Sometimes you get exactly what you pay for, a Bow Street justice explains.


‘I left the room with silent dignity, but unfortunately I tripped over the carpet.’ (Mr Pooter in Diary of a Nobody, Grossmith and Grossmith, 1892)

Bow Street Police Court was the most senior summary court in the capital in the Victorian period. Its magistrates sat in judgement on tens of thousands of petty criminals and sent many of them on for trial at the Old Bailey. In the 20th century some of the most famous felons in our history appeared there, including Ronnie and Reggie Kray. The original bar (where prisoners stood to hear their fate) is now in the national justice museum at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, complete with cut-outs of some of those that stood there.

It is probably to assume that this case, from May 1900, was not one that troubled the sitting justice overmuch. It was hardly a crime at all, but serves to remind us that the London Police Courts were – as the parlour of the 18th century justices of the peace had been – a forum for the public to air their grievances, however small.

Mr Vaughan was in the chair at Bow Street when a ‘respectable-looking’ man applied to him for ‘some remedy’. The unnamed gentleman had bought a watch in the Strand and he was unhappy with it.

It had been advertised, he said, as ‘the cheapest watch in the world’, but it didn’t actually tell the time.

Mr Vaughan asked the man what he had paid for it. 4s and 9d came the reply.

‘Then  I should say it was “the cheapest watch in the world”‘, replied the the magistrate. ‘Does it go at all?”

‘It does go but it won’t mark the hours’, grumbled the applicant. He explained that he had taken it to a watchmaker who had examined it and told him that the ‘wheels [were] not cut to mark the hours’.

Mr Vaughan looked it over and expressed his opinion that it was amazing it went at all for that price. The case itself was probably worth the money and he advised him to take it back. No law had been broken, the man had just been something of a cheapskate and he was fairly fortunate his name was withheld from the reading public, or he might have become a ‘Pooterish’ laughing stock.

He left the court, apologising to the court for wasting its time….

[from The Standard, Thursday, May 22, 1890]

A burglary in the Haymarket


The Dog and Duck, Soho as it is today

When John Reynolds locked up the White Horse tavern on Whitecomb Street, Haymarket he made his way upstairs. Reynolds was a potman working for the landlord, Mr Austin, and he noticed his employer’s bedroom door was open. This was a surprise because his boss was out of town. He entered the room and found it ‘in a state of confusion’ with drawers ‘broken open’. Reynolds rushed downstairs and alerted the person in charge of the house, a Miss Pulsford.

She followed Reynolds upstairs to inspect the chaos and found a loaded revolver and a cut throat razor lying on the bed. They discovered that some ‘silver tops were taken from glasses, two clocks were gone, an umbrella, and other articles, mainly of wearing apparel’.


The derelict Hand & Raquet pub on the corner of Whitecomb Street, possibly the site of the Mr Austin’s  White Horse in the 1870s.

The police were called and an inspector found an earring near the skylight and – on entering an unoccupied house next door – a large amount of clothing that seemed to have been dropped in the escape. There was no sign of the intruders however, and they might have gotten away with their theft had it not been for a sharp eyed landlord at a rival establishment.

Charles Cooper ran the Dog and Duck in Frith Street, Soho. A day after the break-in three men turned up at his house and offered for sale two clocks. Cooper must have been a friend of Mr Austin’s because he recognised the timepieces. He told the men he didn’t want them but knew someone who might buy them so asked them call again later that day. When they returned the police were waiting for them.

The men were brought before the magistrate at Marlbourough Street to be examined. He listened to the witness and to the police – who also produced the missing umbrella. This had borne Austin’s monogram but that had almost been obliterated as the thieves tried to hide the ownership of it from potential buyers. The justice remanded Charles Edmunds and Henry Watkins in custody but bailed the third man, Edward Stacey, for £50.

Interestingly a Henry Watkins and a Charles EDMONDS appear in the Old Bailey on more than one occasion in the 1880s. This offence is not listed by they were acquitted on two other occasions for similar activities. The Dog & Duck still exists in Soho, while the White Horse was demolished some years ago. In 1871 the landlord was listed as John Austen.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, November 16, 1881]