A ‘handsomely paid’ youth falls foul of one of the ‘Iron Duke’s’ military chums

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London had several gentleman’s clubs in the mid nineteenth century. These were private clubs where a member of the wealthy elite could relax without being bothered from the unwanted attention of his wife, family or the hot polloi. On Pall Mall there were two that mirrored each other: the Athenaeum (which admitted men that had demonstrated some level of distinction in an intellectual pursuit) and the United Service Club, which was founded in 1815 for members of the armed forces.

The USC was a fairly exclusive establishment; to be a member from 1815 to 1892 you had to hold the rank of major or commander at least. As a result it earned the nickname of ‘The Senior’ amongst its members. One  of those was the Duke of Wellington, the victor of Waterloo and Conservative Prime Minister from January 1828 to December 1830 – and again, briefly, in 1843).

So this was definitely a club for the rich and (in some cases at least) the powerful. By contrast Frederick Sactidge was neither. He was employed to wait on the members in the main hall of the club and was paid £10 a year with board and clothes provided. These were, one member later commented, ‘extremely handsome wages for a mere child like him’.

Sadly Frederick doesn’t seem to have appreciated how lucky he was and how benevolent the membership were being in deigning to let him serve their drinks and fetch their newspapers. Instead he saw the wealthy military men as an opportunity to supplement his basic salary.

After a while some of the members began to miss small amounts of money from their great coats which hung in the hall while they relaxed. There were a number of servants employed by the club but suspicion fell on Frederick and one member decided to set a trap for him.

Major-General Sir George Bowles*, the Lieutenant of the Tower of London, placed some marked copper coins in the pocket of his coat before it was taken away to be hung up by Frederick. When he checked a few minutes later the halfpennies were missing and Sir George demanded that the boy be searched. To nobody’s surprise the coins were found on him, he was effectively caught ‘red handed’ and charged with the offence.

The case came before Mr Hall at Bow Street where the conduct of the boy was described as ‘most scandalous’. Several members had complained, the steward of the club told the magistrate, and he might have progressed to commit more serious thefts had he not been detected. Mr Hall fully committed the lad for a jury trial.

What happened after that is unclear; Frederick doesn’t appear in the records of the Old Bailey Online or the Digital Panopticon. Perhaps the prosecution was dropped or he was offered a way out of his predicament. Maybe one of the members took pity on him and found him a position in the army or the navy. After all, in March 1854 Britain was embroiled in a war with the Russian Empire (a reminder, if we need one, that relations with Russia have been fraught for centuries) and while men like the ‘Iron Duke’ and Sir George sipped their whiskies in Pall Mall thousands were dying from enemy actions and (more frequently) disease on the Crimea.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, March 24, 1854]

*Sir George apparently owed his elevated position at the Tower to the influence of his friend the Duke of Wellington. Bowles had served with Wellington throughout the wars with France and was present at Waterloo. 

A captain deploys desperate measures to keep the cheesemongers from his door.

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On the morning of Thursday 29 November 1877 the Wandsworth Police Court was full of shopkeepers and traders keen to witness the outcome of a case brought by one of their number, a cheesemonger on the High Street. Henry Lickfield had brought a charge of assault against one of his customers while another businessman, Mr Barrantz (another cheese monger) charged the same individual with fraud.

The defendant was Captain Edward Miller who lived at Spencer Road in Putney. The court heard that Captain Miller had ordered a leg of pork and 3lbs of sausages to be delivered to his residence. The goods were duly supplied but when the bill wasn’t paid Lickfield called on the captain in person to demand his money.

However when he knocked on the door no one answered. He tried again and this time a servant answered but refused to open the door. Finally he tried shouting through the letter box. As he attempted to get the attention of the household a lighted firebrand was thrust through the letter box towards him, striking him in the face!

Captain Miller was represented in court by a lawyer who offered a different version of events. He suggested that when Mr Lickfield’s assistant had called earlier he had been told that Mrs Miller would settle the bill on the following day and he had gone away. He denied any violence towards the cheese monger and said that he had no need to come in person, and that he should have waited for the money to be paid as promised.

The household was ‘alarmed’ by the repeated knocking on the door and no tradesman had the ‘right to recover their debts by a system of tyranny’, he insisted. Mrs Miller was ill and ‘the prisoner did nothing but protect himself’.

The magistrate, Mr Bridge, accepted the charge of assault and bailed the captain to appear at the next sessions of the peace.

The case then turned on the next accusation, of fraud. It was claimed by Mr Barrantz, that the Millers had ordered ‘one of the best hares to be sent to his house, to be paid for on delivery’. Again the goods were supplied but not paid for. Clearly Mr Barranz had done business with the Millers before and said he would not have sent the hares if there hadn’t been a promise to be paid on receipt.  He therefore charged Captain Miller with a fraudulent intent. Mr Bridge didn’t see it that way however. This was simply an unpaid bill not a deliberate attempt to defraud and he dismissed the charge.

Nevertheless I suspect the mere appearance of the captain in court was enough to ruin his reputation in his local community. The court was packed with local businessmen, all come to see ‘justice’ for a fellow tradesman. They would surely be reluctant to offer credit to the Millers in future and given the associations with credit and reputation this was social suicide for the captain and his wife. Unless they settled their bills quickly, or moved away they could hardly hope to hold their heads up in the streets around Wandsworth in future. As for the assault charge, while it was likely to end in a financial settlement (some compensation to Mr Lickfield) it was another example of the desperation of the family and further evidence to anyway dealing with them that they were best avoided.

[from The Morning Post , Friday, November 30, 1877]