Of oysters and late night drinking in Vinegar Yard

whistlingoyster

 

In 1827 the Metropolitan Police were yet to be created. Sir Robert Peel (Home Secretary from 1822 to April 1827) was not in post but would soon take up the reins again in January 1828. The lack of an ‘official’ police however should not be taken to mean that the capital lacked policing before 1829. There were officers attached to each of the Police Offices (the courts that are the subject of this blog) and many patrolling the river Thames and its quaysides. The Bow Street runners had operated day patrols since the late 1700s and and watchmen continued a tradition started in the medieval period, of walking their beats at night.

So all told London had around 450 ‘police officers’ and 4,500 watchmen employed and answerable to the various watch committees, magistracy, and the government. The capital was then very far from being ‘unpoliced’ when Peel guided his important ‘reform’ through  Parliament.

The officers attached to the Police (or ‘Public’) offices like Bow Street, Marlborough Street, Lambeth or Thames, worked on the instructions of the police magistrates. They investigated crimes (or at least followed up leads); they served warrants and summons; searched properties for stolen goods; and watched premises where infringements of bylaws or other offences were suspected.

Interestingly while they were paid a small salary it appears that their superiors (including Peel) believed they were best motivated by financial incentives. Officers such as David Herring at Bow Street were able to earn bonuses on top of their salary for executing particular tasks or rewards from grateful victims of theft for the return of their goods; they could also earn money for displaying ‘zeal’. This might mean a reward of up to £500 for recovering property, or simply an extra shilling for working overtime on patrol (i.e working after dark).

Herring appears in 10 trials at the Old Bailey as an investigating or arresting officer and may well have profited from his work. According to Leon Radzinowicz (the founding father of the history of crime)  the practice of financial rewards among police officers was widespread and persisted long after Peel’s creation of the Met in 1829.*

I wonder if Herring was after some extra money before Christmas in 1827. At half past midnight he and a fellow officer from Bow Street entered an oyster shop in Vinegar Yard run by Mr Pearkes. He went upstairs and found a gentleman sitting at a bench with a pint pot in front of him. After greeting him with a friendly ‘How are you, Sir?’ Herring picked up the pot and sniffed at it before setting it down. The pot was empty and Herring and officer Price left the building without any explanation.

The gentleman was clearly annoyed and as he left the oyster shop he presented Pearkes with his card bearing his name: Mr Ellar. Ellar told Pearkes what had occurred and said he had been insulted by the officers’ behaviour.

Herring ran a respectable establishment and so he summoned Herring (as the conductor – or leader – of the patrol) to the Bow Street office. He alleged there that Herring had behaved improperly. Mr Pearkes told the justice (Mr Halls) that often served respectable persons last at night when they had been attending the theatres, sometimes men alone, sometime they brought their wives and children. He ‘never suffered improper characters to come there’.

He told Mr Halls that Mr Ellar had been drinking  pint of ale but that he had obtained from a local publican and was not selling beer himself (as he did not have a license to do so). The justice however sided with the officer and with the law. Herring and been sent out to keep an eye on the unlicensed sale of liquor in any form and while this was hardly a serious offence it was breach of the regulations. As the magistrates told the oyster shop keeper:

‘It was a very great hardship upon publicans, who were obliged to take out and pay for licenses, and were compelled to close at a given hour, that others who were not subjected to the same restraints, were making a profit upon the commodities at all hours’.

He and his fellow magistrates were ‘determined to punish, as far as the law allowed, all persons who disposed of excisable liquors on their premises without a license’

Herring would have earned some extra money and perhaps well knew that Pearkes bent the rules for his wealthy clientele. The charge was brought against the police officer but Mr Halls saw no merit in it; the only way he would countenance a charge was if Mr Ellar (as the injured person) appeared to prosecute Herring.

Since he hadn’t the case was dismissed.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 21, 1827]

Mr Pearkes’ oyster shop was well known to Londoners. Situated near Drury Lane (and illustrated above) it was the subject of a funny article (recounted later in 1880) when an oyster appeared to whistle

* Radzinowicz, L; ‘Trading in Police Services: An Aspect of the Early Police in 19th Century England’, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 102/1 (November 1953)

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