A fishmonger takes extreme measures to protect his stock


A brief entry today, if I may be permitted, but an odd one.

We are a nation of animal lovers. I am not sure when that started but it seems to have been in place for much of the Victorian period. Whether this ‘love’ extended past our pets (predominately cats and dogs and small birds) to livestock is a moot point but the RSPCA were founded early in the century (in 1824).

Cruelty to animals has been highlighted in several posts in this blog because on many occasions people were taken before Police Magistrates to answer for their behaviour. Such incidents included stolen dogs (a supposedly ‘modern’ phenomenon), horses worked until they literally died in the streets, or monkeys mistreated as they helped musicians beg for money.

But this one struck me as particularly unpleasant and unusual.

A summons was applied for at the Dalston Police Court in north east London to bring in a fishmonger who lived in Hackney-Wick. The tradesman was not named in the newspaper report but Mr Bros (the sitting magistrate) asked what the summons was for.

The applicant was a woman (also unmanned) and she told him that the fishmonger used a gun to scare off cats that came into his garden, no doubt attracted by the smell of fish.

According to her ‘he frightened everybody by firing across the gardens at the cats that went after his fish. On a recent afternoon the man fired at a cat two gardens off, the shot going through the cats head and killing it’.

This was a regular activity, she complained, and she was ‘afraid to go into the back yard’ for fear of being shot herself.

Mr Bros granted the summons. I have two cats and they roam across the neighbours’ gardens (and we are visited by several other local felines). It can be a nuisance, they are a danger to local wildlife, especially birds, and they have an unpleasant habit of digging holes in the beds and filling them. So I understand people wanting to keep them out.

The fishmonger undoubtedly wanted to scare them away for good reason, but shooting them two gardens away? I hope he got his just desserts.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 5, 1888]

When drunk and disorderly behaviour almost results in an attack on the police


Yesterday a tragedy unfolded in central London. I am writing this in the evening of the 22 March 2017 as the news of what seems to have been a major terrorist incident is still unfolding. What I know now (at 8 o’clock) is that at least 5 people are dead, and many more are injured, some critically. I’m not going to comment on the attack and its consequences because I only know what I’ve heard on the BBC and Channel 4. But I feel much as I did after 7/7: outraged, saddened, disgusted, and determined that this sort of inhuman, indiscriminate, and cowardly attack should not, and will not, change the way myself and millions of other Londoners behave as we go about our daily lives. I am proud to live in a liberal democracy which supports free speech, free association and the rights of  everyone.

One of those that died today was a policeman, PC Keith Palmer and today’s blog is respectfully dedicated to his memory.

PC Palmer was unarmed and standing on duty at Carriage Gates, outside the Palace of Westminster. He was simply doing his job and in the process he was stabbed to death in front of his colleague. The fact that he was unarmed is significant because it demonstrates that in this country, from their inception in 1829, the Metropolitan Police do not routinely carry firearms. The British ‘bobby’ is armed with a truncheon (albeit a modern version), just as they have been for 188 years. Questions are bound to be asked this week about whether in future such officers should be equipped with lethal weapons; personally I hope they are not but I will understand why that question is posed.

In 1884 (in a period when a different terrorist threat plagued London – that of Irish nationalism) another policeman was attacked in the capital – this time not fatally, although it could have been worse.

PC Shananhan (36XR) was on his beat in Kilburn at about 20 to 10 in the evening when he heard a disturbance ahead. He came across a crowd of people outside a public house on Cambridge Street and tried to calm things down.

Several of the angry group of persons were complaining that they and been assaulted by a woman. The woman was identified as Mary Ann Howley, an ironer, was clearly drunk and very disorderly. PC Shananhan arrested her and then tried to convey back to the police station.

However, as he took her by the arm and started to walk her away a man rushed up to him to try and affect a rescue. He drew a knife and threatened the constable, but the alert policeman simply knocked the weapon out of the assailant’s hand with his truncheon.

Having secured both offenders PC Shanahan duly appeared with his captives at Marylebone Police court on the following morning. There the sitting justice was told that Howley had started the affray by knocking some coins out of the hand of another drinker , Mary Grace Nottle. She complained and Howley then spat out some unpleasant invective and a full-on ‘barney’ ensued. Probably at the this point the publican intervened and the whole dispute escalated on to the streets, drawing the attention of the police.

It was a common enough disturbance in Victorian London, what elevated it to being newsworthy was probably the use of a knife. Police magistrates were as seldom tolerant of attacks on the police as they were on ‘civilians’ (at least as long as a so-called ‘fair fight’ was the outcome); assault that involved weapons were quite another thing, and an attempt to stab a policeman doing his duty was anathema.

Mr de Rutzen sentenced Mary to 14 days in prison for her behaviour but committed her would be saviour to hard labour for two months.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, March 23, 1884]

A lack of ‘care in the community’ at Lambeth Police Court

L0014220 Mentally ill patients in the garden of an asylum, a warden l

Occasionally the newspapers reports of the ‘doings’ of the London Police Court feel quite voyeuristic and uncomfortable to modern eyes. Alongside all the petty thefts, domestic violence and embezzling clerks there are moments of individual tragedy. The Victorians were beginning to understand ‘madness’ but had a far less enlightened view of the effects of mental illness than we do today. Those exhibiting symptoms of mental illness were rarely treated with much compassion, and more often with ridicule or scorn.

In November 1886 a woman appeared at the Lambeth Police Court asking for protection. If she gave a name it wasn’t reported by the journalist that attended that day – the reaction of the court, however, was.

Mr Chance, the sitting magistrate, heard the lady’s complaint that certain named persons had threatened her and then said he thought she’d been in this court before, under similar circumstances.

‘I have been here, and shall come again until I get protection’ she told him. His Worship responded: ‘If you are in danger you shall have protection, but I must know a good reason for it’.

‘I am in danger; I have been shot at in the street, but the bullet hit a lamp-post’ (this provoked laughter in the public gallery). ‘There is nothing to laugh at’ the women objected, (‘excitedly’ the paper reported).

When the calm of the court was restored Mr Chance asked if she had any other examples.

‘I have had an attempt made upon me to poison me. You may not have heard of a poison called the “Varieties” (more laughter)… it is no laughing matter, I can tell you’. She went on, ‘there is scarcely a dozen that know its deadly effects. A dose or two will bring on apoplexy, epilepsy, madness, prostration, consumption, and death’.

She continued to be interrupted by peals of laughter and finished with several other ‘curious statements’ before the justice turned to the clerk of the court and requested that inquiries be made – about her, not her allegations.

In all likelihood if the unnamed woman had no family or friends to look after her the result of her requests for help would be confinement in a ‘lunatic’ asylum. These were dread places, worse perhaps than the workhouse or even a prison. Experimental therapy might involve water baths, straitjackets and and worse and few recovered to be allowed to leave in anything other than a coffin. There is a growing body of academic historical research into mental health care in the 1800s  and we have several 3rd year undergraduates at the University of Northampton who are researching the topic for their final year dissertations.

[from The Standard, Monday, November 22, 1886]