A victim of the prison system takes his anger out at Thames Police court

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The Thames Police court magistrate, Mr Lushington, enjoyed a reputation as the scourge of the ‘drinking classes’. In the late 1870s and ’80s Lushington fined and imprisoned thousands of drunks and wife beaters, disorderly prostitutes and petty thieves; those that used actual violence against the police were a particular bête noire of his, and could expect length spells in gaol at hard labour.

In the process he must have made a number of enemies – indeed most magistrates would have upset or annoyed those that came in front of them in the course of their justicing work. So perhaps we might expect there to have been occasions when the magistrates themselves were the victims of violence from those they sat in summary judgement on.

This is just one example where Mr Lushington was almost on the receiving end of another form of summary punishment.

Lewis Britton was still a teenager when he appeared at Bow Street, London’s senior Police court. A year earlier he had been charged with stealing a small step ladder and the Thames magistrate (possibly Lushington but other justices did serve there) had committed him for trial at the sessions. He was convicted and received a six month prison sentence.

This apparently affected him very badly and according to his mother, had completely changed him as a person.  Prison had a very debilitating affect on those that experienced in the late 1800s; it was brutal and isolating, and many if not most prisoners were scarred by it for life. Lewis (just 18 when he went inside) found it very hard to adjust to life afterwards and had not been able to find employment since.

He clearly blamed Lushington for his situation and one day he determined to do something about it.

Britton turned up at the Thames court holding a large stone. He was met by the court’s housekeeper, James Denny, who asked him what he wanted. Lewis told him he needed to see Mr Lushington and when Denny asked him why he said: ‘I want to give him this’, indicating the stone, and added that he intended to ‘do for him’.

Naturally alarmed, Denny told him to go away and threatened to have him taken into custody if he didn’t. Britton’s response was to wave the rock at Denny and threaten him as well. The housekeeper summoned PC Charles Andrews (166K) who arrested him. When the officer got his prisoner under lock and key he questioned him. The young man told him:

I mean to settle him when he comes outside, for giving me six months for nothing. If I don’t do it now I will at some other time‘.

Lewis Britton was duly presented in court on a charge of threatening a magistrate’s life, and his mother appeared in his defence. She spoke of how his mind had been affected by the original court case and his incarceration, hoping for some leniency for her son. The Bow Street magistrate, Mr Flowers, asked if there was any evidence that Lewis was not in full control of his actions. The Police surgeon, Dr Horton, said he had examined the prisoner and ‘thought he was labouring under some delusions’. He doubted whether the lad had any real intention of striking Lushington with the stone, but that he merely meant to frighten him.

Having established that Lewis might be a ‘person of weak intellect’, Mr Flowers committed him to the St. Giles workhouse so he could be examined by the medical staff there.

Whilst the action he took was deplorable by any standards I have quite a deal of sympathy with young Britton. His original crime was hardly serious and seemingly a first offence. Yet he was sent into the Victorian prison system;  a system that was described by one middle-class inmate as a ‘vast machine’ that ground men down and crushed their spirits. He only served six months but that was enough to give him the taint of prison that marked him out as an ex-convict. It isn’t easy for prisoners who have served their ‘time’ to reintegrate into society today, and they have (arguably at least) much more support than their Victorian counterparts. Hopefully Lewis received some help at St. Giles but I’m not confident he did.

[from The Standard, Monday, March 31, 1879]

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Losing ‘the war on drugs’: a nineteenth-century perspective

It is probably reasonable to say that for some people – the church, police, social reformers, and government – the consumption of alcohol has long been an issue of concern. Most of the problems of society in the nineteenth century seem to have been  associated with drinking at some point or another and sobriety was held to be a virtue. Whether they were were discussing poverty, domestic violence or anti-social behaviour the ‘demon drink’ was at the heart of the matter.

The Police Courts overflowed on Monday mornings with those dragged up from the cells on charges of being ‘drunk and disorderly’, ‘drunk and incapable’ or ‘drunk and refusing quit licensed premises’. Most were fined (with the threat of gaol if they didn’t pay up) while the worst offenders (i.e those that used violence or resisted arrest) could expect to spend a few weeks or months in a house of correction.

So one of the functions of the courts was to deal with the effects of alcohol but they also regulated the trade in beer and spirits. Justices of the Peace (magistrates) had been involved in issuing licenses from at least the late seventeenth century, and they continued to do this in the 1800s. Look above the door of any pub and you can often find the notice that denotes the right of the landlord to sell you a pint.

There were restrictions (locally applied) to the opening hours a landlord could keep but after 1872 the first national licensing law was introduced. The Intoxicating Liquor (Licensing) Act (also known as the Aberdare Act) was unpopular (as most restrictions on our consumption of ‘booze’ are!)  and it brought protests and a petition to Parliament, all to little effect.

Governments were also concerned to control the manufacture, importation and sale of alcohol (especially spirits) through taxation and this of course led to smuggling and the development of an illicit trade in home made alcohol.

In late March 1851 Henry Haines and Elizabeth Collins appeared at Clerkenwell Police Court charged ‘by the excise with having been concerned in working in a private still’.

Two officers of the excise, George Lowe and Richard Oliver, working on information they had received, turned up at a premises on St John’s Street, Clerkenwell at five o’clock on Monday, March 24th. They knocked the door and were met by a man who was struggling to restrain two large bulldogs. He quickly asked them to wait so he could tie them up, warning that otherwise they might bite them.

It was a ruse of course, while the excise men waited the man made his escape. Lowe and Oliver entered the building and soon found a kitchen with a large still in it. Haines was in his shirt sleeves busily working; Elizabeth Collins (who turned out to be the wife of the man that had run away) was also working in the kitchen along with a small boy, her son.

This was a serious operation; the officers reported that there was a ‘thirty-gallon copper still [which was] charged with rectifying spirits, and running from the worm end, and more than fifty-five over proof.  There were one hundred gallons of molasses wash in three tubs, and in a can seven gallons of strong spirits, and five bags evidently for yeast.’ There was lots of water and a fire burned under the still.

All of the goods were seized and the operation was shut down. Haines was fined £30 (about £1,7000 in today’s money) with a three month prison sentence with hard labour should he default on the payment. Collins was discharged on the assumption that she ‘acted under the coercion of her husband’.

It doesn’t reveal what the still was making but the widespread availability of cheap gin in the 1800s was a contemporary concern that agitated social commentators. Plenty of satirical prints and popular songs warned of, and  occasional celebrated, Londoner’s love/hate relationship with drink. This still was closed down but many others would have sprung up in its place; Haines’ fine might seem a hefty one but the profits to made outweighed the risks of being penalized. The authorities were fighting a losing battle, just as the we are losing (or have lost) the modern war on illegal drugs.

[from (Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, March 30, 1851]

Cholera arrives in London and one woman finds herself in court as a result.

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From early 1832 to the last outbreak in June 1866 Londoners experience the full horror of cholera as it ravaged communities in the nineteenth century. Cholera spread quickly and those infected, if not teated swiftly soon developed the unpleasant and debilitating symptoms associated with the disease (dehydration, diarrhoea and vomiting), before death almost inevitably followed. Thousands died in London and other British cities during the three decades that the water-borne infection affected the British Isles, and many more died overseas, especially in India where the disease first appeared.

In late March 1832 the London press reported  cholera infections daily. On the 28th the were 89 new cases of which 49 people died. Since the outbreak started there had been over 1500 cases with 854 fatalities. The locations of the deaths were also listed, with the highest number for a single parish (16) in Southwark. This was not unconnected as Southwark was close by the river and was London’s poorest area. Three bodies were found ‘floating in the river’ and were added to the 25 the authorities had already dragged from the Thames.

On the same day, over at Guildhall Police Court, Mary Mahoney (a ‘poor Irish woman’) was brought up on a charge of ‘feigning an attack of cholera morbus at the foot of Blackfriars Bridge’. A local watchman (Easley) had found her and told the alderman magistrate, Mr Laurie, that this wasn’t the first time Mary had acted in this way. In fact it was the ‘fifth or sixth time’ she had tried it, and since on each occasion she was revived with a drink of brandy and water one might imagine she kept trying the same thing.

Mr Laurie turned to the prisoner and asked her how many times she had had the disease.

‘Not at all, your Honour, and I hope I never will’, she replied. ‘But this man says you exhibited symptoms of it’, the justice remarked. The poor watchman was perplexed: ‘Yes’, he interjected, ‘she lies down and moans, and won’t speak, and draws her nose and knees together’. 

‘Then you should take her to the Board of Health’, advised the magistrate, ‘they might give you a premium, for some of them are sadly at a discount for want of cases’.

He clearly wasn’t taking cholera very seriously, and certainly not as seriously as he should. He concluded by saying that:

Everything is imitated in this country, from a pound note to the cholera morbus‘, which triggered a laugh from someone in the courtroom.

Fearing that his wife would be punished Mary’s husband pushed himself forward. He was an old army pensioner, and quite blind. He told Mr Laurie that she was his only support and that if she were sent to Bridewell it would ‘ruin the family’. Mary chipped in to say that she really had been ill, albeit not with the cholera, and the justice let her go with just a telling off.

Mary had probably done nothing to warrant a spell in the house of correction; she hadn’t claimed to have cholera but the watchman – on edge and on the lookout for cases, especially by the river – probably misinterpreted the symptoms. This shows us, perhaps, that the arrival of this new and deadly disease in London quickly became the focus of conversation, press coverage, and rumour. As with many things that frighten us the truth of the situation (and therefore the best course of action to follow), often become obscured under in a fog of popular misconception. It took the medical profession several decades to arrive at a better understanding of cholera and a means to prevent it.

In 1854, after an outbreak in Soho, Dr John Snow (who had been investigating cholera since the late 1830s) was able to test a theory he had posited in 1849. Conventional belief held that cholera was spread by air  as a miasma (‘bad air’). Snow rejected this thesis and instead argued (correctly) that the disease was contracted by mouth through water. In Broad Street, Soho a street pump brought water to the local community (these were the days before Londoners had supplies of fresh running water). John Snow studied the outbreak and correctly concluded that the pump was the source of the cholera infections. Having stopped the use of the pump the area saw a significant fall in new cases. While he didn’t convince the medical profession until after his death (in 1858, John Snow’s name will always be synonymous with an effective medical and public health solution to the problem of cholera.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, March 29, 1832]

A most ungallant forger and the plundering of the ‘dark’ continent

Gold

Henry and Eliza Hendry appeared in the dock at Mansion House Police court as a married couple. The pair were charged with ‘forging and uttering a transfer of shares’ in a South African gold mining company. While both seemed to have been involved, Henry hadn’t planned for both of them to benefit from the crime, as the court was soon to discover.

The prosecution was opened by Mr Abraham on behalf of the Luipaard’s Vlei Estate and Gold Mining Company Limited . He alleged that while Hendry had been a clerk in the Consolidated Goldfields of South Africa he had stolen two certificates belonging to share holders. The documents represented 400 and 26 shares each, and so were of considerable value.

Mr Abraham went on to say that Hendry, ‘with the collusion of his wife’, had sold the shares certificates on the stock exchange, making the huge sum of £2,500 (£140,000 today).

Eliza was represented in court by her own lawyer, Mr Myers, and he told the Lord Mayor that his client was the very much the junior party in the crime. In the previous century the principle of coverture (femme couvert) may well have protected Mrs Hendry from prosecution as a wife acting with her husband was deemed to be following his lead, as any ‘good wife’ was expected to do. By 1900, however, I doubt that this rather surprising aspect of patriarchy would have worked for Eliza in front of a jury.

Fortunately for Eliza it never came to that. The Lord Mayor was told that once Henry Hendry had successfully sold the share certificates he left his wife and ran off with another woman. He had compounded his serious crime by acting like a pantomime villain. The City’s chief magistrate remanded him in custody but bailed his wife.

A case like this was probably complicated and evidence needed to be gathered. As a result it took several months for this to reach the Old Bailey. When it did there was no sign of Eliza, so she must have been released. As for Henry, the 30 year-old clerk pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey in May but judgement on him was respited. This probably means that there was some doubt over his conviction, possibly on some points of the law. Before 1907 (when the Court of Criminal Appeal was established) the Twelve Judges of England in the Court for Crown Cases Reserved, so they could lend their expert wisdom to the case.

Hendry disappears from the ‘bailey at this point so perhaps he too escaped the consequences of his grand scheme to defraud.

In March 1899  the area in which the Luipoards Vlei Estate was situated (the Witwatersrand) was firmly under British rule. This was to be (unsuccessfully) challenged in the coming year, as the second  South African (or Boer) war broke out in late 1899.  Britain’s imperial interest in Africa, in part driven by competition with other European powers (such as France and Germany) was underpinned by the desire to exploit the rich mineral wealth of the southern part of the continent. In trying to profit from the wider exploitation of Africa’s natural resources Henry Hendry was merely acting as he had seen many others do, and in the end, who can really condemn him for that?

As for leaving his wife however, now that really does mark him out to be a ‘bad lot’.

[from The Standard , Tuesday, March 28, 1899]

p.s The Luipoards Vlei Estate and Gold Mining Company had been formed in London in 1888 and successfully traded until the mid-20th century. It extracted gold and then, after this dried up in the 1950s, it continued to mine uranium. It ceased to be a going concern in 1970.

A vociferous campaigner against alcoholism is treated gently at Clerkenwell

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As a crowd gathered around a speaker at Packington Street, Islington, one Sunday in 1866 the police felt obliged to intervene. It wasn’t the first time that William Henry Edwards had been at the centre of a furore; he had been standing on his soap box in Islington for the past two month’s of Sundays.

Edwards was a tarpaulin maker by trade but his actions had nothing to do with his profession. He had taken it upon himself to publicly condemn what he saw as one of the scourges of Victorian society – the over consumption of cheap alcohol. He described drunkenness as an societal ‘evil’; claiming also that ‘our prisons were filled through drink’. Edwards was a member of the Temperance Movement that grew to prominence in the mid to late 1800s, and like many a lay preacher in the Victorian age (and since)  he was prepared to take his message to the streets.

Men like William Edwards advocated abstinence from all forms of alcohol and while the middle classes also enjoyed a ‘tipple’ the movement was clearly aimed at the urban poor and working class who were seen to be the worst offenders, and the main victims of alcoholism. The police courts were full of drunk and disorderly people because the police cleared them off the streets at night and dragged the before the justices in the morning. Drunkenness then was a failing of the working man and woman, a failing that manifested itself in public.

On Sunday 25 March 1866 the police who moved in to the clear the obstruction on Packington Street found Edwards ‘standing on a chair, singing’. Having thus assembled a crowd about him he then swiftly warmed to his theme of temperance, and refused to stop and go away when the officers asked him to.

As the crowd grew the police again invited him to step down but again he insisted on continuing and by this time many people were arguing with him, while his supporters cheered his words. He was quickly becoming a nuisance and so the police were forced to arrest him and take him to the nearest police station.

When he appeared in the Clerkenwell Police court two days later he was unrepentant; because of the social problem of drink and drunken behaviour (and the effects this had on family budgets, tempers and so the persons of many working-class wives and partners) he felt justified in ‘holding open-air meetings on the subject’.

As for causing an obstruction (and that was the charge laid against him) he had, he told the magistrate, made all efforts to ask his audience to stand to one side so pedestrians could pass by. Today Packington Street is a through road that leads to the busy Essex Road, but the houses on it (smart Victorian terraces) suggest that in the 1860s this was a wide street which may have carried considerable local traffic.

The police, in the person of Inspector Wiseman, argued that while it wasn’t Edwards himself that was causing the obstruction he was responsible for the crowd of well-wishers and nay-sayers that had surrounded him. It was happening on such a regular basis, Wiseman continued, as to have become a nuisance even if that wasn’t the preacher’s intention.

Edwards apologised and said he would certainly ‘not go there again if it was wrong’. Mr Barker, the magistrate, told him that he had committed an offence which carried a potential fine of £5 but he would not, on this occasion, impose it. However, if he appeared before him again he could expect the full weight of the law to fall upon him.

Mr Edwards ‘thanked his Worship’ and left with his supporters. The cause of Temperance had been highlighted in the newspapers, and that, perhaps, was part of his strategy.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 27, 1866]

Tyson and Henry Cooper in the dock at Southwark

Decline

My apologies if the headline caught you but after all that is what headline writers do. This isn’t a story about two boxing legends but instead a tale of fraud in 1870s London.

In late March 1872 George Tyson, alias George Tyler, alias Henry Cooper (I’m not making this up, honest) was brought before the Police magistrate at Southwark charged with ‘obtaining two rick cloths, value £32, from Messrs. Cox and Williams, late Benjamin Edgington, under false and fraudulent pretences’.

The firm’s lawyer opened the prosecution by recounting how, almost a year earlier, a man calling himself Tyson had called on the firm and said he required a rick cloth to protect his hay. The firm were told that he was an established customer of theirs and a respectable farmer at Reigate and that he could be found ‘in the directory’.

Mr Cox, on behalf of the firm, explained that they had checked their books and discovered they had a customer called Mr Tyson at Reigate and so, reassured, they duly despatched two cloths. However, when the invoice they sent was not paid and all the reminders ignored, they began to realise the whole thing was ‘a swindle’.

Mr Cox had met Tyson when he had come to London but had not seen him again until, by chance, he saw him getting into a cab at London Bridge station. He immediately called over a nearby policeman, explained the situation and helped make the arrest. Tyson was bailed on his promise to attend the Southwark court the following morning, but failed to show up in court and then disappeared.

A warrant was then issued for his arrest which came into the hands of inspector Matthew Fox of M Division, Metropolitan Police. On the Friday before this court appearance a man walked into Fox’s station house asking for help. Mr Lucy was a ship owner who had recently let a property to a man named Cooper. On visiting the property he was surprised to see Cooper loading up all his possessions as if was about to leave. The property was let for three years, at a rate of £53 a year (about £2,500 in today’s money) but it seemed Copper was leaving in a hurry. When the inspector called on him he also found it was full of commercial property (not described in court) which seemed to have come from an unknown manufacturer.

It all seemed a little fishy and given Tyson (or Cooper’s) propensity to avoid court appearances the inspector asked for him to be remanded so he could pursue his investigations. The report noted that ‘the prisoner ( who took the matter very coolly), said it was merely a matter of debt’. Regardless of this the magistrate acquiesced to the policeman’s request and Tyson/Cooper spent at least the next few days in gaol.

In early April Tyson was tried at the Old Bailey for fraud. It emerged that his wife had kept the house Lucy had let him and that when the landlord tried to extract the rent from him he was met by several fierce dogs. When Inspector Fox had tried to arrest him at the house he two had ben confronted by a least one ‘savage’ dog. Tyson had struggled with the officer and resisted arrest.

The jury were convinced that at least one fraud had taken place and the prisoner was convicted and then sentenced to five years’ penal servitude. One wonders, if when he got out he adopted yet another pseudonym and, like Evelyn Waugh’s Solomon Philbrick, lived to con another day.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 26, 1872]

P.s I’m delighted that the BBC have made a TV draw from my favourite Waugh novel: Decline and Fall starts on BBC1 next Friday (at 9pm).

Dickens has a close encounter with the ‘swell-mob’

Dickens

Charles Dickens had some experience of the law. As a young freelance reporter he had covered the civil law court of Doctors’ Commons before working for a number of other papers in the 1830s. His familiarity with everyday life in nineteenth-century Britain is one of the strengths of his novels and his writings feature characters drawn from the world of crime, such as Fagin, the Artful Dodger, Bill Sikes and Magwitch.

It would seem, however, that Dickens not only visited the courts of London (including, of course, the police courts) but the gaols and houses of corrections as well. In addition, as we shall see, on at least one occasion he was a witness himself in an attempted robbery that ended up in a summary hearing before a magistrate. In fact he was himself cheekily declared to a a member of the criminal underworld.

In 1849, when he was at the height of his fame and writing David Copperfield, Dickens was strolling along the Edgware Road with his friend Mark Lemon. Lemon was a celebrated actor who wrote hundreds of melodramas, was a joint founder of Punch magazine and so a ‘celebrity’ in his own right. A young man came close by them and Lemon felt a hand at his pocket. He swung up his cane and delivered a quick rap on the would-be thief’s knuckles who then swore at him and ran off.

The two friends set off in pursuit and were soon joined by a policeman in plain clothes. They caught up with the thief and he was arrested. There was some trouble on the way to the station as the youth hit out at his captors and tried to escape, but eventually he was taken back to the station and thence to court the next day.

Appearing in the Marylebone Police Court Dickens must have attracted a good crowd eager to hear the famous story teller describe his experiences, and they were not disappointed. The author explained how he and Lemon had chased after the man – now named as Cornelius Hearne (aged 19) –  and helped capture him.

We pursued him, and when he was taken he was most violent; he is a desperate fellow, and he kicked about in all directions. There was a mob of low fellows close by when he tried Mr. Lemon’s pocket, and we were determined he should not effect his escape, if we could prevent it‘.

PC 229D deposed that he had been on duty in plain-clothes (no reason is given but he might have been looking for known criminals whilst undercover). He confirmed the evidence of Dickens and Lemon and he described how Hearne tried to escape custody. The policeman told the justice, Mr Broughton, that the prisoner threatened him and kicked out at Lemon (who had hold of his arms as they marched him the police station).

While they walked Mark Lemon said the prisoner had spoken to him, asking him not to ‘say my hand was in your pocket’. The burden of proof for pickpocketing when nothing had actually been stolen – as Lemon admitted it hadn’t – fell on the intent. If the theatre man was adamant that he had felt Hearne’s hand inside his pocket, there could be no other explanation than that he intended to rob him.

Another policeman informed the magistrate that Hearne was well known to them and to the courts, having been convicted of several petty crimes like this in the past. Now the justice turned to the prisoner for his version of events. Hearne tried to bluff his way out, saying that he was innocent and that Dickens and Lemon had picked on him, called him names and struck out at him. That was why he had run away, he was no thief.

Now the exchange became more amusing for those watching in the courtroom (and for the readers of the newspapers). Charles Dickens declared that when he was at the police station he said he thought he recognised the prisoner, having seen him in the house of correction. This suggests that Dickens took his characterisation seriously and not only frequented courtrooms for literary reasons but also the prisons of the capital.

However, this seemed to be  lifeline for Cornelius Hearne. He looked from the dock to the bench and spoke to the magistrate:

Now your workshop, he must have been in “quod” there himself, or he couldn’t ‘ave seen me. I know these two gentlemen well; they’re no better than swell-mob men, and they get their living by selling stolen goods‘.

This provoked peals of laughter in the courtroom.

That one (pointing to Mr. Dickens) keeps “a fence”, and I recollect him at the prison, where he was put for six months, while I was there for only two‘.

Dickens and Lemon were described as being ‘highly amused’ by the suggestion but denied the accusations amidst all the laughter. Dickens said he had never traded in stolen goods and was not on speaking terms with that ‘highly respectable body – the swell-mob’. The swell-mob was a contemporary term for petty thieves and pickpockets who liked to dress fashionably and ape the manners of the middle classes, and were a popular vehicle for satirists and commentators. In Oliver Twist, for example, Dicken’s characterisation of Toby Crackit draws heavily on popular portraits of the swell-mob.

Hearne was unlikely to have been able to read and while he may have heard of Oliver Twist he may not have recognised its author. Not surprisingly the magistrate was much more familiar with Charles Dickens and his friend Mark Lemon than the young man in the dock was. Mr Broughton told him that he had demonstrated ‘consulate impudence’ in trying to wriggle out of his crime by defaming the character of two gentlemen, and that if he had actually stolen anything then he would undoubtedly be facing a trial  at Old Bailey and could expect to be transported. However, since there was only an attempt to steal he would deal with him summarily.

Cornelius Hearne was sent to the house of correction for three months; ‘”Boz” and his friend then left the court’.

[from The Era, Sunday, March 25, 1849]