The not-so-perfect employee

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Fleet Street in the 1850s

When Sarah Morgan left Mr Williamson’s employment on 1 February 1869 she did so with such a ringing written endorsement that she soon secured a job at a lawyer’s chambers in Gray’s Inn. Williamson was sorry to see her go as she had been an excellent servant to him and his wife at the Fleet Street premises where he carried on the business of a London hosier, supplying gloves, stockings, and other goods to his City customers. It must have come as something of a shock to him when the police contacted him about her in late March of the same year.

Sarah had started work at the chambers and she was seemingly doing very well, everyone was happy with her and she was living up to the reference the hosier had provided.  It all went wrong for her when, on 23 March a young man was found hiding in her room. The police were called, initially because he was suspected of robbing the place. He was taken away but nothing was found on him to suggest he’d committed a crime. He was later charged at Bow Street but cleared of any wrong doing. This turned the attention back on Sarah.

Mr Saltmarsh, her new employer, asked to search her things and she willing agreed. He went though the two boxes she indicated were hers and he found nothing within that belonged to the Chambers. However he did find two boxes she hadn’t pointed out to him and opened these. Inside was a treasure of hosiery:

’27 pairs of kids gloves, 10 cambric handkerchiefs, and other things’ all belonging to her previous master, Mr Williamson.

In all there were goods valued at over £7 (or around  £450 in today’s money). In court before two aldermen at the Guildhall Sarah claimed these had been given to her by James Oakes, the hosier’s shopman, but he denied it when asked and  when pressed on this Sarah admitted this was a lie. She threw herself on the mercy of the court and asked to be dealt with summarily, under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act (probably the 1855 Administration of Justice Act which allowed magistrates to deal with petty thefts and some other offences if the accused agave their permission to being dealt with – and pleaded guilty to the charge).

The aldermen (Gibbons and Causton) agreed and after a brief consultation sent her to prison for three months with hard labour.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, March 25, 1869]

Smokers rights championed in the 1870s

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The new Paddington railway station, c.1866-70

Mr D’Eyncourt had only just taken his seat on the bench at the Marylebone Police Court when his first hearing of the day presented itself. It was late January 1871 and Mr Michael Pope, a solicitor from Great James Street, Bedford Row, requested that the magistrate issue him with a summons to bring in the directors of the Great Western Railway.

He cited statute law (31 and 32 Vic. cap.119, sec.20) which stated that all railway companies (excepting the Metropolitan underground railway) were obliged to provided smoking carriages for ‘each class of passengers’.

Smoking has of course been banned entirely on all British railways since 2007 but in the 19th century no such prohibition was in place. However, it was clearly ‘not the done thing’ to smoke in a compartment that was not labelled as ‘smoking’. Here is the advice from a contemporary etiquette guide:

‘One may smoke in a railway-carriage in spite of by-laws, if one has first obtained the consent of every one present; but if there be a lady there, though she give her consent, smoke not. In nine cases out of ten, she will give it from good-nature. One must never smoke in a close carriage; one may ask and obtain leave to smoke when returning from a picnic or expedition in an open carriage’.

                                                               The Habits of Good Society (1864)

Mr Pope recounted the story his daily commute from Ealing to Paddington, and at how he had walked the length of the train looking for a ‘second-class’ smoking carriage but could not find one. The guard directed him to a carriage but as it did not say ‘smoking’ and there were several occupants already, he did not lite up.

He wanted to summon the directors because he felt they were as much in breach of the law in not providing separate spaces for smokers as the ‘poor persons’ who were bring fined for smoking where they should not.

The magistrate said he couldn’t sympathise (as he wasn’t  smoker) and he couldn’t help as a summons would be of no use. The law was not a compulsion but a direction; the railways were encouraged to provide separate coaches but they were not compelled to do so. It would be  waste of time summoning them to court. Better instead that Mr. Pope wrote to them directly, as Mr. D’Eyncourt was sure they would ‘see into the matter’.

The solicitor went off grumbling that there was little point in a law that had no effect and presumably lit is pipe (or cigar) as soon as he was outside.

Nowadays we are getting used to smoke-free environments and there is no obligation for companies to provide their employees or the public with smoking areas , although they do exist (often at airports). ASH (Action on Smoking & Health) continue to campaign for restrictions on smoking on health grounds. By contrast Forest campaigns on behalf of the smoker, and oppose blanket bans.

Whatever your personal standpoint (and I’m a reformed smoker glad of the cleaner air around me) it is interesting to see that this debate has bene going on for a long time. I don’t want to share my railway carriage with a single or group of active smokers, and nor did my Victorian ancestors. Do I think the railway companies should provide a coach for those that want to smoke? Yes, if they can provide enough alternative space so the rest of us can actually find seat on a rain that runs to time for once.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, February 01, 1871]