A riot caused by a clergyman’s violence

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Mary Barrow surrendered her bail and appeared before the magistrate at Highgate Police court to answer a charge of being ‘drunk and riotous’. However, what was often a fairly straightforward example of working-class inebriation clashing with police attempts to ‘keep the peace’ seems to have been rather more complicated in this case.

Sergeant Fickling was called to an incident in the Archway Road on the 11 November 1885 because a woman, much the worse for drink, was creating a disturbance outside the house of Major Platt. A crowd had gathered and some bricks had been thrown at the major’s windows, breaking some of them.

The police sergeant asked the crowd to disperse and told Mary to go home. When she refused he arrested her, taking her back to the station where she was charged. Oddly it seemed that major Platt did not want to press any charges of damage against the woman and the reasons for this only became clear when the case was heard in court.

Mary denied being drunk that night and instead accused a clergymen (not present) of assaulting her. She said that she’d been standing at her gate on Landsdowne Terrace when a man of the cloth had run up to her, used offensive language, and kicked her to the ground. As he ran away she followed after, a crowd joining in with the pursuit. He’d taken refuge in the major’s property.

Major Platt explained that the clergyman in question was his brother, Thomas, who had been staying with him that week and had indeed come home chased by a mob led by Mary.  Given this new information Mary was bailed, the sum put up by her husband, and the case adjourned while a summons was issued to bring the Reverend Thomas Platt before the court to answer Mary’s allegation.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, November 29, 1885]

Midsummer ‘madness’ at Marlborough Street

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There was much less understanding of mental health in the Victorian period than there is today. Public asylums were largely used as dustbins for the unwanted mentally ill poor, while private ones attempted to treat the ‘mad’ relatives of the better off. Some families simply locked their disturbed relatives away in the attic, too embarrassed to be seen to have insanity ‘in the family’.

But of course there was probably just as much mental illness in the 1800s as there is today, but while modern society has slowly become more accepting of it our ancestors saw sufferers as objects of pity, danger or ridicule. Just as casual racism is evident in reading the Victorian press, so are jokes at the expense of the mentally ill.

Jane Roderick (also known as Jane Waddy) was brought up before the Marlborough Street police magistrate charged with being drunk and disorderly. She had been arrested in Leicester Square a few nights before, proclaiming the health of the Queen and Royal family loudly to anyone in the vicinity.

She was still quite loud when she stood in the dock as she explained her behaviour to him. Jane told the justice that the reason she had undertaken her own public celebration was because she had heard the good news that the sons of Her Majesty ‘had been admitted into the House of Parliament to assume their rights as the Royal family without the consent of Parliament’, which she deemed a good thing.

It was such a good thing, she continued, that she felt duty bound to drink a toast (or two) in port wine.

She then entered into an elaborate story: she was, she said, born in Kent and was a ‘woman of Kent’. Her uncle worked in the Queen’s gardens, she claimed, and so she had brought a rose for him to plant for the Queen. Her father had made a communion table at Chislehurst, and now she heard the Queen was ‘ready to support her sons’. Finally she added that she was widowed and one of her sons lived in a vicarage at Greenwich under the Queen’s care.

It was probably a mix of fact and fantasy, but it was delivered in a chaotic manner that suggested that the poor woman was not in full control of herself. That is certainly how the press depicted her.

Mr Vine, the court’s gaoler, now appeared to give evidence to the fact that the same woman had been up in court on the same charge four months earlier, and had given exactly the same story in her defence.

At this Jane either affected deafness or really was unable to hear what the man said. On it being repeated to her she admitted to having been drinking: ‘I had a “little drop” then, of course, and unfortunately I have been given to it since my husband’s death’.

Mr Cooke, the magistrate, turned to her and asked her if she had any friends locally. She had claimed to have been born in Poland Street (which prompted titters of laughter in court, but why is not clear). In the 1880s it was quite a respectable place in Soho with a number of artisans and tradesmen living there. Jane replied that her sister-in-law lived nearby, and then told him (somewhat randomly) that she was the daughter of a carpenter, and that one of the guardians of the poor in Lambeth had a mortgage on her fathers house.

Again, this may well all have been true but it didn’t really answer the magistrate’s questions.

He declared: ‘I think you are not right in your mind. You will be sent down to..’

‘Sent down! Where?’ interrupted Jane.

‘To the House of Detention for a week; but they will not put you in the cell’.

She thanked him and added, ‘I shall charge you 13s for this; and if you have not money to pay, why, spout your ticker!’

This last remark brought the house down in laughter, clearly amusing the court reporter who added that she then left ‘with a  jaunty air’, calling the gaoler to ‘order her brougham [her carriage] to drive her to Hanwell’.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, June 21, 1885]

Happy solstice everyone!

A vociferous campaigner against alcoholism is treated gently at Clerkenwell

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As a crowd gathered around a speaker at Packington Street, Islington, one Sunday in 1866 the police felt obliged to intervene. It wasn’t the first time that William Henry Edwards had been at the centre of a furore; he had been standing on his soap box in Islington for the past two month’s of Sundays.

Edwards was a tarpaulin maker by trade but his actions had nothing to do with his profession. He had taken it upon himself to publicly condemn what he saw as one of the scourges of Victorian society – the over consumption of cheap alcohol. He described drunkenness as an societal ‘evil’; claiming also that ‘our prisons were filled through drink’. Edwards was a member of the Temperance Movement that grew to prominence in the mid to late 1800s, and like many a lay preacher in the Victorian age (and since)  he was prepared to take his message to the streets.

Men like William Edwards advocated abstinence from all forms of alcohol and while the middle classes also enjoyed a ‘tipple’ the movement was clearly aimed at the urban poor and working class who were seen to be the worst offenders, and the main victims of alcoholism. The police courts were full of drunk and disorderly people because the police cleared them off the streets at night and dragged the before the justices in the morning. Drunkenness then was a failing of the working man and woman, a failing that manifested itself in public.

On Sunday 25 March 1866 the police who moved in to the clear the obstruction on Packington Street found Edwards ‘standing on a chair, singing’. Having thus assembled a crowd about him he then swiftly warmed to his theme of temperance, and refused to stop and go away when the officers asked him to.

As the crowd grew the police again invited him to step down but again he insisted on continuing and by this time many people were arguing with him, while his supporters cheered his words. He was quickly becoming a nuisance and so the police were forced to arrest him and take him to the nearest police station.

When he appeared in the Clerkenwell Police court two days later he was unrepentant; because of the social problem of drink and drunken behaviour (and the effects this had on family budgets, tempers and so the persons of many working-class wives and partners) he felt justified in ‘holding open-air meetings on the subject’.

As for causing an obstruction (and that was the charge laid against him) he had, he told the magistrate, made all efforts to ask his audience to stand to one side so pedestrians could pass by. Today Packington Street is a through road that leads to the busy Essex Road, but the houses on it (smart Victorian terraces) suggest that in the 1860s this was a wide street which may have carried considerable local traffic.

The police, in the person of Inspector Wiseman, argued that while it wasn’t Edwards himself that was causing the obstruction he was responsible for the crowd of well-wishers and nay-sayers that had surrounded him. It was happening on such a regular basis, Wiseman continued, as to have become a nuisance even if that wasn’t the preacher’s intention.

Edwards apologised and said he would certainly ‘not go there again if it was wrong’. Mr Barker, the magistrate, told him that he had committed an offence which carried a potential fine of £5 but he would not, on this occasion, impose it. However, if he appeared before him again he could expect the full weight of the law to fall upon him.

Mr Edwards ‘thanked his Worship’ and left with his supporters. The cause of Temperance had been highlighted in the newspapers, and that, perhaps, was part of his strategy.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 27, 1866]

The wrong sort of military violence

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The Crimean War had raised some concerns about the quality of recruits to the British army and about the diseases they were exposed to at home and abroad. Large numbers of soldiers were admitted to military hospitals suffering from sexually transmitted conditions, and in the aftermath of the war attempts were made to control prostitution  and general disease with the passing of the (ultimately ineffectual) Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, and 1869).

Disease and prostitution went had-in-hand with off-duty drinking, another problem for the military authorities. Not infrequently soldiers fell foul of the civil authorities as a result of their commitment to ‘boozing’, and many of them found their way into the Police Courts. In March 1859 (three years after the Crimean War ended) a number of soldiers appeared in front of London magistrates.

At Lambeth Police Court George Robinson and Richard Burns (privates in the Grenadier Guards) were charged with being drunk and disorderly at the Crown pub. The story is interesting for one of the details which then links this to another case, at Southwark, on the same day.

The pair had entered the Crown on the evening of 17 March and while they weren’t Irish they were ‘keeping up’ St Patrick’s Day. They were already drunk however, and the landlord, a Mr Broadhurst, refused to serve them. Landlords were obliged to keep good order and refusing more alcohol to the already semi-inebriated was a wise move. Unfortunately for Broadhurst and his son, who was also serving behind the bar, this only provoked trouble from the soldiers.

Having been denied beer they attempted to get over the bar and help themselves. As the Broadhursts tried to stop them they were attacked. Burns took off his heavy leather belt and started to strike young master Broadhurst with it.

The police were called and they were marched off to the station, but not before several panes of glass had been smashed and a number of people injured, including the police who arrested them. The magistrates fined them 10s or 10 day in prison for wilful damage and a further 10s for the violence.

Over at Southwark a similar case of drunken military violence was being heard. John Whitsey (of the Coldstream Guards) was accused of assaulting a policeman and a member of the public, whilst drunk on Borough High Street.

PC James McCarthy (134M) was on his beat at 11.15 at night when he heard a disturbance. He saw Whitsey punch a man, knocking him to the floor. When the man got up, the guardsman hit him again, returning him to the street. When PC McCarthy tried to intervene Whitsey turned don him, kicking out and trying to take his legs from under him. All the time the guardsman was using ‘the most disgusting language’ McCarthy had ever heard.

The soldier was clearly drunk and belligerent. McCarthy was forced to call for help and ‘sprang his rattle’ (these were the days before the police were issued with whistles). In the scuffle that ensued the rattle was broken before the solider was eventually subdued.

The reporter noted that in court Whitsey appeared without his belt – ‘a sign of former bad conduct’ – and the belt seems significant to me in another way. In the last quarter of the 1800s young hands in London and Salford (but also in other towns) were using belts as a weapon. The Salford ‘scuttlers’ decorated heavy leather belts with horse brasses and wielded these as effective flails to beat their opponents and cause previous wounds. The belt (like the slipper’) was the weapon of choice for domestic violence – whether against spouses, children or servants, and since braces actually did the job of holding up one’s trousers it was an easy item to use in a fight.

Whether Whitsey had been divested of his belt at the the station to prevent further violence or whether the military had taken it away as a sharing punishment is a mystery, but either way it demonstrated he was ‘a bad sort’.

The man that Whitsey had knocked to the ground didn’t appear in court. The PC told the magistrate, Mr Coombe, that he was a ‘working man’ and probably couldn’t take the time to attend. Mr Coombe told the soldier that he was lucky; without a victim prepared to testify against him he would only be dealt with for the assault on the policeman. He fined him 5s, or seven days in prison.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, March 19, 1859]

A native of Merthyr is berated at Bow Street

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Merthyr Tydfil in the mid 1800s

I have been writing about the London Police courts for nearly a year, looking at a different case every day. Additionally I have also spent several weeks in the London Metropolitan Archive near Farringdon which holds the official records of these summary courts. Sadly very little archival material survives; at Bow Street, for example, there are only records from the 1890s onwards – most of the earlier material being lost or destroyed).

The best kept records are the the two sets of registers for Thames Police Court, which run from 1881 and cover the late summer and autumn of 1888 when ‘Jack the Riper’ terrorised the East End. The registers contain useful information for the historian: names of defendants, their ages, gender, the offence with which they were charged, the police officer that brought the to court, and the complainant (if that wasn’t the policeman). We also have an outcome; the adjudication of the sitting magistrate.

I spoke at the Ripperologist’s 21st birthday conference in Algdate last year, where I outlined the functions of the police courts and the role they performed; hopefully later this year I will be ready to provide a more detailed analysis based on the research I have been doing.

At this stage in my research I have almost completed a detailed analysis of the registers at Thames for 1881 and can begin to share some of my findings. It will probably come as no surprise to historians of crime and professionals working in policing, social work or probation, to read that many of those brought into Thames were charged with an alcohol related offence. This might be drunk and disorderly, drunk and using obscene language, drunk and assaulting a policeman, or many other combinations – all involving some form of drunkenness with disorderly behaviour.

These were also the cases that mostly came up first in the registers, so I am imagining that the cells were cleared of those held overnight before the ‘day charges’ or the ‘remands’ (usually more serious offences) were brought in.

The registers provide us with plenty of information. For example, in the 1881 register for the 16 March there are 9 people charge with some variety of disorderly behaviour (one as ‘incapable’, three with violence) 8 of whom are women and one man, William Ethridge. The justice, Mr Saunders, either fined them or sent them to prison for a short period of hard labour. Those fined either paid or risked being incarcerated like the others.

However, despite this information we don’t know the circumstances or detail of their crimes, for that we can only hope to find them in the newspapers, which reported selective cases more descriptively. So today’s case is one of those common drink related ones; a man brought before the courts for being drunk and disorderly.

Timothy McCarthy was a migrant worker. He had travelled from his native Merthyr Tydvil [sic] in Wales in search of work. He told the Bow Street magistrate that there was no work at home and no poor relief either; ‘it was no use stopping there’.

However, it wasn’t that much better in London but he had met with some of his fellow countrymen, who, like him, were out of work, and they had some ‘jollification’. The result was that he was arrested for being drunk on the streets. Fortunately he was bailed rather than being locked up and set at liberty. Unfortunately he chose to carry on drinking as soon as he was liberated.

The magistrate was unimpressed to have him back in court. He turned to the Welshman and said: ‘I know something of Merthyr, and if you were charged with drunkenness there you would be fined 10s costs plus the penalty imposed on you for the offence’.

McCarthy admitted that this was true.

The magistarte admonished him for replaying the ‘indulgence’ of the court in releasing him by offending straight away adding, ‘indeed, you are hardly sober now’. He continued:

 ‘To me it is a matter of wonderment always that you men who say you cannot get work can invariably find the means of getting drunk’. A presumably shamefaced McCarthy meekly responded that ‘it is friends as treat us’, before he was instructed to pay a 3s fine or go to prison for 3 days.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 12, 1878]

A policeman brought to book – for assaulting an ‘unfortunate’

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Springtime in St James’ Park, London, c.1849

By the end of the 19th century most of the cases brought before the Police magistrates of the capital were initiated by the police themselves. This seems to have developed gradually from the 1830s as the ‘new police’ grew into their role after 1829. In the 1700s prosecution had been victim-led and, while this persisted throughout the 1800s, the presence of the ‘boys in the blue’ on the streets inevitably led to them prosecuting in court those they had arrested on their beats.

Maria Fenton was one of those arrested and charged in court on the word of a policeman. But in her case there was some doubt and it led to the copper himself having to answer some awkward questions about his professional conduct.

In March 1849 Maria was walking in St James’ Park, near Buckingham Palace when she was stopped by two policemen. In was very early in the morning, ‘before day break’ she told the sitting justice at Bow Street; she’d had a drink but swore she wasn’t drunk.

The press reporter described as an ‘unfortunate girl’ – Victorian code for a young prostitute. The police would have assumed that Maria was a prostitute, for what other reason would a working-class woman have to be wandering around the park in the early hours of a cold March morning?

One of the policemen, PC Pike (A224), told the court that he had arrested her because she was ‘creating a disturbance and [was] using disgusting language’. When he had given his testimony however, his inspector came forward to say that another officer, PC Whitty (A210) wished to speak on behalf of the defendant. Whitty told the Bow Street court that it was Pike who was in wrong, not the girl and so the magistrate turned the case on its head. Pike left the court and returned some short time afterwards, dressed in civilian clothes and was placed in the dock accused of assaulting  Maria and falsely arresting her.

Maria now gave her account. She accused Pike of swearing at her; called her a ‘b___h’ and pushing her over onto the ground in the park. When he pulled herself to her feet he sent her tumbling gain, but she got a good look at him and took a note of his number. Pike then called her ‘a hag’ and threatened to ‘lock her up’. When she continued to argue with him he took her into custody and ‘dragged her to the station’.

Back at the police station Whitty told Pike that if this came to court he would speak the truth, in favour of the girl. Pike replied that he ‘was a bl___y fool, and that if the sergeant got to hear of it they should all get into a row’. He corroborated Maria’s evidence in front of the magistrate and added that she had said nothing at all until his colleague had picked on her.

Not surprisingly Pike defended himself and said he would never have arrested the girl if she hadn’t been making such a noise, ‘screaming and making a disturbance’. Yes, he admitted, he had called her ‘a drunken beast’ but that was the extent of his ‘abuse’ of her. He called two other policemen, A226 and A229, both of whom backed his account, not Whitty’s. They said they had heard ‘the woman creating a great disturbance, using awful language, and attempting to escape from Pike, who was taking her to the station-house’.

The magistrate had now heard both sides, with supporting evidence from police officers and he had a hard decision to make. Should he believe PC Pike and the two other policemen, or should he listen to PC Whitty and the word of a young woman who by her own testimony was clearly not ‘respectable’?

In the end he did what we might not have expected him to do; he sided with PC Whitty and the girl. However, he chose to apply some leniency to Pike who had been with A Division for six months. He told Pike that legislation (unspecified here) allowed him to impose a prison sentence, but he had no need to take such drastic action. He could instead impose a fine of up to £10 and he set this at £5 (or a month’s imprisonment). The report doesn’t state which option Pike (whom I imagine was unlikely to have been able to continue in the force – at least not at A Division) chose.

I suspect this was a very rare example of police misconduct (as the justice described it) being dealt with publicly. But in 1849 the ‘new’ police were still very new and were the subject of debate and no little criticism. Perhaps the capital’s most senior magistrate (at Bow Street) was minded to take account of this prevailing attitude and nip bad police behaviour in the bud whenever he could.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, March 4, 1849]

A theatre heckler makes a pantomime of himself

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The Eagle Pub (Grecian Theatre Music Hall, c.1841)

Reginald H. Burkett of 1 Field Court, Gran’s Inn Road was that most ‘pooterish’ of nineteenth-century characters, a lower middle-class clerk. In mid January 1878 he and some friends had taken a box near the stage at the Grecian Theatre (a music hall on the City Road) to enjoy the festive pantomime.

However, it would seem they had enjoyed plenty of drink as well, as they were in a very boisterous mood, Burkett especially so.

The stage manager (a Mr Gillet) had his eye on them because of the noise and disorderly behaviour coming from their seats and when he observed that Burkett was smoking he moved in to tell him it was not allowed.

For a while there was calm and the pantomime continued but when the ballet dancers took the stage Burkett started to interrupt the performance. According to Mr Gillet, Burkett ‘behaved in a disgusting way, making motions to the dancers’ and, when they came in range, ‘he leaned out of his box and with his stick tried to hook the legs of one of the ballet women’. She burst into tears and ran from the stage.

When Mr Nicholls, one of the actors the show, began to sing Burkett started to abuse him, ‘using some nasty expressions’. Nicholls wasn’t having this and approached Burkett demanding to know exactly what he was insinuating.

Burkett swore at him and then leapt out of his box, onto the stage! Nichols aimed a punch at him and suddenly there was a full-blown fist-fight on stage. This almost brought the house down and the stage manager was quick to lower the curtain, ending the performance prematurely.

Burkett was held until the police could come and take him away and a few days later he appeared at the Worship Street Police Court. Here Mr Bushby, the presiding magistrate considered the case. He could see that Burkett had been disorderly but technically Mr Nicholls (the actor) had assaulted him first. In the end he decided to bind the clerk over and find sureties against his good behaviour in the future. A friend of his, a Bloomsbury-based solicitor named Warren stepped up to stand surety for him.

One imagines the Grecian took note of his name and appearance and barred him from all future performances.

[from The Standard, Monday, January 21, 1878]

A drunken musician picks a ‘fight’ with the police

George Cutler, a 22 year-old ‘milk-carrier’ was charged at Clerkenwell Police Court in early January 1886 with being drunk and disorderly in Holloway Road at Christmas. One imagines that plenty of people were getting  bit worse for wear in the festivities surrounding Christmas so George must either have stood out as particularly inebriated or he gave some resistance to the arresting policeman he encountered. The latter seems more likely in this case.

Cutler had been on the Holloway Road on Christmas Day at about 1.30 in the morning when PC Berriman (152 Y Division) approached him. Cutler was ‘standing in the road and playing tunes on a instrument’.

‘What sort of instrument’ asked the magistrate?

‘A melodian’ replied the policeman.

‘One of those instruments they grind?’

‘No, like a concertina’.

‘Well then, he wasn’t too drunk to play’ commented the magistrate, drawing laughter from the courtroom.

A second copper appeared to corroborate his fellow officer’s story, he was quite drunk he insisted. But Cutler challenged this arguing instead that it had been the policemen who were drunk, not himself. After all, as the justice noted, he was (by the police evidence) playing his instrument so can’t have been as intoxicated as they suggested.

They had ‘interfered with him for no cause’ and had taken him to the station, where no account was taken of their drunken state. At this the magistrate took the side of the police (as he was likely to do), insisting that had the brother officers been drinking it would have been noted at the police station.

Nevertheless he took pity on the man because it was in a season where merriment was expected. He fined him just 6s and sent him on his way.

 

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, January 3, 1886]

New Year’s Eve revels end in a family brawl

I had a fairly sober New Year’s eve but of course it is traditionally a time of year when people over indulge and wake up with sore heads. Not surprisingly this is not a modern invention; there was plenty of alcohol consumed in the 1800s and it was often the subject of popular concern, especially when the drinkers were members of the working classes and the observers were their middle class so-called  ‘betters’.

Many of those found drunk and incapable or drunk and disorderly were brought before the ‘beaks’ at London’s various Police Courts to be admonished, fined or imprisoned. If their drinking had led to acts of violence (as they frequently did) then more serious punishments might be handed out.

Mary Ann Moody and her husband had gone to their son’s house in King’s Street, Soho, to see in the New Year 1857. All was going smoothly, she later told the magistrate at Marlborough Street, until she noticed that her son’s wife, Elizabeth, was ‘getting short in the temper’.

The clock had only just struck 12 when Elizabeth (the worse for drink) ‘lost it’ (as we might say). She turned to Mary Ann and ‘spat in her face’. The ‘lights were put out and a fight began’.

Mary Ann was then hit about the head with a poker before she collapsed to the floor senseless, bleeding profusely. She was rushed to hospital and the police were called. While she made a full recovery she was still bearing the visible scars of her injuries when she appeared in court to prosecute Elizabeth.

The police officers who arrived to deal with the chaos reported that everyone was very drunk and the magistrate said it was clear that while ‘all parties’ had been involved in a ‘general fight’, Elizabeth had used ‘excessive’ violence. He fined her £3 plus costs, or offered her an alternative of two months in prison at hard labour. The reporters did not record which option she took.

One imagine that in future years the ‘parties’ celebrated New Year in the comfort of their own homes.

[from The Morning Post,  Friday, January 02, 1857]