‘Here’s a man who is able to buy an inspector for a shilling, a sergeant for sixpence, a constable for sixpence’. The great cake controversy of 1883

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I am going back to 1883 for the next few days. Regular readers will recall that I sampled a week’s news from the Police Courts of the metropolis earlier this year and traced a number of cases that came up more than once. Today’s story may be another of those as it ended with the defendants being required to reappear, bound over on their own recognizances. This case is also interesting because it hints at contemporary concerns about police corruption or, at best, favouritism, and at how this affected those that plied their trade in the local streets and markets – a regular battleground between costermongers and ‘the boys in blue’.

In March 1883 James Williams and Samuel Stephenson were charged before Mr Shiel at Wandsworth Police court with ‘playing at a game of chance and causing an obstruction’ in Battersea Park Road. They had been brought in by Detective Gilby who said he’d been alerted to the crowd that had gathered around the pair’s barrow as it stood on the road on Saturday evening. He and his fellow detective, DS Vagg, watched the men operate what they believed to be a swindle.

The men appeared to be auctioning cakes using a ticket system. Detective Gilby described what he saw:

‘The prisoner Williams took eight tickets from a box, pretended to shuffle them, and sold them at  penny each. After the tickets were collected he called out a number, and pointed to a person as having won a cake’.

The police officers explained that Williams then called out to the crowd that they could swap the cakes for sixpence if they preferred, making this possibility now to win money rather than cake by gambling on your ticket coming up. A boy working for the men handed out several cakes, three of whom were returned to him, presumably in the hope of turning their pennies into sixpences.

Detective Sergeant Vagg bought three tickets to test the system and catch the men red handed. When he had handed the tickets over to Stephenson he had effectively proved they were operating a ‘game of chance’ (rather than simply selling cakes) and he arrested them and took them back to the station. He accused them of swindling the public by placing stooges in the crowd to make it seem as if it was a fair raffle, when in reality the whole thing was staged (as so many street swindles were – or are).

The men denied it and Williams went further, alleging police corruption.

‘Here’s a man who is able to buy an inspector for a shilling, a sergeant for sixpence, a constable for sixpence’ he said, although it is unclear who he meant to be the target of that remark. Quite possibly it was the informant that had told the detective Gilby about the illegal game in the first place. Perhaps this was a rival coster who wanted to reduce the competition or even a trader that paid a premium to ensure that he wasn’t the subject of unwanted police attention.

Mr Shiel was not keen to have this kind of talk in his court and tried to close down that particular line of enquiry. Williams was glad to have the case taken before the magistrate he claimed, as he had long ‘been persecuted by the police’.

The pair claimed merely to be selling cakes at sixpence a go and said they’d not used a ticket system since they’d been arrested and charged with doing so by the same officers some time ago. The suggestion was that the police were either making the whole thing up or prosecuting them for misdemeanours in the past, in order to persecute them. It sounded pretty far fetched but they were able to produce a witness of sorts who backed them up.

Charles Lloyd was described as a comedian, living in Bermondsey. He told the court that he’d been standing at the corner of the street near to where the men’s barrow was when he overheard “two gentlemen” (indicating the two detectives in court) say ‘they meant to have a cakeman, whether he had any tickets or not’. Lloyd said he watched for 15 minutes and saw Williams and Stephenson selling cakes by auction but saw no tickets. When the men were arrested the crowd rushed forward to take their cakes.

Mr Shiel said he would like to speak to the boy that had supposedly been collecting the tickets and Williams told him he was sure he could produce him. At that point the pair of ‘cakemen’ were released to appear at a later date. We shall see if they make the pages of the newspapers before the end of this week.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, March 27, 1883]

A rough ‘raffle’ in Whitechapel

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One of the things that fascinates me about exploring the reports of cases in the old newspapers is the references to London landmarks (famous and mundane) and to street names. Whenever I am researching for a paper or a book I like to visit the ‘scene of the crime’ so to speak. When I was using the old Corporation of London Archives to read the notebooks of the eighteenth-century magistracy I burned off my lunch tramping the streets of the City, always looking up above the shop fronts and windows. You see much more that way.

Close to the Whitechapel Art Gallery and on the corner of Gunthorpe Street, is the White Hart public house. The pub is next to the archway that leads into what, in the 1880s, was the entrance to the ‘Abyss’ – the dark nether world of alleys, courts, and now lodging houses described by Jack London (1903), and others.

Many of the ‘Ripper’ tours start here and the pub trades on its association with London’s most notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper. A plaque on the side informs customers that a ‘Ripper’ suspect (George Chapman – or Seweryn Klosowski) lived there for a time during the murders. Indeed a murder took place just a few yards from the pub – Martha Tabram’s in August 1888.

Chapman was hanged in 1903 for the murder of three women who he poisoned with arsenic. Apparently Inspector Abberline (one of the lead detectives in the Whitechapel murder case) believed Chapman was the killer because when he had interviewed his wife she had told him her husband was often out late at night for no reason.

Personally I doubt he was the ‘Ripper’ but its interesting to see how suspicions fall and the fact that he lodged at the White Hart certainly fits my belief that the killer was a local man.

The White Hart has clearly been around for a very long time, at least since the eighteenth century. Other pubs come and go and their names change. So when I saw that a fight had started at the White Horse pub in Whitechapel in 1852, I wondered if the court reporter had misheard or incorrectly recorded the details. It wouldn’t be the first (or last) time a journalist got his facts wrong.

In December 1852 John Quin and Julia Haggerty were accused (at Worship Street Police Court) with assaulting Jones Jones, the landlord of the White Horse, Whitechapel.

The assault charge uncovered what seems to have been a mass brawl in the pub, mostly involving members of the large Irish community. There had been a raffle on the Monday night and although (as the paper noted) there ‘could be only one winner amongst the number that stood the hazard of the die’, several of those that lost claimed they had been cheated and started a ‘row.

According to witnesses Quin was the instigator of the brawl and led his fellows in the destruction of glasses and furniture. The landlord was set upon and one witness testified that he feared for the fellow’s life. Haggerty attacked Mrs Jones.

Counter claims from Catherine Ryan and another witness said that the landlord had started it.

She told an incredulous courtroom that Jones attacked the ‘whole of the party (74 in number), and pitched them down stairs, at the bottom of which the witness Ryan said the defendant Quin was lying stone dead, never lifting an arm to man, woman, or child’.

The magistrate didn’t believe a word of it and convicted both defendants. Each was fined 20s, which they paid.

Was the White Horse actually the White Hart? A White Horse pub did exist in the 1800s, but it was at Poplar not in Whitechapel. Now Whitechapel means the area around Leman Street, and either side of Commercial Road and Commercial Street, up to Whitechapel tube in the east and the borders of the City of London to the west. So maybe the reporter got it wrong or perhaps it was meant in a broader geographical sense?

 

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, December 29, 1852]