A ‘very hard and cruel case’ as a mother nearly loses everything

11

The very last case heard at Guildhall Police court on 19 September 1864 was a tragic one, and one that might have been written by the capital’s greatest narrator, Charles Dickens.

Mrs Samuel Smith came to ask the magistrate’s help in a dispute she was having with a firm of ship owners. In January she had placed an advert in the newspapers looking for an apprenticeship for her son, who ‘wanted to go to sea’. A Mr Edward West, who ran a company of shipbuilders and said he knew a firm that was prepared to take on young master Smith, for a fee, answered that advert.

The fee (or premium) he required was quite high at £20 and more than Mrs Smith could afford in one go. Her husband was an invalid and unable to work so the family’s funds were limited. Nevertheless she offered to pay in two instalments and Lang & Co. (West’s firm) said they would accept £11 up front with £10 in the form of a ‘note of hand’ (an obligation to pay later in other words).

This was all agreed and the lad left London and sailed off to start his new life and career with the firm of Powell & Co, shipowners, where Mr. West had secured an apprenticeship for him.

Then tragedy struck. The ship ran into a storm and was wrecked with the loss of everyone on board, including Mrs Smith’s boy.

This was not the end of her troubles however; Mr West (or rather Powell & Co.) still demanded the balance of the premium, and had signaled their intention to sue Mrs Smith for it. Thus, she had come to the Guildhall to ask for advice.

Alderman Hale sent for Mr West who explained that the issue was between Mrs Smith and Mr Powell, he was simply an intermediary in all of this. He had brokered the deal, so Powell owed him the money, and Mrs Smith owed Powell. He wasn’t budging despite agreeing with the alderman declaring that it was ‘ a most harsh and cruel proceeding’.

Mrs Smith said she was prepared to pay the £10 she owed but not the costs that had subsequently been incurred by the issuing of a writ. She was in danger of losing her furniture and other possession as the debt mounted and the bailiffs circled. She needed this to end here before her debts spiraled.  The magistrate thought this fair and said she had suffered enough, it was, he added, a ‘very hard and cruel case’. This probably forced West to accept the woman’s offer and the money was paid there and then.

This case was harsh and cruel and quite Dickensian. I can quite imagine the great story teller sitting in court and creating a pen portrait of the avaricious Mr West and pale and weeping figure of Mrs Smith.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, September 20, 1864]

A squabble over oxtail soup

p1060934.original

Letitia Horswell ran an eating house (the nineteenth-century equivalent of a café or fast food restaurant) on the Blackfriars Road. At about 9 o’clock on the evening of 16 August 1877 two men (brothers) entered her shop and ordered food.

The men asked for soup and bread, paying 6d each. However when one of the men (a plasterer named Albert Crockford) tasted his oxtail soup he spat it out, declaring it was bad. He told Mrs Horswell that ‘he was a good judge of soup, and demanded his money back’.

Letitia refused his request telling him that it was very good soup and that none of her customers had ever complained about it before. Crockford insisted she reimburse him and threatened to call the police if she continued to refuse to. Mrs Horswell was equally intractable and stood her ground; the soup was good, she ‘sold a great quantity of it’ and he would be getting no refund from her.

At this Crockford rose from his seat, marched over to the front door and shouted for a policeman. Although an officer soon arrived he could not (or would not) do anything. Mrs Horswell had broken no law and was powerless to compel the landlady to reimburse her customer.

Frustrated, Crockwell now seized his bowl of soup and threw it in Letitia’s face. The poor woman was temporarily blinded and her dress was ruined. She was angry, not just at the damage caused to her clothes (valued at 3s) but at ‘the insult she had received’. She took the only course of redress she had available and had the constable arrest Crockford for the assault.

The next day the pair appeared in the Southwark Police court before Mr Benson. He sympathised with Mrs Horswell and told the defendant that it was ‘rather expensive for [her] to have a dress spoiled by every dissatisfied customer’.

In his defence Crockford said he had not intended to throw the soup at Mrs Horswell but out into the street, he was very sorry for the harm and damage done. He had been drinking with his brother he explained, before they decided to get some sustenance.

Mr Benson suggested it might have been better ‘had they commenced with the soup and ended with the beer’, as drinking on an empty stomach was never a good idea. He advised Crockford to compensate Mrs Horswell for the damage and insult or he would be forced to fine him ‘heavily’. After a brief conversation the two parties agreed an undisclosed fee and both went their separate ways. This was an example of the magistrate helping smooth social relations by brokering a deal between the two combatants.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, August 18, 1877]