Skinny-dipping in the Serpentine: Two brothers end up in hot water as they try to beat the capital’s heatwave.

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I imagine that you, like me, are suffering from this prolonged bout of hot weather. The British trend to grumble whatever the weather of course; it is either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, rarely ‘just right’. But weather like this is causing problems, from moorland fires and potential crop shortages, to increased levels of pollution and higher mortality rates. Now perhaps, skeptics are waking up to the idea that global warming is a reality and not just scaremongering by environmentalists and climate change experts.

This year is not exceptional however, we’ve had heatwaves before. In 1976 temperatures sored to 35.9C, in 1990 they topped 37C in Cheltenham. There were similar heatwaves when the temperature reached the mid 30s: in July 1933, August 1932, July 1923 and August 1911 but this one may be one of the most sustained.

What do people do when the weather gets so hot? Well in July 1900, at the tail end of Victoria’s reign, two brothers decided to cool off by going for a swim in the Serpentine. However, their actions scandalized the public and so the pair found themselves up before the magistrate at Marlborough Street Police court.

Reginald Ingram, a 32 year-old medical practitioner, and his brother Malcolm (25) lived at the same address in Pimlico. On Tuesday 24 July they were seen swimming in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Not only was it against the rules of Royal Park to swim or bathe in the lake at that time and place, the men were also stark naked!

Police constable 74D was called to the incident and witnessed the men running ‘about in a nude condition’. He arrested them, secured their clothes, and ferried them to the nearest police station where they were charged.

Both men pleaded guilty to swimming in the lake but said they were unaware that they’d broken the regulations, not realizing that bathing was prohibited in certain areas of the lake. Ignorance of course, is no defense in law and Mr. Denman fined the brothers 40each for their offence.

I’m a little surprised he didn’t add an extra penalty for indecency, but perhaps that is making assumptions that the late Victorians were more obsessed with decorum than they were. Regardless, their attempt to cool down by skinny dipping in a public park had landed them in hot water.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, July 25, 1900]

‘Lazy’? ‘Good-for-nothing’? Or economic migrants with a dream of a better life?

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Frederick William Turner was described in the Southwark Police Court as a ‘singular-looking young fellow’ but also (by the magistrate), as a ‘lazy good-for-nothing’. What was it that Frederick had done to earn such a condemnation from Mr Burcham?

His ‘crime’ was dodging his fare on the railway. To be precise Turner had travelled from Portsmouth to London without paying. He had fallen asleep in a second-class carriage and when he was rudely awakened by a ticket inspector (Anthony Coleman) he ‘fumbled about in his pockets’ before telling the inspector ‘he had neither ticket nor money’.

Coleman grabbed him and marched him to the office of the station superintendent for him to deal with. There he admitted having no money, and no intention of ever paying for the ride. The superintendent recognised the lad as someone he had caught fare dodging not long ago. Indeed, six months previously Turner had made the same journey to London, had been caught without a ticket or the means to pay and was imprisoned for seven days because he (fairly obviously) didn’t have the 10s to pay a fine instead.

Now Frederick found himself once again before ‘the beak’ and got little sympathy from the bench. Mr Burcham asked him to defend himself but all Frederick said was that it was true. He had come up from Portsmouth to look for work in London. He didn’t have the fare, presumably because he was poor and out of work.

Instead of admiring his desire to find work (as Norman Tebbit might have done, despite the implicit criminality) Mr Burcham was clearly outraged that the lad had demonstrated that he had learnt nothing from his previous brush with the law.

He had ‘no right to defraud the railway by travelling on their line’, he told him. Fred’s response was to say that he had ‘tried to walk up but could not on account of the heat’. It was the height of summer after all and a particularly hot one. A temperature of 100.5 degree Fahrenheit (38 C) was recorded in Kent in July of that year, so the young man was not exaggerating.

Regardless of this Mr Burcham condemned him as ‘lazy’ when it seems apparent he was anything but. We might excuse his attempt to evade his fare if his higher purpose was to gain employment in the capital, but the magistrate couldn’t or wouldn’t. He handed down another 10s fine which the lad would not be able to pay and so, for the second time that year, Frederick Turner found himself in prison.

I have no idea how or if he then made his way back to Portsmouth from London, or whether he served his week inside and found work and digs in the capital. At some point in the middle of the nineteenth century an ancestor of mine made his way to London from Maney in the fens of Cambridgeshire looking for work after the agricultural depression.  He stayed and survived and started a line of family members that includes me. I’ve no idea whether he saved his pennies to pay for  ticket on the new railway line or not; perhaps he hid in a wagon or kept out of there way of the inspector.

He was more fortunate, it would seem, than Frederick Turner, but both young men had the same goal in mind: to make a new life in the city that consumed so many migrants fro so many parts of Britain and the Empire. I think to describe such people as ‘lazy’ or ‘good-for-nothing’ does them a deep disservice.

[from Morning Post, Saturday 1 August 1868]