A ‘young hero’ engages in an ‘attaque à outrance’ near Battersea Bridge

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On Sunday afternoon, the 7 October 1860 PC John McGuire of V Division was called to attend an incident in Lindsay Place close to Battersea Bridge.  When he got there he saw a huge crowd of youths, possibly as many as 200, which formed a ring. As he forced his way through the throng he found two young lads, aged about 10, slugging it out in the centre.

He stopped the fight and soon discovered that the boys had been at it for ages, being dragged apart on no less that six occasions already. They seemed very determined to fight and it took all of PC McGuire’s physical and persuasive abilities to get them to stand down and to take them into custody.

Both lads were bailed to appear the following morning at Westminster Police court but only one of them, James Wood, turned up.    The court heard that ‘the mantles of Sayers and Heenan’ had ‘descended upon their shoulders’ and that they had ‘made up their minds to do battle à l’outrance’ (or attack to excess as the expression translates).

The reference to Sayers and Heenan was to what has been termed the world’s first title fight which took place in April 1860. The American champion John Carmel Heenan came to England to fight the British boxer Tom ‘Brighton Titch’ Sayers. Thousands flocked to Farnborough to see the fight that ended in a bloody draw as the police raided the venue. The fight was illegal and no rules on the length of ‘rounds’ applied then. However, the fight prompted questions in Parliament and led to the formation of the ‘Dozen Rules’ by the London Amateur Athletic Club in 1865. These were approved in parliament and were sponsored by John Sholto Douglas, the Marquess of Queensbury.

As for James Wood the magistrate at Westminster, Mr Paynter, asked why the fight had occurred. James explained that he had caught his opponent trying to drown a dog and when he had tried to stop him the pair had agreed to settle it with their fists. It was a noble gesture in the eyes of the press who described him as a ‘young hero’ (perhaps a little tongue in cheek), and Mr Paynter perhaps agreed. However, fighting on a Sunday was against the law and the justice warned him not to engage in it again, and then let him go, his reputation significantly enhanced by his day in court.

The other lad (who remained unnamed) suffered by comparison. The papers suggested that ‘the long arm of the law [was possibly] too strong for his juvenile constitution’.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, October 09, 1860]

Like this? You might enjoy these other posts that involve boxing:

Illegal boxing in North East London

‘They fought very severely for little boys’; tragedy in Rotherhithe.

The Marlborough Street magistrate helps Big Ben’s missus deliver a knock-out blow

‘Nothing but skin and bone’; animal cruelty on Putney Fields

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The British are, as everyone knows, a nation of animal lovers. The RSPCA was formed in 1824, fully 60 years before an equivalent society was founded to protect children. Of course we are also a nation of meat eaters, we just don’t like see animals abused before they become the centre piece of our Sunday roast or that morning breakfast bacon sandwich.

There were clear guidelines and rules to protect animals and humans in the Victorian meat industry. Inspectors regularly prosecuted butchers and market traders at the Police Courts and in 1858 the RSPCA helped the police bring a prosecution against an amateur  pig farmer from Putney.

William Watts was described as a tailor when he appeared before the police court magistrate at Wandsworth. He was accused of cruelty to animals; in this case several pigs that he kept on Putney Fields.

Several locals had complained to the police about the state of the animals and a policeman, Sergeant Backing (V Division) paid a visit to the piggery. He found the animals there in a dreadful state:

‘There were 2 pigs in a most miserable condition’ he reported. The animals were housed in 4 compartments and in these there ‘was a large quantity of stagnant water and a quantity of dung in each compartment, but there was no straw on which the pigs could lie’.

Worse still, the ‘animals appeared almost starved, and two of them stood up in a corner perfectly paralysed with cold and hunger’.

Watts promised to feed them better in future and the sergeant went away. When he visited again a few days later things seemed to have improved slightly but it was a false dawn. On a subsequent inspection Sergeant Backing found that the animals had been attacking each other. Watts claimed they had been fighting as pigs do, but the policeman was sure that they had been trying to eat each other, so starved were they.

He declared that he’d never seen pigs in such a poor condition; they were ‘perfect skeletons’ he said and averaged only 3 stone in weight even though they were at least 17 months old. Either he or the public alerted the RSPCA who sent an inspector named Knight to take a look.

Knight arrived too find one of the sows dead in the stye.

‘It was quite a skeleton’, he reported, ‘the carcase being nothing but skin and bone’. As for the other animals:

They were ‘large pigs, and their hind quarters were drawn quite to a point, and nothing remained but their frames’.

It was awful and Watts was fully convicted of animal cruelty at Wandsworth Police Court. He said he’d fallen ill himself and with no one to look after the pigs they’d been left to starve. He claimed to have looked after them well before that but Mr Dayman was not interested in his excuses. He wasn’t sure which was worse, the man’s ‘folly or his cruelty in withholding the food’. The animals would hardly be worth anything now in the state they were in, he’d get no meat from them even if they were now improving as Watts had argued.

He fined the tailor 50s and 2s costs which the man could not pay. Thus, for failing to feed his animals and allowing them to live in squalor William Watts was sent to prison for a month. One wonders who fed the pigs in the meantime.

[from The Standard, Monday, March 01, 1858]

A cheeky bit of fraud from a former police clerk goes unpunished

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Henry Thomas Spooner joined the Metropolitan Police in August 1874. He was assigned to V Division  but resigned from the force just two years later. In October 1876 he was prosecuted at Bow Street Police Court for stealing a form from Scotland Yard. So what caused Spooner’s fall from grace?

Spooner was employed as a ‘clerk under witness’ in V Division but ‘owing to indifferent conduct’ he was demoted back to constable. On 28 August he resigned, presumably because he resented the return to beat duty and perhaps a drop in salary.

When Spooner left the police he was given a certificate that confirmed his 16 months of employment but ‘was spinet as to his character’. In other words he had a minimal reference; the sort that simply said that he had worked for the police and nothing more. Any potential employer could have read between the lines and formed a negative opinion of the former police clerk.

As a result Spooner decided that he needed something more than this and according to the police’s prosecution counsel at Bow Street, Mr Poland, he returned to Scotland Yard to steal a blank reference form from the Commissioners of Police. He then filled this in and forged the signature of a senior officer before sending it to the Newcastle Police in his attempt to find employment with them.

Unfortunately for Spooner the Newcastle ‘authorities prudently communicated with the London police, when of course it was discovered that the certificate was a forgery’. PC Samuel Gibbs arrested Spooner and charged him with the theft. At Bow Street Police Court he was committed to trial.

This seemed like a fairly obvious case of fraud and all the evidence seemed to point to the dishonesty of the former policeman. After all the police had the certificate (on which the Commissioner’s signature was clearly forged), they knew Spooner had left under  cloud (and his conduct not been considered ‘first class’ as the certificate suggested). Yet when the case came before a jury at Old Bailey Spooner received a ‘good character’ and he was acquitted. Whether the Newcastle force then employed him is (to me at least) still a mystery.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, October 16, 1876]

Delays at Clapham Junction lead to a punch up in the bar

Starzina Z Railways Direct Line Clapham Junction station 1889

Sometimes the press reports from the Police Courts inadvertently reveal elements of the summary process which are not otherwise made obvious. For example, in the case I’ve selected today, the sitting magistrate cautioned a police witness for remaining in court while evidence is being heard. This undermined the authority of his testimony and ultimately led to the discharge of the accused (who were clearly guilty as charged). This may seem like a minor detail, but it is exactly this sort of detail that helps me establish exactly how these courts operated in the 1800s.

Henry Clark (an architect) , John Lumsden (no trade given, so perhaps an ‘independent man’) and Thomas Oliver (engineer) had been watching the cricket at the Oval and had returned to Clapham Junction to catch a train home. Having just missed one they were forced to wait an hour for the next service and headed for the station’s ‘refreshment bar’ for a few drinks.

Here two very different stories emerge.

According to constable White of the South Western Railway Police the men arrived at the bar to find it closed. Annoyed, they complained loudly and constable White was called to intervene. However, his appearance just irritated them more and as he approached Oliver the engineer attempted to grapple him to the floor. The constable’s helmet was knocked off and rolled over to Clark who picked it up and threw it.

White managed to retrieve it and now attempted to regain his authority, placing the damaged helmet on his head and demanding they all leave at once, as he wanted to lock up. The men were having none of it however, and Clark hit the railway policeman and the pair wrestled. As they were down Lumsden came up and started aiming kicks at the stricken officer.

Either because the noise they made alerted a local bobby, or perhaps because a nearby passenger witnessed the assault and went for help, because soon afterwards a Metropolitan Police constable (PC Hooper of V division) turned up and arrested all three men and took them to the nearest police station.

Appearing in court at Wandsworth the next day the trio, all respectable lower middle class men it would seem, were represented by a lawyer, Mr Haynes. His version of events different somewhat to constable White’s. Haynes explained that the three had arrived at the station and gone to the bar. There White had joined them for a few drinks and had got quite drunk in the process.

The drinking led to horse play (or ‘larking’ to use the contemporary term for rough house behaviour). When constable White felt things had  gone too far he called for help and PC Hooper appeared.

So the magistrate, Mr Dayman, was presented with conflicting testimony; did he believe PC Hooper and the railway constable, or the three cricket fans? He clearly thought there was fault on both sides. He told White that it was clear that he ‘had been larking, and, getting the worst of it, he gave the prisoners in charge fancying his uniform would protect him’.

But it was also pretty obvious that the men had assaulted a police man (albeit a railway policeman not a member of the Met), so what to do with them? I think he fell back on a procedural dodge here by turning his attention to PC Hooper’s evidence (or rather his actions). He may well have suspected the two men were in cahoots, as ‘brothers in arms’ so to speak. PC Hooper had stated that as he took the men into custody they had tried to bribe him. The men ‘had offered him a sovereign to swear that White was drunk’, yet he insisted that he was sober.

However, Mr Dayman remarked that the policeman had ‘remained in court though all the witnesses had been ordered outside during the hearing of the case’.

‘By remaining inside’, he explained, ‘he saw the point of the case, and therefore he (Mr Dayman) could not place that reliance on his evidence as he should otherwise have done. He was always ready to uphold railway officials as they had an arduous duty to perform, but they must come into court with clean hands’.

The three men were discharged and thus cleared of any wrongdoing and as a result both White and Hooper were effectively reprimanded and reminded that their authority was conditional on them maintaining the highest standards of conduct. For me though, the real interest in this story is in what it tells me about the process of summary court hearings. If we can extrapolate from this example it would seem that those giving evidence that was important to a given case would be expected (at least when they were instructed) to wait outside the court to be called in and sworn. This may sound obvious from a modern context but, given that we have little in the way of printed material on the procedural nature of the summary courts, it is nice to see this recorded.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, September 26, 1866]