A family day out at the races ends in court

runaway-horse1

It was a Friday evening in early June 1876 and Henry Stokes and his wife and son were coming home from a day out at the races. As they family rode in their cart along the Balham Road in south London another vehicle – a wagonette – was, unbeknown to the Stokes, careering towards them.

Police constable Hill had seen the wagonette (literally, a small sprung wagon, drawn by one or two horses) and realized it was going too fast. London’s streets were pretty crowded in the nineteenth century and all sorts of users could be found on them. There were tens of thousands of horse drawn carts, coaches, hansoms and carriages, as well as omnibus, trams, pedestrians, horse riders, and the occasional.

PC Hill shouted a warning to the driver of the wagonette to slow down and ‘be more careful’ but he was ignored. Moments later there was a crash as the wagon and two horses collided with the other cart from behind. All three of the family were thrown into the road. Fortunately Mr Stokes and his son only suffered mild bruising but Mrs Stokes was hurt quite badly, and a doctor was summoned.

The copper arrested the other driver who gave his name as Edward Kirk. Kirk was an off duty omnibus driver so really should have known better. At Wandsworth Police Court PC testified that Kirk was doing around 12-14 miles an hour, which may not sound fast by today’s standards but was quite fast for a horse drawn vehicle at the time (most travelled at between 608 miles an hour in the city).

More damning for Kirk was an allegation that he was drunk in charge of the wagonette. Kirk denied this and produced a doctor that supported his statement but the police – in the shape of sergeant Bearman – handed over a medical certificate from a different doctor (presumably one that examined the driver at the police station) which said he was.  Faced with conflicting medical records Mr Bridge (the magistrate) chose to believe the police and fined Kirk £2 (or one month in prison).

He told Henry Stokes that if he wanted compensation for the damage to his cart and, more importantly, to cover the medical expenses incurred by his wife’s injury, he should bring an action in the county court. If he did the whole episode was likely to have been an expensive one for the omnibus driver who may well – given the public nature of the case and its reportage – have lost his job. The fine was not a small one anyway, around £125, or more than a couple of week’s salary for the bus driver, so he may have struggled to find that and have gone to prison instead.

Today, while the driving charge would stand (if there was a policeman anywhere to be found to see the incident) the civil damages would of course be dealt with by an insurance claim. Now of course, the injuries may well be worse since we travel much faster, and Kirk (or rather his insurers) might be facing claims of whiplash injury from Mrs Stokes. He would of course almost certainly have lost his license, and therefore his livelihood as well.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, June 05, 1876]

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

brougham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dangers of the modern river; the Thames in 1833

sailing-ships-20

One of the most interesting and sometimes unexpected pleasures of reading the daily ‘doings’ of the London Police Courts is the information they reveal about the nineteenth-century city and its people. Many of the stories detail the petty squabbles of everyday life, or the man tragedies of death, illness and poverty; and of course criminality, greed, deceit and casual violence often feature. But we also learn about the way in which the metropolis operated; how people got about, where they worked, which areas were poor and which were wealthy.

One of the pleasures of modern London (in the summer months at least) is the river boat service on the Thames operated by TFL. For many people this forms part of their daily commute, either up towards Greenwich and beyond to the barrier, or west towards Putney and Wandsworth. In the warmer months it becomes a tourist bus during the day and a commuting vehicle in the mornings and evenings.

In my opinion the river is the best way to see the capital and understand why the Romans chose to build a city here in the first place.

The importance of the river and the need to cross it is clear from the development of London’s bridges and the huge variety of boats, barges, ships and ferries that plied their trade on the Thames in the 1800s. However, as we have seen in more recent times with the sinking of the Marchioness in 1989 and back to 1855 with the Princess Alice, the Thames can be a dangerous place.

The police office that dealt with disputes, thefts and incidents on the river was Thames and there had been a police presence here since 1798 when it was created by Patrick Colquhoun, a champion of professional policing. In March 1833 the master of a Gravesend steamer, the Pearl, was brought before the magistrate at Thames accused, in effect, of dangerous driving.

Mr Youwin was summoned to the court by Robert marshall, an ‘old and infirm Trinity waterman’. The Thames watermen had been  licensed to ferry passenger on the river since the early 1500s but the tradition went back hundreds of years before that. Marshall told the court that he had been attempting to cross the Thames from Elephant Stairs at Rotherhithe when his little boat got in to trouble.

He saw the Pearl coming towards him and took evasive action. He ‘went clear of her stern…when another waterman fouled him [i.e collided with him] and pushed him out of the tier of boats’. He explained that the ‘steamer could have stopped, but she continued her pace, and cut his boat in two before he could get out of the way. Her speed was about five miles an hour’.

A fellow waterman on the scene told the justice that he had heard Marshall call out and agreed that the steamer could have avoided the boat if it had wanted to.

In defence the skipper of the Pearl, Youwin, stated that the ‘old man, who was too infirm to manage the boat, had run foul of the steamer due to his own negligence’. He said he could, and would provide witnesses to prove this. But that this point the magistrate, Captain Richbell, intervened and attempted to mediate.

He said that it was clear that Marshall was elderly and perhaps unfit to continue as a waterman but he felt he was owed some compensation for the loss of his boat (and his livelihood), this would, he taught, ‘prevent litigation’. Captain Youwin willingly agreed.

Finally the magistrate made a closing statement about the excessive speed of steamers, saying that while he did not wish to immune the reputation of Captain Youwin, something needed to change because the river had become very dangerous.

‘The watermen were greatly injured by the steam-vessels, for females and timid persons were afraid to venture in their wherries; the Thames-Police galleys were often damaged, and the nuisance would not be stopped until the conductor of some steamer was transported for manslaughter’.

This sounds to me very like the clash of an old way of life with the demands of the new, modern, one; a clash that was about to become much more common as London developed and grew in the Victorian age.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, March 11, 1833]

A tragedy on Oxford Street

James Burtenshaw was driving his cart, laden with hay, along Oxford Street in the early autumn of 1889. At the same time a small girl pushed a child in a ‘bassinette perambulator’ along the pavement.

3bbc765aa36c77d3379939e3d9344ad5

It was about half past five in the afternoon and Burtenshaw hardly noticed the girl or saw the pram slip off the kerb. The girl was unable to control the pram and it tumbled over spilling an eighteen-month old baby into the street.

Burtenshaw sat atop his cart but his view of the street was obscured and he didn’t see young Frederick Harold Wright fall under the wheels of his vehicle. The cart passed over the boy, crushing his chest and killing him at once.

The boy’s mother was ill – one’s presumes this is why he was out with a neighbour or perhaps his sister. The family resided in Berners Street in Fitzrovia, just close by to the busy shopping street where the girl was walking the pram. Frederick’s father was away on holiday on the Ilse of Wight, his homecoming was now going to be a very sad affair.

The magistrate ordered that there should be an inquest but he said no blame attached to the cart driver. Burtenshaw was bound on his own recognizances to give evidence before the coroner but the whole episode was a tragic accident, not a crime.

[From The Standard, Thursday, September 05, 1889]

An accident on the streets of London

cruel2

William Hogarth;s Second Stage of Cruelty

The thoroughfares of the metropolis were crowded with traffic in the later nineteenth century; thousands of horse-drawn vehicles competed with pedestrians and handcarts to make their way across and around the city. Accidents were, as today, a fact of life.

In May 1868 a car-man (the van drivers of their day) was brought up at Guildhall Police Court on a charge of dangerous driving. Andrew White, aged 23, was a van driver for a corn chandler and he had been driving his vehicle along the Farringdon Road at great speed at about 6 in the early evening.

He was seen by a witness just as he was passing the workhouse, it looked like he was losing control as he was trying to pull the horse to a stop. The horse seemed frightened and despite the best efforts of the driver he couldn’t stop the horse and van from careering across the street.

Another man (John Blunt) and his son were riding in the van and, seeing that the van might turn over, the man dropped his son to the road and leapt after him. They were unharmed but the van ran into two labourers, knocking them over. It then crashed over the kerb and knocked down a small child, the wheels running over his neck.

When he had eventually stopped the van the driver climbed down and ‘said he was very sorry for what he had done, but he could not help it’. The boy was killed but everyone seemed to agree it was a tragic accident, not a crime. White was described a ‘sober, hard working’ individual and the magistrate decided that it was a ‘sad accident’ but he ‘could see no blame attaching to the defendant, and at once discharged him’.

[from Daily News , Thursday, May 28, 1868]

A charge of ‘furious’ driving

driving

In May 1820 Mr and Mrs Lewis were returning home to the Haymarket in London after visiting the countryside. They had just passed the Marsh Gate when the Greenwich stage coach rammed into them from the side. The coach driver was in a hurry and in attempting to pass the couple’s gig he crashed into them, turning them so round so they faced the opposite direction.

The Regency gig wasn’t a particularly safe form of transport – indeed some early forms earned the nickname of ‘suicide gig’ due to the groom’s high riding position.

chairbackgig

a Regency gig

When the two vehicles collided Mrs Lewis, who was several months pregnant, was thrown from her seat. The coach driver was brought before the sitting magistrate at Union Hall in Southwark. There Mr Lewis told the court that his wife’s condition was serious and the ‘most fearful apprehensions are entertained for her safety’. The coachman, William Court, was committed to prison for want of bail, to await the justice’s decision in a few days time.

The eighteenth and nineteenth-century capital was a very busy place with all manner of horse drawn vehicles competing for space. The newspapers and caricaturists regularly drew attention to the ‘miseries of London’ or the perils of traversing the city. Hogarth’s etchings shows carts running over children and animals, while the City of London operated a sort of early one way system.

Hopefully Mrs Lewis (and her unborn child) recovered; unfortunately we don’t know because the papers did not follow up their story. As for William Court, his lack of bail suggests he wasn’t a wealthy individual and his desire to pass the Lewis’ indicates his awareness that his job depended on getting people from A to B as fast as possible. One hopes this was a chastening experience.

[Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser , Tuesday, May 2, 1820]