A bareknuckle fight in the grounds of Ally Pally

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Police constables Rudkin (696Y) and Mitchell (467Y) had got a tip off that an illegal prize fight was happening on their patch, which covered the area around Alexandra Palace in north London. So, on the morning of Sunday 18 November 1883 they hurried off to investigate.

As the officers were coming along a public footpath from Muswell Hill to Mr Cotton’s fields they saw a lot of male heads gathered in a large circle and the sounds of ‘blows and scuffling’. They were close to a railway bridge and some observers had stationed themselves up their to get a better view of proceedings.

This also allowed several people to see the approaching policemen and the cry went up:

‘Look out! here’s the police!’

The crowd scattered in all directions with the two bobbies in pursuit. PC Mitchell saw one of the men that had been fighting and chased him into a field, catching him up and arresting him. His name was William Rearden and he was stripped to waist and wearing only ‘slippers’ on his feet. The other boxer managed to get away so the coppers had to be satisfied with breaking up the fight and the capture of just one of the fighters.

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Rearden could hardly deny being in a fight. He was bleeding from his mouth and ears and there was a large and recent bruise developing on his chest. This was bare-knuckle boxing, not a fight sanctioned by the Queensbury rules.

Rearden was adamant that he’d done nothing wrong. When captured he surrendered immediately and promised to ‘go quietly’ to the police station. He insisted it was just a fight to settle a dispute he had with his adversary, no ‘prize’ was involved. The police had found no evidence of a ‘professional’ fight: no ring, no gloves or seconds and of course, no second fighter was in custody.

In the end the case came before Mr Bodkin at the Highgate Police court. Rearden told the magistrate that he was an ex-soldier who had served in Egypt and South Africa, He’d been decorated for his service and proudly wore his medal ribbons in court.  He was able to produce a certificate of his service and good character and was still on the Army Reserve list.

Moreover, he was in work, as a bricklayer, and he had no record of being in trouble with the law previously. All this counted in his favour and persuaded the justice that a ticking off would suffice. Fighting in public was unlawful Mr Bodkin told him but in light of his record he would merely bind him over to keep the peace for six months. Having agreed to enter into recognizances of £20 Rearden (known as ‘Roberts’ in the Army) was released to his friends.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, November 20, 1883]

The Great (Northern) Train Robbery

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When a customer reported losing several of his possessions on a train the Great Northern Railway company called in their own in-house detective team. In 1868 this meant that William Thorogood was immediately set on the trail of the thief.

It didn’t take him long to spot a young man strolling quickly across the platform at King’s Cross sporting a ‘portmanteau, rug, umbrella and [walking] stick’ matching the description given by Mr William Kingsworth, the traveller that had complained he had fallen victim to a robbery.

The detective fell in step behind the thief and watched as he hailed a cab. As the young man entered the hansom in St Pancras Road, Thorogood clambered in beside him. The man was ‘fashionably dressed’ and said his name was Robert Johnson. He emphatically denied stealing anything and asked how Thorogood could possibly prove that he had.

The detective took his prisoner back to the station superintendent’s office where Mr Kingsworth positively identified his property. In court at Clerkenwell the passenger said he’d never seen Johnson before that day and had missed his items after he’d left then briefly on his seat. Johnson denied everything, refused to give his address, and cried throughout the entire hearing. Mr Clarke remanded him for a week and he was led away to the cells.

Johnson was tried at the Bailey on the 26 October 1868. He pleaded guilty to stealing Mr Kingsworth’s property and asked for several other offences to be dealt with at the same time. He seemed to specialise in stealing portmanteaus (briefcases) from railway trains. The judge sent him to prison for 18 months.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, October 17, 1868]

A man just wants to have Fun, but forgets you always have to pay.

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William Helps was standing watching the concourse at Ludgate Hill railway station when a gentleman attracted his attention. Helps was a station inspector and the man explained that he’s just seen respectably dressed individual appear to steal a book from a book stall. Helps asked where the man was now and the passenger pointed him out as he boarded a third class carriage. The inspector followed him and noticed him hide the book under his coat.

Helps went back to the  stall (W H Smith’s no less) and asked the lad serving there if he’d lost anything.

‘Yes, a shilling number of Fun’, William Robinson replied.

Fun was a humorous, satirical magazine that rivaled the more famous Punch. It had launched in 1861 and offered prose and verse alongside travel writing and reviews of popular theatre and music hall.  It cost just a penny per edition so this must have been a compendium of covers, entitled ‘Essence of Fun’ which sold for a 1s.

Mr Helps approached the man who’d taken the book and confronted him:

‘What have you done with the book?’ he demanded.

‘What book?’

‘Do not misunderstand me – the book you took off the book stall’.

‘I do not know what you mean’ said the man, getting up from his seat and heading off towards W H Smith’s. He started to fumble around under his waistcoat where the book was hidden but Helps was losing patience with him.

‘It is of no use putting it down on the stall again’, he said, ‘you had better give it to me’.

Sheepishly, the man handed it over and said he would happily pay for it but the inspector had him arrested and consequently, a few days later he was summoned to appear at the Guildhall Police court charged with theft.

The man’s name was Henry White and he worked for Pontifex and Co as a coppersmith. He’d previously worked for Price’s candles and he had never been in trouble before in his life. White’s solicitor (Mr Buchanan) assured the court that his client had never intended to steal the copy of Fun but the lad was busy serving customers and he was worried he would miss his train.

It was a poor excuse but the policeman who took him into custody said he was searched and he plenty of money on him so doubted theft was the intention. White had given a correct address, and ‘bore a very respectable character in his neighbourhood’, and so Alderman Whetham was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The magistrate found him not guilty of stealing but instead treated the case as one of unlawful possession. White was fined 10s, which he paid, and walked free from court, poorer but hopefully wiser.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, September 25, 1872]

Mr Tyrwhitt sends a message

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I am coming to recognise the names of several of the men that served as Police Court magistrates in the second half of the nineteenth century. Some, like Mr Lushington at Thames seemed to have little time for wife beaters or drunks, while others reveal a tender side to their nature when presented with cases of genuine need and despair.

Magistrates had considerable discretion in determining what to do with those brought before them; a ‘rule book’ existed (they might use Richard Burn’s Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer, or Oke’s Magisterial) but within the penalties available for a variety of offences there was considerable room for manoeuvre. Indeed while the prosecutor had the ultimate choice of bringing a case in the first place, the magistrate chose then whether to dismiss a charge, convict summarily, or send the prisoner up to a jury court (where they might expect a much more serious form of punishment).

Over at Marlborough Street, one of the busier police courts in London, Mr Tyrwhitt presided in the late 1860s. In late September 1867 two cases were reported at his court which suggest that he had a low tolerance level for nuisance and repeat offenders.

First up was Alice Smith, a ‘young woman’ who refused to give her address in court. I doubt this endeared her to the justice who may well have assumed she had something to hide or was a ‘down and out’. Alice had been caught picking flowers from a bed near the Serpentine in Hyde Park. PC William Cowell had seen the woman take the flowers but as soon as she saw him she hurriedly dropped them. Alice pleaded with the constable not to take her in and charge her, ‘offering to give him whatever he liked to let her go’.

She was probably intending to sell them for the few pennies she might get. It was a petty offence, hardly a serious crime but the magistrate was in an unforgiving mood. He told Alice that she was:

‘one of those mischievous persons that must be restrained. The business of that court was much increased by people that did mischief in the park’.

He fined her 5s or four days imprisonment and let it be known that in future he would hand down a fine of 40s (a significant amount in 1867) to anyone caught ‘plucking flowers’ belonging to the Board of Works.

Having dealt with such a serious theft of the capital’s flora Tyrwhitt was presented with three juvenile felons. George Vial (17), Frederick Williams (15) and James Brougham (14) had been seen loitering around Piccadilly by a plain clothes detective. Phillip Shrives, of C Division Metropolitan Police, said he had been watching the lads follow railway vans (‘evidently for the purpose of robbing them’) and arrested them.

With no other evidence presented against them another justice might have warned them or considered sending them to a reformatory school, but not Mr Tyrwhitt; he sent them all to prison for three months at hard labour.

And so, in this way, were ‘criminal careers’ created.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, September 25, 1867]

p.s I would add that despite what must come across as a rather liberal attitude towards these nineteenth-century offenders I do think we should recognise that for many of those caught up in the justice system, terrible as it could be in the 1800s, a considerable proportion of them had committed an offence that had left behind a victim or victims. On Sunday (yesterday that is) my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s home was broken into in the early hours while they were away at a family gathering in Manchester.

The thieves broke in through the back patio doors, made a considerable mess as they ransacked all the upstairs room, and stole a small amount of personal and irreplaceable jewellery. The burglary meant I spent half the day waiting for the police and the glass replacement man but it was of course much worse for my in-laws who returned home to find their home violated. Historians of crime need to start to recognise the very real effect of crime on those that were victim to it; as one fellow historian of crime noted to me today:

‘There’s temptation to treat it as colourful history from below with juicy sources and too little recognition that many criminals hurt the poor and vulnerable. Time for the Victim Turn?’

An ‘exceedingly painful case’ at Bow Street

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Charing Cross station in the nineteenth century 

Mrs Ann Leonardi (or Lee as she was also known) was, by her own description,  an ‘independent lady’. This probably meant she was unmarried, or widowed, or even an heiress (the latter seems less likely in these circumstances however) but whatever the reality she found herself in the dock at Bow Street charged with theft.

Ann had visited the ‘refreshment bar’ at Charing Cross railway station because, she later claimed, she felt unwell.  Ann had asked for a little brandy, that well known pick-me-up for ladies of a certain class. The barmaid placed a glass and two flasks of the spirit on the counter and Ann (‘with some little hesitation’) handed over enough money for a glass.

However, when the barmaid returned Ann had gone and so had both flasks.

It seems the station employed its own private detective, a man named Tom Toby, who was informed of the theft and went in search of Ann armed with her description. He soon caught up with her and discovered the brandy flasks in her possession. Ann offered to pay with a cheque for £5 but this was refused, she was arrested and handed over to the police.

When she was brought before Mr Vaughan at Bow Street she was bailed to reappear in a week’s time. For whatever reason (and Ann put this down to ‘foolishness’) she failed to appear and so a warrant was issued for her arrest. In the meantime however, Ann handed herself in to the nearest police station and apologised for her behaviour.

So in early July 1873 Ann Leonardi was in court and she pleaded guilty to the theft but with the mitigation that she had no idea she had the flasks as ‘her head was completely lost through trouble and too much drink that she had taken that day’. What was the cause of this ‘trouble’ and why was Ann so upset? Unfortunately we can never know this but a novelist might speculate. Was she unlucky in love? Or distraught about the death of a child or other relative?

Ann had some friends though, and several came to Bow Street to offer her a ‘good character’. They told the magistrate (Mr Vaughan again), that sometimes she ‘was not in her right mind’. So perhaps Ann suffered from some form of mental illness or, and this maybe more likely, she was an alcoholic.

Ann’s situation was about to get worse. Mr Vaughan expressed his opinion that this was an ‘extremely painful case’ but since she had broken the law and skipped bail, he had no choice but to send her to prison for a month at hard labour. In doing so he may have been influenced by the implication that she was in some way addicted to alcohol. Perhaps he felt this shock would be the necessary cure for her problem.

Personally I can’t see how a month in a Victorian prison would have done much for her well-being and the consequences would be felt by Ann for years afterwards. She had stolen two small bottles of brandy, which she had subsequently offered to pay for; the magistrate’s actions here seem to fall far short of ‘justice’.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, July 02, 1873]

Animal cruelty exposed in the early years of the RSPCA

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Richard Martin, founder of the RSPCA

It is often stated that we are a nation of animal lovers, something I must say that I wonder about given how little we seem to care about the provence of our meat. Almost half of us owns a pet and that means there are something like 58,000,000 of them in the UK. A quarter of these are dogs, closely followed by cats (17%) and then it is fish, rabbits, and birds.

Another way in which we might measure our love for animals is in the existence, since 1824, of the RSPCA which answers the phone every 30 seconds to someone with an animal cruelty or health issue to report. The oldest animal welfare organisation in the world, the RSPCA predate the NSPCC (which campaigns to protect children) by 60 years.

The RSPCA covers pets and farm animals and so the term ‘animal welfare’ includes the way animals are kept, transported and slaughtered for human consumption. They have been campaigning for better conditions for livestock from their very inception in 1824, and the very first success in the prevention of cruelty actually came two years before then, in 1822. A law, brought and championed by Richard Martin the founder of the SPCA, was passed to prevent the improper treatment of cattle. This was ‘extended in 1835 to include dogs and other domestic animals’.*

At the end of February 1869 an Essex farmer and his son were summoned to the Marlborough Police Court to face a charge brought by the RSPCA (now Royal thanks to Queen Victoria’s patronage).

James and William Hall were accused of ‘cruelly ill-treating  151 ducks, seven geese, and five fowls’ which had been packed in crates and sent over from Ireland. The 163 animals were squeezed into 5 baskets measuring just 9 inches deep, by 5 tall and 2 and a half feet long.

They were spotted when the they arrived at Regent Circus railway office by officers from the RSPCA who investigated . They discovered that the animals had been travelling for 48 hours with food or water and were so closely packed that ‘some were on the others backs, and a great many were found to be dead’.

The justice didn’t act immediately but told the defendants and the prosecutors from the society that he would consider the evidence before ruling.

Hopefully he did act but I doubt whether the Halls would have received anything other than hefty fine. It may well have deterred them of course, but cutting costs when it comes to animal welfare has a very long history and continues to be a blight on our own society.

[from The Standard, Monday, March 01, 1869]

*https://www.rspca.org.uk/whatwedo/whoweare/history (accessed 27/2/17)

Three suspicious characters on the London Bridge line

John Davidson was an experienced City of London detective. In February 1882 he was walking in St Paul’s Churchyard (which in the past was a much less ‘respectable’ area than it is today). Davidson was not keeping an eye out for terrorists (as he might have been today, given our state of high alert) but instead for thieves.

He soon spotted three women he knew to be ‘habitual’ criminals and decided to follow them.

The women made their way to Ludgate Hill railway station before carrying on to  Cannon Street and boarding a train heading for London Bridge. The women had third class tickets but Davidson had his suspicions that they weren’t travelling for the purposes of going somewhere, but to steal from the other passengers.

He was correct.

He followed them on to the train and got off when they alighted at London Bridge. He hadn’t seen them do anything in particular but he remained sure they had. The detective now approached some of the other travellers and enquired whether they had lost anything.

One lady told him she had lost his purse so he decided to arrest the women. With the help of a nearby constable the three were taken into custody and back to a police station where they were searched.

No purse was found however, but he still charged them with picking pockets and they appeared at Southwark Police court on the following day.

Leonara Gray (23), Jane Fowkes (25) and Mary Kay (23) were presented and denied all charges against them. Detective Davidson was able to bring along Mary Ann Watts, a schoolmistress from Southwark Park Road who said she had been travelling on the train when the three got into her carriage.

Kay sat on one side of her while Gray occupied the other side, Fowkes sat opposite her. She kept her purse safely (she thought) in her ‘dress pocket’ and she was sure it was there when the women sat down. As the women left the train Detective Davidson entered the carriage and asked if she had lost anything. She checked and found her purse was gone.

She told the court if contained ‘a sovereign, a shilling, and her railway ticket’. Not a massive haul but enough to cover the three third class tickets and plenty left over.

A female warder from the Westminster Prison testified to knowing the three as ‘clever pickpockets’; ‘they had all been convicted at various terms’, she added. Although the evidence against them was circumstantial at best and I doubt a jury would have convicted them now, in 1882 that was enough to earn each of them 3 months hard labour.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, February 21, 1882]

P.S apparently Ludgate Hill station (which closed in 1929) was built over the site of the old Fleet prison, which seems an appropriate connection for our three light-fingered felons.