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).

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