Threatening letters in ‘Burglaria’

 

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Henry Fisher (or Leonard as he was probably previously known) and Walter Kavanagh (a youth who called himself ‘John Smith’ in court – fooling nobody!) appeared before the Westminster magistrate accused of several burglaries over the previous few weeks. The pair had burgled a string of properties but it was the threat associated with at least one of their crimes which excited the court reporter for The Standard newspaper.

Having robbed Mrs Bromley-Davenport’s  home in Belgrave Place on the 31st August 1892 the two robbers carried on to a premises at the back, Cambridge House, which belonged to a Mr Walter Gilbey. Gilbey was a well known wine merchant and gin distiller (his brand is still in existence today) who had set up his business on his return from the Crimean War in 1857.

Walter Gilbey’s other passion was shire horses and he apparently did much to promote and improve the stock of English shire horses during his long life (he died in 1914 aged 83). Whether the two burglars knew this or not is impossible to say but their actions that night suggested they might have.

Having scaled a 10 foot high wall Fisher and the boy forced a window open and entered Cambridge House. There they broke open ‘boxes and rooms, and carried off a considerable booty’. They also attacked three paintings of horses (worth upwards of £400 or more) cutting out the heads and removing them. They left behind a threatening message which read:

“Charles Peace. We should have cut your head off if we had met you. We will visit you again when you have something more to lose”.

Charles Peace was an infamous criminal who was hanged in Leeds in February 1879. Peace carried out several burglaries and at least two murders and was the subject of a number of penny dreadfuls. He was immortalized with his executioner (William Marwood) in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s.

Detective Inspector Bannister (of S Division, Metropolitan Police) testified that a note in very similar handwriting had been found at the scene of a burglary in Eton Square. The note there read: ‘thanks, boss, for what we have got’.

Burglary was (aside from murder) the hot topic within crime news and robberies of the affluent upper and middle class homes in and around Belgravia had led to satirical articles that dubbed it ‘Burglaria’ and bemoaned the   inability of the police to prevent them. Householders were urged to install devices to protect their homes and the late 19th century saw the  ‘invention’ of household contents insurance.

Fisher was no Charlie Peace however, and the pair’s bravado was hardly likely to endear them to the public or the bench. The detective told the court that Fisher (or Leonard) had been convicted of robbery in Portsmouth in the past and most recently in the Albany in 1899. While there was nothing previously known about Kavanagh/Smith the two were fully committed for trial at the Old Bailey.

[from The Standard, Thursday, October 13, 1892]

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