The Police Courts of London dealt with a lot more than crime in the nineteenth century. Petitioners often approached the bench asking for help because they were poor or having trouble with their landlords. Employers and employees also used the courts to negotiate issues relating to contracts and pay.
On Monday 23 November 1874 John Jones was in court on a charge of having left his place of work without giving the one week’s notice required. George Today a foreman at the Phoenix Gas Company, appeared to give evidence. He told the magistrate that he had hired Jones as a ‘scoop-drawer’ at 38s and 9d a week. That was the 27th June but on Friday the 13th November he collected his wages as usual but did not report for work on the Monday.
It seems Jones didn’t enjoy his job. The scoop he was tasked to work was heavy (containing a hundred weight of coal) and he was exposed to extreme heat. But, his foreman explained, he was very well paid. And he was for the 1870s at least, his £1 and 18s was the equivalent to the wage of a highly skilled craftsman and reflected a period in which the domestic economy was doing very well.
There were placards all over the shop-floor according to the foreman, each stipulating that leaving work without notice was subject to a 20s fine. Jones said he’d seen none at all. The head engineer told the court that the scoop Jones operated was a new one, and despite the Jones’ protestations that it was harder to use, he claimed instead it was easier and that Jones had two men employed to help him.
Finally it was revealed that Jones had left the Phoenix works only to be immediately employed by a rival firm. Confronted with this Jones admitted it. The work was ‘easier’ there he told the justice, after all he ‘was not going to kill himself’ now, was he?
It was an open and shut case as far as the magistrate was concerned and he fined Jones the required 20s plus 2s costs. Jones was probably not that bothered; he had a new job that he preferred at a similar or better rate.
[from The Morning Post, Monday, November 23, 1874]
P.S today is my good friend Martin Russell’s birthday, so many happy returns to him. He is one of the best photographers around as this link to his Flickr site shows.