Help for heroes in 1870

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A veteran of the Crimean War

Whilst today is Hallo’een and this evening we will be inundated with small children flying high on sugar and commercialized excitement this is also the week that poppy sellers really began to make an appearance.  I’m not going to engage in the debate as to whether or not anyone should wear a poppy (or what colour that poppy should be); I believe that men and women have died in wars to preserve our freedoms and the freedom to wear a poppy (or not) is part and parcel of that.

Poppies were first sold in Britain in 1921, the year the Royal British Legion was formed. It sold 9,000,00 of them and raised £106,000 for veterans from the First World War. Last year 40,000,000 were sold worldwide and now the Legion helps veterans from all wars in the 20th and 21st century. The FWW was meant to be the ‘war to end all wars’, sadly it wasn’t.

What struck me about the reportage from the London Police courts for hallo’ween 1870 was a story about six young lads who had been collecting money for veterans, just as the Legion’s poppy sellers do today. The boys (part of a wider group of 36 they said) had approached Sir Robert Carden at the Guildhall just as the court was closing for the day.

A spokesman for the group piped up to say that they were asking for the magistrate’s help as they hadn’t been paid. When asked they said they took a stand in the street and collected money in a box which they then returned to the clerks in ‘the office’. Depending on the amount they raised they were paid between 2s6dand 4sa week. However, when they went to collect their money that day the office was closed and they had gone away empty handed.

It seems they were collecting considerable sums of money from the public. They knew how much because the opening used to remove cash was kept sealed. Nevertheless the boys could feel the weight of the boxes and could see the money being put in them. One lad, who stood outside Bow Church on Cheapside said that he seen a gentleman put in a sovereign and two other men donate half sovereigns. Each box must have amounted to a considerable sum and so for just a few shillings a week the lads were doing great work in drumming up money for the charity.

Sir Richard was sympathetic to their plight but thought that it might just be  a temporary error on the behalf of the clerks to forget to pay these six individuals. He advised them to try once more the next day but to return to see him they remained unpaid. In that case, he said, he would take more formal action against the charity.

So this shows us that the courts were used for more than just crime, they were arenas for negotiation, advice and support. It also reveals that there was some sort of charity to support old soldiers in the late 1800s, perhaps a recognition that the Victorian state (as Kipling later observed) was not doing enough.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, October 31, 1870]

Racism ‘on the buses’?

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In the 1880s London buses (more properly ‘omnibuses’) were privately run. This meant that they sometimes switched their routes to take advantage of a sudden influx of passenger business. So instead, for example, of the modern 242 going to Dalston from Liverpool Street it might choose to run to Islington if sufficient people wanted to go there. I can’t imagine a situation where that would happen today but if it did there would be uproar from the stranded passengers left waiting at the stop.

This is exactly what happened in June 1880 however, as Jacob Allen was trying to get home late at night on a Sunday from Bank. An omnibus pulled up and the conductor shouted: ‘Burdett Road and Mile End’ and a number of people boarded, including Allen.

Then, as a number of other ‘buses appeared, all heading in the same direction, the conductor shouted ‘Limehouse and Blackwall’, thereby ‘altering the direction altogether’. He ordered everyone to get off declaring:

‘Come out, come out, I wont carry you to Mile-end’.

Everyone did get off the bus except for Allen; the engineer realized that  this revised route suited him much better anyway so he sat down and puffed on his cigar and waited to be carried home. The conductor still insisted he leave however, and when he tried to explain the bus man abused him verbally, calling him a ‘stuck up monkey’ and grabbed the cigar out of his mouth.

Allen complained at the man’s rudeness but it did no good, the conductor manhandled him off the bus and left him fuming on the pavement. Determined to have satisfaction Jacob Allen applied for a summons and had the man hauled up before Sir Robert Carden at the Mansion House Police court.

The conductor’s name was Moore and he had little by way of a defence. Allen had found at least one witness who supported his version of events and added that Moore appeared to be drunk at the time. Apparently he had told Allen that ‘he would not carry such trash’. Given that the complainant was an engineer and smoking a cigar I wonder if Allen was black and this was a case of racism? All Moore would say was that the man was intoxicated and that was why he refused him travel but this was vehemently denied. If he’d been out in London late on Sunday Jacob Allen may well have been drinking but this seems like a slur and Moore could produce no evidence for it.

Sir Robert found for the complainant and commented that Moore’s ‘omnibus was one of those private ones which went anywhere. It was clearly proved  that he had used bad language’, adding that ‘the sooner his master got rid of him the better. Civil language cost nothing’ after all.

He fined him 20s or 14 days in prison.

London had (as it has today) an extensive transport network involving omnibuses, trams, over ground and subterranean trains and the ever-present hansom cabs. This allowed Londoners to move around the city from east to west, south to north, at almost all times of the day or night, regardless of the depth of their pockets. It may also have helped one deeply disturbed individual carry out some of the most heinous murders this country has ever known. For more about the man who might have been ‘Jack the Ripper’ see Drew’s new co-authored study on the Whitechapel and Thames Torso murders of 1887-1891 available now on Amazon:

[from The Standard , Saturday, June 26, 1880]

‘A great nuisance’ but a dedicated body of men and women. How the Salvation Army got their message to the people

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Yesterday’s blog concerned the Salvation Army with two of their ‘soldiers’ being warned about annoying a local man with the ‘infernal din’ they made playing music outside his house on a Sunday. That was in 1896 when the organization was beginning to establish itself in late Victorian society. It was still an object of suspicion for some, and ridicule for others but it was well on its way to being widely recognized as the charitable religious body it is regarded as today.

William Booth had founded the East London Christian mission in 1865 and adopted the name ‘The Salvation Army’ in 1878. Booth and his wife Catherine (pictured below right) were Methodists and their intention was to bring religion and abstinence from alcohol to the poor of the East End. Unusually for the time Catherine (and all women in the mission) was able to preach on the same terms as her husband. In the early 1880s the Salvation Army began to expand its operations overseas, opening branches in the USA, Ireland and Australia and of course their success was in no small part due to their ability to promote the Army and to as many possible ‘volunteers’ as possible.

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They did this by public meetings and marches, all accompanied by brass bands made up of members, a military system of organization (with “General’ Booth at the head), and by selling their weekly paper, The War Cry. This was sold on the streets and in public houses and, as this case from 1882 shows, this could sometimes bring them into dispute with the local constabulary.

Thomas Dawson was an unlikely looking occupant of the dock at the City Police court. He was described as being about 30 years of age, ‘delicate looking’ and wearing the uniform of the Salvation Army. He had been summoned for ‘obstructing the footway in Liverpool Street’ while attempting to hawk copies of the Army’s publication.

Appearing for the City of London police chief inspector Tillcock said that there had been a growing problem with Sally Army men and women standing on the streets and drawing crowds. It was ‘a great nuisance’ he stated and caused by the ‘peculiar actions and dress’ of those involved. Perhaps the public was curious and stopped to hear what the soldiers of Booth’s army had to say; I suspect some stopped to harangue them as misguided or laugh at their costumes.

PC 934 City had tried to move Dawson on several times but each time the man had simply returned to the same position and carried on his business. When challenged about it in court Dawson declared that he had just as much right to sell the paper as anyone else and was causing no more obstruction than a Punch and Judy show. He felt the constable was picking on him because he didn’t like the message the Army was keen to broadcast but he wasn’t about to stop for anyone. The Salvation Army was, he stated in court, ‘something they wanted everyone to know about’.

Sir Robert Carden, the presiding magistrate, found for the police and begged to differ regarding the merits of an organization that took a doctrinal position that differed from the established, Anglican, church. Regardless of the virtues of the War Cry or the Army’s message he couldn’t allow the obstruction of City roads and pavements so he fined him 26d plus costs and warned him that if he came before him on a similar charge again he would double the fine. Dawson asked the justice what the alternative to paying the fine was.

‘Three days imprisonment’ he was told. He thanked the magistrate and was taken into custody. Perhaps he preferred to suffer some gaol time rather than reducing the income of the Army. If so he was a very dedicated soldier for the cause and that probably tells us all we need to know about the eventual success of the Salvation Army. Whatever we might think of it, or the people that sign up as new recruits, it was men and women like Thomas Dawson that  helped ensure that William and Catherine Booth’s vision prospered and developed into the global charity it is today.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, April 29, 1882]

Shoplifting and false imprisonment in 1850s Holborn : the case of the missing sovereign

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Before I entered the heady world of academia I had mostly earned my money working in shops. Indeed, I partly funded my studies at undergraduate and postgraduate level by working for Waterstones’ the booksellers.

So I have a reasonable idea and experience of how the law works around shoplifting and just how careful retail staff have to be if they suspect an individual of stealing from them. You cannot, for example, just grab hold of someone and accuse them of theft; you have to have seen them take an item and be absolutely sure that intend to walk away with without paying. Shop security guards are allowed to ask to see inside a person’s bag but if they refuse then the guards are obliged to call the police to organize a search.

In the mid nineteenth century shopping was a fashionable pastime amongst ladies of the upper and middle classes but the problem of shoplifting was still rife as it had been in the previous century. Shopkeepers were well aware that, as had been the case in the 1700s, female thieves were well known to dress up to resemble wealthier and ‘respectable’ shoppers in order to perpetrate their crimes. In this context the ‘extraordinary conduct’ of one City of London shopkeeper can be much better understood, even if it would have never happened in today’s world.

When a ‘respectably attired’ lady and her sister entered Mr. Meeking’s shop on Holborn Hill she had the intention to buy a dress for a forthcoming occasion. The woman (who was not named in the newspapers, for reasons that will become evident) was obliged to wait for an assistant to serve her as two ladies were already being served. One placed a £5 note on the counter with a sovereign coin on top, the payment for the items she’d chosen. The assistant turned over the note and asked her to endorse it, then walked off to the other side of the shop to fetch the cashier.

However, when a few minutes later the cashier arrived the sovereign was missing. The customer swore she’d put it there and the assistant was just as adamant that he had taken it. Suspicion now fell on anyone who was in the general area, including the two sisters who were waiting to be served.

The lady customer who’s sovereign had disappeared now turned to them and asked them not to leave until the matter had been settled. A policeman was summoned so that the four women could be searched. However, our ‘respectably attired’ shopper refused to be searched by a man and demanded that the female searcher (employed by the police) be brought to the store. The policeman told her that the searcher was currently busy at Smithfield Police Station and she’d have to accompany him there if she wished to be searched by a woman.

Our lady refused to be marched through the streets by a policeman like a common criminal and insisted any search took place there and then in store. There was nothing to do then but wait. Having given her name and address she was then forced to wait for three hours before the store closed and Mr Meeking returned from business elsewhere so that the four women could be taken into a private room where they were stripped of all their clothes (save ‘their shoes and stocking’) by one of Meeking’s female servants.

Nothing was found on any of them.

The woman was so outraged by this invasion of her privacy and by being held against her will for several hours that she applied to Sir Robert Carden at the Guildhall Police Court to complain. She said she had fainted twice during her ordeal and had been quite ill ever since. Indeed, so ill, she said, that it had taken her several weeks to gather the courage and energy to come to court. She was a respectable married woman and the whole episode was a disgrace, which explains why she did not wish her name to appear in the pages of the press.

Sir Robert was sympathetic but otherwise impotent. No crime had been committed in said, but she would certainly have a case for a civil prosecution for false imprisonment should she wish to pursue it. Taking the case further may have risked the lady’s good name being dragged through the civil courts (and newspapers) but perhaps that would be unnecessary now. After all the public airing of her experience would most likely have an adverse affect on Meeking’s business, deterring others from risking a similar one, and this might explain why she chose this path.

That is always the risk for a shopkeeper if they are not absolutely certain that a person is guilty of stealing; make a false accusation and you risk a loss of business and a loss of face. Which is why the odds are always stacked in favour of the shop thief.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, April 16, 1854]

‘His whole time belongs to the public’: the lot of the Victorian policeman

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London Police (c.1891) – you can see their duty armlets on their left wrists.

A Victorian policeman was expected to wear his uniform at all times of the day, regardless of whether he was on duty or not. According to the Police Code book an officer can ‘never be strictly off duty, for his whole time belongs to the public’.* To indicate he was on duty a policeman wore the striped armlet, the removal of which – in duty hours – was considered a very serious offence.

PC Josiah Norton  (770 City) was a good example of a police officer who took his vows of service seriously. He lived in digs above a watchmaker’s shop at 11 Barking Alley on the wonderfully named Seething Lane. On the night of the 22/23 February 1869 Norton was asleep then, around one in the morning, he was woken by ‘a slight noise’. His police sense told hi something was wrong and he got up and, dressed only in his nightshirt, went to investigate. As he descended the stairs to Mr Miller’s watch shop he saw an intruder who, seeing the other man, ran off with the policeman in pursuit.

The burglar ran out of the house and towards nearby Barking Church, tripping on some steps as he fled. Unfortunately for him two policemen were nearby, Inspector Harrison and Sergeant Hartopp. The running man looked suspicious so they questioned him. As they did PC Norton came running up, still dressed only in his night wear, and told them the fugitive was wanted for attempted burglary. Norton said he would have been with them quicker but the escaping felon had the presence of mind to bar one of the exits behind him.

In the Mansion House Police court the following day the man gave his name as James Cottrell, labourer but the police described him as the member of a ‘gang of burglars, all of whom are now in custody’. The magistrate, Sir Robert Carden, granted their request for a remand so that Cottrell’s character and circumstances might be investigated further.

Cottrell came to trial at the Old Bailey on the 1 March 1869. He pleaded guilty but tried to argue that he’d only entered Miller’s watch shop by accident: ‘I was making a convenience of the place, and fell in,’ he said. In other words he was using the doorway as a toilet when it opened unexpectedly. The judge was no more convinced than I imagine you are and, since he had a previous conviction from 1865, he handed down a seven-year sentence of penal servitude.  Cottrell was just 21 years of age; he served six years being released on license in February 1875.

As for PC Norton his heroics had not passed unnoticed by the City magistracy and police. Sir Robert Corden made a point of commending his dedication to duty in pursuing a criminal despite being undressed and said ‘he hoped his conduct would be reported to the commissioner’. It already had been, Inspector Harrison confirmed.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, 24 February, 1869]

*Neil A. Bell and Adam Wood, Sir Howard Vincent’s Police Code 1889, (Mango Books, 2015), p.24

‘Such things are a disgrace there’: A Dutchman tries to save his father’s shame by dumping his grandchild on the streets of London

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Lower Thames Street in the late 1800s

One of the subjects that continues to fascinate my undergraduate students is infanticide. Almost invariably they approach the topic wanting to understand how a mother could deliberately murder her newborn baby. Looking through the very many cases that came before the Old Bailey they are understandably shocked at the stories of women who cut their infant child’s throat, or smothered it at birth, before dumping the body in the nearest privy.

Without wishing to deny the reality that some mothers did kill their newborn babies I think most historians would agree that this was probably the exception rather than the rule in infanticide cases. Babies died in childbirth much more often in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before advancements in medical care arrived in the 1900s. Most importantly the women accused were invariably single, poor, young and from the servant class. These young women had fallen pregnant and then had tried to conceal this from their families and employers, for fear of being condemned as immoral and, in the case of servants, being dismissed from service.

Illegitimacy is not an issue in most Western societies today. Very many people choose to live together before they marry and some do not marry at all yet still have children. This has been widely accepted in most communities in Britain since the 1970s if not a little earlier and the word ‘bastard’ has almost lost its original meaning.

However this was far from true in the 1800s, even if – as this case perhaps implies – London was seen as a more progressive city than some in Europe.

In December 1875 Samuel Whiffin was walking towards London Bridge on Lower Thames Street when he noticed a parcel lying near a doorway. As a policeman was approaching from the opposite direction Whiffin called him over and pointed out the package. PC Holly examined it and realized that it contained the body of an infant.

To his relief the baby was alive but very cold, so PC Holly carried it off to the Home for the Houseless Poor. This charity provided ‘nightly shelter and sustenance to the absolutely destitute working- classes, who are suddenly thrown out of employment by inclement weather’.* Having been looked after by the charity the child was next taken to the Homerton Workhouse and the search for its parents began.

Three days later Jans Hans, a Dutch labourer living at 3, Walburgh Street, St George-in-the-East, was brought before Sir Robert Carden at  Mansion House to be examined concerning the abandonment of the child. He was accused along with his sister, who was in St George’s hospital and too ill to attend.

The court heard the evidence of PC Holly as to the finding of the baby and then from a Mrs Plaggenine, a German woman who was landlady to Hans and his sister. Sir Robert was interested in the revelation that the siblings shared a single room in the property, and intimated that this was not normal. Mrs Plaggenine ignored, or did not understand, the magistrate’s question, but the suggestion of incest was left hanging in the air.

The policeman that had arrested Jan Hans questioned him about the child and reported that the man had admitted leaving it in the street on the previous Thursday. Hans told him that he had set the child down then retired to a safe spot where he could watch to see that someone stopped and rescued the baby. He had tried advertising the baby for adoption but had no success.

Hans and his sister were desperate, the Dutchman now explained to the alderman. They were very poor and couldn’t afford to raise a child. His sister had traveled from Holland ‘to be confined’ (to give birth) because the father refused to take responsibility for it. He added that ‘such things were a disgrace there’.

Presumably because Jan lived and worked in London this seemed like a good solution to Hans senior. If he sent his daughter to England she could give birth and the child would be brought up by strangers in a strange country but at least his family’s reputation would be protected. The child had a lucky escape and it is hard to imagine the mental state of Hans’ sister who seems to have been almost entirely left out of the decision-making process. She was ill in hospital while her brother disposed of her baby and the alderman magistrate cast further doubt on her morality by suggesting it was the product of an incestuous relationship.

Jan Hans was remanded in custody so that the courts could decide what to do with him and his sister. If they couldn’t and wouldn’t care for the baby (and no adopted family could be found) then it would grow up in the workhouse like Oliver Twist, perhaps never knowing of it Dutch heritage.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, 20 December, 1875]

A sailor finds that he’s been sold a parcel of horses**t

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James Randall had bought a packet of what he believed to be tobacco from someone, possibly a dock worker, at one of the many pubs in and around the City of London. The vendor had torn open the package just enough to allow him to test a sample of the tobacco, and he had handed over 2for it. Later he discovered that instead a pound and a half of ‘baccy, all he had was a worthless mix of ‘sawdust and horsedung’.

The sailor had been ‘done’ but instead of accepting his bad luck he decided he would try to recover the situation. Later that day he was walking in the Minories in the City, close to its eastern edge, when he encountered a young lad named Thomas Watts. He offered him the parcel of ‘tobacco’ for 2s3d hoping to make a small profit from the deal.

Watts, a ‘respectable’ youth, was unsure, and said no. Randall immediately dropped the price to 19d, but Thomas still wavered. The sailor went to 16d  and Watts caved in. He handed over the money and was about to examine his purchase when a policeman ran up to the pair of them.

PC Hayton (588 City) had watched the transaction and knew Randall as a suspicious individual. He took the parcel and the plug sample of tobacco  fell out soon followed by the worthless mixture of sawdust and manure. The copper quickly established that the boy had been ripped off and instructed Randall to give him his money back. He demurred at first but then complied. As Watts thanked the policeman the seaman took his chance and ran off.

The officer chased him across the City and caught up with him in Finsbury Circus where he arrested him. On the way to the station Randall confessed to knowing his parcel was valueless and so to trying to defraud Thomas. Not surprisingly then when he was produced at the Mansion House Police court Sir Robert Carden committed him for trial.

Randall was tried at the Old Bailey on the 22 October 1855 and found guilty on his own confession, he was 25 years of age. The judge sent him to prison for three months.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 30, 1855]