‘Oh don’t do that. It is I and not he who should be punished’: A wife’s desperate plea to save her abusive husband

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North-east London, almost a year from the start of the Whitechapel murders and the newspapers reports of the Police courts are full of violence. On the Commercial Road a blind man was repeatedly stabbed in the face, at Wandsworth two lads were summoned for beating up a newsboy so badly he was left hospitalized and unable to walk. In Islington a mother punished her 7 year-old son for losing the money she’d sent him to by bread with. Not content with a clip round the ear she pressed a red hot poker in his mouth, burning his tongue.

Over in Hackney two policemen were patrolling near Cross Street late on Sunday night (4 August 1889) when they heard cries of ‘murder!’ and ‘police!’ They hurried towards the sounds and found a small crowd by a house and a woman bleeding from cuts to her arms. A domestic dispute had occurred – something the police were generally rather keen to avoid but perhaps the heightened tensions in the wake of the ‘Ripper’ caused these officers to intervene.

William Elvidge was standing close to his wife Alice and it seemed he had attacked her. Both parties were taken to the police station to be examined and for Alice’s wounds to be dressed.  She’d suffered two cuts only one of which was at all serious, cutting her muscle but she didn’t want to press charges against William.

‘The police, however, thought themselves justified in taking the responsibility of the charge’, and so the case came before Mr Horace Smith, the sitting magistrate at Dalston Police court. Magistrates were often frustrated by the reluctance of women to prosecute their partners; too frequently they simply dropped the charges before their hearing came on, refused to give evidence against husbands in court, or pleaded for mercy for the when they were convicted.

Alice was a woman in this mould.

The court was told that the incident had resulted from William being ‘late for his tea’. An argument had begun and Alice had thrown a plate at her husband who had retaliated by seizing a knife and threatening to ‘cut her throat’.

The magistrate said this was a case that needed to go before a jury and indicted Elvidge to appear at the next Sessions of the Peace. This sent Alice into ‘violent hysterics’ as she pleaded with the justice not to send her man to trial.

Oh don’t do that. It is I and not he who should be punished’, she cried. ‘He is a good, kind, affectionate husband, and good to his children’.

As she was led away by a policeman she screamed:

Oh, dear, it’s all through me!’

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, August 06, 1889]

A smash and grab raid on the Commercial Road

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The Commercial Road, Whitechapel c.1880s

As Charles Wakeman sat in the back room of his jewellers shop at 479 Commercial Road he was probably doing his paperwork or enjoying a late supper. Whatever he was doing it was soon to be rudely interrupted.

At a quarter past nine his assistant rushed in and told him they had been robbed. Wakeman ran through into the shop and saw that his front window had been smashed in. Outside a crowd was gathering – to see what all the fuss was about and, perhaps, to see if any ‘windfalls’ might drop nearby.

Wakeman quickly noted that along with the jewellery that was lying in the street a tray of rings was missing altogether. He picked up two gold bangles and was then approached by a young man. This lad, whose name was Ernest Marks, told the relieved jeweller that he had heard the smash of the window and spotted the thief running away.

Marks, who had been standing on the corner of Jamaica Street,  had sprinted after him and caught him in Bermuda Street. He recovered the tray of ’32 ladies gem rings’ (valued at £129 9s, or over £7,000 pounds in today’s money) and handed the thief over to a nearby policeman.

The suspected jewel thief (William Halbart) who was thought to be in partnership with another man, not yet in custody, was charged at Thames Police Court. The magistrate, Mr Lushington, fully committed him for trial.

Halbart’s case came up very quickly at the Old Bailey; he was tried and convicted of burglary on the 3 March. Despite his protestation that he had only  been a curious onlooker and had picked up some of the jewellery but not stolen it, adding: ‘I am perfectly innocent. I am the victim. I have never been locked up in my life’.

He was sent to prison for a year.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, March 2, 1890]

Bakery wars and anti-semitism in the East End

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The Levy Brothers Jewish Bakery, 31 Middlesex Street, Whitechapel: c.1900

 

We are now (perhaps sadly) used to the reality that Sunday is no more special than any other day. In the 1990s the Sunday trading laws were relaxed allowing even large stores to open (albeit with some restrictions on their hours). Bank Holidays are only holidays if you don’t work in retail and we have very few (if any) days in the year when everything shuts.

In the nineteenth century things were different, although businesses and those that worked in them worked extremely long hours and in much poorer conditions. Workers’ rights were much less well protected than they are today (although these are been systematically eroded in the name of competitive global capitalism).

The key difference was that trading on a Sunday was against the law. Sunday was the Lord’s day and on the sabbath you did no work. Instead it was a day to rest, to be with the family, and, of course, a day to go to church.

Not everyone kept Sunday as the sabbath however. The seventh day in the Old Testament is Saturday, and this was the Jewish holy day, not Sunday. So, for Jews, working on a Friday night and Saturday was against their religion. Unfortunately for them English law followed the tenets of Christianity not Judaism.

In February 1891 this affected several traders in East London directly, and landed them in the Thames Police Court.

Morris Kosminsky, a Jewish baker who lived (ironically) at 35 Christian Street off the Commercial Road, was summoned under the 16th section of the Bread Act (1822). This forbade the making or baking of bread on the sabbath. Bread could be sold but only between 9 and 1 and there were tight restrictions preventing the delivering of bread to premises other than the baker’s own shop.

Kominsky had been seen delivering bread contrary to the terms of the act and the prosecution was brought by a representative of the Bakers and Confectioners’ Co-opertaive Union (BCCU).

The representation told the magistrate that the law was there to protect bakers from being required to work more than six days a week. But it was pointed out that Jewish bakers always shut up shop on Saturdays (their ‘Lord’s day’) and it was unfair that they could not be allowed to continue baking on Sundays, since they were not contravening the spirit of the law. ‘Our law said a Jew should not open on a Sunday’, said Mr Blanchard Wontner, who appeared as counsel for Kominsky and the other men, while ‘his religion said he should not open on a Saturday’.

Blanchard argued that this was a vindictive prosecution brought privately by the BCCU who were, he added, ‘probably composed of Christian bakers’. He suggested that the justice issue a small fine to deter future unnecessary prosecutions under the act.

Kominsky pleaded guilty, hoping for leniency. He was followed by Ascher Levy of Cable Street who had made rolls on a Sunday, A Freedman (who admitted being a baker trading on Sundays) and Mark Rosenbaum of Umberston Street likewise guilty of not obeying the Bread Laws.

If they hoped that the blatant unfairness of the law would guide the justice’s decision they were to be disappointed. Mr Mead told them they had clearly broken the law, regardless of whether it was there for commercial, moral or any other purpose and he was going to make an example of them.

He fined them each 10s (the full penalty) and awarded 5s costs in each case to the prosectors.

There was plenty of anti-semitism about the 1890s and I rather suspect that Mr Mead was happy to side with his co-religionists and fellow Anglo-Saxons against the ‘alien’ presence in East London.

[from The Standard, Thursday, February 11, 1897]

A rough ‘raffle’ in Whitechapel

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One of the things that fascinates me about exploring the reports of cases in the old newspapers is the references to London landmarks (famous and mundane) and to street names. Whenever I am researching for a paper or a book I like to visit the ‘scene of the crime’ so to speak. When I was using the old Corporation of London Archives to read the notebooks of the eighteenth-century magistracy I burned off my lunch tramping the streets of the City, always looking up above the shop fronts and windows. You see much more that way.

Close to the Whitechapel Art Gallery and on the corner of Gunthorpe Street, is the White Hart public house. The pub is next to the archway that leads into what, in the 1880s, was the entrance to the ‘Abyss’ – the dark nether world of alleys, courts, and now lodging houses described by Jack London (1903), and others.

Many of the ‘Ripper’ tours start here and the pub trades on its association with London’s most notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper. A plaque on the side informs customers that a ‘Ripper’ suspect (George Chapman – or Seweryn Klosowski) lived there for a time during the murders. Indeed a murder took place just a few yards from the pub – Martha Tabram’s in August 1888.

Chapman was hanged in 1903 for the murder of three women who he poisoned with arsenic. Apparently Inspector Abberline (one of the lead detectives in the Whitechapel murder case) believed Chapman was the killer because when he had interviewed his wife she had told him her husband was often out late at night for no reason.

Personally I doubt he was the ‘Ripper’ but its interesting to see how suspicions fall and the fact that he lodged at the White Hart certainly fits my belief that the killer was a local man.

The White Hart has clearly been around for a very long time, at least since the eighteenth century. Other pubs come and go and their names change. So when I saw that a fight had started at the White Horse pub in Whitechapel in 1852, I wondered if the court reporter had misheard or incorrectly recorded the details. It wouldn’t be the first (or last) time a journalist got his facts wrong.

In December 1852 John Quin and Julia Haggerty were accused (at Worship Street Police Court) with assaulting Jones Jones, the landlord of the White Horse, Whitechapel.

The assault charge uncovered what seems to have been a mass brawl in the pub, mostly involving members of the large Irish community. There had been a raffle on the Monday night and although (as the paper noted) there ‘could be only one winner amongst the number that stood the hazard of the die’, several of those that lost claimed they had been cheated and started a ‘row.

According to witnesses Quin was the instigator of the brawl and led his fellows in the destruction of glasses and furniture. The landlord was set upon and one witness testified that he feared for the fellow’s life. Haggerty attacked Mrs Jones.

Counter claims from Catherine Ryan and another witness said that the landlord had started it.

She told an incredulous courtroom that Jones attacked the ‘whole of the party (74 in number), and pitched them down stairs, at the bottom of which the witness Ryan said the defendant Quin was lying stone dead, never lifting an arm to man, woman, or child’.

The magistrate didn’t believe a word of it and convicted both defendants. Each was fined 20s, which they paid.

Was the White Horse actually the White Hart? A White Horse pub did exist in the 1800s, but it was at Poplar not in Whitechapel. Now Whitechapel means the area around Leman Street, and either side of Commercial Road and Commercial Street, up to Whitechapel tube in the east and the borders of the City of London to the west. So maybe the reporter got it wrong or perhaps it was meant in a broader geographical sense?

 

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, December 29, 1852]

 

A little charity at Christmas time (for once)

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It is the time of year when charities ask us for money to help the homeless, the elderly, refugees and abandoned pets. Of course they do this all year round (because the problems they address are constant, not seasonal) but perhaps they know we are more likely to dip into our pockets over Christmas. We all know the story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim after all.

The Victorian poor law was harsh and often cruel, separating families and treating those who could not work little better than criminals. Sadly we’ve not lost the rhetoric underpinning the 1834 legislation, which is that there are those deserving of state assistance and those that aren’t. Many people would much rather go without that apply for benefits, visit a food bank or ask for charity, so ingrained in our culture is the philosophy of ‘self-help’ and independence.

Mrs Sarah Escott was a proud and ‘respectable’ working-class woman. Her husband was a gunmaker and the couple lived close to his work in Whitechapel. If you walk around the area close to ‘Petticoat Lane; and Spitalfields Market today you might be forgiven for thinking it has always been a rich and trendy part of London but this is far from the truth. In the middle of the 1800s and right through to late in the 20th century this was a poor area.

The street names also highlight its association with arms manufacturing in the past such as Artillery Passage and Gun Street, while  the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers have been located on Commercial Street since the 1670s.

Mrs Escott lived with her husband at 3 Rupert Street (now Goodman Street, south of the Commercial Road and close to the old East London railway arches at Pinchin Street). The couple had recently been delivered of triplets, something the newspaper reporter and the Thames Police court magistrate thought worthy of noting.

in December 1851 Sarah had brought her three babies to the court because she wanted the justice’s help. She carried two of them while a small girl cradled the third triplet. The magistrate was astonished:

‘Why do you mean to say those three healthy babes are of one birth?’

‘Yes sir’, replied Mrs Escott, ‘they are all girls and I suckle them all’.

But here was the problem. The gunmaking trade was depressed (little did anyone know a major war – the Crimean – was just around the corner) and Mr Escott was not getting enough work to keep the family together. He earned barely 8s shillings a week  (about £25 in today’s money) but wasn’t even guaranteed that. The Escotts were living close to desperate poverty and Sarah had been getting some help from the parish poor law fund.

However, the Guardians had stopped the payments of ‘outdoor’ relief and the family were now facing the threat of the workhouse and all that entailed. Sarah was trying to feed her triplets (whose arrival must have as much a surprise as it was a  very mixed blessing) . She needed good nutrition to keep them all alive on the quality of her own milk, something the justice recognised was difficult if not impossible on her meagre diet.

Mr Ingram the justice listened carefully and told Mrs Escott that he thought her a worthy candidate for help. He directed a police constable to accompany Sarah and her children to the local relieving officer for the Whitechapel Board of Guardians and to make the case for her. The policeman, PC Macready (93H Division), said he knew the family and stated that they were ‘very deserving, industrious people, whose poverty arose from no fault of their own’.

I expect this applied to lots of people in Whitechapel throughout the 1800s, unfortunately not many of them would have been treated as well, even a week before Christmas.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, December 17, 1851]

Washerwoman ‘steals away’ two lads in revenge

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Emily Brown, a 36 year-old ‘laundress and  hawker’ was summoned before the magistrate at Thames Police Court along with her husband Charles. The pair were charged with the unusual offence of enticing away two young boys from their parents and then getting them to rob them. The motive is unclear but might well have been revenge, as we shall see.

The first by named was William Francis Chesterton (aged 14) who, it was claimed, was included to leave his father’s house and to steal ‘three blankets and two sheets’, which were later pawned by Emily.

The other lad, just over 14, was called Myers (no Christian name was recorded) and he too had been taken ‘unlawfully’ from his ‘very respectable’ family by the ‘artifices of the prisoners’.

It seems that having separated them from their parents Mrs Brown persuaded them to head south west on their own. While the boys were traveling towards  Whitstable  (in Devon) Myers was arrested for throwing stones and breaking a window. He was brought to Greenwich Police court and sentenced to 14 days imprisonment. This ‘brought the journey of the two lads to a standstill, and Chesterton returned to London alone’. He was then eventually reunited with his parents, who presumably investigated his abduction and brought charges against the Browns.

Young Myers confirmed the evidence heard and his father also appeared in court to add some insight or explanation to the case. The boy’s father then appeared. Mr Myers lived off the Commercial Road in Whitechapel at no. 14 Hereford Place, the Chesterton lived next door at 14. Myers testified that he had employed the female prisoner as a laundress earlier in the year. However, in July he had brought her to court to accused her of ‘detaining some linen he had entrusted to her to wash for him’. He therefore thought she had taken his son in revenge for him bringing a prosecution against him.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, October 18, 1870]