‘Forty Thieves’ (but no Ali Baba) in 1880s Camberwell

Unknown

Perhaps it was the proliferation of cheap ‘penny dreadfuls’ or childhood retellings of the Arabian Nights that inspired Maurice Rooch and his pals. Or maybe theirs was an homage to the kings and queens of the Victorian underworld. Either way, in 1881 it landed them in court at Lambeth, and it probably wasn’t the first (or last) time. 

Rooch worked for a Mr J. N. Bate, a tobacco manufacturer at Denmark Hill in Camberwell, South London. One  day in February 1881 the company horse and trap was parked outside the premises, its precious cargo locked inside, ready to be distributed across London. 

Maurice Rooch had a key and he also some mates; a small gang of juvenile depredators – the self-styled ‘Forty Thieves’. Rooch used his key to open the back of the locked trap and help himself to several ‘packet of tobacco’. He also shared the information with his chums as to where and when the trap would be stopping to make deliveries. As a result numerous shops suffered similar losses and others of Mr Bate’s deliveries were pilfered from. 

In the end, and because Rooch was known to his employer and his companions conspicuous enough to the police, the little group of robbers was arrested and squashed into the dock at Lambeth before Mr Ellison, the sitting magistrate. 

Rooch was 15 years of age and he was joined by George Pedlingham (15), William Lloyd (14), William Lester (14), Arthur Robinson (14), William Webb (14), Joseph Davis (11), John Dye (10) and George Joseph How (14). They were all charged with ‘being concerned with others not in custody in stealing some tobacco from a traveller’s trap’. 

The name the ‘forty thieves’ is well known in the history of crime. Gangs (or networks) operating under that name are known to have existed as early at the 1700s in London. From the 1870s both male and female ‘gangs’ used that moniker alongside the ‘Forty Elephants’. They were probably inspired by the tales of Ali Baba that had been in circulation from at least the early 18th century, but also the New York City gang of the same name that existed from the 1820s. 

Maurice Rooch was remanded to the house of detention for robbing his master, there to await a possible trial once police investigations were concluded. His co-defendants were all released on bail, George Pedlingham admitting that most of them had some of the stolen tobacco in their possession.

In the following week the Standard carried an advert for the Gaiety Theatre which was staging (at 8.30 that evening) a burlesque performance in three acts of ‘Forty Thieves’ – a reminder of the power of popular culture to inspire young minds. 

Like a fleeting mirage in the desert this gang of ‘forty thieves’ disappear from the newspaper records at this point so I don’t know what happened to them. It is likely that Rooch (or Roach) lost his job and probably his liberty for a week or two. The other may well have escaped punishment on this occasion but, unless they found gainful employment or their parents intervened, were possibly destined for a life of petty or more serious crime thereafter. 

Lambeth was to become the centre of the ‘Hooligan panic’ in the following decade, again a mixture of fact and fiction as the character of ‘Alf’ a ‘Lambeth Lad’ was published as a semi-fictional biography of a young tear way. Well before then, and a year after Maurice and his pals appeared in court, the Pall Mall Gazette had run a feature on the ‘the Fighting Gangs of London’. This article cited a popular serial novel (The Wild Boys of London, or the Children of the Night) which, the paper said, ‘served as a text-book of crime for the younger generations of London roughs’.  

Not for the first time then we can observe that modern obsession with what ‘pop culture’ our young people are consuming, and the (negative) effect it has on them, is hardly ‘modern’ at all. 

[from The Standard Saturday 19 February 1881]

The death of a child is always a tragedy, this seems even worse somehow.

Unknown

Denmark Hill, Camberwell near the turn of the century.

1888 is a year forever synonymous with brutality and murder. Between August and November that year the papers were to become obsessed with the failure of the police to catch the ‘Whitechapel fiend’, the man that has gone down in history as ‘Jack the Ripper’. 

But the murders of the as yet undiscovered ‘Ripper’ were not the only killings in London that year, even if they were the most ‘newsworthy’.

In late May a man was brought before the sitting magistrate at Lambeth Police court, charged with murdering his infant son. 

William Albert Pierrepoint, a 31 year old hammerman from Camberwell, was accused of killing Sidney Gilbert John Pierrepoint, a child just one year and 10 months old*. 

The tragedy had happened on a Saturday evening as the Pierrepoints were leaving their lodgings at 158 Neate Street, Camberwell. As was often the case when a family left a small crowd had gathered outside. Some would have come to wish the couple and their children well, others to gawp, perhaps some even to revel in their neighbours’ misfortune. William Pierpoint was out of work, and seemingly had been for some time. The late 1880s were hard years for the British economy and the ranks of the out of work and underemployed grew, leading to protest rallies in Trafalgar Square and riots in Pall Mall. In 1888 the word ‘unemployment’ entered the Oxford English dictionary for the first time. 

As the family carried their small collection of personal belongings into the street to pile onto a barrow and made ready to leave, William, already slightly the worse for drink, railed against the world and his landlord. Perhaps because they were behind with the rent the Pierpoints had some of their furniture detained; most significantly their bed.

This was too much for the hammerman who suddenly raised his infant son up high and, with a cry of ‘Patty, Patty, you shall be the victim’, threw it to the ground. 

Stunned by what he’d done William stood there for a moment until the crowd became agitated. As they moved towards him and child a woman was heard to shout: ‘Don’t hurt him; he will have enough to answer for’. William fled and was picked up some time afterwards, even more drunk at the Little Wonder beer house nearby. 

The policeman that arrested him said that he went quietly when confronted with the assault on his child. ‘I had no intention of doing such a thing’, he explained as he was led to the station. Interviewed by Inspector Webb at 11 at night Pierpoint must have realised the enormity of his situation and tried to defend himself. ‘No one saw me do it’, he said, claiming that the ‘child fell off my arm’. 

In court before Mr Biron he said little except to repeat that the child’s death was not intentional. ‘I let the child fall’, he stated in the dock. The magistrate was unconvinced: ‘He did not let if fall, but dashed it to the ground’. William Pierpoint was first remanded and later indicted for murder and sent for trial at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey. 

The case came on in July 1888 and there the Pierpoints’ landlady, Sophia Moon, gave the court a bit more context for the events of that fateful evening in May. By the 26 May William owed her 19s 6d, or six weeks’ arrears. She had asked him for this and he told he hadn’t anything to give her. He had piled the family’s belongings into a barrow but told her she could have all the furniture – ‘You can have the b_____ lot’ he said, and apparently said quite a lot more, none of which she was prepared to repeat in a courtroom. 

He threw his key down and stormed off, his youngest child (Gilbert) in his arms. It was soon after this the then that the tragedy occurred. Despite William’s comment to the police there were witnesses that saw him throw his child to the ground. Eliza Howell, a leather dresser’s wife, saw it and later identified William to police at the beer house. Sarah Store also witnessed William’s actions, saying he was ‘dreadfully excited’ and had offered to hold the baby urging William to go and get the bed from upstairs. 

She was insistent that that child had not fallen, William had thrown it down. Others witnessed this and so despite his not guilty plea, his agitated state of mind, and the fact that several testified to his usual good nature towards children, Pierrepoint was convicted of murder. The jury strongly recommended mercy but judge passed sentence of death on him. 

William Pierrepoint did not hang for his son’s murder. On 22 July 1888 Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper reported that a respite had been received at Wandsworth Prison, where he was being held. Justice Hawkins, the trail judge, had added his name to that of the jurors in asking for clemency and it seems as if Pierrepoint’s sentence was then commuted to life imprisonment. 

It’s a very sad story, all arising from the stress that poverty can cause, leaving one child dead, and depriving the other of his father and Mrs Pierrepoint of her husband. And all for the want of 20 shillings, or about £80 today. 

Curiously, but not related, the name Pierrepoint is as associated with hanging as 1888 is with murder; from 1931 to his resignation in 1956, Albert Pierrepoint either assisted or was the lead executioner who hanged between 450-600 persons in his 25-year career. Of these 200 were war criminals executed as a result of the Nazi atrocities in WW2. 

Writing in his autobiography, published in 1974, Pierrepoint reflected on the death penalty (which by then had been suspended): 

… is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree. There have been murders since the beginning of time, and we shall go on looking for deterrents until the end of time. If death were a deterrent, I might be expected to know. It is I who have faced them last, young lads and girls, working men, grandmothers. I have been amazed to see the courage with which they take that walk into the unknown. It did not deter them then, and it had not deterred them when they committed what they were convicted for. All the men and women whom I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single murder.

[From Morning Post, 28 May 1888; Daily News 29 May 1888; Ipswich Journal 31 May 1888; The Standard, 31 May 1888; Reynolds Newspaper 2 June 1888; Lloyds’ Weekly Newspaper 22 July 1888]

*soem reports say that ‘Sidney’ was 2 and half years old.

‘Ring the bell, and put the child on the doorstep’: a young mother is handed a stark ultimatum

victorian-man-rescuing-abandoned-child-in-winter-snowstorm-illustration-HEJCK5

There have been plenty of examples in the pages of this blog of quite stark reminders that the past was ‘a different country’. Periodically today there are news reports of babies being found abandoned. In late January this year for example, a postman found a newborn child on a doorstep in Hackney as he made his rounds. The baby was taken into care and the police ‘appealed to his mother to come forward, assuring her she is not in trouble and will be helped’.

That is invariably the message to mothers who, for whatever reason, feel unable to keep a child they have just given birth to. Come forward, you’re not in any trouble, we are just worried about you.

This was not the way society viewed mothers that abandoned their babies in the nineteenth century however; something clearly illustrated by this cautionary take from 1871.

Elizabeth Fisher was working as a servant when she fell pregnant. She had the child and at first her sister agreed to care for it. Elizabeth’s employer, a Mrs Cruise (of Arthur Road, Brixton), made it abundantly clear that she was not willing for an illegitimate child to be raised under her roof.

Fisher either had to get rid of her baby or leave her service.

That was normal in the 1800s. Servants who got pregnant would often be dismissed and so many hid their pregnancies and then gave away or farmed out their children to relatives or women who they paid to take them in.

This worked for Elizabeth for a while but then in December 1870 her sister explained that she could no longer care for the baby.  With what one imagines was a heavy heart Elizabeth took her baby to the Camberwell workhouse (below right) and asked them to care for it.

Unknown

The workhouse refused telling her they were ‘neither a nursery nor a baby-farming establishment, and they could not separate mother and child’. If Elizabeth wanted to place her baby in their care she’d have to admit herself at the same time. Even when Fisher offered to pay a weekly sum for the child’s acre the workhouse authorities turned her away.

She was back to square one.

Her mistress, Mrs Cruise, now suggested she take the child to its father. While Fisher wasn’t married she did know where the father was. Cruise told her to go to Gloucester Terrace, Hyde Park (where the man lived), ‘ring the bell, and put the child on the doorstep for the father to take in’.

So it was that Elizabeth, her sister, and Mrs Cruise set off, taking an omnibus towards Haymarket (where Cruise was going to attend the theatre). The sisters hopped off but seemingly never made it to Gloucester Terrace. The baby was found on a shop doorstep in the Haymarket by a policeman.

It took some time for the police to trace the child back to Elizabeth Fisher who by this time had left Cruise’s employment. The police obtained a summons to bring Fisher, her sister (Mrs Brown,, who lived in Hoxton) and Mrs Cruise to court at Marlborough Street. Mr Tyrwhitt, the sitting Police magistrate, listened carefully to the stories all three women told before reaching his judgment.

Despite her telling her employer to leave the child on a doorstep or leave her employment, the justice exonerated Mrs Cruise. She’d apparently acted ‘only with kindness’ her lawyer had argued, and Mr Tyrwhitt agreed. Nor did he condemn the workhouse for not receiving the child and refusing the mother’s money. The father was not summoned as Elizabeth’s sister did not want to ‘disgrace’ him. Instead he reserved his opprobrium for Elizabeth Fisher. He sent her to prison for 10 days with hard labour.

I doubt she took her child with her and I imagine she would have found it hard to find similar employment thereafter, with the stain of imprisonment added to that of bastard bearing. Elizabeth was ‘ruined’ and yet no fault or responsibility was set at the door of the man that she had conceived her baby boy with.

This was the reality of being poor, female, and a single mother in nineteenth-century London. It may not be easy today, but at least it is unlikely to land you in gaol.

[from Morning Post, Wednesday, 22 February 1871]

A rapist offers ‘atonement’ to buy off his victim’s father

Servants-Thumb.IIpsd_.jpg

A warning, this is a most unpleasant case, because it concerns the alleged rape of a 14 year-old girl.

Rachael Potts worked as a domestic servant in a household at 30 Grosvenor Park South, Camberwell, south London. In mid April her mistress went off to her country home for a few days so it was decided that Racheal would lodge with her father in Camberwell and travel the short distance to work each morning, not staying there overnight. Her father was a tradesman, a furniture broker on Southampton Street and probably saw his daughter’s employment as a respectable occupation and education for a young girl. He also expected her to be safe there, but he was wrong.

While Rachael’s mistress was away Montague Musgrave, her brother, was not. He lived with his sister at number 30 and one Wednesday evening he noticed that the young serving girl had scratched her arm. He offered to bandage it and as he was doing so he pulled her towards him onto his knee. Rachael wriggled free and ran off into the kitchen but Musgrave followed.

With no one about in the kitchen (presumably because most of the staff had gone to the country) Musgrave was able to catch Rachael, force her to the floor and rape her. He then made her a present of some ribbons and urged her to say nothing of what had happened. The teenage girl went home to her mother and kept her silence until she realized she had contracted a sexually transmitted infection or, as the press at the time put it: ‘a loathsome disease’.

The mother complained, Musgrave was arrested and the whole sordid affair came before Mr Elliott at Lambeth Police court. Musgrave was represented by his attorney but Rachael had to give her evidence herself. The prejudice of the papers was apparent as she was described as ‘precocious’ and ‘indifferent’, while Musgrave was ‘gentlemanly’. The accused lawyer argued that no jury would convict his client based on the evidence of a young girl (and by implication at least, a young girl of lower social status) and so offered some ‘atonement’.

In reality he was probably offering Rachael (or rather her father) some financial compensation in the hope that the charge would be dropped and further embarrassment could be avoided.  Unfortunately for Musgrave the magistrate did not feel that ‘atonement’ was an appropriate thing to discuss at this stage and bailed the suspected rapist to appear a week later.

At this point both Rachael and her alleged abuser vanish from the records. I doubt a trial took place; it is much more likely that an out of court settlement was made and Rachael left her position as a domestic in Camberwell and returned to her father. No doubt he received some money and the girl received some medical care but Musgrave would have walked away without any further taint on his reputation.

One expects however, that his sister may well have recognised that  her brother was not to be trusted with the young female staff and that is why she tried to keep Rachael away when she was not at home to supervise him. Let’s hope she was more careful in the future for leopards rarely change their spots.

[From The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, May 7, 1856]

A simple case of imposture or a glimpse into the transgender community of Victorian London?

p03xncrx

I often wonder what the Victorians would make of our society if they could visit it. I imagine they’d be both awed and shocked if they were able to time travel forward to 21stcentury London. Awed by the technology perhaps: the cars, neon lights, television, mobile phones. Shocked by what they would see as irreligion, immorality and a lack of deference.

Of course the idea that the Victorians were prudish and all went to church has been successfully challenged by historians but it remains a fact that they were more conservative and less tolerant of some behaviours than we are today. Homosexuality was made illegal in 1885, and men could be sent to prison for engaging in sexual relationships with other men, as Oscar Wilde was. Suicide was a crime and there was considerably less understanding of mental illness throughout the period. The criminal justice system was harsh: many more people were incarcerated for relatively minor property offences and the death penalty existed, and was used, for murderers.

The newspaper reports of the metropolitan Police Courts are an excellent way to peer into this world. To quote Hartley, ‘the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’, and we can see this at Bow Street, Lambeth, Marylebone and all the other magistrate courts.

At the end of June 1886 two individuals were brought up at Lambeth Police court charged with begging. Begging remains an offence punishable under nineteenth-century legislation (the Vagrancy Act of 1824) but it no longer carries the risk of prison and is often ignored by the police unless it is aggressive or causing a particular nuisance. So while retain the power to prosecute beggars we rarely use it. Instead the emphasis is on helping those that beg, or (more cynically) in arguing about how best we should help them.

In 1886 there was a Mendicity Society; an organisation dedicated to the prevention of begging, especially by those it deemed to be imposters. I’ve written about them before  and their officers crop up frequently in cases that came to court. Joseph Boseley was one such officer and on the evening of Monday 28 June he was watching two beggars in Church Street, Camberwell.

Both appeared to be women and they held a Bible out to read from. As passers-by approached they would ask for a donation and if it was forthcoming they would reward the donor with a verse of scripture. However, if they were refused money, then, ‘as soon as the person walked on [they] made use of foul language to one another’. Boseley smelled a rat and he arrested them for impersonation.

Boseley knew this pair well and was watching them to gather sufficient evidence against them to prosecute. He knew also that they weren’t both women: one of them was a man dressed up as a woman, and this was assumed, I think, to be a ruse to separate pedestrians from their hard earned cash, as a pair of females asking for charitable donations to a ‘good cause’ seemed more believable.

In court the pair cut a sorry looking vision in the dock. Mary Ann Saunders was 55 and her partner, Henry Bennett ten years younger. Bennett was set in the dock still wearing ‘female clothing, with hat and ribbons, and hair hanging down his back’. When questioned he continued to speak in a high-pitched impersonation of a female voice, as he had being doing as he stood beside the kerb in Camberwell.

Boseley told the magistrate (Mr Biron) that there had been multiple complaints about the duo and that they ‘were old mendicants’. Saunders could often be seen pushing Bennett around in ‘a perambulator’, always dressed as a woman, and always begging for money. He saw them as a couple of charlatans who were entirely underserving of the public’s sympathy, let alone their money.

Today however, I wonder what we would make of them. Was Bennett merely donning female attire as a ruse to con people, or was he cross-dressing because he felt more comfortable in women’s clothes? We have only very recently begun to accept that gender is more fluid and the term ‘transgender’ wasn’t coined until 1971. In 1870 two men were put on trial for transvestism, but there was insufficient evidence to convict them.After 1885 men who dressed as women were sometimes prosecuted as homosexuals, again demonstrating a contemporary misunderstanding of those that cross gender boundaries.

The beginnings of attempts to understand transgender issues can be seen in the late nineteenth century but for a sympathetic understanding we have to wait till late into the twentieth century. Even now those that feel uncomfortable in the gender they were born into and who are brave enough to present themselves as the person they know and believe themselves to be can find it a very tough experience. We are only very slowly adjusting to the idea of all gender toilets and allowing people to be whom they want to be.

Was Henry Bennett ‘trans’? It is impossible to know of course. Mr Biron was convinced he was a beggar and said he would remand the pair for further enquiries. At this Bennett fainted in the dock, although the papers saw this as a yet another example of imposture and an opportunity to poke fun at him for the amusement of its readership. On the 9 July they were brought up again and the magistrate sent them both to prison for a month for begging, declaring them to be ‘rank imposters’.

As he was led away Bennett cried out: ‘A month, what for? I didn’t beg; I only give bits of scripture comfort’.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, June 30, 1886; Reynolds’s, Sunday, July 11, 1886]

Ice cream wars in Camberwell end in a near fatal stabbing

9193885048d867923e809fbb9b7dc5c6

Pasquelio Cascarino ran an ice cream shop at 1 Neate Street, Camberwell with other members of his family. Italians in London were closely associated with two occupations in the nineteenth century: selling ice cream (a relative novelty at the time) and performing music in the street. Several disputes involving Italian organ grinders came before the Police Magistrates of the capital – usually for causing a nuisance – but this case is much more serious.

Pasquelio licensed members of his extended family to sell ice cream from barrows in the city streets. It must have been amazing for Londoners to taste genuine gelato for the first time, especially as the majority of them would not have had a fridge let alone a freezer, things we take for granted today.

So ice cream selling was profitable and Pasquelio’s brother-in-law (Antonio Pitussi) wanted some of the action. He took a barrow from his relation and started to sell ice cream in Avenue Road nearby. However, he neglected to pay his brother-in-law Pasquelio for the hire of the barrow and refused to do so when asked. So Cascarino hit him where it hurts by declaring he would open another shop right on Pitussi’s patch.

This angered the other man who remonstrated with his brother and threatened him. Things came to a head and Pitussi stabbed Pasquelio, and the pair ended up in court at Lambeth where the full story unfolded.

Seated in court (as he was too ill to stand) Pasquelio testified that it was ten days before the near fatal stabbing when he’d told Pitussi that he was intending to open a new shop in Avenue Road. His brother-in-law said that if he did so ‘he would be dead’ and that they would ‘settle the dispute with knives’.

On the 31 May Pitussi turned up at the Neate Street shop and Pasquelio again said he was intending on going ahead with his plan. Turning on him, Pitussi said he’d kill him under the nearby railway bridge and, when Mrs Cascarino argued with him, said he’d do for her as well right outside the shop.

Pitussi was in a rage and, pulling a dagger from his sleeve, leapt at the Cascarinos. Pasquelio was stabbed several times, in the arm and the abdomen, and his wife was punched as she tried to help him. One of Pasquelio’s brothers (Angelo) rushed to their help and eventually the trio managed to subdue the attacker. Pasquelio was taken to Guy’s Hospital where he was in danger for several days and took a few weeks to recover sufficiently to come to court. Pitussi was arrested and held until him could be brought before Mr Siren at Lambeth Police Court.

This was a family dispute and despite the serious nature of it Pasquelio Cascarino didn’t want to press charges against his sister’s brother. In the popular imagination Italians (especially Neapolitans) were quick to anger and just as quick to resort to knives. But these passions soon subsided it was said, and everyone could be friends again afterwards. The magistrate wasn’t so sure however and remanded the Italian for a week to decided what to do with him.

Later in June the case came up at Old Bailey where Pitussi (now formally identified as Antiono Pitazzi, 28) was inducted for wounding with intent to murder, and a second count of causing GBH. The case was short and Pitazzi was convicted of the lesser offence of unlawful wounding. Even now his brother-in-law spoke up for him telling the judge ‘I will forgive all he has done to me’. Pitazzi’s version of events (even in his broken English) suggests that he felt very hard done by and that there was fault on both sides. Perhaps because of all of this the court sentenced him to just six months in prison with hard labour.

The Italians’ love of knives led some to believe that the brutal Whitechapel murders, which took place a few months after this event, where the work of an immigrant. It was often said that ‘no Englishman could do this’. So instead of ‘Jack the Ripper’ there had to have been a Giovanni or a Giacomo.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, June 23, 1888]

‘labouring under considerable depression of spirits’: a young woman throws herself and her baby into the canal

Grand_Surrey_Canal,_1806

The Grand Surrey Canal on Davies’ Pocket Map of London, 1852

On Sunday 17 May 1840 a policeman (32P) was walking his beat, which took him along the Surrey Canal. This ran through Camberwell and Peckham to the Surrey Docks at Rotherhithe, but no longer exists.

It was between one and two in the morning and the moon (which had been full three days earlier) was waning. The copper thought he heard a splash and hurried to the bank. As he peered across the water he thought he saw something, a woman’s bonnet, floating in the canal. Without a thought, he ‘threw off his coat and cape and jumped into the water’.

The water engulfed him and he was soaked through as he thrashed about to find the woman he presumed had fallen in. The canal was nine feet deep at this point, quite deep enough for someone to drown in, but fortunately the policeman soon found a body in the water. He grabbed it and pulled the person to safety, hauling them up onto the towpath.

When he’d recovered himself he realized he had rescued a young woman and her infant child that she had ‘closely clasped in her arms’. He took them both to the station house and then on to the Camberwell workhouse where they were able to get a change of clothes. The next morning he collected her and brought her to the Union Hall Police court to face questions about her actions from the magistrate.

After PC 32P had given his evidence another officer testified to having seen the woman, Mary Doyle, walking by the canal late at night. He had assumed she was lost and accompanied her back to safety. Mary told the justice she had no idea how she had ended up in the water and said that whatever feelings she had about her own life she would never have endangered her child.

Attempting suicide was an offence in 1840 as of course was attempting to kill your own child. It was evident however, that Mary was not herself. The paper reported that:

 ‘she was labouring under considerable depression of spirits’ and there was a suggestion that the child was illegitimate, and so perhaps Mary was trying to end her own life, and that of her infant, in order to escape the shame of ‘an illicit intercourse’.

The magistrate decided to remand her for further enquiries. He added that if she could find bail he’d be happy to release her to her friends. Sadly, no friends had appeared in court that morning so she was taken back to the cells.

Now PC 32P asked the court if anything could be done for him. He had risked his life, he pointed out, and had got soaked through and his uniform soiled in the process. Could he be ‘recompensed for what he had done?’

While it may sound a little ungallant in the circumstances, he did have a point. Policemen were responsible for their own uniforms and he would have to get his cleaned, presumably at his own expense. Unfortunately for him the clerk explained that there was no fund available for him, and suggested he apply to the Humane Society which paid out rewards for those that ‘saved the lives of others’.

The Humane Society (now ‘Royal’) was founded in 1774 by two doctors who wanted to promote resuscitation, and made awards to those that rescued others from the ‘brink of death’. They set up ‘receiving houses’ throughout the capital where people could be brought to recover. It still exists and continues its work recognizing the efforts of lifesavers, but it no longer offers rewards.

If the policeman did approach them he was likely to have been given around £5 (or £300 in today’s money), quite sufficient for him to get his tunic cleaned and pressed, and to be able to dine out on the story for months afterwards. As for Mary, she disappears from the records at this point so hopefully she survived and avoided being prosecuted. Who knows, perhaps the shock of her brush with death was enough of a prompt to turn her life around.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, May 19, 1840]

p.s. On 10 February 1840 Queen Victoria married her prince, Albert to begin what was undoubtedly one of the few ‘love matches’ in the history royal marriages at the time. Today of course is the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. I’m no royalist – quite the opposite in fact – but this is clearly a marriage based on love and not dynastic expedience. This is also a revolutionary marriage in its own small way: Harry, an English prince descended from Victoria, is marrying an American commoner, and a person of mixed race. This is (almost) then a ‘normal’ marriage, and continues the modernisation of the royal family that began under Harry’s mother, Diana. I will doff my red cap to them both today, and wish them well (but I shan’t be watching on television!)

‘What a fool I have been!’

camberwell-green-00671-350

Camberwell Green, c.1901

Sarah Mary Hopkins was a 48 year-old woman who had, for the past three years, lived under the roof of her master, James Bowler. Mr Bowler was very old, nearly 90 years of age, and he had befriended Sarah when she was a child.

In 1867 he had given her a position as his housekeeper and trusted her so completely that ‘she had control of everything’. He even wrote her into his will so that she would be provided for when he died.

Without knowing anything else about Sarah’s life it would seem that, as a spinster or widow, or at least with no male partner that she declared, she had found herself in a very fortunate position. She had a steady wage and a comfortable home to live in, with an employer that both respected and cared for her.

Why then would she jeopardise all of this? Sadly it seems this is exactly what she did do in the summer of 1870.

On Monday 25 July Mr Bowler noticed that some of his silverware was missing. Three spoons seemed to have disappeared. On Tuesday ‘two more’ had gone and a purse with £4 3s and 6d in it (about £200 in today’s money). More worryingly Sarah also vanished from the house, and wasn’t seen again that week.

Mr Bowler called for the police and PC Elliott (388P) managed to trace Sarah to a property in Camberwell. The policeman challenged her about the thefts but she denied it, moreover she even denied knowing anybody called Bowler and said she wasn’t employed as a housekeeper at his address.

PC Elliott was suspicious, it seemed that Sarah had been drinking and she was also sporting a black eye, perhaps there was a man involved. Her lodgings were searched and ‘the constable found thirty pawnbrokers’ duplicates relating to watches, silver spoons, rings, and other valuable articles, which she had plundered [the] prosecutor of’.

When the case came before the Lambeth Police court magistrate Sarah admitted her crime and declared, ‘what a fool I have been’. The justice remanded her in custody to wait his adjudication. He may well have wanted to find out a little more about her motivation. The black eye suggests that she might have been involved with someone who was intimidating her or otherwise pressurising her into stealing from the old gentleman. Perhaps too he wanted to hear if Mr Bowler was prepared to forgive her this breach of trust and plead for leniency.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, July 30, 1870]

A Militiaman’s enthusiasm is rewarded with hard labour of a different kind

Yesterday’s post concerned the antics of two members of the Royal Artillery who apparently used the Police Court to get themselves a free trip back to their barracks in Woolwich. Today’s post also shows the variety in caseloads at these London summary courts and again relates to the military of the Victorian period.

This time, however, it was the civil defence force that predated the Home Guard (immortalised as Dad’s Army on television), the militia.

Perhaps because of the excellent work of my Northampton colleague Matthew McCormack, I have always associated the militia with the eighteenth century, but they existed right up until the early years of the twentieth century. While the eighteenth-century force had been recruited by ballot (and so was something men were compelled or at least obliged to join) by the Victorian period it was an entirely voluntary force.

After 1881 (and the Childers reforms) militia units were reorganized ‘as numbered battalions of regiments of the line, ranking after the two regular battalions’. After Haldane’s reforms (in 1905) they became the official ‘reserves’.

In the 1880s anyone joining the militia was entitled to a bounty – a one off payment of cash and a uniform and equipment. This was probably an attractive offer given that joining up was relatively risk free in terms of actual fighting. In the 1700s members of the militia risked real engagement with a potential invader (Bonaparte’s French) or being used to quell civil unrest; by the late 1800s the risk of a foreign invasion had long gone and the New Police were well established and able to deal with problems from rioters and other domestic revolutionaries. There had been a brief spell in the late 1850s when the chance of invasion (by a different Napoleon this time) was heightened but this produced a flurry of men signing up for the Volunteer Force not the traditional Militia.

So when Thomas Moore, a labourer from Camberwell, signed on the dotted line to join the Middlesex Militia at the St George’s Street barracks, he must have been confident that he would get his 20s and ‘a free kit’ without much effort.

However, something about Thomas raised suspicions in the mind of Captain Crutchley when he asked him the ‘usual questions’ and the officer called for Sergeant Major Morgan to interrogate him a little more closely outside.

Now it transpired that ‘Thomas Moore’ was actually Martin Headley of Stockwell Street, Old Kent Road and that he had already served in the Surrey Militia and so was not entitled to the money or the ‘kit’. Headley claimed that he had tried to sign up to the ‘regulars’ (the ‘proper’ army) but had been refused. Perhaps he was too old, or not up to scratch, or they simply didn’t need troops in 1887 (although they soon would, as the South African – or Boer War – loomed).

Headley was brought before the Marlborough Street Police magistrate on a day when the reporter noted that the court was at its least busy ‘for thirty years’. The lack of business didn’t help the ex-militiaman, not did his previous history of volunteering; the justice sent him to prison for three months at hard labour.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, January 05, 1887]