‘A weak-minded blackguard’: unrequited love and mental health collide at Hammersmith

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Frederick George Helmore was a troubled young man. The son of a successful coal merchant Frederick had been before the magistrates on more than one occasion, and had been cited in Chancery as a father moved to protect his daughter from the young man’s advances.

The problem had started in 1874 when Frederick had met Sarah Alice Grierson at Margate when she and her family had been on holiday. Sarah was also well connected, as the daughter of the General Manager of the Great Western Railway she enjoyed a life of considerable luxury. At first it seems that Sarah was quite enamoured with Frederick and enjoyed his attention. She wore a necktie he gave her to church and returned his letters.

But either she tired of him or her parents felt the match was inappropriate or she was too young (at 16 or 17) and she cooled on him. Fred was not to be deterred however and he kept writing to her, sending gifts and turning up at places he expected to find her (including at school and at seaside retreats like Margate and Folkestone).

This behaviour was not ‘normal’ and today we would describe as stalking. The courts soon became involved as her family tried to protect her. Frederick was summoned before Mr Sheil at Hammersmith Police court and bound over for £250 to refrain from approaching her. Her father had even fixed a sum of £100 on her to make her a formal ward of the court of Chancery as a result of Frederick’s unwanted attention.

None of this stopped the young man however and his behaviour became ever more extreme to the point that his mental health was being called into question. In October 1881, seven years after his initial meeting with Sarah, he was again in court at Hammersmith, this time in front of Mr Paget.

The charge was one of annoying Miss Grierson and threatening her life. According to the prosecution (conducted by Mr Lambert) Fred had approached Sarah and her sister in town and when they had climbed into their coach he ran after them. The magistrate was told that he tried to hang on the window and shouted threats at Sarah. Her sister reported that he warned that he ‘would do for you now, Alice’, before the window was closed and the coach moved off.

Mr Grierson gave an account of the years of trouble that Fred had caused and said that only recently he had donated a watch that the young man had sent to Sarah Alice to charity. The railwayman described Frederick as either a ‘lunatic’ or a ‘weak-minded blackguard’.  He was clearly sick of the whole business and wanted something to be done about it.

In court Frederick vehemently denied threatening Sarah Alice, swearing that all he said was that she ‘had gone too far’. He was not dealing with rejection at all well and the hints at the state of his mental health were probably close to the truth.

This is certainly what Mr Paget concluded. He bound the man over again, this time for the huge sum of £1000 plus two further sureties of £500 each (one of whom was Fred’s father).  But he warned him (and his family) that if he was summoned before the police courts again he would be dealt with as a lunatic and ‘not under proper control’. In other words he would restrained and locked up in an asylum (‘sectioned’ as we might term it today).

Frederick was led away and given into the care of his family. Hopefully they took the necessary precautions to make sure he never again troubled the Griersons.

[from The Standard, Thursday 13 October, 1881]

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

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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]

A ‘foolish country gentleman’ is scammed at London Bridge

In January 1877 Mr Fletcroft Fletcher had come up to London from his estate at Ash in Kent for the cattle show. Having completed his business in the capital he headed to London Bridge station to take his train home.

As he waited for the train he ‘got into conversation with a ‘respectable looking man’. The men talked first about the ‘cattle show and farming’ before his new acquaintance turned the discussion to charity.

The pair had decided to settle down in a public on Southwark High Street for some food and drink. While they were there another man appeared who gave his name as Richard Snowball. Snowball, who was in ‘a very excited state’, told the gentlemen  that he had just come into some money having won a law suit. In fact ‘he had so much money he intended to give some to the poor’. However, he wanted to find someone ‘with confidence to distribute it’. Fletcher and his companion seemed like just the men to help him with his philanthropy.

Snowball added that as well as giving money to the needy he thought he would also like to give each of the gentlemen  a gold ring (as a token of his gratitude and a mark of their new found friendship), unfortunately however, ‘all the shops were shut’ (as it was now well past seven in the evening).

So he reached into his waistcoat pocket and handed what appeared to be a large sum of money to the man Mr Fletcher had met at the station. ‘I have confidence in you’ he told him.

Turning to Fletcher he asked if, in a return of confidence, he would entrust him with his watch. The country gentleman obliged, handing over a gold watch and chain worth around £60 (perhaps £2,000 in today’s money). The two men then rose and left, requesting than Fletcher wait for them to return in a few minutes.

The ‘few minutes’ turned into ‘nearly an hour’ and there was no sign of either of them. When Fletcher realised that he had been conned he called a policeman and ‘laid an information’ against the the pair.

A week later he picked Snowball out amongst those detained at Stone’s End Police Station and he was charged at Southwark Police Court with theft. In court the investigating officer, Detective Inspector Ricahrd Stevens (of M Division) asked for Snowball to be remanded so they had more time to catch the other (unknown) party. The magistrate granted his application.

The case doesn’t appear to have reached a trial so the police probably didn’t catch the mysterious ‘other’ man. If they failed to find the watch or secure any other witnesses then they would have probably have had little to hold Snowball (if that was indeed his name) on.

Mr Fletcher, as an ‘foolish country gentleman’  had been caught by the ‘confidence trick’ (the paper described it). This was the nineteenth-century version of the email scam that promises a reward for doing good at no risk to oneself. If you are being promised ‘something for nothing’ be wary because if it seems ‘too good to be true’ then it probably is.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, January 13, 1877]

Echoes of Bleak House or an elderly fraudster?

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“Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means.”

Benjamin Gibbs Mitchell was an old man and had recently found himself in the Giltspur prison in the City of London. It is likely that Mitchell was in gaol for debt, as most of the Giltspur’s inmates were sent there by their creditors [https://londonhistorians.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/compters-aka-counters/]. The gaol closed just a year or so after he was released and imprisonment for debt was formerley ended in 1869.

He may have committed another minor offence but the circumsatnces of his appearance in the Thames Police Court in September 1852 suggests that he was someone for whom money was often scarce.

Mitchell was charged by his landlady, Mrs Hannah with assault but this was to reveal quite a lot about the old man and his delaing with his neighbours. Mrs Hannah kept a lodging house in Wellington Place and when Benjamin Mitchell turned up there he was quite effusive about his requirements.

He demanded ‘coffee and eggs for breakfast, mutton and potatoes for dinner, with soup at other times, and feather pillows for his bed’. He was suffering he said from a delicate stomach following his imprisonment.

On being asked how he would pay he told the good lady he was expecting large sum of money anytime soon. However, after a month he had not paid a ‘farthing’ for this keep and Mrs Hannah began to get annoyed with him. He met her demands for money with violence, striking her with his umbrella. She wrenched the item from him and ‘belaboured him in return’. This is what brought the pair into court.

Benjamin denied the assault and calimed his affairs were in the hands of a most ‘respectable lawyer’, named Mr. Gray*. He was pursuing a claim to £7,000,000 through Chancery that had been going on for 54 years. This sounds like the infames ‘Jarndyce vs Jarndyce’ case that provides the backdrop for Dickens’ Bleak House, a case that went on for ever and ever (and ever).

The magistrate was skeptical and so Mitchell asked him to seek out his doctor who would vouch to the truth of. The court sent for Dr Faulkener.

When he arrived he did indeed speak in Benjamin’s defense; he was a ‘respectable man’ and there was such a claim. In the meantime though the justice had heard that several neighbours had complained about Mitchell’s frauds over a number of years and so he had decided to sentence the old man to 10s fine or 7 days in prison. That was heavy punishment for the assault but he justified it on the grounds that he was unable to punish him for the frauds. I’m not sure that would stand up in court today!

However having heard that the claims the man had made were now verified he sent word to have him released from the cells (he had not been able to pay the fine, as I suspect the ‘beak’ well knew). Instead he sent the old man the amount of the fine for his own use plus 5s from the poor box – punishment had switched quickly to charity on the evidence of one ‘respectable’ medical man.

*my brother is just such a ‘respectable’ lawyer

[From Daily News, Friday, September 24, 1852]