The mad lady and the Queen

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In 1871 Queen Victoria had been on throne for 34 years. Her husband Albert had been dead for a decade and she was yet to adopt the title of Empress of India. Victoria had a big influence on her subjects but her withdrawal from much of public life following the loss of her consort increasingly isolated her from public affection. 1870 had seen the overthrow of the French monarchy and the creation of the Third Republic, dark echoes in England called for a similar revolution, one that never transpired. In late November Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, fell ill with typhoid (probably the same disease that had killed his father) and Victoria must have feared she would lose him as well.

Meanwhile, for ordinary Londoners life went on as usual. The ‘widow of Windsor’ was almost an abstract concept since she’d ducked out of view but her name, and what she symbolised, mattered  considerably.

It certainly mattered to an elderly seamstress called Mrs Lyons. She told the magistrate at Clerkenwell that she had been promised work by her Majesty but ‘court intrigues’ were preventing her from pursuing it. Mrs Lyons lived off the Caledonian Road in north London, close to where the new St Pancras terminal was being constructed. She was poor and in ‘want of money’ she explained, but was confident that with the queen’s patronage she would be fine.

Sadly Mrs Lyons was not very well; she suffered from some form of mental illness, as a police inspector told Mr Cooke, the justice sitting on her case at Clerkenwell Police Court.

‘About two years since the poor woman began to get strange at times in her speech, said that her room was full of rats, that she had an interview with the Queen and members of the royal family, and that her Majesty had promised her money, but that she was prevented from getting it by court intrigues’ .

He went on to say that up until recently Mrs Lyons had lived quietly but in the last few months her condition had worsened and she had started threatening people, including her landlady. A doctor had been called to examine her and he’d declared she was ‘not right in her head’ and she’d been carried off to Islington workhouse. From there she was to be sent to the Colney Hatch Asylum, Europe’s largest such institution.

She had left her room with rent arrears and her landlady was refusing to give her sister leave to take away her sibling’s few possessions until that was paid. Mr Cooke said he was glad the woman was now in safe hands (although I’m not sure I’d consider being in the ‘care’ of a Victorian asylum ‘safe’. I suppose he might have meant the public were safe from her). He ordered the court to pay the arrears so she could be reunited with her ‘things’ and dismissed the case.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, November 28, 1872]

for another story that features Queen Victoria see: “Let me see the Queen, I know who the ‘Ripper’ is!”

 

The odds are stacked against a young wife at the mercy of her cruel and abusive husband

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This week my undergraduate students at Northampton have been looking at marital violence in history. I’ve set them reading by a variety of historians that will (hopefully) allow them to look at the way spousal abuse was perpetrated and prosecuted in the 18th and 19th centuries. Much of it was predicated on the prevailing ideology of patriarchy.

English society in the 1800s was fundamentally male dominated. Men held all the positions of power (save one, that of monarch after 1837) and women were effectively excluded from most decision-making.

All the Police Court magistrates I write about were men, as were all the judges and jurors at the Old Bailey. Policeman were exclusively male, most other parish officials were men, and almost all senior employers were male as well. In the household the man was dominant too; while the ‘rule of thumb’ can be over-stressed men did have (or believed they had) the right to discipline their wives and children if they thought it necessary.

Police Court magistrates dealt with a huge amount of domestic violence, nearly all of it directed at the wives or common-law partners of working-class males. Men like James Bridgeman clearly believed they were entitled to hit their wives. This had been instilled in them from childhood as they witnessed their fathers beating their mothers for the most trivial of reasons. Often the men were drunk and simply resented being questioned as to the time they were coming in. On other occasions they complained about the food they’d been presented with, or about how long they’d had to wait to get it.

Abuse was frequent but women less frequently did much about it. Some fought back and London women were a tough lot by most accounts. But the scales were hardly balanced and years of abuse took its toll. Some wives fled, others were cowed and suffered up in silence. A few took their husbands before a magistrate, often hoping he would give them a divorce. It was a forlorn hope; justices had no power to permanently separate married couples.

Many, presented with the choice of seeing their abusive husband go to prison for beating them chose instead to take them back, fearing worse punishment if they didn’t or a worsening of their economic situation (and that of their children) if he was ‘sent down’. A ‘bad’ husband was sometimes better than no husband at all some must have reckoned.

James Bridgeman was a ‘bad husband’. He beat his young wife often despite them being relatively newly wed. He had spent two ‘unhappy years’ married to Ellen, as she told the Police Court magistrate at Clerkenwell. Then, one day in November 1884 things got worse.

On the 10 November they quarrelled and Ellen left to go back to her mother in Elsted Street, Walworth. On the next morning James turned up at his mother-in-law’s house and asked Ellen to come back to the family home in Newington Causeway.

She refused and he asked her if she would at least go to court to ‘get a separation’. ‘No, I have not got time’ was her reply. The next thing she felt was a sharp pain in her neck as her husband stepped her with his clasp knife.

The witnesses that saw the attack or saw him before he stabbed her said the knife was already open; he had intended this violence or anticipated her rejection at least. She was saved by the appearance of her mother and another man who pulled Bridgeman off her.

As James ran off, Ellen was taken to the police station where her wound was dressed. Soon afterwards James gave himself up at the station and Ellen charged him with the attack on her. In court before the Clerkenwell magistrate Ellen deposed that he had threatened her when he visited her at her mother’s.

He told her: ‘If you don’t live with me, I’ll do for you’.

The magistrate first remanded him then committed him for trial at the Old Bailey. There Bridgeman tried to claim that his wife stayed out late and was ‘living an immoral life’. It was an easy slur to make and Ellen vehemently denied it.

He also tried to argue that it was an accident, that Ellen had walked into him as he was using his knife to trim his nails. She had a inch deep cut in her neck and bruising around her throat where he had grabbed her.  Bridgeman had told the police and the magistrate that he acted as he had because he was entitled to do so, and this was reported in court.

Why had he stabbed her?

‘Only for her stopping out all night as she has done I should not have done what I have done’, was his defence.

It was the defence of all violent abusive men in the 1800s. The jury found him guilty of lesser offence than that with which he was charged. He was young (just 22) and the judge respited sentence. In the end he seems to have gone unpunished, no record exists that I can find of any sentence, so maybe some leniency was shown to him. The fact that the police surgeon didn’t think Ellen’s wounds were ‘dangerous’, and she recovered soon afterwards probably helped his cause. And the fact that the jury was male and he had publicly accused her of being a disobedient spouse.

I hope that ultimately she escaped him, because the chances are that such a brutish man would be quite prepared to make good on his threat in the future.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, November 23, 1884]

A sharp eyed copper helps foil a dog napper

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Queen Victoria’s Skye terriers, by Otto Weber (1874)

In recent years there have been a spate of dog thefts in London and elsewhere. Like many crimes I’ve written about on this blog about the past, nothing is very new about this. Pets (particularly pedigree dogs) have a value and that makes them vulnerable to theft.

In August 1883 PC Webb was in plain clothes as he walked along Chiswick High Road. He may or may not have been on duty but his police intelligence was certainly working keenly. He noticed a a young man driving a horse and van and a little Skye terrier seated next to him on the cab. A Skye terrier was not your ’57 varieties’ of mongrel hound usually owned by the working classes, in fact Queen Victoria famously owned a pair, and so the policeman decided to follow at a distance.

Presently the man pulled up outside a beershop, picked up the dog and gestured to a man inside. Did he want to to buy the animal he asked him? ‘No’, came the reply. Was he sure the carter asked; he could have him for 2s 6d, which was a good price, he having paid 2s for it himself.

The beershop owner wasn’t interested. So he moved on to a barber’s shop and tried to sell it there. Again he got no interest and at this point PC Webb revealed himself and asked the man who he was and where he’d got the dog.

The man’s gave his name as George Cole and reiterated that he’d bought the animal that morning for 2s. PC Webb didn’t believe it and took him, and the little terrier, into custody. On the next day man Cole and his dog were brought before Mr Paget at Hammersmith Police court where the prisoner repeated his claim. The magistrate remarked that he thought the dog was likely lost or stolen and so would be advertised, for the real owner to claim him. In the meantime he remanded Cole in custody for further enquiries. The dog was given to the police to look after.

[from Morning Post, Monday 13 August 1883]

Skinny-dipping in the Serpentine: Two brothers end up in hot water as they try to beat the capital’s heatwave.

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I imagine that you, like me, are suffering from this prolonged bout of hot weather. The British trend to grumble whatever the weather of course; it is either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, rarely ‘just right’. But weather like this is causing problems, from moorland fires and potential crop shortages, to increased levels of pollution and higher mortality rates. Now perhaps, skeptics are waking up to the idea that global warming is a reality and not just scaremongering by environmentalists and climate change experts.

This year is not exceptional however, we’ve had heatwaves before. In 1976 temperatures sored to 35.9C, in 1990 they topped 37C in Cheltenham. There were similar heatwaves when the temperature reached the mid 30s: in July 1933, August 1932, July 1923 and August 1911 but this one may be one of the most sustained.

What do people do when the weather gets so hot? Well in July 1900, at the tail end of Victoria’s reign, two brothers decided to cool off by going for a swim in the Serpentine. However, their actions scandalized the public and so the pair found themselves up before the magistrate at Marlborough Street Police court.

Reginald Ingram, a 32 year-old medical practitioner, and his brother Malcolm (25) lived at the same address in Pimlico. On Tuesday 24 July they were seen swimming in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Not only was it against the rules of Royal Park to swim or bathe in the lake at that time and place, the men were also stark naked!

Police constable 74D was called to the incident and witnessed the men running ‘about in a nude condition’. He arrested them, secured their clothes, and ferried them to the nearest police station where they were charged.

Both men pleaded guilty to swimming in the lake but said they were unaware that they’d broken the regulations, not realizing that bathing was prohibited in certain areas of the lake. Ignorance of course, is no defense in law and Mr. Denman fined the brothers 40each for their offence.

I’m a little surprised he didn’t add an extra penalty for indecency, but perhaps that is making assumptions that the late Victorians were more obsessed with decorum than they were. Regardless, their attempt to cool down by skinny dipping in a public park had landed them in hot water.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, July 25, 1900]

A returning ‘hero’ is given the benefit of the doubt

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The Battle of Magdala, 1868

When PC William Towsey of the City constabulary turned into Bishopsgate Churchyard on his beat he saw a man and young girl on Alderman’s Walk opposite. It was 10 at night and the man was dressed in a soldier’s uniform while the little girl appeared to be about ten years of age. She also seemed uncomfortable in the man’s company and to be trying to get away from him. When he saw the soldier assault her, he quickly moved towards them and seized the man.

PC Towsey took the pair back to the police station but there the girl took advantage of her attacker incapacitation and escaped, running out into the night. The next morning the constable and his prisoner appeared at the Mansion House Police court in front of the incumbent Lord Mayor.

Thomas Nidlet was stood in the dock and accused of being drunk and committing an assault on the girl. There are no details given the newspaper report so we don’t know what sort of assault this was, or who the girl was. Nidlet said he was from the 33rd regiment of foot and that he had arrived back from Abyssinia, landing in Portsmouth just over a month ago. He’d been on furlough for a month and had come to the capital.

Nidlet had been at the police station before that evening; at around 8 he’d turned up, a little tipsy, with ‘a gentleman’ and had enquired about a place to stay.  The mysterious gentleman had given the soldier a sovereign, on the strength of him producing a payment order for £5, presumably his accumulated wages. By the time of the incident at the churchyard Nidlet was reportedly very drunk, so he and the other man had seemingly been drinking heavily for another couple of hours.

The Lord Mayor asked the soldier if he knew the man’s name and address. He did but the newspaper didn’t record it. This almost satisfied the magistrate but he wanted to hear from this potential witness so he remanded Nidlet for a few days but indicated that he would discharge him after that. As he gave his judgment the Lord Mayor advised the soldier to return to his regiment as soon as possible, to avoid any further trouble in the capital.

I do wonder at this story. Who was the little girl? Was she one of the capital’s homeless street children? Was the soldier’s attempted assault sexual? What role did the gentleman play in all of this, and was he even a ‘gentleman’? The mystery must remain unsolved however, as that is the last time he troubles history in the capital. After this report he disappears without a trace.

The 33rd regiment (West Yorkshire) of foot had been commanded by the Duke of Wellington and after the duke’s death in 1852 Queen Victoria recognized their association with  the nation’s greatest land commander by renaming them the 33rd(or Duke of Wellington’s Regiment). In 1868 the 33rdwere sent to Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) to effect a rescue of some British, European and native hostages that were held by Emperor Tewodros II. Despite the later release of the Europeans Tewodros’ refusal to accept surrender terms led to an assault on the fortress of Magdala (now Amba Mariam) and its seizure. Although the force was described as Britsih it was mostly made up of Indian troops and was commanded by General Sir Robert Napier, from the Royal Engineers.

It was an incredible expedition, involving a 400-mile march over challenging terrain. Napier built 20 miles of railway, a harbor and warehouses to ensure he kept his communication lines open and his men supplied. The assault began on the 13 April 1868 and lasted just an hour and half. The emperor’s men were no match for the well equipped troops under Napier’s command. Tewodros (or Theodore) was found dead just inside the gates; he had taken his own life with a pistol that had been a present from Queen Victoria.

Theodore

Napier’s men looted Magdala and it required 15 elephants to carry the booty back to the coast for transport to England. It was hailed as a great victory, Napier was feted and the men that served awarded ‘Abyssinia’ as a battle honour. All of this would have played to Nidlet’s advantage one imagines. It may be why the ‘gentleman’ was quick to befriend him and help explain why the Lord Mayor was minded to forgive his drunkenness in the City and overlook an alleged attack on one of the capital’s many street ‘urchins’.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, July 13, 1868]

Dozens of noses broken as a policeman loses his cool on a hot July evening.

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In today’s post the normal tables are turned and as a policeman finds himself standing in a Police Court dock. PC Labram (186T) was up before Mr Newton at Marlborough Street on a charge accused of causing malicious damage. The case was brought by Peter Chambers of Harriet Street, Lower Marsh on south side of the river Thames, an artificial flower maker who had been trying to sell his wares outside the Reform Club in Pall Mall.

It was Jubilee night in July 1887 and London had been celebrating Queen Victoria’s fifty years on the throne. Presumably Chambers was intent on selling a range of novelty items to the patriotic crowds of passers not far from Buckingham Palace. As far as PC Labram was concerned however, Chambers was a street nuisance and when he found him on the street he asked him ‘pack up’ and ‘slope’ away.  The peddler obeyed but not quickly enough for the officer, who aimed at kick as his departing rear which propelled him several yards up the street.

When Chambers objected – saying ‘you have no cause to do that, policeman’ –  the bobby pushed him ‘so violently that he had to drop his basket’ to stop himself from falling over. This scattered some of the flower sellers ‘noses, scratchers and squirts’ over the paving slabs, and again Chambers complained loudly that he was trying to comply with the officer’s request and he needn’t shove him.

PC Labram’s response was to place his size nines on the man’s goods and stamp them into pieces. When Chambers protested the policeman threatened to do to him what he’d done to his false noses, back scratchers and water squiters, and so he hurried away. Several onlookers saw what had happened and berated the constable with cries of ‘shame!’

Five or so minutes later Chambers was in nearby James Square and he saw PC Labram had followed on, presumably tracing his beat. He confronted him and said he intended to report him at King Street police station. This simply provoked the officer to push his basket off his shoulders, throwing the contents on to the ground, where he stamped on them for good measure. A group of ‘roughs’ saw what was happening and ran to join in the fun, jumping up and down on the poor man’s goods.

In court Mr Poland defended the constable and asked him if he had also been selling the ‘squirts’ he had with him. This was apparently prohibited and Chambers said that while he had them he was not selling them.

What did he have asked Mr. Newton, and what was their value.

Twelve shillings’ worth of scent-fountains, ten dozens of holiday noses, and about the same number of back scratchers’, he replied. The noses had moustaches on them but many of these had now been torn off. He estimated the damage at 32s.

Mrs Eliza Jackson of Great Smith Street corroborated Chambers’ evidence and said that the ‘constable treated the man like a dog’. Her husband also testified against the officer.

The defense argued that men like Chambers went about the crowded streets ‘selling squirts, and so procuring and aiding persons to commit assaults upon others by throwing dirty water over their dress. The police did all they could to prevent the nuisance, and bills cautioning the public were issued before Jubilee Day’.

The magistrate was not unsympathetic to this view and declared that:

it was a mischievous and cruel thing to sell such things and, and if people chose to pay out their money in such articles they must take the consequences’.

Nevertheless the constable had acted disproportionately and it would have been better if he’d arrested Chambers rather than kicking him and breaking his stock. He asked Chambers and Labram to withdraw while he assessed the real value of the damage done. Instead of the 32s the man claimed Mr Newton awarded him just 7s 6d. He also vindicated the constable by saying he was (however aggressively) just following out his orders for the day.

I get the feeling that PC Labram was simply grumpy at having to police the crowds that day; while everyone else was having fun he was patrolling the streets and perhaps he resented it. Seeing an opportunity he did what all bullies do and acted like a little tyrant. A fine was the least he deserved and if he’d directed his frustration at one of the ‘toffs’ at the Reform Club he might have been drummed out of the force. Chambers was a nobody though, so he got away with it.

Shame on him, and shame of the magistrate for not standing up for the ‘little man’.

[from The Standard , Wednesday, July 06, 1887]

Stark contrasts as privilege triumphs on the back of human misery

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Elizabeth Avery had committed a very common crime in early Victorian London and received a very usual sentence for it. When she was brought before the Queen’s Square Police court on 25 June 1837 (just five days after the queen acceded to the throne) she was accused of stealing a silver spoon. The theft was discovered when Elizabeth had attempted to pawn the item and the ‘broker had become suspicious.

The spoon belonged to Philip John Miles, the sitting Conservative MP for Bristol who kept a house in London as many provincial members did. Miles owed his position to wealth and his money derived from banking and his family’s sugar plantations in Jamaica. Until 1833, Miles, like many rich and powerful men in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century England, was a slave owner. The honourable member for Bristol (who had previously held seats at Westbury and Corfe Castle) was a millionaire in his day and had acquired the slaves he had owned indirectly, as his bank took possessions of them when their owners defaulted on their mortgages.

Slavery had been finally abolished in 1833 after a long campaign and owning slaves was now illegal (the trade itself had been banned in 1808). But it left the thorny question of compensation. Not for the enslaved of course, but for the men that would have to give up their ‘property’, such was early nineteenth-century logic. A project at University College London reveals that around 10-20 of Britain’s wealthy elite have links to slavery in the past; ours was an economy built on the forced labour of millions of African slaves – something we might remember more often.

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Philip John Miles did very well out of the compensation scheme that was enshrined in law in 1837 (by a parliament in which he sat of course). His son became a baronet who also sat as a Tory at Westminster. Throughout his political career he never once had to contest an election and only resigned his seat so his son could ‘inherit’ it.

This son, Sir Philip Miles (2ndbaronet), also pursued a career in politics and was a little more active than his father or grandfather. He was more ‘liberal’ than either, even supporting votes for some women in 1884.

The Miles’ then were a wealthy, privileged family who handed that wealth and influence down to their children so they could enjoy the benefits that it brought. Contrast this then with Elizabeth Avery, who stole a spoon from John Miles’ dinner table. She was the daughter of a charwoman – a lowly servant who had worked for the family for 14 years, doing their laundry. Avery regularly went to see Mr Harding, a pawnbroker on York Street, Westminster, sent by her mother to pledge things so they could pay their rent and feed themselves.

On the night the spoon was lifted John Miles had thrown a lavish party and the Averys had come round to clear away the lined to wash. Elizabeth must have been tempted by the huge array of silver on show and, having seen such things in the pawnbrokers and knowing they could be transformed into money, pocketed it.

She was only seven years old after all.

In court Mr White the sitting magistrate, having heard the case against Elizabeth (presented by Miles’ butler and the pawnbroker’s assistant), called for the girl’s mother. He admonished her for sending her daughter to a pawnshop, saying that she ‘most probably would not have stolen the spoon had she not known a method of disposing of it’. In order to emphasize his message and the lesson he wanted Mrs Avery to learn he sent Elizabeth to prison for seven days.

So, for taking a spoon from the table of a man who owed his possession of it to a trade in human beings a little girl of seven, raised in poverty, was condemned to spend a week away from her mother in the squalid conditions of the Westminster House of Correction.

While the Miles family prospered I wonder what happened to the Averys? I suspect that Mrs Avery may have lost her job cleaning linen for the Miles household. That would have thrown a poor family into crisis and Elizabeth may have been forced to turn to some form of crime to survive thereafter. Many of London’s prostitutes started that way, and in 1842 a teenager called Elizabeth Avern, alias Avery, was convicted of stealing a boot valued at 29d.

Of course it may have been a different Elizabeth Avery but the court noted she had a previous conviction and as a result they through the book at her. She was sentenced to 7 years transportation to Australia. Transportation was a form of forced migration, which effectively enslaved those condemned to work for the British state as it built its empire ‘down under’.

I suppose that is what we might call poetic ‘injustice’.

[from The Morning Post , Monday, June 26, 1837]