Pram (and class) wars in Regent’s Park

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A family nursemaid and her fellow servant were taking the children in their care to the park when they ran into an angry pedestrian. The case was trivial but reveals the deeply ingrained class distinctions of late Victorian London.

Evelyn Thatcher lived and worked for General Knox and his wife in Portman Square. The couple had two children, a boy of five and baby under 12 months old. On the 11 November 1891 Ms Thatcher and her assistant nurse, Annie Leadbitter, were on their way to Regent’s Park for the afternoon. The little boy was in his go-kart while Leadbitter pushed the infant along in a perambulator. Together, however, they occupied most of the pavement which as they made their way two abreast, with a yard between the children’s vehicles.

Meanwhile Captain Saunders, of 3 Upper Spring Street, (off nearby Baker Street), also enjoying the late autumn air. Looking up the captain suddenly saw the approaching women and their charges. He stopped in his tracks, ‘stamped his feet, raved, and flourished his umbrella’ before telling them to get out of his way as they were ‘obstructing the footway’.

Leadbitter (possibly ill-advisedly) was in no mood to be gracious enough to move aside. She said:’Good gracious man, are you mad […] what is the matter?’ before pointing down the street at a policeman and telling him to call him to arrest them if he really felt they were causing an instruction. After all there was clear yard of pavement between them he could easily pass through.

At this the captain started his ‘ravings’ again and Leadbitter decided to ignore him and set off again. This enraged Saunders who grabbed her by the shoulder, shook her and then proceeded to drag her along the street. The boy on his go-kart started to cry and the little baby looked terrified by his display.

The policeman soon arrived and while he agreed that the women should perhaps not have occupied all the pavement they had broken no laws. Nevertheless the captain seized hold of the nurse and shook his umbrella ‘violently’ at her and even in the face of the children. A nearby cabdriver saw the whole thing and when the captain was summoned before the magistrate at Marylebone, he testified in support of the servants against the military man.

Captain Saunders was seemingly apoplectic in his rage. The cabbie, Henry Canning, reportedly called him a ‘Zulu’ so fierce was he at having his daily perambulation  interrupted by a pair of lowly nursemaids and a boy in a go-kart.

Mr Newton (the magistrate) had heard quite enough of this nonsense and it was making a scene in his courtroom. Given that the public galleries often attracted the ‘meaner’ sort of Londoner we can imagine that they were enjoying the sport of watching a member of the ‘better’ class being bested on the street and in court by a pair of working-class women.

Captain Saunders vehemently denied assaulting Annie Leadbitter, the children, or indeed anyone else, ever. The nurses were in the wrong for blocking the pavement with the pram and cart. Mr Newton agreed with him on this at least but supported the view of the policeman at the time; it might be wrong but it was not against the law. Grabbing hold of the nurse and hauling her up the street was wrong however, and a crime. He fined him 2s 6d  – a trivial amount for what he described as a ‘trivial offence’.

With a snort that probably reflected his contempt for both the fine and the decision, the captain paid the money and left. Annie and Evelyn were also free to return to Portman Square with an amusing tale to relate over supper in the servants’ quarters later that day. Whether their employers were quite as pleased is another matter of course.

[from The Standard, Thursday, December 01, 1892]

The case of the jilted hairdresser

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I have addressed the sensitive topic of suicide in several posts for this blog and it continues to be something that occurs with depressing regularity in the pages of the Victorian press. This may reflect the sensational nature of that sort of news, and a contemporary concern for the victims that were driven to such a desperate act, most of whom seem to have been women.

In this case, however, there were almost two victims. Had it not been for the quick action of a police constable this case, from Marylebone Police Court, might have been one of murder and self-murder rather than a much less serious action for threatening behaviour.

Police constable 198D was patrolling his beat on Baker Street at about 11 o’clock on Saturday evening, the 11 July 1873 when he saw a startled young woman. She was running towards him from the junction of Boston Street. He asked her what was the matter and she explained that her sometime boyfriend had threatened her life with a  revolver.

The policeman told her to stay calm and continue to pace up and down the street while he hid himself in a doorway. Soon enough a man appeared and went up to her. He wa heard to say, ‘Lizzie, I will take your life’. As he pulled out a gun the PC leaped into action and captured him, disarming him in the process.

It was a brave thing to do and when his prisoner was properly secured at the station house on John Street the gun was found to be loaded with three bullets. In his pockets the police also found what appeared to be a suicide note (written in German) addressed to his family.

It started “Dear Parents – I hope you receive this”, and went to say:

‘I have done everything to save an unfortunate girl. I would have been safe with her if it were not for bad and wicked company that have deceived her’.

‘My peace is gone, and if I live and think it will be worse. I rather seek death’…’My only wish is that I may hit myself well and die easily’.

It was signed simply, ‘Carl’.

Carl was Carl Wagener, a hairdresser of German extraction living and working in London. The girl, Mary Ann Haynes, told the Marylebone magistrate that she had known for  year and that he wanted them to marry. Despite living with him for some of that period she had no desire to be married and now ‘wanted nothing more to do with him’. The court reports tells us nothing. sadly, of her reasons for rejecting him nor of what he meant by saying he had ‘saved’ her (and ‘two others’).

He had threatened her twice before she added and was clearly in fear of him. Mr D’Eyncourt turned to Wagener for his version of events but he merely denied threatening Mary Ann, and only admitted to wishing his own death. The magistrate thought it serious enough to bind him over in the sum of £100 for himself, asking him to find two other sureties of £40 each to ensure there were no further threats levelled at Miss Haynes in the next 12 calendar months. He gave the hairdresser (Or rather his friends) 48 hours to come up with the promissory notes and sent him back to the cells.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, July 13, 1873]

If you are interested in reading more posts on this topic then these links to other cases might be useful:

A ‘passenger incident’ on the late Victorian Underground

A man is driven to attempt suicide because of his ‘reduced circumstances’

Evidence of the ‘female malady’ on Westminster Bridge

A ‘passenger incident’ on the late Victorian Underground

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As someone who lives in London and regularly uses the ‘tube’ (the underground railway,  for those unfamiliar with the metropolis) I am used to the occasional delay in services caused by that saddest of announcements, a ‘passenger incident’. This can mean that someone is ill and a carriage has been stopped so that medical assistance can be sought, but it can also indicate that a person has thrown themselves in front of a train.

While I can just about imagine what motivates someone to do this I can’t begin the understand how the poor driver of a train must feel when he or she sees someone fall out the racks in front of his eyes, and they are unable to stop the vehicle from crushing them. Between 1993 and 2015 over 1400 people attempted to take their own lives on the Underground, that is an average of 64 a year, and over one a week.

The London Underground has been operating since the 1860s and it has been used for suicides attempts throughout that time. According to one piece of research, suicide on the railway increased after 1868 (just three years after the first train ran) when newspapers published details of the methods would-be suicides used.*

If that was the case then this example, from The Standard in 1893, was probably just as unhelpful.

Isaac Shelton was a 63 year-old ‘house decorator’ who lived on the Edgware Road.  At a quarter to six in the evening on 27 June (a Tuesday) Isaac was seen entering the tunnel at Baker Street underground station, heading for Edgware Road. A fellow passenger shouted to him but he was ignored. At the same time a train was arriving in the station and the driver was alerted and the service was detained.

The station inspector, Mr Coleman, was summoned but in the meantime a young man named Albert Swift set off in pursuit of Shelton.

‘In the darkness he could hear somebody scrambling about on the ballast, and going in the direction of the noise, he found [Shelton] about 150 yards into the tunnel, lying across the metals of the upline’.

Albert tried to get the man’s attention and lift him up, but all he got back was the request: ‘leave me alone, I’m going home’. Fortunately the young man was soon joined by Mr Coleman and a porter and eventually the three manhandled Shelton up and off the tracks and back out to safety.

He seemed ‘sober, but excited’, they later testified.

The case came before the Marylebone Police magistrate, Mr Plowden. Shelton claimed she had no recollection of how he had got where he was. He said he had been having epileptic fits for twenty years and one had come on as he made his way home that evening. His wife appeared and confirmed that her husband suffered from epilepsy, and was subject to fits.

I’m not an expert on epilepsy but I have known people who suffer. This seems something quite unlike a fit and more akin to an desperate act by someone who did not wish to carry on. It seems this was also the opinion of the justice, who remanded Shelton in custody, perhaps to seek a medical opinion on his condition. Fortunately his attempt (if thats what it was) failed, because someone was quick witted enough to spot him and do something about it.

I imagine that is how most attempts are foiled today – by someone caring enough to see what their fellow passengers are doing and to notice when a person looks like they need a gentle word or two to bring them back from the edge, literally and figuratively.

[from The Standard, Thursday, June 29, 1893]

*O’Donnell, I.; Farmer, R. D. T. ‘The epidemiology of suicide on the London underground’. Social Science & Medicine 38 (3): 409–418. February 1994