‘An offence that must be put down’: an attack on trade unionism in 1889

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I am currently teaching a third year history module that focuses on London in the 1880s. Crime and Popular Culture in the Late Victorian City uses the Whitechapel (or ‘Jack the Ripper’) murders of 1888 as a prism through which to explore the social and cultural history of the East End.

On Monday my students were looking at radical politics, strikes, and demonstrations. We focused on the rioting in and around Trafalgar Square in 1886 (the so-called ‘West End’ or ‘Pall Mall’ riots) and the events of ‘Bloody Sunday in 1887. We then went on to look at the Match Girls Strike (using the work of Louise Raw) and the Great Dock Strike of 1889.

It is always harder to get students engaged in this sort of ‘political’ history than it is in crime and punishment history, although of course the two are very closely related. Much of the crime and its prosecution in the 1800s was linked to the inequalities which drove radical politics and the demands of men like Ben Tillett who led the dockers’ dispute. It is too simplistic to see the Police Courts of London as a disciplinary arm of the state but, in part at least, they functioned as that.

The courts served their communities and all of those that lived in them, but their fundamental purpose was as part of the mechanism that preserved the status quo in Victorian London. Poverty, unemployment, homelessness, alcoholism, crime and other social ills were self-evidently a product of a capitalist system which failed to provide for the poorest, regardless of any sense of being ‘deserving’ or ‘underserving’, but it was a system the government, police, and courts were determined to uphold regardless.

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In mid August 1889 the Great Dock Strike (right) broke out and tens of thousands of dockworkers downed tools and followed Ben Tillett and John Burns (and others) in demanding better pay and a better system of work. They drew tremendous support, both from the East End communities in which they lived and worked and further afield. Australian workers sent donations of £30,000 to help the cause.

There were numerous prosecutions of dockers and their supporters as the police tried to prevent secondary picketing and the intimidation of strikebreakers. The strike emboldened other workers in the area, just as the Match Girls strike a year previously had inspired the dockers to take action.

On 21 August 1889, just a week after Tillett’s call for action ignited the strike on the docks, Mark Hacht found himself in front of Mr Saunders at Worship Street Police court. Hacht was a tailor who lived at Wood Street in Spitalfileds. He was just 18 years of age and was accused of assaulting a police officer.

The court was told that the premises of a Mr Koenigsberg, a local furrier, was being picketed as his workers were out on strike. Hacht was part of the picket it seems, gathered outside the factory on Commercial Street preventing some employees from entering.

However, Hacht didn’t work for Koenigsberg, he had no connection at all to the furriers, instead he was, the prosecution lawyer alleged, merely ‘a paid agitator’. When one worker went to enter the building Hacht grabbed at him and said:

‘You shall not go to work there’.

‘I have got no food’, the man replied.

Hacht supposedly dismissed this saying that he ‘would murder him if he went there’. As the man continued Hacht hit him over the head with an umbrella. A policeman (PC 337H) intervened and the tailor tuned his attention to attacking him. As they struggled a ‘mob of Jews’ tried to pull the policeman off of his prisoner, impelling PC Littlestone to brandish his truncheon and ‘hold back the crowd’.

Having successfully secured his prisoner he took him into custody. There were witnesses who denied Hacht had done anything at all but the magistrate decided to believe the policeman and the furrier’s lawyer.

It was, Mr Saunders said, ‘one of the worst cases of the kind he had heard’ and it was ‘an offence that must be put down’. With the dock strike occupying so many column inches at the time it is was hardly surprising that a representative of middle class and elite society should choose sides quite so obviously. the young man was sent to prison for three months with hard labour.

In September 1889 the employers caved in and agreed to the dockers’ demands for sixpence an hour and a fairer system of choosing casual workers. The demands were not that radical, the impact on the employers’ profits fairly minimal. It was a rare victory for organized labour and led to a groundswell in trade union membership in the 1890s. Its longer-term affect was less positive however; in fact we might see the 1890s as the apogee of trade unionism in England.

The General Strike of 1926 showed labour could still organize but two world wars failed to change British society in any truly radical way. In the late 1970s the newly elected Conservative government set about dismantling trade union power, something unions have never really recovered from. Workers rights were more effectively protected by Britain’s membership of the European Union, and now even that has gone.

Yet again capitalism and corporate greed has triumphed at the expense of those that create the wealth. Until workers truly understand that their best interests lie in sticking together against a common foe (as the match girls and dockers did) rather than blaming immigrants for their woes, it will continue to dominate and make the few wealthy on the backs of the many.

[from The Standard, Wednesday,  August 21, 1889]

‘A most outrageous assault’: more gang violence in Oxford Street

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Most of the gang crime that plagued London in the late 1800s was pretty minor compared with the stabbings and drug related crime experienced by Londoners today. Even so, then, most of the victims were rival gang members. When ordinary members of the public were caught up they were often simply harassed or shoved as they walked home from the theatre or the pub and encountered groups of ‘roughs’ on the streets.

This incident, from December 1889, was within that typology of gang attack but was of a more serious nature, which was probably why it ended up before the magistrate at Marlborough Street.

Herbert Easton was walking home along Oxford Street after a late night out in town. He was heading past Harewood Place where a group of around 20 young men were gathered. As he past them something hit him on the back and he spun round on his heels. He wasn’t drunk but he had been drinking and, possibly emboldened by the ‘Dutch courage’ he demanded to know who was responsible.

He was met by silence and denials and carried on his way.

He was quickly aware that the group was now following him, in a very threatening manner. Before he had time to take evasive action they were on him, knocking him to the ground and kicking and punching at him.  As he tried the lift his umbrella as a makeshift weapons they overpowered him and held him down with it.

Easton struggled to his feet and pushed one of his assailants away. Seeing a cab he hailed it and jumped in side. The driver set off but the lads grabbed hold of the reins and one, George Leonard, tried to clamber into the cab. As Easton fought and grappled with Leonard the driver shouted out for help. A constable was quickly on the scene and fought his way through the throng, blowing his whistle to summons others.

As a number of officers arrived and the gang decided their luck was up, they melted away leaving Leonard in police custody. The police ordered the cabbie to make directly for Marlborough Police station where the young ‘rough’ was charged and thrown in a cell.

Appearing before Mr Hannay he had little to say for himself. The magistrate was much more forthcoming however. He told George Leonard (19) that this was ‘one of the worst street outrages he had ever heard of’ and sent him to prison for two months with hard labour.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, December 10, 1889]

A pantomime villain is hissed out of court

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Horace Moore was a blackguard. He was the sort of character that might have  appeared in a Dickens novel and, at the end of his court appearance in December 1887, the watching public treated him accordingly.

Moore wasn’t in court for anything criminal he had done, in fact he wasn’t in the dock at all. He had chosen to go to court to prosecute a man that had assaulted him but it was the circumstances surrounding the assault – and the reason for it – that earned him the opprobrium of the public gallery.

Horace Moore was the son of a hay and straw dealer and lived at home on the Harrow Road. From this we might ascertain that he was a young man, probably in his early twenties. In November 1887 he was ‘walking out’ with a young lady named Miss Battrum. Horace’s brother was engaged to the girl’s sister and the couple had met at Yarmouth earlier that year.

As Horace and his companion strolled together on the 27 November Mrs Battrum (the young woman’s mother) came up behind and overtook them. She stopped, raised her umbrella, and struck Horace repeatedly over the head with it. Words were exchanged and Mrs Battrum led her daughter away.

The very next day Horace was having his shoes cleaned by a shoeblack on the Harrow Road when Mr Thomas Battrum marched up to him. He said he had insulted his wife the previous day and then hit him on the head with his fist, ‘which knocked his hat off and sent him staggering’. It was this assault which prompted the summons to Marylebone Police court.

So what had merited this seemingly unprovoked attack on a young man walking out with his girlfriend? Under cross examination by Battrum’s lawyer the truth gradually began to emerge that Horace Moore was the sort of person that enjoyed the company of women but was very far from being any father’s ideal son-in-law.

At the time Moore had met Miss Battrum at Yarmouth he had just the subject of a civil prosecution in which he had lost. He had been found to have seduced a young woman named Miss Bosher who was under 16 years of age. For that he was made to pay compensation of £250.

This was not his first offence although it may have been the first one for which he was successfully prosecuted. Miss Bosher had testified that Moore had told her he had been accused of seducing a Miss Goddard but added that ‘nothing came of it so it would be all right’.

Moore denied this and also denied ‘having ruined a Miss Taylor or any one of the name’. He wasn’t engaged to Miss Battrum he explained to Mr Cooke (the sitting magistrate) ‘he was simply walking out with her as a friend’.

The assault had been violent and he had lost the sight in one eye as a result of it. The court could not ignore the violence but Mr Cooke was not about to let a father’s defense of his daughter’s reputation earn him anything more than a slap on the wrist. What he had done was simply what any man might have done faced with the revelation that his daughter was dating such a dishonest and predatory young man.

The magistrate told Buttram that ‘no man had any right to commit an assault, no matter what the misconduct of another might be’, and then fined him sixpence, an entirely nominal sum for the builder to pay, and refused to award any compensation to Horace Moore. As the young man left the court ‘he was hissed’ like the villain in a Victorian melodrama. With a bit of luck the publication of his name by the papers would alert his future victims (or at least their fathers) to steer clear of his romantic advances.

[from The Standard, Friday, 9 December, 1887]

Two Frenchman and the case of the missing umbrella

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Cannon Street Station, 1878

It was a chance meeting, the sort of thing that can happen on a long train journey. Cesar Blancher was newly arrived in England having taken the boat from France that morning. As he sat on the train to London his carriage door opened and a head appeared. The new arrival (who’s name was Emille Iron) asked if he might join the occupants and Blancher noticed his unmistakable French accent. Before long the two fellow countrymen had struck up a friendship as they travelled through the countryside of southern England.

When they got to London leaving their luggage at the railway station, they decided to dine together and, one thing leading to another, they ended up at the Royal Hotel in Blackfriars where they slept in the same room together. Iron was up early and woke his companion to tell him he was going to fetch their luggage from Cannon Street station.  Blancher acknowledged this but then rolled over and went back to sleep.

When he finally rose he wandered over to check the time on his watch. He had left his timepiece on the dressing table but now discovered it was missing. Soon he found that his purse and money (103 francs and £4 3s) was gone , along with a portmanteau and his umbrella.

Having dressed quickly he rushed downstairs to the concierge and found that there had been no sightings of M. Irons so he headed for Cannon Street. There he saw Irons leaving the station and about to step into a cab. Blancher approached him and immediately demanded he hand over his watch and chain, and other affects. Irons produced the watch but said he would give him the other items when they reached the hotel.  Blancher insisted on having his property straight away and when the other man refused he called over a policeman who arrested him.

The case ended up before Mr Vaughan at Bow Street where Irons denied stealing anything. He said he’d taken the watch so he’d know what time it was, and the purse so he could change the francs into sterling. The portmanteau he was taking to lodgings (presumably some he had found for the pair of them?).

And the umbrella Mr Vaughan asked, why had he taken that? Why, he thought it might rain the Frenchman replied to laughter in court.  The magistrate wanted to check both men’s version of events at the station so asked the clerk to track down the cabbie for his evidence. In the meantime M. Irons was remanded in custody and taken off to enjoy a slightly less grand accommodation for a few nights.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, December 04, 1878]

The Great (Northern) Train Robbery

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When a customer reported losing several of his possessions on a train the Great Northern Railway company called in their own in-house detective team. In 1868 this meant that William Thorogood was immediately set on the trail of the thief.

It didn’t take him long to spot a young man strolling quickly across the platform at King’s Cross sporting a ‘portmanteau, rug, umbrella and [walking] stick’ matching the description given by Mr William Kingsworth, the traveller that had complained he had fallen victim to a robbery.

The detective fell in step behind the thief and watched as he hailed a cab. As the young man entered the hansom in St Pancras Road, Thorogood clambered in beside him. The man was ‘fashionably dressed’ and said his name was Robert Johnson. He emphatically denied stealing anything and asked how Thorogood could possibly prove that he had.

The detective took his prisoner back to the station superintendent’s office where Mr Kingsworth positively identified his property. In court at Clerkenwell the passenger said he’d never seen Johnson before that day and had missed his items after he’d left then briefly on his seat. Johnson denied everything, refused to give his address, and cried throughout the entire hearing. Mr Clarke remanded him for a week and he was led away to the cells.

Johnson was tried at the Bailey on the 26 October 1868. He pleaded guilty to stealing Mr Kingsworth’s property and asked for several other offences to be dealt with at the same time. He seemed to specialise in stealing portmanteaus (briefcases) from railway trains. The judge sent him to prison for 18 months.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, October 17, 1868]

‘De ombrella, he fall down’; the British press amuse themselves at the Europeans’ expense.

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Amid all the squabbling and back-biting that surrounds the UK’s prolonged exit from the European Union one of the more depressing traits that has arisen is a revival of anti-European sentiment. Even the newly appointed Foreign Secretary was quick off the mark in warning the Brussels negotiators that any failure to achieve a good deal for both sides, leading to the “very real risk of a Brexit no deal by accident’, would be blamed on the EU by the British people.

Anti-European rhetoric has been stoked up over the past few years building on decades of often fake news stories peddled by some sections of the English press. All those tales of straight bananas, renaming ‘Bombay mix’ or there being more words on cabbage regulation than there are in the Gettysburg Address were false. If that is added to the drip feed of tabloid articles blaming ‘foreigners’ for an upsurge in crime, pressure on the NHS or even the number of traffic jams on English motorways and you have the underlying xenophobia that fueled the rise of UKIP and, ultimately, won the Brexit referendum.

Not that any of this is new of course; being unpleasant to, or making jokes at the expense of our European neighbours is as a British as fish and chips (which was probably invented by Jewish migrants but let’s not go there). In 1828 Londoners at least remembered a time when they or their parents had fought a war in Europe; a decade after Waterloo the scars of the Napoleonic Wars were still quite angry even if the chief protagonist had been dead for 7 years.

In July of 1828 two men appeared before the magistrate at Marlborough Street Police court, one French and the other German, following an altercation in the street. Louis Courquin was a ‘French cook and confectioner’ and he accused Philipe Bohn, a German tailor, with assaulting him. The magistrate, Sir George Frannat, asked the pair to explain what had gone on between them. The Morning Post’s reporter chose to render the exchange in dialect, for maximum comic effect, something we still see in the occasional tabloid headline.

Bohn told the court that he was standing in the street talking to an English friend when Courquin approached. His friend supposedly said to him, ‘here is one oder fereigner, you can talk together’. Bohn then addressed the chef in German which he didn’t understand, speaking only French (and Bohn said he spoke no French).

Bohn’s English pal presumably thought that all ‘foreigners’ would be able to understand each other, because the English couldn’t understand any of them.

As the pair tried to communicate it seems that the Frenchman’s umbrella fell over and either hit the German or Bohn was blamed for tipping it over (Bohn said that ‘de ombrella, he fall down’ when Courquin ‘he schict his ombrella on de iron shpike, to take a pinch of shnoff’). The argument – if it even was an argument – carried over as both men proceeded to a nearby washhouse.

A parish constable saw the two of them quarrelling, decided the German was to blame, and took him in charge. In court Louis denied bringing  a charge against the other man but did say that he’d now lost his ‘parapluie’ (his umbrella) and his hat. In the confusion both men had left their possessions at the public washhouse and Sir George thought the best solution to it all was for the pair to go back together to retrieve them.

They discovered that they had lived close to each other for several years, with the Frenchman resident in London for nine years and Bohn for five. They were part of a European community in the British capital, and of a wider immigrant populace that included migrants from all over the known world. Nineteenth-century London was, like the modern city, a multi-cultural society.

I like to think they wandered off, arm in arm, muttering about the peculiarities of ‘ze Engleesh’.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, July 26, 1828]

Class wars in Hampstead as a dog gets amongst the model boats

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Whitestone Pond, Hampstead Heath in the 1920s

Mr Horace Lister was a member of the respectable middle class. He lived in Kilburn with his wife and family, and practiced as a barrister. On Sundays he enjoyed nothing more than taking his kids up to Hampstead Heath so they could sail their model boats on Whitestone Pond.

On the 29 April 1893 Lister was up at the pond with his children enjoying the spring sunshine and joining in with all their other families floating their yachts and other craft. I can picture the scene because in the 1970s I can remember my father taking myself and my brother to watch the boats and walk on the heath.

It was there he told me tales of Dick Turpin and his famous ride to York, and how the notorious highwayman had shot at his pursuers, leaving holes in the walls of the nearby Spaniard’s Inn. It was a tall tale, but I didn’t discover this till much later.  Perhaps Mr Lister was equally inventive, or shocked his children with stories from the courts he attended. I doubt he expected to feature in one that day.

As he watched his children play he saw a dog launch itself into the water and chase the boats. The animal was ‘fetching’ the boats “without being asked to do so” (as he later observed). When it grabbed hold of his daughter’s with its teeth Lister shouted at it to drop it. He had already noted who owned the dog and so he called across to him to keep better control of his beast.

His attempts to make the dog drop his child’s toy were as ineffectual as his attempt to get the animal’s owner to intervene so he decided to take the law into his own hands.

Taking his umbrella he struck the poor dog several times across its neck and back, to force it to dislodge the boat. Seeing this, the animal’s owner rushed over and caught hold of the barrister by the arm. Arthur Smith was a coachman and strongly built, and he remonstrated with his dog’s attacker. Smith threatened to ‘duck’ him in the pond if he didn’t leave his pet alone.

There were several witnesses to the skirmish and at least one, a gentleman horse rider who was passing by and saw the whole episode, was happy to corroborate Lister’s version of events when the case came before the justices at Hampstead Police Court. Mr. O’Connor, the equestrian, said he was worried that the rougher man was about to throw his victim right into the water. Lister’s ten year-old son also testified to the veracity of his father’s story, as we might expect him to.

As for Arthur Smith, well he was outnumbered and quite literally, outclassed. As a member of the working class, and not a very well respected one at that (coachmen and cab drivers had a reputation for being ill-mannered and surly) he was never going to win this battle. He claimed his dog had only gone into the water the once, and that he’d ‘called it out immediately’. He described the attack as unnecessarily violent and the charge as ‘wicked’; his dog was valuable and it had been badly hurt he added.

Not surprisingly the bench sided with the barrister and fined Smith 10or seven days imprisonment if he couldn’t pay. He paid up and left, and hopefully chose a different route to walk his dog in the future.

[from The Standard, Thursday, May 11, 1893]