Be careful who you drink with, and how much you imbibe! A cautionary tale from the 1820s.

bow-street-View-of-the-front-of-the-old-police-office-in-Bow-Street-Covent-Garden-to-the-left-is-Johnsons-Oyster-Warehouse-a-number-of-figures-out-front-j-winston-1825-e1484502362550

Bow Street Police Office, c.1825 (by J. Winston)

In 1827 the Metropolitan Police were still a pipe dream; Peel may well have envisaged them but there was still considerable resistance to the idea of a state run uniformed police force in England. In London policing was still the responsibility of the parish and the Police Offices staffed by ‘runners’, the principal one being at Bow Street.

In May of that year several persons turned up at the Registrar’s Office in Chancery Lane, to receive the confirmation and certificates for a legacy that had been rumbling through the civil court for some time. William Jones had finally got his hands on his inheritance, a sum of £355 16and 2d. That was a considerable and potentially life-changing amount of money in 1827, representing about £24,000 today. That equated to about 6 years’ wages for a skilled craftsman.

William was accompanied to the registrars (and then to the Bank of England) by his wife, his younger brother, and a Thomas Jones (who ‘was in some degree related to him’). The group were joined by Jones’ solicitor and his clerk. At the bank the legacy was paid out in five £50 notes, some £20 and a large amount of coin.

Having secured his fortune William Jones now invited his family and friends to dine with him at a chophouse in Mansion House street before some of the party went on to a pub in Welbeck Street, off Cavendish Square. There the celebrations began in earnest and it seems the drink was flowing. until late in the evening.

Finally William, much the worse for drink, was bundled into a cab with his wife, brother and Thomas Jones and ferried back to his home in Draper’s Court, London Wall where he was helped to his bed.

In the morning he awoke with a sore head. That much was expected but much worse was the discovery that some of his money was missing. He’d lost one £50 note and two £20s. That might not sound much to us but it was about £6,000; he certainly hadn’t run up that sort of a bill in the pub!

He immediately went back to the Bank of England and, having been wise enough to note down the numbers of the bank notes, had the stopped. later that day one of the notes was tendered in payment for some boots at a shop in Oxford Street and the notes were traced because the purchaser had been required to give his name and address.

All of this investigation was carried out by Mr Jones not by the police, and he managed to find out that the thief was none other than his ‘some degree’ relative, Thomas Jones.  Since Thomas gave his real address, in Praed Street, Paddington, he was quickly apprehended by an officer from Bow Street (a ‘runner’) and brought before the magistrate. He was committed for trial at the Old Bailey where he was acquitted.

I can only imagine the jury were unconvinced by the evidence presented which, while it seemed to prove that Jones had tried to spend the missing money, did not really show that he had stolen it. It therefore wasn’t beyond ‘all reasonable doubt’ and the young man got away with it.  Of course it may be that the jury were simply jealous of Jones’ good fortune and, with typical English mean spiritedness, quite glad to see that he’d lost his money when he’d allowed himself to be robbed whilst in a state of inebriation. ‘Serves him right’, they might have concluded.

[from The Morning Post , Thursday, May 10, 1827]

Burglary tops the bill in the early records of the London Police Courts

The newspapers did report the comings and goings at the Police Court almost from their inception in 1792 but the early reports are fewer, less detailed, and harder to find with a simple keyword search. Gradually the papers seem to have settled on a heading of ‘police intelligence’ by the later 1820s but before that its use is somewhat sporadic.

The press also appear to have been working out exactly what to record (the London Police Courts heard hundreds of cases each week between them, so the reporters couldn’t include everything). By mid century this had settled into a pattern where the usual types of hearing (assault and petty theft, fraud and embezzlement, drunkenness and disorderly behavior) were augmented by ‘human interest’ stories (pleas for protection, abject poverty, attempted suicides), or the humorous, funny, or just plain bizarre.

On 11 January 1817 the Morning Post (which was, by the early 1800s, a ‘conservative’ daily which had started life in 1772) published a short summary of ‘police intelligence’ which included the following cases:

At Hatton Garden William Grant was brought up accused of burgling the home of Joseph Fisher, a tobacconist. Fisher prosecuted the thief himself and alleged that he, and other not yet in custody, had stolen ‘upwards of £100 in bank notes and cash’ from his ‘counting-house’. The justice remanded Grant for further examination.

John Davies was charged at Queen’s Square Police court with robbing the premises of Robert Smith who ran the Nag’s Head public house in Knightsbridge (which is still trading 200 years later ). The accused supposedly stole a ‘looking glass’ (a mirror) and was committed for trial. Neither Davies nor Grant are recorded as having trials at the Old Bailey so the prosecutions may have collapsed or perhaps they were acquitted and the cases not written up for the Proceedings.

Mary Johnston was not as lucky as these two however. She also appeared at Queen’s Square on a charge of burglary. She had entered the property of a blind woman named Eliza Bond, at 10 at night. This was quite unusual; female thieves rarely committed burglary, preferring to act with others as conspirators or to steal from homes or shops during the day, when they might pass as servants on errands.

Mary was tried at the Old Bailey on the 15 January and convicted by the jury. She was sentenced to death but recommended to mercy. She was 25 years old and pleaded ‘distress’. I can’t find Mary amongst those convicts transported to Australia in 1817 and she certainly wasn’t executed either so she, like so many ‘ordinary’ working-class people, disappears from the public record after her brief appearances in 1817.

Over at Bow Street one man (William Brennau) was committed for trial for stealing lead from the roof of a house belong to a law stationer in Chancery Lane (but this led to no trial at Old Bailey).

Finally, William Crowder was set before the magistrate accused of conspiring with others to burgle a warehouse in Bucklesbury (in the City of London). Crowder was clearly a man of means and the magistrate must have believed his claims of innocence because despite the man having only recently returned from a trip to France, he set him at liberty on his solicitor promising to appear for him if charges were presented at a later date.

Given that only one of these London hearings resulted in a trial at the Old Bailey it helps demonstrate that previous (and future) studies of crime and punishment which rely overmuch on the records of the Central Criminal Court should be treated with some caution at least. Much more ‘crime’ came before the summary courts in London and elsewhere (as I argue in my first book).

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, January 11, 1817]