A foolish young man amongst the ‘roughs’: police and protest in late Victorian London

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This morning my History and Criminology undergraduates sit their exam on my third year module on the Whitechapel murders. The module uses the ‘Jack the Ripper’ case as a prism through which to explore a number of themes in the social and cultural history of late Victorian London. We look at the murders, think about the representations of ‘Jack’, of the mythmaking that surrounds the case, and consider policing, prostitution, poverty and popular culture (among other things). I am considering creating an online version of the module that the public might be able to sign up, so do send me an email if you think this is the sort of thing that might interest you.

One of the events we cover is ‘Bloody Sunday’ in November 1887 when a demonstration in Trafalgar Square was broken up by police and elements of the military on the order of Sir Charles Warren, the chief commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Many people were injured and two or three killed as the police charged protestors. It was a mixed day for Warren who was castigated in the radical and popular press but praised by establishment organs such as The Times. He’d acted firmly following a debacle in 1886 when demonstrators had run amok in Pall Mall, smashing shops and the smart West End gentleman’s clubs that were situated there.

Demonstrations of all sorts happened in the 1880s: for Irish Home rule, or socialism, against unemployment, or for free trade – all brought hundreds and thousands of people onto the streets. The 1880s was a turbulent decade or poverty and austerity, and hundreds slept rough in the streets, squares and parks of the capital. Police soused the benches in Trafalgar Square to  deter the homeless from using them as beds and local residents demanded action to clear the area of the unwanted ‘residuum’ or ‘dangerous classes’.

There must have been some sort of protest or demonstration in Trafalgar Square close to May Day 1888 because two men appeared at Bow Street Police court on charges connected to disturbances there. First up was Alexander Thompson, a ‘respectably dressed youth’ who was accused by the police of being ‘disorderly’. PC 82A deposed that on Saturday evening (5 May) at about 6 o’clock Thompson was being arrested by two sergeants when a group of ‘roughs’ tried to affect an impromptu rescue.

According to the police witness Thompson was egging them on  by ‘groaning and hooting’ and some stones were thrown at the officers. As the constable tried to hold back the crowd Thompson lashed out at him, striking him on the shoulder. His escape was prevented by another PC who rushed in to help but it was devil of job to get him to the station house. The young man had enough money to be represented by a lawyer, a Mr E Dillon Lewis, who secured bail of £5 for his appearance at a later date.

Next to step into the dock was Walter Powell and he was charged similarly with disorderly behaviour. Powell had been selling ‘a weekly periodical’ in the square. He’d drawn a crowd of ‘roughs’ about him and the policeman who arrested him said that while he couldn’t hear what he was saying it was clear he was addressing them, and possibly exhorting them to some sort of nefarious action. The police sergeant from A Division told Powell to go home and when he refused, or at least did not comply, he took him into custody. He’d been locked up overnight and all day Sunday and for Mr Vaughan, the magistrate presiding, that was punishment enough. He told him he was foolish but let him go with a flea in his ear.

Hopefully today my students will not have been ‘foolish’ and will have prepared themselves for the 90-minute examination I’ve set them. They have to write one essay (from four choices) and analyse  one of two contemporary sources. If they’ve done their revision and paid attention all year I should get some interesting papers to mark. I wish them all the best of luck, but hope they don’t need it.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, May 08, 1888]

If you enjoy this blog series you might be interested in Drew’s jointly authored study of the Whitechapel (or ‘Jack the Ripper’) murders which is published by Amberley Books on 15 June this year. You can find details here:

Ripped trousers and little thanks as a guardsman ignores a drunk’s request to ‘go for the policeman’.

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Frank and the fabulously named Tirquinia Keeling were drunk, and soon quite disorderly. It was a Monday night in Septemebr 1890 and the pair were wandering through Hyde Park with their friend Rose Allsopp, probably after an evening of drinking somewhere nearby.

As can often happen when people have had too much to drink, an argument broke out. Frank and his wife exchanged words, then shouts, then blows. Soon they were wrestling and creating quite a scene, so much so that it attracted the attention of the local bobby on his beat.

PC 319A hoved into view and presumed he saw a man knocking a woman about a bit while another woman intervened from time to time. He moved in to separate the couple but received little thanks for his efforts. Eventually he decided he had to arrest Frank and collared him. Frank resisted and the policeman was in danger of being overpowered when a passing soldier and his mate came to his aid.

Private Clarke of the 2ndbattalion Coldstream Guards ran over to help. Soon another brace of policemen arrived and together they all fought to subdue Frank and his wife. It was quite the bar room brawl, just without the barroom setting. Finally Frank and Tirquinia were under the police’s control and were led off in the direction of a police station.

As the pair were led away Rose piled in to try and affect a rescue. The trio spent an uncomfortable night sleeping off their drinking before being presented before Mr Hannay at Marlborough Street Police court in the morning.

They must have looked dejected in the dock and hopefully shamefaced as well. Private Clarke told the magistrate that when he went aid the policeman Keeling had growled that he was helping the ‘wrong side’. Frank was a musician but had served in the army and expected a fellow soldier to recognize a common enemy. But Clarke was a former copper and so he knew where his loyalties lay.

He had fared badly in the fight though: he had been thrown to the ground, damaged his knee, and tore his trousers. He was most upset about the latter however because he would have to pay for a new pair out of his meager army pay. Mr Hannay thought that was very unfair and asked the inspector on duty ‘to report the matter to the Police Commissioner to see what recompense could be made’ to him. The court had a poor box but it wasn’t meant to be used for that purpose.

As for the Keelings, who refused to give their address but stated that they were musicians (and so were possibly itinerant), he fined them 40seach or a month’s imprisonment. Allsopp was fined 20sor ten days. It doesn’t say whether they paid up or not but they would have had a few hours to find the money as that seems to have been the standard practice. They don’t appear in any records of imprisonment for that or any other year so I imagine they found the money soon enough.

Some form of drunk and disorderly behaviour was by far the most common reason for being arrested and presented before a magistrate in late Victorian London. The courts were dealing with dozens every day, very many more after a weekend or – worst of all – a Bank holiday.

Today is the beginning of freshers’ week at my and many other universities and sadly, I fear there will be plenty of  drunkenness on display. So, if you are about to start your studies this autumn, enjoy freshers but spare a thought for the police and bouncers that are (usually) there to help you get home safely, in one piece, and without upsetting the locals too much. Have fun, but know your limits folks!

[from The Standard, Wednesday, September 24, 1890]