A glimmer of hope for an abused wife in Somers Town

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According to the memoirs of one of London’s Police Court magistrates the working class believed that magistrates had the power to divorce married couples. In reality divorce was out of the question the poorer classes as it was an expensive legal exercise which effectively excluded all but the wealthiest in late Victorian society. Police magistrates in London could however, order a legal separation and require a husband to continue to maintain his wife.

We can see an example of this in a report from Clerkenwell in 1885. Richard Davis, a labourer living at 12 Churchway in Somers Town, was brought before Mr Hosack and charged with assaulting his wife. This was a common enough accusation levelled in the police courts, hundreds of women prosecuted their partners on a weekly basis in London.   In most cases the accusation was enough and when the couple appeared in court the wife would either drop the charge or plead for leniency, often whilst she stood in the witness box sporting a black eye or swaddled in bandages.

The police rarely intervened in ‘domestics’, and were not supposed to intervene unless ‘actual violence is imminent’ (as the Police Code stated). Most of the time they were called after violence had occurred as I have described on numerous occasions in previous posts here. In court this was the only situation in which a wife could testify against her husband but the difficulties in doing so were considerable. A wife that prosecuted her husband might fear retribution, or the loss of his earnings should he be imprisoned (which was one of the options that magistrates resorted to when confronted with wife beaters).

Mrs Davis had been brave enough to challenge her husband’s abuse in public; it was very unlikely to have been the first time that he had assaulted her and perhaps she feared that if she suffered in silence the next attack might be worse, fatal even. In court Mr Hosack heard that Davis ‘constantly ill-used his wife’. On this most recent occasion he had arrived home drunk, the pair had argued and he had hit her with a chair. The labourer then picked up a paraffin lamp and hurled it at her. Fortunately it missed but it caused a small fire, which must have been terrifying.

Perhaps because Davis’ actions threatened not just the life of his wife but also those of his neighbours the magistrate decided to send him away to cool down. He sentenced him to three months at hard labour, which would certainly impact on the man and remind him that his wife had the power to resist.

More importantly perhaps Mr Hosack ordered a ‘judicial separation between the prisoner and his wife’ and told Davis that on his release he would have to pay her 10a week maintenance. He could make the order of course but could he compel the man to pay? I doubt it. As a labourer recently out of gaol Davis would have few prospects of finding well-paid work (if any at all) and 10was not inconsiderable.

Mrs Davis’ best option was to find a new home with friends or family and hope Richard did not find her. If she wanted his money she would have to fight for it, and that meant taking him before the courts again if he failed to pay.

[from The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, December 5, 1885]

‘The knife at work again’ screams the ‘headline’ in the Chronicle

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David Connor was a drunk. And when he was in his cups he was extremely violent. Plenty of people would testify to that fact, including the police to whom he was a known offender.

In February 1857 he was up before Mr Tyrwhitt at Clerkenwell Police court on charge of stabbing James Roberts. Both men were costermongers – street traders who had a reputation for bad language, heavy drinking, and fighting. When they rolled up their sleeves and traded blows in a ‘fair fight’ no one really minded but when knives were involved the state intervened.

Roberts had entered the Coffee House pub on Chapel Street in Somers Town at about 8 o’clock at night. Connor – a ‘rough, dirty looking fellow; – was already much the worse for drink. The pair argued and Roberts left. He made his way to another pub, the Victoria, but Connor followed him and the two men quarrelled again.

This time they came to blows and Connor pulled out a knife and stabbed the other coster in the arm. As Roberts bled and sought medical help, Connor scarpered before the police could catch him. Enquiries were made however and the culprit was picked up and taken into custody. The police were adamant that Connor was guilty because he was known to be aggressive and ‘committed assaults on nearly every person he fell in with’.

Connor pleaded for leniency and said he was sorry, it would;t have happened if he hadn’t have been drinking. He asked the magistrate to deal with him there and then – knowing he would get a lesser sentence at the Police Court. Mr Tyrwhitt asked after Roberts’ health and was told that his injuries were not yet clear, and it was too soon for him to appear in court to give his evidence. He doesn’t seem to have been in mortal danger but under the circumstances it was appropriate to remand Connor in custody to see what charge he would eventually face.

The paper’s headline – the knife at work again – suggests a contemporary concern with mindless violence in the late 1850s. There was a growing concern about a criminal class and outbreaks of garrotting panics in the 1850s and 1860s fuelled this. I suspect Connor would have faced  a trial at the Sessions later that month and a faulty lengthy prison spell if he was convicted. Violence that involved knives was not considered very ‘British’ and he may well have paid the price for that.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, February 23, 1857]

Attempted fratricide, or self defence in Somers Town?

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PC 45S was making his way down Brewer Street in central London at six in the morning when he heard a cry of ‘murder’ from inside one of the houses. When he forced his way into the house he found an ‘old man weltering in his blood from a terrible gash down his face’.

Pointing to a younger man, the victim said faintly, ‘he has stabbed me’. The policeman quickly found the weapon used, a table knife, concealed in a drawer and arrested the young man and took him back to the police station.

The old man was Charles Jones and it was his son, John, who was eventually charged with attacking him. Charles was taken to University College Hospital where he was held for a few days on account of his injuries. He was still in hospital when his son appeared before the sitting magistrate at Marylebone. The magistrate warned John that if his father died then he would be facing a trial for his life and asked him if he had anything to say for himself.

John said that he had been at home eating some bread and cheese when his father came home much the worse for drink. The pair quarreled and Charles had attacked him with a poker. In self defence he grabbed the knife and held it up, he ‘supposed that he accidentally cut’ his father in the process.

This case doesn’t seem to have made it to a higher court. Jones Jones was remanded in custody but there’s no record of him at the Old Bailey or of his father as a victim. Hopefully the old man survived the assault and, when he’d recovered, made his peace with his son.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, January 18, 1841]

You can use this site to search for specific crimes or use the Themes link in the menu on the left to look for areas or topics that interest you. If you are interested in a particular court (such as Bow Street or Marylebone) you can also limit your search to one court in particular. Please feel free to comment on anything you read and if something in particular interests you then please get in touch. You can email me at drew.gray@northampton.ac.uk

Officer down!: the Perils of Police work in Victorian London

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Today, in a slight break from the usual format of these posts, I want to write about two incidents that didn’t appear in reports of the workings of the London Police Courts, but are closely related to them. This is because they involve officers of the Metropolitan Police, the body of men that brought the majority of defendants before the capital’s magistrates.

Police work was (and is) dangerous. The police have to place themselves in positions of risk when they are pursuing criminals (who might be armed and desperate) or protecting the public. In my lifetime and think of several three high profile events in which officers lost their lives. In 1984 PC Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead outside the Libyan embassy in London, while only last year PC Keith Palmer was killed outside the Palace of Westminster in a terrorist attack. In September 2012 Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were murdered by Dale Cregan when they answered a routine call to investigate a suspected crime.

Police work then, can be perilous and, for all the criticism the police receive, it is worth remembering this. It is also worth noting that it was ever thus; from the very earliest days of the Met the men (and in those days of course it was only men) who joined up were exposed to everyday dangers. In 1830, in the first full year of the ‘New Police’, PC Joseph Grantham was beaten to death when he tried to break up a drunken brawl in Somers Town. The public ambivalence towards Peel’s new force was reflected in the coroner’s verdict which suggested PC Grantham had ‘over exerted himself in discharging his duty’ and his death was recorded as ‘justifiable homicide’.

In November 1882 The Illustrated Police News (not an ‘official’ police paper but one that traded in ‘crime news’) reported the death of one officer (by drowning) and the shooting of another. The reports were carried alongside all those that recorded the ‘daily doings’ of the Police Courts.

PC Fitnum (240R) of Kent police was at Foots Cray in Sidcup. It was thought that as his night patrol took him across the River Cray by means of a narrow plank bridge he had slipped and fallen in. The river had been swollen by heavy rains and it is quite likely that he was unable to swim. He was found by his son about half an hour after he left the station to commence his beat. The 43 year-old, with 17 years service, left a wife and seven children.

In the same week at Hampstead PC Charles Ellingham (221S) was perambulating his beat around the home of Mr Reginald Prance of Frognal, ‘a man well known in City circles’ the paper noted. Hearing a noise behind some bushes he walked over to investigate.

All of a sudden a man rose up from behind them, ‘pointed a revolver at the constable’s head, and fired at him, saying “Take that! This isn’t the first time you have disturbed to-night”.’

The bullet passed through PC Ellingham’s helmet but, fortunately,  missed his head. With ‘great courage’ the copper rushed his man but was unable to stop him getting another shot off. This one took PC Ellingham in the thigh, passing through his ‘great coat, tunic, trousers and drawers’ before ‘lodging in the flesh’. As the constable fell his assailant made his getaway, clambering over a wall into the Redington Road.

Amazingly, the policeman recovered himself and set off in pursuit, chasing the supposed burglar across the nearby fields. He nearly caught up with the ‘cowardly ruffian’ but despite the constable ‘springing his rattle’ (these were the days before police were issued with whistles)  the would-be assassin got away.

Ellingham returned to Mr Prance’s home and made his enquiries. He could see no evidence that the man had attempted a break in and the footman confirmed that he had heard the shots fired. The following description of the attacker was circulated:

‘Age twenty-six; height, 5 ft. 8 in.; fair, light, moustache; dress, long dark overcoat; light trousers, black felt hat’. The paper also reported that: ‘Great activity prevailed among the police the whole of Sunday in endeavouring to apprehend the man’, but so far no one had been found responsible for the attempt on the constable’s life.

PC Ellingham was a young officer, just 21 years of age, a ‘smart looking young fellow’ and unmarried. He was receiving the very best in medical care the reporter assured his readership and CID were actively investigating the event.

Both incidents reflect the risks of police work in the late 1800s and to that we could add numerous accounts of drunken assaults on officers as they patrolled the capital’s streets. Historians of crime have argued over the extent to which animosity towards the police was confined to ‘professional’ criminals and the so-called ‘criminal class’ and most would accept that at least in the first 50 years of professional policing the public’s attitude towards the police was at best ambiguous. The press were apt to highlight police incompetence and corruption whenever they could, but, as these reports show, they were also quick to praise brave officers and remind the public of their sacrifice when it was made.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, November 4, 1882]

A distressed mother hits out at Great Ormond Street Hospital

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Great Ormond Street Hospital, c.1858 from The Illustrated Times 

Most if us are familiar with the amazing work that Great Ormond Street hospital does today. Great Ormond Street (or GOSH) opened in 1852 with a mission to treat  sick children. At the start it only had 10 beds and treated the sick poor from the local area. It was founded by Dr Charles West, who had written and lectured extensively on the particular diseases of children and how to treat them.

GOSH was a charity, and so relied on donations to survive. Within a few years it was in trouble, unable to treat the number of patients that applied to it. In 1858 Dickens gave a performance at a charity dinner, raising enough money to buy the property next door and extend provision to 75 beds. In 1871 readers of a popular children’s magazine, Aunt Judy’s Magazine, donated £1,000 to sponsor a cot; this set a trend for future sponsorships.

So by 1872 the hospital had survived an early crisis and was now well established. it treated the children of the poor, providing a much needed service not available before. In the Victorian age children were increasingly valued and legislation was passed to protect them. The idea of ‘childhood’ (something limited largely tot the children of the wealthy) was extended to all children in the later 1800s.

GOSH was a pioneer from the start, and the hospital has seen many advances in paediatric medicine. In 1872 surgeons began to experiment with the use of electricity to treat paralysis and other ailments.  There years later GOSH’s first purpose built 100 bed hospital opened to the public and in 1878 a dedicated paediatric nursing college started training future nurses.

The extent of medical knowledge in the 1800s had improved considerably from the previous century but it was still very limited by today’s standards. In June 1872 a ‘respectable’ mechanic’s wife came to the Clerkenwell Police court to complain about the hospital to Mr Barker, the sitting magistrate.

Mrs Sarah Hornblower lived at 52 Johnson Street, Somers Town, and when one of her children fell ill she took it to the hospital. The child was an out patient at GOSH from April 1872 but on June 7th it fell dangerously ill and she took it in again.

While she waited to be seen to the poor child died in her arms, and she left it with the hospital while she went to make arrangements for its burial. When she returned later she discovered, to her horror, that a post mortem had been performed.

While this was, it was later established, standard procedure, it came as a terrible shock to Susan. When she complained to the justice she told him that:

‘the surgeons, without her authority or sanction, had cut open her child from the throat downwards’, and no one it seems had apologised or explained it to her.

Later that day Mr Barker was able to discuss the complaint with the hospital’s house surgeon, Mr Beach. He explained that Mrs Hornblower’s child had been suffering from croup or diphtheria and it was important to establish which had proved fatal. Croup (or laryngotracheobronchitis) is caused by a virus and affects the lungs. It causes a ‘barking’ cough and today it very rarely proves fatal.

Croup was not contagious but diphtheria is. Today diphtheria is rare in the UK because children are vaccinated against it, but in the 1870s it was a disease that could and did kill children in London.

So Dr Beach was being sensible he said, in checking for the cause of the child’s death so he ‘better attend to the applicant’s other children’. He was asked if there was any other way to ascertain what had killed the child, short of performing a partial autopsy. There was not he replied, and he had only done what was absolutely necessary.

Dr Beach added that Mrs Hornblower should not seen her child in that state. When she had entered the room where the body lay she had ‘in the most hasty manner pulled the sheet off the body, and thus it became exposed’. Mr Hornblower had been consulted and had agreed to the post mortem so the hospital was covered.

We can only feel sympathy for Susan Hornblower, the loss of a child is always a tragedy however it happens and she was probably shocked to see her son or daughter like that, and understandably in  distress she hit out. The magistrate told her that no one had done anything wrong and while she was upset there was nothing to support a summons.

He added that there ‘was a great deal of difference  between anatomy and making a post-mortem examination’, a possible reference to popular fears of the anatomisation of pauper bodies in the nineteenth century following the passage of Anatomy Act (1832), which allowed hospitals access to the cadavers of the dead poor.

We aren’t told in this report whether the child died of croup or diphtheria. Hopefully the Hornblowers’ other children survived and none were affected as badly as their sibling. We do know that GOSH remains at the forefront of paediatric care nearly 150 years later.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, June 22, 1872]

A bailiff gets his comeuppance

In October 1849 Henry and Margaret Joyce were summoned to the Clerkenwell Police Court to be be charged with assault by Henry Herrick. The Joyces ran an ironmonger’s shop in Wilstead Street, Somers Town (near Euston in central London). Herrick was ‘an officer of the Palace Court’, a court that was concerned with the private prosecution of small debts. It is likely that Herrick was a forerunner of a modern debt recovery officer, or bailiff. The compile were represented in court by a lawyer who was usually attached to the Hatton Garden Police Court nearby.

Herrick gave his evidence, stating that he had gone to the Joyce’s shop to serve a warrant on their son. At the door he declared who he was and showed him his authority to arrest their boy for debt. Perhaps not surprisingly they threw him out and prevented him executing his warrant. The son was apparently hiding in the back yard.

The officer persisted however, forcing his way into the house and seizing the lad. Mrs Joyce now attacked him ‘violently’, pelting him ‘with crockeryware’! Henry Joyce tore his shirt and his wife snatched at his face. Eventually he dragged the son out into the street and tried to bundle him into a cart he had waiting nearby. The lad rested and a crowd soon gathered to see what all the fuss was about.

The defence now challenged his evidence, Mr Sidney (the Hatton Garden solicitor) asked Herrick: ‘Pray, have you got a staff?’ ‘Yes’ the officer responded. ‘Did you use it on my clients?’ Herrick denied that he had, and the staff was produced in court.

This was a heavy staff with a brass crown at the top, a ceremonial symbol of the officer’s authority but something capable of doing great harm. Mr Joyce declared that he had indeed used it on him in his attempts to capture their son.

The solicitor now remained to know where Herrick’s witnesses were. After all he had claimed that a large crowd had witnessed the ‘violent’ attack on him his clients. The only person who supported Herrick was his assistant, who said the boy had not resisted at first, but only after his parents had hit Mr Herrck. It was a confused and inconsistent prosecution and there were no independent witnesses that supported the Palace Court officer.

By contrast Mr Sidney was able to bring in a lady named Frances Stephenson who had entered the ironmonger’s shop as a customer and witnessed Herrick’s arrival. When Mrs Joyce saw the officer she asked him what he wanted.

‘”I’ll soon let you know”, and he stuck her. Witness [Mrs Stephenson] said, “You brute, what do you mean?” Witness then saw the staff in his hand. The children were alarmed, and crying and screaming. He had a large ring on his finger and he struck Mrs Joyce on the head’.

The magistrate asked Herrick if he wanted to question Mrs Stephenson. What we would the point, the officer answered, since she had sworn on oath against him. Mr Tyrwhitt (the magistrate) asked her if she had any connection to the Joyces. She hadn’t she said, ‘I am quite a stranger, and entered the shop accidentally to purchase the bottom of a grate’.

A local shoemaker also saw the altercation and testified that Herrick had struck Mrs Joyce. He said he saw  a small crowd and heard cries of ‘shame’ and hissing; ‘the people also hooted the officer’. He saw no one attack Herrick but he did see the officer and his assistant attack the son and his parents.

The evidence pointed to a counter accusation, that Herrick was the aggressor not the victim. This is certainly how Mr Tyrwhitt saw it and he advised the officer that he could take it to the Sessions of the Peace but he was going to dismiss it here.

Being arrested and then imprisoned for debt was a terrible thing in the 1800s. Thousands were incarcerated in prisons such as the Marshals (which the Palace court served). Dickens had first hand experience of this as his father had been locked up in one. Once in it was hard to get out because self-evidently your ability to repay any debt was complicated by imprisonment.

So this may be an example of collective resistance to the processes of the debtors’ court; Herrick was (as a bailiff character) a ‘hate figure’ and whether he acted as he testified or as the witnesses for the defence did, we shall never know.

I know whose side I’m on however.

 

 

 

 

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, October 30, 1849]

Forgery and Fraud in Somer’s Town

On the 14 June 1830 the newspapers reported the case of two ‘well-dressed men’ who appeared at Marylebone Police Court accused of forgery and fraud.

Samuel Wilkins, a former broker, and Henry White the son of a wine merchant in the City, were charged with committing fraud by cashing fake cheques on several London tradesmen. The cheques were drawn on the London and Westminster Bank  (now of course the NatWest).

In the days when trust and integrity were all that mattered it was quite easy for the men to persuade people to exchange cash for their paper bills. George Sheppard was their first victim. George owned a coffee house at 32 Charlton Street in Somers Town and Wilkins had asked him to cash a £5 cheque the week before. When he presented the bill at the bank he was told it was a forgery. Similarly, James Temple who kept the African Chief inn in the Wilstead Street was taken for £7.

Henry Withers, the bank’s cashier was called to give evidence and he deposed that Messrs. White & sons had an account with the London and Westminster  but the signatures they had on record were not those of either of the defendants. It would seem that Henry White was using his father’s cheques (and the good name of his company)  without  his knowledge.

The magistrate had a short (and unreported) conversation with his clerk and the two men were remanded to be questioned at a later date. I would imagine that he might have been keen to speak to Henry’s father because he may have wished to pay off the prosecutors and save his son and accomplice from any formal prosecution at a higher court, and so protect his reputation and their liberty.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday 14 June, 1838]