‘These cabmen always drive furiously’: Lord Rothschild has a lucky escape

Rothschild

An 1891 caricature of Nathan (‘Natty’) Rothschild by Lockhart Bogle in The Graphic

It seems as if traffic accidents were just as likely to occur in late nineteenth-century London as they are in the modern capital, and that the roads were just as crowded. Moreover the image of the policeman directing the flow of vehicles – one we probably now associate with the 1950s and 60s – may be just as appropriate for the 1890s.

In early March 1890 Nathan, the first Baron de Rothschild, was being driven in brougham coach along Queen Victoria Street in the City. A policeman was holding the traffic and had his arm extended up, palm out to signal this. Lord Rothschild’s driver eased his horses to a halt to wait for the officer’s signal to continue.

Suddenly, and seemingly without warning, the coach was hit from behind by a hansom cab. One of the shafts of the cab broke through the brougham, narrowly missing its occupants. Rothschild was shaken, but unhurt. The baron stepped down from the damaged coach and approached the policeman. He handed him his card and said, possibly angrily:

‘These cabmen always drive furiously. Take my card and give it to the Inspector. It will be all right’.

The incident ended up with the cabbie, James Povey, being summoned before the alderman magistrate at Guildhall Police court where he was charged with ‘driving a hansom cab wantonly’. Povey pleaded ‘not guilty’ and one of his passenger that day, a gentleman named Palmer, was in court to support him.

Mr Palmer testified that the baron and his driver could not possibly have seen what happened as they were facing the wrong way. He said that Povey had tried to stop and it was entirely an accident, not ‘wanton’ or dangerous driving. The alderman agreed and dismissed the summons, adding that a claim for the damage to the brougham could be made in the civil courts. There was no need, Povey’s representative (a Mr Edmonds, solicitor for the Cab Union) explained, as that had already been settled.

Rothschild was an important figure in late nineteenth-century Britain, a banker and the financial backer of Cecil Rhodes, he was a noted philanthropist as well, helping fund housing (in the form of model dwellings) for poor Jews in Spitalfields and Whitechapel.

Rothschild sat in parliament for the Liberals, although he had been a close friend of the Conservative Prime Minster Benjamin Disraeli. By 1896 he was a peer, sitting in the Lords (as he had since 1885) an honour bestowed by that other great Victorian premier, William Gladstone. He then left the Liberals in 1886, joining forces with Joseph Chamberlain’s Liberal Unionists as the Liberal Party split over Home Rule for Ireland. He died in 1915 and the current baron, Jacob, is the 4th to hold the title.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, March 11, 1896]

‘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]

A mini riot at an RHS fête

30 Chiswick House

1829 was the year that the Metropolitan Police Act was passed bringing a fully regulated and hierarchical system of police to the capital’s streets. However, we shouldn’t assume that London was unpoliced before Peel’s initiative, nor believe everything early police historians have told us about the inefficiency or corrupt nature of the measures that existed before the ‘Peelers’ began to patrol their beats.

London had been policed by amateurs and part-time paid police from the medieval period and the networks of parish watchmen and constables had improved markedly in the second half of the 1700s. One of the key improvements in ‘policing’ (and I use that term more broadly than it is used today) was the passing of the Middlesex Justices Act in 1792. This created seven ‘police offices’ across London and complemented the existing ones at Bow Street and the City of London’s Guildhall and Mansion House justicing rooms.

Based on the Bow Street model established by Henry and John Fielding, these police offices were set up as courts with police magistrates (justices of the peace) and court officers (or ‘runners’ as they were known at Bow Street). These institutions later evolved into the Police Magistrates courts and their officers were effectively replaced by Peel’s New Police after 1829.

In July 1829 there was no Metropolitan Police Force and so Londoners were reliant on the old system. And we can get a glimpse of the sort of things they had to deal with in this case that came before the Marlborough Street Office on first Wednesday in the month.

Edward Perry, a coachman, was charged ‘with violently whipping and endangering the lives’ of two Marlborough Street officers. His case was heard by all three appointed police magistrates: Sir George Farrant, H. M. Dyer senior, and his son, H. M. Dyer, junior. The court was packed with several gentlemen who had either witnessed or heard about the events that led to the violence that was alleged to have been meted out to the court’s officers.

One of the officers, Schofield, gave his evidence before the bench. He testified that at 7 o’clock on the previous Saturday evening (27 June) he had been stationed opposite the entrance to Royal Horticultural Society’s annual Fete, which was held in gardens on Wavendon Road on land leased by the Duke of Devonshire. We might have thought that an RHS event (like the modern one at Chelsea) would have been a sober and civilized occasion, but it seems that in 1829 ended in a mini riot.

A queue of coaches had developed, as they waited to collect their ladies and gentlemen from the fete, and this caused some tension as patience worn thin and tempers rose. Perry was employed by Sir Astley Cooper and as he waited outside the gates of the gardens a man approached him and asked him to ‘drive on, and take them up in a few minutes’. At first Schofield assumed this was Sir Astley himself but later established that it was one of the knight’s ‘near relations’, a Dr Patterson.

As the doctor departed into the gardens Schofield, aware of the queue behind, asked Perry to move along. Perry replied that he wasn’t going to move for anybody. The officer took the reins of the horses to lead them away and Perry struck him hard with his whip.

Seeing this one of Schofield’s fellow officers (Goddard) rushed to help his mate. Schofield tried to clamber onto the coach via the running board but Perry pulled it up fast, meaning the officer fell back onto the street. Undeterred he got up, dusted himself down and grabbed at the reins. The driver and officer struggled for some moments before, eventually, Perry was unseated and the coach secured.

In court Perry challenged this account, saying he’d not heard anyone tell him to move and that the officers were aggressive and he’d been injured in the process. He also denied a suggestion that he was drunk, something often leveled at coach drivers who probably drank plenty of beer in the course of their work but were not expected to be get inebriated.

Mr Dyer senior was present at the fete and said that since he could corroborate Perry’s evidence perhaps he should step down from the bench. Another gentleman witness, a Mr Creswell, also supported the coachman. The younger Mr. Dyer had also seen the ‘riot’ but his account verified that of the court officers.

The confusion here is probably explained by the fact that as the incident occurred a throng of servants, attached to various notables visiting the fete, got involved on to try and rescue the coachman as he was led away. A riot ensued and another court officer (Ballad) said that because some of these men were ‘following the officers in a fighting attitude, he was compelled to take out his pistols to keep the mob off’.

This reveals then, that the officers of the courts (or some of them at least) were routinely armed, whereas Peel’s men were only equipped with truncheons establishing the tradition that British police are only given firearms under special circumstances.

Several other witnesses came forward to testify against the officers but this did them little good. Perry was convicted of assaulting Schofield and was fined 40s. The bench agreed that there was less evidence that he’d assaulted Goddard but still fined him 20s anyway. In 1829 60s was a lot of money, around £200 at today’s prices, or two week’s salary for a skilled tradesman.

He wasn’t the only one punished for involvement in a riot that had spoiled the quite peace of Chiswick that night. James Smith, a groom employed by a coal merchant at the Adelphi was fined 20s ‘for attempting to ride over Boothman, a special constable’, and John Wichens, another coachman, had to find £4 as a result of being convicted of whipping two other Marlborough Street officers, Avid and Stone.

While the Bow Street runners wore red waistcoats to identify them it must have been hard to determine exactly who was a policing agent in the early 1800s. One of the advantages of the New Police then was their unambiguous visibility; with their blue swallow-tailed coats and tall stove pipe hats they quickly became a recognized figure of authority on London streets. This didn’t mean that coach drivers became any more respectful of them, but it did make it harder for defendants to claim they hadn’t realized who they were.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, July 02, 1829]

The red mist descends as a coachman gets tangled with an Italian organ

brougham

It was half past five on a Friday afternoon in May 1876 and George Athersford, who was employed by Lady Scott of Cromwell Road, South Kensington, was driving the empty family brougham along Westbourne Place in Pimlico. As he turned into the road he came suddenly on a pair of musicians playing a street organ.

It was a common enough sight in London and a not inconsiderable nuisance to some people, but for whatever reason the coachman didn’t see the pair until he was upon them. The brougham was about the collide with organ when one of the musicians, Pietro Cordani, grabbed hold of the footboard to try and slow the coach down.

At this Athersford brought his whip down on the head of the poor Italian and hit him until he let go. The coachman drove away leaving two angry organ grinders in his wake.

Soon afterwards however, Athersford was back, this time with two lady passengers – Lady Scott and her daughter – on board. Seeing the driver that had attacked his colleague the other musician, Giacomo Malvicé, made a grab for the halter on the horse’s head and tried to pull the coach to a halt.

Again the driver reacted violently, lashing down at the musician and his friend. But this time a policeman was nearby and quickly intervened. Athersford was pulled down from his seat and the ladies got out of the carriage. George was clearly quite drunk, certainly too drunk to be driving in the officer’s opinion, so he summoned a cab for the ladies.

Athersford was taken into custody and brought before the magistrate at Westminster charged with assaulting the musicians and with being drunk and incapable whilst driving. In his defence the coachman said that he’d had a few beers and no food with them, but ‘he knew what he was about’. He admitted hitting Cordon but only lightly, so as to get him to let go of his vehicle. He asked Mr Arnold (the magistrate) to remand him while he called for some witnesses to support his version of events.

The case came back a few days later and the same evidence was repeated by the two musicians and by Lady Scott. Her husband gave the driver a good character reference (he’d worked for them for six months and had proved himself to be ‘steady and sober’ so his behaviour was a surprise to him).

Mr Arnold, the magistrate, said that Athersford had no right to use the force he had but said if he was prepared to settle the matter with the two Italians (by apologising and paying then some compensation I presume) that would be the end of the assault charge. The driver agreed which just left the small matter of the drunk driving. Here Athersford was fortunate to have an indulgent employer. In consequence of his previous good conduct (as testified by Mr Scott) the justice only imposed a small fine of 5s (or seven days in prison) which Athersford paid at once.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, May 29, 1876; Daily News , Saturday, June 3, 1876]

A confident thief says he’ll take his chances with a jury

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I enjoy the way in which the nineteenth century press occasionally rendered the testimony of witnesses at the Police Courts in the vernacular. It was probably done to amuse the usually middle-class readership, and is very far from being ‘pc’ but it does give us a sense of how people spoke.

In February 1839 Denis Burns was accused of stealing a coat and the following exchange with a witness took place at Mansion House Police Court in the City of London.

A groom at a livery stables close to St Mary’s Axe (now home to the Gherkin building) testified that he saw Burns open the door of a carriage and remove a coat from within.

Prisoner:’You saw me take the coat! Mind vot you say my good young man. Take time to consider and remember your precious soul’.

Witness: ‘You made no bones about it at all, but lugged it ou’ and throwed it over your arm, and away you toddled and me arter you’.

Prisoner: ‘Oh, dear me! Please you my Lord! the precious babe as never see’d the light till next year a’nt more innocent than myself, and he knows it b____y well.I’m a poor but honest man’.

The Lord Mayor (sounding rather tired of lame excuses from the dock) asked Burns how it had come by the coat, given that he admitted to having it in his possession.

Burns explained:

‘You see my Lord, as I was walking along. looking for a job, a man turns quick out of a yard, with this here coat over his arm. “I say, old fellow”, says he to me, “you look as if you was hard up; there’s a coat for you, for its no go;” and throws the coat bang at me’.

So, the Lord Mayor asked him, the man made a present of his coat because he didn’t need it any more? Yes, replied Burns, although he admitted he’d be wary of accepting such a gift in the future. The Lord Mayor told him he was going to ensure he had no more similar ‘presents’ in the future and committed him for trial for the theft.

Burns was defiant: ‘Then if ever there was an innocent man sent to Noogate for doing of nothing, I’m the poor unfortunate man’.

His defence was somewhat undermined not only by the groom that saw him filch the garment from the coach, but also by a policeman who appeared to say that he had admitted the theft when he was arrested. He told the court that Burns had said he took it only because he was desperate and ‘in distress’.

‘S’help me God’, Burns blurted out, ‘all I said was I was quite in distress, ’cause they said I’d do such a thing’ (this caused laughter in the courtroom).

To this the Lord Mayor replied:’Well, you must prevail upon a jury to believe you’. ‘Depend upon it, I will’ was Burns’ response.

There is no Denis (or Dennis) Burns in the Old Bailey Proceedings but perhaps it wasn’t written up and printed (not all trials were). If he was convicted he might have faced transportation; a few years earlier and he would have been on trial for his life.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, February 28, 1839]

‘the course of true love never did run smooth’ when the law is involved.

Calais circa 1830 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Calais, c.1830 by J.M. Turner

Towards the end of January 1830 a flustered man rushed into the Bow Street Police Court in some distress. He gained an audience with the sitting magistrate and told him his story.

The man (a widower who was not named in the press report) had traveled from Calais where he ran a ‘respectable English Tavern’. His main source of help was his 17 year-old daughter and a  couple of other servants, one of which was a young man ‘of rather low connexions and habits’.

An ‘intimacy’ had developed between the innkeeper’s daughter and the serving lad which was becoming something of a concern to her father. I imagine he expressed this on several occasions and the young lovers must have realised there was little hope of them being allowed to continue their fledgling relationship.

So they did what all romantic early nineteenth-century couples did, they decided to elope.

The young man forged a draft for money and secured £80 from a local tradesman the landlord dealt with regularly; the girl squirrelled away all of the day’s takings. They made their escape late one Sunday night, chartering a small boat from Calais harbour to England. They arrived in Dover and headed for London. When he discovered them gone the father set off in hot pursuit.

When he had finished telling his tale at Bow Street the principal officer (or ‘Runner’ as we more commonly term the men that served the Bow Street court) set off to find them. J.J. Smith tracked them down to a lodging house in Holborn where he secured the girl and told the lad he was free to go, ‘the sole object being to recover [the landlord’s] daughter’.

But the young beau was not so easily put off. He followed Smith and the girl back to Bow Street and even into the building. Here he was ‘very unceremoniously ejected’ and warned to stay away unless he fancied prison and a turn on the treadmill. Still he lingered, seeing the father and daughter climb into the carriage that would take them back to Dover and thence to France. As the coach pulled away ‘the “lovers” were observed to exchange parting signals’.

There really is a story to be written here, for anyone out there with more imagination than me.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, January 30, 1830]