The Hungerford Market boys provide early trouble for the Peelers

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I’ve mentioned the unpopularity of the New Police on more than one occasion in this blog and it was certainly a truth that not everyone welcomed Peel’s innovation. It took several years for the ‘Peelers’ to become grudgingly accepted on the capital’s streets and even by the end of the 1800s not everyone welcomed them. In the early days of the professionals there were accusations of corruption and collusion with local criminals and prostitutes, and of heavy handedness and a lack of discipline.

This case demonstrates some of that early tension and is a useful reminder that many policemen were vulnerable to attack from those that resented their presence in their communities. In this example it was a ‘gang of fellows in Hungerford market‘ that were determined to show their contempt for the ‘boys in blue’ at every opportunity, and had organised themselves to deal with any legal consequences that might arise.

PC Richard Wallington (19 F Division) was proceeding along his beat along Villiers Street between 11 and 12 at night on Wednesday 11 August 1830 (less than a year after the first of the Peelers had taken to the streets) when he saw a group of men harassing a private watchman.

He heard ‘high words’ as the watchman tried to get them to go home quietly. One of the men, a ‘sturdy looking fellow’ named Thomas Moody, said they would not quit because they were looking for someone. In fact they were looking for a policeman that he claimed ‘they had paid £8 for’.

This sounds like a bribe and presumably they expected something for it. However, it seems as if whatever they expected the copper to do (or to not do perhaps) had not been forthcoming and now they were after revenge. Moody declared that if they found him they meant to ‘rip [his] b_____ guts out’.

At this PC Wallington turned away, sensibly enough perhaps as he was outnumbered. Unfortunately for him the men had seen him and followed him into the Strand. Mood confronted the PC and threatened to ‘rip his guts out’. Wallington  told him to be quiet and go home. Instead of following that advice however the man attacked him, kicking and thumping him before the policeman was able to call for assistance. As Inspector Wovenden and some other officers arrived the pack of men scattered but Moody was overpowered and taken back to the station house.

In the morning he was produced before the magistrate at Bow Street and the case of assault against him outlined to Sir Richard Birnie. Inspector Wovenden testified that Moody had also insulted and threatened him and declared that he didn’t fear the consequences. Moody insisted that his gang had clubbed together to create a subscription fund out of which any fines incurred for assaulting policemen would be settled.

It is an interesting concept and shows how the so-called ‘criminal classes’ of nineteenth century London might have found a strategy to deal with this new threat to their operations. Many of the street crimes that the New Police dealt with were punished by fines: drunkenness, disorderly behaviour, gambling, refusing to quit licensed premises, obstruction – all carried a fine of between 1s and 10s. Even assault routinely incurred just a fine.

However, a failure to be able to pay any fine would land you in the house of correction for anything up to a month so swift payment was necessary. Later in the century, if the records of the Thames Police Court for the 1880s are reliable, it would seem that magistrates were choosing to punish serious assault (i.e that meted out to the police or to women) with prison, regardless of any ability to pay a fine.

In August 1830 though Sir Richard was content to test the theory of whether the Hungerford Market gang would make good on their boast to pay the fines incurred by anyone that took out a policeman. He handed down a hefty fine, £5 (or £250 today) which Moody could not find quickly. In consequence as he was in default he was taken away to serve two months in prison. It didn’t answer the wider question of who the gang had ‘bought’ but at least it sent a message that Peel’s New Police could not be interfered with with impunity.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, August 13, 1830]

Business as usual at Bow Street while the Red Barn murder mystery unfolds elsewhere

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In  1828 crime news in England was dominated by one story: the trial and execution of William Corder in Bury St Edmunds. Corder shot his lover, Maria Marten, after they had arranged to meet and then elope together. They met at the Red Barn in Polstead, Suffolk, having decided to run away because of fears that the parish officers were going to prosecute Maria for bearing at least two bastard children (one by Corder).

Corder was a fraudster and a Don Juan character and after murdering and burying Maria he fled to London, marrying  a woman who answered an advertisement he placed in the papers, and setting up home with her in Brentford. This is where he was when he was eventually tracked down by the police in 1828. He was brought back to Suffolk and his trial began on the 7 August.

The murder story became a sensation, it filled the newspapers and was copied widely into murder broadsides and cheap ‘penny dreadfuls’. Corder’s skull went on display in Suffolk and a play and melodrama was written about the tragedy. The Red Barn murder had become a murder mystery with a number of twists and sub plots.

Meanwhile at London’s police courts the more everyday business of law or order were given less coverage by the papers as a result. The entry for ‘Police Intelligence’ in The Morning Post is almost cursory. It mentions a counterfeiter at Hatton Garden who was remanded while two men at Marlborough Street were prosecuted for ‘furious driving’ and an assault on another road user (‘road rage’ in the 1820s?).

Finally from Bow Street, several women were brought in and charged by the proprietor of the English Opera House in Covent Garden. He complained to the Bow Street magistrate, Sir Richard Birnie, about the ‘disgraceful conduct of the depraved characters of both sexes who frequent the avenues of this theatre’. Covent Garden was synonymous with prostitution in the  period and this was a constant problem for the bench. Mr Birnie and his colleague, Mr Minshull sent the parcel of females to prison for a few days or weeks to ‘prevent their reappearance in that quarter for some time'(but not for ever).

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, August 09, 1828]

a middle aged woman ‘of prepossessing countenance’

In the course of research for my first book on the summary courts of the City of London  I found that the eighteenth-century City justices spent a considerable amount of their time dealing with streetwalkers brought in by one over zealous parish constable named Thomas Paine. Paine was a God fearing Protestant who abhorred whores almost as much as he detested Catholics. One more than one occasion Paine brought the magistracy a cart load of prostitutes for them to admonish, fine or send to Bridewell.

Prostitution continued to be a problem in the 1800s and periodically the authorities determined to clamp down on it. In May 1823 upwards of 60 women were cleared from the streets of the capital and the worst offenders committed to gaol. The encounter between the presiding magistrate at Bow Street, Sir Richard Birnie, and one of the nymphs of the Pave’ was recorded by the papers for the amusement of their readers.

Anne Reeves, a middle aged woman ‘of prepossessing countenance, and delicate manner’ appeared and Sir Richard expressed his astonishment that a person such as herself should be at the bar like this; what had brought her to this? Anne begged his lordship’s pardon and said she was going to Bath ‘but she had a had a few things that were…’

…and ‘here the Lady set up a ha! ha! ha! and exclaimed – You know what I mean Sir Richard!’

‘Indeed I do not’, the justice replied, ‘but I suppose you mean pawned’.

Anne admitted that was indeed her problem. Sir Richard said he was inclined to believe her ‘plausible story’ and let her off with a warning and an instruction to go to Bath where she would be a problem for someone else.

[from The Morning Post , Tuesday, May 27, 1823]