The customer that no one wants

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In the week before Christmas 1848 a young man named Thomas Pheny walked into a coffee house near Euston Station. He asked the proprietor, Mrs Humphries, for a coffee and paid her with a crown coin. Mrs Humphries was tired and worried about her rent, which was almost due, so she dropped the crown into her counter bag and gave the man his coffee and his change.

On the following night Pheny was back; this time he called for a cup of tea with some bread and butter. He handed over a half sovereign and he got back 9s9dchange. For those of you unfamiliar with pre-decimal currency a sovereign was worth 10s (or 120d) and a crown 5s.

On the Friday of the same week the man came back into the coffee shop, but this time he was dressed differently, perhaps not wishing to be easily identified. He bought a coffee and paid with a half sovereign, receiving three half-crowns amongst his change. One of these he held up and gave back to Mrs Humphries, telling her it ‘was bad’ (in other words, it was counterfeit). She checked, agreed, and exchanged it.

After he had left the coffee house the owner examined the contents of her till bag and discovered that one of the crowns and four half-sovereigns were all ‘bad’. Now she suspected that Pheny had been deliberately using her coffee house to ‘utter’ false coin – changing larger fake coins for smaller legitimate ones by spending small amounts on coffee and tea. She alerted the police and waited.

Sure enough the next day, Saturday 23 December 1848 in walked Thomas Pheny and he ordered a coffee. When he tried to pay with a counterfeit half-sovereign Mrs Humphries grabbed him and called out for help. Pheny was arrested and in the ensuing investigation a number of the coins were directly traced back to him. Moreover it was quickly established that he was supposedly connected to a gang of coiners that had been defrauding tradesmen ‘in various parts of the town’ for some time. He was taken to Marylebone Police court where he was remanded in custody for further investigation.

Uttering was hard to prove even with a fairly reliable witness like Mrs Humphries. A good lawyer would be able to sow doubt in the minds of the jury that anyone could prove that the bad money produced came from Pheny and wasn’t already in the bag. After all Pheny himself had handed back a coin that the coffee house lady had attempted to give him in change. If other members of the gang could be caught then there was a chance the police could get a successful prosecution and take the criminals off the streets: those convicted could expect a prison sentence of anything from six months to several years.

But there seems to be no record of Thomas Pheny at the Old Bailey so on this occasion he may have been lucky. Or he may have been using a false name as well as his false coins, and have slipped by unnoticed by history. We can be sure Mrs Humphries would  be taking greater care with her money in future however.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, 27 December, 1848]

A hero of the Peninsula and Waterloo meets the ‘terror of Chelsea’: who comes out best?

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I’ve just been revisiting the rise and fall of Napoleon in case I need to step in and provide some teaching cover for a colleague who is temporarily unwell. We all need to be prepared to teach outside of our specialism from time and as long as its not too far removed most jobbing historians can do it.

While Napoleon and the French Wars might seem a long way removed from my research area he is someone I have studied and be interested in for most of my reading life. As a child I quickly went from a love of Nelson to the man Nelson dedicated almost his entire career to thwarting. I saw Bonaparte as a brilliant mind, flawed by vaunting ambition, and ultimately let down by those closest to him and his inability to recognize when he had overstretched himself.

Of course while most of France adored him in the early 1800s much of the rest of Europe hated and feared him, most especially the English. He represented a challenge to British dominance and to the institution of hereditary European monarchy; he was a child of the revolution for all his abandonment of democracy. Most of all he wasn’t an aristocrat, he was – like so many of the men that rose through the ranks of the Imperial Army – a self-made man and the crowns of Europe had little time for that sort of success story.

The wars against France left a deep scar on Europe and on Britain and so those that served at Napoleon’s final defeat in Flanders were held in high esteem. Charles Miller was one such veteran of Waterloo – he had served throughout the whole of the Peninsula Campaign in Spain and Portugal, a war that did so much to undermine Napoleon’s grip on the European continent.

In 1838 (twenty years after Wellington’s victory at Waterloo) Charles Miller was serving with the Royal Veteran Battalion in Chelsea. He was quartered at Chatham and on Friday 12 October he had traveled to the Chelsea College to pick up some money that was owed to him. As he looked around for somewhere to spend the night he ran into a man named Thomas Ivey who promised to guide him to a suitable lodging house.

Unbeknown to the old soldier however, Ivey was a crook. He was well known to people in Chelsea as a thief and a rogue and Miller was exactly the sort of easy ‘mark’ he preyed upon. As Miller drew out his purse to buy some apples from a street seller Ivey pounced, snatched it, and ran off.

Miller raced after him but Ivey knew the streets and alleys around Jew’s Row much better than the outsider and he easily avoided him. The solider was persistent however, and eventually, with the assistance of the police, Ivey was captured and brought before the magistrates at Queen Square Police court.

Ivey tried to pretend that while he had met the veteran of Waterloo he hadn’t robbed him; there had been a misunderstanding and he ‘make it all right’. For his part Miller was at pains to say he’d not been drinking (often a charge leveled at those that had their purses lifted when visiting the capital). He had lost everything he had – a sovereign and four half crowns – and so was on his uppers.

The magistrate was determined that Ivey should face trial for this offence but was informed that the man had only recently bee released from Clerkenwell prison for a similar crime. That would surely count badly against him and the justice wanted to make sure they had all the details before sending him in front a judge and jury. So Thomas Ivey was remanded in custody for two days to get the report on his previous conviction.

Ivey paid dearly for his actions that day and I’m sure his choice of victim played a part. On 22 October he was tried and convicted at the Old Bailey and sentenced to transportation. He remained in England until February 1840 when he sailed for Van Dieman’s land to start a 10-year term of exile. Thereafter he seems to have kept his nose clean and in 1846 he earned his ticket of leave. He was freed three years later on the 9 April 1849. He was still just 29 years of age, (being born in 1820, just a year before Napoleon died on St Helena).

What did he do next? Sadly the records don’t tell us that but perhaps he embraced his new start ‘down under’ and put his past life as ‘the terror of Chelsea’ behind him. Nor do we know what happened to Charles Miller, the old soldier that Ivey robbed. I doubt he got his purse back (certainly not the contents) so his immediate circumstances were difficult. Hopefully his regiment supported him because in 1838 he must have been at least in late 40s if not older, and it is likely that in all those years of service he would have picked up one or more injuries.  There was no ‘help for heroes’ in early Victorian England and precious little state support for veterans, despite the supposed affection in which the victors of Waterloo were held. Not for the first time I’m left wondering whether the criminal, in being transported to Australia had the better outcome here?

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, October 15, 1838]

‘What every brave Englishman should do’? Risk their life to help stop crime?

Today we are constantly urged to avoid becoming embroiled in street crime for fear that we might be injured or worse if we attempt to help others. This hasn’t stopped individual acts of bravery but perhaps we’ve lost the general sense of duty towards our fellow citizens.

In the past this was certainly much more clearly ingrained in the British psyche. Until the creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829 it was incumbent upon ordinary people to respond to the ‘hue and cry’ and chase after thieves. Even after the ‘Peelers’ became an established presence on the capital’s streets individuals like William Kay were prepared to ‘do their bit’ to stop crime as it occurred.

Kay, a ‘medical rubber’, was walking on Margaret Street ‘soon after eight’ on Friday 20 April 1888 when he heard shouts of ‘stop thief’. As he looked up a young man came rushing towards him. Kay grappled with him for a few seconds while the youth kicked out at him, before he finally got him under control and waited for a policeman to arrive so that he could be taken into custody.

On Saturday morning Kay, the youth, and his victim – a woman named Eliza Redenton – all attended at Marlborough Street Police court where Richard Cooper was charged with ‘a daring robbery’.

Mr Mansfield, presiding, was told that Cooper had brazenly walked up to Ms Redenton, snatched her handbag and ran away. If he had got away without running into William Kay he would have been disappointed because the prosecutor testified that there was nothing of value in her bag anyway.

That was not the point of course, and Mr Mansfield sentenced the youth to three months’ at hard labour. He added an extra month for the assault on Mr Kay who he then proceeded to praise for his ‘have a go attitude’.

Kay had done, the magistrate declared, ‘what every brave Englishman should do’ and he was ‘very sorry to hear that he had been injured’ in the process. He hoped he would not be insulted by the award, from his own pocket, of half a sovereign for his pains.

It was St George’s Day after all.

[from The Standard, Monday, April 23, 1888]

The perils of drinking with strangers

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William Kirbyshire, of Aswell in Hertfordshire, had come down to London to get married. As he strolled along Regent Street a man stopped him and asked the way to Leicester Square. William apologised and he too was a stranger in the capital and regretted he was unable to help. The man thanked him and walked away. A few minutes later William decided it was time for some refreshment and he entered the next public house he came to.

As he propped up the bar nursing his drink he noticed the man that had asked him for directions chatting to two others. One of them came over and introduced himself as William Hook. Hook asked William if he ‘knew of any place of amusement where the evening could be passed pleasantly’. William mentioned a couple of places and Hook suggested they go there together, but the visitor to London declined.

Hook was seemingly persistent in making friends however and offered to treat him to a bottle of champagne, an offer that was soon lowered to beer. As the pair were joined by Hook’s companions, Peter Stevens and William Smith, the drink began to flow and very quickly the conversation turned to boasts of strength.

Hook declared that he could throw a ‘certain weight 30 yards’ and was prepared to put money on it. It took some persuasion but eventually William agreed to meet Hook and the others at a different pub later that day. When he arrived the three men were already there, and Hook bought them a round. They soon moved on to a third pub – this was turning into what we might call a ‘pub crawl’ – and Hook was in effervescent mood.

He stated loudly that he ‘thought nothing of spending £20 on a lark, as he could have £100 whenever he wanted it’.

The impression he was giving was a wealthy young man who had deep pockets. He was also luring the unwary Kirbyshire in however, and Smith and Stevens soon played their part in this.

As William and his new found chums began to toss coins (a simple game of chance) Smith leaned over and whispered to him that since Hook ‘had plenty of money, he might as well have some of it as anybody else’. William was ready to play and bet and won a shilling from Hook straight away. The others now persuaded him to carry on and managed to get him to lay a huge bet of £10 (about £500 today). Reluctant at first he was only convinced when he saw Stevens put down 5 sovereigns.

Hook won the toss and paid up but William he felt he’d been cheated. He claimed that a ‘plant had been played on him’ by the men and demanded his money back. When they gave him back a few sovereigns but refused to hand over the rest he called a policeman and had them arrested. The next day the four men all appeared before the magistrate at Clerkenwell Police court.

Mr Beadon, the justice, was unsympathetic. As far as he was concerned while the trio of gamblers were ‘known bad characters’ in the area and this was clearly a scam, they hadn’t actually broken the law. Instead William was simply a dupe and he had ‘acted in a very foolish manner in drinking and betting with strangers’. Hook, Smith and Stevens were discharged while William Kirbyshire slunk away to lick his wounds and put the whole thing down to experience.

London was a dangerous place for the unwary. It remains so today and visitors were constantly being warned to keep a close eye on their possessions in the crowded streets and not to take strangers at face value. One wonders what William’s future wife thought of the whole affair, if he even chose to tell her.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, March 11, 1857]

A ‘sex pest’ is exposed on the Liverpool Street to Stratford line

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Today’s papers are understandably full of discussion about sexual assaults on women by men in positions of power. Following the ongoing revelations about the American film producer Harvey Weinstein and suggestions that such exploitation of women is rife at Westminster , the world seems to be waking up to the reality that casual sexual assault is endemic in our society.

There is nothing new in this (in fact regular readers may be coming to the conclusion that the London Police courts reveal that there is almost nothing new today at all; when it comes to crime and anti-social behaviour our Victorian ancestors were just as ‘bad’ as we are). What may be different today is that the climate has changed and women feel more empowered to speak out – to speak truth to power as the saying goes.

It is not (and never was) easy for a woman to accuse a man of sexually assaulting her. In the nineteenth century a woman that cried ‘rape’ exposed herself to accusations that she was at best lying, and at worst had encouraged the perpetrator by placing herself in a vulnerable position. The Victorian lady that allowed herself to be alone with a male was effectively ‘asking for it’ in much the same way that those accusations are levelled at women who dress ‘provocatively’.

For Victorian society the answer was a separation of the sexes wherever possible. Of course this really meant a separation along class lines. The daughters of the wealthy middle and upper classes were chaperoned and never allowed out on their own. No ‘respectable’ women would be seen out at night without a male companion and so any woman that was on her own, could not, by definition,  be ‘respectable’. This led to women being accosted on the street in the evening (and in broad daylight if they were in areas where prosecution was common) by men who thought them ‘fair game’. Much of this went unreported of course, as did most of the assaults on servant girls by fellow domestic staff, or their masters and his sons.

When Victorian society began to develop a system of public transport the boundaries between public and private space began to become mutable. The railway carriage soon became a dangerous place for single or unaccompanied women, seemingly regardless of the time of day or even the other occupants. Today we are familiar with the problems some women face traveling on the London Underground (the ‘tube’) and attempts to get women to report offences. It would seem that from the very introduction of steam driven railways men were subjecting women to unwelcome sexual harassment.

Hobart Moore was one of these so-called ‘sex pests’. In October 1877 Mary Ann Cocks, a young governess, was travelling in a second-class carriage on the Great Eastern railway from Liverpool Street to Stratford. It was just after 8 o’clock in the evening and so Mary Ann was probably on her way home after a day out.

Moore entered the same compartment and sat down directly opposite her. There were three others in the car, a man and two ladies. Moore asked Mary Ann if the train went to Forest Gate, and she replied that it did. He had established conversation.

As the train left Bethnal Green nation Mary Ann noticed that Moore ‘shuffled about a great deal with his feet, and between Bethnal Green and Old Ford stations he leaned down and touched her’.

Clearly shocked by his behaviour, Mary Ann asked him move. One of the other women in the carriage then suggested they swop seats and the school governess gladly accepted the offer. Then the other man in the carriage then helped her move to another carriage when the train stopped. She had escaped the ‘pest’ but had still suffered form the unwanted contact with him.

This is a Victorian news report so it gives nothing in terms of detail about how or where Moore touched Mary Ann. But she considered that she ‘had been insulted’ and the gentleman that had assisted her now fetched a porter so she could make a formal complaint about Moore. The porter now rode in Moore’s carriage and handed him over to a policeman when they disembarked at the next stop.

Moore must have known what he had done and the embarrassing consequences should he be called to appear in a public court to answer the charges. He now compounded his crime by attempting to bribe his way our of the situation. He pressed a half sovereign into PC 79K’s hand and asked him to forget all about it. The constable did no such thing of course and so Moore found himself before the Police court magistrate at Worship Street in the East End.

In court Moore’s lawyer, a Mr Willis, explained that his client held a ‘highly respectable position’ in society and had ‘recently married’. Ms Cocks must have been mistaken in what she alleged he argued. His client had been out to dinner and had eaten and drunk too much.

As a result he was ‘sick, and leaned from the window. While ill in that way his foot or leg might have done all that the prosecutrix had said, but he denied the hand or any intention to insult’.

Mr Hannay, the magistrate, said that on balance the evidence suggested that there was a case to answer and so committed Moore to jury trial at the Middlesex Sessions. The Digital Panopticon has a record of a 28 year-old Hobart Robert Moore being in prison in 1879, although (and thanks to ActonBooks for the information on this) this wasn’t because he was convicted of the assault on the governess. Instead it seems that he pleaded guilty at the sessions to a common assault and was fined. Two years later he was sent to prison for stealing money from his employer, allegedly to feed his gambling habit (Cheltenham Mercury, Saturday 6 September 1879).

We have yet to see whether any of the current revelations in America or Britain result in prison sentences for those accused of sexually assaulting  vulnerable women. I’m not holding my breath however.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, October 30, 1877]

A deceptive haberdasher gets it on the chin for misleading the public

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Islington in the Victorian era

For many years before I became an academic historian I worked in retail, either running shops as a manager or serving in them as an assistant. It was hard work, mostly enjoyable because of the people I worked with and the majority of the customers I met. It was pressured, particularly on busy Saturdays and in the Christmas run-in, and I got a lost less free time than I do today. It was also considerably less well paid.

One of the areas of contention I remember concerned pricing. Customers would occasionally try and haggle over a price and were often on the look out for a ‘bargain’; so ‘Sales’ were always busy. Sometimes a customer would bring an item to the counter to pay for it only for myself or a colleague to realise that it had been mis-priced (meaning that the price advertised on the label was cheaper than the actual price). We would always apologise, occasionally sell it to them at the stated price anyway, and emphatically point out that under consumer law we were not obliged to sell anything at any price to anyone.

So I was interested by the following case from the Clerkenwell Police Court which arose from just such an encounter, but in 1842.

Mr Thomas Deacon, a ‘gentleman’ was strolling through Islington when his eye was caught by a ‘handsome shawl’ hanging on a door outside a habersdasher’s. Shops did have window displays in the 1800s but the tradition (begun in the 1700s) of displaying goods outside to entice passers-by in, clearly continued. In this instance it worked; since he shawl was labelled at 16s 6d (about £36 today) Mr Deacon decided to enter the shop and purchase it.

He enquired about the shawl and the shop assistant (‘shop man’ as they were called then)  offered to show him a section of others. No, he said, he wanted that one, which the assistant fetched. Deacon produced a sovereign to pay for it but was told this was not enough; the price of the item was in fact £1 13s (or £73). For a sovereign he would only get ‘half of it’.

Deacon was angry and remonstrated with the man. However, the shop man insisted he could not sell it to for less and so Deacon stormed out and went to the station house to bring a policeman. When he returned the owner of the shop, Mr Turner, was present. When he confirmed that his assistant had acted correctly Deacon lost his temper and ‘collared him’. At this Turner grabbed him, and threw him out of the shop.

This incident now escalated and Deacon summoned Turner for assaulting him. A few days later Turner ended up in the Clerkenwell court where Deacon’s interests were represented by a lawyer, a Mr Wakeling, while Turner hired a Mr Stoddard to defend him from the charge.

Having heard the evidence from both sides the magistrate, Mr Greenwood, said:

‘there was no law to prevent a man from labelling his goods at whatever price he sought fit, nor any law to compel the shopkeeper to sell the goods at the labelled price. The public, upon whom the deception was practised,’ he continued,’could best punish it’ (by withdrawing their custom I presume).

He dismissed the assault charge and everyone left. I doubt the experience did much for either man but it reminds us that our retail trading laws and regulations have been developing because of incidents such as this over hundreds of years.

Today our rights (as consumers) are protected by a number of laws but primarily by the Sale of Goods Act (1979). This requires retailers to meet certain conditions but it doesn’t protect us from the sort of ‘deception’ Mr Turner was accused of. This might seem unfair until you’ve worked in a shop. It is a fairly simple thing to switch a price label after all, so retailers need to retain the right not to part with something for less than its value, unless you choose to.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, May 6, 1842

Three suspicious characters on the London Bridge line

John Davidson was an experienced City of London detective. In February 1882 he was walking in St Paul’s Churchyard (which in the past was a much less ‘respectable’ area than it is today). Davidson was not keeping an eye out for terrorists (as he might have been today, given our state of high alert) but instead for thieves.

He soon spotted three women he knew to be ‘habitual’ criminals and decided to follow them.

The women made their way to Ludgate Hill railway station before carrying on to  Cannon Street and boarding a train heading for London Bridge. The women had third class tickets but Davidson had his suspicions that they weren’t travelling for the purposes of going somewhere, but to steal from the other passengers.

He was correct.

He followed them on to the train and got off when they alighted at London Bridge. He hadn’t seen them do anything in particular but he remained sure they had. The detective now approached some of the other travellers and enquired whether they had lost anything.

One lady told him she had lost his purse so he decided to arrest the women. With the help of a nearby constable the three were taken into custody and back to a police station where they were searched.

No purse was found however, but he still charged them with picking pockets and they appeared at Southwark Police court on the following day.

Leonara Gray (23), Jane Fowkes (25) and Mary Kay (23) were presented and denied all charges against them. Detective Davidson was able to bring along Mary Ann Watts, a schoolmistress from Southwark Park Road who said she had been travelling on the train when the three got into her carriage.

Kay sat on one side of her while Gray occupied the other side, Fowkes sat opposite her. She kept her purse safely (she thought) in her ‘dress pocket’ and she was sure it was there when the women sat down. As the women left the train Detective Davidson entered the carriage and asked if she had lost anything. She checked and found her purse was gone.

She told the court if contained ‘a sovereign, a shilling, and her railway ticket’. Not a massive haul but enough to cover the three third class tickets and plenty left over.

A female warder from the Westminster Prison testified to knowing the three as ‘clever pickpockets’; ‘they had all been convicted at various terms’, she added. Although the evidence against them was circumstantial at best and I doubt a jury would have convicted them now, in 1882 that was enough to earn each of them 3 months hard labour.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, February 21, 1882]

P.S apparently Ludgate Hill station (which closed in 1929) was built over the site of the old Fleet prison, which seems an appropriate connection for our three light-fingered felons.