Creative protest in Trafalgar Square: an echo of Extinction Rebellion from 1888

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In July 1888 Robert Allen, a 64 year-old cabinetmaker, was charged at Bow Street, with ‘resisting the police and riotous conduct’. He’d been arrested in Trafalgar Square amid what seemed to have been a rather unusual form of demonstration.

Demonstrations in Trafalgar Square were all the rage in the 1880s. In 1886 a public meeting had ended in chaos as a ‘mob’ had moved off to smash up property in nearby Pall Mall. Then in 1887 the heavy-handed response of the authorities to a peaceful protest had left at least one person dead and very many more injured in what was dubbed ‘Bloody Sunday’ by the press.

Not surprisingly then by July 1888 the police were a little jumpy about protestors and speakers in the square. In fact unauthorized gatherings were banned and no one was supposed to set themselves up to address crowds in the square. If they wanted to do that they had only to move along to Speakers Corner (close to Marble Arch on Hyde Park) where it was permitted.

At four o’clock in the afternoon of the 21 July 1888 (a Saturday) Allen was walking around the square ‘speaking in a loud voice’. What he was saying we don’t know but it had drawn a large crowd to him, and they were following the orator on his ‘perambulation’.

Superintendent Sheppard (of B Division, Metropolitan Police) was on duty in the square that day and was alarmed by what he saw. This seemed like a clear breach of the laws governing assemblies and he tried to intervene. Around a thousand men and boys were now listening to Allen and there was, Sheppard later told the Bow Street magistrate, ‘a good deal of horse play’.

‘Meetings are prohibited’, he explained to Allen, ‘and I cannot allow you to have a crowd following you causing danger and obstruction. I must disperse them’.

‘I am only having a conversation with my friend’, replied Allen, pointing at someone in the crowd nearby.

‘That is sheer nonsense’ the policeman told him. If he wanted to continue to talk to his friend he’d clear a gap in the throng and the two could leave peacefully. But Allen didn’t want to do that.

‘No’, he said, ‘I shall not do that; I claim my right to do as I am doing now’.

Sheppard called over some officers who went to disperse the gathered crowd and Allen walked away. However, far fro stopping what he was doing he just continued on a new circulation of Nelson’s Column, drawing a fresh group of followers. Now they were singing the Marseillaise and Sheppard described them as ‘very rough’. Again he tried to have them broken up, again Allen created a disturbance by speaking loudly to no one in particular.

The superintendent had run out of patience and told Allen that he had been warned but now he would be arrested, by force if necessary. The cabinetmaker went quietly, followed by a large crowd all the way to the police station.

In court Allen denied holding a meeting, rejected any accusation that he was a troublemaker, and said while some of the police had always acted reasonably, others ‘gloried in brutality’.  His politics were clear, however, when he declared that ‘a society of millionaires and paupers could not be formed on a sound basis’. He was about to launch into a political speech at this point but Mr Bridge (the magistrate) cut him off. Allen was bailed while further enquiries were conducted.  A week later Allen was discharge after promising not to disturb the public peace in the future.

I recently watched Ben Zand’s insightful documentary about the Extinction Rebellion movement and it occupation of central London this year. The co-founder of ER – Roger Hallam – described their tactics as “Criminal inaction.” If you witnessed it live on the news you’ll be aware that thousands of protestors of all ages staged a series of peaceful sit down occupations of London landmarks. They brought traffic to a standstill in the capital for an unprecedented 11 days but no one was hurt (although it cost the public and authorities millions of pounds in lost business and policing).ER

It was ‘remarkably effective’ as Zand agreed, it made the government listen and Climate Change is now firmly on the agenda. It galvanized tens of thousands of people, many of them young people who weren’t involved in politics or protest before but now are. At one point in the April take over the head of the Metropolitan Police – Cressida Dick – is seen imploring the protestors to go  home or go to Marble Arch (where they can protest legally), warning that otherwise they will be arrested.

But arrest was one of their tactics. By being arrested and charged they get publicity, a day in court, and their cause is highlighted. They are non-violent, they are creative, determined, and they are not going away. They are also part of a well-established tradition of protest in this country (not all of it peaceful of course) that stretches back hundreds of years. I met some of them in London and then later this summer in Edinburgh. These are intelligent, passionate, and well organized people and while they provide a temporary headache for the likes of Cressida Dick and Superintendent Sheppard we should be very proud that our nation continues to produce young people who are prepared to put their lives and liberty on the line to achieve a better future for all of us.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, July 24, 1888]

Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of 1880s London. The book is available on Amazon here

A detective uncovers smuggling by Horsleydown, but a much worse discovery is made there in 1889

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Detective sergeant Howard was watching the comings and goings of ships and sailors by Horselydown Stairs on the River Thames. Situated near to what is now (but wasn’t then) Tower Bridge and opposite St Katherine’s Docks. In 1881 this was a busy stretch of the river with shipping bringing in goods from all over the world. Now, of course, it’s mostly a tourist area, but it is just as busy.

As DS Howard waited he saw a man he recognized go on board a steamship which had a Hamburg registration. He was sure the man was John Michael, someone he knew well as a smuggler, so he kept on watching.

Sure enough, about 30 minutes afterwards Michael reemerged and made his way on to the docks. The officer followed and then stopped him nearby. When he searched him the detective sergeant found seven pounds of tobacco and ¾ lb weight of cigars. The duty alone on these amounted to nearly £3 and so he arrested him.

When questioned Michael denied all knowledge that the goods might in any way be dodgy. He merely stated that a man on board had asked him to carry the goods ashore and was going to meet him in Tooley Street later. It was a weak defense and he probably knew it, but what else could he say?

When he was up before the Southwark magistrate he said very little at all expect to confirm his name, age (42)  and occupation (labourer). DS Howard was also there and told Mr Bridge that the man was well known as someone who earned money by carrying goods ashore to help seaman avoid the excise due on it. He got paid sixpence for every pound he smuggled, so he stood to make about 3-4s  for the haul that DS Howard confiscated.

He was ordered to pay £1 149d for his crime but since he didn’t have anything like that money he was sent to prison for two months instead.

On 4 June 1889 a human a parcel was found floating in the river just near St George’s stairs, Horsleydown. Some small boys had been lobbing stones at it but when it was recovered it was found to contain a decomposing lower torso of a woman. A leg and thigh turned up days later by the Albert Bridge and the upper torso was found soon afterwards by a gardener in Battersea Park. It was quickly linked to the Whitehall and Rainham torso mysteries that had been overshadowed in 1888 by the infamous Jack the Ripper or Whitechapel murders. Fig 2.1

For most of the last 130 plus years researchers have concluded that there were two serial murderers running amok in late Victorian London but was this really the case? A new book, penned by Drew with his fellow historian Andrew Wise, sheds new light on the torso and Whitechapel series and argues that one man might have been responsible for both.

Jack and the Thames Torso Murders: A New Ripper is published by Amberley Books and is available to order on Amazon here:

[from The Standard, Tuesday, June 21, 1881]

‘I always tire of a woman in a week’: a charmless husband at Bow Street

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Whilst I live in the capital I work in Northampton and yesterday I had a meeting with some members of local history and community group who wanted to discuss the preservation and dissemination of the history of the Delapré Abbey estate, which sits next to our university campus.

Delapré Abbey (pictured above) has its roots in the medieval period but today there stands a beautifully restored English country house in acres of grounds, all open at times to the public. In the late 1800s it was the seat of the Bouveries, a prominent Northamptonshire family who acquired it in 1756. It stayed in the family until just after the Second World War when Northamptonshire Corporation bought it.

We had an interesting chat about the estate and its history and the problems of capturing and conserving information about the past before in disappears under the diggers and concrete mixers of modern day developers. Hopefully we’ll find ways for local historians and staff and students at my university to work together on this in the near future.

Given that I knew almost nothing about the Bouveries of Delapré it was something of a surprise to randomly alight on a court report from Bow Street in late April 1888 where a junior member of the family was mentioned. Mrs Blanche Minnie Bouverie appeared with her solicitor, a Mr Churchley, at Bow Street Police court to request a summons against her husband for desertion.

Blanche was the third wife of Francis Kenelm Bouverie, who had recently been the subject of a fraud case heard at the Old Bailey. The young Bouverie had already been married three times despite only being 26 years of age and was considered something of a rogue.

He’d been divorced twice for adultery Mr Churchley told the magistrate (Mr Bridge) and Blanche had tried to divorce him herself, again for adultery but had not yet succeeded. In the 1800s the laws on divorce were weighted in favour of the man: a wife had to prove two things against her partner, while he had only to prove one. Mrs Bouverie had alleged adultery and cruelty  but had not proved the latter charge.

She was only 20 years old and they had been married for just a year when Francis left her. She said he started beating her after just a week. Bouverie had apparently told her that it would be better if she left him then and returned to her mother as ‘he always tired of a woman in a week’.

Mr Bridge granted the summons against Francis but queried why, given his reputation, Blanche had entertained the idea of marrying him in the first place. No answer was forthcoming but sadly we often believe that we can change those we fall in love with or believe it won’t happen to us. The young self-styled heir to the Delapré estates was ‘living in great style’ in London the court was told, and one imagines that he played the eligible bachelor card to the full. Hopefully this exposure of his character in the press served to warn other women against falling for his ‘charms’.

[from The Standard, Monday, April 30, 1888]

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

‘If you had been pursued all over London and were hated by the government, you would wish to shoot yourself’: drama at Bow Street as a respectable citizen tries to take his own life.

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This story is both sad and dramatic as it concerns a man’s very public attempt at suicide. Most of the cases that I’ve written about previously that have involved suicide have been women and most of those have chosen to end their lives by throwing themselves into the River Thames or one of the canals that ran through the capital. Most were prevented by quick-thinking policemen or passers-by and ended up before magistrates because attempting to take one’s life was against the law in the 1800s.

In this example the defendant was a man, and a respectable one at that. Robert H. Rhodes lived in St John’s Wood and worked for the Land Revenue Record Office. So Robert was a middle class white-collar worker, he was married and he had children and so was a very long way, it would seem, from the desperation of the usually poor and destitute women (and men) who chose to throw themselves from the various bridges that crisscrossed the Thames.

Appearances can be deceptive of course, and mental illness is no respecter of class or wealth. Rhodes was under some sort of pressure: in his appearance that Bow Street he told Mr Bridge (sitting as the duty magistrate) that he had ‘been pursued all over London, and [was] hated by the Government and bullied by everyone’.

While we don’t know why exactly Robert decided to end his life we do know how. In mid September 1886 the revenue man walked into a gunmaker’s shop in Cockspur Street near Trafalgar Square. He showed the assistant a cartridge he’d brought with him and asked to see some revolvers that might fit it. The shopkeeper brought out some examples and Rhodes calmly selected one and loaded it with his cartridge.

Then he ‘turned the revolver round till the muzzle pointed to his head and was trying to pull the trigger when the shopkeeper seized his arm’, and saved his life. The police were called and Rhodes was led away. As the constable took him to the nearest police station Rhodes begged him to let him end his life saying that otherwise ‘his wife and family would be forever ruined’.

We get no further clues as to what had led Robert Rhodes to make this terrible decision to kill himself but perhaps he was about to lose his position, or owed a large amount of money, or was suffering in some other way with the pressures of his job? Two gentlemen approached the bench and said they would take care of him and be responsible for his future conduct. I presume these were his friends or colleagues.  They agreed to be bound for six months as sureties at £250 each (about £16,500 today, so a huge sum of money) and Mr Bridge duly released Robert on the condition he did not repeat his attempt within that period.

[from The Standard , Tuesday, September 21, 1886]

For other cases involving attempted suicide see:

A man is driven to attempt suicide because of his ‘reduced circumstances’

A bad week in London, full of personal tragedy

A destitute Essex girl in London makes the news

A circus artist for whom the show cannot go on alone

Pickett climbs a fence and saves a life

A family day out at the races ends in court

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It was a Friday evening in early June 1876 and Henry Stokes and his wife and son were coming home from a day out at the races. As they family rode in their cart along the Balham Road in south London another vehicle – a wagonette – was, unbeknown to the Stokes, careering towards them.

Police constable Hill had seen the wagonette (literally, a small sprung wagon, drawn by one or two horses) and realized it was going too fast. London’s streets were pretty crowded in the nineteenth century and all sorts of users could be found on them. There were tens of thousands of horse drawn carts, coaches, hansoms and carriages, as well as omnibus, trams, pedestrians, horse riders, and the occasional.

PC Hill shouted a warning to the driver of the wagonette to slow down and ‘be more careful’ but he was ignored. Moments later there was a crash as the wagon and two horses collided with the other cart from behind. All three of the family were thrown into the road. Fortunately Mr Stokes and his son only suffered mild bruising but Mrs Stokes was hurt quite badly, and a doctor was summoned.

The copper arrested the other driver who gave his name as Edward Kirk. Kirk was an off duty omnibus driver so really should have known better. At Wandsworth Police Court PC testified that Kirk was doing around 12-14 miles an hour, which may not sound fast by today’s standards but was quite fast for a horse drawn vehicle at the time (most travelled at between 608 miles an hour in the city).

More damning for Kirk was an allegation that he was drunk in charge of the wagonette. Kirk denied this and produced a doctor that supported his statement but the police – in the shape of sergeant Bearman – handed over a medical certificate from a different doctor (presumably one that examined the driver at the police station) which said he was.  Faced with conflicting medical records Mr Bridge (the magistrate) chose to believe the police and fined Kirk £2 (or one month in prison).

He told Henry Stokes that if he wanted compensation for the damage to his cart and, more importantly, to cover the medical expenses incurred by his wife’s injury, he should bring an action in the county court. If he did the whole episode was likely to have been an expensive one for the omnibus driver who may well – given the public nature of the case and its reportage – have lost his job. The fine was not a small one anyway, around £125, or more than a couple of week’s salary for the bus driver, so he may have struggled to find that and have gone to prison instead.

Today, while the driving charge would stand (if there was a policeman anywhere to be found to see the incident) the civil damages would of course be dealt with by an insurance claim. Now of course, the injuries may well be worse since we travel much faster, and Kirk (or rather his insurers) might be facing claims of whiplash injury from Mrs Stokes. He would of course almost certainly have lost his license, and therefore his livelihood as well.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, June 05, 1876]

An unconventional Lady and her runaway maid

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United Industrial School site, Edinburgh, c.1877.

In the nineteenth century concern about juvenile crime and the fate of those young people caught up in led Mary Carpenter and others to campaign for the building of reformatories. In 1851 Carpenter had publisher an influential tract on the reform of juveniles and in 1852 she and Russell established a reformatory at Kingswood near Bristol. Two years’ later she opened a similar institution for girls at Red Lodge.

These were private charitable initiatives but gained government support in 1854 with the passing of the Young Offenders Act that encouraged their building and allowed magistrates to send juvenile criminals to them. In 1857 new legislation created Industrial Schools; both operated as a sort of public/private enterprise to remove young offenders from the streets of Britain’s crowded cities and educated them for a new life, away from the temptations and corruption of the homes they left behind. Boys were usually trained for industry or agriculture, while girls were taught to sew or to be domestic servants. All were taught to read and write so they knew their letters and could read the Bible.

Mary Ann Millen was a reformatory girl. At 18 she had been released from an institution in her native Edinburgh and sent to work in the household of Lady Douglas in London.

I wonder if this might have been Lady Gertrude Douglas, the daughter of the seventh marquise of Queensbury and an author in her own right. Gertrude, using the pseudonym ‘George Douglas’, wrote several Scottish based novels in the 1870s but lived in London, where she later helped her brother with his school. In 1882 she married one of the pupils, Thomas Henry Stock; she was 40, he was just 18.

Lady Douglas was familiar with the Edinburgh reformatory and the girls there. Perhaps she made charitable donations as a patron or involved herself on the board of trustees; this would have been exactly the sort of philanthropic ‘work’ that a Victorian lady could be involved in without drawing undue attention to herself, not that it seems that Gertrude was worried about other people’s opinions of her.

Mary arrived in London in April 1872. She was 18 and spoke with a heavy Scots accent. It must have seemed a very strange world to her; while Edinburgh was a busy modern city in the late 1800s it was tiny by comparison to the capital. Lady Douglas’ other servants were all English and Mary struggled to make friends, and even to make herself understood.

She lasted three weeks at the house in Gloucester Terrace, Kensington, before running away and making the long journey back to Scotland. She was quickly missed. Money was missing from a dressing room table and one of the servants had lost a waterproof coat. Lady Douglas summoned the police and a detective caught the next available train to Edinburgh.

It didn’t take Detective Seymour long to run down the runaway. Mary probably had few other options than to head for familiar territory in the neighbourhood where she’d grown up before being sent to the reformatory. Seymour had sent a telegram to the local police and their enquiries led Seymour to the High Street where he found Mary and arrested her.

She was wearing the coat and had just £2 17sof the money left. She’d bought some clothes and presumably paid her fare and had something to eat, the rest had ‘been taken from her’ she said.

Mary returned to London with the officer and appeared before Mr Bridge at Hammersmith Police court. Lady Douglas was there and intervened on the girl’s behalf. It was her desire that the girl should return to the reformatory in Edinburgh rather than suffer worse punishment in London. The magistrate was willing to grant her wish but on the condition that Mary had a taste of imprisonment to deter her from future crime. He sent her to prison for one day and ordered that thereafter she be handed over to Lady Douglas so she could be taken back to Scotland.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, May 15, 1872]

p.s Lady Gertrude philanthropy was not confined to poor Scotch lasses. In 1891 she founded the Dog’s Trust, which continues to this day. By then her marriage had broken down. Her husband had emigrated to South Africa and she ended her days in a convent hospital, dying of consumption in 1892. 

A mother’s anguish at her inability to send her children to school

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One of the many functions of the Police Court magistrate in London was to deal with parents who refused to send their children to school. School boards had been created by the Elementary Education Act (1870) also termed Forster’s Act. In addition boards could seek to have bye laws passed that allowed for the fining of parents whose children played truant. By the late 1870s about 40% of the population lived in areas where school attendance (to the age of 10) was compulsory.

However, while the state and many parents recognised the importance of an elementary education  for children aged 5 and over, not everybody agreed or was able to comply with the law. Children were useful around the home as helpmeets and carers, they could earn money in all sorts of ways, and so supplement the family purse.

Moreover sending children was not without complications and costs. The school boards made some exceptions for parents who lived a long way from the nearest school, but this was unlikely to have affected those living in London where schools were plentiful. Nevertheless parents who could not afford to provide shoes or even proper clothes for their offspring would choose to keep them at home, our of embarrassment as much as anything else.

Finally for all but the poorest school was not free; parents had to pay for it so this added a further disincentive. In 1880 schooling was made compulsory everywhere and in 1891 education became free in all board and church schools for children up to the age of 10.

Margaret Godfrey lived in Nine Elms, was widowed and therefore extremely vulnerable to poverty. She also had a son of school age, and another below the age of five. Margaret didn’t have the money to feed her children, let alone clothe them and buy shoes so she hadn’t sent the elder boy to school.

As a result she was summoned to attend Wandsworth Police court by the local school board and asked to explain herself in front of the magistrate. Her son, the court was told, was ‘nearly naked’ and she had approached the Charity Organisation Society for help. They had given her 5s ‘in kind, but no clothes for the children’.

Margaret said they had been living on dry bread for six weeks. She would be happy for the boy to attend school but she couldn’t send him without shoes. The superintendent asked the magistrate (Mr Bridge) to help with money from the poor box and he agreed.

Margaret would have enough money to buy clothes and the boy would attend Sleaford Street board school. No mention was made of helping provide the family with enough money to eat properly; if Mrs Godfrey wanted of course they could all enter the workhouse. That would have signalled the end of her family however, and having lost her husband I can imagine how desperately she wanted to avoid that outcome.

Now we have a free education system for all children that need it and a benefit system to help mothers like Margaret. Yet we still have children attending school without having had a proper breakfast or evening meal afterwards, and plenty of truancy and a  state system that attempts to punish the parents for it – on occasion by sending them to prison. Plus ça change.

[from The Standard, Friday, February 21, 1879]