The reverend William Ogborne was an unexpected occupant of a police court dock when he appeared before Mr Tyrwhitt in early January 1861. The self-declared Wesleyan minister pleaded not guilty to a charge of theft, even when it seemed perfectly clear that he had been caught red-handed.
Miss Alice Coker was taking tea at the Café Reche, Piccadilly in the early hours of Thursday 3 January, and had a small silver wreath with her, which she had placed on the table. At one point she called the waiter over and asked him to look after it for her while she left for a moment (perhaps to ‘powder her nose’).
When she returned and made ready to leave the café the wreath was gone. Looking around she noticed that the older man that had been sitting at a nearby table, dressed a like a cleric, had also vanished. Her suspicions fell on him instantly!
A policeman was called and, armed with a description, PC Luke Jeffery (49C) set off in pursuit. He quickly found Ogborne who was carrying a small rug under his arm, and asked him if he had seen the young lady’s wreath. He said he hadn’t.
PC Jeffery searched the rug but there was nothing there. He then asked Ogborne to remove his hat, which he did. And there it was, concealed inside!
The minister was arrested and he and Miss Coker attended Marlborough Street Police court later that morning.
In court Ogborne protested his innocence: he had overhead an altercation in the café between ‘some foreigners and others’, and he intervened to try and ‘throw oil on troubled waters’. There had been harsh words and ‘talk of swords and pistols’, and ‘a challenge’. In trying to defuse a potential duel he had accidentally knocked the small silver wreath into his hat and hadn’t noticed it as he set it upon his head and left.
The magistrate was surprised that a clergyman should be in such an establishment at 3 in the morning (which begs the question of what sort of young lady Miss Coker was to be there, tout seul, herself). He was equally confused as to why Ogborne had not admitted to having the wreath in his hat when the policeman had searched his rug. The minister simply said he’d gone in for some refreshment and as for the wreath, he had forgotten all about it.
Mr Trywhitt was probably quite conflicted; superficially here was a ‘respectable’ man (a Wesleyan minister) who swore he was innocent but had been found in very suspicious circumstances. Had Ogborne not been a religious person he would undoubtedly have been remanded while the theft was investigated. As it was the magistrate bailed him (set at £5) to reappear before him in a week’s time, and confiscated the wreath. Ogborne, who gave an address in St Albans (at Verulam Road, for those of you curious to know where) presumably left as quickly as he could.
A week later all the parties were back with the addition of a lawyer for Mr Ogborne (a Mr Lewis) and a new witness for the prosecution. PC Jeffrey presented a young woman (no name given, just an address in Pimlico – like Miss Coker) who confirmed the prosecution’s version of events. She agreed there had been an altercation as the minister described but said she saw Ogborne take the wreath while it was happening, and so benefitting from the distraction.
Mr Lewis told the court that there were a number of persons present – gentleman from St Albans – who would show that this was ‘one of those extraordinary circumstances in a man’s lifetime’.
The court must have been on tenterhooks…
Mr Tyrwitt was told that Ogborne had come to London to stay with a friend in Pimlico but had arrived to find there was no bed available. He headed to the Haymarket to find one (odd, since the Haymarket was associated with beds, but not ones you always slept in…). Having secured a birth for the night he went for refreshments.
This explained why he was in the café, his lawyer now explained the supposed theft.
During the mini-riot in the café he noticed the wreath and hid for safe keeping, aiming to return it to the young lady as the earliest opportunity. No one could doubt this, why would such a man steal such a trifle? He would happily produce 20 gentleman who would vouch for his client’s ‘irreproachable character’. He then proceeded to introduce a number of highly respectable members of St Albans ‘society’ (members of the corporation, a hat manufacturer, a clerk to the magistrates) all of who did exactly that.
Mr Tyrwitt agreed with Lewis that it was unlikely that any jury would convict a man of Ogborne’s ‘character’ and that character in this ‘was everything’. But he clearly had his doubts about him and probably suspected him of stealing the wreath, although there was no obvious motive. in the end he let him go with a warning to be more careful in future. I
t probably goes without saying to conclude that had William Ogborne been a member of the working class, and not able to find respectable character witnesses to excuse his behaviour, he would have either have sent him to face trial by jury or (and this is more likely given the disputed evidence) summarily sent him to prison for a month or so at hard labour.
Justice, as they say, isn’t always equal, or fair (then, or now).
[from Morning Chronicle Friday 4 January 1861; Morning Chronicle Friday 11 January 1861]
On 7 March 1887 the readers of the ‘occasional notes’ section of the Pall Mall Gazette were introduced to the ‘wickedest woman in London’, an epithet bestowed on a colourful character who went by several names. In the article she is referred to as Lily Cohen but also ‘Tottie Fay, Lilian Rothschild, Violet St. John, Mabel Gray, Maud Legrand, [and] Lily Levant’.
The writer goes on to add:
‘She is just thirty years of age. It would be interesting to have an accurate biographical and scientific diagnosis of this superlative specimen of human depravity’.
Well I’m not sure I can satisfy all of that request but I thought it might be possible to trace ‘Tottie Fay’ through the courts in the pages of the newspaper archive. And, I’m glad to say, she appears quite frequently.
In March Tottie (or Lily) had been sent to prison for a month, officially for being ‘disorderly’ but in reality for being one of the capital’s many prostitutes. Indeed ‘Tottie’ was described as the ‘wickedest woman in London’ by the magistrate. Millbank Prision, where he sent her, was an awful place to be incarcerated; damp, frequently flooded by the nearby Thames, and considered only fit to house short-term prisoners by this time. It was closed just three years later (in 1890) demolished thereafter to make way for the new National Gallery of British Art (now the Tate).
In her appearance at Marlborough Street Police court in March 1887 the sitting justice, Mr Mansfield, noted that she ‘had more than once perjured herself by making false accusations against men, and had for a ling time persisted in a life of vice and crime’. He regretted that he was only allowed to send her away for a month or fine her 40s. Since she didn’t have the money, off to gaol she went.
If that was supposed to teach her a lesson it failed. Not that we should be surprised by this. It seems Tottie had been in and out of prison on several occasions before 1887 and had probably been up ‘before the beak’ too many times to count. Offenders like her knew that the best strategy was not to be caught too many times in the same place and set before the same magistrate. If you became ‘known’ to the police and the magistracy your chances of avoiding heavy fine and/or prison were slim indeed.
In January 1889 Tottie was back at Marlborough Street but this time Mr Hannay was in the chair. He’d not encountered her before which gave her the opportunity to try and convince him that she was victim of a malicious prosecution and police brutality.
By this time the paper noted that she had acquired several new aliases, taking he rally past 20, and adding Blanche Herbert, Florence Larade, and Amy St Clair to those listed earlier. She was charged with being ‘drunk and riotous in Piccadilly’ on the New Year’s Eve. She was dressed smartly, if in a rather ‘gaudy dress’, suggesting that she looked like a ‘woman of the town’, a West End prostitute not one of her poorer East End sisters.
She’d been arrested at the Bath Hotel on Piccadilly after the proprietor had thrown her out for her disreputable behaviour. He testified that Tottie had been ‘running undressed all over the hotel’. When approached she locked herself in a room and refused to come out. The door was forced and she was dragged out and led away by the police. It seems she’d been using a room there to meet clients, on this occasion a West End gentleman (who didn’t appear in court).
She protested her innocence and complained about her treatment:
‘Even the chambermaids shed tears when they saw a lady like me being taken away by a rough policeman’, she told the magistrate. ‘I am truly innocent, although I have been here lots of times. Do give me a chance and I shall give up this unhappy life’,
‘I will go into a servants’ home, a monastery, or even to America – anywhere in the world if you will let me go’.
She pleaded with the justice, imploring him that she was a ‘poor motherless orphan, a real young lady, whose mother lies in her grave’.
‘Do let me go, and you shall never see me again. Oh, do! do! do!’
She might have saved her breath because Mr Hannay fined her 40s or another month inside.
It did no good.
In April that year the ‘irrepressible Tottie’ was back up before Mr Hannay. The court reporter noted that she’d been at Marlborough Street so many times that they had a special book just to record all her appearances.
Again the charge was disorderly behaviour, this time with drunkenness. She’d been arrested in St James’ Square after a large crowd had gathered to hear her tell a sad story about the death of her mistress. A policeman arrived having been alerted by a reports of a woman ‘misbehaving herself’.
She was dressed in her finery in court: ‘a cream-coloured bodice trimmed with lace, a black shirt, and a large dress-improver’ (which was too large for the dock so became ‘much disarranged’). Over her gloves she wore five rings.
Again she claimed to be ‘a lady’ and complained about the rough way the policeman had treated her. She admitted to having a drink but only because she was so upset at the loss of a woman who had been ‘just like a mamma in every respect’. Hannay fined her 40s with the option of prison if she couldn’t pay.
In June Tottie was back again. But now she gave her age as 22 (shaving a decade off if the other reports are accurate), and was calling herself Lily de Terry with an address in Grosvenor Square. PC Evans (316F) had arrested her on the 8th June 1889 after he found her with a crowd around her protesting that someone had stolen her purse.
She was ‘very drunk’ and as he questioned her she tried to get away, saying ‘Oh, I have got it now, thank you’. When he stopped her she gave him a mouthful of verbal abuse and threw herself to the floor. He and another constable removed her and, the next day, she was brought up before Mr De Rutzen who questioned her. Tottie gave a very similar tale of being a lady, not being guilty, apologizing, and promising not to err in future. This magistrate took pity and gave her a small fine or a day in gaol by default . She tanked him with a ‘heaven bless you!’ and was removed.
By now she was so famous that the Illustrated Police News even included an artist’s impression of her arrest.
In August the ‘stylishly-dressed’ and ‘so well known’ Tottie Fay was in court at Westminster accused, under the name of Mabel Granville (22) with using obscene language. PC Orebard (220B) was called to a pastrycook’s shop on Belgrave Street after she’d refused to pay for her purchases of ‘two pots of tea, four eggs, and a considerable quantity of bread’. She was drunk and her language was ‘shocking’. Mr D’Eyncourt ignored her (now well worn sob story) and fined her 14s or 14 days imprisonment.
I suspect she paid that fine because within a few weeks she was back in court, this time at Bow Street. A Mr Armstrong testified that Tottie had tried ‘to push into his house’ and was ‘otherwise molesting him’. Once again she was well dressed, with ‘a profusion of rings’, and presented herself in what one paper described as ‘her usual simpering semi-hysterical manner’. The court ordered her to find two sureties of £20 each for her ‘good behaviour for six months’. A tall order one imagines.
That was not the end of Tottie, in April 1890 she was back at Marlborough Street (as Dolly Leblane) where she was remanded on a charge of drunk and disorderly. Sergeant Brewer, the court’s gaoler, told Mr Newton that this was Tottie’s 31stappearance in court. She’d racked up well over 31 by May that year, appearing on a simailr charge having been arrested ‘amongst a lot of disorderly women’ in Piccadilly and telling the same story about her ‘mamma’ having ‘brought her out and lost her’. Sergeant Brewer not totaled her charges at 45 and gave Mr Newton (and us) some background to her story.
‘Her father was a costermonger’, the gaoler explained. ‘and for many years he resided in the Seven Dials, and was a member of the gang known as “The Forty Thieves,” ‘.
At this Tottie spoke up from the dock.
‘Oh, how can you say so? If I am a gay woman [i.e a prostitute] , you have no right to say that I am not a lady’.
She was remanded, as charges of theft were also alleged. He asked for a plain clothes officer to ‘see what he can find out’. On the 18 May she was up again charged with stealing clothes from a Mrs Green valued at £2. Her criminal career was catching up with her and Mr Newton was determined that ‘I must be stopped’. He committed her for a jury trial; things were getting ominous for Tottie.
On the 27 May 1890 Tottie (as Dolly Le Blanc) was tried at Clerkenwell Green in the London County Sessions on a charge of stealing with intent to defraud. She claimed to be an actress at the Alhambra Theatre but the manager appeared to deny this was the case. Her fantasies continued, and she wove an elaborate story of taking a train from Paris, having breakfast with her daughter, forgetting her luggage at Victoria and denying both charges of stealing clothes and food. Despite a ‘tearful appeal to the Court’ the jury convicted her and she was sent to prison for six months with hard labour.
That ought to have been the end of it but she appears again, several times in 1891 (in April at Marlborough Street for example, charged with fraud and theft). This time a pen portrait of Tootie by the artists ‘P.I.P’ was reproduced in the Illustrated Police News alongside a lengthy account of her life and crimes. In May she was on trial for obtaining goods by false pretenses and sentenced to 12 months. She gave her name as Dorothy Le Blanc and the court recorded her age as 42. The papers referred to its as her ‘temporary retirement’.
In September, while the real Tottie Fay languished in prison a stage comedy focused on a police court included her as a ‘notorious’ character, ‘creating hearty laughter and applause’. I’m not sure Tottie would have liked that. She might have enjoyed the attention but I think she really did see herself as a victim of a hard life and a society which didn’t support her. She had a great sense of self-respect despite her drinking, evidenced by her desire always to look as glamorous as she could. As she went from being a high-class prostitute to a drunk reduced to stealing small amounts of food and drink, she also fell foul of the criminal justice system.
1891 wasn’t the last time Tottie Fay appeared in court but, for now, it is where I am going to leave her. Not perhaps the ‘wickedest women’ in London but perhaps one of the most colourful.
It is hard not to like her.
[from The Pall Mall Gazette, Monday 7 March, 1887; Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Saturday 12 March, 1887; Birmingham Daily Post, Wednesday 2 January 1889; Portsmouth Evening News, April 9 1889; Illustrated Police News, 22 June 1889; Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 20 August 1889; Reynolds’s Newspaper, 25 August 1889; Morning Post, 3 September 1889; Reynolds’s Newspaper, 8 September 1889; Portsmouth Evening News, April 26 1890; Cornishman, 1 May 1890; Lloyd’s Illustrated Newspaper, 11 May 1890; Sheffield Evening Telegraph19 May 1890; Morning Post, 28 May 1890; The Standard, 11 April 1891; Illustrated Police News, 25 April 1891; Daily News, 7 May 1891; The Vaudeville, 12 September 1891.
Nineteenth-century St Giles
The reporter from Reynold’s newspaper, or his editor, captioned George Skinner’s behavior as ‘EXTRAORDINARY CONDUCT’.
Skinner, a 39 year-old resident of south London was brought before Mr Chance at Lambeth Police court charged with being drunk. It wasn’t his first appearance in court and had only recently been released from prison where he’d served a month inside for being an ‘habitual drunkard’.
On this occasion Skinner had presented himself at the desk of Gypsy Hill Police station, telling the sergeant that he was responsible for a murder that took place 13 years earlier. The station inspector sat him down and took a statement from him. He confessed to killing a ‘woman named Jackson’ in 1863 but when he was handed the statement to sign, he refused.
He was ‘very drunk’ when he spoke to the police and subsequent enquiries had ‘ascertained that the prisoner had before given himself up at Bow Street in a similar manner’.
But had a woman named Jackson been murdered in 1863, the magistrate asked? Indeed they had.
Sergeant 4ER gave evidence that a woman named Jackson had been murdered in George Street, Bloomsbury in 1863 and that in 1870 George Skinner had confessed to the crime. The police had investigated his confession however, and found it to be false.
Whoever had killed Ms Jackson the police didn’t believe it was Skinner, even if he seemed to. Mr Chance turned to the prisoner and told him that he had acted in a ‘most disgraceful manner’, presumably by being drunk and wasting police time. What had he to say for himself?
‘Commit me for trial’, Skinner replied. ‘I don’t care what you do. Let it go for trial’.
‘Let what go for trial?’, the magistrate demanded to know.
‘Send me for trial as an habitual drunkard. You know you can do it if you like. That’s the law’.
Mr Chance may well have had considerable discretionary power in 1880 but he could hardly send someone before a jury for being a drunk, however annoying the man’s behaviour was. Instead he was able to send him back to prison and/or fine him and this is what he did. Skinner, described as an able if ‘lazy’ shoemaker, was fined 20s and told if he did not pay up he would go to prison for 14 days at hard labour.
‘Only fourteen days for confession of a murder?’ Skinner quipped, ‘All right’.
In April 1863 a carpenter was charged at Bow Street with the murder of an Emma Jackson in St Giles. The court was crowded as the locals clearly felt this was the killer. They were mistaken however, as the police quickly established that the man confessing to murder, John Richards (a 31 year old carpenter) was, like Skinner, a drunken fantasist. He had confessed whilst drunk but later retracted and the magistrate, a Mr Broddick, warned him but let him go without further penalty.
The murder of Emma Jackson excited ‘intense interest in the miserable neighbourhood in which it took place’, Reynold’s had reported at the time. As a result the tavern where the inquest was held was as crowded at the police court where Richards was examined a few days later. St Giles was a notoriously poor area (below), on a par with Whitechapel and Southwark in the 1800s, and a byword for degradation and lawlessness.
Emma was murdered in a brothel, although it was also described as a lodging house; in some respects it was hard to discern much difference between the two. Jackson had arrived there with a client (a man wearing a cap was all the description the landlady could manage) and asked for a room for two hours.
It was a very brutal murder, there was blood everywhere, but no sign of the killer. Perhaps it was intensity of this murder and the lack of a suspect that prompted some disturbed individuals to confess to it, just as several people confessed to being the Whitechapel murderer in 1888. That they were drunk when they did so might also indicate that they ware suffering from a form of mental illness, understood today but not in the 1800s.
Skinner had confessed to a murder in 1863 in Bloomsbury, Jackson was killed in St Giles, which is near enough to allow it to be the same murder.
[from Reynold’s Newspaper, Sunday 7 March 1880; Daily NewsThursday 23 April, 1863; Reynold’s Newspaper, Sunday 19 April 1863 ]
Just after nine o’clock on Wednesday morning, 8 January 1884, a man’s dead body was recovered from a reservoir at Stoke Newington. George Jaggers, employed by the New River Company, had dredged the reservoir after several personal items had been found nearby by a group of boys and two men walking to work. The objects, which included a hat, coat, ‘a pearl pin, an earring, a watch key, a bar of gold, a watch chain’ plus some money, were formally identified as belonging to a Mr John Broome Tower.
At a coroner’s inquest held at the vestry hall in Stoke Newington several witnesses testified to finding the possessions of Broome Tower in the vicinity of the reservoir, which was situated (as it is now) north of Lordship Park, in the space between Green Lanes and the Seven Sisters Road.
The hat and coat had been seen first by William Palmer, an engineer’s assistant, who saw them as he went to work for the New River Company on the Tuesday. At 8 o’clock, as he came back for his breakfast he saw two policeman carrying them and went over to tell them he’d seen them earlier that morning. Palmer lived in Queen Elizabeth’s Walk which ran down from the reservoir at Lordship Road, then along the edge of Clissold Park to the rear of St Mary’s old church on Church Street.
In Booth’s late 1890s map of the area the top end of the Walk is not mapped or categorized at all, the project not covering the very north of the capital. Around the old church, where there was a mortuary near Edwards Lane and Meadow Street, the housing was poor and coloured blue, but the properties along Queen Elizabeth’s Walk were comfortably red. There were pockets of pink on the map above Clissold Park but Lordship Park and the other streets bordering the pumping station on Green Lanes were solid red in colour.
Detective Inspector Glass of CID told the inquiry that his men had found footprints and other marks close to the reservoir and had made casts of them. George Jaggers explained that the water was about 6 foot deep where he found the body and that the edge sloped down from the top. He did not think someone could have thrown a dead body in from the top, he would have had to enter the water as well if the intention was to cover it sufficiently so it was hidden.
The coroner said that on the information they had heard thus far ‘there was no doubt that the young man had been murdered’. He said the likeliest theory was that Broome Tower had been attacked, dragged into the eater, strangled and drowned. The jury recorded a verdict of ‘willful murder against some person or person unknown’.
John Broome Tower had not been seen since New Year’s Eve and his disappearance was followed by that an unnamed young woman, the press reported. The police were trying to trace her whereabouts as they wanted to question her in relation to the man’s death. As of the 12 January 1884 however, they were clueless and the papers were describing the discovery of a body in the reservoir as the ‘Stoke Newington Murder’.
Broome Tower was buried at Abney Park Cemetery in a service that was attended by a small number of people, including Miss Alice Drage, who had identified most of the items found as belonging to the deceased, his mother and father, and his old school master. In the late 1890s the cemetery, which still lies behind Church Street had a small female prison at its southeast corner. This was the London Female Penitentiary which later became the London Female Guardian society, and housed ‘fallen women’ (Victorian and Edwardian code for prostitutes).
Was John Broome Tower murdered, or did he take his own life? I’ll continue my investigations and let you know.
[from The Herald, Saturday, January 12 1884)
It was probably quite an embarrassing appearance in court for Mr Chamberlain. On Saturday, November 13 1858 he was out late in Bridgewater Gardens in the City, and on his way home. He’d had a lot to drink but thought he was in control of himself (don’t we all!)
Two women approached him on the street and asked him if they’d like to ‘treat them to some gin’. This was a common enough solicitation by prostitutes and there is little doubt that Chamberlain, a musician by trade, understood this. He took them up on the offer and the trio headed for Spurgeon’s public house where they drank together.
Some time afterwards they all left the pub and the women (he says) dragged him reluctantly across the square. Having got him into a dark corner of the gardens two men rushed up and robbed him while the women held him and unbuttoned his clothes. He tried to resist but one of the women hit him in the face and knocked him down. He lost a fob watch in the process.
At least this is the story he told the Guildhall Police court magistrate Alderman Lawrence. Only one defendant was in court to hear the charge. Mary Blake had been picked up by police at a pub in Goswell Street the following day, but denied any knowledge of the crime. She had been in Bridgewater Gardens that evening but hadn’t met with the prosecutor.
Her lawyer said it was a case of mistaken identity and Chamberlain, who was by his admission drunk at the time, was an unreliable witness. The alderman was inclined to agree but Blake was a ‘bad character’ and reportedly ran a brothel so he decided to remand her in custody to see him more evidence could be found in the meantime.
It doesn’t look like any more evidence was forthcoming because there’s no record of a trial or prosecution for Mary. This is hardly surprising; this sort of encounter was common and very hard to prosecute successfully. Without the watch being found on Mary, with the victim effectively admitting he’d chosen to go for a drink with known prostitutes, and his drunken state (which impaired both his judgment and his ability to make a clear identification of the culprits), no jury would have convicted her.
[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, November 16, 1858]
Amongst the most common crimes that women were accused of at the summary courts was picking pockets. Female offenders appear in greater numbers (and larger proportions) for these property offences than nearly all others – shopflifting being the obvious other one.
Picking pockets is an indirect, non-violent crime, one that involves dexterity and stealth, rather than strength and bravado. It required the perpetrator to get close to his or her victim and, to some extent at least, to not seem like a threat. Pickpockets chose crowds or tightly packed spaces like omnibuses or train carriages, and victims that were unsuspecting, like drunks in bars.
Female thieves were also often, like Elizabeth Smith, prostitutes who were well connected with the criminal networks they either needed to sell on stolen items or to retreat within to hide when the law was after them. Picking pockets was risky; if you were caught and it could be proved you’d stolen items of value you could be sent to prison. If you had previous convictions that could mean a lengthy sentence.
However, there was also a reasonable chance that you would get away with it, especially if you had an accomplice. It was pretty standard practice for a thief to ‘dip’ a pocket and pass the stolen items on to a nearby assistant who’d make away wit them. When the thief was apprehended a search would reveal nothing at all making it hard to gain a conviction.
Not all pickpockets were subtle however, and not all eschewed violence.
In late October 1860 Elizabeth Smith was brought before the magistrate at Lambeth Police court charged with robbery with violence, a much more serious offence than pickpocketing. By all accounts Smith had been picking pockets in a beer shop in Lambeth, Walker’s on the Marshgate.
Edwin Oliver, a master boot and shoemaker was enjoying a glass of stout after work when he saw Smith trying to separate a drunken man from his possessions. He strode over to the couple and intervened, getting a mouthful of abuse from Elizabeth for his pains.
Some time later he left the shop and was making his way towards hoe when he felt a blow on his head and was knocked to the ground. The blow was accompanied by a woman’s voice (Elizabeth’s he believed) saying:
‘There you ______, take that!’
Oliver passed out and when he was helped up later his head was bloody and his pockets had been rifled. He reckoned he had lost between 15 and 18 shillings in coin.
It took a day but the police picked up Elizabeth and she was remanded while Oliver recovered from his wounds. When she came before the magistrate she said little. The justice established from Oliver that she might have had a male accomplice, perhaps her ‘bully’ (or pimp), and so it may have been him that thumped the shoemaker. Elizabeth was committed for trial by jury.
[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, October 29, 1860]
Clerkenwell Prison , c.1862
PC William Warren (208N) was perambulating his beat when he saw a man and a woman leant up against the railings at the corner of Nelson Place on the City Road. The pair were arguing and when the man saw the officer he called out to him. He gave his name as John Stourton and claimed the woman had picked his pocket, stealing his purse and half a sovereign. Warren arrested the woman and took her back to the station.
Since a search there revealed nothing PC Warren retracted his steps and searched the areas around the railings. There he found the purse close to where the pair had been standing. It had clearly been dropped by the thief as soon as she’d seen the officer appear.
The woman’s name was Elizabeth Lewis but she was more commonly known as ‘broken-nosed Liz’, and was a notorious thief. A ‘well known nymph of the pave’ as Reynolds’s Newspaper described her, Liz had a string of previous convictions. PC Barker (124N) told the magistrate that she had served six months for stealing a watch in 1859, three years for a similar offence in in May 1860 and had committed two like offences since she’d got out of goal.
Whilst the case showed up Liz as an old offender it didn’t too much for Stourton’s reputation either. The court heard that the stonemason, a married man with children, had picked up Liz in the street after she had asked him to buy her a drink. It was a common enough ploy for women soliciting prostitution and having had a drink she told the justice that Stourton then went with her to a nearby house ‘for an immoral purpose’. She denied stealing anything and was trying to undermine her accuser by pointing out his own, less than respectable, character.
It didn’t work in front of Mr Barker who committed her to take her trial at the in due course. She was brought to the Middlesex quarter sessions on the 17 October where the jury convicted her and she was given yet another sentence of penal servitude, this time for seven years. Her previous convictions really counted against her here, as the system punished her severely for not learning her lesson.
In reality of course there was little hope for someone like Liz. At 35, with a history of prostitution and crime and little hope of finding work she was condemned to repeating her actions and lifestyle until poverty, the cold or an angry punter ended her miserable existence.
[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, October 9, 1864]
Indecent assault takes many forms, and in the rather staid newspaper reports of the 1800s, detail is rarely given. This case therefore is a little unusual in that we do discover what happened to make one woman bring a prosecution against her abuser.
Anne Green (whom the paper was at pains to point was a ‘respectable woman’) was waiting for her husband in Newgate Street. She was standing with her back to a lamppost and perhaps in Henry Branson’s inebriated state she have seemed ‘fair game’.
It was 10 o’clock at night, she was under a gaslight and maybe he mistook her for a prostitute. That doesn’t excuse his actions however. To Anne’s horror she suddenly felt Brandon’s cold palms on her knees and his knelt behind her and ran his hands up inside her dress.
She fought him off, grabbed him and called for the police. Branson swore at her and when her husband arrived he challenged him to a fistfight in the street. A policeman was soon on the scene and as he tried to arrest the man Branson’s rage increased and he struck out at the copper as well. He told anyone that would listen that he would happily ‘be hung for such scoundrel’ as he was dragged off to the nick.
In front of Alderman Challis at the Guildhall Police court Branson denied all of it. ‘It is all false’, he said, ‘I merely pushed accidentally against her’. He claimed that the indecent assault was a fabrication added at the police station by vindictive police officers. He was a married man, he added, as if that proved he could not possibly have done such a thing.
The alderman was not inclined to believe him and thought the whole case was ‘very gross’. He was minded to send him for trail where he might get a year’s imprisonment if convicted. However, he decided instead to summarily convict him and told him he would send him ‘for one month to the treadmill’, meaning he would go to prison with hard labour.
[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, October 9, 1864]