Green was Joe Anderson who rose to be ‘All England’ champion in 1897.

However, while boxing had emerged from bare-knuckle fights there was increasing concern to minimize the violence and reduce the risk to fighters. in 1866 bare-knuckle prize fights were made illegal and the police tasked with closing them down.

In October 1888, when you might have thought the police would have other, more important things, to concern themselves with, Inspector Joseph Capp was on watch outside number 30 East Road (on the City Road) with a number of uniformed constables. He was acting on information that the address, home to a German club called ‘The Morning Star’ was hosting an illegal prize fight.

Capp and his men knocked on the door of the club but no one answered. He tried again, with no more success and so decided to try and gain access to the roof. Inspector Capp managed to climb up onto the roof of the club, via an adjoining house, and tried to peer into the club through a skylight. The glass was cloudy however, and he couldn’t see what was going on below.

He could hear however and he heard the sounds of a crowd, of someone shouting ‘time!’ and then the sounds of blows. These were hard blows, not he thought, ones muffled by the use of gloves. This then was a bare-knuckle prizefight and he instructed his men to surround the club and move in to arrest those involved.

As his officers clambered over walls and forced their way inside there was a rush of people as the audience tried to escape. The police managed to get in however, and found 200-300 people inside. There was a ‘ring made of ropes and stakes in the centre of the hall’, and two boxers squaring up to each other. They were quickly arrested and carted off to the local nick.

At Worship Street Police court Mr Monatgu Williams (the presiding magistrate) was told that the police had found lots of tickets on the floor of the hall. These were for a dancing ball, the ruse that the organizers had chosen to cover their illegal event. A poster outside promised that dancing would start at 8.30 but the only dancing would be around the ring.

The police also seized ‘gloves, towels, ropes, etc’, all evidence that a fight was underway there. Both the men in the dock were bruised and bloodied so by the time the raid had stopped the fight it was clear it had been going on for some time.

One of the pair they’d arrested – Charles Smith, a 20 year-old bookmaker from Whitechapel – was bleeding from his ear and vomiting when he’d been arrested. He had been treated by the divisional surgeon so that he was fit to attend court. Both he and the other fighter, Arthur Wilkinson (a fish fryer from King’s Cross, also 20) were bailed to appear at a later date. A week later both were fully committed for trial.

On 22 November Smith and Wilkinson appeared before a jury at the Middlesex Sessions of the Peace, charged with ‘inflicting grievous bodily harm and conspiring together to commit a breach of the peace by engaging in a prize fight’. The defence was that this was ‘nothing but a glove fight’ but Inspector Capp was sure the noise of blows he’d heard (he had not been able to see the fight of course) were not, he thought, muffled by gloves. Gloves were found but they were still tied to the ring posts, perhaps to be quickly put on had the police not been able to gain access so quickly. A man named Marks, who was described as a ‘commission agent’ claimed he had tied the gloves on the hands of the fighters, so the men’s defense rested on whom the jury believed.

The pair were convicted and initially fined £10 each plus costs but the case was also adjourned for a month while the organization of the fight was investigated. It was estimated that the event had generated taxable profits, which also required an additional fine to be paid. However, there was a desire that neither of the men should be sent to gaol and that the persons responsible for organising the fight (and probably those who profited most from it) should be forced to pay the bulk of the £36 17that was deemed to be owed in tax.

As a result the enquiries continued, Smith and Wilkinson’s fines were reduced to just £2 each and they were given more time to pay. Wilkinson was still in prison in early January 1889 which suggests he was unable to pay his reduced fine and costs. He was also instructed to keep the peace for six months, which presumably entailed refraining from bare knuckle fighting in the near future.

In 1897 the Queensbury Rules were instigated in an attempt to clean up the sport and bring it respectability. There are still issues with boxing today and boxers are still injured and die, but medical support is much better than it has ever been. Do go to York hall and take in a bout or two, it is a very friendly place and a connection to a long standing local heritage.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, October 22, 1888; Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, October 28, 1888; The Standard, Friday, November 23, 1888]

How contraband found its way into the Scrubs

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One of the big issues with the modern justice system is the easy availability of drugs in English prisons. According to reports drugs such as cannabis, crack cocaine and spice. In a 2018 report for Ministry of Justice it was found that 1 in 5 prisoners tested positive for some form of illegal substance.

Attempts to control what is allowed inside prisons have a long history, going back at least as far at the 1877 Prison Act. Under this legislation it became illegal to bring, or to attempt to bring, ‘any spirituous or fermented liquor or tobacco’ into English or Welsh gaols.

Even in the late 1800s it was difficult to control the flow of contraband into prisons. Prisons required contact with the outside world; food, medicine, laundry, and other goods all had to come and go, brought in my external partners, and there was always a steady stream of new inmates, police and prison staff, and visitors.

In October 1888 John Carr was brought before the Hammersmith Police court charged with bringing tobacco into Wormwood Scrubs. The Scrubs had opened in 1875 but it wasn’t fully finished then. The builders finally left in 1891, just five years before the man who had played a key role in its creation – Edmund Du Cane – retired. Du Cane oversaw the shift in control of prisons from local administration to a national service, formalized by the 1877 act, and it is fair to say that the late Victorian prison was very much his creation.

He believed that prisons had to be a deterrent to criminals and he moved away from the beleifs held earlier in the century that prisoners could be (or should be) reformed. His motto was ‘hard bed, hard fare, hard labour’ and the resulting ‘mark system made it very hard for prisoners to resist the strict enforcement of petty rules. He would have had no truck with those smuggling tobacco into his prisons.

By the 1880s the Scrubs was a local prison filled with petty offenders serving short sentences. John Carr was accused of bringing in money as well, another item prohibited under the standing orders of the gaol. The main witness appearing against Carr was a young lad working for Pickford’s the carriers (and today’s modern home removal firm). Thomas Embers, a van boy, testified that Carr had got him to carry the goods in. However, while it was pretty clear Carr was guilty of something the magistrate was less sure that the charge had been brought under the correct act.

In his view Carr should have been charged under section 39 of the 1877 act rather than section 38 (which is the clause that the governor’s representative had cited). Either way Carr was committed to face trial for his crime, although bail was allowed. The boy was cautioned and told that he would have to find  sureties for his good behavior in future.

[from The Standard, Thursday, October 04, 1888]

‘And you thought that dressing yourself in women’s attire was the best way of avoiding those abominations?’ Homosexuality in the dock at Guildhall

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We live in a liberal society, albeit one that is under attack from the forces of conservatism. Not only is it legal to form sexual relationships with persons of whoever gender we choose (so long as both parties are 16 years of age or more and consenting) but the rights of those who identify as homosexual are protected by law. Moreover in recent years this has been widened to include those that identify as transgender. For me, as a heterosexual male this is a very good thing. I enjoy living in a society where difference is not accepted, it is valued and championed. For me this makes us stronger, not weaker, as a nation and as a community.

However, it was not always like this – as the recent anniversaries of the Stonewall Riots in New York and LGBT helpline in central London testify. Gay and Lesbian rights have been hard one and when we see LGBT marchers heckled and verbally abused by other Londoners in 2019 it is a reminder that not everyone feels the way I do about diversity.

In the 1800s being different in this way was dangerous. After 1885 it became more dangerous, as Oscar Wilde found to his cost. Wilde was locked up as a result of his sexuality and until relatively recently being homosexual – and practicing that sexuality – could earn you a prison sentence and, in the case of Alan Turing, even worse.

I was interested by the following case heard at the Guildhall Police court in late July and August 1854. On 26 July two men – John Challis, in his sixties and George Campbell (35) – were set in the dock and ‘charged with being found dressed as women… for the purposes of exciting others to commit an unnatural offence’.

The pair were arrested by Inspector Teague of the City Police whose men had raided an illegal dance club in Turnagain Lane. The club was in the Druid’s  Hall and was packed with around 100 men and women, about 20 of these were men dressed as women. Teague had been watching the club for a while and had seen Challis there before. On this occasion he was dressed ‘in the garb of a shepherdess of the golden age’. He nabbed Campbell as he was coming out of the club, pulling him aside and decaling; ‘that is a man!’.

This alerted the other revelers who rushed to escape. The police were too few in number to arrest very many people and had to settle for the capture of Challis and Campbell. In court Teague also tried to bring a charge of pickpocketing against Campbell but the evidence was limited. It was enough, however, for the magistrate to agree to a remand. Challis is released on bail of £100 (£50 for himself and two sureties of £25 from others).  As the men were led away to the police van a crowd yelled abuse at them and struggled against he police line who tried to keep them safe. Homophobia is not a new thing after all.

On 1 August Campbell was back in court at Guildhall, but there was no sign of Challis, who had failed to surrender his bail as required. Sir Richard Carden was furious; he had only allowed bail out of pity for his age and apparent exhaustion’. Campbell claimed to have no idea where the older man was but assured the magistrate that he had been in ‘such a wretched condition in prison that another day’s confinement would, I think, have killed him’. He then asked for the court to cleared of the public while he told his own version of events.

Inspector Teague stepped forward to say that the only fresh evidence was that Campbell’s real name was Holmes  – the Reverend Edward Holmes to be precise, a minister in the Church of Scotland. He had apparently told the police that he had entered the club dressed as a woman to witness for himself the state of vice in London, all the better for warning his parishioners against it.

In court Holmes now claimed he was not priest but a lawyer instead. He had wanted to see ‘London life’ but without ‘mixing with its abominations’ he told Sir Richard.

‘And you thought that dressing yourself in women’s attire was the best way of avoiding those abominations. I must say it was a very imprudent course’, the justice told him.

Campbell (or Holmes) agreed and said he was truly sorry for it. Yet he was at pains to say that he hadn’t robbed anyone and thankfully the magistrate agreed. He was a foolish man, Sir Richard continued, but he was willing to accept that there was nothing more serious to deal with than that. In fact Carden wasn’t in the chair on that occasion, he had presumably appeared to allow some continuity. The sitting magistrate at Guildhall on 1 August was Alderman Carter and he was just as disgusted by Campbell’s behavior, if not more so.

‘If it had not been for Richard’s closing remarks’, he told him, ‘I should have felt inclined to commit you to prison as a rogue and a vagabond. You may go now, and I hope I may never see your face here again’.

A day later a Mr Edward Holmes (of the Middle Temple) made a statement to the court to the effect that he was the only member of the bar with that name and he was certainly notthe person who was also known as ‘George Campbell’. As if a lawyer would ever be caught dressing in women’s clothes…

I don’t know what happened to John Challis (or even if that was his real name). Druid’s Hall was home to ancient order of druids but could be hired for events. The event that Challis and Campbell had attended was a masked ball and, according to witnesses, this was a fairly regular thing. This was London’s gay community coming to together as it had in the previous century (when Molly Houses were the locus for homosexuality).

The police may have wanted to suppress them but it was hard for them to do so without more resources. ‘It is very difficult to catch them in the act, as they have men placed at every outlet to keep a lookout’, Inspector Teague had told Sir Richard Carden. ‘Unless someone attending these parties made an accusation against another man, they remained private spaces’, and the police were limited in what action they could take.1

The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 effectively changed this. Sodomy was illegal in 1854 (and punishable by death until 1861, although prosecutions were rare because of this). But section 11 of the 1885 act made ‘gross indecency’ a crime and what constituted this was left deliberately vague. Oscar Wilde was sent to gaol for two years under the terms of the act and Alan Turing (the brains behind Bletchley Park and so someone directly responsible for Allied victory in the Second World War) was sentenced to chemical castration. He took his own life a consequence of this.

Intolerance of sexual difference is now a thing of the past, in legal terms at least. And that is where such intolerance belongs, in the past and not in the present.

[from Daily News, Thursday, July 27, 1854; The Morning Post, Wednesday, August 02, 1854]

 

1.Charles Upchurch, Before Wilde: Sex between Men in Britain’s Age of Reform, p.76