Housebreaking in Stokey and Hackney; slim pickings perhaps but poverty was relative in 1887

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In early September 1887 William Parker (an 18 year-old box maker) and James Hall (also 18 and described as a boot maker), appeared at the Worship Street Police court accused of breaking and entering.

The pair, both Bethnal Green lads, had strayed west, targeting three different properties in Stoke Newington. They’d been picked up by police from N Division (which covered Islington and included Stoke Newington) with a bag that contained ‘housebreaking implements’ and their lodgings in Hackney and Globe Street, Bethnal Green were raided.

Sergeant Helson and his colleagues Sergeant May explained that they had arrested the pair on suspicion that they were involved with burglaries at the homes of a Mr Cameron (at 102 Clarence Road), Mr Mears (62 Bentham Road) and Ernest Beckman (a commission agent who lived at 82 Rectory Road).

Mrs Beckman testified that she’d left her home at 3 in the afternoon on Saturday 20 August and came back and hour and half later to find that the front door had been forced open. The dining room had been left in a terrible state, and upstairs in the bedroom her jewelry box was lying open and empty.

She said she had lost ‘£5 in gold, a gold watch and chain, a gold ring, two pairs of earrings, two brooches, and a pair of solitaires’.

The solitaires were found on Hall’s person when the police arrested him and a witness testified to seeing him loitering outside the property earlier that day. Sergeant Helson told the magistrate (Mr Hannay) that the area had suffered a great deal from break-ins recently and requested that the men be committed for trial. Mr Hannay obliged and both men were tried at the next quarter sessions. Hall was convicted and sent to Pentonville prison for 15 months, Parker got an extra three months.

In Charles Booth’s 1888-90 poverty maps Rectory Road (where the Beckmans lived) is solidly red in colour, marking it out as ‘comfortable’. Rectory Road had ‘many old houses’ Booth reports, with ‘old fashioned wooden palings round the front gardens’. Several were semi-detached and rents were £45 (around  £,650 today). There were shops on Rectory Road’s west side and at the corner with Amhurst Road there was a large red brick building ‘with a  boy in buttons at the entrance’. This was the ‘Amhurst Club’ which charged a 2 guineas a year subscription. I have to check this but I believe this might be the site of the Regency Club (at 240a Amhurst Road) – popular with the Kray twins in the 1960s (below right).

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However, I can’t find a Bentham or Clarence in the near vicinity so perhaps those break-ins occurred further east, in Hackney (where  there is a Bentham Road). In the notebook covering the wider area Booth mentions Clarence Road (and Terrace) as a street where the houses have workshops ‘in their back gardens’; he coloured these purple moving to light-blue as it reached Clarence Terrace. One wonders what Hall and Parker could find to steal here but if they came out of worse conditions in the East End perhaps even slim pickings were worth stealing.

I’ll look in more detail at the area around Rectory Road in the next post.

[from Morning Post, 2 September 1887]

Henry Cooper: serial fraudster or plucky entrepreneur?

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We’ve met Henry Cooper before on this site. No, not the boxing legend who once floored Mohammed Ali, but a serial fraudster who got himself locked away on more than one occasion in the 1860s and 70s. In 1872 Cooper was sent to prison for five years for fraud but he had more than one opportunity to mend his ways before then, sadly he didn’t take them.

The Digital Panopticon shows that a Henry Cooper was gaoled in 1867 for forging a warrant for goods; he got five years then and spent his time at Portland quarrying stone. It is quite likely that he would have had a number of less serious convictions before this and so this court appearance – in June 1860 – fits quite nicely and suggests it is the same individual.

On Thursday 21 June (on the longest day of the year) Henry was up before the magistrate at Guildhall facing a charge of ‘absconding from his liabilities’. Described as a ‘boot and shoe manufacturer’ (interestingly, as on one of his prison records he is shown as having worked as a shoemaker inside). Cooper was bankrupt, and it was alleged that he’d tried to obtain goods on credit just three months after being declared so.

He’d run up debts of around £1,000 which, in 1860, was the equivalent of a vast sum of money (about £60,000 today). Cooper had been trying to run a business on Great Cambridge Street, Hackney Road, which he’d started with just £9 a year earlier. By the end of the first year he was £500 in the red. By May 1860 things had got so bad that Henry decided his best move was to shirk his responsibilities and emigrate to New Zealand.

Naturally he didn’t inform his creditors of his decision and the first they heard of it was when their representatives turned up at his shop and found it boarded up and Cooper gone. They made some enquires and tracked him down to Liverpool where he’d booked passage to New Zealand on the Northern Bride. Henry had managed to pull together about £300 in gold and a further £700 in disposable goods to sell when he arrived.

It was a bold move and had it worked Cooper may well have made a new life for himself on the other side of the world. As it was the alderman magistrate committed him for trial for fraud and he lost his chance. He pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey and judgement was respited on the 37-year old. The Digital Panopticon has a life archive for a Henry Cooper which includes this case and suggests he died in 1876.

If this really is Henry then it shows what a strain prison and hard labour put on this man. He was just 53 when he died but he’d possibly quarried stone for several years and been locked up in the ‘separate system’ at Pentonville in a regime of ‘hard bed, hard fare, hard labour’.  I feel kind of sorry for Henry; yes he was a fraudster but he was, in his own way, an entrepreneur of sorts.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, June 22, 1860]

‘The horrors of that place had for me nobody knows’: one man’s fatal experience of Pentonville

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Here is something slightly different today, not a case from the Police courts but the consequence of the savage penal system that existed in the late 1800s. Indeed this story comes from June 1888, the year that the Whitechapel murderer terrorized the women of the East End and about whom so much has been written. That killer was never caught and if he had been then he would surely have ended his days at the hands of an executioner.

By 1888 only murderers, and not all of them, were hanged for their crimes. Since the opening of Broadmoor in 1863 the state had a place to send those dangerously violent men and women who were deemed insane and it quickly filled up with mothers and wives who had killed (or were convicted of killing) their children or husbands. For everyone else – the burglars, robbers, fraudsters, forgers, and the violent – there was just one option after convict transportation ended in the mid 1860s and that was prison.

Arthur James Simmonds had been sent to Pentonville Prison in late 1887 or early 1888. Simmonds was a letter sorter employed by the Post Service and he succumbed to the temptation to steal from work. Unfortunately for him his employers were on the look out for letter thieves and had placed a ‘test’ letter in the system to catch just such a fish.

Simmonds was prosecuted and was given 18 months inside for the offence, with the addition of hard labour. He was 20 years of age but far from being a healthy young man.  The ‘hard labour’ at Pentonville meant he would be subjected to the pointless tyranny of the treadmill.

On Whit Sunday 1888 Simmonds was taken ill and received a visit from a friend of his, George Nealing. When he saw George the prisoner started to cry and when he was asked how he felt he said he: ‘felt as well as could be expected in the circumstances’, but added that ‘I ought never to have been put on the mill’.

‘The horrors of that place had for me nobody knows. When after three days on the mill I got off at night I found my feet were four or five times their ordinary weight, and by the end of the first week they were twenty times their normal weight. I could scarcely walk up to my cell after leaving the mill’.

He told his friend that along with the physical pain of the treadmill he was unable to eat the food he was given and so his health further deteriorated. He died some time afterwards, never recovering from collapsing as a result of his exertions.

The inquest into his death heard from his friend but also from prison staff and doctors. They stated that he had never complained about the severity of the treadmill and had he done he would have been taken off it. This may well be true but complaining about the treatment one received in prison wasn’t likely to go down well in a system that was described by one inmate as ‘a vast machine’ that crushed anyone that refused to follow the rules.

The Victorian prison system had, under Edmund Du Cane’s stewardship operated the principle of ‘hard board, hard fare, hard labour’. Sleep deprivation, minimal diet and crippling physical activity was designed deliberately to break the spirit of convicts and make them easier to control. If a few died, or went mad, it was unfortunate but it was a consequence the authorities were prepared to live with.

Arthur Simmonds did die and the inquest was told that a ‘brain disease’ was the cause. The jury followed the medical advice and returned a verdict of accidental death. While the letter thief may have had a long term undiagnosed medical condition I think it is reasonable to suggest that the forced labour of the treadmill at least exacerbated his condition, if it did not create it entirely. His death then, lies in the hands of the prison authorities and government department that sanctioned the system that governed convicted felons in England in the 1800s.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, June 10, 1888]

One of the ‘most expert pickpockets in London’ is caught red handed

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What! Eighteen Stone! Oh, you’ll do; – here’s your Ticket-of-leave!” (Punch, 13 December, 1862)

Michael Welch – who also went under the name of John Hunt – had already had several brushes with the law. He had served time in Portsmouth Prison and had previously been sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. Fortunately for Welch his sentence had come at a time when Britain was bringing the process of transporting felons to Australia to an end.

Transportation to New South Wales had been resisted (by the inhabitants) from the 1830s and in 1840 it ceased (although between 1788 and then some 150,000 Britons had been sent there). Convicts continued to be sent to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) until 1853 and to Western Australia from 1850 onwards (albeit in small numbers), but the reality was that after 60 or so years of dumping her unwanted criminals and some political prisoners in the new colony Great Britain was forced to look at alternative ways to deal with crime.

The answer was imprisonment at home, in the hulks (which also served as embarkation off points for transportees) and in the national prisons (such as Pentonville or Portland) where convicts could be set to building sea defences or other public works, or ‘broken’ on the treadwheel and crank.

Adopting a system pioneered with transported convicts in Australia those sentenced to long spells in prison could earn a ticket-of-leave (effectively parole) whereby they might be released early so long as they behaved themselves thereafter. Welch was one such ‘ticket-of’leave’ man.

Unfortunately for Welch he was unable to stay out of trouble.

In October 1854 he was spotted on Fleet Street attempting to pick the pockets of passers-by. Inspector Daniel May of the Metropolitan Police’s Detective force was mingling with the crowds on Fleet Street at around half past seven in the evening when he saw Welch.

‘I watched him for about half an hour’, he told the magistrate at Guildhall; ‘at length I saw him put his hand through a hole in his coat where his pocket should be, and take a handkerchief from a gentleman’s pocket’.

He informed the victim of what had happened and soon afterwards seized Welch and took him into custody.

When he was searched he had no less than 14 other silk hankies. The magistrate was amazed:

‘I suppose they are the product of a whole day’s work, are they not? he asked the detective.

‘Oh no sir’ the policeman replied, ‘I believe it was only two hours’ work’.

‘He must be a very clever fellow to get so many handkerchiefs in two hours’, said the Alderman. ‘He is one of the most expert pickpockets in London’ confirmed Inspector May.

Now the magistrate turned his attention to the accused and, having established his history of imprisonment and recent release, upbraided him for his lack of gratitude to the criminal justice system.

‘Did they give you a ticket-of-leave to rob people of their handkerchiefs?’ he asked the man in the dock. ‘No sir’.

Welch was remanded in custody so that the owner of the handkerchief could appear to prosecute him.

Postscript: On 23 October 1854 a John Hunt was sentenced to four years penal servitude at Old Bailey for stealing a handkerchief valued at 2s belonging to a George Pullen. Hunt had ‘before been convicted’ and pleaded guilty. There are no details (because of the guilty plea) but I suspect it is the same man.

Four years for the theft of a handkerchief worth about £2 in today’s money.

[from The Morning Post , Wednesday, October 11, 1854]

Two strikes and you’re out: a ticket-of-leave man at Bow Street

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From the landing of the First Fleet in 1787 to the arrival of the Hougoumont in January 1868 around 164,000 British men and women were transported to Australia for crimes committed in the British Isles. The last convicts may have landed in 1868 but the reality was that by the late 1850s transportation had dwindled to a trickle. The gold rush of the early ’50s had made the new colony a more attractive place for free settlers and the established communities of the continent were much less content to take the mother country’s convicts.

This presented the authorities in Britain with a problem; what to do with all those offenders that it had been so happy to send overseas. Hanging for all but murderers had been abandoned by the mid 1820s and the prison had come to dominate penal policy. But from New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land one idea was transported back to Britain.

Convicts were sentenced to 7 or 14 years transportation or life but there was a necessary opportunity for some reduction. If a convict behaved themselves and settled into their new existence, perhaps being bound to work on a freeman’s farm or in government employ, they might earn a ‘ticket-of-leave’. In essence this was very like parole today; the convicted man or woman would have some of their sentence remitted and they could live free in the community so long as they continued to obey the law.

The answer for the British authorities was to apply a similar system in domestic penal policy. So prisoners in gaol could now earn parole and live as ‘ticket-of-leave’ men (or women) and go home to their families and friends. However, ANY transgression would land them back in prison to complete their sentence*.

George McDougall was just one such ticket-of0-leave man. Usually the nineteenth-century newspapers were quick to condemn the practice of early release and in 1862 the garroting panic was blamed on the ticket-of-leave men and there were widespread calls for a toughening up of penal policy.  However, and perhaps because McDougall was a clear subject for sympathy, here the paper sided with the convict.

McDougall appeared at Bow Street Police Court in September 1862 (a few weeks after the panic had began to subside) charged with having revoked his license by his ‘subsequent misconduct’. The Scot had been sentenced to 10 years for burglary in 1858 and was sent to a convict prison. There he served his time until 1860 when he was released on a ticket-of-leave and sent home to his wife in Scotland .

He lived peacefully until ‘a few days ago’ he became ’embroiled in a drunken disturbance in the streets of Edinburgh’ and was arrested and taken before the justices of the peace and fined. Not by any means a serious offence by but serious for George because the authorities were obliged to inform the Home Secretary and a warrant was issued to bring him to London to have his license revoked.

The man was clearly very ill: despite being ‘in dreadful ill-health and [suffering from] consumption’ (TB) George was brought back to the capital and presented at Bow Street. Here the old man told the court that it was very hard that he should be sent back to prison to serve out the remaining eight years of his sentence as he was ‘a dying man, almost’. He asked for medical assistance and for leniency.

He may have got the former but he certainly didn’t get the latter. The magistrate was sympathetic but his hands, he said, were tied. He was ‘bound to administer the law’ and George was packed off to one of the convict prison (such as Pentonville or Millbank) that served the Victorian penal system. Given the harsh regimes that existed in the 1860s I would be surprised if George ever saw Scotland or his wife again.

[from The Standard, Monday, September 15, 1862]

  • I believe a similar principal exists for life prisoners who are released on license today.

Two strikes and you’re out: a ticket-of-leave man at Bow Street

ticketofleaveman

From the landing of the First Fleet in 1787 to the arrival of the Hougoumont in January 1868 around 164,000 British men and women were transported to Australia for crimes committed in the British Isles. The last convicts may have landed in 1868 but the reality was that by the late 1850s transportation had dwindled to a trickle. The gold rush of the early ’50s had made the new colony a more attractive place for free settlers and the established communities of the continent were much less content to take the mother country’s convicts.

This presented the authorities in Britain with a problem; what to do with all those offenders that it had been so happy to send overseas. Hanging for all but murderers had been abandoned by the mid 1820s and the prison had come to dominate penal policy. But from New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land one idea was transported back to Britain.

Convicts were sentenced to 7 or 14 years transportation or life but there was a necessary opportunity for some reduction. If a convict behaved themselves and settled into their new existence, perhaps being bound to work on a freeman’s farm or in government employ, they might earn a ‘ticket-of-leave’. In essence this was very like parole today; the convicted man or woman would have some of their sentence remitted and they could live free in the community so long as they continued to obey the law.

The answer for the British authorities was to apply a similar system in domestic penal policy. So prisoners in gaol could now earn parole and live as ‘ticket-of-leave’ men (or women) and go home to their families and friends. However, ANY transgression would land them back in prison to complete their sentence*.

George McDougall was just one such ticket-of0-leave man. Usually the nineteenth-century newspapers were quick to condemn the practice of early release and in 1862 the garroting panic was blamed on the ticket-of-leave men and there were widespread calls for a toughening up of penal policy.  However, and perhaps because McDougall was a clear subject for sympathy, here the paper sided with the convict.

McDougall appeared at Bow Street Police Court in September 1862 (a few weeks after the panic had began to subside) charged with having revoked his license by his ‘subsequent misconduct’. The Scot had been sentenced to 10 years for burglary in 1858 and was sent to a convict prison. There he served his time until 1860 when he was released on a ticket-of-leave and sent home to his wife in Scotland .

He lived peacefully until ‘a few days ago’ he became ’embroiled in a drunken disturbance in the streets of Edinburgh’ and was arrested and taken before the justices of the peace and fined. Not by any means a serious offence by but serious for George because the authorities were obliged to inform the Home Secretary and a warrant was issued to bring him to London to have his license revoked.

The man was clearly very ill: despite being ‘in dreadful ill-health and [suffering from] consumption’ (TB) George was brought back to the capital and presented at Bow Street. Here the old man told the court that it was very hard that he should be sent back to prison to serve out the remaining eight years of his sentence as he was ‘a dying man, almost’. He asked for medical assistance and for leniency.

He may have got the former but he certainly didn’t get the latter. The magistrate was sympathetic but his hands, he said, were tied. He was ‘bound to administer the law’ and George was packed off to one of the convict prison (such as Pentonville or Millbank) that served the Victorian penal system. Given the harsh regimes that existed in the 1860s I would be surprised if George ever saw Scotland or his wife again.

[from The Standard, Monday, September 15, 1862]

  • I believe a similar principal exists for life prisoners who are released on license today.