A bookworm almost comes unstuck on Piccadilly


Piccadilly, London (c.1830)

In October 1830 a young man named Schnell (possibly Francis or Frederick*) was brought up before the magistrate at Marlborough Street Police Court. Sir George Farrant, the sitting justice, wanted to re-examine the case that had first been brought a few days earlier and consider the evidence he had heard.

This was standard practice throughout the 18th and 19th centuries at London’s police courts ( or  ‘justicing rooms’ as they were sometimes called before 1792). An offender would be summoned or brought from one of the capital’s prisons or ‘comptors’, a charge presented and witnesses heard. It was then quite common for the magistrate to remand (or sometimes bail) the accused for a day or so while inquiries were made.

I have argued elsewhere that this was probably a deliberate strategy in some instances so that justices could punish those they believed were guilty of a petty crime or misdemeanor but for which evidence was partial to say the least. On other occasions the remanding process was used so that advertisements could be placed in the newspapers for those missing property to come forward and declare it.

Many of those remanded would have spent an uncomfortable spell in gaol only to be released a few days later while others were then fully committed to take their chances at Old Bailey. Some of course were vindicated and had the charges leveled against them quashed.

Young Mr Schnell certainly spent an uncomfortable few days worrying about his fate but it is unlikely that he was kept incarcerated whilst the courts investigated his case.

He had been accused of obtaining £100 of books by ‘false and fraudulent’ pretenses. It seems that Schnell had regularly been in receipt of books from Mr Hatchard’s bookshop in Piccadilly and the account had been settled by his mother, Mrs Schnell.  However, having left school (presumably this meant a boarding school – but that is not made clear) young Schnell had continued to buy books on his family’s account, despite not having permission to do so.

This was improper, the justice noted, but was hardly as serious to warrant a charge from Hatchard’s booksellers; after all there was no question that the account would be settled and that they would have their money. Sir George therefore dismissed the case and discharged the young man.

In a postscript the newspaper was at pains to add that any suggestion that the prosecution had been encouraged by a member of the family (young Schnell’s aunt in particular) was inaccurate. She had in fact hired a lawyer to defend him. One wonders however, if the young man’s exploitation of the family account here (and perhaps elsewhere) was a cause for concern and that certain parties felt a brush with the law no bad way of teaching him a lesson.

The case certainly didn’t harm Mr Hatchard and his staff, the business continued to flourish and indeed still exists to this very day in its original premises at 187 Piccadilly.

[from The Morning Post , Friday, October 08, 1830]


  • as he had the initial ‘F’