Five go wild in Wardour Street…until the police pick them up


I can imagine that for some parents making sure their children go to (and stay at) school can be something of a challenge. The Police courts of late Victorian London fairly regularly witnessed prosecutions of fathers who were accused of allowing their sons and daughters (but usually sons) to play truant.  Fines were handed down which did little to help because in some instances parents needed the children at home to help either with piece work or, more often, to care for infants or elderly relatives while they went out to work.

Some tried very hard to ensure their offspring gained an education but this could be hard when the kids didn’t have boots or decent clothes to go to school in. We shouldn’t underestimate the extent to which pride existed in working-class communities where maintaining an image of ‘respectability’ was every bit as important to them as it was to the middle classes with whom the term is often more associated.

There was tremendous poverty in 1880s London but that didn’t mean that families were not striving every day to keep standards up. Mrs Rochford and her neighbours seemed to fighting a losing battle with their collective brood of five youngsters. Walter Rochford (11) and his brother  James (10) appeared in court at Marlborough Street alongside Ernest Flowers (10), Albert Carey (11) and Thomas Copeland, who was just 8. This ‘interesting youthful quintette’ as the paper described them, had been picked up by the police because they were begging in Wardour Street.

Four of them had no boots and they all hailed from Hammersmith, quite some distance away. Their mothers were in court to answer for them and to listen to the story they gave Mr De Rutzen.

The boys said that they often played truant from Board school, preferring instead to hide their boots in an empty house in Shepherds Bush to go begging house to house or in the streets. They slept in empty properties, tramcars and one even admitted to occupying a dog kennel! If they were ‘nice’ children in the countryside the whole episode would have something of Enid Blyton about it.

But they weren’t. They were five ‘little urchins’ and their mothers were at their wits end, not knowing how to control them. Some of them had been absent from home now for a week and so sending them to Board school was clearly pointless.

The magistrate had a solution however, he would have them confined in an industrial school, where they wouldn’t be able to run amok or indeed run anywhere without permission. It would probably mean the five would be broken up and would be separated from their families. I have no idea whether the parents were consulted or merely told this would be happening, but under the terms of industrial schools, they would (if they could) be expected to contribute something to their care.

The five boys were dispatched to the workhouse while the industrial school officer was sent for to determine their fates.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, June 12, 1887]

A Frenchman’s ‘foolish frolic’ in Wardour Street


Part of the role of a Police Court magistrate in Victorian London was to determine whether cases that came before them ought to be sent up through the justice system. Much of the ‘crime’ they dealt with was petty, but far from all of it was. The magistrate was often the first stop in a longer process of prosecution; he heard the initial case put by the police (or a private individual) and decided if it required to be heard by a judge and jury.

The magistrate had quite considerable summary powers (the ability to sit in judgement on prisoners alone and without a jury) and these increased after the implementation of the Summary Jurisdiction Act (1855). Nearly all juvenile crime and a growing amount of petty theft, non fatal violence, and a huge variety of disorderly and anti-social behaviour was left to these law men.

Today’s case is an example of a justice having to decide whether he was going to deal with something himself, as a minor offence, or whether he felt it was serious enough to warrant a jury trial at the Middlesex Sessions or the Old Bailey.

Mr Bingham was presiding over a number of cases on a cold Monday morning in November 1851. He might have preferred to have been taking in the sights at the Great Exhibition which was in full swing at the time. Sadly for him, a steady stream of drunks, vagrants, petty thieves and wife-beaters demanded his attention instead.

At least Theodore Guibelei offered some light relief and a touch of continental sparkle to his morning of deliberation. Guibelei (most probably a Frenchman) was initially charged with theft by the policeman that brought him into Mr Bingham’s courtroom.

PC Martin (C68) deposed that he had found his man knocking at doors on Wardour Street in the early hours of Sunday morning. It was about 2am and so this strange behaviour attracted the attention of the beat ‘bobby’. As Guibelei left the doorstep on No. 43 PC Martin stopped him. Clearly unhappy with whatever response the Frenchman have the constable asked him to accompany him back to the door he’d just left.

It was then that PC Martin saw that the house’s door knocker had been wrenched off completely. Assuming that it was an accident or a prank the officer demanded that Guibelei raise the occupants of the house so that he could ‘square the matter’ with them (in other words apologise for the damage and offer to pay to repair it).

When the man refused he was arrested and taken to the nearest police station. On being searched two knockers were discovered, and it was found that the other belonged to a house in Princes Street. As a result Guibelei was charged with theft and damage.

In court the justice had to make a decision. Was the man a thief or some sort of prankster or nuisance? It mattered because if he sent him for trial for theft there was a very real risk that, if convicted, he could go to prison or worse. In court Guibelei had support from a ‘professional person’.

He told Mr Bingham that his friend was no thief and there was no ‘animo furandi’ [no intent to steal] on his part. It was all just a ‘foolish frolic’. And the magistrate chose to believe him. He said he would deal with there and then and fined him £3 plus £1 in damages for each door knocker. The Frenchman paid the money and left a free man.

Perhaps because of the class of the defendant or his representative, or maybe b


[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, November 25, 1851]

A misunderstanding leads to an accusation of theft and a missed concert

in 1880 Henry Bird ran a music shop at 56 Berwick Street, Soho, London. One afternoon Henry Everest turned up at his shop with an order for a double bass.

The order was handwritten and signed by James Parry Cole who lived in Maida Vale. The note was numbered and had carried his business address at 16 Rathbone Place. Mr Bird saw that everything was in order on the order and sgave the instrument to the musician, who took it away.

Cole had advertised for musicians to join his band, and Everest had answered the ad. The band had been about to perform a concert and on the day of show Everest turned up at rehearsals to report that the bass had been damaged on his way over. It had fallen off of the cab he’d used and the neck was broken off and smashed.

Everest now had to try and find another instrument and he turned to a man he knew who owed him money. However this person was abroad and without an instrument the musician was unable to play. He didn’t turn up for concerts and as a result Cole had no musician and Mr Bird was still owed for the double bass.

In consequence a warrant was issued for Henry’s arrest and when he heard about this he turned himself in at the nearest police station. He had managed to sell the broken bass for £5 (it had been on sale for £8 at Mr Bird’s) and had no intention of avoiding paying the music shop for it.

In court at Marlborough Street the magistrate was sympathetic. He didn’t see it as a case of theft but merely of delayed payment. The problem was one of communication he declared. Mr Bird and Mr Cole should have spoken to each other, and perhaps Cole should have listened to Everest when he had tried to explain about the bass being broken. The latter was preoccupied with the concert rehearsals (and admitted as much in court).

The musician agreed to pay back Mr Bird at 5s a week until the balance was cleared and everyone went home happy. Whether Henry Everest went on to pursue a successful career in music is quite another story.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, January 20, 1880]

Dueling at Chalk Farm

We are familiar with the idea of  gentleman dueling over some slight to one or the other’s honour and there were some very famous protagonists in the nineteenth century. The Duke of Wellington fought a duel (in secret – by then the practice was at best severely frowned upon ) with the Earl of Winchelsea. While the elites of Europe had resorted to swords and then pistols to settle their differences in the 17th and 18th centuries, by the 1800s most chose to pursue their opponents for libel in the civil courts. The practice was increasingly reserved for military men and became less and less ‘respectable’.


The Duke of wellington fights a duel

The authorities did prosecute duelists in the early 1800s as  two cases from the newspapers in July 1808 show. A pair of officers from Bow Street (Adkins and Rivett) received information that two foreigners, Sandoz (a jeweler) and  Dubois (a journeyman watch-case maker) were planning to fight a  duel at Chalk Farm the following morning. The Runners set off for Chalk Farm early on the next morning but Sandoz and Duboius didn’t show up.

It was later established that they had been tipped off that the officers were after them and their friends persuaded them to ‘shake hands’ on their dispute. Sandoz was taken before the Bow Street magistrate who bailed him to keep the peace towards Dubois.

Meanwhile another case was presented before the justice at Bow Street. This time a letter  was given to one of the Bow Street Runner, Mr Lavender, by a landlord in Wardour Street, London. The letter was supposedly written by a tailor named William MacIntosh and was addressed to an attorney’s clerk named McCreary.

It said:

‘Mr. Mac Craery, you are to come to chalk farm tomorrowe mourning at hafe past six clock, and hare to harm yourselfe with what-ever you pleaise  acept a sworde’                     

                                                                                       “Wm. Macintosh”.

Lavender went to Chalk Farm but again he found neither man there so called on them both in turn. MacKintosh claimed he had turned up an hour too early and went away again. McCreary said he hadn’t been given the note until after the time at which point he had himself gone to the Bow Street office to complain about the tailor’s threats.

The letter (which I have transcribed just as it was written in the paper, complete with poor spelling) was not in Mackintosh’s handwriting (which initially confused McCreary as he didn’t recognize it). This was explained in court when it was revealed that the landlord’s nine year old son had penned it on behalf of the tailor.

The two men made up their differences and so there was no need for the magistrate to do any more than presumably warn them that this was not a legal nor a sensible way to settle their arguments.

Why choose Chalk Farm? In the eighteenth century and early 1800s it was ‘it was particularly suitable for the purpose, as it was near town, and at the same time quite secluded’, as one history tells us.

[from The Examiner, Sunday, July 31, 1808]