A curious child gets a knockout blow

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Not all stories are exactly what they seem when you start reading them. I found this one, about a Thames lighterman – one of the men that operated the flat bottomed barges ferrying goods up and down London’s central river – assaulting an eight year-old boy, and assumed it was a simple case of child abuse.

However, the incident – unpleasant as it was –  actually revealed that something else was going on in the capital at the end of November 1889.

Matthew Petter should have been at Sunday school on the 24 November. But, like many young boys, he was curious and as he crossed Vauxhall Bridge he got distracted watching the boats go up and down. As he watched he noticed a small group of men who were having an argument with a lighterman.

Henry Bliss (28) was a lighterman and when some of his fellows had recently downed tools and gone on strike, he carried on working. This hardly endeared him to his colleagues and today they were showing him how they felt.

Their hoots and cries of ‘blackleg’ escalated from verbal into physical brickbats being thrown; rubbish, bricks and stones were lobbed in his direction and Bliss lost his temper. He picked up a half-brick and threw it back, aiming at his tormenters. The brick missed them and struck a railing, bounced off and smacked young Matthew on the head, and knocked him senseless.

The crowd of angry rivermen roared in outrage and rushed forward to seize Bliss. He turned his boat and headed out into the river. The mob chased him along the bank and some took to other crafts. Finally Bliss gave himself up to river police, asking for their protection, as he clearly feared for his life.

The boy was hospitalised and when Bliss appeared to answer a summons at Westminster Police Court he was very apologetic, offering to compensate Mrs Petter for the cost of treating the little lad’s injuries. Mr D’Eyncourt probably sympathized with the lighterman – magistrates tended to side against striking union men – so he fined him a nominal 26and Mrs Petter accepted a payment of 50sin compensation.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, December 8, 1889]

‘Skylarking’ leaves one youth in hospital when he picks on the wrong victim

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Historians of crime have estimated that in the 18thand 19thcenturies only a small percentage of assaults (even fairly serious ones) reached the courts. Even when prosecutors did bring assaults before the magistracy in 18thcentury London the most common outcome was a settlement between the two parties, often brokered by the justice.

Arguably, this was mostly because inter-personal non-fatal violence was treated as a civil rather than a criminal offence, and so did not always need a jury’s deliberations. In the previous century and for much of the 1800s it was property crime that occupied the minds of legislators and the justice system. However, it seems to be the case that over the course of the nineteenth century violence increasingly became the focus of concerns about crime.

Perhaps this is reflected in this case from the Thames Police court in 1864 which occurred just 3 years after parliament had consolidated the various laws concerning interpersonal violence in one piece of legislation: the Offences Against the Person Act (24 & 25 Vict. c.100).

Herman Menus, a German immigrant, was charged with cutting and wounding Timothy Bryan, an Irish labourer. The victim was not in court to press the charge and Mr Partridge was told this was because ‘he either did not care about the wound as a serious one’ or had been compensated by some of Menus’ friends.

Nevertheless the case against the 38 year-old skin-dresser proceeded because, as Mr Partridge said, it was serious. He stated that ‘cutting and wounding cases had become so alarmingly common that the investigation must be continued’ and he remanded the German in custody.

The facts presented were that a police constable from H Division was called to a disturbance in Lambeth Street where he found Bryan lying in the gutter with a long cut to his face. He took the injured man back to Leman Street police station where he was treated. Whilst there he had some sort of fit but was now stable.

John Conley, a surgeon living on Whitechapel High Street, deposed that the wound was serious but not life threatening. In his defence Menus told the court that he had been attacked by a group of lads as he was going home from work. He was struck twice about the head and reacted, using the two cans he was carrying with him. One of these connected with Bryan’s cheek causing the injury. He used no knife at all.

The police confirmed that Bryan was one of the groups of lads that were involved in baiting the skin-dresser, which perhaps explains his reluctance to appear in court against him. Bryan was most likely part of the gang or group of ‘roughs’ who were known to pick on foreigners or anybody else they might like to terrorize on the capital’s streets. Unfortunately for him he had selected a victim who was quite capable of defending himself.

The prisoner was brought up the following day to be questioned again and so Mr Partridge could finally decide his fate. Now the court heard that Bryan was a fireman on a steam ship bound for Bordeaux in France. Menus had hired a solicitor to represent him.

Bryan appeared and said he was having some difficulty in speaking due the injuries he’d sustained in the attack on him. He told the court that he and his mates had just been ‘skylarking’ when Menus had said something to him. One thing led to another and blows were exchanged. He was drunk at the time he admitted, so his memory of the events was hazy at best. Several witnesses for both parties testified that there was equal fault on each side.

In the end the magistrate decided the best thing was this to be sorted out by a jury and so he committed Menus to take his trial.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, September 24, 1864; The Standard, Monday, September 26, 1864]

The celebrated ‘Soapy Fits King’ appears at the Lyceum

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When PC 64E reached the small crowd gathered outside the Lyceum Theatre on the Strand he found a man writhing around on the pavement, and frothing at the mouth. He whistled for help and PC 53E waited while his colleague took the man to hospital on an ambulance.

Once there however, the surgeon in charge declared that there was nothing wrong with the patient, expect that is that he had evidently been eating soap. Realizing that he’d been conned, the police constable arrested the man and took him back to the station before presenting him before the magistrate at Bow Street in the morning.

The man gave his name as Peter McDermott but Mr De Rutzen was informed by the gaoler (Sergeant Bush) that he was commonly known as the ‘Soapy Fits King’. McDermott was a beggar that had appeared ‘at nearly every police court in London’  and been sentenced numerous times as a rogue and vagabond.

Joseph Bosley of the Mendicity Society – the organization that took it upon themselves to police street begging – said that McDermott was well known to him as well. He’d watched McDermott for 18 years. He would appear at hospitals across the capital, sometimes twice in one day, ‘apparently suffering from fits, but he never had anything the matter with him’.

On the day in question McDermott had a glass of water in on hand and a brandy in the other and one wonders whether his audience genuinely believed him to be ill or were just amused by his antics. He denied using soap of course, and pointed to his extremely dirty face. ‘Do I look like it?’ he asked, to laughter in court.

‘I say it is not English’, he complained, ‘[that] I am not allowed to beg, and I have had nothing to eat for three days’.

He had a point of course. Society offered little for McDermott beyond the workhouse casual ward and that was in many ways worse than prison. This was a man who clearly had quite severe mental health issues that no one seemed to want to recognize. He was only a risk to himself and a more charitable society might have recognized his need for support. Mr De Rutzen decided to remand him in custody while he decided what to do with him.

A week later ‘the King’ was brought up again and more evidence as to his past misdemeanors was presented. Mr De Rutzen now ordered that he face trial as ‘an incorrigible rogue and vagabond’.

[from The Standard, Saturday, September 22, 1900; The Standard, Saturday, September 29, 1900]

‘Rough justice’ is meted out by Mr Sainsbury

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Samuel Sainsbury was a 45 year-old carman – the late nineteenth-century equivalent of the modern ‘white van man’. I think it is fair to say that he was a man who took no nonsense from anyone and was quite prepared to defend himself and use controlled violence to do so.

So it was unfortunate that William Parris had decided to date Sainsbury’s daughter. Parris was a young plasterer but he also belonged to a gang of  ‘roughs’ (soon to termed ‘hooligans’ by the press of the day) and so was hardly deemed a suitable candidate by the girl’s father. Neverthless William persisted and attempted to get Miss Sainsbury to see him by sending a message with a marriage proposal. When she realised that his attentions did not run quite that far she upped and left and returned home to her father.

A more sensible young man would have licked his emotional wounds and reminded himself that there were plenty of other fishes in the sea. Not William Parris however. He spoke to his mates, and set off at night to make the Sainsburys pay for the rejection.

Parris and a number of others gathered outside the Sainsbury home at Down’s Buildings in Southwark. They had been drinking and only left the pub when the landlord closed up for the night. They knocked loudly on the front door, warning the residents that they had come to ‘lay out’ the Sainsbury family. No one answered so they went around to the back of the house and climbed over a six-foot wall.

Parris and lad named Magner reached the back door and forced it open. As they began to climb the stairs Samuel Sainsbury heard them and got up, alerting his son. Both readied themselves to repel the intruder but neither were dressed, Samuel was barefoot in his trousers and shirt, his son was just wearing a long nightshirt.

Samuel saw Magner and knocked him backwards down the stairs then, seizing a hammer, he went for Parris and the rest of the gang who crowded at the foot of the stairs by the door. He raised the weapon and struck Parris and then the recovering Magner. The rest of the gang fled as fast as their legs could carry them, scrambling to get over the wall and away from Mr Sainsbury’s wrath.

The police arrived but arrested Sainsbury, taking Parris and Magner to hospital to have their wounds dressed. It took a few weeks before the trio was reunited at Southwark Police court where the father was charged with assault.

Mr Kennedy, the sitting justice, was told that Parris had a previous conviction for wounding Mr Sainsbury and one for an assault on tram conductor. The police knew Magner and several other members of the gang. The magistrate declared that the youths had brought their injuries on themselves and he granted warrants to arrest Parris, Magner and several other lads on a charge of causing a riot outside the Sainsburys’ home. As for Samuel, he discharged him and he left court with his reputation significantly enhanced.

[from The Standard, Friday, August 19, 1898]

‘You nearly killed this old woman’: ‘If not, I  ________ will soon!’ Jealousy and violence is fuelled by a night of heavy drinking

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Most of the domestic violence cases that I have written about over the last three years of this blog have involved men beating their wives. The majority of attackers were younger men or men in their 30s or 40s, their wives similarly, but today’s example is a man in his late 50s who brutally assaulted his elderly partner who was 63 years of age.

Timothy and Mary Reece had been married for 30 years, a considerable achievement in any age but perhaps especially in the harsh conditions of working-class life in Victorian London. They lived in the East End, in Edward Street, Hoxton and on a Saturday night in May 1854 that the attack happened.

PC Austin (224N) was alerted to the assault by the noise coming from a crowd of around 150 persons that had gathered outside the couple’s home. Shouts of ‘murder!’ had rang out and the constable forced his way through the throng to find Mary lying on her back in the passage of the house. Timothy was dragging her by the legs, intending to throw her into the street and – symbolically – out of his life. He stopped when he saw the policeman.

Mary was falling out of consciousness;

her tongue was protruding and quite black, and her mouth was full of blood. Her face also was black and much bruised, and it was some time before she recovered her senses, and she then complained of being injured in the ribs’.

PC Austin told Reece that he had ‘nearly killed this old woman’, to which he merely grumbled ‘If not, I  ________ will soon’.

Timothy Reece was arrested and his wife was taken to hospital to have her injuries assessed and treated. A few days later Reece was in court at Worship Street and his wife, still recovering and using a stick to support herself, was summoned to give evidence against him.

He said that the altercation was her fault, that she had misbehaved in some way. A neighbour, Elizabeth Guterfield, suggested that he was jealous of her and the landlord, something she found ridiculous. On the night in question both parties had been drunk she testified. Timothy had been pushing her along the street as they made their way back from drinking in Bishopsgate and his wife was swearing at him.

She wasn’t sure why or how the jealousy had arisen but she insisted that in her day Mary had been a beautiful woman. She went on to describe Mary’s ‘departed charms’ to the court while the court observed the victim in court who ‘certainly bore no present trace of them’.

Mary herself said she could remember very little of the events of Saturday night as she was out of her senses. Even in court she was under the influence. She did say she’d borne 15 children in her life, six of whom were still alive. According to Timothy the couple had had eight children so whether the other seven were from another relationship or he was simply unaware of them is impossible to say.

Mr D’Eyncourt sentenced Timothy Reece to three month’s hard labour and bound him over to keep the peace to his wife for six months on his release. It was a common enough punishment for a wife beater and evidently well deserved. Whether it would do any good however, is debatable. Mary had to be summoned to court, I doubt she wanted to press charges and her situation was not really helped by losing her husband for 12 weeks. I also doubt whether this was the first time he’d hit her, although perhaps it was the most serious of a number of smaller assaults.

Working class life in mid nineteenth-century London was hard, extremely hard. Grinding poverty was a fact of daily life there and it seems both of them self-medicated with alcohol to alleviate the pain of it. Both seemed older than they really were: the newspaper reporter thought Mary was over 70 and described Timothy Reece as ‘elderly’. She was 63 and he was several years younger, so perhaps my age. Alcohol and poverty had taken its toll on both of them, physically and emotionally, and they had little hope of any improvement as they headed towards their dotage. There were no old age pensions to collect (those arrived in 1908, too late for Timothy and Mary) and little support outside the hated workhouse. Cheap drink – gin and beer – was their only comfort but alcohol (as we all know) fuels jealousy and violence and domestic violence in particular.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, May 18, 1854]

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:

‘It is really quite dreadful to see young children standing in the dock charged with drunkenness’. Two young girls are led astray

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We might like to believe that children grow up faster these days or lose their innocence at an earlier age than they did in the past, but how true is this? There is a temptation to believe that everything was better in the past when prices were lower, the elderly were respected, and there was less crime. Often this mythical ‘golden age’ is associated with the 1950s the last decade before standards dropped as the ‘swinging sixties’ turned society upside down.

In reality of course the problems we face today are not really new ones just old ones in modern packaging. There were, for example, concerns about youth gangs in the Victorian period, and fears about the feckless nature of working-class youth go back to the end of the Napoleonic wars and beyond, as Geoffrey Pearson showed in his seminal study of youth crime Hooligans in 1983. So it is not at all surprising to find Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper reporting on ‘rival gangs of roughs’ staging pitch battles in the capital in 1887.

Members of ‘gangs’ from Child’s Hill and Hendon fought with ‘lads’ from Maida Vale, Kilburn and Lisson Grove that autumn, arriving in ‘forces of 50 to 100, armed with sticks and belts’. According to the police ‘quite a riot followed’. Two of the combatants ended up before the magistrate at  Marylebone where they were charged with assault on a policeman that intervened in the battle. Edward Martell (17) was sent to gaol for 21 days and Arthur Hillman (19) for two weeks. But it was two other young people that caught my attention in the report of cases heard at Marylebone that week, Mary Ann Cook and Helen Cawthorn.

Mary was 12 and Helen 13 and they were brought in for being found drunk and incapable. The magistrate, Mr De Rutzen, was told that Mary Cook was lying in the gutter late on Sunday night when PC Miles (122S) discovered her as he patrolled Camden High Street. He picked her up and took her to the police station. Helen Cawthorn had already been taken to the Temperance Hospital on Hampstead Road and PC Sinclair (302S) had been called to collect her by officials there. Once they were both at the police station the desk sergeant sent for a doctor to examine the girls and he confirmed that they were both quite drunk.

In court the police deposed that enquiries were made and it had been discovered that the pair had ‘been with some ‘low rough boys’ from the neighbourhood and it was them that had led them astray and encouraged them to drink. They suspected that the boys had taken them to a public house but they couldn’t find out yet which one that was. Presumably they would have brought a prosecution against the landlord if they had.

Both girls’ parents were in court to speak up for their children. Mrs Cook said that her daughter had asked to go out to play on Sunday evening and she had allowed it. The first she heard of any trouble was when the police informed her that Mary was in custody. The mother was clearly shocked as she and her husband ‘were abstainers and encouraged their children in temperance principles’. Mr Cawthorn also said his daughter was usually very well behaved and that this was out of character.

The magistrate addressed the girls and said that ‘really quite dreadful to see two young children standing in the dock charged with drunkenness’. He accepted that the local boys had led them on but they should have known better than to go to a pub with them.  ‘It was the first step down hill’ he declared but fining them would do not good (since they’d have no money to pay)  and prison would ‘only make them worse’. So he discharged them into the care of their parents and hoped the disgrace of a court appearance would serve as sufficient warning for the future.

At this point a Mr Thompson steeped forward. He was a police court missionary, a member of a charitable organization that acted to help defendants if they promised to take the pledge and abstain from alcohol. He stated that it was his belief that both girls had once belonged to a Band of Hope, a temperance organization that had been established  mid century in Leeds. Children could join at the age of six and were taught to avoid the evils of drink. Thompson said he would try to get the pair reinstated in the group so they could be steered away from the dangerous path they had set themselves upon.

The police court missionaries started as an offshoot of the Temperance  movement but established themselves as an important part of the life of the police courts. They advised magistrates who came to trust them, especially where  (as was often the case) the offence the accused was up for involved drunkenness. In 1887 parliament passed the Probation of First Offenders Act which allowed a person charged on a first offence to be released without punishment if the court deemed it appropriate. There was no supervision order at first but this followed in subsequent legislation and eventfully, in 1907, the Probation service was created. Not only did probation offer the first real alternative to a custodial sentence it also signaled a new welfare approach to offenders, once aimed at helping them to reform rather than simply locking them up and hoping they learned the appropriate message.

It was an important breakthrough in offender management so it is deeply troubling that 112 years later probation has been allowed to fall into such a parlous state that the justice secretary has had to admit today that its experiment with part privatization has failed. David Gauke has effectively reversed the 2014 decision of one of his predecessors, the woefully incompetent Chris Graying, and returned the supervision of those on probation to public sector control. Grayling’s mistake has cost the taxpayer close to £500,000,000 and Dame Glenys Stacey (Chief probation inspector) said it was ‘irredeemably flawed’. It is not just the financial cost of course, Grayling’s bungling has had a negative effect on the lives of those realised into supervision and the general public who have suffered because of poor or insufficient supervision.

In May this year Grayling cancelled was forced to cancel ferry contracts he’d sanctioned to ‘ensure critical imports could reach the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit’ costing us £50,000,000. He had already been forced to pay £33,000,000 in compensation for not including Eurotunnel in the bidding for the same contracts. £1,000,000 was paid to consultants in seeking to make a contract with a ferry company (Seaborne Freight) who had no ships.

Chris Grayling is still a minister in Her Majesty’s government.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, September 25, 1887]

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 photographer snaps when his subject dismisses his talent

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In 1868 photography was still in its relative infancy but it was coming more fashionable to have your photo ‘taken’. Edward Frewing described himself as a ‘photographic artist’ and had set up a studio in an upstairs room on Clerkenwell High Street. He was always on the lookout for new business and was standing outside on the street when two young Irish women came walking by. Frewing hailed them and persuaded them to come upstairs and sit for him.

Ellen Norton was married and lived with her husband in Queen’s Road, Holloway. Intrigued by the idea she and her friend Catherine Moran went up to Frewing’s studio and sat as his arranged his camera in front of them. He took a photograph of the pair and presented it to them.

Ellen was unimpressed. ‘We do not approve of it; it is not like us’, she told him.

Edward swore and flushed red with anger, causing Ellen to try to placate him. ‘If you take another I will pay you’, she promised.

‘You had better pay me, or I shall give you nine pennyworth’ the photographer warned her, and then seized a bottle from his worktop and threw it at her. It stained and bleached her dress and she hurriedly left, following her friend Catherine who had run off as soon as she had seen the man’s rage erupt.

‘If you not give me the 9I will throw you down the steps’ Frewing declared and made good on his threat, pushing her over and down several. Ellen fell and tumbled out into the yard, cutting her face and arms, and almost passing out. She stumbled, helped by Catherine, to see a local doctor who told her she should seek more serious medical help at the hospital, so grave were her injuries.

Having been patched up Ellen went home and later obtained a summons to bring Frewing to justice. At Clerkenwell she told her story to Mr Cooke with Ellen offering her support and confirmation of her friend’s evidence. The photographer gave an alternative of the altercation, suggesting that while he had sworn at her (and called her a ‘_______ Irish bitch’) he had not pushed her or thrown anything. Instead she had tripped up and knocked a bottle of ‘spirits of salts’ (hydrochloric acid ) over herself and then had fallen down the stairs in her haste to leave without paying.

The case was watched by a Mr H Allen a prosecuting officer of the Associate Institute for Improving and Enforcing the Laws for the Protection of Women, an organization I’d not heard of previously. The magistrate agreed that this was a ‘very serious case’ and he wanted to hear from the surgeon that had treated Ellen at the hospital. She was still badly shaken by the episode and said she’d not eaten a thing since it had happened. An apology from the artist was not going to be sufficient in this case. Frewing was remanded in custody and his request to stand bail was refused.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, May 14, 1868]

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: