Housebreaking in Stokey and Hackney; slim pickings perhaps but poverty was relative in 1887

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In early September 1887 William Parker (an 18 year-old box maker) and James Hall (also 18 and described as a boot maker), appeared at the Worship Street Police court accused of breaking and entering.

The pair, both Bethnal Green lads, had strayed west, targeting three different properties in Stoke Newington. They’d been picked up by police from N Division (which covered Islington and included Stoke Newington) with a bag that contained ‘housebreaking implements’ and their lodgings in Hackney and Globe Street, Bethnal Green were raided.

Sergeant Helson and his colleagues Sergeant May explained that they had arrested the pair on suspicion that they were involved with burglaries at the homes of a Mr Cameron (at 102 Clarence Road), Mr Mears (62 Bentham Road) and Ernest Beckman (a commission agent who lived at 82 Rectory Road).

Mrs Beckman testified that she’d left her home at 3 in the afternoon on Saturday 20 August and came back and hour and half later to find that the front door had been forced open. The dining room had been left in a terrible state, and upstairs in the bedroom her jewelry box was lying open and empty.

She said she had lost ‘£5 in gold, a gold watch and chain, a gold ring, two pairs of earrings, two brooches, and a pair of solitaires’.

The solitaires were found on Hall’s person when the police arrested him and a witness testified to seeing him loitering outside the property earlier that day. Sergeant Helson told the magistrate (Mr Hannay) that the area had suffered a great deal from break-ins recently and requested that the men be committed for trial. Mr Hannay obliged and both men were tried at the next quarter sessions. Hall was convicted and sent to Pentonville prison for 15 months, Parker got an extra three months.

In Charles Booth’s 1888-90 poverty maps Rectory Road (where the Beckmans lived) is solidly red in colour, marking it out as ‘comfortable’. Rectory Road had ‘many old houses’ Booth reports, with ‘old fashioned wooden palings round the front gardens’. Several were semi-detached and rents were £45 (around  £,650 today). There were shops on Rectory Road’s west side and at the corner with Amhurst Road there was a large red brick building ‘with a  boy in buttons at the entrance’. This was the ‘Amhurst Club’ which charged a 2 guineas a year subscription. I have to check this but I believe this might be the site of the Regency Club (at 240a Amhurst Road) – popular with the Kray twins in the 1960s (below right).

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However, I can’t find a Bentham or Clarence in the near vicinity so perhaps those break-ins occurred further east, in Hackney (where  there is a Bentham Road). In the notebook covering the wider area Booth mentions Clarence Road (and Terrace) as a street where the houses have workshops ‘in their back gardens’; he coloured these purple moving to light-blue as it reached Clarence Terrace. One wonders what Hall and Parker could find to steal here but if they came out of worse conditions in the East End perhaps even slim pickings were worth stealing.

I’ll look in more detail at the area around Rectory Road in the next post.

[from Morning Post, 2 September 1887]

A daring escape from police cells by three desperate robbers

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On Saturday 5 May 1866 three men were fully committed to trial by the sitting magistrate at Worship Police court in the East End of London. George Hensey, Patrick Madden, and William Thomas Morgan had been charged with robbing the house of Edmund Fox, at Albert Terrace, Hackney, and had got away with upwards of £9 in silver plate (about £500 today).

The magistrate had them taken back to the cells in the court while the police van (the ‘Black Maria’) was sent for to take them off to a more secure location. The men never made it to prison however, because on Sunday morning the gaoler found the ventilators in the cell had been forced apart with one of the 2 inch oak seats and all three felons had escaped!

The Morning Post reported that the men must have escaped into the courtyard adjoining the cells and then got out through one of the doors. ‘The work must have been not only rapidly, but silently and skillfully effected’ and while it was an embarrassment to the authorities no one at Worship Street should be held accountable it declared.

The escape was not made public until Tuesday as the police searched for the missing men. As all three were ‘well known to the police’ it was assumed they would be found quickly and returned to custody but as yet, there was no sign of this happening.  No men with those names appear in the Old Bailey in 1866 nor is there a victim listed by the name of Edmond Fox so this might have meant that all three got away with it on this occasion.

However, a Patrick Madden was found guilty – at Middlesex Quarter Sessions – of stealing plate worth £9 from the home of a Mr ‘Windover Edmunds Fry’ in May 1866, having previously escaped. He was convicted and sent to prison (the term itself is not listed). Men named William Morgan and George Henley (not Hensey) do feature in hulk and prison records in the 1860s but I can’t tie any of them to this case.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, May 09, 1866]

If you enjoy this blog series you might be interested in Drew’s jointly authored study of the Whitechapel (or ‘Jack the Ripper’) murders which is published by Amberley Books on 15 June this year. You can find details here:

A misguided printer arms himself against the ‘roughs’

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Well, today is exciting! The first editorial queries for my new book have arrived. Jack and the Thames Torso Murders  is due to be published by Amberley in the summer and this morning the copyeditors questions have landed in my inbox for me and my co-author to deal with. The book offers up a new suspect in the Ripper murder case and packs in plenty of social history at the same time. I’ll keep you posted with its progress.

Given that the Whitechapel murders took place in the summer of 1888 let us now go back to February of that year and see what was happening in the Police courts.

At Clerkenwell George Dickson, a 19 year-old printer was convicted of firing  pistol in Castle Street, Hackney on the previous Saturday night. Dickson was lame in one leg and so probably walked with a limp. Sadly this attracted the unwanted attention of the local youth who teased and taunted him as he made his way along the streets.

Like many areas of London in the late 1880s ‘gangs’ of youths walked the streets, acting aggressively towards passers-by, pushing and shoving, and using crude language.  George was just one of their targets and had taken to arming himself against the threat he felt they posed. He was overreacting, the magistrate at Clerkenwell insisted, who declared that the ‘practice of carrying loaded revolvers was a very dangerous one’, and something parliament should act against.

Clearly in 1888 it wasn’t against the law to carry a gun in England (although you did need a license), but it was an offence to fire one. In court Dickson was contrite and because he agreed to surrender his pistol to the police the justice (Mr Bennett) simply bound him over in the sum of £10 against any future misconduct, and let him go.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, February 12, 1888]

Making explosives at home is a very bad idea

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It is that time of the year again. The period when all the supermarkets stock fireworks for Guy Fawkes and Diwali. Last Wednesday I was walking out of Finsbury Park station on my way to the football when there was a loud bang, the sound of crackers going off, and screams of fear and delight. Suddenly a young man in a hoodie came charging away from the noise followed soon after by three other excited teenagers.

He had thrown a parcel of fireworks into the street by the traffic lights, causing chaos and amusing himself and his friends. Its hardly the worst crime in the world but perhaps, in these dark days of urban terrorism, it wasn’t the most sensible thing to do.

Kids eh?

Such irresponsibility isn’t restricted to children or young adults of course and in 1888 it landed William Seal in court. Seal – who was described as ‘a cripple’ (meaning he was disabled in some way) – was hailed before Mr Bros at Dalston Police court for manufacturing fireworks in a  private house.

He was prosecuted under the Explosives Act (1875) and the case was brought by James Gibbons of the Metropolitan Board of Works and their solicitor, Mr Roberts. The court heard that Seal lived in the upstairs room of a house in Dunster Square, Hackney. The square was home to several houses, each of four rooms, and formed a cul de sac. It was a densely populated area and so very many families lived nearby to where Seal made his pyrotechnics.

Seal lived in a room that was just 9 feet by 7, not much different, in fact, than a standard cell in a Victorian prison. The room was heated by an open fire which was unprotected by any screen or grate, and the table on which Gibbons found Seal’s explosives being made was less than 4 feet away. The table very close to the open fire but the bed was even closer, and Seal stored fireworks under this as well.

The risk of a catastrophic accident, he figured, was very high indeed.

Seal’s landlady was called to give evidence and she testified that she believed he was a toy maker, she never knew he made fireworks and was shocked by the news. She lived downstairs and was ‘very indigent when she discovered the peril in which she and her four children had been placed’.

Mr Bros ordered that all Seal’s stock and manufacturing equipment be seized and brushed aside the defendant’s complaints that it would take away his meagre livelihood. He only made a shilling day from selling fireworks which was barely ‘enough to keep himself out of the workhouse’.

The magistrate was insistent and told the man that by breaking the terms of the act he had rendered himself liable to a fine of £100 a day, and endangered the lives of dozens of people nearby. He fined him £5 or a month’s imprisonment. Shaking his head Seal sloped away from the dock, ‘its the workhouse for me then’, he declared.

[from London Evening Standard, Monday, 5 November 1888]

Angry shoemakers take to the streets of Hackney

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One Sunday in early October 1892 a grim looking band of men started marching up and down a street in Hackney, north-east London. The men marched to the musical accompaniment of a motely band playing the ‘death march’ and every now than then the group turned to point accusingly at towards the occupants of the houses they passed, shouting out ‘scabs!’, ‘rats!’ and ‘gaol birds!’

Several men broke ranks and rushed over to the homes shoving handbills under the portals. These printed bills carried a foreboding message:

‘To all Trade Unionists, – Under the auspices of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Clickers and Rough Stuff Cutters, a few Sunday morning demonstrations against sweaters, and scabs, rats and other vermin will be given in the London Fields district, commencing on Sunday October 2, and will be continued until further notice’.

London Fields was large open area that had once been home mainly to sheep and highwaymen in the previous century. By the late 1800s it was ‘a hard unsightly, dismal plain’, when it rained it became an ‘impassable swamp’. It was uncultivated and so idea for demonstrations.

The handbill continued:

‘All Unionists […] who believe in giving sweaters, scabs, rats, and other vermin a musical lunch will confer a favour on the above Union by meeting on London Fields next Sunday at 10.30, when they will form in procession, headed by bands and banners, and pay each of these social parasites and bloodsuckers a visit’…

The noise and the threats prompted at least two individuals to complain at the North London Police court. Both men said they had been targeted directly. They said they worked in a shop where a dispute was underway but denied being scabs (strike breakers).  Mr Bros (presiding) suggested that they applied for a summons against those responsible for a breach of the peace, and sent them on their way.

The actions of the trades union members seems to be a cross over from traditional acts of ‘rough musicing’ (literally banging pots and pans outside someone’s home to show community disproval) and more ‘modern’ acts of picketing (as demonstrated during the 1889 Dock Strike).

The Boot and Show Union had formed in 1873 and within a decade boasted 10,000 members. It had merged with the Rough Stuff and Clickers Union in 1892, the year this case occurred, but split soon after. They had one big strike, in 1897, in support of a minimum wage and 54 hour week but unlike the Match Girls (in 1888) and the Dockers (1889) they weren’t successful.

We don’t have a large scale boot and show industry anymore, but several firms in Northamptonshire (where I teach) continue to produce top quality leather shoes many of which are exported across the world. In London in the late 1800s the competition form cheap foreign labour (‘sweaters’) was intense and only the larger factories (in Northants) survived into the 1900s.

[from The Standard (London, England), Tuesday, October 04, 1892]

‘Oh don’t do that. It is I and not he who should be punished’: A wife’s desperate plea to save her abusive husband

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North-east London, almost a year from the start of the Whitechapel murders and the newspapers reports of the Police courts are full of violence. On the Commercial Road a blind man was repeatedly stabbed in the face, at Wandsworth two lads were summoned for beating up a newsboy so badly he was left hospitalized and unable to walk. In Islington a mother punished her 7 year-old son for losing the money she’d sent him to by bread with. Not content with a clip round the ear she pressed a red hot poker in his mouth, burning his tongue.

Over in Hackney two policemen were patrolling near Cross Street late on Sunday night (4 August 1889) when they heard cries of ‘murder!’ and ‘police!’ They hurried towards the sounds and found a small crowd by a house and a woman bleeding from cuts to her arms. A domestic dispute had occurred – something the police were generally rather keen to avoid but perhaps the heightened tensions in the wake of the ‘Ripper’ caused these officers to intervene.

William Elvidge was standing close to his wife Alice and it seemed he had attacked her. Both parties were taken to the police station to be examined and for Alice’s wounds to be dressed.  She’d suffered two cuts only one of which was at all serious, cutting her muscle but she didn’t want to press charges against William.

‘The police, however, thought themselves justified in taking the responsibility of the charge’, and so the case came before Mr Horace Smith, the sitting magistrate at Dalston Police court. Magistrates were often frustrated by the reluctance of women to prosecute their partners; too frequently they simply dropped the charges before their hearing came on, refused to give evidence against husbands in court, or pleaded for mercy for the when they were convicted.

Alice was a woman in this mould.

The court was told that the incident had resulted from William being ‘late for his tea’. An argument had begun and Alice had thrown a plate at her husband who had retaliated by seizing a knife and threatening to ‘cut her throat’.

The magistrate said this was a case that needed to go before a jury and indicted Elvidge to appear at the next Sessions of the Peace. This sent Alice into ‘violent hysterics’ as she pleaded with the justice not to send her man to trial.

Oh don’t do that. It is I and not he who should be punished’, she cried. ‘He is a good, kind, affectionate husband, and good to his children’.

As she was led away by a policeman she screamed:

Oh, dear, it’s all through me!’

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, August 06, 1889]

The wife of the Lord mayor is found sleeping rough in Islington.

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When Sergeant Gillett (31N) found Amelia Cooke and her children sleeping under the stars he decided to act. It wasn’t the first time the woman and her family had been picked up by the police – she was well know as a homeless person who refused to go into the workhouse.

On this occasion however, it being 2.30 in the morning, the police sergeant was concerned for the health of her children and decided to take them, and her, into custody. On Thursday 12 June 1851 he brought them and their mother to the Clerkenwell Police Court for Mr Tyrwhitt to decide what to do with them.

The magistrate was told that Amelia (27 years of age and described by the  Morning Chronicle’s reporter as ‘a sun-burnt haggard looking woman’) was regularly to be found around Islington sleeping in doorways or on the pavements. When quizzed as to why she would not take the help of the parish poor law authorities she explained that it would damage her case, as ‘she was entitled to considerable property’.

She told the desk sergeant that far from being destitute she was actually the wife of the sitting Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Musgrove. He had changed his name, she added, because ‘Cooke’ was far too common for a man of his status. The pair had been married at St. Nicholas’ Church in Liverpool and she had previously lived at 17 Wellington House, St. Pancreas where a sum of £350 (£28,000 in today’s money) had been left for her but she was refused access to.

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Sir John Musgrove was born in Hackney and had made his money by property speculation in the mid 1820s. While he may have travelled to Liverpool there is no record of him marrying there. In fact there is no record of him marrying at all, and when he died (in 1881) his baronetcy died with him, suggesting he had no male heirs.

Mr Tyrwhitt thought that Amelia was possibly ‘deluded’ and sergeant Gillet agreed. He wondered if the sufferings she’d been through in sleeping rough and hardly eating had ‘impaired her faculties’ and added that it was certainly ‘injuring her children’s health’.

The magistrate despatched an officer of the court to Mr Perch, one of the overseers of Clerkenwell, to make enquiries as to their future care.

Perch soon returned and said he advised taking the family into the workhouse so enquiries could be made into Amelia’s story (not that I think anyone apart from her believed it).  He’d spoken to the poor woman and was convinced that she was delusional. That made up Mr Tyrwhitt’s mind and he ordered Turner (the officer) to accompany the woman and her ‘miserable’ children to the workhouse.

But Amelia was a spirited woman and convinced of the truth of her story. She grabbed her children as they left the curt and tried to run away. When Turner caught hold of her she fought him at first before eventually being overpowered and led away to the ‘house. I doubt the Lord Mayor was even informed of the case, unless he chanced upon it over his breakfast of course.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, June 13, 1851]