An argument over what was written on the side of a bus lands the conductor in court.

Blackwall Viaduct 1843

Blackwall viaduct, 1843

In late June 1850 Lady Lennard was travelling with her steward, Mr Parrott, on a London omnibus towards The Blackwall Railway. They had picked this ‘bus in particular because it advertised the railway as its destination. This was made quite clear, they thought, because the words ‘Blackwall Railway’ were ‘conspicuously painted on a board in the form of a board immediately over the door’ of the vehicle.

Mr Parrott had handed the conductor Lady Lennard’s bags and he had deposited them in a storage area and set off. However, when the ‘bus reached Fenchurch Street and the end of Railway Place, it stopped. The conductor told the pair that ‘he did not go any further’.

Now Fenchchurch Street is not remotely close to where the Blackwall Railway station (on the Docklands Light Railway line) is today, nor was it in 1850. In fact it was just over 3 miles from the Fenchurch Street terminus of the London and Blackwall Railway. The conductor presumably believed that the omnibus’ sign was self explanatory; they transported passengers to Fenchurch Street (which served the London and Blackwall railway) , but Lady Lennard’s train went from Blackwall Station, close by the River Thames, so she wasn’t happy.

With bags to carry and being and three miles from her destination, Lady Lennard was not inclined to pay for her ride, and so refused. The conductor promptly seized her luggage and said he would not return it without his fare, throwing them ‘down with violence’, onto the pavement. Mrs Lennard strode off towards the station, with her lady’s maid in two.

Meanwhile Mr Parrott tried to reason with the driver, to little effect. He was met with a mouthful of invective which attracted the attention of a police constable. He hurried after Lady Lennard and advised her to pay the fare, retrieve her luggage and then summons the conductor for his poor behaviour.

As a result the whole sorry affair ended up before the alderman magistrate at the Guildhall Police who took a very dim view of the conductor’s attitude.

In his defence the conductor, who was not named in court, said ‘he was not bound to take luggage, but having done so, it to it to the station’. He had gone to the station and and onto railway property, if the lady was unhappy she should take it up with his master, he was simply obeying his instructions.

The magistrate was unimpressed. He didn’t accept the conductor’s argument that he wasn’t obliged to carry luggage. If that was the case then he shouldn’t have accepted it, or crazed an extra fee for it. Nor was he in agreement that ‘going on to railway property was the same as going to the railway, as the direction on the omnibus indicated’.

There were two offences here, he added, both liable under the relevant act of parliament. He was minded to make an example for he conductor and fined him the large sum of 40s, 20 for each offence, plus costs. If the conductor chose not to, or was unable to pay then he could instead go to prison for two months.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, June 30, 1851]

A ‘passenger incident’ on the late Victorian Underground

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As someone who lives in London and regularly uses the ‘tube’ (the underground railway,  for those unfamiliar with the metropolis) I am used to the occasional delay in services caused by that saddest of announcements, a ‘passenger incident’. This can mean that someone is ill and a carriage has been stopped so that medical assistance can be sought, but it can also indicate that a person has thrown themselves in front of a train.

While I can just about imagine what motivates someone to do this I can’t begin the understand how the poor driver of a train must feel when he or she sees someone fall out the racks in front of his eyes, and they are unable to stop the vehicle from crushing them. Between 1993 and 2015 over 1400 people attempted to take their own lives on the Underground, that is an average of 64 a year, and over one a week.

The London Underground has been operating since the 1860s and it has been used for suicides attempts throughout that time. According to one piece of research, suicide on the railway increased after 1868 (just three years after the first train ran) when newspapers published details of the methods would-be suicides used.*

If that was the case then this example, from The Standard in 1893, was probably just as unhelpful.

Isaac Shelton was a 63 year-old ‘house decorator’ who lived on the Edgware Road.  At a quarter to six in the evening on 27 June (a Tuesday) Isaac was seen entering the tunnel at Baker Street underground station, heading for Edgware Road. A fellow passenger shouted to him but he was ignored. At the same time a train was arriving in the station and the driver was alerted and the service was detained.

The station inspector, Mr Coleman, was summoned but in the meantime a young man named Albert Swift set off in pursuit of Shelton.

‘In the darkness he could hear somebody scrambling about on the ballast, and going in the direction of the noise, he found [Shelton] about 150 yards into the tunnel, lying across the metals of the upline’.

Albert tried to get the man’s attention and lift him up, but all he got back was the request: ‘leave me alone, I’m going home’. Fortunately the young man was soon joined by Mr Coleman and a porter and eventually the three manhandled Shelton up and off the tracks and back out to safety.

He seemed ‘sober, but excited’, they later testified.

The case came before the Marylebone Police magistrate, Mr Plowden. Shelton claimed she had no recollection of how he had got where he was. He said he had been having epileptic fits for twenty years and one had come on as he made his way home that evening. His wife appeared and confirmed that her husband suffered from epilepsy, and was subject to fits.

I’m not an expert on epilepsy but I have known people who suffer. This seems something quite unlike a fit and more akin to an desperate act by someone who did not wish to carry on. It seems this was also the opinion of the justice, who remanded Shelton in custody, perhaps to seek a medical opinion on his condition. Fortunately his attempt (if thats what it was) failed, because someone was quick witted enough to spot him and do something about it.

I imagine that is how most attempts are foiled today – by someone caring enough to see what their fellow passengers are doing and to notice when a person looks like they need a gentle word or two to bring them back from the edge, literally and figuratively.

[from The Standard, Thursday, June 29, 1893]

*O’Donnell, I.; Farmer, R. D. T. ‘The epidemiology of suicide on the London underground’. Social Science & Medicine 38 (3): 409–418. February 1994

 

 

Is this freedom? The ‘Adventures of a Slave’ at Worship Street Police Court

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Margaret Clayton was 50 years of age, or so she thought, when she appeared at Worship Street Police Court in June 1847, seeking the magistrate’s help and advice. Margaret was married to a soldier but she wanted a divorce.

Divorce was no easy thing in mid-Victorian England, particularly for a working-class woman of limited means. Until 1857 the Church of England conducted divorces and were very reluctant to grant them, and only on the grounds of adultery. As a result the number of divorces were small, around 300 a year even as late at the 1870s.

In some parts of the country working class men and women got around this by conducting ‘wife sales’ (as described by Thomas Hardy in the Mayor of Casterbridge). This form of plebeian divorce, which Hardy’s novel exposed to a disbelieving and shocked public, were often the only way for couples to legitimately separate and move on.

There was little the magistrate at Worship Street could do for Margaret, but he was interested in her background because she was not not like most of the women that came before him.

Margaret Clayton was ‘a woman of colour’. She was black, and Mr Broughton wanted to know her history.

She had been a slave she told him. She born into slavery as her mother was a slave also, and was first sold at 15 years of age, to ‘a captain’s lady at St Helena’. This would have been in 1812 during the long wars between the French 1st Empire and the Allies, led by Britain. These had ended at Waterloo in June 1815, and the French emperor, Napoleon, was sent into exile – on St Helena.

Margaret recounted how the lady had bought her for £50 to serve as a nurse for her children. Her mistress was good to her, she ‘was kindly treated but she was thoughtless and giddy, she said, as girls would be, and she ran away’.

She was soon found and brought back but sold on to another mistress who was far less considerate. She was treated ‘brutally’, she explained, before she was again sold – this time for £33 – to a soldier. He married her and set her free.

Sadly her husband, who seems to have cared for her, died and so she was free but without any support, and already having a family, she married another private in the St Helena Regiment. When this husband decided to return to England, Margaret and her children went with him. By 1847 they were living in London and he was working at the London Docks, and clearly they were not getting along very well. The eldest of Margaret’s five children was a man of 20, the youngest a baby just18 months old.

The magistrate was curious to know if she had known or met Napoleon. The Corsican ‘Ogre’ had been a prisoner on the small South Atlantic Island from October 1815 to his death (rumored to have been hastened along by his captors) in May 1821. Yes, she said, she had seen him but added nothing further the reporter could embellish his article with.

Napoleon remained a powerfully iconic figure in European history and politics. When he had died there were calls to repatriate his ashes (‘cendres’) to France but the ruling monarch Louis XVIII and his government feared a popular uprising of Bonapartist sentiment. Napoleon’s supporters would have to wait until 1840, seven years before Margaret appeared at Worship Street, to see their hero’s remains entombed in the magnificent structure at Les Invalides in Paris, where they rest to this day.

Having satisfied his curiosity about the woman there was nothing much more Mr Broughton could do. He asked one of the warrant officers present to enquire into the case and speak to the husband, to see if anything could be done to reconcile the (or perhaps even arrange a mutually acceptable separation) and ordered that Margaret be given some money from the poor box.

The Standard‘s reporter wrote it up as the ‘adventures of a slave’ as if it was somehow a tale of a woman’s exciting life upon the high seas. But in reality of course Margaret – who had been ”sold many times’ (as she had told the court) – had very little choice in where these ‘adventures’ led her. She had been taken to St Helena as a slave, sold again as a slave, and then bought against her will as a wife. Free or enslaved it made little difference; as the wife of a serving soldier she went where he went.

Her appearance (at 50) in a summary court in the capital of the nation that had abolished slavery and the slave trade was probably her first real opportunity to declare her independence. Unfortunately as a poor woman, legally married with no rights to property of her own, she found there was nothing the law could do for her except to hope that her husband ‘let her’ go, or treated her better in the future. We might ask ourselves then, from Margaret’s perspective, whether she was ‘free’ at all?

[from The Standard , Monday, June 28, 1847]

Sad tales from the Police courts, and the hunt for the men that shot a policeman hots up.

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Islington High Street, c.1890

On June 27 1884 The Morning Post reported on several London’s police courts as well as updating their readers on an ongoing story concerning the shooting of a policeman. At Southwark a man named Hill was brought up for the second time, having been remanded on a charge of fraud. Hill had supposedly cashed fake cheques on at least two separate individuals for over £15 a time. That might not sound like much but a rough calculation for 1884 makes that around £700 in today’s money. The magistrate further remanded him for the Public Prosecutor to get involved.

At Westminster an Irish woman named Catherine Fagan was accused of begging but the case touched on her supposed involvement with the cause of Irish Nationalism. A membership card for the “W. P. Boyton” branch of the Irish National Land League was found in her possession. The INLL championed the rights of poor tenant farmers in Ireland and it was hardly a revolutionary organisation, but the 1880s were a difficult decade for Anglo-Irish relations, and saw several Fenian terrorist attacks in England (as I’ve written about previously on this blog). Fagan was eventually allowed to go, with some charity from the poor box.

But the story that touched me this morning concerned another woman in distress, Sarah Ann Cocksedge. Sarah Ann was presented at Lambeth Police Court charged with attempting to take her own life. This was, as I’ve written about on several occasions, a sadly regular charge before the magistracy. Even more tragic of course, was the fairly routine discovery of drowned bodies floating in or washed up on the banks of the River Thames. London was an unforgiving and hard place to live in the 1800s and Victorian society’s understanding of mental illness was far from as advanced as our own is.

Sarah Ann had tried to take a poison, ‘spirits of salts’ (which is hydrochloric acid) but had been prevented. In custody she told a policeman that she wanted to kill herself because  had been asked her to cover up the death of an infant child.

She said a ‘former mistress had given her a child to get rid of, which she had put into a garden (mentioning the place) and this had preyed on her mind’.

A detective from CID appeared in court to say that he had enquired into her claims but had been unable to substantiate them. The chaplain of the goal that had been holding her since her suicide attempt sent a letter to the court asking the justice to remand her back into his care, as he felt he could help her find a new home.

Sarah Ann continued to declare that she had spoken the truth regarding the dead child but it seems no one wanted to listen. She was again remanded and sent back to prison.

Finally, the paper reported that the police were closing in on two men wanted for shooting a police constable in Islington. PC Chamberlain had been shot in Park Street, ‘whilst in pursuit of two men suspected go burglary’. They had got away and the constable was injured, but not fatally it was thought. Two days later it was reported that he was ‘somewhat better’ and that the manhunt was focused on Hampstead.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, June 27, 1884]

Six weeks in gaol for cruelty to a cat

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I am a cat person – two of them let myself and my wife live in their house and feed them – and neither one has ever deliberately scratched me. Of course not all cats are quite so affectionate and scratches are part and parcel of living with felines, or interacting with those we meet in the streets. But if a cat does scratch you it is never appropriate to act as Herbert Wallace did in June 1899.

Alfred Bond, a commercial traveller, was being driven along the Harrow Road in his pony and trap on his way home to Harlsden, one Friday evening. He noticed a man, later identified as Wallace, pick something up and throw it to the ground. He then kicked it violently several times.

To his horror, Bond realised that the object of Bond’s violence was a cat. As he got close enough to see the condition of the creature he noticed that it was very badly injured.

‘apparently the back of the animal had been broken, because it scrambled onto its forefeet, but its hindquarters were powerless and it remained on the ground’.

He jumped down from the trap and remonstrated with Wallace, who rewarded him with ‘vile language’. Bond sent his driver to fetch a policeman and told Wallace that he would have him arrested. At this the 20 year-old labourer ran off, with the salesman in pursuit.

Bond caused the younger man down several streets before he caught up with him. As he tried to effect an arrest Wallace cursed him and struck him, threatening to kill him. Eventually three policemen arrived and with some difficult, dragged Wallace away to the station.

Herbert Wallace was brought before the Marylebone Police magistrate on Saturday 24 June, charged with cruelty to a cat. Having heard the evidence presented by Mr Bond he was asked to explain himself. All he could say in his defence was that he had been ‘nursing the cat when it scratched him, so he threw it down and kicked it twice’.

Bond had deposed that he had seen the labourer kick the animal no less than four times but two was bad enough. No one knew what had happened to the poor creature but with a broken back death would have been a deliverance.

I don’t know if the magistrate was a cat lover like me but he acted as if he might have been. He told Wallace that he was ‘guilty of most cruel conduct, and would go to prison for six weeks without the option of paying a fine’. I’d have given him six months, at hard labour.

[from The Standard, Monday, June 26, 1899]

The mysterious case of the butler and the drunken policeman

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At about four in the morning of June 23 1870 Mr Richard Valpy and his family returned to their home in Wimbledon, having spent the evening and night at a party. All seemed well; they were greeted by the butler – Turner – and went to bed.

At about half past five the household was rudely awaken by ‘an extraordinary noise’ , which Richard Valpy attributed at first to a storm. It seemed to have come from the room below (the drawing room) and since there was no storm raging, he went to explore.  As he descended the stairs he heard the sound of someone moving and shouted ‘who’s there?’

His son, Alfred, had also heard the noise, which he described as a ‘tremendous crashing’. When he heard his father’s voice he too rushed towards the drawing room.

When Richard Valpy reached the drawing room he was surprised to see a policeman coming out. He challenged him but the man ran off, and he was only able to take a description and his number (143). Father and son then entered the drawing room where to their shock they found it in a state of absolute chaos.

The ‘tremendous crashing’ noise that Alfred had heard was explained by a pier glass mirror that had come off the wall. It was ‘impaled upon a chair’, and could not possibly have got there on its own. The chandelier and two lamps were broken, as ‘if something had been thrown at them’. Two flower pots, which usually decorated the hallway, were in the fireplace.

There was more.

Several ornaments were knocked over and broken, lamp shades smashed, in total something in the region of £100 worth of damage (around £4,500 today) had been done. One of the windows to the garden was smashed and Richard could see that a cruet set was lying on the lawn. The gardener later brought  him a bottle of wine that he had discovered in the shrubbery.

What or whom had caused all this and why?

Moving on to the dining room the pair found yet more damage. It too was ‘in great confusion’, with three panes of glass broken and family effects ‘strewn about’. They hurried on down to the pantry, where the butler slept. The door was locked but when they were admitted they found the servant intoxicated with several bottles of wine by his bed.

The case came before the sitting magistrate at Wandsworth Police Court, Mr Dayman. From his police number the mysterious constable was produced in court to stand accused with Turner of criminal damage and the theft of ‘expensive wine’. Neither John Turner or PC Alfred Cummings (143V) were supported by defence counsel but the Met were represented in court by superintendent Butt of V Division.

Richard Valpy admitted that he had forgotten to secure the wine cellar before he had left the house that evening, but Turner had ‘no business’ to go down there anyway. In his defence Cummings said he knew nothing of the destruction, and when he was shown it he was as surprised as anyone. He had been seen by the sergeant, he said, on his beat at 3 that morning (it was the sergeant’s duty to check that all men were where they were supposed to be, at the correct time – so they undertook spot checks).

His evidence was slightly undermined by being found, ‘lying in a garden’ fast asleep at half nine in the morning near the Valpy’s home. When he was discovered, by sergeant Casserely (29V), his pockets were stuffed with four bottles of wine, ‘one in each of his trousers pockets, and the others in his tunics pockets’. This caused a ripple of laughter in the courtroom, but one imagines that this was not shared by the superintendent or the magistrate.

As for the butler he too denied, somewhat lamely, any recollection of what had happened. When he was taken to the drawing room he pronounced that it was ‘a perfect phenomenon’, and he was unable to explain it.

PC Cummings was given a good character, as a former dock worker he had not done anything previously to blot his copybook. Turner only added that he was innocent as charged and had merely let the policeman in to ‘share a glass of ale’.

The magistrate committed both of them for trial. Whatever the outcome of that, both men would most likely have lost their previously privileged positions and the certainty of paid employment. What motivated them to get so  drunk and then so destructive must remain a mystery.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, June 25, 1870]

A not so ‘jolly Jack’ at Bow Street

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The Police Courts of London were established in the late eighteenth century, after the passing of the Middlesex Justices Act (1792). The press reported the goings on at these courts from the start but their coverage in the early decades was patchy and much less regular than it became by the 1840s and 50s. It seems that the newspapers were working out how to use the information and stories that these summary courts provided. The tales of prosecuted thieves and fraudsters offered opportunities to demonstrate the efficacy (or otherwise) of the criminal justice system, to critique (or laud) the ‘New Police’, and, to alert Londoners to the threat posed by particular sorts of criminal.

However, the overriding purpose of publishing a half dozen or more of these daily reports from the Police ‘offices’ (as they were first called) or courts was entertainment. The everyday stories of ordinary folk, sometimes rendered in their own words or dialect, presented what we might now call a ‘Dickensian’ view of life in Victorian Britain.

This story, with its depiction of an Nelsonian Naval ‘hero’, is a good example of the court report as a entertaining distraction from the serious news that the papers contained.

In June 1830 the superintendent of Police, Mr Thomas, was at the Covent Garden watch house. These buildings were the forerunners of the police stations that were built following the establishment of the Metropolitan Police after 1829. The watch house was where the old watchmen set off from to patrol their beats and where those they arrested at night were brought back to to be charged or left to sober up.

On Wednesday morning (the 23 June) a sailor came into the watch house to make a complaint. He was a larger than life character and the Morning Post‘s reporter delighted in his representation of him for his readers. He described him as a ‘jolly-looking  weather-beaten tar, who came ‘tripping along with true sailor-like step’. He asked to be directed to the ‘captain’. In the watch house this meant the ‘super’, and Mr Thomas asked him what he wanted.

‘Your honour’, he began, ‘I am an old seaman and am come to you for redress’.

He went to explain that he had served his country for 15 years, seen many battles, including Navarino where he was part of the crew of the Asia. This battle, the last of the sailing ship age, had effectively decided the outcome of the War of Greek independence as the allied fleet (made up of Britain, France and Russia, led by Admiral Codrington) destroyed a superior Turkish one.

Navarino took place in 1827, and our hero had returned home some years later. He was ready to settle down it seems and, having ‘nothing particular to do’, he thought he’d travel to Windsor to ‘see the King, Lord protect him’. The king in question was George IV who was in the last few weeks of his reign at the time, because, on 26 June George died, at the age of 67. He was succeeded by the last Hanoverian king, his brother, William IV, who reigned for just under seven years.

In his patriotic fervour our unnamed sailor had made his way to Windsor and decided he liked it but that he needed a wife to complete his retirement from the sea.

He soon met up with a ‘jolly wench’ who’s name was ‘Fair-haired Poll’. It soon becomes clear that Poll was not your average Windsor maiden, but an experienced local prostitute who saw a sailor, recently discharged with deep pockets, as a profitable investment. The two soon became intimate.

The sailor told Mr Thomas: ‘I don’t like to be under any obligation, so I thought I’d buy her out and out’. They pair ‘struck a bargain’, and she was ‘his’ for ‘fifteen pounds’. They ‘got on comfortably well together’ at first, the tar explained, but he was getting bored in Windsor so decided to return to London.

‘So we tacked about, and got a-board a coach for town. Well, we comes to a place they call Piccadilly, or some such name, but my Poll thinks proper to bolt while I was treating the Jarvy, and she not only takes herself off but also £60 of my money, and all my toggery’.

So (to translate)  while the sailor had a drink with the coachman Poll ran off with his money and his trunk of clothes. Outraged, he headed for the nearest watch house to demand some help in finding her and his property. Mr Thomas, having listened to his tale brought him to Bow Street Police Court, to make a formal complaint.

There the magistrates sympathised with him (and were amused by the ‘naive style in which he presented it’) but could offer little real help. The man showed them several documents to prove he was who he said he was, but these were unnecessary, ‘as he completely embodied the appearance of a regular built tar’. He was told his best option was to return to Windsor as Poll would most probably have gone back to her old haunts.

The police superintendent promised to keep an eye out for her and his money but they all clearly thought it fairly useless. He was not the first ‘old salt’ to be separated from his prize money by a ‘privateer’ nor was he likely to be the last. Hopefully he found Poll in Windsor, if not then he was likely to end up as another of the hundreds of discharged seamen that struggled to survive in post-war nineteenth-century England.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, June 24, 1830]