The sad end of a champion ‘mouser’

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Are you a cat person or a dog one? I have cats but love dogs too; I just don’t have time in my life for them at the moment. Cats are more self-contained after all, they pretty much do what they like and interact with us when they want food or attention. These days cats are – at least in urban areas – simply pets. Their role is solely to provide companionship. In the past people kept cats for other reasons, most often to keep down pests like mice.

That’s why Benjamin Carter and his wife had a cat. They had ‘no end of mice’ and so when their cat disappeared in June 1890 they were both upset and angry to find that a neighbour had killed it.  Carter obtained a summons and brought James Butterfill to court at Woolwich.

There he explained the situation to Mr Marsham, the sitting magistrate. The cat had vanished on June 28 and, having heard rumours that Butterfill was responsible, he confronted him. James admitted taking the cat but said he had put it into a basket (intending to give it ‘a hiding’) but it escaped.

The cat never returned and Carter carried on with his investigations, finding a little girl who said she saw Mrs Butterfill take the cat from the Carter’s door and carry it into her own house. This girl told the magistrate the same story and it became clear that the cat was now dead, killed by the Butterfills. The question was why?

James Butterfill told Mr Marsham that he and his brother-in-law kept pigeons, trained ones (so perhaps racing pigeons or ones used to carry messages). The Carter’s cat had killed several of these by June and they decided enough was enough.

‘You should have sued the owner in the county court’, the justice told him.

‘We did, and were nonsuited’, Butterfill replied.

Nonsuiting means that the case was stopped in court, either because the plaintiff (Carter) withdrew – unlikely here, or because the judge decided there was insufficient evidence for the case to carry on. However, the judge at the time declared that if he’d found a cat killing his pigeons he would have destroyed it. That was enough for the Butterfills who resolved to deal with the problem themselves should it happen again.

It did happen again. The Butterfills lost four pigeons and then six more a few days later.

Robert Ashdown, the brother-in-law, said that his pigeons were worth £5. They had acted to defend their property and Mr Marsham had some sympathy with them. He added that if anyone was directly to blame it was probably Mrs Butterfill, not James and so the summons was incorrectly directed. He thought the action taken was justified and dismissed the summons on a technicality.

The Carters would have to find a new ‘mouser’ (apparently they were readily available for about 10s– £40 today) but hopefully one that didn’t attack birds. They could do with one of my two. They will kill mice if they catch them but just sit and stare at pigeons, making that strange noise that cats make.

The pigeons are not at all bothered by them.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, August 30, 1890]

‘I don’t want to ask a favour from swindlers’ : making a stand on a point of principle.

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An early gas stove

James Connell was a fine upstanding member of his local community. He lived with his wife in New Cross Road, Deptford and was a member of the local vestry. So it is something of a surprise to find him summoned before Mr Kennedy, the sitting magistrate at Greenwich Police court in late May 1895.

The reason for the summons was non-payment of his gas bill but the case is interesting because it reveals the new forms of fuel supply that were just coming on line in the late Victorian period. Connell was summoned by representatives of the  South Metropolitan Gas Company who insisted that the vestryman owed them the not inconsiderable sum of  £10 10sand ninepence. In today’s money that probably amounts to around £865, which explains their desire to recover the debt.

Mr Connell disputed that he owed that amount and set out his case before the Greenwich justice. He stated that in 1892 the couple had purchased a new gas oven to replace their old coal one having been persuaded to do so by one of the company’s salesmen. Mrs Connell had been assured that the new device was cheaper and more effective than her old one and they were given an estimate of the amount of gas that it would consume in the course of a year. This figure was estimated at 27 feet per hour.

In 1892 the gas consumption figure was 29,300 ft, in 1893 it was a little higher (29,390ft) but in 1894 it leapt to 69,400 ft. Mr Connell clearly felt the gas salesman had misrepresented the true cost of the oven and so was refusing to pay for the huge increase in gas. As a result the company disconnected their supply and the current impasse was established.

‘You have a meter, and what it register you have to pay?’ asked Mr Kennedy. ‘Unfortunately I have no meter’, Connell replied, as the company had taken that away when the company cut them off. He didn’t trust what it said and now he had no meter he couldn’t check it anyway: ‘how did he know the meter was correct, or what had been done with it since it was taken away?’

The gas company’s representative insisted the bill was accurate and suggested that all devices varied in their consumption. It was a fairly lame if predictable response and sadly for Connell the law was not in his favour. Mr Kennedy said he would indeed have to pay the bill with 3costs added but suggested he took his complaint about the salesman’s ‘misrepresentation’ of the oven’s performance to the County Court.

Connell felt he shouldn’t have to pay anything until the company had answered any prosecution he brought but again he was disabused of that and told he must pay up. Could the magistrate allow him more time for the payment to be made, he asked? That was up to the company and he could certainly request it, Mr Kennedy told him.  ‘I don’t want to ask a favour from swindlers’ was the man’s riposte.

In the end Mr Connell left court with his head held high convinced that he had, in his words, ‘exposed a fraud’. At the very least he had alerted others that might be fooled into switching from coal to gas on the back a visit from a silver-tonged gas salesman. I suppose this reminds us that in the 1890s the middle class were being tempted to spend their hard earned money on new technologies, like gas ovens, and that having the latest kitchen accessory also demonstrated that you were ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and were fashionably ‘modern’.

Gas ovens first appeared in the 1840s and were exhibited at Crystal Palace in 1851 but they took a while to become popular with ‘ordinary’ people, being a  luxury at first reserved for the very rich.  It was the introduced of rented ovens like that ‘owned’ by the Connells with an attached meter that helped extend their use more widely in the 1880s. So the Connells were early adopters and gas ovens only really took off in England in the late Edwardian period.

I have a lot of sympathy for Mr Connell because he and his wife were sold something that ended up costing them considerably more than they had been promised, and we’ve probably all been there.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, May 30, 1894]

‘Leather Apron’ at Marylebone Police court?

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As London woke up to the news that two women had been murdered in one night of horror in the East End the search for the murderer known to history as ‘Jack the Ripper’ continued. The police pursued all the leads they got, some of which were clearly red herrings.

In the immediate aftermath of Catherine Eddowes’ murder a policeman found a piece of bloodied cloth in Goulston Street. Above it was a chalked message which seemed to infer the murders were being committed by a member of the Jewish immigrant community.

The idea that the killer was Jewish had surfaced soon after Annie Chapman’s inquest when one witness said the man she had seen with Annie just before her death ‘looked foreign’. Anti-alienism (racism) was endemic in Victorian society and it was easy to point the finger of blame at local Jews.

One man in particular felt the pressure of this local xenophobia. John Piser was arrested and questioned when he was thought to be a suspect. The Star newspaper even ran with the story, claiming that the mysterious character ‘leather apron’ was in custody for the killings. leatherapron

‘Leather Apron’ was the name given to a local Jewish man who had a reputation for violence against women. He may well have been an unpleasant character and he may have attacked women but that hardly made him unique in Whitechapel. As for whether Piser and ‘Leather Apron’ were one and the same person, the jury is out’.’

In the end Piser was able to provide Sergeant Thicke for an alibi to cover his movements at the time of the murders so he was released. Many local Jews ran the gauntlet of being arrested by the police or chased through the streets by lynch mobs. It is always much easier to pin the blame for something awful that happens on an outsider, rather than look for the suspects within your own community.

On the day that news of Stride and Eddowes’ murders hit the newsstands a man appeared at Marylebone Police court seeking compensation. The complainant was ‘a man of the artisan class’ and if accused a ‘gentleman’ of injuring him while making a citizen’s arrest. No names were given but the court heard that the man had been working on repairs to the organ at St Saviour’s church  in Paddington. As he walked home a stranger ran up to him and declared that he was ‘Leather Apron’ and tried to take him into custody.

He was dragged to the nearest police station, held for three and half hours, and then released. He wanted compensation for the hurt done to him but the magistrate was unable to help him. Mr De Rutzen explained that he would have to take his claim to a county court.

I wonder how often men were chased, abused, arrested and falsely accused in that ‘autumn of terror’? The press whipped up a storm with their wall-to-wall coverage of the story and the wild speculation as to the murderer’s identity must have caused dozens or more men to be looked on with suspicion.

In reality the killer was probably must closer to home and to the community within which all the victims lived and worked. It is highly unlikely that he was a ‘champagne Charlie’ or a ‘mad doctor’, or even a ‘desperate foreigner’. I believe he was a local Gentile who had grown up in Whitechapel and knew its streets like the back of his hand.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, October 02, 1888]

Jewel theft latest: an electrical engineer gets a month at hard labour

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The story of George Wyatt, who admitted to robbing a jeweller on Houndsditch in January 1883, resurfaced in Monday’s papers. Wyatt had been remanded by the alderman magistrate at Guildhall Police Court on the Friday and was back up before him on Saturday. Now readers learned a little more about the case and we find out today why it never reached the Old Bailey.

Mr Samuels (the jeweller) told the court that he had been in the jewellery business on the  border of the old City of London for 35 years. In that time he recalled Wyatt (an engineer employed by the Electric Light Company) being a regular customer. However, he was also someone he hardboard his suspicions about. There was something about Wyatt that Mr Samuels did not trust and so he decided to keep an eye on him.

On his last visit he stated that he had seen Wyatt lift six gold rings from a tray pad and place them in his pockets. The jeweller called him out and accused him of stealing, which the engineer vehemently denied. In a slightly different version of events than had been given the day before, Samuels said he then called a constable who took Wyatt into custody. The difference is probably best explained by some clarification rather than anyone altering the substance of what happened. Instead of pursuing Wyatt out of his shop, Samuels had simply detained him and sent for the law.

Wyatt had a lawyer to defend him in the Guildhall court, a Mr James Chapman. Mr Chapman presented the case much as Wyatt had the day before, arguing that his client felt aggrieved by the jeweller selling him unsatisfactory poor quality goods.  Wyatt bought ‘watches from time to to time to sell and repair for a living’ he said, and when hew ent to Samuels’ shop on the 21st he:

‘showed his temper and said, “You have robbed me, and I mean to be level with you”, and he took the goods mentioned’.

He was only taking, he suggested, what he was owed. He accepted that this was ‘very wrong’ but it was ‘not an act of felony’, and therefore not something that required him to be formally indicted and tried before a judge and jury. Indeed it was a trades dispute, Mr Chapman suggested, and best dealt with by a county court not a criminal one.

The magistrate, Alderman Hadley, agreed up to a point. He did not send the case up for trail but nor did he leave it for the civil law courts. Wyatt had ‘acted very improperly’ he declared, and sentenced him to a month in prison with hard labour. Given that this probably also entailed him losing is position with the electric company, the engineer paid a heavy price for his actions.

NB: This week I am following the court reportage for a full week in the same year (1883), one whose calendar aligns with our own for 2018. If you want to see how this case started then look back to yesterday’s post

[from The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, January 29, 1883]

You can use this site to search for specific crimes or use the Themes link in the menu on the left to look for areas or topics that interest you. If you are interested in a particular court (such as Bow Street or Marylebone) you can also limit your search to one court in particular. Please feel free to comment on anything you read and if something in particular interests you then please get in touch. You can email me at drew.gray@northampton.ac.uk

Chaos at Westminster as a dress is ruined and a dog eats an expensive shawl

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A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, by Edwin Landseer (1838)

Madame Courtney was a ‘foreign’ (probably French) dressmaker who ‘spoke English very badly’. Just after Christmas 1859 a woman called at her house to ask her to make a ‘very handsome’ dress for her. She returned a week later to try the dress on for size and said she should like to keep it on and send the money at a later date.

The dressmaker was unhappy about this because she knew the customer, Mrs Emily White, as someone who had not settled all of her outstanding debts, so she refused. Instead she suggested that Mrs White either paid  for the dress or left the dress she had arrived in as security.

This upset Mrs White who flew into a rage. According to Madame Courtney White then ‘struck her several times, and the seizing a pair of scissors, [and] demolished her own new dress’.

As a result both Mrs White and her dressmaker appeared in court at Westminster in front of the magistrate, Mr Dayman. The dress in question was produced:

‘It was chequered with incisions as the costume of any harlequin, the pieces being held together merely by the lining’.

The whole exchange caused much amusement in the court and this continued as Mrs White’s defence counsel (Mr Lewis) offered an alternative explanation for the state of the garment. He cross -examined the dressmaker to establish that she employed several ‘workmen’ and owned a large Newfoundland dog. Newfoundlands were very popular in the Victorian period, as much as Labradors are today it seems, but they are massive animals.  Madame Courtney confirmed that this was true and admitted that her ladies had rushed to her aid. However, she said this had prompted Mrs White to seize a nearby poker and threaten to ‘split all their heads open’.

Mr Lewis now claimed that while all this distraction was going on the dog, ‘amused himself by eating up Mrs White’s shawl, which cost 20 guineas’. His client refused to pay for the dress because it did not fit, and had since been ‘shamelessly imprisoned for four hours’ and her own dress had not been returned to her. After she had cut off the new dress (which she said she was perfectly entitled to do) she sat in her underwear while the huge dog ‘growled at her display of uncovered crinoline’. Finally she said that she had since paid the dressmaker for the work she had done.

The case had become pure farce and I imagine the magistrate was becoming increasingly frustrated at the deteriorating decorum of his courtroom. He grumbled that while women were the ‘weaker sex’ they definitely ‘were not the “gentler” sex when aroused’. He dismissed the complaint from Madame Courtney and suggested that if she wanted to pursue a claim for non payment or damage to the dress she would have to take it to the county court. She had no right to detain Mrs White and therefore she also had the right to sue the French woman for false imprisonment and the value of her shawl.

Then, much to his relief, both women left the Westminster court room.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, January 04, 1860]

George Carter ‘sticks it to the man’ and receives some sympathy from the bench

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George Carter was tired.

In fact he was so tired that he felt he needed, and deserved, a holiday. Sadly for him his employer, the North London Metropolitan Tramways Company thought otherwise. Workers had no statutory right to any holiday before 1938, and even that (one week a year) was hard fought and well below the minimum the Trades Union Congress had campaigned for. By contrast today the law states that ‘almost all workers’ are entitled to 28 days of annual leave.

The only way George Carter could get the rest he felt he required was to effectively quit his job, or at least stop working for a while. So on the 1st November 1875 George, who worked as a conductor collecting the fares on the trams, met with his supervisor and told him he was taking some time off. Mr Thomas Bradley, his inspector, said he found have to place someone else on his route and demanded he hand over any outstanding fares.

Carter was holding onto £3 15s 6d of the company’s money but he wanted to know what would happen if he left to have his well-earned break. Would he be discharged, he asked? If so he was going to keep the money.

At the Worship Street Police Court, where Carter appeared to answer a summons from the tram company, it was revealed that it was company policy to extract a £5 deposit from all the conductors prior to them starting their service. Presumably they were a distrustful lot and didn’t like the idea of their staff walking away with their money. Mr G. H Smith, the manager of the company, had  declared that he would be sacked and his wages and depots forfeited. It was this that had prompted the summons and the court case.

So inspector Bradley already had George’s money, indeed he had more than the £3 15s he was demanding he hand over. Moreover the tram company’s employees were forced to sign a document that made the bosses the ‘sole judges in any dispute’ and gave them power ‘to order the forfeiture of the deposit-money and all wages due’. Even in a world with zero-hour contracts and firms like Uber this was a terribly uneven distribution of power between employers and employees and the magistrate was appalled by it.

‘it was ‘very one-sided’, Mr Hannay said, ‘putting the men in the position of slaves without hope of redress in a court of law’, and it had been remarked upon a number of times in that court.

But there was nothing in law to stop the tram company setting the rules as it had; trades unions hardly operated  effectively in the period and it wasn’t until later in the century that they began to flex their muscles with any real hope of success. So all George Carter could do was withdraw his labour and hope to be reemployed at a later date by someone, if not his current employers.

Mr Hannay opted out of the debate; he said he had no power to adjudicate here and so dismissed the summons. As far as he could see the company had Carter’s £5 and he was hanging on to a ‘lesser sum’. If they wanted to pursue him for the fares he retained then they would have to do so in the county court, at their own expense. It wasn’t exactly a victory for the ‘little man’ but it was reported as an example of sharp practice by an employer than many people reading this would have been family with.

Whether that inspired them to look for alternative forms of transport in the future is questionable, but the publicity was hardly good for Mr G. H. Smith and his company were tainted by it, just as Mike Ashley’s appearance in front of the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee in July 2106 did nothing for the reputation of Sports Direct.

Trades Unions get a lot of stick, much of it well deserved. But we should remember that every single right that workers have today – to holidays, sick pay, pensions, safe conditions at work, training, and equal opportunities, have been extracted from the capitalist class by determined workers backed by union representatives. It is not for nothing that nearly every Conservative government since the second world war has attempted to curb the power of the unions in some way or another. Despite their claims of ‘one nation Toryism’ the Conservative and Unionist Party represent the ‘haves’ (like G. H. Smith) rather than the ‘have-nots’ (like George Carter).

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, November 14, 1875]