‘I did it, and I wish the knife had gone in deeper’: Life goes on as a killer stalks the streets of Whitechapel

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As the main crime news of 1888 continued to unfold on the ‘front pages’ of the London newspapers the inside pages carried on reporting the ‘daily doings’ of the Metropolitan Police courts. Readers of the Sunday papers might have been shocked by the horrific murder of Polly Nichols in Whitechapel but when they had digested that they could reassure themselves that the usual fare of petty crime, disorderly behaviour and mindless domestic violence was still being dealt with by the capital’s magistracy.

The editor of  Lloyd’s Weekly  chose to carry two cases from the Worship Street Police court in Bethnal Green, not far from Whitechapel and the site of Polly’s murder. The first was fairly light-hearted and involved a pub landlord. The second was sadly typical of the darker side of working-class life in the 1880s.

George Saunders was leaning on a lamppost outside his pub – The Admiral Keppel on Hoxton Street (pictured above in about 1930) – when a policeman approached him. The PC asked him if he was ‘waiting for a friend’ and then suggested he move along. Saunders growled at him and stayed put, indicating the sign over the doorway, which had his name as the licensee.

Whether the officer failed to notice this or was simply being difficult Saunders couldn’t tell but when PC 211G moved closer and trod on his boots (accidently or otherwise) the publican reacted. He shoved the policeman backwards and aimed a punch at his retreating back. A nearby colleague of the copper saw this (or said he did) and came to his rescue. Saunders was arrested and brought before Mr Bushby.

It was a trivial case and the magistrate may well have harbored doubts as to the veracity of the two policemen’s version of events. He declared that a man ‘had a right to stand in the street, unless seen to do any overt act, without being catechised by a constable’. The arrest was unlawful and the prisoner was discharged.

If this was trivial the other case was far from it. John Agas, a 34 year-old hawker, was charged with ‘maliciously wounding’ Henry Watson in a row over a woman. Watson explained that on Saturday night (this would have been the week before, the 25 August 1888) Agas had called at his home in Kingsland Road, Dalston. The hawker demanded to see his wife who was now cohabiting with Watson. Watson refused to let him in or see her and this sent Agas into a fury. He threatened him and then made good his threat by drawing a knife and stabbing him in the shoulder.

A cry of ‘murder!’ went up and several people set off after the assailant. He was caught by the police and taken into custody. At the station he supposedly admitted his crime stating:

‘I did it, and I wish it (the knife) had gone in deeper’.

Mr Bushby cautioned him and then asked why he’d done it. Agas replied that he was upset and angry because the other man had ‘led away’ his wife. In other words this was an act of revenge. He was fully committed for trial. Perhaps his resort to violence might explain why his wife had left him in the first place.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, September 2, 1888]

Racism ‘on the buses’?

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In the 1880s London buses (more properly ‘omnibuses’) were privately run. This meant that they sometimes switched their routes to take advantage of a sudden influx of passenger business. So instead, for example, of the modern 242 going to Dalston from Liverpool Street it might choose to run to Islington if sufficient people wanted to go there. I can’t imagine a situation where that would happen today but if it did there would be uproar from the stranded passengers left waiting at the stop.

This is exactly what happened in June 1880 however, as Jacob Allen was trying to get home late at night on a Sunday from Bank. An omnibus pulled up and the conductor shouted: ‘Burdett Road and Mile End’ and a number of people boarded, including Allen.

Then, as a number of other ‘buses appeared, all heading in the same direction, the conductor shouted ‘Limehouse and Blackwall’, thereby ‘altering the direction altogether’. He ordered everyone to get off declaring:

‘Come out, come out, I wont carry you to Mile-end’.

Everyone did get off the bus except for Allen; the engineer realized that  this revised route suited him much better anyway so he sat down and puffed on his cigar and waited to be carried home. The conductor still insisted he leave however, and when he tried to explain the bus man abused him verbally, calling him a ‘stuck up monkey’ and grabbed the cigar out of his mouth.

Allen complained at the man’s rudeness but it did no good, the conductor manhandled him off the bus and left him fuming on the pavement. Determined to have satisfaction Jacob Allen applied for a summons and had the man hauled up before Sir Robert Carden at the Mansion House Police court.

The conductor’s name was Moore and he had little by way of a defence. Allen had found at least one witness who supported his version of events and added that Moore appeared to be drunk at the time. Apparently he had told Allen that ‘he would not carry such trash’. Given that the complainant was an engineer and smoking a cigar I wonder if Allen was black and this was a case of racism? All Moore would say was that the man was intoxicated and that was why he refused him travel but this was vehemently denied. If he’d been out in London late on Sunday Jacob Allen may well have been drinking but this seems like a slur and Moore could produce no evidence for it.

Sir Robert found for the complainant and commented that Moore’s ‘omnibus was one of those private ones which went anywhere. It was clearly proved  that he had used bad language’, adding that ‘the sooner his master got rid of him the better. Civil language cost nothing’ after all.

He fined him 20s or 14 days in prison.

London had (as it has today) an extensive transport network involving omnibuses, trams, over ground and subterranean trains and the ever-present hansom cabs. This allowed Londoners to move around the city from east to west, south to north, at almost all times of the day or night, regardless of the depth of their pockets. It may also have helped one deeply disturbed individual carry out some of the most heinous murders this country has ever known. For more about the man who might have been ‘Jack the Ripper’ see Drew’s new co-authored study on the Whitechapel and Thames Torso murders of 1887-1891 available now on Amazon:

[from The Standard , Saturday, June 26, 1880]

Two tragedies narrowly averted as life takes its toll on two Londoners

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April 1889 must have been a hard month for those living in London. The 1880s were a period of economic slump, if not a full-blown depression, and unemployment, homelessness and poverty were all rife. A year today I wrote up the story of a young woman that arrived from India, penniless and in need of kind advice and support, who got little of either from the Westminster magistrate. In the same set of daily reports from the Police courts two more tales of personal distress and tragedy caught my eye today.

Mr Bros was the sitting magistrate at Dalston Police court in northeast London when George King was brought before him. King was a 48 year-old stonemason but he was out of work. He’d lost his wife some years ago and was attempting to support his family on his own. Recently however, the state of trade meant he’d little or no money coming in and his sons and daughters were going hungry.

At some point in the spring it all became too much for George and he decided to end his own life. He swallowed a quantity of oxalic acid (used to bring a shine to marble, so something he’d have used in his work) and almost died. Fortunately oxalic acid is one of the least toxic of acids and while it causes considerable harm (notably to the kidneys) its misuse is survivable.

George King did survive but was later arrested and charged with attempting to take his own life. Mr Bros said he was inclined to make an example of the stonemason since ‘such cases were too frequent’ but thought better of it. Taking the circumstances of his plight into consideration he bound him over on his own recognizes (of £5) to never try to do such a thing again.

If George King’s story was a narrowly tragedy avoided then Thomas Burrows was equally distressing. Thomas was only 14 years of age when he attempted to kill himself by lying on the tracks of the North London Railway. At midday on the 10 April Thomas had been seen jumping ‘excitedly’ off the platform at Mildmay Park station onto the tracks below. Observers rushed to pull him up and a constable was called to take him home to his parents. He was later summoned before Mr Bros at Dalston.

The magistrate asked him if he knew it ‘was an extremely wicked thing to attempt to take your life?’  ‘Yes, sir’, Thomas replied meekly.

The boy’s father explained that he understood that the lad had had a ‘tiff’ with his sister. It was something minor, involving carrying home a basket of work in the rain, but it had upset the boy and he had taken this drastic course of action. Normally Thomas was ‘a very good boy, and was fond of his home and of his brothers and sisters’. This had been out of character and he was sure it would never be repeated.

Mr Bros was shocked but also recognized that it was a ‘one off’. Indeed, he said he was almost inclined to laugh’ had there not been ‘such a serious aspect to the case’. He decided to reserve judgment but released Thomas to his father’s care and set bail  (set at £5 again) to ensure the pair returned again to hear what the court decided.

Both these cases are revealing of a society where mental health care was nothing like as advanced as it is today. The attitude of the courts was to punish those that struggled with their personal demons not to support them. Nor was their the state support for men like King who wanted to work but couldn’t; he had at least four other mouths to feed and the only recourse he had was the workhouse (where he’d most likely lose his children altogether).

We are understandably concerned about the mental health of our children in today’s multi-media society where they are exposed to all sorts of challenges on a daily basis. It is often suggested that mental health problems amongst teenagers are more widespread than ever before. This may be true but cases like Thomas’ suggest that such problems existed in the past, but were treated very differently or simply not recognized at all.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, April 18, 1889]

The man on the Dalston tram stands up for commuters everywhere

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In these days of contactless payments and Oyster cards it’s easy to forget that not so long ago one used to need a ticket to travel on London transport. I remember bus conductors with their machines spewing out paper tickets like the waiting systems in some supermarkets and surgeries, and we still have travelcards on the tube and trains. But how did our ancestors prove they had paid their fare, were tickets always required, and how were they issued?

When Alfred Pearl appeared at Thames Police court charged with ‘dodging’ his fare to Dalston Junction it revealed the system one tram company deployed to check passengers had paid.

Apparently the North London Tramways Company (NLTC) didn’t trust its their own employees. It had adopted a system whereby none of its conductors could collect fares from those boarding their trams. Instead a ‘collector mounts the car and collects the fare, giving to each passenger a ticket, which is to be delivered up on leaving the car’.

So you got on, waited until a collector got on, then paid him, and carried on your journey clutching your ticket. As long as you had one you were ok; fail to produce it however and you’d be asked to cough up. This seems very like the system of inspectors we have now. They may be infrequent visitors to the buses and trains of the capital but I’ve been asked for my ticket (or my contactless debit card) a number of times in the past 12 months.

Alfred Pearl had boarded a tram car at somewhere before Kingsland Road on a Saturday afternoon in August 1873. At Kingsland Road Philip Egerton, one of the company’s collectors, ‘demanded his fare in the ordinary way’ but Pearl refused him. He said would not pay his fare in advance, but only once he had reached his destination.

I suppose this is a reasonable position to hold given the unreliability of transport systems now and then. After all most people paid for services they had received, not that they were about to receive. Pearl said he was going to Dalston Junction and would pay his fare there, and so the tramcar carried on. At the Junction however Pearl now insisted he wanted to continue his journey further, and remained adamant that he would only pay on arrival.

The collector asked him for his name and address, and when Pearl refused to give them Egerton called over a policeman and asked him to arrest the man. The policeman was not inclined to waste his time but Pearl decided he was going to clear his name, and make a point, so he took himself to the nearest police station where he again refused to pay or give his name. The desk sergeant had him locked up and brought before a magistrate in the morning.

In front of Mr Bushby at Thames Police court Alfred insisted he had done nothing wrong. He ‘denied the right of the [tram] company to demand or receive his fare before he had completed his journey’. In response the NTLC’s solicitor Mr Vann ‘produced the by-laws of the company’, which clearly demonstrated (at section nine) that they were perfectly entitled to do just that.

Mr Bushby wasn’t clear how to proceed. He wasn’t aware of whether the company’s own by-law was valid and he would need time to seek advice and consider the legal implications of it. For the time being he adjourned the case and released the prisoner who went off loudly complaining about being locked up in the first place. Mr Pearl was no ordinary traveller either, he was smartly dressed and may have been ‘a gentleman’. It seems he was quite keen to test the law but hadn’t bargained on being held overnight as an unwilling guest of Her Majesty.

The case came back to court in October 1873 where the tram company were represented by a barrister as was the defendant. Astonishingly here it was revealed that Pearl had actually offered the policeman 10sto arrest him and the collector (Egerton) a whole sovereign if he would prosecute. It was claimed he declared he  ‘would not mind spending £100 to try the matter’.

This then was a clear case of principle to Mr Pearl.

His lawyer (Mr Wontner) cross-examining the ticket collector ascertained that Pearl’s defence was that when he had been asked to pay had explained that he had refused because:

his mother had on the previous day lost the ticket given on payment being made, and had been compelled to pay again’. He had told the collector in August that his own ticket had ‘blown away in a gust of wind’.

Evidently Pearl was not the usual fare dodger (and there were plenty of those brought before the metropolitan police courts) and Mr Bushby had no desire to punish him as such. He (the magistrate) also felt the circumstances of the arrest and imprisonment had been unjustified and so agreed Mr Pearl had been treated poorly. The by-law however, was ‘a very excellent regulation’ but ‘it was informal, and consequently not to be enforced’. The whole matter was, he was told, to go before the Queen’s Bench court for consideration so there was little for him to do but discharge Mr Pearl without a stain on his character.

Thus, the man on the Dalston tramcar (if not the Clapham omnibus) had won a small victory, but I doubt he won the argument in the end as we are well used to paying up front for a journey that might be uncomfortable, delayed, or indeed never reach the destination we ‘paid’ for.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, August 24, 1873;The Morning Post , Saturday, October 04, 1873]

The late Victorian magistracy knew how to deal with sexual assault when they saw it

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Dalston Junction station c.1905 (about 8 years after the events recounted below took place) 

Our society is quite rightly agitated about sexual assault and misconduct. There has been a well documented campaign about sexual harassment and worse which as touched the television and film industry, politics, professional sports, and even charities. I suspect we have not heard the end of this and that the empowerment of women (and men) via the sharing of stories of abuse will result in many more industries and ares of public and private life being exposed to accusations of bad behaviour, sexual misconduct and rape.

It seems to me that the abuse of women, men and vulnerable children by those having positions of power and influence is endemic in modern society and until some prominent people are very publicly made to pay the consequences of this we are unlikely to see things improve. Sadly, of course, none of this is very ‘new’ and men (and it is usually men) have been getting away with sexual harassment for centuries.

However, not everyone got away with it and in some circumstances – notably when the abuser was a member of a lower social class than his victim – the Victorian courts were prepared to act to defend the defenceless. Even when these distinctions were not obvious the Police Court magistrates could often be relied upon to make a stand.

Florence Day was a domestic servant. On Tuesday 17 March 1897 she was travelling on the North London Railway between Dalston Junction and Broad Street in a third class carriage. It was the day before St Patrick’s Day  and the carriage was also being used by three Irishmen, one of whom took it upon himself to impose himself upon the young servant girl.

As soon as the train moved off Morris Deerey, a cattleman, began to speak to her. Florence was not interested and move her seat to get away from him. He’d been drinking and he and his friends were probably quite drunk. Undeterred Morris rose and follow her, sitting down opposite the girl.

Again he tried to engage her in conversation and when she ignored him he moved his muddy boot across and lifted her skirt. This was not only an invasion of space it was a sexual assault in the context of Victorian attitudes towards the female gender. Even today it would be considered as such.

When the train pulled in to Broad Street Florence, with the help of a fellow passenger who had seen everything that occurred, had Deerey taken into custody. She went to Moorgate Station and was examined by a female ‘searcher’ (who  I imagine was employed by the railways to search women brought in accused of picking pockets).  She confirmed that there was mud on the servant’s stockings and the whole case sent before the alderman magistrate at Guildhall Police court.

Deerey denied the accusation against him and produced his two fellow cattlemen to back him up. Both admitted to being drunk and claimed that Deerey’s foot had got accidentally entangled with the girl’s dress. William Holloway had acted to support Florence and had been watching the men warily since they’d boarded the train at Chalk Farm. He confirmed Florence’s story and dismissed the friends’ version of events.

Alderman Newton had heard enough. Bad behaviour from the working classes was meat and drink to him; drunken and loutish conduct by the Irish was particularly to be condemned. He told the listening press and public that:

‘the traveling public must be protected, especially unprotected females’.

He sent Deerey to prison for 14 days hard labour meaning that he missed the St Patrick’s Day celebrations that year. ‘Poor Paddy’, as the Dubliners (and the Pogues) once sung.

[from The Standard , Thursday, March 18, 1897]

A ‘long firm’ swindle on Kingsland Road

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The long firm fraud – where a criminal organisation sets up a seemingly legitimate business (such a distribution warehouse) for illegitimate purposes – was a noted practice of 1960s gangsters like the Kray brothers, Reggie and Ronnie. The deception featured at the heart of Jake Arnott’s 1999 novel about the fictional criminal gang leader, Harry Starks. But long firm frauds weren’t new in the 1960s as this case demonstrates, they were well known in the 1880s if not earlier.

William Hammond (an agent in the leather trade) appeared at Worship Street Police Court in March 1883 charged with ‘having conspired [with two other men] to cheat and defraud Samuel Chittick by fraudulently removing certain goods with an intent to prevent an execution for an unsatisfied judgement’.

In layman’s terms what this meant was that Hammond had run up large debts (to the tune of £167 the court heard) and Chittick had been forced to take him to law to recover his money. Hammond operated out of premises on Kingsland Road in north-east London but when a sheriff turned up to remove goods and chattels to the value of the debt he ‘found them empty’.

Chittick’s lawyer declared that he would prove that Hammond had:

‘actively assisted in removing the goods, leather and machinery, and further that he had said Mr Chittick would not get a farthing of his money’.

But there was more the lawyer insisted. He didn’t believe that Hammond’s co-accused (a man named Thomas Marshall) was as culpable, the real villain was the leather salesman.  He told the magistrate – Mr Bushby – that he could prove that Hammond had set up the business as a fraudulent venture. Marshall had already been convicted in the previous year of fraud at this address but now he was able to provide evidence that Hammond was the main operator. It was Hammond who had set up the false business and installed Marshall to run it.

He said that ‘goods were obtained merchants ostensibly for the purposes of legitimate business, but instead of the goods being used in the way of fair trade, they were removed in bulk from the premises soon after delivery, and sent to a firm carrying on business as Lodes and Son at Norwich, and sold under cost price’.

This was, he hoped Mr Bushby would official record, a ‘mere “long firm” swindle.

Hammond had escaped the law for some time by relocating himself to Norfolk but had made the mistake of suing a local newspaper there for libel because it had accused him of carrying on  similar racket in Norwich. This backfired and he had been arrested and convicted there. After his conviction he had been handed over the Metropolitan Police who were keen to question him about the Kingsland Road case.

Several people testified to the truth of the lawyer’s allegations and the magistrate remanded Hammond in custody, waiving away the prisoner’s request to be granted bail. Hammond was eventually tried at the Old Bailey in April that year. He was convicted and sentenced to nine months imprisonment at hard labour.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, March 06, 1883]

Gang violence in Dalston as a new year dawns : an echo from 1877

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Joseph Allen was walking out with his ‘sweetheart’ on Kingsland Road in Dalston in early January 1878. It was just after midnight when the couple found their route barred by a large group of youths, about 20 strong. According to Allen’s report the gang of ‘roughs’ were: ‘occupying the breadth of the pavement , and pushing all persons into the road’.

This is quite familiar as the behaviour of youth groups or gangs in the late nineteenth century. In the 1870s and 80s they were usually referred to as ‘roughs’ (although that term was also applied to agitators in political crowds and other unruly elements of society). By the turn of the century the word ‘hooligan’ was used, being coined in the early 1890s, and immortalised by ‘Alf’, from Lambeth, in Clarence Rook’s Hooligan Nights

As the gang of youths reached Allen and his girl they pushed him about as they had done everyone else. When he objected he was surrounded, beaten about the head and knocked to the ground. He was forced to ‘fight his way out’ he later explained, but that was not the end of his troubles.

One of the ‘roughs’, a 22 year-old man named Thomas Robson, ‘rushed upon him and struck him two blows on the lest side of the head above the temple’. As he took his hand away from his wounded head Allen realised he was ‘bleeding freely’. Robson ran away but Allen chased after him and wrested with him. Despite the efforts of his fellows Robson was eventually handed over to a nearby policeman who took him into custody.

In front of the Police Magistrate at Worship Street Robson challenged Allen’s version of events. He suggested instead that Allen had sustained his wounds ‘by falling in a fair fights’ and asked those present to back him up. The magistrate decided to believe the victim in this case, who appeared in court with his head heavily bandaged. Robson was committed to take his trial before a jury.

Tried at the Sessions on 8th January Thomas Robson was convicted of wounding and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. The case has echoes of the Regent’s Park murder of 1888, when Joseph Rumbold was stabbed to death outside the gates of the park in a gang related incident. It is also a timely reminder that youth violence has a very long history in the capital. In the last few days we have heard that four young people were murdered on New Year’s Eve which brought the total of knife killings in London in 2017 to 80, the highest number in a decade.

Sir Craig Mackay, Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police made a statement, saying:

‘We need to find out why some young people think it is acceptable to carry knives, and this is where community organisations and local initiatives, charities, schools and educators, youth workers and families all have an important role to play in changing this mindset’.

I agree with his message but wonder what exactly we have been doing for the past 10, 20, 50 or even 100 years? Youth violence isn’t something we are suddenly going to understand or easily be able to solve. When my wife and I got home from a quiet New Year’s Eve with family we were disturbed by cries for help from two young men in the street. The pair were wrestling in the road and we called 999. Fortunately it was a case alarm; the pair were simply drunk and incapable and not killing each other. We aborted the call and apologised to the operator.

Joseph Allen was lucky, he survived being stabbed in the street. Joseph Rumbold was not so fortunate, dying in his girlfriend’s arms. As for the protagonists, Thomas Robson would have served most of his nine years and found work very hard to come by ever after. The consequences of his brutish behaviour would very likely dog his future. Joseph Rumbold was stabbed to death by George Galletly. He was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey in 1888 but reprieved on account of his age, he was just 18 years old.

Those murdered last Sunday night were 17, 18 and 20 years of age. The killers were probably young men of a similar age, and their lives have also been dramatically changed as a result of what they’ve done.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, January 03, 1878]