‘Am I not entitled to be believed as well as he?’ An ingenious defence from the dock

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Peter Chambers was determined to prove his innocence although his method suggested that perhaps he did ‘protest too much’. He’d been arrested on a charge of picking pockets at the Albert Hall at the end of November 1889.

In court at Westminster he described himself as an artificial florist and vehemently denied the charge. The police constable that arrested him said that several ladies had complained him that their purses had been stolen and he saw Chambers ducking under a horse and cart to escape the throng of lady choristers that surrounded the entrance to the convert hall.

Chambers took the stand in his only defense and, with a flourish, produced a piece of paper and called the constable to come and examine it.

‘Now, constable, I wish to introduce to your notice a little sketch or plan which I have prepared, because if you could see me from where you stood you must have had one of those double magnifying glasses we read about’.

As the laughter in court subsided the officer peered at the sketch but made little of it.

‘You will observe the dotted line on the plan?’ Chambers continued, but the policeman declared he didn’t quite follow his line of argument.

‘I am not surprised at you making nothing of it’, the defendant huffed. ‘Does you Worship see the dotted line?’ he asked Mr D’Eyncourt. ‘The cross’, he said pointing it out, ‘ is where the constable stood, and how could he see me – unless he can see round a corner!’

‘but what is your defence’, the magistrate asked him.

‘I am innocent’, Chambers intoned, melodramatically. ‘Am I not entitled to be believed as well as he?’ he demanded, pointing at the policeman. ‘It is blasting my reputation to be here on such a charge’.

There were doubts as to the evidence or at least the lack of it presented by the police but they asked for a remand and Mr D’Eyncourt granted it.

After all Chambers asserted that he could bring his brother in to testify that he was at the Hall on legitimate purposes, to assist him in his role as a linkman (showing people to their carriages).  The magistrate doubted this would prove anything, one way or the other, and the gaoler took him away.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, December 03, 1889]

‘You are a disgrace to human nature’: the meanness of the Poor Law exposed

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The Police Courts were places where people could bring their grievances on all manner of things in the 1800s. It is easy to get the impression that their main purpose was to deal with crime – petty and serious. However, this view is often reinforced by the newspapers’ selection of cases to bring to the attention of their readers: they often chose the outrageous, amusing, shocking, and heart ringing stories as well as regular examples of cases which reminded the public that working class men were brutal, that theft was common, and fraud to be avoided by the wary.

When Ellen Potts came to the Guildhall Police court to ask for Alderman Moon’s help it gave the court reporter of The Morning Post the perfect opportunity to expose an old chestnut: the misuse of authority by a lowly public servant. It helped that Ellen was pretty (‘a good-looking girl’ of ‘about 18 years of age’) and the public servant had a reputation locally for meanness.  Immediately then there was a melodramatic backstory that readers could relate to with a villain and a young heroine that needed saving.

Miss Potts told the court that she had been thrown out of her home after a row with her mother (‘over a shawl’). With nowhere to go that night Ellen knocked on the door of the West London Union workhouse at St Bride’s on Shoe Lane. The relieving officer, Mr Miller, refused her entry however, on the grounds that her mother took in lodgers at her house on Cloth Lane and so was perfectly capable of supporting her daughter.

Alderman Moon was angry with the officer whose only (and sustained) defense was to say he was only following orders. He quickly established that Mrs Potts was receiving poor relief herself and that Miller knew this.

‘Then how can she support her daughter?’ the magistrate demanded to know.

‘You have discretionary power, and I think it is a most cruel act of a man to refuse shelter to a girl under such circumstances, and your conduct is most disgraceful’.

When Miller tried once more to say it that Ellen was her mothers responsibility Alderman Moon cut him off.

‘Don’t talk to me about the mother. You may be a good badger for the guardians, but at the same time a disgrace to human nature. No wonder, when females  are thus cruelly refused an asylum, so many should become prostitutes for the sake of obtaining that relief for which the ratepayers are rated so heavily. There are constant complaints of your hard-hearted conduct, which is a disgrace to your nature’.

This brought cries of ‘hear, hear’ from all sections of the courtroom and Miller must have looked up miserably from the dock, as he continued to say that he was only doing what he’d been told to do by his employers.

The chief clerk whispered to the alderman that Miller was liable to a hefty fine for his actions. The magistrate told Miller that he was going to levy that penalty, £5, for disobeying the general rule that ‘relief shall be given to all person in urgent distress’. After one more forlorn attempt to shift responsibility from himself to the guardians the relieving officer finally work up to what was required of him.

‘Is it your wish she be taken into the house?’ he asked the alderman. ‘If so I will do it willingly’.

‘It is so’, Alderman Moon told him. ‘There’s an end of the case’.

So Miller avoided a fine and Ellen was admitted to the workhouse so she didn’t have to walk the streets and risk falling into an even worse fate.  Arguably the real villains here were the Poor Law Guardians that set the rules that Miller was expected to enforce, and Mrs Potts who was prepared to let her teenage daughter take her chances on the streets. At least this mini melodrama ended happily.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, August 10, 1849]

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A pantomime villain is hissed out of court

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Horace Moore was a blackguard. He was the sort of character that might have  appeared in a Dickens novel and, at the end of his court appearance in December 1887, the watching public treated him accordingly.

Moore wasn’t in court for anything criminal he had done, in fact he wasn’t in the dock at all. He had chosen to go to court to prosecute a man that had assaulted him but it was the circumstances surrounding the assault – and the reason for it – that earned him the opprobrium of the public gallery.

Horace Moore was the son of a hay and straw dealer and lived at home on the Harrow Road. From this we might ascertain that he was a young man, probably in his early twenties. In November 1887 he was ‘walking out’ with a young lady named Miss Battrum. Horace’s brother was engaged to the girl’s sister and the couple had met at Yarmouth earlier that year.

As Horace and his companion strolled together on the 27 November Mrs Battrum (the young woman’s mother) came up behind and overtook them. She stopped, raised her umbrella, and struck Horace repeatedly over the head with it. Words were exchanged and Mrs Battrum led her daughter away.

The very next day Horace was having his shoes cleaned by a shoeblack on the Harrow Road when Mr Thomas Battrum marched up to him. He said he had insulted his wife the previous day and then hit him on the head with his fist, ‘which knocked his hat off and sent him staggering’. It was this assault which prompted the summons to Marylebone Police court.

So what had merited this seemingly unprovoked attack on a young man walking out with his girlfriend? Under cross examination by Battrum’s lawyer the truth gradually began to emerge that Horace Moore was the sort of person that enjoyed the company of women but was very far from being any father’s ideal son-in-law.

At the time Moore had met Miss Battrum at Yarmouth he had just the subject of a civil prosecution in which he had lost. He had been found to have seduced a young woman named Miss Bosher who was under 16 years of age. For that he was made to pay compensation of £250.

This was not his first offence although it may have been the first one for which he was successfully prosecuted. Miss Bosher had testified that Moore had told her he had been accused of seducing a Miss Goddard but added that ‘nothing came of it so it would be all right’.

Moore denied this and also denied ‘having ruined a Miss Taylor or any one of the name’. He wasn’t engaged to Miss Battrum he explained to Mr Cooke (the sitting magistrate) ‘he was simply walking out with her as a friend’.

The assault had been violent and he had lost the sight in one eye as a result of it. The court could not ignore the violence but Mr Cooke was not about to let a father’s defense of his daughter’s reputation earn him anything more than a slap on the wrist. What he had done was simply what any man might have done faced with the revelation that his daughter was dating such a dishonest and predatory young man.

The magistrate told Buttram that ‘no man had any right to commit an assault, no matter what the misconduct of another might be’, and then fined him sixpence, an entirely nominal sum for the builder to pay, and refused to award any compensation to Horace Moore. As the young man left the court ‘he was hissed’ like the villain in a Victorian melodrama. With a bit of luck the publication of his name by the papers would alert his future victims (or at least their fathers) to steer clear of his romantic advances.

[from The Standard, Friday, 9 December, 1887]

‘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]