A dangerous hound on Houndsditch

 

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Captain Joseph Wiggins

This one is curious, not for the offence – keeping an unmuzzled dog – but for the circumstances and position of the person being prosecuted. It is a reminder, perhaps, that no one was above the law in the late nineteenth century.

Police constable Harker (918 City) spotted a gentleman walking a large dog on Houndsditch (no pun intended!). The dog was unmuzzled and, in 1889, this represented a breach of the Rabies Order. Since the man was a gentleman the officer merely took his name and told him he would have to appear by summons to answer for the breach.

On 10 December 1889   the man presented himself at the Guildhall Police court in the City of London to answer his summons. He gave his name as Captain Wiggins, and said he no idea that the Privy Council had passed order stating that all animals like his should be muzzled, as he’d been out of the country at the time.

Moreover, the dog wasn’t his, it belonged to the Prince of Wales (pic. left). Royal CollectionThe captain had purchased it in Siberia and when the policeman had stopped him he was on his way to Sandringham to deliver it to his highness. So what sort of dog was it? untitledQuite possibly a Siberian Mastiff (see image), these were large dogs indeed and probably quite an outlandish sight on the streets of the capital in 1889. It could have been a Husky of course, more popular today and perhaps more familiar, but not particularly large.

The Prince of Wales was the future Edward VII and he was passionate about animals. Well, passionate about shooting them at least! He reportedly insisted that all clocks at Sandringham ran half an hour ahead so that there was more daylight time for hunting. He was also very fond of dogs, keeping a large number both as Prince of Wales and then as king.

As for the man in the dock this was probably Captain Joseph Wiggins (1832-1905) a Norfolk born sailor and trader who developed new trade routes with the Russian Empire in Siberia. He is credited with helping establish the Trans-Siberian Railway by transporting rails and he was honoured by the Tsar. He must have cut almost as much as a dash in London as the dog he brought back with him.

Sadly for him it didn’t immunise him from the law. Sir Polydore de Keyser was the first Catholic Lord Mayor of London since the Reformation, a Belgian by birth, and a hotelier. In 1889, having ceased to be Lord Mayor, he was serving as an alderman and presiding as magistrate at Guildhall. He reminded the captain that ignorance of the law was no excuse for not obeying it, and he fined him 5s plus costs.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, December 11, 1889]

The sad story of an elderly seamstress and her Majesty

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In the light of yesterday’s happy announcement of a royal engagement I thought I’d feature a (sort of) royal story from Victorian London’s Police courts.

In 1871 Queen Victoria had been on throne for 34 years. Her husband Albert had been dead for a decade and she was yet to adopt the title of Empress of India. Victoria had a big influence on her subjects but her withdrawal from much of public life following the loss of her consort increasingly isolated her from public affection. 1870 had seen the overthrow of the French monarchy and the creation of the Third Republic, dark echoes in England called for a similar revolution, one that never transpired. In late November Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, fell ill with typhoid (probably the same disease that had killed his father) and Victoria must have feared she would lose him as well.

Meanwhile, for ordinary Londoners life went on as usual. The ‘widow of Windsor’ was almost an abstract concept since she’d ducked out of view but her name, and what she symbolised, mattered  considerably.

It certainly mattered to an elderly seamstress called Mrs Lyons. She told the magistrate at Clerkenwell that she had been promised work by her Majesty but ‘court intrigues’ were preventing her from pursuing it. Mrs Lyons lived off the Caledonian Road in north London, close to where the new St Pancras terminal was being constructed. She was poor and in ‘want of money’ she explained, but was confident that with the queen’s patronage she would be fine.

Sadly Mrs Lyons was not very well; she suffered from some form of mental illness, as a police inspector told Mr Cooke, the justice sitting on her case at Clerkenwell Police Court.

‘About two years since the poor woman began to get strange at times in her speech, said that her room was full of rats, that she had an interview with the Queen and members of the royal family, and that her Majesty had promised her money, but that she was prevented from getting it by court intrigues’ .

He went on to say that up until recently Mrs Lyons had lived quietly but in the last few months her condition had worsened and she had started threatening people, including her landlady. A doctor had been called to examine her and he’d declared she was ‘not right in her head’ and she’d been carried off to Islington workhouse. From there she was to be sent to the Colney Hatch Asylum, Europe’s largest such institution.*

She had left her room with rent arrears and her landlady was refusing to give her sister leave to take away her sibling’s few possessions until that was paid. Mr Cooke said he was glad the woman was now in safe hands (although I’m not sure I’d consider being in the ‘care’ of a Victorian asylum ‘safe’. I suppose he might have meant the public were safe from her). He ordered the court to pay the arrears so she could be reunited with her ‘things’ and dismissed the case.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, November 28, 1872]

*(and now my gym!)

for another story that feature Queen Victoria see: “Let me see the Queen, I know who the ‘Ripper’ is!”

 

Jerry-building and brick-burning: public nuisances in early Edwardian London

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Something a little different this morning. I have noted before that the Police Courts of London were not simply concerned with the everyday crimes we might expect (thieving, petty violence and fraud for example), They also served their communities as forums for relegating everyday life. Paupers came here asking for help, or to be punished for their refusal to work; members of the working and lower middle-class came to seek the magistrates’ legal advice on all manner of things from desertion to unpaid wages; and these courts performed many of the functions we now associate with public health boards, consumer protection agencies, or small claims courts.

Early in the reign of King Edward VII (r.1901-1910) Mr Finnis, a clerk (the archetypal lower middle-class professional of Edwardian England*) appeared at the West London Police Court (situated in Hammersmith) to bring a case of jerry-building against Charles Marsh.

Jerry-building was the practice of erecting cheap and poorly built properties for working classes families. The phrase had been in existence since the 1860s and has nothing to do with Germany or Germans. It may be derived from the slang word Jerrycummumble which meant: “To shake, towzle, or tumble about.”**

Finnis worked for the Chiswick Local Board and he complained that Marsh had been ordered to pull down a building ‘that had been erected contrary to the bye-laws’. Marsh didn’t appear in person but sent along his solicitor who told the court that his client was attempting to comply with the order.

He asked for some of the fines that had been levied to be remitted as part of the building (indeed buildings as it seems there were three in total) had already been demolished. Finnis was unmoved, he had sent letters (threatening ones) but had received no reply. He said he would abide by the magistrate’s decision but would not consent to ant reduction in the penalties unilaterally. The justice, Mr Curtis Bennett, said he had no power to lift the fines unless the Board agreed, so the case effectively reached an impasse; either the buildings were taken down or the fines paid and the buildings made good.

Mr Bennett’s next hearing was not about ‘crime’ either. This time he was asked to adjudicate on a case of nuisance. A Mr Augustus Bird was adamant that he had the right to burn bricks at his property in Shepherds Bush. Burning bricks is essential to their strength and durability so this was a case of local manufacturing coming up against the concerns of local residents; the clash of industry with the needs of a growing domestic population in West London.

Bird had been fined £50 for his persistence in burning bricks and causing a  nuisance to locals. He maintained (through his legal representative) that he had every right to do so and asked for the fines to be waived. The magistrate sided with the authorities in upholding the ban on brick-burning but said he would accept a compromise: so long as Mr Bird ceased his noxious activities he would reduced the fine for his previous offence to just £10.

Both these cases reflect the pressure on space that late Victorian and early Edwardian London faced as its population grew and the city expanded. London was not an industrial town (as Manchester was for example), it had grown over the centuries and swallowed up the surrounding countryside and its villages. Inevitably tensions would occur as the demands of industry came into conflict with the desires of residents to live in clean and quiet neighborhoods. When tensions did arise they were often played out in the police magistrates courtroom.

* For example Mr Pooter in The diary of a Nobody by Grossmith & Grossmith

** see http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/211600.html