One drink led to another…

Rosemary Lane had a bit of a reputation in the eighteenth century, and its fair to say this persisted well into the 1800s. Now the lane has gone, replaced completely by Royal Mint Street which runs to join Cable Street, south of Whitechapel High Street. In 1861 Henry Mayhew wrote of the people that here:

The lodgings here are occupied by dredgers, ballast-heavers, coal-whippers, watermen, lumpen, and others whose trade is connected with the river, as well as the slop-workers and sweaters working for the Minories. The poverty of these workers compels them to lodge wherever the rent of the rooms is the lowest.

One of those living in and around Rosemary Lane was Mary Ann Carey, who described herself as a ‘basket woman’. On Tuesday, the 22 September 1868 Mary was in a pub when John Fletcher, a native of Scotland, newly arrived from Australia, walked past.

According to Fletcher Mary ‘rushed out’ and asked him to have a drink with her. Mary may have fallen for him, or perhaps she was already a little the worse for drink to be so forward, but my understanding of her actions suggests that she was a prostitute as well as a basket woman. Many women in the area sold themselves when they could not sell something less personal.

Gold rush

Fletcher had been to Australia for the gold rush; we know this because in court he said he was carrying ‘two nuggets of gold entrusted to him by a  scotchman [he met] at the diggings’. The gold rush in Australia drew thousands of fortune hunters to the continent i the 1850s and 60s. John Fletcher said he had had arrived back in London from Melbourne on the Lincolnshire and had presumably gone out to party on his new wealth. Months at sea with only male company led him to Whitechapel and the dock community than was synonymous with cheap booze and casual sex.

He took Mary up on her offer and the two of them started drinking at noon. ‘One drink led to another’, he told the court, and soon he realised he was missing not only the two gold nuggets but also four sovereigns. At least he still had his gold watch he thought, as the chain was in his pocket. Alas when he pulled the chain out, the watch was gone!

He called for a policeman and PC Childs came to his assistance. The policeman told the magistrate (Mr. Paget) that the pub was a ‘notorious den of thieves’ and he knew Mary as well. She was soon apprehended and presented in court. PC Childs suggested it was unlikely she was working alone and he begged time to round up the others.

Mr. Paget sympathized with the Scotsman’s plight but also said that his experienced should be a warning to others to avoid such places and keep their valuables safe. The court reporter took great delight in transcribing Fletcher’s words in dialect:

When asked what he would do now the poor man replied: ‘I was guan to Scotland. What am I to do now I dinna ken’. Where had he slept? ‘I was oot all the nicht in a yard’.

It was a very long way to go to find gold only to lose it within hours of landing back home in Britain.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, September 25, 1868]

Echoes of Bleak House or an elderly fraudster?


“Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means.”

Benjamin Gibbs Mitchell was an old man and had recently found himself in the Giltspur prison in the City of London. It is likely that Mitchell was in gaol for debt, as most of the Giltspur’s inmates were sent there by their creditors []. The gaol closed just a year or so after he was released and imprisonment for debt was formerley ended in 1869.

He may have committed another minor offence but the circumsatnces of his appearance in the Thames Police Court in September 1852 suggests that he was someone for whom money was often scarce.

Mitchell was charged by his landlady, Mrs Hannah with assault but this was to reveal quite a lot about the old man and his delaing with his neighbours. Mrs Hannah kept a lodging house in Wellington Place and when Benjamin Mitchell turned up there he was quite effusive about his requirements.

He demanded ‘coffee and eggs for breakfast, mutton and potatoes for dinner, with soup at other times, and feather pillows for his bed’. He was suffering he said from a delicate stomach following his imprisonment.

On being asked how he would pay he told the good lady he was expecting large sum of money anytime soon. However, after a month he had not paid a ‘farthing’ for this keep and Mrs Hannah began to get annoyed with him. He met her demands for money with violence, striking her with his umbrella. She wrenched the item from him and ‘belaboured him in return’. This is what brought the pair into court.

Benjamin denied the assault and calimed his affairs were in the hands of a most ‘respectable lawyer’, named Mr. Gray*. He was pursuing a claim to £7,000,000 through Chancery that had been going on for 54 years. This sounds like the infames ‘Jarndyce vs Jarndyce’ case that provides the backdrop for Dickens’ Bleak House, a case that went on for ever and ever (and ever).

The magistrate was skeptical and so Mitchell asked him to seek out his doctor who would vouch to the truth of. The court sent for Dr Faulkener.

When he arrived he did indeed speak in Benjamin’s defense; he was a ‘respectable man’ and there was such a claim. In the meantime though the justice had heard that several neighbours had complained about Mitchell’s frauds over a number of years and so he had decided to sentence the old man to 10s fine or 7 days in prison. That was heavy punishment for the assault but he justified it on the grounds that he was unable to punish him for the frauds. I’m not sure that would stand up in court today!

However having heard that the claims the man had made were now verified he sent word to have him released from the cells (he had not been able to pay the fine, as I suspect the ‘beak’ well knew). Instead he sent the old man the amount of the fine for his own use plus 5s from the poor box – punishment had switched quickly to charity on the evidence of one ‘respectable’ medical man.

*my brother is just such a ‘respectable’ lawyer

[From Daily News, Friday, September 24, 1852]

An ungrateful son and the case of the hard boiled eggs


Frederick Vincent lived with his parents in Brown’s Buildings, a model dwelling in Kensington. On the 13th August 1877 he came home to find his mother boiling eggs for his tea. He made some remark about how she was cooking his eggs which she didn’t like. Mrs Vincent told Frederick that if he didn’t like his home he should leave it.

The lad responded with an ‘offensive epithet’ (we can probably all imagine the sort of thing he might have said). She told in no uncertain terms that should he repeat such language she ‘would knock him down’.

At that Fred swung for her and hit her in the eye. In court he started to say “this woman…” before the magistrate silenced him with “this woman! Sheis your mother”.

Fred said that she had tried to strike him with a nearby pot and so he was only defending himself. His father appeared to back him up, saying his wife was a “curious compound” and there was ‘no peace in the house with her’. The justice was uninterested in either of the men’s excuses, it was ‘difficult to conceive a more disgraceful act than for a son to strike his mother?.

He sent Fred to prison for 21 days, with hard labour. The boy complained that it was ‘an unjust decision’.

[from Daily News, Thursday, August 23, 1877]

Incest and abuse in Holborn

In August 1826 John Green was accused of child abuse. The newspaper reporter spared his readers any intimate detail but it is quite clear form the report that Green was accused of incest with his daughter.

Green and his wife lived in the parish of St. Andrew’s in Holborn. They had a daughter who was 16 and lived with them. Green was about 40 to 50 years of age and on the previous Saturday afternoon he and his daughter had dined around 1 o’clock . Mrs Green was out and her husband now took advantage of this to ‘interfere’ with the girl.

He ‘took liberties’ with his child and was only prevented from the ‘completion of his offence’ by the unexpected return of his wife. The girl told the court this was not the first time it had happened. About two months previously he father had sexually abused her and in fear of punishment she had kept quite and let him continue on several subsequent occasions.

Mrs Green backed up her daughter’s evidence of what had happened at the weekend and a surgeon sent a certificate to show he had examined the girl that ‘corroborated in part the girl’s testimony’. John Green pleaded his innocence and claimed it was a ‘wicked conspiracy’ between the two women against him. He spoke of his wife in ‘terms of detestation’ but it did him no good. He was committed ‘for the misdemeanour; the parish officers [having] declared it to be their intention to prosecute’.

This suggests that this was going to be brought by the parish not by the girl or the wife. It was not against the law to have sex with someone of the girl’s age (the legal age of consent in 1826 was 14, it was not raised to 16 until 1885) but this was incest and that was a matter for the authorities. It also seems to be a case of rape, but that doesn’t seem to be how it was being treated.

[from The Morning Chronicle. Tuesday, August 22, 1826]

Knife crime causes concern in London again, several people are charged

It seems that rarely a week passes in London at the moment without there being a report of a stabbing or shooting involving young people. Gangs, drugs, turf wars and postcode territorial disputes are often blamed and carrying a knife for ‘self-defence’ seems to be endemic.

As with many things in history, especially it seems the history of crime, none of this is very new. In September 1893 the newspapers carried several stories of knife related incidents prosecuted at the capital’s Police Courts.

At Greenwich Alfred Lewis (a 43 year old coach maker from Deptford) was charged with ‘maliciously cutting and wounding’ James Good. Both men fought and both ended up in the Miller Hospital. The fight had happened at a coffee house in Watergate Street and a policeman had been fetched by a distressed onlooker.

Charles Townsend had picked up e bloody knife Lewis had used on Good and handed it over to PC James (512R). The copper went to the café and found Lewis being restrained by two men. The prisoner asked, “is he dead?” and then added, “I meant doing for him. I should like to see him in e mortuary to-night”.

A crowd had gathered outside the coffee house, upwards of a 100 people who seemingly wanted to deliver their own ‘justice’ to Lewis. The policeman had great difficulty in getting Lewis away from those that wanted to Lynch him.

Back at he police station the prisoner told the desk sergeant he had acted in self defence. It seems an unlikely plea, especially given what he had said at the scene. Good was badly hurt:he had four stab wounds in his chest, and one on his cheek. Lewis had a fractured rib where Good had tried to resit him.

The magistrate heard from a doctor that the victim’s wounds were very serious and he was unable to attend court. Lewis was remanded in custody to await Good’s return to some degree of health.

[from Daily News, Thursday, September 21, 1893]

Anything to Declare sir? I’ll just have a look in your luggage please…

William Hartey probably rode his luck once too often. These days we have become fairly used to the concept of Duty Free shopping at airports and ferry terminals, and of course the ‘booze cruise’ to Calais has been a popular pastime for Brits in the last few decades. Perhaps not for much longer after Brexit, who knows?


Hartey was he second steward on a ‘Boulogne boat’ which docked in London at the West Wharf in August 1868. The Customs officer went on board the boat as he was required to do, to check what it was bringing in from the continent.

The second steward was asked to produce his stories and so Hartey showedhim 25 cigars he had with him. “Is that all?” Robert Sharp asked him. “Yes” the sailor told him.

The customs officer was clearly suspicious, and inspected the boat. In the pantry he found 200 more cigars, concealed ‘behind a drawer’. The duty owing on them was £1 but the magistrate had the power to fine Hartey ‘single, double, or treble duty’.

But he must have been feeling charitable on this occasions. He said he would ‘not be hard upon him this time, but he must not be brought there again’. He fined him 20s and confiscated the cigars.

[From Reynold’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 20, 1868]

A parent is unconvinced by the theory of vaccination


The Cow Pock by James Gillray (1802) satirizes the campaign against vaccination

Many of the cases that came before the Police Courts actually had little resemblance to anything we might today call ‘crime’ but there was plenty that might come under the general banner of regulation.

In recent years there has been something of a campaign against vaccination – specifically the MMR jab which was rumored (incorrectly) to cause autism. Vaccination was pioneered in the early 19th century by Edward Jenner and people were quick to ridicule his efforts. Jenner successfully found a vaccination for small pox, a disease that had killed thousands in Britain and Europe.

Even by the later 1800s not everyone was convinced that vaccination worked or was desirable. The government was convinced and acted to make vaccination compulsory by a series of statutes from 1867 to 1873. However there was considerable disquiet about this and many people simply refused to present their children to the parish officers for their injections. As a result plenty of parents found themselves in court facing a magistrate.

John Forster Howe was one such father. Howe appeared at Greenwich Police Court in September 1881 charged with ‘disobeying an order of the court to have his child vaccinated’. The Vaccination Officer confirmed the facst before Mr. Howe offered a spirited defense of why he felt the prosecution was unjustified and vaccination inappropriate.

He gave no less than eight reasons:

“Because we believe the theory of vaccination to be unsupported by sufficient evidence”; statistics could be shown to have ‘intensified the evil’ not lessened, it, and there was no proof it had stopped small pox. He rejected the idea that the best way to prevent a disease was to infect a child with that very same disease. The dangers involved here far outweighed the limited risk of catching small pox itself.

He also (and this echoes modern complaints) felt it undermined his ‘liberty of conscience’ (his freedom to choose in other words). So for him a refusal to obey a bad law was the best way to bring about much ‘needed reforms’.

It was a sterling defense and the newspaperman reported it verbatim. It did him no good, the justice fined him 20s plus 2s costs. Howe said he was happy to pay but would never comply with the law.

[from Daily News , Monday, September 19, 1881]

A humanitarian intervention or an affair uncovered?

In a report titled ‘Inconstancy’ a Mr. F. Dixon appeared at Southwark Police Court charged with absconding with another man’s wife and some of his possessions. James Wilkinson, a milkman living in Lincoln’s Inn Fields said that while he gone ‘to the country for a month on business’ Dixon had ran off with his wife. He had tracked them down to an address near St Thomas’ Hospital, south of the River Thames and confronted them.

Dixon had been employed by Wilkinson as a clerk, suggesting that Wilkinson was more than a simple milk deliveryman. Not only had the clerk taken his wife, he raged, he’d also stolen a ‘portrait painting, a Bible, and some other articles’.

Dixon was outraged at the suggestion and said that she had brought the items with her. It is quite likely these were the wife’s own belongings but as all of a woman’s property passed to her husband on marriage in this period Wilkinson claimed them as his own. He then went on to make ‘a long statement’ to the effect that Mrs Dixon had been driven to stay with him because of the cruel treatment meted out to her by Wilkinson. Dixon, he claimed, had only acted out of his ‘humane feelings’ for Mrs. Wilkinson.

The magistrate said he minded to believe the clerk and simply asked him to appear again at a future date after the affair had been looked into more carefully.

[From Daily News, Friday, September 18, 1846]


A mysterious motive for stabbing in Seven Dials

In mid September 1816 three people appeared in the Marlborough Street Police court (or Office as it was termed then) accused of being involved in the wounding of Thomas Mannax.

Mannax had been attacked at his home in Monmouth Street in the heart of the notorious Seven Dials district near Covent Garden. His attacker was John Christopher Colman and he had stabbed Mannax but there was no report that the man’s life was in danger.

The other two defendants were Colman’s mother and Mannax’s wife. One is bound to wonder at why Mrs Mannax was involved in an attempt on her own husband’s life. Sadly we can only speculate as the paper gives us nothing further than that the three prisoners were remanded for examination at a later date. Perhaps Mannax was an abusive husband, maybe Colman was having an affair with his wife?

[From The Morning Post, Tuesday, September 17, 1816]

P.S please forgive the short entry today but I’m getting married at 4 and so a little busy. Posts will continue to appear while I’m away but I might not respond much to comments. Thanks to everyone who comments, tweets and RT my posts and thanks to all of you who quietly read them.