(Anarchist) bill stickers will NOT be prosecuted after all

In July 1893 all London was waiting for the marriage of the year – that Prince George the duke of York and Mary of Teck. Princess Mary had been supposed to marry the prince’s elder brother, Albert Victor, but he had died in 1892. The marriage was George’s grandmother’s idea and seems to have been quite embarrassing for all concerned. Mary was still mourning the loss of her intended and George must have been caught between duty and a desire to marry for love. Albert had died of a long illness which some have speculated was syphilis, caught whilst enjoying the company of prostitutes in the East End. More recent (and even wilder) speculation placed him at the heart of the Cleveland Street scandal and even have him as a candidate for being Jack the Ripper.

Not everyone in London was looking forward to an expensive royal wedding and a couple of days beforehand two men appeared at Clerkenwell Police Court charged with putting up posters on the Gray’s Inn Road. The actual offence was ‘posting and dispersing bills, the same not having the printer’s and publisher’s address thereon’.

The posters (which we don’t have so can’t tell what they said) supposedly carried ‘abusive allusions to the royal wedding’. The royal family was far from universally popular in the 1890s and London was home to several  radical political groups who opposed the very idea of monarchy.

In court the two young men (Thomas Cantwell, 20 and Ernest Young, 27) were described as compositors and so worked in the printing industry. Young refused to give his address, Cantwell lived on Sidmouth Street. The police prosecutor was in somewhat of a quandary he said, because the since the men’s arrest the owner of the hoardings where the bills had been posted had brought a separate charge of fly posting without their consent. He told the court that while ‘no one could sympathize with the prisoners for posting such an offensive placard’ there was little to be done but for him to withdraw the police charge and allow the prosecution by the hoarding owners.

The magistrate reluctantly agreed with him and ordered the men to be released. Canter now piped up and said that when he had been arrested the police had seized his keys. When he had returned to his premises he had been obliged to break down his own door. In the interim someone had entered his home and helped themselves to some of his possessions while he was in the process of getting bailed.

The justice was unsympathetic; ‘I can’t listen to you now. If you want to make an application come again in the morning’, he told him, and sent him away. The papers termed the two men ‘anarchists’ and so were probably amused by the short shrift the magistrate handed down to them.

[from Daily News, Wednesday, July 5, 1893]

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