‘Nobody could say any good of him’: A stateless German at Bow Street

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Map of Prussia and the German States in 1862 (nine years before Unification)

Mrs Lavinia Roberts lived with her husband above his photographer’s studio in Charing Cross. One evening in August 1862 she went upstairs to their bedroom around 7 or 8 o’clock. To her horror a man was in the room, rifling through her drawers. Clothing was strewn all over the floor and he was holding some of her jewelry in his hands.  She demanded to know what he was doing there.

Ich spreche kein Englisch. Ich verstehe nicht’, he replied.

Mrs Roberts knew just enough German to make sense of this. The burglar didn’t speak English and so couldn’t understand what she’d said.

He understood that he’d been discovered though and was now in trouble and he fled. Lavinia followed him downstairs and called for a policeman. Another resident of the house heard the commotion and came out of a room and helped restrain the unwanted visitor. When the police arrived – in the person of PC Killick  (511A) the German thief was escorted to the nearest police station and charged with attempted burglary.

The man’s name was Fritz Tuell and he said he was from Prussia. Fortunately A Division had a German born officer on the strength – PC Reimers (595A) – and he was able to translate for the prisoner. When the case came before Mr Henry at Bow Street Police court the next day PC Reimers explained that Tuell was fairly recently arrived from Prussia.

After Mrs Roberts had described the events that night as she experienced them PC Killick deposed that he found a bracelet, chain and a French coin dropped just close to where the gentleman was detaining Tuell on the stairs.  All of this was translated so the German could understand and he was asked if he wished to cross-examine either of the witnesses. He did not and admitted stealing the items in question, which were valued in total at over £5.

Tuell now spoke (via PC Reimers) to explain that he was a nail maker who had arrived in London 10 days earlier. He’d not had any work in Prussia or Germany for the past three years and had moved around that country, going from place to place (presumably seeking work). He had come to England when his options seemed to have run out there.

Mr Henry asked to see his passport but Tuell didn’t have one. That was odd the magistrate said, why was this?

‘He has sold it’, Reimer told him. Apparently it was common practice for foreigners to sell their passports to someone who wanted to travel back to the continent but had lost (or sold) their own.

There are a good many foreign thieves in this country’ he explained; ‘and when one of wants to go to his own country he buys a passport from some one newly arrived – taking care that the description answers. He then returns to his own country, and pretends he has only been in England a few days, and that the passport is his own’.

He added that he wasn’t sure that this is what Tuell had done, nor was he suggesting he was a bad character with any previous convictions; it was just that he was aware ‘that there is such a system’.

It was news to Mr Henry and he was clearly disturbed to find it out. It added to his conviction that the Prussian nail maker should stand trial in London for his attempted theft and not be dealt with summarily – which was the man’s preference  and the reason he’d confessed so readily.  Having said that he intended to indict Tuell Mr Roberts piped up, saying that it would be inconvenient for him to attend a trial as he was travelling abroad very soon. That was ok, the justice said, it was his wife’s testimony that was required. Unfortunately Mrs Roberts was going with her husband he was told.

Really the case must go for trial’, Mr Henry insisted, ‘it is much too important to be dealt with summarily’.

Tuell had broken into a house and raided a bedroom, despite only arriving in London a few days earlier. It was a ‘daring’ robbery attempt and would have to be judged before the sessions because that court could hand down a much stuffer sentence.

He then concluded by asking PC Reimer to explain to the prisoner that he could send to Germany for character witnesses to support him in court. The prisoner looked just as dismayed as he had for the whole of the proceedings and responded to the policeman in his own language.  Translating Reimer said ‘nobody could say any good of him’, and he was taken down to wait for his trial.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, August 07, 1862]

An excess of zeal as a man tries to avoid the shame of a court appearance.

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This is one of those unremarkable cases, which, at the same time, serves to illustrate how the police courts of Victorian London actually operated. Most of the time the press does not discuss the various functions of the court. Partly this was because it is unlikely that the reading public were interested but also presumably because most people knew anyway. After all these were popular arenas for negotiating social issues and held few secrets for most of the people of Victoria’s capital.

On Thursday 24 June 1880 a number of people were brought to the Worship Street Police court charged with keeping dogs without paying for license to do so. We might have forgotten but until 1987 anyone owning a dog had to buy an annual license.  In 1880 this cost 7s 6d (equivalent to about £25 today) so while not a huge sum it was still a cost on the stretched income of the workingman. So it is not surprising that large numbers of people tried to avoid it.

This meant that periodically the capital’s police courts were filled with defaulters, most of whom were expected to pay up on the spot or face a possible fine and/or imprisonment if they couldn’t pay. Being sent to gaol for not having a dog license was not impossible but it was extremely unlikely.

On this occasion one man seemed keen to pay what he owed but then get out of court quickly and without drawing attention to the fact that he’d been there. This was understandable; no one wants his neighbours to know that he has been in court or in trouble with the law, it was potentially embarrassing. So he popped his 5fine on the ledge of the dock and tried to leave by the main entrance. A warrant officer stopped him and told him he had to go out by the door marked ‘prisoners’, which he was reluctant to do.

When the fellow refused point blank the officer picked up his coins and shoved the man towards the exit door. However, the poor man clung to the dock and continued to refuse to be expelled via the prisoners’ exit. Two more officers arrived, and a police sergeant, and a struggle ensured which ended in an unseemly wrestling match on the court floor.

Finally the man was dragged out of court by his collar and thrown into the street. If he wanted to avoid attention he’d failed quite spectacularly but it was the behaviour of the police and court officers that upset Mr Bushby, the presiding magistrate.

In the afternoon he called the sergeant and officers before him and upbraided them. He told them that they had exceeded their authority and had shown too much ‘zeal’. Given the minor nature of the man’s offence there was no need for rough stuff. He was not supposed to leave his money on the ledge nor was the warrant officers supposed to pick it up from there. They should have told him to pay it to the ‘proper officer’ and, had he refused, they were required to let him leave. There was no requirement that he be imprisoned in default of payment and the proper procedure was for a distress warrant to have been issued if he continued to default on payment.

The man had been injured in the kerfuffle and Mr Bushby wanted it made clear to the officers that he didn’t want to see that sort of incident in his courtroom ever again, and he wrote a letter to the police inspector for K Division to place that on record.

So this uninteresting case becomes interesting (to me at least) because it shows how the courts operated when a fine was due to be paid. It also reveals that there was an exit designated for prisoners (or anyone presumably who had been charged, regardless of whether they came in from the street or from the cells). These were multi-purpose courts; they didn’t simply deal with ‘crime’ and we can all appreciate that some of those that found themselves there were hardly ‘criminals’ by any measure of that term. So making them walk out of a door marked ‘prisoners’ was probably likely to upset those that felt they had done little to deserve the blemish on their character.

[from The Standard, Friday, June 25, 1880]

‘It was an impulsive theft, and I beg for mercy’: the sad fall of an unemployed clerk

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Robert Stevens been out of work for some time when he entered a baker’s shop in Mile End in May 1859. Stevens had previously earned a living as a clerk, a gateway situation for someone hoping to move up the social ranks from the working to the middle classes.

The nineteenth century saw the establishment of the middling classes as the solid centre of Victorian life with their values of hard work, education, thrift, and family life. The social climbing of members of the middle classes were gently mocked in the 1892 novel The Diary of a Nobody where the character of Mr Pooter struggles to be taken seriously by superiors, friends and tradesmen alike.

In an unfortunate coincidence another clerk was in Mr Bradbrook’s  bakery that day and he was collecting money on behalf a firm of coal merchants. The baker had opened his till and placed four gold sovereigns on the counter just as Stevens approached to buy some bread. As the collections clerk and the shopkeeper discussed the account Stevens dashed in and swept the money from the counter and ran out of the shop.

The baker and John Griffiths (the clerk) recovered from their initial shock and rushed off after him, catching him up a few streets away. He had one coin on him having lost the others in his haste, these were picked up by Griffiths  in the chase. The unfortunate young man was handed over to the police and brought before the magistrate at Worship Street Police court to be dealt with by the law.

Robert Stevens pleaded guilty and apologized for his crime. ‘I went into the shop to buy’, he told Mr Hammill, ‘but but catching sight of the gold lying close to my hand, was seized with an irresistible desire of appropriating it to my own service, and unfortunately did so.

It was, I assure you, an impulsive theft, and I beg for mercy, having long been out of employment as a clerk’.

John Griffiths spoke up for the prisoner and urged the justice to show mercy and be lenient. As a fellow clerk he perhaps understood better than most how easy it was to lose a ‘respectable’ position whether because of the precarious state of the economy or the capricious  nature of employers.

It did little or no good however, Mr Hammill ignored the request for compassion and sent Stevens to prison for four months at hard labour. Having served a sentence in a mid nineteenth-century goal I doubt that Robert would have found white-collar work easy to come by afterwards. He was dogged by a criminal record, albeit one of his own making, and the stain of the prison would be on him. Hopefully he recovered and found a new path but this is another example of how a lack of real support for those that find themselves unemployed can have catastrophic and life changing consequences.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, May 23, 1859]

If you enjoy this blog series you might be interested in Drew’s jointly authored study of the Whitechapel (or ‘Jack the Ripper’) murders which is published by Amberley Books on 15 June this year. You can find details here:

‘None will doubt but that our emigration, has proved most useful to the British nation’*. A lack of opportunity at the end of transportation.

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In April 1867 two teenagers appeared at the Greenwich Police court accused of the possession of  a variety of items that didn’t belong to them and being unable to ‘give a satisfactory account; of where they acquired them. Basically then, it was assumed they’d stolen them.

Arthur Edmonds was just 13 and lived in Birdcage Walk, Hackney while Thomas Taylor was older (at 16) and gave his address as Oakford Terrace, Boston Street, Goldsmith’s Row close to what is now Haggerston Park. So what were these two doing south of the river in Greenwich?

Well, as the court was told at 5 o’clock on Friday evening, 26 April, Thomas walked into a pawnbroker’s shop in Deptford and attempted to pledge 13 silver spoons. The assistant was suspicious and called the police. When PC Savage (484A) arrived he quizzed Thomas about the spoons and didn’t believe the lad’s explanation that he had found them while across Blackheath.

Thomas was arrested and Arthur picked up soon afterwards. When they were searched Thomas was found to have a small clock on him while his younger partner in crime was in possession of a huge haul. The police found:

‘an eye glass, £1 12s6d. in money, seven silver, and four brass coins, a syringe’ plus ‘a watch, [and] eight shirt studs’.

The pair were charged before Mr Traill and Edmonds’ father identified most of the goods his son had on him as his own. He explained that Arthur had run away on the previous Thursday (25/4) taking with him a writing desk in which most of those items had been stored. He’d also taken some clothes and the watch, which belonged to one of his other sons.

Taylor had previously been before the magistrates at Worship Street, which was much closer to home, so perhaps his desire to pawn the goods in South London was a deliberate move to avoid detection. Thomas told the court that he’d met Arthur and the younger boy had asked if he could join up with him. It sounds as if Arthur Edmonds was an unhappy youth or perhaps just a troublesome one. Did he run away for the adventure or because home was a place he feared?

The magistrate decided that the state needed to intervene here and sent both lads for trial at the next Sessions so that Arthur could be committed to a juvenile reformatory where he might learn some discipline and be removed from bad influences. Thomas was too old for a reformatory so if was convicted he’d face prison and probably lose all chances of leading an ‘honest’ life in the future.

One option for the pair might have been to transport them to the Australia and earlier in the century it is entirely possible that this is where they might have wound up, Thomas Taylor especially. But by the 1860s fewer and fewer convicts were being transported overseas and the last ship (the Houguomont) sailed in October 1867 with 280 ‘passengers’ on board.

Taylor is not an uncommon surname and Thomas a very frequently used first name but in December 1867, just 8 months after this incident, a Thomas Taylor was committed for trial at the Old Bailey by justice Newton at Worship Street. The17 year-old brushmaker was convicted of stealing 4 pairs of boots and sentenced to 4 months in Cold Bath Fields house of correction. The age is about right as is the area, so this may well be the same young man. His brush with the law at Greenwich clearly didn’t do enough to put him off.

Last night I went to the theatre, the Theatre Royal at Stratford to be precise. There I watched a production of Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenberger performed by the Ramps on the Moon players in collaboration with the Nottingham Playhouse. The play is focused on the experience of a group of convicts transported to New South Wales in 1787 as part of the First Fleet to reach Botany Bay. In what is a play within a play a small number of transported felons battle prejudice and systemic abuse to put on a performance of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Sergeant, a restoration comedy that involves nearly all the cast playing more than one role.

It is based on a true story and is a reminder that it was those banished to Australia in the late 1700s and early 1800s that carved out a new life for themselves that did so much to establish the colony on the other side of the world. Transportation officially ended as a punishment in 1868, with the Houguomont being the very last transport ship to arrive in Western Australia in January that year. Thereafter most of those convicted by English courts would be sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment in the increasingly rigid British penal system. The opportunity for a new life, despite the fears it brought with it, would have to wait until British society was sufficiently affluent – about 100 years later – for some members of the working classes to choose to emigration ‘down under’.

Our Country’s Good is an excellent play and the Ramps on the Moon troupe are fantastic players, so do go and see it if you can, in London or elsewhere.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, April 29, 1867]

*Wisehammer’s prologue to The Recruiting Sergeant, Our Country’s Good, (1988)

Dodgy coins and an echo of the Titheburn Street Outrage

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Miss Philips was a barmaid working at Victoria Railway Station, in the London, Brighton and South Side refreshment bar. One of her customers had already raised her suspicions that day and when she handed over a florin that looked a little dodgy she called her manager’s attention to it.

Mr Sweeting looked ay the coin and compared it with a few others that the bar had taken that day. He was pretty sure they were counterfeit and moved quickly to have the elderly woman that had paid for her brandy with it arrested. Sweeting also noticed a man in the station who had been seen with the prisoners earlier making a hasty exit and sent the police after him as well.

The next day Laura Deane (an 80 year-old ‘disorderly woman’) and Thomas Shoster (a ‘well-dressed, middle-aged man’) were both brought before Mr Woolrych the sitting magistrate at Westminster. Shoster hailed from Liverpool and had been seen conversing with Deane at several points at Victoria. When he was searched at the police station a ‘shilling was found in an old glove’ along with several pieces of paper which had evidently been used to wrap coins in.

The suggestion was that Shoster was sending Deane out to ‘utter’ (to pass the counterfeit coin) and so change it for ‘good’ money. As for Laura Deane, she was found to have a string of pockets that she wore under her dress, seemingly to conceal coins on her person. But for the sharp eyes of the barmaid and her boss the criminal pair might have gotten away with more sharp practice that afternoon. Instead they were both remanded in custody so that the police had more time to investigate.

Interestingly Thomas Shoster gave his Liverpool address as Titheburn Street. Historians of crime will recognise this as the scene of Liverpool’s first recorded gang murder, in August 1874, just seven months before this news report in London. Richard Morgan was beaten to death by John McGrave and other members of the notorious ‘cornermen’ that infested the area.

The ‘Titheburn Street Outrage’ made national news and provoked much soul-searching about the state of Britain’s urban centres and the problem of gangs, something that has never really gone away. As for Deane and Shoster this may have been the end of their story. They leave no record in the Old Bailey or in the related records of the Digital Panopticon.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, March 21, 1875]

A rogue servant and the sealskin coat

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Ann Waring was a confident thief who had a clear modus operandi.

In 1876 Ann was 22 years old and she applied for work at a succession of houses in Pimlico. Ann had no references with her but told her prospective employers that they could write away for them. One after another a number families in Pimlico took her in as a domestic servant in Eaton Square, Denbigh Street and the Fulham Road.

Within a few days however, Ann absconded and the families soon realised that they had been robbed. The Aplins of 130 Ebury Street lost a sealskin jacket valued at £20, while Ann Thomas (another sergeant there) had missed a gold sovereign coin.

Louisa Chapman Lewis reported that a gold watch and chain, four gold rings, some ear-rings, a cameo brooch and some other items, valued in total at £30 had been plundered from her home at 26 Denbigh Street. Elizabeth Goldspink, who lived at 57 Fulham Road, told the police she had discovered that ‘a gold watch and chain, a guinea, a 7s piece, trinkets, etc.’ had gone missing shortly after Waring left her employ.

All in all then this was quite a sizeable haul of jewellery and cash that Waring had allegedly stolen and the police were hot on her heels. Detective Buxton of B Division was following up leads about her and eventually tracked her down and arrested her. Once he had her he began to make some enquiries at a number of pawnbrokers and was able to trace most of the items. The sealskin jacket, ‘which was quite new […] had been left for £8 10s at the wardrobe shop of Mrs Caplin , 1, Richmond Road, Kennington Cross’.

In late December Ann Waring was again presented before the magistrate at Westminster where she admitted her crimes. Her plea was simply that her father had ‘been in deep distress, and as his daughter, she had been driven by sheer want to steal’. Detective Buxton said there was a ‘vast amount of property’ that he had yet been unable to trace and therefore asked for another formal remand. The magistrate agreed but also committed her for trial at the Middlesex sessions in January.

On the 8th January 1877 Ann Waring was tried and convicted of stealing a variety of expensive luxury items, including two gold watches and the sealskin coat. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 29, 1876]

Two street urchins try (and fail) to argue the toss with a magistrate

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Charles McCarthy and John Harrison were described by the Standard’s  court reporter as ‘urchins’. We should probably understand that to mean that, in the late 1870s, they were young members of the working class. Youngsters like these played on the streets and were often associated with the so-called ‘criminal class’ that exercised contemporary commentators like Henry Mayhew and James Greenwood.

From the early 1800s discourse concerning youth crime focused on reform and the importance of education, good parenting, and work opportunities. It was argued that younger criminals needed to be separated from older ones, to avoid corruption. There was also a long standing concern about gambling, particularly by children and youth.

The ‘new police’ who patrolled London’s streets from 1829 were actively involved in the enforcement of laws that prohibited gambling, especially amongst the young. In April a police constable had arrested Charles and John for gambling in the streets, and so they were produced before the magistrate at Bow Street. However, they made a bold attempt to deny the charge, and in doing so reveal a little about the sort of passtimes that children got up to in the late 1800s.

They were accused of gambling on a Sunday (which made it worse, as they should have been in church) by an unnamed PC. They were ‘tossing for halfpence’ and this was, the paper’s correspondent reported, quite a common offence; there were ‘a dozen similar cases on a Monday’. What made this worthy of writing about was the bravado the boys displayed.

The eldest lad denied they were gambling, they were just ‘having a game [of] “back”‘. This involved tossing a halfpence coin up into the air and trying to catch it on the back of the hand. This is still a child’s game today, (although I suspect there is probably a mobile phone app for it now…).

The boy showed the magistrate (Mr Flowers) what he meant by taking out a coin and flipping it in court. ‘Why we only had a ha’penny betwixt us. That ain’t gambling’, said the youth.

The justice turned to the policeman and quipped:

‘I fear these boys have been reading the Act of Parliament for the purpose of evading its provisions’, drawing laughter from the courtroom.

Did they have more than penny on them, he asked? They did, said the constable, ‘There were a penny and a halfpenny lying on the ground close to them, your worship’, adding, ‘they are always at it’.

That was probably the most damning statement. Under the law the constable was probably  correct in arresting them but what happened next shows how’s unfair the Victorian justice system was to youngsters like these two. They were indulging in a pretty harmless game of chance, with little actual ‘gambling’ going on. Hearing the constable’s evidence Mr Flowers turned to the lads and said:

‘Ah that looks bad. You must pay a fine of 1s each, or be imprisoned one day’.

Just what good a day in prison would do for these two is questionable, nor do I imagine they could easily get hold of two shillings between them unless their parents were able to intervene. So probably these lads got a taste of Victorian ‘justice’ and came out a little less disposed to respect the law in the future.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, April 22, 1879]