Dodgy meat on sale at Smithfield and is a cat’s meat man in the frame for the Whitechapel murders?

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On Thursday 27 June 1889 Frederick Miller was summoned to appear at the Guildhall Police court in the City of London. His alleged offence was selling meat unfit for human consumption and the prosecution was brought by the Commissioners of Sewers who policed food safety at the Central Meat Market, Smithfield.

Alderman Evans, the presiding magistrate, was told that Miller had brought a cow carcass to market from his home in Norfolk and attempted to sell four pieces from it. That animal had been slaughtered and then prepared for sale on Whit Sunday, the day after Pentecost (which is usually 50 days after Easter Sunday). Since Easter fell on the 21 April in 1889 the likely date the meat was prepped was probably around the 2 June, or three weeks before it reached market in London.

While Miller pleaded not guilty the inspectors (and the Medical Officer of Health, Dr saunders) were able to convince the alderman that the meat was bad and that the public would have been at risk had they not spotted and confiscated it. Alderman Evans fined Miller 50plus £3 3costs, warning him that if he did not pay up he’d go prison for two months.

Miller was described as horse slaughterer and butcher, living at North Walsham and was well-to-do enough to employ a solicitor. London’s horse slaughtering business at this time was dominated by the firm of Harrison, Barber who had premises across the capital. They fed the market in horse meat that supplied the cat’s meat men that catered to Londoner’s love of pets. The history of this little known industry is something I address in some depth in my recent investigation into the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888. In June 1889 body parts were found floating in the Thames near Horselydown steps; they were the forth of the so-called ‘Thames Torso mysteries’ that baffled police between 1887 and 1889. In my book I suggest that one man – a cat’s meat seller no less – might have been responsible for these and the Whitechapel murders.

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[from The Standard, Friday, June 28, 1889]

The Regent’s Canal might be polluted but there’s no cause for alarm say the committee

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Something different caught my eye this morning and so this is not a case from the Police Courts but possibly one that could develop into a prosecution if it was not resolved. The Daily Telegraph (which in the 1870s was not the same Conservative Party organ it is today) ran a story about pollution in the Regent’s Canal.

The article reported on a meeting of the St Pancras vestry who were responsible for the canal that ran through central London and was used by all sorts of people in the 1800s. Several complaints had been registered about the state of the canal and the smells that emanated from it. As a result the sanitary committee had been asked to investigate and report back to the vestry with its findings.

The medical officer of health and the chief surveyor of the parish were both consulted and they gave evidence to the committee and vestry. The surveyor had undertaken an examination of the main area of the canal where the problems had been highlighted. This section was where the drains of the nearby  Gardens emptied into to canal. The suggestion was that the zoo was polluting the watercourse.

The committee heard that each year the zoo emptied 16 million gallons of water into the canal: seven million gallons from their well and an additional nine million which was supplied to them by the West Middlesex Water Company. On top of all of this water was the annual rainfall, all of which contributed to swelling the canal.

Into this water had been washed a variety of deposits from the various tanks used by the zoo, along with animal and human waste. During the dry summer months the committee was told, it was likely that mud had been washed into the drains, adding to the general discolouration of the water.

The investigation  had arranged for some fish to be caught and examined, to check for any health concerns. Five gudgeon were studied and found to be healthy. The report concluded that:

‘the water of the canal is turbid and unsightly, but no offensive exhalations could be detected, even when it was disturbed by a passing barge, and it was being fished at the time of the medical officer’s visit’.

So all things considered  the committee felt that no action (which would incur an expense of course, if only in a legal prosecution of the zoo) was necessary. They adopted a ‘do-nothing’ approach by 37 votes to 8 and left locals to continue grumbling about the unpleasant odour of the canal.

[from The Daily Telegraph, 12 November, 1874]

A coster’s barrow stinks out the Guildhall

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Sometimes it is the banality of the Police courts that interests me. The magistrates that presided in London’s summary courts sent thousands of offenders up through the system  to face trials at Old Bailey or Clerkenwell where they were, if convicted by a jury, sentenced to transportation, imprisonment and even to death. Many more petty criminals, drunk and disorderly men and women, or anti-social juveniles were sent for spells of hard labour, expelled to a reformatory, or fined a few shillings or pounds.

The justices (the magistracy of London) had wide ranging powers which were hardly constrained by the right of appeal. Tremendous discretion rested with these men, all of whom had a legal background and many of whom served their communities for years.

One of the responsibilities they had was to keep to peace and another was to help regulate trade and maintain what we might term, health and safety. The metropolis had a infrastructure of inspectors and health officers but it fell to the magistrate to deal with those that broke the numerous rules that governed food sales and preparation or the maintenance of property.

In October 1889 Alfred Woodbridge was summoned to appear at the Guildhall Police Court before the alderman magistrate who presided there. Woodbridge was a costermonger, a trader who sold goods cheaply from a barrow. Costermongers didn’t enjoy a terribly respectable reputation and had frequent and endemic run-ins with the police who were forever moving them on from their pitches on the city’s streets.

Woodbridge wasn’t in trouble for obstructing the highway however; he had been brought on the instructions of the Commissioners of Sewers for having in his possession meat that  unfit for human consumption.

The coster had been spotted outside one of the City’s markets (either Smithfield, Fleet or Leadenhall – the report did not specify which) by a meat inspector named William Allen. Mr Allen told the court that he had discovered that Woodbridge had on his barrow:

’29 hams and eight pieces of pork, which were diseased and totally unfit for human food’. He seized them and took them to Dr Sedgewick Saunders – the Medical Officer of Health for the City of London – to be examined.  Dr Saunders confirmed the meat was bad saying that:

‘The odour from them was filthy, and they were quite black. It would have been a very serious result had they been eaten’.

Luckily they weren’t and so no harm had been done. Woodbridge made no attempt to deny the charge and he was fined £9 and 5s with a warning that if he could not find the money to pay he would go to prison for a month.

The magistrate then was enforcing the regulations that allowed trade to function across the City and at the same time protecting the public from unscrupulous traders. Whether Woodbridge learned his lesson and made sure his produce was safe in future is of course unknown. But a £9 fine was no small beer and we can be fairly sure that if he showed his face again in the area inspectors like Mr Allen would be quick to check his barrow.

[from The Standard, Friday, October 18, 1889]