A beggar who was not so ‘armless after all

Joseph White was a charlatan who pretended to be disabled when in reality he was as able-bodied as many another working-class man in late Victorian London.

In October 1885 White had positioned himself on Camden High Street so as to beg money from the many passer-by. He wore no boots and one sleeve of his jacket was empty, suggesting that he had lost a limb in an accident or while serving his country.

However, White was not all he seemed (or was in fact, more!) His begging attracted the attention of the local beat constable, PC BOxall of Y Division, who was reacting to complaints made by several pedestrians nearby.

PC Boxall asked him how he had lost his arm. ‘In an accident’ the man replied. Regardless of his injuries the constable decided that he ‘was imposing himself on people’ and so made to arrest him. As the policeman pulled him along towards Somers Town police station White slipped his (entirely healthy) arm from inside of his trousers and attempted to wriggle free of his captor.

PC Boxall called for help and a second copper appeared to convey the fraudulent beggar to the station. Once there it was discovered that far from having nothing to wear on his feet White had secreted his boots in ‘in the seat of his trousers’!

The magistrate asked White what he had to say for himself. All he could do was deny it and say the policemen had made it all up. The beak was falling for that; ‘you are a regular imposter’ he told him, before seeing him to prison for 21 days.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, October 20, 1885]

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