Libel and crim.con as the ‘better sort’ are dragged through the Police Courts

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Sir Albert de Rutzen

Most of those appearing before the police magistrates of London were members of the working class. The vast majority were being prosecuted for all manner of petty and not so petty forms of crime and violence. When the more ‘respectable’ middle classes appeared it was usually as witnesses or victims (although there were plenty of these from the lower order as well – especially women) and the very wealthy rarely feature in the newspapers reports. T

here were exceptions however.

Crime was big news in the Victorian press and the daily ‘doings’ of the police courts are testament to the popularity of this amongst the reading public, of all classes it should be said. Alongside the police court news and the more sensational ‘murder news’ were the reports of adultery served up as scandal for public consumption. ‘Criminal conservation (or ‘crim. con’) cases offered readers a peep into the bedrooms of the rich and famous. This was where the ‘better sorts’ made the pages of the newspapers for reasons they would rather have kept to themselves.

Often linked eventually to divorce, crim.con proceedings were a legal procedure  whereby one man sued another for having an affair with his wife (on the basis that he could claim financial damages, as his wife was his property).

In February 1886 two wealthy individuals appeared at Marylebone Police court represented by their lawyers. Mr St. John Wontner was there to defend his client, Robert Bailey, against a charge of libelling the elaborately entitled Charles V. J. Frieden de Friedland and for assaulting him at the theatre.

The reporter is fairly careful to skirt around the issue at the centre of this case; namely that both men appear to have been having a relationship with the same woman, a woman that neither of them was married to. Her name was Mrs Astay and it isn’t clear whether she was married or a widow.

The magistrate, Sir Albert De Rutzen, was at pains to try and keep any of the details behind the libel accusation  out of his courtroom but, since some evidence had to be offered (so a formal committal could be made),  this was fairly difficult and ultimately impossible.

Prosecuting, Mr Lickfold explained that his client was a member of the Supper Club which had a premises in Paris and at Langham Place in London. Mr de Friedland was staying in London and had been receiving ‘communications’ from Mr Bailey.

These were quite unpleasant and contained ‘threats , and were written in a language quite unfit for publication’. Bailey and de Friedland had then met at the Alhambra in Leicester Square where they had argued.

Bailey had, he alleged:

‘knocked the Complainant’s hat of and abused him. In fact the conduct of the Defendant had been so bad that, unless restrained, the Complainant’s life would be insufferable’.

Wontner now cross-examined and this is where some of the detail that the magistrate presumably wished to keep hidden began to seep out. The readers would be able (as you will be) to fill in the gaps and make a judgement on what de Friedland had been up to and what sort of a man he really was.

De Friesland said he was a director of the Supper Club which was a respectable establishment and not a gaming club (as the lawyer must have suggested). He admitted that ‘baccarat was played there’ but refuted allegations of gambling. He admitted as well to being married, and that his wife lived in Paris but he wasn’t (as was suggested) in the middle of divorce proceedings with her. He also admitted knowing and visiting a ‘Mrs Astay’, but ‘refused to say whether he had been intimate with her’. He added that Bailey had been intimate with the woman, a libel itself if not true.

Mr Lickfold objected to his opposite number’s line of questioning but Wontner contended that his client’s defence in court would be that he was provoked and that he would counter sue de Friedland for libelling him. As such it was necessary to set his stall out at this stage.

The magistrate was not happy with this and told the defence lawyer to keep his defence for the senior court trial. He heard from several witnesses who confirmed seeing the trail of letters and cards sent to the complainant and fully committed Bailey for trial. He then bailed him on his own recognisances of £100 – a considerable sum – demonstrating the wealth associated with these two protagonists.

[from The Standard, Thursday, February 25, 1886]

Sir Albert de Rutzen died in 1913 at the age of 84. An obituary noted ‘his patience and gentleness alike with the highest of criminals and the Suffragettes, with whom he had to deal of late, were remarkable’. 

Fined for disturbing a mathematical genius

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Charles Babbage (1791-1871)

Most of you will be reading this post on a computer, or a tablet, or perhaps even a smart phone. It is too much of a leap to say that without Charles Babbage’s ground-breaking work in creating his Analytical Engine in the early 1800s such devices may not have been invented, but Babbage is often heralded as the father of computing.

Babbage was born in the eighteenth century (as the ‘terror’ was sweeping Paris in fact) and died in 1871 (as Germany completed its emergence as a major European power. His life then, neatly bookmarks the end of the ancient regime and the birth of modern Europe.

But of course, scientific genius also comes with the normal traits of human life. Babbage had to eat and drink, he married and had children. He also hated being disturbed, and had a particular antipathy to street musicians, as this quote, from 1864, show:

‘It is difficult to estimate the misery inflicted upon thousands of persons, and the absolute pecuniary penalty imposed upon multitudes of intellectual workers by the loss of their time, destroyed by organ-grinders and other similar nuisances’.

Babbage campaigned against ‘public nuisances’, not only musicians but children playing in the street and drunks rolling home after a night in the pub. He even produced a mathematical calculation to show the likely number of windows broken by drunks and contributed to a drive to ban children from playing with hoops in the street, because of the potential damage they could do to horses’ legs. He reminds me a lot of an elderly teacher at my North London grammar school who railed against paper darts on the grounds that ‘they will have someone’s eye out, boy!’

Babbage was well known for his hatred of street musicians, often Italian organ grinders, who played for the money they could extract from passers-by (or perhaps householders who gave then coins to go away). In December 1866 he appeared at the Marylebone Police court, near his home, to  bring just such a complaint before Mr Mansfield.

Joseph Jenanin and Andrew Roadling were charged with ‘refusing to desist from playing musical instruments when requested to do so’. Babbage testified that on the 29 November Jenanin and Roadling, along with seven others, were performing in Paddington Street, just 200 yards from the mathematician’s home.

He went out and asked them to stop but they ignored him. He called a nearby policeman who then confirmed his story in court. In defence of the men their attorney, Mr Sayers, called upon several local tradesmen who told the magistrate that the musicians had in fact stopped playing when Babbage asked them to. They added that the men were not a nuisance in the neighbourhood, in fact we might suppose they quite enjoyed the concert and perhaps it attracted some trade.

On this occasion Babbage was thwarted by the justice system, to some degree at least. While the magistrate was prepared to accept that the men were causing a nuisance to him, they were too far from his home to have done so deliberately. As a result he couldn’t or wouldn’t punish them with the full force of the law but simply fined them 10s each and Mr Babbage’s costs. This would probably mean they avoided the great man’s home in future, but would not have ruined them or forced them to sell their instruments.

We can imagine Charles Babbage returning home from court still fuming at the outrage. He was 75.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, December 10, 1866]

 

A glimpse into history: an Irishwoman’s flight from the siege of Paris in 1870

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Parisian women queue for food during the Prussian siege of Paris, 1870

Sometimes the cases that are reported in the London Police Courts reveal glimpses of the wider history that was taking place both in Britain and around the world.

In July 1870 Napoleon III, emperor of the French, declared war on the kingdom of Prussia. Napoleon’s decision to take on his powerful European neighbour was prompted by his failing popularity at home and the (inaccurate as it turned out) advice of his generals. The Prussians (under Bismarck) saw the war as an opportunity to push forward the cause of German unification and, ultimately, begin to shape the continent in their favour.

The war went badly for the French from the start and ended in ignominious defeat at Sedan at the end of August, just over a month after it started. Napoleon was deposed and national government was declared which continued to resist the Prussian forces. This led to the siege of Paris which lasted until it too surrendered on 28 January 1871. In the aftermath of the war Prussia annexed Alsace-Lorraine and left  festering sore that when combined with mutual distrust and competing imperial ambitions, contributed to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.

Within all national and international conflicts of course there are personal stories and individual tragedies. An unnamed Irish woman (a ‘native of Cork’) appeared at the Marylebone Police Court in mid September 1870 having fled Paris and the advancing Prussian forces. Her husband was a French national she explained to Mr Mansfield, the sitting magistrate, and had been forced to remain in Paris to man the defences.

She described the situation in the French capital:

‘bills were posted up on the walls stating that those that did not wish to expose themselves to the siege must leave. My husband is a tradesman, and he was bound to go to the fortifications. I had no means of subsistence, and I had to leave and go to my mother at Cork’.

Sieges were hard on all the occupation of a city and the Paris siege was notable for the hardships the French suffered. There were later reports of people starving and eating cats and dogs and even the animals in the Paris zoo. Ultimately the siege led to further revolution and civil war, so it is no surprise that those that could opted to flee and become refugees.

The woman had traveled to London with her five children but had run out of money and was now desperate. That she turned to the Police Courts is indicative of the public’s use of the the London magistracy as centres of advice and aid in a crisis. Sadly for her, there was little Mr Mansfield could, or was inclined, to do for her.

She told him she was staying at a house at 57 Praed Street and had applied to the French authorities for help on several occasions. They had simply directed her from one ‘society’ to another; in all probability with the country at war and Paris under desire there was little they could do to help the Irish wife of one of their citizens. But the lady believed that there was more to it than this; she felt they didn’t want to help her because she was Irish and ‘they say they have so many of their own country-people to see to’.

Since Ireland was still part of the British Empire she therefore sought support from the British state. Mr Mansfield replied that the best he could do, since several charities had not helped her, was send her to the relieving officer at Paddington. In other words she could enter the workhouse. That was clearly not something she, as a ‘respectable’ tradesman’s wife, wanted to do. Mr Mansfield said he would send her instead to see Archbishop Manning’s chaplain, to see what he might do for her.

Archbishop Manning had a good reputation in Victorian London. As the senior Catholic cardinal in England and Archbishop of Westminster he had considerable influence. In 1889 he intervened and helped broker a settlement to the Great Dock Strike and so hopefully he (if his chaplain was prepared to get him involved) he may well have helped a fellow Catholic find the means to return home to Ireland and thence perhaps to France once the situation had claimed down. Presuming, of course, that the lady’s husband survived both the siege and then the Commune and its overthrow in May 1871.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, September 17, 1870]

Is this freedom? The ‘Adventures of a Slave’ at Worship Street Police Court

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Margaret Clayton was 50 years of age, or so she thought, when she appeared at Worship Street Police Court in June 1847, seeking the magistrate’s help and advice. Margaret was married to a soldier but she wanted a divorce.

Divorce was no easy thing in mid-Victorian England, particularly for a working-class woman of limited means. Until 1857 the Church of England conducted divorces and were very reluctant to grant them, and only on the grounds of adultery. As a result the number of divorces were small, around 300 a year even as late at the 1870s.

In some parts of the country working class men and women got around this by conducting ‘wife sales’ (as described by Thomas Hardy in the Mayor of Casterbridge). This form of plebeian divorce, which Hardy’s novel exposed to a disbelieving and shocked public, were often the only way for couples to legitimately separate and move on.

There was little the magistrate at Worship Street could do for Margaret, but he was interested in her background because she was not not like most of the women that came before him.

Margaret Clayton was ‘a woman of colour’. She was black, and Mr Broughton wanted to know her history.

She had been a slave she told him. She born into slavery as her mother was a slave also, and was first sold at 15 years of age, to ‘a captain’s lady at St Helena’. This would have been in 1812 during the long wars between the French 1st Empire and the Allies, led by Britain. These had ended at Waterloo in June 1815, and the French emperor, Napoleon, was sent into exile – on St Helena.

Margaret recounted how the lady had bought her for £50 to serve as a nurse for her children. Her mistress was good to her, she ‘was kindly treated but she was thoughtless and giddy, she said, as girls would be, and she ran away’.

She was soon found and brought back but sold on to another mistress who was far less considerate. She was treated ‘brutally’, she explained, before she was again sold – this time for £33 – to a soldier. He married her and set her free.

Sadly her husband, who seems to have cared for her, died and so she was free but without any support, and already having a family, she married another private in the St Helena Regiment. When this husband decided to return to England, Margaret and her children went with him. By 1847 they were living in London and he was working at the London Docks, and clearly they were not getting along very well. The eldest of Margaret’s five children was a man of 20, the youngest a baby just18 months old.

The magistrate was curious to know if she had known or met Napoleon. The Corsican ‘Ogre’ had been a prisoner on the small South Atlantic Island from October 1815 to his death (rumored to have been hastened along by his captors) in May 1821. Yes, she said, she had seen him but added nothing further the reporter could embellish his article with.

Napoleon remained a powerfully iconic figure in European history and politics. When he had died there were calls to repatriate his ashes (‘cendres’) to France but the ruling monarch Louis XVIII and his government feared a popular uprising of Bonapartist sentiment. Napoleon’s supporters would have to wait until 1840, seven years before Margaret appeared at Worship Street, to see their hero’s remains entombed in the magnificent structure at Les Invalides in Paris, where they rest to this day.

Having satisfied his curiosity about the woman there was nothing much more Mr Broughton could do. He asked one of the warrant officers present to enquire into the case and speak to the husband, to see if anything could be done to reconcile the (or perhaps even arrange a mutually acceptable separation) and ordered that Margaret be given some money from the poor box.

The Standard‘s reporter wrote it up as the ‘adventures of a slave’ as if it was somehow a tale of a woman’s exciting life upon the high seas. But in reality of course Margaret – who had been ”sold many times’ (as she had told the court) – had very little choice in where these ‘adventures’ led her. She had been taken to St Helena as a slave, sold again as a slave, and then bought against her will as a wife. Free or enslaved it made little difference; as the wife of a serving soldier she went where he went.

Her appearance (at 50) in a summary court in the capital of the nation that had abolished slavery and the slave trade was probably her first real opportunity to declare her independence. Unfortunately as a poor woman, legally married with no rights to property of her own, she found there was nothing the law could do for her except to hope that her husband ‘let her’ go, or treated her better in the future. We might ask ourselves then, from Margaret’s perspective, whether she was ‘free’ at all?

[from The Standard , Monday, June 28, 1847]

The magistrate and the ‘omnibus trick’

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The London Police Courts did not sit on Christmas Day but the Boxing Day papers were still published for Victorian fathers and grandfathers to read over their breakfast of devilled kidneys and smoked haddock and eggs. And so the editors included stories from Christmas Eve, to keep their readership amused, entertained and informed about the ‘doings’ of the courts and the thieves, brutes  and loafers that were the staple of most crime news in the mid-1800s.

On Boxing Day 1853 the breakfaster would have opened his paper to read about ‘the Omnibus Trick’.

A Mr Ayres and a Mr Douglas appeared at the Hammersmith Police Court to protect their business and their reputation. The pair were joint proprietors of the Hammersmith Omnibus Association which ran red buses on a variety of routes across the capital. They had turned up because they had heard that the magistrate at Hammersmith had recently complained about the tactics deployed by some of its operators to entice the public to travel with them.

The magistrate, Mr Paynter, had been at Hammersmith, close to the turnpike gate, when a bus passed with a sign attached to the rear which read:

“4d to the Bank”

Underneath this in very small letters was also inscribed:

“from Sloane Street”

His Worship thought that this was rather misleading advertising as it ‘convened the idea that the fare was only 4d from Kensington to the Bank’ whereas that fare only applied when the vehicle reached Sloane Street ‘which was some way off’. In his eyes it was a ‘trick’ to lure unwary passengers on board. And it seems to be working he added, as several of his fellow passengers that day were surprised when the conductor asked them for more than the minimal 4d to travel to the heart of the City.

The owners of the Hammersmith Omnibus Association were equally scandalised by the practice which, they assured Mr Paynter,  was not of their doing. The ‘trick’ was, they insisted, being perpetrated by a rival company (which also used red omnibuses) and was clearly designed to ‘injure the reputation of their association’. Both partners had attended on Christmas Eve specifically to protect their reputation and deny any shenanigans on their part.

When his worship told them that he had seen two buses carrying the same message (the second with the ‘from Sloane street’ script album obscured) Mr Douglas quickly explained that two rival buses did indeed travel one after the other along that stretch of the route so he was sure they were to blame.

The justice seemed somewhat treasured but still unhappy. He told the men that the conductor on the bus he had taken was ‘very impertinent’ and had he not been a magistrate he might well have summoned him to court. He had taken the numbers of the two buses and he handed these over so that Ayres and Douglas could make sure they were not vehicles owed by their company. The men promised to look into the matter  and then thanked the magistrate for his time and left.

I’m a little surprised that the magistrate was using public transport but I suspect it reveals that the relative inexpensiveness and convenience of the omnibus service was something that appealed to Londoners of all classes. The first horse drawn service) in fact running to the Bank from Paddington) had opened in London in 1829 (a few years after a similar scheme started in Paris) but rival firms ran individual ‘buses for many years before larger conglomerates started to appear.

The first of these was the London General Omnibus Company which started business in 1855 (a couple of years after this case came to court). Within a year of opening the LGOC was running 600 of the capital’s 810 omnibuses; this was the real beginning of a London-wide public transport system.

For me this story has echoes of the modern day dispute between private transport operators. The traditional London tax (the ‘black cab’ ) is being squeezed by private hire companies, mostly notably Uber, who seek to operate at lower fares but with less regard for the ‘service’ they provide or the people they employ. While ‘cabbies’ are still required to learn ‘the knowledge’ Uber drivers rely on satnavs and are accused of taking circuitous routes and ramping up fares for passengers. There are other accusations aimed at them and (as this interesting article suggests) plenty of other reasons why a ‘black cab’ is better than an Uber. But you can make up your own minds, just as justice Paynter did in 1853.

[from The Standard , Monday, December 26, 1853]

A new gunpowder plot is foiled at Blackwall…or so the newspapers would like you to think

The title of the article covering the Thames Police Court’s business for the 5 December 1870 is almost worthy of the modern phenomenon of ‘click bait’. As the Urban Dictionary puts it, click bait is:

An eye-catching link on a website which encourages people to read on. It is often paid for by the advertiser (“Paid” click bait) or generates income based on the number of clicks’.

The Standard’s headline was: SHIPPING ILLEGAL QUANTITIES OF GUNPOWDER TO FRANCE. Given that the article appeared in 1870 I wondered if it might have something to do with the tensions on the European continent at that time.

In July 1870 France declared war on its aggressive neighbor, Prussia. Prussian troops then won a string of stunning victories until it finally destroyed French resistance at Sedan on 1 September. A day later Napoleon III dissolved the Second Empire and the Third Republic was declared on the 3rd.

France had not surrendered yet so the Prussians besieged Paris and continued to mop up French resistance elsewhere. Paris fell at the end of January 1871 and in March the short-lived Commune attempted to govern a part of the capital before it was ruthlessly destroyed by the French Army during La semaine sanglante” (“The Bloody Week”) in May 1871.

So I wondered if this headline pointed to London’s involvement in supplying armaments to the French forces fighting the German invaders. However, as is often the case with the Police Courts, the truth is sometimes more mundane or at best, hard to unpack.

William Munday was a carrier – in other words he was what we might call today a haulier; someone tasked with transporting goods from A to B. On the 24 November 1870 a clerk from the North Western Railway asked Munday to transport a quantity of gunpowder to Blackwall Stairs, so it could be loaded on a ship.

Munday agreed and 5 tons of gunpowder was duly loaded up on his waggons. This was huge amount of course and we shouldn’t be surprised that there were regulations governing the movement of explosive and other dangerous materials in the 1800s.   One statute in particular (23d & 24th Vict. cap. 139) covered this and was created to protect the public. This act included provisions about making, selling and transporting gunpowder, but also the manufacture of fuses, and the sale of fireworks. Anyone breaking the terms of the act (and Munday seemingly had) could be prosecuted and fined.

However, Munday said he had never transported gunpowder before and was not aware that he had broken any rules. His solicitor told Mr. Paget, the Thames Police magistrate, that his client had ‘inadvertently violated the law, and he submitted a very small penalty would meet the justice of the case. There was no blockade-running or a violation of the laws of neutrality’ (a clear reference to what was going on in France).

Mr. Paget was a little at a loss to know what to do. He studied the Act of Parliament and could see no obvious offence but at the same time he felt the Thames police were justified in stopping and seizing Munday’s cargo of 100 barrels of gunpowder. The act stated that the power to punish under the legislation rested with justices sitting at Quarter Sessions not in Petty Sessions of the Peace (as Police Court magistrates did). This changed in 1861 when a new law amended this one and power was passed to men like Mr. Paget.

In the end Munday was released along with two of his men, and probably vowed never to accept such a dangerous cargo in future. Whether the explosive got to France is unknown, just as we have no idea whether it was intended for the war or for some more mundane purpose.

[from The Standard, Monday, December 05, 1870]