A mother’s grief as her son’s rejection condemns her to the workhouse

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Having just formally committed William Herbert to the Old Bailey to face trial for murder the Clerkenwell magistrate then had to deal with a string of applications from impoverished petitioners who needed help.

One of these was an elderly widow who said that her son had abandoned her. She wanted to know if Mr Barstow (the magistrate) could compel her son to support her?

The justice asked her to explain the situation, which she did. Her son had recently married, and that had been the start of ‘her troubles’ because at almost the same time her husband had died. Except that he wasn’t actually her husband. In common with many working-class couple in the 1800s they hadn’t officially married.

But no one knew this, not even her children, so it must have come as something of a shock to the young man when his new wife (‘through her inquisitiveness’) found out and told him. Up until then the widow had been allowing her son ‘to have what part of the house he pleased’ and he had agreed to pay her 26a week in maintenance.

However, as soon as he discovered the family secret he changed; he called her a ‘fallen woman, a woman of sin’ and refused to have anything more to do with her. She didn’t complain or censure him but simply reminded her son that he ‘had been brought up respectably’ and she hoped he would at least continue to pay her the weekly allowance.

He refused outright and (and here was the clue to his change of heart) told her that ‘his wife ashamed of her past conduct, and would not allow him to do anything for her’.

‘In fact’, he continued, ‘he had got orders from his wife not to speak to her’.

She had come to terms with his rejection of her but she needed that money which was why she had come to see the magistrate for his help. Unfortunately Mr Barstow told her that there was nothing he could do for her; ‘an illegitimate son was not bound to keep his mother’. With that the ‘poor woman, who seemed much affected’ left the court probably knowing that her next port of call must be the parish workhouse.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, November 15, 1880]

A paedophile walks free, despite the evidence against him

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On 27 October 1863 a ‘well-dressed’ man, who gave his name as Thomas Martin, appeared in the dock at Southwark Police court accused of molesting a child. Well that is how I think we would see the case today but in 1863 the law was a little different.

For a start the age of consent was 13. It was not raised to 16 until 1885 following a long campaign and a sensational intervention by the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, William Stead. Stead had run a weeklong exposé of the trafficking of underage girls for prostitution under the headline ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’. While Stead ended up going to prison for his part in the ‘kidnapping’ of Eliza Armstrong the scandal of the case helped force Parliament to pass legislation which has existed to this day.

The complaint against Thomas Martin was brought by a spirited young girl called Martha Wells. Martha was aged between 12 and 13 and described by the newspaper writer as ‘rather precocious looking’. This was probably an attempt to undermine her testimony; the hack was perhaps suggesting that she was bringing a spurious complaint against a social superior. The girl could certainly expect to be closely examined by the magistrate, Mr Combe, no concessions being made to her age or her gender.

Martha said that she had left her father’s house in Southwark to visit her uncle in Greenwich. A man had ‘annoyed’ her on the train to Greenwich but she did her best to ignore him. In court she wasn’t sure that it was Martin but he looked familiar.

After she arrived at her uncle’s shop (he was a fruiterer) she noticed a man outside peering in through the window. He was looking directly at her and indicted she should come out to talk to him. That man was Martin and she ignored his request.

At eight in the evening she left her uncle’s and made her way back to the station for the train home. As she walked Martin accosted her. She told him to go away but he followed her. She boarded the train and he entered the same carriage and sat next to her. Martha again tried ignoring him and steadfastly looked out of the window as the train made its way to London.

Now Martin had her close to him he made his assault. He put his hand on her leg and then slipped it up her skirts. The magistrate wanted to know if anyone else was in the carriage who might be able to confirm this.

‘Yes, sir’, Martha told him. ‘I think a lady and a gentleman. I was, however, ashamed to speak to them’.

She had at least one ally in court who was able to testify to Martin’s behavior. PC Alfred White (427P) was on duty on Southwark High Street that evening. When Martha left the train Martin again pursued her and the policeman saw him tap the girl on the back and then lift her skirts.

That was enough evidence for Mr Combe. He committed Martin for trial but agreed to bail, taking two sureties of £100 and one from Martin (for £200). The battle would now be to actually bring the man before a jury when the girl’s father might have preferred to take a cash settlement and avoid his daughter’s reputation being dragged through the courts.

Martin was brought to the Surrey sessions of the peace in mid November, surrendering to his bail. The case against him was outlined and his brief did his best to undermine Martha and the policeman’s evidence. The jury was told that Martin could not have been the man that hassled and insulted Martha on the train to Greenwich or outside her uncle’s shop as he was at work in the City until 5 o’clock. Moreover if he had assaulted her on the rain as she’d suggested why hadn’t she alerted the other passengers or the guard?

PC White reiterated the evidence he’d given at the Police Court hearing adding that when he had arrested Martin the man had attempted to bribe him. ‘For God’s sake let us compromise this affair’, he said; ‘if £50 will do it?’. The officer had been in plain clothes having been on duty at the Crystal palace during the day. Whether this hurt his credibility or not is unclear but the jury close not to believe him.

In the end the jurors acquitted Thomas Martin of the charge of indecent assault and he walked free from court with the applause of his friends being hurriedly suppressed by the court’s officers. It was a victory for middle-class respectability over a ‘precocious’ working-class girl who travelled third class on the railway. The jurors saw themselves in Martin’s situation rather than seeing their daughter in Martha’s.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, October 28, 1863; The Standard, Tuesday, November 17, 1863]

‘Did you accidentally throw you arms around their waists?’ Sexual assault in early Victorian London

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The law is supposed to deal with everyone equally, regardless of race, gender, or class. The law supposedly protects the poorest in the land and the richest, without favour. However, that was (and is) not always the case.

The courts (and gallows and prison cells) of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were overwhelming stocked with members of the laboring poor (however we define them).

Wealthy defendants were occasionally prosecuted and convicted but they often received more lenient sentences or escaped justice altogether. They certainly weren’t the targets of a justice system that was keen to make examples of some the deter others.

When it came to the lower courts, like the metropolitan police courts of Victorian London, a person with money and ‘respectability’ could hope to pay their way out of trouble, a situation that was generally unavailable to most working class defendants. Take the example of these two ‘gentlemen’, brought before Mr Grove at the Worship Police court in October 1839.

William Cooper and Henry Gordon were described as ‘fashionably dressed young men’. We might find other epithets for them today.

They were charged by Emmanuel De Palva (a ‘foreign gentleman’) with insulting and assaulting his wife and daughter in the street. M. De Palva was on his way he to Stoke Newington with his family after an evening out. As the women  walked along a few yards ahead of M. De Palva two men came up in the other direction and accosted them.

At first they ‘stared rudely under the ladies’ bonnets’, which was intimidating, but then they grasped the women around the waists and hugged them. It might seem like high jinx and far from serious but this was the beginning of the Victorian era and social norms were not what they are today. This was an act of unwanted intimacy, a sexual assault in all but name, and the ladies were outraged by it.

The women screamed for help and De Palva came running up. He grabbed hold of the men, and then handed them over to a policeman who had also rushed up having been alerted by the cries for help.

All of this evidence was confirmed by Madame De Palva, who said the men seemed quite sober.

In court Cooper took upon himself the role of spokesperson. He tried to say that it had been a foggy night and they hadn’t been aware of the women. Perhaps they had accidentally jostled them as they passed, for which they were sorry.

The magistrate asked him: ‘Did you accidentally throw you arms around their waists?’

Having now heard ‘two respectable ladies’ swear to what happened he was ‘perfectly staggered’ by the suggestion. M. De Palva now added that he had been visited by Cooper’s father that morning, who had offered an apology on behalf of his son. De Palva refused on the grounds that he would only accept a public apology, one that cleared his wife and daughter of any taint on their reputations.

Mr Grove said that an apology could now be made and would then be ‘conveyed into the required channel’, in other words be printed so everyone would know whom was at fault. It was a disgrace, but the disgrace was to be owned by Cooper and Gordon and not be allowed to damage the reputations of Madame De Palva or her daughter.

He was also instant that some form of financial penalty be extracted from the young men so he suggested they make an contribution to the local poor. Both defendants issued their unreserved apologies and donated 10each to the poor box.

Had the young men been working class I doubt they would have got away with an apology and such a small fine. Had the women been working class and unaccompanied I doubt the case would ever have reached the courts.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, October 15, 1839]

‘A most mischievous piece of fun’: a lawyer gets his comeuppence.

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Richard Thursgill and his family were awakened by someone ringing violently on their doorbell.  It was about a quarter past one in then morning of the 18 September 1878 and, in that respectable part of Ludgate Hill alarms like this usually meant one thing: fire! Despite being ill the whole family rose from their beds and rushed downstairs.

There was no fire however, and no one to be seen in the street outside either. Then, around five minutes later PC Martin of the City force appeared at the door with a young man. He’d caught him hiding near by after watching him ringing on the bell pull. The pull itself was almost wrenched clean off, so violent had the man’s actions been. The PC wanted to see if Mr Thursgill wanted to press charges.

He did and so the case ended up before Sir Andrew Lusk at the Guildhall Police court. There the young man gave his name as Arthur Stapleton, a solicitor of 62 Bishopsgate Street-without. He denied the charge and his lawyer assured the magistrate that his client was a respectable young law graduate and not the sort of person to do such a thing.

Really, the magistrate asked? In his experience this sort of ‘abominable’ behavior – ringing people’s doorbells and worrying them into thinking a fire had broken out – was exactlythe sort of thing ‘young solicitors and students did for a “lark”.

He had no doubt Stapleton was ‘respectable’ (and did not need him to produce the character witnesses he promised to prove it), but the only question he was concerned with was identification. Could PC Martin be sure that it was this person that had caused the annoyance?

Quite sure the policeman replied, there was no one else in the vicinity at that time and he’d seen him do it. In that case Sir Andrew said, he had no choice. For his ‘most mischievous piece of fun’ young Stapleton would have to pay the princely sum of 20s. He would have charged him less had been less ‘respectable’, merely 10s, but under the circumstances he could well afford 20s.

Let’s pause for a moment to share our collective sorrow for a solicitor being overcharged…

[from The Standard, Wednesday, September 18, 1878]

A jilted lover causes alarm in a quiet Chelsea neighbourhood

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Cremorne Gardens, c. 1864

The path of true love doesn’t always run smoothly as we know but most people deal with rejection better than Louis Laroche.  Louis, a 23 year-old goldsmith was living in digs in fashionable Chelsea in 1876 and was courting a young lady named Miss Sinclair.

She lived in Camera Square and often entertained Laroche at her home. The couple seem to have had a tempestuous relationship with one neighbor testifying to hearing them quarrel loudly on many occasions.

On Wednesday 21 June 1876 this neighbour, Mr Sigismond Turner, overhead a loud exchange between the pair late in the evening.  The dispute seemed to revolve around Miss Sinclair’s alleged infidelity (as Laroche understood it at least). He accused her of going to Cremorne Gardens ‘with another man’. She ‘had deceived him’ he declared, and he was now intent on ‘doing away with himself’. HIs lover was refusing to marry him and poor Louis was at his wits end.

Cremorne Gradens was a popular entertainment spot in Victorian London. While it boasted music and dancing, places to eat and drink, it also had a reputation for prostitution and immorality. For some it was the place to be seen, for others it was a place to avoid. The fact that Miss Sinclair might have gone there without her beau to see another man probably spoke volumes as to her character in the eyes of the newspaper reading public in late Victorian London.

As he listened Sigismond was startled to hear talk of a pistol and a struggle over it. He thought he heard Miss Turner say that she would rather ‘he kill her than kill himself’ and then heard he demand he hand over the gun. Laroche refused, left the room and shortly afterwards a gunshot was heard.

This brought other neighbours out of their rooms and houses and Laroche, who was unhurt, was quickly apprehended and handed over to the nearest policeman. He was in possession of a six shot revolver, with only one live bullet in position. He was brought before Mr Arnold at Westminster Police court on a charge of attempted suicide.

However, he hadn’t been injured nor was there clear evidence that he’d intended to kill himself, or hurt anyone else for that matter. So as far as the magistrate was concerned the only offence he had clearly committed was to discharge a firearm in public.  Louis Laroche was bailed to appear at a later date, when Miss Sinclair would also be called to give her evidence in person. Bail was set at £50 and the unhappy lover released.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, June 23, 1876]

‘She’s a bad woman and no wife of mine’: the man with five wives finally meets his match

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‘Trial for Bigamy’ by Eyre Crowe A.R.A. (1897)

On Christmas day 1890 Ann Riley married Charles Valentine Smith, a 40 (or possibly 36) year-old saddle and harness maker in North London. It wasn’t a great success; the couple quarreled constantly until in the middle of April 1891 they agreed to separate.

Ann had her doubts about Charles from the start and suspected he’d been married before. She had asked him (it may well have been one of the things they argued about) and he denied it, but admitted living with a woman for a few years before he met Ann.

On the 28 April, while Ann was out, Charles visited his old familial home and retrieved a silver pocket watch which he said he’d been given as a wedding present. When Ann discovered the watch was missing however, she flew into a rage and determined to get even with him.

Acting on her hunch that the saddler was a bigamist she took herself to Somerset House to consult the marriage registers. After some searching she found him. Her suspicions confirmed, Ann now took her husband to court, for the theft of the watch and for deceiving her into believing he was free to marry her.

The detective that arrested Smith, DS Couchman, testified that the prisoner had admitted that he’d been married previously but said that his ex-wife was ‘a bad woman’ and ‘no wife’ to him.  It didn’t excuse the reality that they were still legally wed however, divorce being a much harder (and more expensive) process in 1891 than it is today.

The magistrate quizzed Ann on whether she knew her new husband was already attached to someone else. This was the line that Smith took, claiming he’d told her very early on so she knew what she was getting into. Ann said he had initially told her he was married but had later denied it. I guess she ended up choosing to believe her own marriage was legitimate, when it clearly was not. Charles was remanded in custody for week while investigations continued.

On 4 July he was back before the beak at the North London Police court and now it was revealed that Charles was a repeat offender. He had been successfully prosecuted for bigamy by the family of Ann Connolly who he’d married over 20 years earlier. At that time he’s already been married to another woman for five years. He got nine month’s in prison but didn’t learn his lesson from it.

After he got out of gaol he joined the army (that would have been in 1870 probably) and he married once more. This new wife quickly discovered his history, left him, and married someone else. His first wife died and in October 1882 he married his fourth, at St Mary’s, Islington.

The justice, Mr Haden Corser, having listened to this disreputable man’s story, sent him back to the Central Criminal Court to be tried for bigamy once more. At his trial, on 28 July 1891, the jury was told that not only had he married five women, he had fathered at least two children who he had left destitute when he abandoned their mother. The common sergeant sitting as judge sent him to prison for 15 months at hard labour.

By modern standards his record of relationships might not seem too bad. It is not uncommon for someone to have multiple monogamous relationships or even to marry several times. What Smith did wrong (very wrong in fact) was to neglect to divorce one wife before he married the next. For women in the Victorian period this was a particularly callous and uncaring crime because it robbed them of the respectability that legitimate marriage ensured. It meant they had no rights and their children were rendered illegitimate.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, June 22, 1891; The Morning Post, Monday, July 6, 1891]

For many working class women living in the roughest parts of late Victorian London marriage was an unaffordable luxury. Nevertheless women were keen to demonstrate that they were in a  serious relationship and so common law marriages – recognised but he community if not by church and state – normalised things. Women like Catherine Eddowes (who sometimes used the name Kelly) or Annie Chapman (who was occasionally Sivvy) would use their partner’s name just as a bonafide spouse would. For more on the reality of life in 1880s Whitechapel and the two sets of murders that dominated to news stands of the time why not try Drew’s new history of the Jack the Ripper case, published by Amberley Books this June.

This new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available to order on Amazon here

 

Five go wild in Wardour Street…until the police pick them up

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I can imagine that for some parents making sure their children go to (and stay at) school can be something of a challenge. The Police courts of late Victorian London fairly regularly witnessed prosecutions of fathers who were accused of allowing their sons and daughters (but usually sons) to play truant.  Fines were handed down which did little to help because in some instances parents needed the children at home to help either with piece work or, more often, to care for infants or elderly relatives while they went out to work.

Some tried very hard to ensure their offspring gained an education but this could be hard when the kids didn’t have boots or decent clothes to go to school in. We shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which pride existed in working-class communities where maintaining an image of ‘respectability’ was every bit as important to them as it was to the middle classes with whom the term is often more associated.

There was tremendous poverty in 1880s London but that didn’t mean that families were not striving every day to keep standards up. Mrs Rochford and her neighbours seemed to fighting a losing battle with their collective brood of five youngsters. Walter Rochford (11) and his brother  James (10) appeared in court at Marlborough Street alongside Ernest Flowers (10), Albert Carey (11) and Thomas Copeland, who was just 8. This ‘interesting youthful quintette’ as the paper described them, had been picked up by the police because they were begging in Wardour Street.

Four of them had no boots and they all hailed from Hammersmith, quite some distance away. Their mothers were in court to answer for them and to listen to the story they gave Mr De Rutzen.

The boys said that they often played truant from Board school, preferring instead to hide their boots in an empty house in Shepherds Bush to go begging house to house or in the streets. They slept in empty properties, tramcars and one even admitted to occupying a dog kennel! If they were ‘nice’ children in the countryside the whole episode would have something of Enid Blyton about it.

But they weren’t. They were five ‘little urchins’ and their mothers were at their wits end, not knowing how to control them. Some of them had been absent from home now for a week and so sending them to Board school was clearly pointless.

The magistrate had a solution however, he would have them confined in an industrial school, where they wouldn’t be able to run amok or indeed run anywhere without permission. It would probably mean the five would be broken up and would be separated from their families. I have no idea whether the parents were consulted or merely told this would be happening, but under the terms of industrial schools, they would (if they could) be expected to contribute something to their care.

The five boys were dispatched to the workhouse while the industrial school officer was sent for to determine their fates.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, June 12, 1887]