Prison for the work-shy, shelter for the needy – Victorian style

It was early December in 1864 at 6 in the evening and a crowd of people had gathered outside the workhouse in Mount Street, near Grosvenor Square. Upwards of 50 were trying to gain access for the night but the porter (Robert Plowright) didn’t have room for them all. He looked over the group and tried to give shelter to some of the faces that had been in the night before.

There was a tussle as paupers struggled to get to the front and be allowed in. It was winter and the alternative was a workhouse in another parish (this one was in St George’s) or the street. One man pushed through and confronted Plowright and another shouted ‘Give it to the _____’.

Punches were thrown and the porter was hit before a policeman moved in and arrested the man that had been heard inciting violence. He was a ‘healthy looking man’ named John Thompson and the next day he appeared before Mr Knox, the sitting magistrate at Marlborough Street Police Court.

Thompson denied hitting anyone and said the porter had instigated the violence. The porter refuted this information and he was supported in this by the constable, PC Jeffrey (209C). This provoked Thompson to claim that the two had got up the charge to spite him.

Mr Knox poured scorn on this, telling the defendant that:

‘He did not believe a word the prisoner had said, it was a tissue of lies. He did not believe that the porter and the constable were all in a conspiracy against him.  The prisoner was a young and stout man, and it was disgraceful that he should be hanging about such places at all, workhouses being intended for old and decrepit persons’.

He ordered Thompson to find bail of £5 or he would be sent to prison for 14 days. I wonder if he chose the latter option because at least he would have received the shelter he desired.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 02, 1864]

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