A cheeky fraud that reveals the deep roots of British industry

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Twining’s Bank, at 215 The Strand 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A young man gambling with his future ‘borrows’ some opera glasses

Opera

Samuel Palethorpe was perhaps a typical young man from a respectable, if not wealthy background; typical in that he had indulged his passions rather more than he might, and had gotten into trouble as a result. If he had come from working-class roots then his brush with the law in May 1870 might have had more severer long term consequences.

Samuel had fallen into financial difficulties, probably as a result of his addiction to gambling. As so many have done before and afterwards, he determined that the best way to get himself out of this financial pickle was to have one last throw of the dice, and play the horses again.

His problem was that he didn’t have the money to stake in the first place, and this is when he chose a course that would eventually end up with his appearance before the Lord Mayor at the Mansion House, on a charge of obtaining goods by false pretences.

Palethorpe visited Mr How’s chemical apparatus shop in Foster Lane and purchased six pairs of opera glasses. He charged the items to his uncle’s account, having stated that he had been sent to collect them. This was a lie; his relative, Mr Samuel Peace Ward, had no knowledge of the transaction and when he found out (because the bill was delivered to him), he was furious.

In the meantime the young man had pawned the glasses and placed all the money (about £5-6) on the horses. He had hoped to redeem the pledges and restore the glasses as well as settling his debts and having some money left over to pay his passage to America, and a new life. Sadly for him, lady luck wasn’t smiling on his and the bets failed.

At this point it has to be said that he did the ‘decent thing’, and handed himself in at the Bow Lane Police Station, admitting his crime. He also forwarded five of the pawn tickets (the ‘duplicates’) to his uncle – one he had lost – who was able to redeem them and return them to Mr How.

Appearing in court Samuel was apologetic and his uncle was understanding. No one would benefit from a jury trial his lawyer told the magistrate, London’s Lord Mayor. Instead he hoped Samuel could be dealt with summarily.

His worship agreed and, after admonishing Palethorpe for effectively ‘throwing his money into the Thames, for backing the favourite horse means the same thing’, he fined him £2 2s and the costs of redeeming the items. Of course Samuel had no money so would go to prison for two months, a lesson for him perhaps. His uncle assured the court that once he came out he would be taken to the country, so ‘he might be removed from his evil associates’.

In other words, he would have a chance to start over – a chance not often extended to the offspring of London’s poorer classes. Let’s hope Samuel took it.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, May 10, 1870]