An uppity ticket inspector at Cannon Street


As I was sitting on a Great Northern train at Finsbury Park four excited GN employees got off and went in separate directions. They looked pumped up for a day at work, which seemed a little odd given the flak that the railways has received in the past 12 months.  GN has frequently cancelled trains usually citing either a signaling problem (beyond their control) or a lack of drivers (which certainly isn’t). Here though were four happy employees about to start their daily shifts. As my wife pointed out though, they weren’t drivers, or even guards; they were the ticket inspectors about to embark on a day of flushing out fare dodgers.

I appreciate that the GN have to protect themselves against individuals that try to ride their network without paying but I think I’d prefer it if they actually ran all the trains they advertise on their timetable and trained up some of these eager inspectors for that purpose.

Nevertheless, the inspectors on Great Northern trains (and others no doubt) are always polite and friendly, unlike William Hill, who worked for the South Eastern Railway in 1876.

Hill was a ticket collector at Cannon Street in the City of London and on 13 April he was checking tickets at the station when a gentleman named James Herbert Smith approached him.  Mr Smith was a regular traveller and held a first class season ticket from Blackheath to central London. As he passed through the barrier Hill demanded to see his ticket. Smith fumbled in his pockets but couldn’t find it. He explained he must have misplaced and handed the man his calling card, so that he could be contacted. That, he felt, should be sufficient.

It wasn’t. Within moments Hill ‘seized him by the collar, and turned him around and stopped him’, again demanding to see his season ticket. Mr Smith tried a different pocket and this time found his ticket. This should have satisfied the collector but it didn’t. Instead of letting the passenger continue on to work Hill insisted that he accompany him to the ticket office. Smith obliged but told the man he felt it was entirely unnecessary (which it was of course) and when they got there the clerk immediately recognized him and he was allowed to carry on with his day.

Later Mr Smith asked for an apology from the ticket collector or his employer but since none was forthcoming he acquired a summons to bring him before a magistrate. On the 20 April Hill was set in the dock at Mansion House Police court to be questioned by the Lord Mayor about his actions. The railway denied any wrongdoing by their employee and provided him with a solicitor, Mr Mortimer. The defense was simply that Hill had a right to see the season ticket and was ‘merely doing his duty’.

The Lord Mayor evidently thought that the collector had overstepped the mark and acted unreasonably. An assault had clearly occurred and had the man apologized as Mr Smith requested, he would have let it go without further comment. Since the railway and the collector had been so determined to maintain their position on this he found Hill guilty of assault and fined him 20s.

One imagines that the relationship between the collector and this particular passenger in future will have been at best frosty, since they would have seen each other most mornings of the week. The case reminded Hill that he was merely a lowly employee of a service industry and, more importantly, several steps below the gentleman whose honesty he had the audacity to question. In future he would have to restrain himself  because a subsequent complaint might cause his employers to replace him.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, April 21, 1876]

Drew Gray is the joint author of Jack and the Thames Torso Murders, published by Amberley Books in June 2019. Details available here

Two unsuspicious characters exploit passengers on the Dartford train


I have discussed the perils of travelling on the Victorian railway network in previous posts on this blog. The railways not only made Britain smaller and allowed Victorians a new freedom to move around the country quickly and cheaply, it also broke down some of the well-established barriers between the classes. Not everyone was entirely comfortable with this, no least because it also opened up new opportunities for crime.

Alfred Thomas and Ann Mark were skilful thieves who exploited the new railways to earn an illegal living. Their patch was the South-Eastern Railway, which ran (until 1922) from London to Dover. They dressed ‘fashionably’; in other words they didn’t look like criminals or members of the lower working class but passed as respectable.

Ann dressed smartly and carried a muff to keep her hands warm. She also had a small lap dog and must have seemed to those that saw her a charming young woman with a distracting animal. Alfred was similarly presentable and when the pair traveled together he pretended to be her brother. What could be less threatening: two siblings traveling together on the railway?

However, all was not as it seems and these two were eventually exposed and brought to the Southwark Police Court to be prosecuted as thieves.

The first witness and victim was Mrs Susannah Pledge, a ‘lady residing at Bermondsey’. She testified that she was in a  second-class carriage on the train to Dartford and was sat next to Ann while Alfred sat opposite. Ann was playing with her ‘handsome little dog’ letting it crawl in and out of her muff. At Plumstead Alfred rose and leaned over to Ann to speak quietly to her, then at the next station he got up again and bid her farewell, saying: ‘Give my love to brother’.

As soon as the young man had gone Mrs Pledge realised that her dress had been cut and her purse removed from her pocket. Mr Walter Rutherford (described as ‘a gentleman’) was also in the carriage and saw what went on. He was suspicious of the pair and saw Alfred reach over towards Mrs Pledge and scoop up something from the floor of the train just as they pulled in to Woolwich station.

He called the guard and helped track Alfred down to a third-class carriage further along the train. Another woman in the the carriage had also been robbed in the same way. Alfred escaped however, dashing across the station towards the waiting room.

The railway company, mindful of its reputation and the effects of these sorts of thefts on its customers, had hired a detective to investigate the problem. Detective Dennis Scannel (who was officially employed by the Metropolitan Police in M Division) was seconded to the railway. This suggests that the police themselves were well aware that protecting customers on the railways was also part of their role. Today we have the British Transport Police but this force wasn’t created until after the second world war.

Scannel told the Southwark magistrate, Mr Coombe, that when he’d arrested and searched the pair he’d found significant amounts of coin on them. He’d recovered four to five pounds in silver and found the ladies’ empty purses under a grate in the waiting room where Alfred had been seen to go directly after the train arrived at Woolwich.

The prisoners were represented in court by a lawyer who said they would plead guilty to the crime in the hope that the magistrate would deal with them there and then and not send the case before a jury. This would minimise their sentences of course. The counsel for the prosecution explained that several other robberies of a similar nature had occurred recently and he and the police were convicted that these two were responsible.

Mr Coombe weighed up the evidence; picking pockets was notoriously difficult to prove and conspiracy even more so. If he sent the pair before a jury one or both of them might well be acquitted. At least by gaoling them today he would protect passengers on the railways for a limited period and by alerting the public (via the newspapers) to the risks they took while traveling he might also reduce the number similar thefts. So he did as the prisoners’ lawyer asked and in finding them guilty sent them to prison for six months at hard labour and ordered the two ladies to be reunited with their purses and missing money.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, March 12, 1862]

‘A lenient decision’ at Borough Market


Borough Market in the 1860s

Later today I’m off to doing my Christmas food shopping at Borough Market in Southwark.  Today its a cosmopolitan place, full of tourists and Londoners, all mingling amongst the wonderful smells of Asian, Indian, Spanish and Italian cookery or eyeing up the beautiful displays of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and fish. It’s probably a little pricier than it needs to be and die-hards will tell you its not a authentic as it once was, but I love it.

Borough is ancient as well; there’s been a market here for at least a 1000 years, nobody knows for sure. In the medieval period the market at Southwark was a rival to those in London (across the river) and attempts were made to suppress or or even to forbid Londoners to shop there. In the 15th century the Borough came completely under City governance, and as London expanded south the market became an institution.

In the nineteenth century Borough developed from a ‘parochial market’ into a wholesale fruit and vegetable market of national importance. The railway (the South Eastern) brought noise and smoke but customers as well. The development of New Covent Garden in the 1970s nearly killed off Borough but today it is thriving, if not as a wholesale market but a  place to buy anything from purple Brussel sprouts to a Kangaroo burger.

In 1883 Mary Ann Richards was in the market.A policeman saw her standing outside a butcher’s shop wearing a shawl and watched as she lifted a ‘hand of pork off the stall board, and put it under her shawl’.

The copper arrested her and on 22 December she appeared at the Southwark Police Court charged with theft. One of her two daughters came to court to plead for leniency. The court was told that Mary Ann was married and had never been trouble with the law before.

The policeman had made his own inquiries and confirmed that Mary Ann’s husband was ‘respectable’ and their two daughters were ‘industrious’. They were, in other words, a suitable object for mercy.

The magistrate turned to the daughter and tried to reassure her. Mr Marsham said he would deal with her mother not as a felon but instead convict her of unlawful possession. This carried a more lenient sentence; Mary Ann Richards was ordered to pay a fine of 10s or spend 7 days in prison.


[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, December 23, 1883]

An early train vandal

In July 1881 a teenage boy was produced before the magistrate at Mansion House charged with criminal damage. Frederick Wilkinson was 16 and worked in service. His employer appeared in the Police Court and said he was a very well behaved young man and had never given cause for concern.

What a surprise it must have been then to learn that Fred had been carving obscene words into the seat of a third class carriage on the South Eastern Railway. The company, formed in 1836, took passengers from London to Dover and all points in between. As the train Frederick was riding came into Charing Cross a signalman noticed him all alone in third class.

At the station Frederick was stopped and the station master called to investigate what the signalman thought he had seen. Despite Frederick’s denials the words (not identified in court) were clearly inscribed on the bench and he was arrested.

Sir Robert Carden, a City magistrate ‘as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair) December 1880′.

The justice, Sir Robert Carden was sure the lad had done the damage and ‘expressed his sorrow that a boy with such a good character should have such a filthy mind’. He fined him 40s or a month’s prison. The money was paid and Fred released.

[from Daily News, Wednesday, July 20, 1881]