I had a fairly sober New Year’s eve but of course it is traditionally a time of year when people over indulge and wake up with sore heads. Not surprisingly this is not a modern invention; there was plenty of alcohol consumed in the 1800s and it was often the subject of popular concern, especially when the drinkers were members of the working classes and the observers were their middle class so-called ‘betters’.
Many of those found drunk and incapable or drunk and disorderly were brought before the ‘beaks’ at London’s various Police Courts to be admonished, fined or imprisoned. If their drinking had led to acts of violence (as they frequently did) then more serious punishments might be handed out.
Mary Ann Moody and her husband had gone to their son’s house in King’s Street, Soho, to see in the New Year 1857. All was going smoothly, she later told the magistrate at Marlborough Street, until she noticed that her son’s wife, Elizabeth, was ‘getting short in the temper’.
The clock had only just struck 12 when Elizabeth (the worse for drink) ‘lost it’ (as we might say). She turned to Mary Ann and ‘spat in her face’. The ‘lights were put out and a fight began’.
Mary Ann was then hit about the head with a poker before she collapsed to the floor senseless, bleeding profusely. She was rushed to hospital and the police were called. While she made a full recovery she was still bearing the visible scars of her injuries when she appeared in court to prosecute Elizabeth.
The police officers who arrived to deal with the chaos reported that everyone was very drunk and the magistrate said it was clear that while ‘all parties’ had been involved in a ‘general fight’, Elizabeth had used ‘excessive’ violence. He fined her £3 plus costs, or offered her an alternative of two months in prison at hard labour. The reporters did not record which option she took.
One imagine that in future years the ‘parties’ celebrated New Year in the comfort of their own homes.
[from The Morning Post, Friday, January 02, 1857]