‘Tis good enough for such as thee’: one landlord’s resistance to a billeting order

617j+C2rISL._SX450_

The Royal London Militia dept, Finsbury, 1857

Thomas Cole ran a pub on Shoreditch High Street called the Star and Garter. No doubt it was a fairly rough and ready establishment, popular with the locals but nothing special. Cole’s business was in selling drink (and some food) and providing paying accommodation for those that needed it. However, under the law he was also obliged – when required – to provide beds for soldiers for the militia.

This was a much resented obligation because it cost landlords money; in food and drink, laundry and candles, and of, in lost revenue as they couldnt let theses spaces to paying guests. It had caused problems in the American colonies in the preamble to the War of Independence and had been initially banned under the terms of the 1689 Bill of Rights. It was clearly still happening in 1855 however because three militia men turned up at Cole’s pub with the paperwork that said he was to put them up for a few nights.

Cole accepted the charge with bad grace and showed the trio from the Royal London militia upstairs to a ‘miserable room’ which he’d prepared for them. It wasn’t exactly 4 star accommodation, as two of them later explained at the Worship Street Police court.

Nothing could exceed the discomfort of the apartment, which was destitute of a chair, stool, table, washing stand, or a single peg to hang their clothes on‘.

At least there was a bed, just one however, but the mattress itself was rotten and

torn down the middle, and the framework so dilapidated that it would inevitably have broken down under their weight‘.

The men companied, but to no effect as Cole said the room was ‘good enough for such as they’, and so they returned to their headquarters to inform their officers who billeted them elsewhere.

That was on the 10 July and a few days later Captain Connor and Sergeant Brooks visited The Star and Garter to see the situation for themselves. They also received a rough welcome from the landlord who seemed determined that all soldiers were ‘a set of thieves and rogues’ , regardless of regiment or rank. Cole was very reluctant to let them inspect the room but eventually they did, finding it just as their men had described it.

Cole tried to say that the trio had exaggerated so that they could extort one from him to buy their silence but the sitting magistrate, Mr D’Eyncourt, didn’t buy his half hearted excuse. He said he understood he was unhappy at having to provide accommodation for the militia but the law was the law and he was obliged to. He fined him 40s and warned him about his future conduct.

Cole was adamant he wouldn’t  pay a penny and was prepared to go to gaol for it. Mr D’Eyncourt didn’t offer him that alternative though, telling him that unless the money was paid by the following day a distress warrant would be issued for the debt. In other words, pay up or the bailiffs would turn up and starting taking his possessions away.

The 1850s were a time of international tension for the British Empire with war in the Crimea and, two years later, the Indian revolution (or ‘Mutiny’) in 1857. Soldiers, and the militia, were very much a part fo the fabric of Victorian life but clearly not welcomed by everyone.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, July 21, 1855]

Two ‘inveterate readers of juvenile literature’ caught short at Lambeth

lerer06

The Union Jack, juvenile reading matter from 1880

Thomas and Roger Casement were avid readers, or so their father believed. The pair of adolescents (Thomas was 13, his brother 11) were arrested in January 1876 in possession of three books they had allegedly stolen from a Lambeth bookshop. Mr William Polder, the shop owner, appeared in court at Southwark to press his prosecution against them while the boys’ father was there to defend his sons.

Polder said the lads came into his shop on York Road around lunchtime and asked to look at some of his 3d editions. Having perused these for a while they thanked him but said nothing interested them, and left. Soon afterwards however, Polder realised that three copies of more expensive texts (which he described as being ‘of greater value with showy covers’) were missing and he suspected the boys.

He soon caught up with them and, with the assistance of a police constable (PC 97L) they were arrested. The books were discovered and the constable asked them why they had taken them.

‘To make money of, as they had none’, the juvenile thieves reportedly replied.

Having ascertained that their father was a respectable man, a captain in the local militia no less,  a message was sent to fetch him. In court the officer spoke up for his offspring:

He ‘could not account for the lads taking the books unless it was to pay for the loan of them some other day. They were inveterate readers of juvenile literature, and were in the habit of borrowing books and paying for the loan of them’.

The justice, Mr Benson, pointed out that they had made no claim to borrowing anything, or offering to pay – this seemed like theft but the captain insisted it must have been a mistake. The magistrate gave him (if not the lads) the benefit of the doubt and released them into their father’s care on him agreeing to enter into a recognizance against their future good behaviour. If they stayed out of trouble all would be well, if they repeated the thefts then a reformatory possibly beckoned.

I imagine the journey home was an uncomfortable one for Thomas and Roger, but perhaps not as uncomfortable as the thrashing they were very likely to have received later.

[from The Morning Post , Wednesday, January 26, 1876]

An excitable militia man and the shadow of Napoleon III

e1821cdf6cae558d45af2d1d0d7aa7d8

In mid July 1859 there was something of a panic about a potential French invasion of Britain. This had been stirred up by the press after Louis Napoleon had become Emperor Napoleon III in 1852 and had operated as an autocrat for the first six or so years of his reign. As Louis Napoleon (the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), he had been elected president in 1848 but had seized power in a coup d’etat when he was denied the opportunity to run for a second term.

Invasion fears may well have prompted some in England to enlist in the army or the local militias. The latter were not ‘proper’ soldiers although they played an important role in defending the state throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. They never enjoyed the popularity that the Navy or Army did however, even in the hey day of Victorian militarism.

In July 1859 Reynold’s Newspaper reported several views from other papers about the situation in France. Reynold’s was notably more radical than many of its competitors and often served an audience that was more plebeian in character. The Morning Advertiser warned that ‘the country is in imminent danger of invasion from the ruler of France’ and a force of over 100,000 men. The Daily News wrote of ‘Louis Napoleon’s perfidy’ and noted that the governments ‘of Europe regard him with increased suspicion and dislike’. Even the sober Times claimed that ‘war and peace hang by a thread’.

Meanwhile in Bethnal Green the over excited militia seem to have been trying out their martial skills on the local passers-by.

On Monday 18 July an iron merchant named James Webster appeared in court to complain about a brutal assault he had suffered on the previous Saturday evening. Webster, who worked at premises in Digby Street, stood in the witness box at Worship with his head bandaged in black cloth.

He told Mr D’Eyncourt, the sitting magistrate, that he was on his way home from work at about half past 5 o’clock when he encountered several members of the Tower Hamlets Militia. They might have been a bit ‘tipsy’ he said, but he wasn’t sure. One of them threw a hat at him which hit him in the face and fell to the floor. He reacted by kicking it out of his way and carryied on walking.

As he went a few yards he felt a ‘heavy blow’ on the back of his neck, which knocked him off his feet. He got up and grabbed hold of the man he thought was to blame, a militia private by the name of Charles Lowe. As the two grappled others joined in and he described a scene of chaos with several men rolling around on the ground before he was overpowered and subjected to what seems to have been a pretty brutal kicking.

Webster told Mr D’Eyncourt that:

‘As I lay on the ground I was beaten and kicked so badly about the body that I am covered all over with bruises and cannot lie down with ease, and also, while I lay on the ground’ a woman had ‘somehow got her ear into my mouth and so nearly bit the upper part of it off that it only hung by a mere thread, and I have been since obliged to have it sewn on’.

This woman was Anne Sherrard who was described as married and living in Old Ford, a poor area of Bethnal Green associated with the new industries on the River Lea and the railways. Both Ann and Charles Lowe appeared in court to answer the charges against them.

Mr D’Eyncourt clearly thought this was a particularly serious assault because he chose not to deal with it summarily, as most assaults were, but instead sent it on for jury trial at the next sessions.  He noted for the record that:

‘This is a most brutal assault and it is high time that these raw recruits should be taught better; men like these fancy that as soon as they have a soldier’s coat they must commence fighting someone immediately, whereas an actual soldier would not be guilty of such infamous conduct’.

D’Eyncourt then was drawing a clear line between the professionals and the amateurs and finding the latter a much poorer specimen overall. History tells us that there was no invasion in 1859 or indeed ever again in British history to date. Had there been we might have been able to see how private Lowe and his companions fared when confronted by a real enemy rather than a perceived one. As for Napoleon III, his reign was the longest in French history after 1789 but came to the end in ignominious defeat by the Prussians at the battle of Sedan in September 1870. He ended up living out the rest of his life in England, but not as an all conquering victor but as a former head of state in exile.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, July 24, 1859]

This one is for Bill and Jim, and their family – I can only think that Charles must have been a very distant relative, and not at all like his modern ancestors.

A Mancunian tea-leaf is nabbed by the volunteers

3028995641_f3edd1b94d_z

A volunteer from the 29th Middlesex Rifles, c.1870

A just after six on a Saturday evening in early 1878 Mr Walters was watching the Volunteer Corps band parade in Camden Town. The Volunteer Corps (or Force) was formed in 1859 in the aftermath of the Crimean War. The war with Russia had drained the nation’s services and the Volunteers were created to plug a gap in the home defences. By 1862 the Volunteer Force had a collective strength of just over 162,000 men.

As Walters listened to the band he felt a tap on his shoulder. As he turned round to see who it was he felt a ‘tug at his [watch] chain’.  He reacted quickly but not quickly enough because his watch was missing, stolen by a young man in the crowd who was now making his escape.

Unfortunately for the thief one of the volunteers had also seen the ‘daring robbery’. He grabbed hold of the  man and between them Walters and the part-time soldier, John Sachesman, took him into custody.

The young man – Thomas Jones, a 23 year-old hawker from Manchester – handed over the watch but there was damage to the clasp and chain. He apologised and said he would pay for the damage. He also begged Walters not to take him to court: he said ‘he would allow the prosecutor to beat and kick him if he would not lock him up’.

The case came before the Marylebone Police Court where Jones pleaded guilty to the charge of stealing a silver watch valued at £6 6s. The magistrate, Mr Cooke, sent Jones to prison for six months at hard labour.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, February 19, 1878]

A Militiaman’s enthusiasm is rewarded with hard labour of a different kind

Yesterday’s post concerned the antics of two members of the Royal Artillery who apparently used the Police Court to get themselves a free trip back to their barracks in Woolwich. Today’s post also shows the variety in caseloads at these London summary courts and again relates to the military of the Victorian period.

This time, however, it was the civil defence force that predated the Home Guard (immortalised as Dad’s Army on television), the militia.

Perhaps because of the excellent work of my Northampton colleague Matthew McCormack, I have always associated the militia with the eighteenth century, but they existed right up until the early years of the twentieth century. While the eighteenth-century force had been recruited by ballot (and so was something men were compelled or at least obliged to join) by the Victorian period it was an entirely voluntary force.

After 1881 (and the Childers reforms) militia units were reorganized ‘as numbered battalions of regiments of the line, ranking after the two regular battalions’. After Haldane’s reforms (in 1905) they became the official ‘reserves’.

In the 1880s anyone joining the militia was entitled to a bounty – a one off payment of cash and a uniform and equipment. This was probably an attractive offer given that joining up was relatively risk free in terms of actual fighting. In the 1700s members of the militia risked real engagement with a potential invader (Bonaparte’s French) or being used to quell civil unrest; by the late 1800s the risk of a foreign invasion had long gone and the New Police were well established and able to deal with problems from rioters and other domestic revolutionaries. There had been a brief spell in the late 1850s when the chance of invasion (by a different Napoleon this time) was heightened but this produced a flurry of men signing up for the Volunteer Force not the traditional Militia.

So when Thomas Moore, a labourer from Camberwell, signed on the dotted line to join the Middlesex Militia at the St George’s Street barracks, he must have been confident that he would get his 20s and ‘a free kit’ without much effort.

However, something about Thomas raised suspicions in the mind of Captain Crutchley when he asked him the ‘usual questions’ and the officer called for Sergeant Major Morgan to interrogate him a little more closely outside.

Now it transpired that ‘Thomas Moore’ was actually Martin Headley of Stockwell Street, Old Kent Road and that he had already served in the Surrey Militia and so was not entitled to the money or the ‘kit’. Headley claimed that he had tried to sign up to the ‘regulars’ (the ‘proper’ army) but had been refused. Perhaps he was too old, or not up to scratch, or they simply didn’t need troops in 1887 (although they soon would, as the South African – or Boer War – loomed).

Headley was brought before the Marlborough Street Police magistrate on a day when the reporter noted that the court was at its least busy ‘for thirty years’. The lack of business didn’t help the ex-militiaman, not did his previous history of volunteering; the justice sent him to prison for three months at hard labour.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, January 05, 1887]