A ‘persevering tormentor’ from Seven Dials

Catherine Johnson was a middle-aged women who lived in court off Long Acre, Covent Garden. In the nineteenth century Covent Garden was a much rougher and poorer district than it is today, containing as it did the notorious rookery of Seven Dials. John Keats described Seven Dials as the place ‘…where misery clings to misery for a little warmth, and want and disease lie down side-by-side, and groan together.’

Dudley street, seven dials: 1872
Gustave Dore. Dudley street, seven dials. Busy street scene with sets of shops which can be seen on the right. The shops are selling shoes which are lining up on the floor around the opening from under the ground. Children and their mothers are in front of them. This image was first published in ‘London, a Pilgrimage’ 1872, on p.158.

In the summer of 1849 Catherine was brought before the magistrate at the City of London’s Guildhall to answer the complaint of a Mr Wheeler, a proctor* whose offices were in Godliman Street (near St Paul’s cathedral).

Wheeler complained that Catherine had forced her way into his offices and had refused to leave unless she was given three sovereigns. It wasn’t the first time Catherine had demanded money from Wheeler, he had (he told the alderman justice) been plagued by her for years.

The pair had been close some 21 years ago but he had ‘ceased all connexion [sic] with her about 17 years back’. Since then she had constantly harangued him for money. She came to his work, stopped him in the street, ‘even watching him to or from his private residence’. She simply would not leave him alone and now he was seeking the protection of the law.

Wheeler said he had given he plenty of money over the years and so had discharged ‘ his obligations’ towards her. He was determined to give her not a penny more he said.One of Wheeler’s clerks supported his employer’s evidence that Catherine was a frequent visitor to the office, even coming in via a private door when refused entry at the front. On this occasion he had been forced to call a policeman to get her taken away.

It is hard not to feel sorry for Catherine and to wonder about the situation she had found herself in. Without knowing what ‘connection’ the pair had had some 20 years previously  it seems likely that they had a relationship of sorts. Did Catherine think they would marry? Did she have a child to support? Was she living in relative poverty in the area of Seven Dials when she might have expected a more fashionable address?

Unsurprisingly the magistrate took the man’s part in this. Alderman Challis bound her over to keep the peace for 3 months, on a bond of £5. She was then released and we have no idea if she kept to the agreement she had made.

*proctor could mean Wheeler was employed by a school or university but it is more likely that he was some sort of solicitor.

[from Daily News, Friday, July 27, 1849]