The mysterious case of the butler and the drunken policeman

laughing-policeman

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]

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