A London ‘scuttler’ in the dock at Marylebone?

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Throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century the subject of gang crime periodically troubled the newspapers. Concern about ‘roughs’ first surfaced in the 1870s in London and elsewhere, with specific incidents involving ‘corner men’ in Liverpool, and ‘scuttlers’ in Salford before the ‘hooligan panic’ broke in the 1890s. I’ve written about gang fights (including one fatal stabbing) before but the pages of the newspapers would suggest that while youthful ‘bad behaviour’ was endemic, fatalities were rare.

Today we have a fairly clear idea of what we think a ‘gang’ is even if very few of us are qualified to judge. So called ‘post code wars’ involving territorial disputes have dominated press coverage along with shootings and the seemingly routine carrying of knives in some parts of London and other major British cities. Those involved are usually young – below 25 – working class, and often from the poorest, most marginalised sections of society.

When I looked at the make up of the ‘gang’ responsible for the murder of Joseph Rumbold in 1888 only one of the 10 young men that appeared at the Old Bailey accused of his murder was unemployed. That was 18 year-old George Galletly, the person who actually stabbed Joe by the York Gates at Regent’s Park. Galletly was the only one convicted and his sentence of death was quickly commuted to life imprisonment on account of his tender years.

I’m not clear that the Victorians believed they had a problem with gang violence in the way that we do today; crucially while the Pall Mall Gazette ran one of its periodic ‘exposés’ on the London gang issue the papers mostly dealt with the topic as a routine, if unpleasant, consequence of urban living. Even when a case like the Regent’s Park murder was fresh in the memory the papers weren’t always keen to hype an incident like the one that I’ve picked for today’s visit to the police courts.

Rumbold had been killed on the 24 May 1888 and the trial had taken place at the Old Bailey in August and Galletly set to hang on the 21st, exactly 130 years ago today. By the 21 August 1888 however Galletly had already been reprieved by Henry Matthews, the Home Secretary and the press had moved on. After all, an even more sensational murder story was just around the corner…

At one in the morning on Sunday 19 August 1888 PC Nicholas (100D) was walking his beat in Lisson Grove when he came across a group of young men in the street. There was about a dozen of them and they were rowdy, quite possibly drunk, acting ‘in a very disorderly fashion, and fighting’. The copper did what he was expected to do and asked them to go home quietly.

This seems very like the Fitzroy Place or the Lisson Grove ‘Lads’ that had been involved in the Regent’s Park murder earlier that year. Groups of young men, aged 18-25, wandering the streets late at night, under the influence of drink, pushing, shoving and abusing passers-by; this has all the hallmarks of late eighteenth-century ‘hooliganism’.

One of the group, William Murphy (a 20 year old carman from Marylebone) took exception to being asked to ‘go quietly’ by a policeman. He squared up to PC Nicholas and took off his heavy leather belt. Wrapping it around his wrist, with the large brass buckle to the front, he aimed a blow at the officer.

PC Nicholas avoided being hit on his head but the buckle landed with force on his hand, doing some damage. He blew his whistle and help soon arrived; Murphy was overpowered after a short struggle and the others scattered. On Monday the carman was up in court before Mr De Rutzen at Marylebone Police court, where he’d been before.

The magistrate recognised him and dismissed Murphy’s claim that he was only defending himself against the policeman. He had previous convictions for assault, including at least one where he’d served 2 months for violence that involved him using his belt as he’d done the previous night. As Andy Davies’ work has shown the Salford and Manchester ‘scuttling’ gangs decorated their heavy leather belts with horse brasses that doubled as offensive weapons in their fights with rivals; it seems the tradition had also reached Marylebone.

De Rutzen sent him down for three months this time, but probably felt it would do little to change his behaviour. I suspect he was correct, most young men like Murphy seemed to treat gangs as stage on their journey to adulthood. Once they found a sweetheart to settle down with and the demands of a family intruded they left their wayward youth behind them. The violence didn’t necessarily stop of course, but the target became much closer to home.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, August 21, 1888]

‘Wanton mischief’ and criminal damage earns a recidivist drunk a month in gaol

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While the Victorians didn’t have fingerprint technology or the data gathering capacities of modern police forces this didn’t mean that it was always easy for repeat offenders to avoid the repercussions of their past indiscretions.

Policemen were expected to get to know their beats and areas, and the local populations they served. From the end of the 1860s ‘habitual’ offenders were monitored more closely, making it even harder for them to ‘go straight’ and then,  when photography was invented, ‘mug shots’ added to a criminal’s woes.

Alongside the police were the gaolers, court officers and, of course, the magistrates themselves. These authority figures were adept at recognising old or frequent visitors to their court rooms and were far less likely to be lenient if someone had been up before them time after time before.

James Oaks was just the sort of frequent visitor that Mr Arnold at Westminster Police court was hearty sick of seeing in the dock. He was a drunk and probably turned up among the night charges that were paraded before the magistrates most mornings to be admonished, fined or sent to prison for a few days or weeks.

This time Oaks was accused of criminal damage. On the previous evening he had stumbled into a gentleman’s outfitters on Brompton Row. He was the worse for drink and flailing about. He tripped over his own feet and grabbed at a shirt hanging on a nail. Struggling to regain his balance he pulled on the shirt, tearing it and earning the wrath of the shop assistant.

The police were called, Oaks arrested, processed at the police station, and locked up overnight. In the morning at Westminster he tried to say he’d been pushed over and it was all an accident not of his making but Mr Arnold didn’t believe him.

First of all a clerk at Doyle & Foster’s outfitters gave a very damning and clear report of the prisoner’s actions and declared the damage done as the nail ripped the cotton amounted to 7s 6d. In 1869 that equated to a day’s pay for a skilled labourer (and Oaks was very far from being one of the those) so this was no cheap shirt.

More importantly I suspect, Mr Arnold recognised Oaks as someone he’d cautioned for being drunk and disorderly previously and so he was hardly likely to believe his version of events over that of a sober and respectable clerk.

The magistrate looked down at the man in the dock and told him ‘he had no doubt this was a piece of wanton mischief’ and for that he was sending him to the house of correction for a month. No fine, no warning, but straight to gaol.

That was a heavy sentence for the relatively trivial ‘crime’ James had committed and it would probably further impair his chances of finding legitimate employment on his release; presuming, of course, that gainful employment was something he wanted.

In the opinion of men like Mr Arnold the likes of Oaks were near-do-well drunks and loafers for whom second (or third) chances were a waste of his time. Better to keep locking them up than bothering to help them find work, or quit drinking. Sadly this attitude continued until well into the next century when social work and probation began to challenge it.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, August 18, 1869]

A close encounter at the theatre sends one ‘very old thief’ back to prison.

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As Daniel Vincer was pushing his way up the crowded stairs of the Victoria Theatre (the ‘Old Vic’ as we know it) he thought he felt his watch move. Reaching to his fob pocket he discovered it was half out and he pressed it firmly in again. Looking around him he noticed a man directly behind him but presumed the timepiece had just come loose in the press of people.

Just second later though he felt the watch leave his pocket. Turning on his heels he saw it in the hand of the same man who was in the process of trying to break it away from its guard. As soon as the thief realized he’d been noticed he fled, with Vincer in pursuit.

The odds favoured the pickpocket but Vincer managed to keep him in sight as they moved through the theatre goers and with the help of one of the venue’s staff, Vincer caught his man.  On Saturday morning, the 13 August 1864, Vincer gave his account of the theft to the sitting magistrate at Southwark Police court.

The thief gave his name as Charles Hartley but Mr Woolrych was told that the felon was an old offender who also used the name Giles. He was, the paper reported, a ‘morose-looking man’ but then again he had just spent a night in the cells and was facing a potential spell in prison, so he’d hardly have been looking chipper.

Had Vincer seen the man actually take his watch, did he have it in his hands? Vincer said he had. ‘He put his hand along the chain’, Vincer explained, ‘and [he] saw the prisoner break it off’. There were so many people on the staircase that Vincer hadn’t be able to stop him doing so, he added.

Hartley denied everything. He’d ditched the watch as he ran and so was prepared to brazen out a story that he was nowhere near the incident.

However, this is where his past indiscretions caught up with him. Stepping forward a police sergeant told the magistrate that Hartly was believed to be a ‘returned transport’. In other words he’d previously been sentenced to transportation to Australia and had either escaped or, much more likely, had served his time and earned a ticket of leave to come home.

‘That’s a lie’, declared Hartley, ‘I never was in trouble before in my life’.

This prompted the Southwark court’s gaoler to step forward and ‘to the prisoner’s mortification’ identify him as a ‘very old thief’. If his worship would just remand him, Downe (the gaoler) insisted he could prove at least 20 previous convictions against him. Not surprisingly then, that is exactly what Mr Woolrych did.

So, did Hartley (or Giles) have a criminal past?

Well the digital panopticon lists a Charles Giles who was born in 1825 who was frst convicted of an offence in 1846 (aged 21). He was accused of forgery at the Old Bailey and sent to Van Diemens Land for 7 years.  He earned a ticket of leave in September 1851 but this was revoked just one year later, on the 13 September.

Could this be the same man? By 1864 he would have been 39 but could have looked older after a life spent in and out of the justice system, and at least two long sea voyages in poor conditions. The gaoler had described him as ‘a very old thief’ but it might have meant he was an experienced offender not an aged one. There are various other Giles’ but none that fit well, and several Charles Hartleys but again none that dovetail with this offence.

When Hartley came back up before Mr Woolrych on the following Friday PC Harrington (32L) gave the results of his investigation into the man’s past. He told the court that the prisoner had indeed been transported and had been in prison several times. By the middle years of the nineteenth century the criminal justice system’s ability to track a criminal’s life history had improved significantly even if it hadn’t developed the forensic tools that modern police investigations depend upon (such as fingerprints and DnA tests).

Sergeant William Coomber (retired) said he recognized Hartley as a man he had helped put away several years ago. According to him the prisoner had been sentenced (at Surrey Assizes) to four months imprisonment in 1851 for a street robbery, before being transported for 7 years in July 1853. He had earned his ticket of leave in January 1857 but attempted to steal a watch and got another 12 months instead.

Mr Woolrych committed him for trial. By 1864 he wouldn’t be transported again so the unfortunate, if serial, offender was looking at a long term in a convict prison.

[from The Standard, Monday, August 15, 1864]

A prisoner who failed to learn his lesson

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When a young woman turned up at Mr Gilson’s fishmongers on New Bond Street asking if he would cash a cheque for her master, the Earl of Bective, he readily agreed. Despite the cheque being for the princely sum of £79 (about £5,000 in today’s money) the earl was a regular customer, and Gilson didn’t want to offend him. He handed over the money and his accountant presented the cheque at the Hanover Square branch of the London and County bank, where his account was.

Unfortunately, the cheque (which was from the National Provident Bank of England, St. Marylebone Branch) bounced, there was no such account he was told. Gilson soon discovered that the signature was a forgery and contacted the police. The case was given to Inspector Peel of the Detective Department (G Division) to investigate and within a few days he had arrested two suspects and was looking for a third.

The two men were presented at the Clerkenwell Police court on the penultimate day of June 1878 and some of the details of the case were disclosed. The court heard that George Farrell, a financial agent living in Leatherhead, and George Hopper, who had been working in Hatton Garden, had met in prison. Both had received a ‘ticket-of-leave’ (early release or parole) and had continued their friendship on the outside.

Prison was (and is) a well-established hatchery for criminal activity; thieves learn from each other and plots and dodges are designed behind bars if men are allowed to associate with one another. This was one of the reasons that the Victorian prison system favoured the silent regime since it was supposed to prevent all communication between convicts.

Hopfer had stolen a blank cheque from his employers, Mendlestam & Co. button manufacturers, of Ely Place, Hatton Garden and it was he who had forged the earl’s signature and had written out the cheque. He was picked up first and detectives were sent to track down Farrell. Detective Wakefield’s enquiries led him to a pub in Leatherhead where he found the fugitive. Farrell turned violent and attempted to escape him but with the help of the local police he was secured and brought back to London.

Farrell’s lodgings were searched and the police found a number of pawn tickets ‘relating to valuable gold articles, diamond rings’ and clothes. They also found two bills of exchange, one for £115, the other for £50, both drawn by Farrell and ‘made payable and accepted by Mr Hatfield Thomas, of 36 Royal Exchange’.

Both men were remanded for further enquiries and the case came to the Old Bailey in August 1878. The duo’s names were given as Hopper and Farrow, not Hopfer and Farrell and there were few other minor differences, but it is the same case. A number of other frauds were cited but the evidence against both men was weak and the jury acquitted them. The police weren’t able to catch the mysterious servant woman who presented the cheque to the fishmonger, and seems to have done a similar task for the gang in other frauds.

Unable to get Farrow for the deception the police were able to bring up his previous conviction. He admitted being convicted of forgery and uttering  in 1871 and so the judge sent him back to prison, this time for 10 years of penal servitude for the offence of receiving the blank cheques (found at his lodgings) from Hopper.

Farrow was born in 1846 and first came up at the Old Bailey in 1871 when he was 25. When he was given a ticket of leave he had served 6 years of a 7 year stretch. He came out of prison on the 30 April 1877 and was back inside by August 1878. He next touches the records in 1901 when he is recorded as having died, in Ipswich at the age of just 55. The prison system was unforgiving, both in its capacity to render convicts unable to find legitimate work on release, and in physically breaking the men and women who were incarcerated.

[from The Morning Post – Monday 1 July 1878]

The perils of unfettered competition: a ‘desperate contention’ in the Mile End Road

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One of the ‘big ideas’ of the late twentieth century was privatization. The principle was that all things are made better by competition. The Conservative government of the 1980s believed in the power of the market to deliver better services more cheaply than the state could. As a result Britain saw the privatization of gas, electricity and water supply, telecommunications, the buses and railways, and a number of other formerly state run concerns (even prisons and, more recently and to seemingly disastrous effect: probation).

In the nineteenth century most of society was run privately however and Britain supposedly thrived on the competition for business that entrepreneurial capitalism provided. Margaret Thatcher’s love of ‘Victorian values’ is well documented and her government looked back to a time when Britain stood on its own two feet at the forefront of world trade and enterprise.

However, while competition is usually healthy we have found that the privatization project doesn’t always bring the benefits we were promised. Our utility bills seem to keep on rising, we are paying more for our television and phone use than ever before, the railways are expensive and more inefficient than ever, and our part privatized prison and probation service is in chaos.

Perhaps the reality of competition is then that sometimes the customer suffers rather than benefits from it, and in this case we can see that very clearly.

One Friday in late June 1843 an elderly man was waiting near the police station house on Mile End Road in the hope of catching an omnibus home. Throughout the 1800s several rival omnibus companies plied their trade throughout the capital and were not averse to some rough or otherwise underhand tactics in their competition for passengers.

Two omnibuses were travelling fast on the Mile End Road and both saw the gentlemen up ahead. As he waived his stick to flag them down the two drivers engaged in a furious dash to reach him first.

Thomas Evans was the owner and driver of his Victoria Stratford ‘bus while James Corney drove an omnibus called Monarch for Mr Giles’s company. Both raced towards the old man watched with growing concern by a pair of police constables who had just left the station house.

Corney was quickest and reached the fare first. Evans was close behind though; so close in fact that the pole of his vehicle nearly ran through the Monarch in the process and an accident was narrowly avoided. Both men leapt down from their buses to try and secure their passenger.

When the incident was tried at the Lambeth Street Police court the policemen testified that:

Here a desperate contention took place as to who should have the passenger, and such was the determination of each, that they actually laid hold of the old gentleman, and dragged him too and fro for some minutes’, only stopping when the police became involved.

Before Mr Norton (the justice), Corney admitted he had been driving too fast but blamed Evans. Evans placed the blame on one of his passengers (‘a gentleman who sat on the box seat stamping violently with his feet and hissing at the driver of the other vehicle’). This had caused his own horses to gallop off he said, and it took a while for him to regain control of them.

Crucially the police gave Corney a good character reference as a ‘careful and steady driver’ but condemned Evans as a frequent offender, and said he’d been fined several times for ‘furious driving’ in the past. The magistrate found fault in both their actions but more in Evans’. He fined Corney 10and the other driver 20. Both paid, Evans with much less good grace however.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, June 24, 1843]

Fishy goings on at South Kensington

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Between May and October 1883 thousands of visitors flocked daily to South Kensington to see what was the largest ever ‘special event’ to staged anywhere in the world ever. In total some 2.6 million people crowded in to the Royal Horticultural Society’s grounds (behind the Natural History museum) to see the International Fisheries Exhibition.

The exhibition housed a huge collection of marine life from all over the globe so we might think of this as the Victorian equivalent of modern Britons tuning in (also in their millions) to watch David Attenborough’s Blue Planet television series on Sunday nights. The Spectator’s report of the exhibition gives a flavour of the event:

there is the tetradon, a knobbly, bladder-shaped creature, used by the Chinese as a lantern, when he has been scooped ; a collection of beautiful shells, and a hammer-headed shark from Formosa’.

The International Fisheries Exhibition, London, 1883

It cost just a shilling to enter the exhibition and there was so much to see that many must have made multiple visits in the five months during which it ran.

One pair of visitors certainly seem to have thought the outlay was worth it but they were engaged in a very different sort of  ‘fishing’.

William Williams and John Nesbett were well-established members of London’s criminal fraternity. It is quite likely that they had been involved in crime in some way of another for the entirety of their lives. Now, heading for the twilight of their lives, they were still at it.

The crowds at South Kensington provided easy pickings for the pair of practised thieves. As men and women pressed themselves up close to the glass of the aquariums to gawp at the strange creatures within Williams and Nesbett took advantage of the cramped conditions to dip pockets and lift purses and jewellery.

However, when they attempted to steal an old gentleman’s watch and chain they were seen. Realising their peril they tried to beat a hasty escape but now the packed halls worked against them and they were nabbed as they tried to escape. On the next day they were presented before Mr Sheil at Westminster Police court.

The men denied doing anything and nothing was found to incriminate them. This was quite normal of course; pickpockets were adept at ditching stolen items so that they could appear ‘clean’ if arrested. A detective appeared to give evidence that they were known offenders and the ‘associates of thieves’, and that was enough for the magistrate to remand them. If they could be shown to have previous convictions that would probably be enough to earn them some more time in prison.

Indeed it was, because we find William Williams in the Middlesex House of Detention records convicted as an ‘incorrigible rogue’ in early July. He was sent to Wandsworth Prison for three months having been committed by Mr Shiel’s colleague Mr Partridge at Westminster on the 27 June. He was 62 years of age. I can’t find Nesbett but he may have given a false name or simply been lucky on this occasion.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, June 07, 1883]

‘He said he would have her life, and break every bone in her body’.

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It took a lot for women to stand up to their husbands in the Victorian period. Theoretically the law protected victims of abuse but this often meant that violent men were fined, bound over to the keep the peace, or imprisoned if they beat their wives or partners. None of these options was ideal for the women involved; two of them directly impacted the family budget and the third was often deemed to be ineffectual. Poor Londoners believed that magistrates could enforce separation orders or sanction a divorce of sorts but this wasn’t in their power however much they might have liked to use it.

This didn’t stop women bringing their partners to court however and throughout the 1800s they came in their droves. One such woman was Mary Norris. Mary was a bricklayer’s wife living in the East End of London. She was probably in her late 30s (as her husband Henry was 40 in 1879) and she was regularly abused and beaten by him.

Women put up with a lot before they went to law. This was very much a last resort because taking your husband to court was a drastic move that often had unwanted consequences. Quite apart from the financial consequences of losing a breadwinner or incurring a fine, or the public shame of admitting that your marriage was in trouble, a woman could expect retribution from her partner immediately or soon after the return to the family home.

So Mary was not only desperate for the abuse to stop she was also brave. She explained to the Worship Street magistrate that Henry had come home on Monday night late from work, having been out drinking for several hours. As soon as he stepped through the door the abuse began.

‘he took up a knife and threatened to stab her; said he would have her life, and break every bone in her body’.

It was nothing new, she told Mr Newton (the magistrate), she

was dreadfully afraid of him doing her some violence, as he had repeatedly beaten and threatened her with the same knife. She went in bodily fear’ she added.

Other witnesses testified to Henry being drunk that night, and to his threats and an officer of the Associate Institute for Improving and Enforcing the Laws for the Protection of Women and Children appeared. Mr Moore stated that he believed Norris already carried a previous conviction for assaulting Mary. This is interesting because it tells us that there were organizations involved in prosecuting violent husbands and father at this time, charities that took on a role that is now performed by social services.

His evidence was confirmed by an officer at the court who said Norris had been up before the justice on four previous occasions, ‘three times sent to prison’, and once bound over. The message was clearly not getting through to him and Mary was still at risk. But there was little the magistrate could do. He ordered the bricklayer to find two sureties to ensure he kept the peace for three months (at £10 each) but Henry refused. He opted for prison and was taken away.

Mary’s best option was to leave him and get as far away as possible, but that was almost impossible. The law would only really act when things had gone too far. If Norris did his wife more serious harm – by wounding or killing her – then he would be locked up for a long time, for life or be executed. Not that those outcomes were likely to be of any use to Mary if she was dead.

[from The Morning Post , Friday, May 21, 1869]