A bad week in London, full of personal tragedy

V0019421 A destitute girl throws herself from a bridge, her life ruin

George Cruikshank, ‘A destitute girl throws herself from a bridge, her life ruined by alcoholism’, (1848)

Sometimes the London press seems to have chosen to focus on a particular theme. In the third week of July 1864 it appears to have been the personal tragedy of suicide. I can think of no reason why acts of self-destruction should have been higher in that period than in any other year. In America civil war was tearing that nation apart but the only noteworthy event in London was the murder of Thomas Briggs by Franz Muller, the first ever murder on the railways. Perhaps the relative lack of news stories in July prompted the newspapers to concentrate on the personal drama of those that decided they could no longer cope with life.

Attempted suicide was a crime in the 1800s and so those caught in the process were liable to be prosecuted. On the 19 July The Morning Post reported that three individuals had appeared before the city’s magistracy charged with this offence.

The first of these was an elderly man called James Gander. PC 244 of B Division told Mr Selfe at Westminster Police court that he’d been alerted to the fact that a person was seen drowning in the River Thames. It was about 8 o’clock on Sunday night (17 July) and when the policeman reached the water he and a bargeman managed to affect a rescue, pulling the 60 year-old out of the river.

Searching him he found three large stones in his pocket wrapped in a handkerchief. When he recovered his senses Gander told the constable that ‘trouble of mind and family misfortunes had driven him to it’.  Gander was also quite drunk, or at least appeared to have been drinking heavily and in court his son told the magistrate that his father had taken to drinking recently.

He went on to say that his father had been a fairly successful master carman but some time ago that business had floundered and gone under. His wife had been away from the family for the last few months looking after her daughter-in-law and it seems Gander wasn’t coping well. The magistrate wasn’t particularly sympathetic; he remanded the old man for a week so he could reappraise the case but said he was minded to send him for trial for the crime.

At Southwark on the other side of the river Mr Woolrych had two unconnected attempted suicides to consider. PC 133M told the magistrate that at half-past five on the previous Friday afternoon (15 July) he had found Henry John Arnold lying on the pavement in Swan Street. A gentleman was standing over him and called the officer’s attention to him, saying he feared the young man was dead.

Arnold was alive, but ‘totally insensible’. The gentleman handed the policeman a bottle marked ‘laudanum’ which he had prized from the stricken man’s hand. Arnold was taken to Guy’s Hospital and his stomach was pumped to try and save him. He was lucky but it took a few days for him to recover sufficiently to be brought before the magistrate at Southwark to answer for his actions.

Mr Woolrych asked him if he been trying to kill himself and why. Arnold admitted he had and explained it was because he ‘truly unhappy’ having fallen out with his wife. This prompted a ‘decent-looking female’ to step forward and state that she was Mrs Arnold. She said they had argued about a young girl that worked with him, but she’d forgiven him. Arnold had taken it badly and had wandered off for a while and she’d not known where he was. She worried because he was often in ‘bad health’, and perhaps she meant in poor mental health.

This time the magistrate decided he would keep Arnold in gaol until ‘he was in a better frame of mind’, perhaps conscious that the young man had told the  arresting officer that ‘next time he would do it better’.

The final case was that of Mary Ann Willis. She was also brought to Mr Woolwrych at Southwark and charged with attempting to end her own life. A young lad named Samuel Carden testified that on Saturday afternoon (16 July) at 3 o’clock he’d been on Waterloo Bridge stairs where he worked assisting the watermen. Mary Ann came down the stairs and remarked to him that ‘it would be a nice place to commit suicide’.

Carden told her to be careful that she didn’t accidently fall in and said he would ensure no one tried to kill themselves while he was there. Regardless of this, she pushed past him and ‘slipped off the logs and went under’. Samuel acted quickly, grabbed her and pulled her back on to dry land, before she could be caught under the logs of the platform and be drowned.

In court Mary Ann denied all of this and said she’d fallen in by accident. The magistrate asked Samuel if he thought the woman had been entirely sober when he’d seen her. The lad said he was pretty sure she had been drinking as she looked unsteady on her feet when she came down to the jetty. Faced with this evidence and Mary Ann’s denial the magistrate had a decision to make. Whom did he believe?

Finally he decided that he would believe the ‘respectable young woman’ but probably because he felt she had acted on the spur of the moment and had planned to kill herself. Unlike Carden or Gander this seemed to be a life that could be turned around. But young Samuel had acted bravely and deserved a reward for saving her, so Mr Woolrych ordered that he been given five shillings from the poor box. Mary Ann he discharged.

Today none of these individuals would be prosecuted for what they had done or had attempted to do and hopefully all three would have been given some support from the mental health services. This doesn’t prevent thousands of people from trying and succeeding in ending their own lives of course and stories like these remind us that everyday people struggle with their personal demons and pressures, and some of them lose those battles.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, July 19, 1864]

Stealing from John Lewis earns a ‘respectable’ woman an unwelcome day in court.

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John Lewis’ Oxford Street store, c.1885

Given the proliferation of shops in the capital it is not surprising that shoplifting was much more of a problem here than in most other towns in England. London was the shopping capital of northern Europe in the late 1800s and the concept of large department stores had been imported from America.

Shoplifting had always been associated with female offering. That’s not to say than men and boys didn’t do it, they did of course, but this was a crime which was more evenly distributed by gender. Robbery and burglary were crimes which were overwhelmingly committed by males, picking pockets and stealing from shops were much more likely to be undertaken by women and girls.

In the second half of the 1800s the idea that some women  (generally ‘respectable’ women) might steal because of a weakness, a compulsion to thieve, gained ground. Kleptomania was coined and became a way of explaining the theft of items (often small luxuries) by women who could easily afford to pay for them.

Of course this dent make it any less annoying for the poor shopkeeper. Nor did necessarily excuse such behaviour. In July 1888, just before the Whitechapel murderer began his atrocities in the East End, a ‘respectably connected’ woman was brought before the magistrate at Marlborough Street caused of stealing from Messers. Lewis in Oxford Street.

Ellen Harris (or possibly Ellen Barker as the court reporter noted she had an alias – often a sign of previous criminal connections) – was charged with stealing a black silk jersey from the store (the forerunner of the John Lewis Partnership we all know today). Ellen had ben in the shop on the Monday in the mantle department and had bought and paid for some items. An assistant the saw her select the jersey and hide it under her waterproof jacket and walk away.

The assistant told the store manager (Walter Cryer) and he followed her. Ellen left the store and started to stroll down Oxford Street. In the classic mode of a store detective Cryer tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she would accompany him back to the shop. Once inside and at the foot of the first staircase Cryer challenged her with the fact that she’d taken the jersey without paying for it.

Ellen denied it and started back up the stair. She stopped halfway, putting her hand inside her jacket and asked him:

‘If I give it to you now, will that do?’

It would not, Mr Cyrer replied and said he’d already summoned a detective to investigate. When he failed to show up Cryer went and found a policeman on the street and handed the woman over. She pleaded with them not to take her in saying she was ‘respectably connected’. In court her solicitor suggested that it was a mistake, that Ellen was ‘absent minded’ and ‘vacant’ when stopped by the store manger. He was trying to paint a picture of a woman who was not entirely in her right mind, one suffering from a compulsion she could not control.

The constable that took her into custody rather supported this interpretation but the store manager disagreed. In the end Mr Hannay, the police court magistrate, denied he could not deal with the case and remanded her with a view to sending her for trial.  At the last moment another witness appeared; the manager of another large store, Gask and Gask’s. He identified a number of handkerchiefs that the police had found in Ellen’s possession as the property of his shop. Things didn’t look good for Ellen.

In the end Ellen was prosecuted at the Middlesex Sessions and convicted of theft from John Lewis and Gask’s.  She was 40 years of age and described simply as ‘married’. The judge didn’t send her prison so perhaps he thought there was grounds for accepting a plea that she was ‘distracted’ in some way. The court took sureties as to her future behaviour, and perhaps these were guaranteed by her husband or wider family. If she’d been younger, or unmarried, or working class, I doubt she’d have got off so lightly.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, July 11, 1888]

‘Marry in haste’:An unhappy husband and his reluctant bride

The Metropolitan Magistrates

Police Magistrates had to deal with all sorts of things on a daily basis. As well as often being the first stage in most serious criminal prosecutions police court magistrates had the power to lock up drunks, vagrants, wife beaters and a host of other petty offenders who opted to have their cases dealt with summarily. In addition the magistrate was also assumed to know everything about the law, and so people came to him to ask advice on all manner of issues.

In early July 1898 a man turned up at the North London Police court to ask for Mr D’Eyncourt’s counsel. The man, whose name wasn’t reported by the The Standard newspaper, told the experienced magistrate that he’d only been married for fours months and he’d just discovered that his wife ‘was a wrong ‘un’.

In what way?” D’Eyncourt enquired.

When we was courting’, the man began, ‘we agreed that she was to get up and boil the kettle and I was to fry the bacon. But she won’t do either’, he complained.

This glimpse in to the mundane provoked laughter in the courtroom.

She lies in bed whilst I get my own breakfast, and when I ask her to get up she threatens to do all sorts of things’.

Asked to elaborate the poor young husband continued.

‘The other night she started breaking up the home, and threatened to knife me. She then went to bed with the landlady…last night she went to Sadler’s Wells with a woman, and came home at half-past twelve. I was in bed and asleep, and she and the woman came home and pushed their fists into my face, and swore they would chuck me out’.

Mr D’Eyncourt was sympathetic but also puzzled that  the young man had married ‘a woman about who  you know very little’. He advised him to move out, take rooms elsewhere and ask his wife to join him (without her friends of course). If she didn’t comply ‘within a reasonable time’, he should have no more to do with her.

The poor lad mumbled ‘she says she don’t want me’.

‘I can tell you know more’ said the justice, dismissing him.

[from The Standard, Monday, July 04, 1898]

An editor’s dream as a lover’s quarrel is aired in court

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This case is quite unusual and barely qualifies as a case the London magistracy could hear at all. Indeed Mr Hardwick, the incumbent justice at Marlborough Street, was clearly annoyed that it had come before him at all, and this certainly influenced his decision making. Most all though, it shows how rich a source of stories the police courts were for the London press.

At the end of June 1842 a young man by the name of Frederick Isambiel appeared at the Marlborough Street Police court to ask Mr. Hardwick to issue a warrant to arrest a young woman for assault. Isambiel was tall, respectable and well dressed. He told the magistrate that eight months previously he’d traveled to Surrey with ‘a gentleman of fortune’ and there he’d met a young lady who was under the care of her guardian. According to his account she had fallen madly in love with him but he didn’t return her affections.

This didn’t put her off however, and even when he returned to London she found out where he lived, sent a spy to watch him, and then, just a few days ago, she contrived a meeting with him in the Haymarket. There, ‘not wishing to be besieged with her unfortunate affection, he tried to get away, and this led to his coat being torn’. Since she had now returned to Surrey with her friends he required a warrant to bring her to court.

At first the justice tried to put him off, suggesting he had no power to send a warrant into Surrey. But pressed he agreed he did have that power, ‘recollecting that he could act in all the metropolitan counties’. However, his advice was to seek a summons instead. A summons had less legal power as it wasn’t executed by a police officer and Frederick was sure his ‘stalker’ (as we might describe her today), would ignore it.

He added that she had also threatened him: she was ‘so resolute that she had already threatened to write to a friend to “call him out,” if he did not meet her advances in a hymeneal spirit’.

In other words agree to marry her.

Eventually Frederick was persuaded to apply for a summons, which was posted to the young woman in question. Three days later, on the last day of June, the young woman’s representatives answered the summons by appearing in Mr. Hardwick’s court to rebut the charge of assault. What followed was acrimonious and arguably served no good but to amuse the readership of the London papers as they digested their toast and marmalade.

Miss Thyrza Sumner lived at Oatlands farm, Surrey under the care of her guardian, Mr Haynes. Haynes and a solicitor were there to represent Thyrza who had remained at home. This upset Isambeil who felt she should be present so he could defend his good name which he ‘felt had suffered in consequence of the violence of the young lady’s passion for him’.

Mr Hardwick refused his request saying that he was here to try the assault, nothing more, and that if Frederick wished to pursue a civil case of character assassination he’d have to do so elsewhere. He hoped then that Mr. Haynes and his lawyer were prepared to answer for Thyrza. They were, and were perfectly happy to settle the matter there and then if the young man refrained from further statements in court.

Unfortunately for all concerned Frederick Isambiel seemed to have wanted his moment in the spotlight. He produced a bundle of letters and declared he was going to read them and set out his version of events.

He started by explaining why he’d traveled to Surrey in the first place, and was immediately challenged by Mr. Haynes. He said he went to Oatlands with a gentleman.

You went as [his] valet’ interrupted Haynes.

Silence’, was Isambiel’s ‘furious’ response.

Haynes persisted: ‘You were valet to the Hon. Mr. Littleton, who turned you off on his marriage with Lord Beverley’s daughter’.

Frederick tried to carry on, ignoring Haynes’ attempt to undermine him. He recounted his meeting with Thyzra and how she’d fallen for him and read aloud a letter (from him) in which he had tried to let her down gently. In it he explains how he is an unsuitable match for her, not possessing the means to keep her in a manner fitting ‘for a lady who has, and always will have the comforts of a good home all her life’.

He then proceeded to read Thyzra’s reply which included some ‘unintelligible poetry’ and a lot of heartfelt sentiment. Another letter expressed her ‘grief at your cold farewell’ and said that she ‘had no hope left for the future’ signing the letter ‘your distracted Thyrza’.

This public airing of deeply personal feelings was entirely unnecessary to prove an assault accusation and the magistrate was keen to close it down as soon as he could. Nevertheless it was manna from Heaven for the journalists scribbling down the story in court. Most cases before the courts got a few paragraphs at most, often much less, this one ran for over a column.

Mr Hardwick told Frederick to stick to the point. He said he’d been assaulted at Dubourg’s Hotel on the Haymarket, so what were the circumstances? In Isambiel’s version he’d met Thyzra and they’d gone into a private room. As soon as they were alone she’d locked the door and threw herself into a chair and began to declare her love for him.

He insisted of being allowed to leave at once but she refused. He threatened to call the police and she insisted she would only open the door if he kissed her.

I will not kiss you,’ he said, and rushed to the window to summon a constable but, as he described in court, ‘she ran to me and caught me about the neck, and tried to kiss me. I held my hand up, and being much taller than she is, she could only kiss my breast, which she did, till I threw up the window to call the police’.

At that point a voice in the next room – clearly someone listening through the keyhole called out ‘Thyzra, its no use!’ The door opened and Isambiel left, in the struggle his coat was torn.

The defence offered an alternative version saying that Thyzra had wanted her letters back, presumably so that they couldn’t be used against her as Frederick was doing today. It was deeply embarrassing and quite understandable that she would wish them destroyed and certainly not printed in the newspapers, as now happened. Haynes and his solicitor admitted the assault and the damage to the coat, but not the version of it that Frederick had given. In fact they said this had occurred a month ago and in Surrey. This annoyed Mr. Hardwick as he felt it could have been dealt with down there.

Mr Haynes suggested that there was a darker motive to Isambiel’s actions. He hinted that the young man was hoping for a settlement of £50 per year from the young lady and her family. Was this to buy him off and make the complaint go away to save her good name? The magistrate was at a loss as to what to do with the case, and said so.

Frederick said he had ‘proved the assault’ and now charged her with trying (in her earlier threat) of trying to provoke him into fighting a duel with her (unnamed) champion.

Mr Haynes dismissed this: ‘I don’t think you are a person very likely to fight, so there is no danger about the duel’.

The magistrate seems to have agreed as he dismissed the assault charge and said that if Isambiel wanted to pursue any further hurt against his good name he’d have to do so at his own expense and in a civil court. As an out of work valet with little more wealth than he stood up in, that was hardly likely so this would be an end of it all.

Frederick must have recognized this but he was determined to have the last word and sought out the men of the press as he left court. They helpfully published three of the letters between the ‘lovers’, including some doggerel poetry and the threat of the duel.

The press always know a good story when they see one.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, June 27, 1842;The Morning Chronicle , Friday, July 1, 1842]

‘Marry in haste and repent at leisure’ as one man learn’s to his (considerable) cost

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There was, for the working classes at least, no effectual form of divorce in the nineteenth century. Divorce was expensive (as it can still be) and there was no such thing as a ‘quick divorce’. Couples that couldn’t solve the problems of their marriage (in a time before Relate or other marriage counsellors) would either have to put up and make the best of it, or separate and live independently.

This was much easier for men than it was for women, socially and economically. As a result it was fairly common for men to desert their wives, and many did. An abandoned wife could, if she chose (and if she could find him), take her estranged husband to a police court and demand maintenance if he wouldn’t return to her.

This is what the young wife of William Clarke did. A court made an order against him and he started to pay her 10sa week towards her keep. However, as was usual, no payments materialised and Mrs Clarke had to go to law again to get the maintenance order enforced. So, on Saturday 28 May 1887 Mr and Mrs William Clarke were reunited, if only briefly, before Mr Bushby at Worship Street Police court.

William, who said he was a joiner, decided that now was the time to come up with an elaborate explanation for his behaviour, an explanation which owed more to the realms of popular melodrama than it did to reality.

Clarke said that eh should never have married his young bride at all. When he’d met her she had been a lady’s maid in the employ of ‘a wealthy lady named Le Compte’. And it was to Lady Le Compte that William was betrothed he insisted.

However, while he stayed at the lady’s London house he was systematically drugged and for a fortnight lost track of events, and had no real memory of them. During that time he was bundled into a hansom cab and driven to east London and forcibly married to the woman ‘who now called herself his wife’.

It was a incredible (if not incredulous) tale and Clarke didn’t manage to convince the magistrate of his version of events. Mr Busby had also heard from Mrs Clarke’s father who told him that he clearly recalled William coming to ask for his daughter’s hand, and that the couple had gone to Brighton after the wedding.

Mr Bushby declared that while the couple had only lived together as man and wife for two days they were still clearly, and properly married and so William had a responsibility towards her. She had received no money since the court order for maintenance had been made so he ordered William to find £59 plus £3 6scosts. This was a lot of money (about £5,000 today) but William paid it on the spot.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, May 30, 1887]

A lovers tryst in Chelsea, or a cunning deceit?

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With the memory of the royal wedding fading away but leaving, by all accounts, a warm romantic glow behind it, I thought I’d continue the theme a few days later.

In April 1887 Emma Banks took a room in a house in Smith Street, Chelsea. She had arrived with a man who purported to be her brother, but certainly wasn’t. The landlady, Mrs Jessie Gantlett, believed him however and his story that Emma only needed the lodgings temporarily while she found a position (in service).

All was well until the day that Emma left. Mrs Gantlett was shocked to find that another of her residents, Miss Price, had lost some items from her room. For whatever reason she suspected Emma and she searched the 22 year-old’s room.

There she discovered clothes belonging to Miss Price and some items of hosiery (stockings most probably) that were later identified as belonging to a hosier in Hammersmith. The police soon ascertained that Emma Banks had left the employment of Frederick Payne, a hosier, in March of that year, and he’d missed stock and £10 in cash from a locked desk in his shop.

When she was questioned by the police Emma broke down and admitted she’d been planning to abscond to Western Australia with the young man that had been visiting her. They’d bought the tickets for the journey she said and named him as James Tucker. So, he wasn’t her brother, but her lover.

Moreover, and perhaps Emma wasn’t aware of this, James wasn’t exactly free to elope to the other side of the world with his paramour. James Tucker was already married.

When the pair were brought before the Police Magistrate at Westminster Emma was initially charged with the theft, but it soon became clear that Tucker was also involved. He testified to knowing Emma for about two months and to ‘paying her attentions’. But he denied ever promising to marry her.

He had thought of leaving his wife, he admitted, and going to Australia. The clerk was outraged at his brazen admission of infidelity and his rejection of his responsibilities. He supposed ‘his wife was not a consenting party to this arrangement’ he inquired of the young man in the dock. ‘She was not’ he replied.

He’d bought the tickets with the money Emma had given him so he was guilty by association of the theft. Mr D’Eyncourt, the justice, told him he’d behaved terribly.

He ‘had deceived and led the young woman into trouble. As two felonies were proved he could not sentence him to less than six months’ hard labour’. In an odd  example of the changing nature of punishment in the 1800s Emma and James’ criminality meant that they would not be going to Australia after all, when 40 or so years earlier they would almost certainly have been sent there for doing exactly that.

So, was this a love tryst that ended badly or was Emma deceived as the magistrate suggested? I wonder how Mrs Gantlett felt knowing that she had effectively allowed a young unmarried couple to spend several nights alone together under her ‘respectable’ roof. Oh, the shame of it!

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, May 22, 1887]

‘He said he would have her life, and break every bone in her body’.

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It took a lot for women to stand up to their husbands in the Victorian period. Theoretically the law protected victims of abuse but this often meant that violent men were fined, bound over to the keep the peace, or imprisoned if they beat their wives or partners. None of these options was ideal for the women involved; two of them directly impacted the family budget and the third was often deemed to be ineffectual. Poor Londoners believed that magistrates could enforce separation orders or sanction a divorce of sorts but this wasn’t in their power however much they might have liked to use it.

This didn’t stop women bringing their partners to court however and throughout the 1800s they came in their droves. One such woman was Mary Norris. Mary was a bricklayer’s wife living in the East End of London. She was probably in her late 30s (as her husband Henry was 40 in 1879) and she was regularly abused and beaten by him.

Women put up with a lot before they went to law. This was very much a last resort because taking your husband to court was a drastic move that often had unwanted consequences. Quite apart from the financial consequences of losing a breadwinner or incurring a fine, or the public shame of admitting that your marriage was in trouble, a woman could expect retribution from her partner immediately or soon after the return to the family home.

So Mary was not only desperate for the abuse to stop she was also brave. She explained to the Worship Street magistrate that Henry had come home on Monday night late from work, having been out drinking for several hours. As soon as he stepped through the door the abuse began.

‘he took up a knife and threatened to stab her; said he would have her life, and break every bone in her body’.

It was nothing new, she told Mr Newton (the magistrate), she

was dreadfully afraid of him doing her some violence, as he had repeatedly beaten and threatened her with the same knife. She went in bodily fear’ she added.

Other witnesses testified to Henry being drunk that night, and to his threats and an officer of the Associate Institute for Improving and Enforcing the Laws for the Protection of Women and Children appeared. Mr Moore stated that he believed Norris already carried a previous conviction for assaulting Mary. This is interesting because it tells us that there were organizations involved in prosecuting violent husbands and father at this time, charities that took on a role that is now performed by social services.

His evidence was confirmed by an officer at the court who said Norris had been up before the justice on four previous occasions, ‘three times sent to prison’, and once bound over. The message was clearly not getting through to him and Mary was still at risk. But there was little the magistrate could do. He ordered the bricklayer to find two sureties to ensure he kept the peace for three months (at £10 each) but Henry refused. He opted for prison and was taken away.

Mary’s best option was to leave him and get as far away as possible, but that was almost impossible. The law would only really act when things had gone too far. If Norris did his wife more serious harm – by wounding or killing her – then he would be locked up for a long time, for life or be executed. Not that those outcomes were likely to be of any use to Mary if she was dead.

[from The Morning Post , Friday, May 21, 1869]