It is a year before the first ‘Ripper’ murder but the portents are visible in East End life

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In August 1887 London had little inkling of the terror that was to haunt the East End in just a year’s time. There was violence and crime aplenty of course, but no more or less than usual, and nothing to suggest that Whitechapel and the East End was soon to be the focus of world attention as a serial killer struck again and again with impunity.

Despite the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders being extraordinary by any standards I wonder if the foundations for the unknown killer’s actions were already well established in the community he later terrorised. Domestic violence was endemic; linked to alcoholism and poverty, and patriarchal attitudes towards women. With the campaign against contagious diseases and the well-publicized attack on vice and immorality prostitution was also in the spotlight with sex workers demonized as the carriers of diseases which had decimated the army in the Crimea.

But it was the causal, commonplace brutality eked out daily by working-class men towards their wives and common-law partners that really empowered the actions of the ‘Ripper’.

Men frequently beat and abused their womenfolk in the East End and while murders might have been relatively unusual, manslaughter and grievous bodily harm was not. Unless the police actually saw it happen they weren’t able to interfere and even then many if not most were reluctant to get involved in a ‘a domestic’.  The survivors were also reluctant to press charges against their abusers; in fear of retaliation or the loss of the main breadwinner. Magistrates were frustrated but there was little they could do save deal with offenders when they did come before them.

Frederick Smith was a 35 year-old milkman living in Britannia Street, off the City Road. In late August 1887, a year before the Ripper murdered Polly Nicholls in Bucks Row, Smith was brought before Mr Bushby at Worship Street Police court. The milkman was accused of violently assaulting his wife.

PC 63G testified that he had been called to an incident at the defendant’s home and found Mrs Smith ‘lying insensible and bleeding on the pavement’. A few people had gathered and they told him that she fallen out of a window above. He got her into a cab and took her to the London Hospital to be treated. She regained consciousness on the journey and told him that he husband had attacked her and thrown her out of the window to the street below.

When he’d deposited her at the hospital he went back and arrested Fred who, he now realized, had been part of the crowd gathered around Mrs Smith’s body in the street. When he’d seen the policeman the milkman had quickly made himself scarce. Since Mrs Smith was still in hospital and unable to give evidence Mr. Bushby remanded the prisoner for a week and the gaoler locked him up.

We don’t know if Mrs Smith made a full recovery or, if she did, whether she pressed charges against her husband. There’s no record of a Frederick Smith being prosecuted at the Old Bailey for murder or manslaughter, which makes me hopeful that his wife survived.  Fred Smith is hardly an unusual name however, so newspaper searches are problematic.

I think it does indicate the casual nature of violence meted out to working-class women in the 1800s; when ‘ordinary’ me could do this and (mostly) get away with it then surely its not too far of a leap to understand why a disturbed individual could feel emboldened to take that violence much further.

[from The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, August 27, 1887]

Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available on Amazon

Plain-clothes police foil a jewel heist on Cheapside

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The City of London police were only created in 1839, a decade after the Met. This was partly because the square mile had resisted Sir Robert’s Peel’s (and other’s) attempts to include them in a London-wide system of police. The City authorities (in the person of the Lord Mayor and aldermen) believed with some justification that they already possessed an efficient organization for policing the City streets. In 1856 policing was extended to cover not only London but the entire country with the passing of the County and Borough Police Act (1856) and it is from then that we can really date the modern service.

Peel intended for his force to be visible and preventative; not to act as ‘spies’ (as Fouché’s French police did) but as ‘citizens in uniform’  to counter fears of a paramilitary presence on English soil. But it seems the City police were not above putting men in plain clothes on occasion, especially after 1842 when the Detective branch of the Metropolitan Police was created.

PC Legg (440 City) and a fellow officer (Evans 459 City) were watching two suspicious characters on Cheapside in late October. It was about 7 at night and PC Legg were in plain clothes when they saw Henry Smith and William Raymond looking in a number of jewellers’ windows. The two men waited for the beat bobby to pass by and then one of them (Smith) took a stone from his pocket and smashed a window. As they attempted to steal from Mr Mott’s  jewelers and watchmaker’s shop the two officers rushed them and took them into custody.

The jeweller’s assistant (Joseph Snowden) came running out and saw what was happening. He noted that they had picked the window which held the most expensive items, including several diamond bracelets. In total he estimated that there was upwards of a £1,000 worth of stock that the thieves might have carried away had it not been for the quick work of the police.  Smith quickly found the stone and the men were arrested and searched: each of them was carrying a knife and Smith had an empty purse on him as well.

At the Mansion House Police court the Lord Mayor heard conformation of the evidence from PC Evans who added that the men were laughing as the broke the window. He also said that Raymond had told him (when arrested) that he was a former soldier having serve din the Middlesex Militia and the Buffs but had been discharged on health grounds. If that was supposed to impress the police or the magistrate it failed. The defendants refused to say anything much in their defence except to ask for the Lord Mayor to deal with them summarily. That would have earned them a shorter sentence and the justice was not inclined to oblige them.

‘No’, he said, ‘I shall never think of adjudicating in a case of this kind. It must go before a tribunal possessed of the power of inflicting a punishment proportioned to the serious offence’.

He committed them to the Central Criminal Court at Old Bailey where they appeared on November 24th. After a brief trial they were convicted and sent to prison for nine months each, both men were just 22 years old.

 

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, November 01, 1856]

An open window is an invitation to thieves

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Ellen Dunn was sitting at her desk in the evening, doing her household accounts. She had her receipts and an account book open in front of her, and a bag containing around £12 in cash on the floor beside her chair. The widow lived at 68 Warden Road in Kentish Town and her daughter was in a room upstairs.

At about eight o’clock Mrs Dunn heard a noise in the room. Looking up she watched with horror as the window ‘was thrown open’ and someone entered the room. Ellen ran out of the room to the front door to see who was breaking in but couldn’t get out; someone or something was preventing her from opening her own front door.

She went back into the room and leaned out of the open window and yelled ‘police!’ This brought her daughter running downstairs to see what the matter was. There was no one visible in the street but Mrs Dunn’s bag of money was missing. The next morning the empty bag was found in the front garden – Mrs Dunn realized had been burgled.

Fortunately the police had a witness from within the Dunn’s own household. Amy Sefton was a 14 year-old serving girl, probably very junior, but she proved to be a very capable young woman. She said she had seen a group of lads watching the house just before the robbery had taken place. She saw a boy she recognized as someone who lived locally run away from the house clutching a bag that seemed very similar to the one found that morning.

He took the bag to his mates who were clustered around a lamppost. Using the light it offered the boys peered inside. ‘Here is a go: there is some money!’ one of them cried, clearly delighted with the prize.

Then they removed the cash, stuffed it in their pockets and dashed off. One of them was dispatched to throw away the bag and this is when they spotted Amy watching them. They swore at her but she held her ground and made sure she got a good look at them. This resulted in the police picking up a lad one 17 named William Hine, who was produced at Marylebone Police court on the following day.

Hine was charged (along with several others in absentia) with entering a dwelling house and stealing £12. It was a serious property crime and the magistrate remanded William in custody so the police investigation could continue. The justice made a point of commending Amy for her quick thinking and bravery.

This would be a hard case to prove however; Amy said she would be able to identify William and one or other of the lads but without forensics or any of the money being found on them the police may have struggled to build a case against them. Hine doesn’t feature in the Old Bailey records or in the Digital Panopticon. His absence from both doesn’t mean he wasn’t prosecuted further but without a clear trail I wonder if, on this occasion, the lads got away with it. On thing is likely however: Mrs Dunn would have been careful not to leave her windows open in future.

[from The Standard, Thursday, September 28, 1893]

An unhappy drunk ‘falls’ out of a window

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Amelia Glover was a woman of her word and not someone to mess around with. Unfortunately for Thomas Norris he ignored the former and committed the latter and after a brief encounter with Glover, found himself face down in the street outside her lodgings being stared at by a number of bemused and concerned passers by.

It was about midnight on Saturday 29 July 1848 and Norris was drunk. He’d met Amelia in the street and she’d agreed to take him to her rooms for sex. This was a financial transaction not a casual date however, and Amelia was an experienced prostitute. When she got Norris upstairs to her first floor room – at 10 Old Kent Road – she demanded money up front probably knowing only too well that some clients lacked the money to pay for her services, especially when they’d been out all night drinking.

Norris refused to cough up the necessary money however, perhaps either regretting his decision to engage her or simply hoping he could wheedle his way out of paying for it. It was a bad move on his part because Amelia got cross. She told him to pay up or she would throw him out of the window.

When he refused again she pushed table in front of the door, blocking his escape and manhandled him to the open window. Since he still seemed reluctant to empty his pockets she tipped him over the windowsill and he fell on his face in the street. Several witnesses apparently saw what happened but were reluctant to intervene: Amelia Glover was clearly well known in the area as someone you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of.

PC Lewis Bray (105P) realized what had happened and on the Sunday, after making some enquiries, he arrested Amelia, taking her before a magistrate at Lambeth on the Monday morning. There she denied the assault, suggesting Norris had fallen out the window in his attempt to evade paying her. Unfortunately apart from Norris (who appeared in court with his face ‘awfully disfigured’) there was no one to challenge Amelia’s alternative version of events. PC Bray said there were witnesses but they were too scared to testify.

The justice, Mr Elliott said it was clearly a case that needed to go to trial and he instructed the constable to enter summonses for the witnesses. He remanded Amelia in custody in the meantime.

A few days later Amelia was brought back to Lambeth Police court as at least one witness had been found. Henry Humphries was a shoemaker who lived close by and had heard the disturbance that night. He heard Norris fall and ran to help, throwing water over him to revive him. He looked up and saw Glover at the window, but he hadn’t seen her push or throw him out. Norris was unconscious for at least 10 minutes and he feared he was dead.  A doctor testified that the injuries were serious and Amelia was fully committed for trial.

In the end however this was probably one person’s word against another and while Amelia’s reputation was hardly exemplary, Norris’ was compromised by admitting to having been drunk and to visiting a known prostitute at her lodgings. If the case did go to trial I cant find a record of it in the newspapers or in the Digital Panopticon, so perhaps it was quietly dropped. Without solid witnesses it was unlikely to succeed and Norris may have decided it was better if he withdrew and put it the whole affair all down to experience.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, August 01, 1848; The Morning Post , Thursday, August 03, 1848]

You are ‘ruining my brains’:the effects of imprisonment on one Londoner

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Kate Driscoll was a regular in the Clerkenwell Police Court. The 25 year-old book folder* of ‘no fixed abode’ had been sent to prison on numerous occasions in the late 1890s for acts of violence or criminal damage, usually when she was much the worse for drink.

On Saturday, the 7 January 1899 she was entered Frederick Glover’s music shop at 185 Upper Islington. It was just before midnight (and so we learn that in those days shops were sometimes still open, even very later a night) and, as usual, Kate was drunk. This time her ‘poison’ was rum but I imagine she drank whatever she could get her hands on.

Having pushed her way into the shop she collided with a music stand sending it, and the musical score on it, tumbling to the floor. Mr Glover, understandably concerned for his merchandise, remonstrated with her and got a mouthful of abuse for his trouble. As Kate tried to pull over another display Glover grabbed her and managed to manhandle her off of his premises and in to the street.

Kate sat down on the pavement, and removed one of her boots. Slowly pulling herself upright she turned and aimed the heel at the window to express her displeasure at being so rudely ejected. As the boot made contact with the shop window it smashed the plate glass, doing an estimated £4 10s worth of damage.

The sound alerted PC Jones (222C) who arrested her and marched Kate off to the station, but not before she had managed to land him a punch in the face. On Monday she was back in court at Clerkenwell before Mr Bros, the sitting magistrate. There Kate admitted the damage and the assault on the constable.

‘I admit I struck him and knocked his helmet off’, she told Mr Bros, ‘but the officer threw me down. What I did was in self defence’, adding that ‘the drink was in me’.

‘I have no doubt about that’, countered the magistrate, ‘what have you to say’?

”Well these long terms of imprisonment you are giving me are ruining my brains’ was Kate’s riposte; ‘I only came out after doing six months on Saturday last, and, you see, the least drop [of alcohol] upsets me’.

There was little alternative to prison for Kate in 1899; the Police Court Missionary Service had been attending courts for the last couple of decades but they only really helped those willing to ‘take the pledge’ to abstain from alcohol and Kate wasn’t quite ready for that. After 1887 courts could release offenders convicted of certain crimes on their recognisances but this applied only to first offenders, and Kate Driscoll hardly qualified.

So Mr Bros, whether happily or against his better judgement, did what he had to do and sent her to gaol once more. She got two months for the criminal damage and three for the assault.’Five months, oh my heart!’ cried Kate, ‘I can do it’ she added, before she was taken away to start her latest period of incarceration.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, January 10, 1899]

*someone employed by a printer or bookbinder to fold sheets of paper to form the pages of a book. We can now do this mechanically. 

You can use this site to search for specific crimes or use the Themes link in the menu on the left to look for areas or topics that interest you. If you are interested in a particular court (such as Bow Street or Marylebone) you can also limit your search to one court in particular. Please feel free to comment on anything you read and if something in particular interests you then please get in touch. You can email me at drew.gray@northampton.ac.uk

An English Valjean in Lambeth Palace

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Charles Jeram was a night watchman, working for the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace. In the early hours of March 6, 1866 he was on duty and heard a noise of a door shutting upstairs. This must have seemed unusual to him because he quickly made his way up to the drawing room (which must have been on the ground floor – meaning Pearson was ‘below stairs’) where he found an intruder.

The man, Charles Pearson, was holding a carpet bag in one hand and a ‘small cloak in the other’. When challenged Pearson said nothing and the security guard asked him to come with him (which he did without a struggle). The police were called and the supposed burglar was taken into custody.

After he had handed over his captive Jeram checked the drawing room and found that  ‘a great many articles [had] been removed from their proper places’. Pearson had presumably been working out what he wanted to steal before wrapping items in his cloak or placing them in the bag he carried.

His route into the house was also clear: a ‘pane of glass had been removed from [a] window’ enabling anyone outside to lift the catch and achieve entry. Jeram had checked this window on his rounds at 2 so Pearson must have broken in.

Pearson continued his silence in Lambeth Police Court so he was remanded in custody for the time being.

I was interested by the fact that Charles Pearson was described in court as ‘shabby genteel’, an epithet applied by one of the witnesses who might have seen ‘Jack the Ripper’ 22 years later. Mrs Long saw Annie Chapman talking to a man she said looked ‘happy genteel’ in Hanbury Street not long before Chapman’s body was discovered. Of course I’m not suggesting that Pearson was ‘Jack’ but the phrase is interesting. ‘Shabby genteel’ suggests someone down on their luck but trying to keep up appearances,  as Thackeray’s George Brandon does in A Shabby Genteel Story (1857).

It also made me think of Les Miserables (1862) and the way that Jean Valjean repays his saviour, Digne’s bishop, by taking his candlesticks. M. Myriel lets him keep them, a gesture that he hopes will set the convict on a more righteous path in the future.

There is no recorded trial of a Charles Pearson for burglary at the Old Bailey in 1866 so perhaps the archbishop followed the example of his fictious French counterpart and took pity on his uninvited guest.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 6, 1866]

A smash and grab raid on the Commercial Road

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The Commercial Road, Whitechapel c.1880s

As Charles Wakeman sat in the back room of his jewellers shop at 479 Commercial Road he was probably doing his paperwork or enjoying a late supper. Whatever he was doing it was soon to be rudely interrupted.

At a quarter past nine his assistant rushed in and told him they had been robbed. Wakeman ran through into the shop and saw that his front window had been smashed in. Outside a crowd was gathering – to see what all the fuss was about and, perhaps, to see if any ‘windfalls’ might drop nearby.

Wakeman quickly noted that along with the jewellery that was lying in the street a tray of rings was missing altogether. He picked up two gold bangles and was then approached by a young man. This lad, whose name was Ernest Marks, told the relieved jeweller that he had heard the smash of the window and spotted the thief running away.

Marks, who had been standing on the corner of Jamaica Street,  had sprinted after him and caught him in Bermuda Street. He recovered the tray of ’32 ladies gem rings’ (valued at £129 9s, or over £7,000 pounds in today’s money) and handed the thief over to a nearby policeman.

The suspected jewel thief (William Halbart) who was thought to be in partnership with another man, not yet in custody, was charged at Thames Police Court. The magistrate, Mr Lushington, fully committed him for trial.

Halbart’s case came up very quickly at the Old Bailey; he was tried and convicted of burglary on the 3 March. Despite his protestation that he had only  been a curious onlooker and had picked up some of the jewellery but not stolen it, adding: ‘I am perfectly innocent. I am the victim. I have never been locked up in my life’.

He was sent to prison for a year.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, March 2, 1890]