‘White van man’ in the dock as his horse falls sick and endangers life in Stoke Newington

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Today the internal combustion engine (and its electric equivalent) is ubiquitous, but the horse dominated nineteenth-century London. Horses were everywhere: pulling Hanson cabs, coaches, omnibuses, trams, carts, traps, and individual riders. Until quite late in the century there was hardly a form of transport that didn’t involve horses.

This meant that there were tens of thousands of horses on the streets, tons of manure to clean up, thousands of horse shoes to make and fit, hundreds of vets to treat animals that got sick, and even more knackers to dispatch them when they could work no longer.

There were rules to govern the care of animals and to prevent the spread of contagious diseases that might affect other beasts and, in some cases, the human population. Ultimately these laws were enforced by the police and the magistracy. James Witney had fallen foul of the law when he appeared before Mr Bushby at Worship Street Police court in London’s East End in July 1879. Witney was a carman; a man that owed or rented a small cart and was employed to carry goods or materials across the capital. He was the equivalent of the modern ‘white van man’ and was probably held in equal esteem.

He owned a horse to pull his cart but it had fallen sick and couldn’t work. He should have notified the authorities and called a vet, but he did neither. Instead he sent Frederick Wright with the horse to Stoke Newington common to leave it somehow get better on its own. In doing so he had not only endangered the life of his own animal he had put other horses and cattle at risk because the common was used by lots of people to graze their animals.

The problem was quickly identified by a constable employed by the local Board of Works. He found the horse suffering from what he suspected was ‘farcy’ and he reported it to the police. Two government inspectors of cattle were sent to examine the animal and they agreed with his suspicions and ordered that it be slaughtered. Witney was informed and tried to get the animal removed to be treated but a local vet refused and insisted it be slaughtered before it infected any other beasts in the vicinity. When a post mortem was completed ‘farcy’ was discovered and the action of the authorities was justified.

Glanders and Farcy, according to the DAERA website, is ‘a serious bacterial disease of the respiratory tract and skin, affecting mainly horses and other equine animals’. It remains a notifiable disease in the UK even though it is thought to have been eradicated here and in most of Europe and North America. It is fatal to animals and humans and has been used a biological weapon in wars (notably by the Germans in the First World War, and the Japanese in WW2). There is currently no vaccine for glanders or farcy.

Mr Bushby was satisfied that the Board of Works had proved that Witney had broken the law and endangered both the public and animals on the common. He fined him £21 5s plus costs and handed down an additional fine of 10s to Fred Wright for ‘leading a horse afflicted with glanders through the streets’.

[from The Standard, Saturday, July 12, 1879]

The horse trade, especially the slaughtering business and the trade in horsemeat, forms part of Drew’s new history of the Whitechapel (Jack the Ripper) murders of 1888. This new study offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. It is available on Amazon now.

 

The punishment fits the crime as a cab driver is prosecuted for cruelty

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Animal cruelty is nothing new sadly. In recent weeks there have been reports of dog fighting gangs, hare coursing, even the re-emergence of cockfights; and there countless small acts of human cruelty towards animals, most of which don’t get reported. One area which has decreased is cruelty towards working animals, notably horses. This is chiefly because we don’t employ horses as we used to.

In my forthcoming book on the Whitechapel (or ‘Jack the Ripper’) murders I look in some detail at London’s meat trade and at the role of the Victorian horse slaughterer. Horses were ubiquitous in the nineteenth-century capital: the pulled hansom cabs, omnibuses, trams, carriages for the wealthy and carts for tradesmen, individuals rode horses and horses were everywhere. Horses died or grew old or sick and were slaughtered and invariably their carcasses were processed and reused as meat or glue or some other by-product.

Legislation in 1849 and 1850 allowed prosecutions of those that willfully mistreated animals and many of these prosecutions were brought by, or with the support of, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) which had been founded as early as 1824. Sometimes however, accusations of cruelty were linked to other issues, as this case from 1839 (and before the acts applied) reveals.

In February 1839 Thomas Green was brought before Mr Rawlinson at Marylebone Police court charged with ‘being drunk and cruelly using his master’s horse’. Green was one of London’s cabbies, men who never enjoyed a very good reputation amongst the magistracy, police and press in the period.  Cab drivers like Green drove for others rather than owning their cabs and animals as independent businessmen. Theirs was a hard life with long hours in all weathers, and often with drunken or otherwise belligerent and difficult customers.

Hansom drivers had a reputation for being awkward, aggressive, and for drinking and all of these combined in Thomas Green to find him arraigned before a court of law. His boss was William Green (no relation) who lived in Dorset Square. William was too ill that day to attend court so his wife went along in his stead. Mrs Green told the magistrate that the prisoner had brought his horse home the previous night in a terrible state:

The poor beast was ‘covered in weals and sweat, and so weak it could hardly stand’. Moreover Green was drunk and when she berated him for this he turned on her and ‘called her the most disgusting names’.

Mrs Green called the police and had Thomas arrested.

There were plenty of offences that cabmen could be charged with, of which one was being drunk in charge of a vehicle. He might also be prosecuted for bad language, or assault. I suspect in this case Mr Rawlinson wasn’t clear exactly what he was going to do the man with but was intent on punishing in for something.

He decided to send Thomas Green to prison for a month and as he saw him as ‘a very bad offender’ he added ‘hard labour’ to the punishment: Green would spend a month on the treadmill, pointlessly walked and climbing until he literally fell down with exhaustion. Given that this is pretty much how he had treated his horse the punishment, for once, seems fitting.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, February 22, 1839]

A magistrate woefully out of touch with reality but who founded a legal dynasty

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Sir Henry Curtis-Bennett might be forgiven for not really knowing ‘how the poor live[d]’ in 1888. He had been appointed a magistrate for Westminster just two years previously at the age of 40. In 1888 in fact he was ‘Mr’ as the king didn’t knight him until May 1913 just a few weeks before he died. He was the son of an Essex  vicar and read law at university. He was called to the Bar in 1870 and so had plenty of experience (as all the metropolitan magistrates did) in the legal system, if not in the day-to-day life of ordinary Londoners.

In November 1888 he was presiding at Wandsworth when young George Thomas Bellenger was brought before him, charged with ‘living beyond the control of his parents’. The gaoler brought him up from the day cells and informed his worship that the lad was half starved. Until that morning he’d not eaten for days and so had been glad of the meal that Mr Ironmonger, a local Industrial School officer had provided.

The officer had been to George’s parent’s home and found it to be in a terrible state. There were several children there, all ‘crying for food’ and he reported that the place lacked the basic ‘necessaries of life’ (by which I presume he meant food and heating).

If the family were destitute then surely they should have gone to the workhouse Mr Curtis-Bennett declared. The gaoler said his worship was correct but added that many of the poor were ‘disinclined to become inmates of the workhouse’.

The magistrate said he was aware of this but couldn’t understand it. After all in England the poor were looked after better than in any other country in the world. Here there were ‘workhouses, infirmaries, and dispensaries’. This was the extent of the ‘welfare state’ in 1888: there was no unemployment benefit, no state pension, no NHS. Instead if you unable to feed yourself or find shelter you could enter the ‘house’ where you would treated (despite the former barrister’s opinion) little better than prisoners were.

George’s mother was called forward to explain her situation. She told the magistrate that her husband was out of work. He had been employed by a mineral water company as a delivery man but he had been sacked after eight years’ service. The reason, she was asked?

‘He trotted the horses’.

‘For no other reason?’

‘No sir’.

So because he pushed the horses to get his rounds done more quickly they company had sacked him. Workers had few, if any, rights in the 1880s and unemployment was high so there were always people to fill gaps if employers wished to get rid of people or pay them lower wages.

At this Mr Curtis-Bennett had a temporary rush of charitable understanding. He awarded the woman 10from the poor box. Then he sent her little boy to the workhouse.

Henry Curtis-Bennett died in office. He had become the Chief Magistrate at Bow Street and in July 1913 he was a attending a meeting at Mansion House (seat of the Lord Mayor of London) when he fell ill. He had survived a bomb attack in 1908 orchestrated by militant suffragettes (and other attempts as he was a lead magistrate in suppressing their ‘outrages’) but he didn’t survive this latest assault on his constitution. curtiss-bennett-1He died soon afterwards and was succeeded by his eldest son, also Henry, who went on to be a more famous lawyer than his father and a Conservative politician.

His son – Derek Curtis-Bennett) followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and entered the law. As a defence barrister he famously defended (if not successfully) the traitor William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) and the murderer John Christie.

No one knows what happened to little George or his siblings, or if they even survived the winter of 1888.

[from The Standard, Friday, November 02, 1888]

From ‘a magnificent long-tailed carriage horse’ to ‘a mere bob-tailed colt’: a horse is the victim of a stable boy’s resentment

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When William Canham returned to the livery stable in Moorgate where he worked he was irritated to find that the two horses he had asked to be prepared for him were not ready. The stables provided carriage horses for London’s well-to-do, and the stable hands needed to have animals in tip top condition for when they were required to pull carriages and traps about the city.

Canham held William Pells responsible and called him out for his negligence. Pell, a young man, bit back and Canham swore he could smell drink on his breath. Was he drunk, he asked? The stable hand denied it and gave his superior a mouthful of abuse and squared up to him. The argument died down as Canham led his horses away to be fed and watered.

A little later Canham saw Pells emerging from one of the stalls looking furtive, and saw him hastily hide a handful of horse hair under his jacket.

‘Beware!’ Canham called out to him, ‘That’s horse hair. I’d like to know where you got that from?”

Pells said he ‘had combed it out of a horse’ but the older man was suspicious and went to check the animals in the stables. He soon found a poor horse that had been plucked (as he put it). The horse’s tail had been so attacked as to make it look as if it had been docked. Not only was this animal cruelty, it had devalued the animal:

‘from being a magnificent long-tailed carriage horse, it became a mere bob-tailed colt, only fit to run in a cart’.

Giving evidence at the Mansion House a few days later the livery owner, Mr. Wragg, said he put the amount of damage at £30-40 (or £2,000-3,000 in today’s money).

In his defence all Pell would say was that he wasn’t drunk but was irritated with his boss because he hadn’t been paid for two days. He might have found a better way to express his unhappiness however, as the very least he could expect now was the loss of employment and being black balled by all livery stables in London.

The Lord Mayor bailed him to appear to answer the charge at a later date where – given the facts stated against him – I rather suspect a loss of employment was to be the least of his worries.

[from The Morning Post , Saturday, August 30, 1852]

A sharp eyed copper helps foil a dog napper

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Queen Victoria’s Skye terriers, by Otto Weber (1874)

In recent years there have been a spate of dog thefts in London and elsewhere. Like many crimes I’ve written about on this blog about the past, nothing is very new about this. Pets (particularly pedigree dogs) have a value and that makes them vulnerable to theft.

In August 1883 PC Webb was in plain clothes as he walked along Chiswick High Road. He may or may not have been on duty but his police intelligence was certainly working keenly. He noticed a a young man driving a horse and van and a little Skye terrier seated next to him on the cab. A Skye terrier was not your ’57 varieties’ of mongrel hound usually owned by the working classes, in fact Queen Victoria famously owned a pair, and so the policeman decided to follow at a distance.

Presently the man pulled up outside a beershop, picked up the dog and gestured to a man inside. Did he want to to buy the animal he asked him? ‘No’, came the reply. Was he sure the carter asked; he could have him for 2s 6d, which was a good price, he having paid 2s for it himself.

The beershop owner wasn’t interested. So he moved on to a barber’s shop and tried to sell it there. Again he got no interest and at this point PC Webb revealed himself and asked the man who he was and where he’d got the dog.

The man’s gave his name as George Cole and reiterated that he’d bought the animal that morning for 2s. PC Webb didn’t believe it and took him, and the little terrier, into custody. On the next day man Cole and his dog were brought before Mr Paget at Hammersmith Police court where the prisoner repeated his claim. The magistrate remarked that he thought the dog was likely lost or stolen and so would be advertised, for the real owner to claim him. In the meantime he remanded Cole in custody for further enquiries. The dog was given to the police to look after.

[from Morning Post, Monday 13 August 1883]

A family day out at the races ends in court

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It was a Friday evening in early June 1876 and Henry Stokes and his wife and son were coming home from a day out at the races. As they family rode in their cart along the Balham Road in south London another vehicle – a wagonette – was, unbeknown to the Stokes, careering towards them.

Police constable Hill had seen the wagonette (literally, a small sprung wagon, drawn by one or two horses) and realized it was going too fast. London’s streets were pretty crowded in the nineteenth century and all sorts of users could be found on them. There were tens of thousands of horse drawn carts, coaches, hansoms and carriages, as well as omnibus, trams, pedestrians, horse riders, and the occasional.

PC Hill shouted a warning to the driver of the wagonette to slow down and ‘be more careful’ but he was ignored. Moments later there was a crash as the wagon and two horses collided with the other cart from behind. All three of the family were thrown into the road. Fortunately Mr Stokes and his son only suffered mild bruising but Mrs Stokes was hurt quite badly, and a doctor was summoned.

The copper arrested the other driver who gave his name as Edward Kirk. Kirk was an off duty omnibus driver so really should have known better. At Wandsworth Police Court PC testified that Kirk was doing around 12-14 miles an hour, which may not sound fast by today’s standards but was quite fast for a horse drawn vehicle at the time (most travelled at between 608 miles an hour in the city).

More damning for Kirk was an allegation that he was drunk in charge of the wagonette. Kirk denied this and produced a doctor that supported his statement but the police – in the shape of sergeant Bearman – handed over a medical certificate from a different doctor (presumably one that examined the driver at the police station) which said he was.  Faced with conflicting medical records Mr Bridge (the magistrate) chose to believe the police and fined Kirk £2 (or one month in prison).

He told Henry Stokes that if he wanted compensation for the damage to his cart and, more importantly, to cover the medical expenses incurred by his wife’s injury, he should bring an action in the county court. If he did the whole episode was likely to have been an expensive one for the omnibus driver who may well – given the public nature of the case and its reportage – have lost his job. The fine was not a small one anyway, around £125, or more than a couple of week’s salary for the bus driver, so he may have struggled to find that and have gone to prison instead.

Today, while the driving charge would stand (if there was a policeman anywhere to be found to see the incident) the civil damages would of course be dealt with by an insurance claim. Now of course, the injuries may well be worse since we travel much faster, and Kirk (or rather his insurers) might be facing claims of whiplash injury from Mrs Stokes. He would of course almost certainly have lost his license, and therefore his livelihood as well.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, June 05, 1876]

Knocked down in the street a week before her wedding.

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Yesterday I visited Highgate cemetery. This is the first time I’ve been to the West cemetery – the oldest part – which you can only access as part of a guided tour. Myself and about a dozen others avoided the royal nuptials by spending a fascinating 90 minutes or so with Stuart, one of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery’s volunteers. He showed us around the cemetery, up into the catacombs and around the Egyptian style tombs, pointing out some of the famous people buried there (like Michael Faraday) and telling us about the history of site.

I was most touched by the stories of ordinary people like Elizabeth Jackson – the very first burial at Highgate after it opened in 1839 – whose husband must have saved every penny he had to ensure his wife was interned in a crowded graveyard in central London but instead was buried in the quite peace of the suburbs. He later died of cholera but his second wife made sure he was interred with his first love, and possibly their daughter who died (as so many did) in infancy.

The tour costs £12 but is well worth every penny and includes the £4 admission to the East cemetery, where you can visit Marx, Elgar, Douglas Adams and my early historical hero, Eric Hobsbawm.

Today I’ve picked a tragedy from the Police Court in the year Highgate opened. As Charles Aymer drove his butcher’s cart along Old Bailey in May a young woman stepped out into the traffic. London was as busy then as it is today, although where we have cars, vans and buses, they had coaches, cabs and carts.

Aymer saw the woman – Jane Lang – and reined in his horse, but couldn’t stop in time. The horse knocked her down and the wheels of the chaise cart ran right over her stricken body. She died where she lay.

The butcher was brought up before the alderman at Guildhall Police Court where he gave his evidence. The alderman accepted that it was mostly likely to have been an accident but said he would have to remand him in custody until an inquest had taken place the following week. The court was also told that Jane had been due to get married that week as well. It was an awful thing to happen, but there was probably little the butcher could have done to prevent it.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, May 20, 1839]