A lady’s ‘companion’ undergoes a most unpleasant visit to an estate agent

In May 1879 Miss Lowrie was asked to wait in an estate agent’s office while her older lady friend undertook a familial visit to her brother. What happened next resulted in a very public and embarrassing appearance for all the parties before the sitting magistrate at Bow Street.

Miss Lowrie was ‘companion to Mrs. Oldfield’ of Upper Holloway. This probably meant that she acted as a paid (or possibly unpaid) ‘friend’, somewhere between a family member and a domestic servant. Young ladies like Miss Lowrie (we have no recorded Christian name) were sometimes distant relatives but certainly members of the ‘respectable’ middle classes.

Mrs Oldfield was visiting her brother, Mr Pace of Messrs. Morton and Pace, auctioneers and estate agents and went upstairs to see him while the younger woman waited in the office of his partner, George Morton.

Morton was friendly and offered her a chair before showing her pictures of his wife and child. However, he soon began to be a little too ‘friendly’.

‘As she was looking at them he put his arm around her waist and kissed her. She struggled to free herself; but he laid hold of her indecently and forced her on a chair’.

When Mrs Oldfield came downstairs Miss Lorie left with her, saying nothing until the pair were safely back inside the lady’s brougham. When she heard what had happened the elder woman was furious and wanted to turn the coach around but her companion was adamant they should not. One imagines she was mortified by the whole experience and simply wanted to go home.

However, she was later persuaded to take out a summons against Mr Morton, which brought the whole affair before the Bow Street Police Court.

Mr Stallard, defending, suggested that it was odd that no one had heard anything of the struggle that Miss Lowrie said had lasted over five minutes. Nor was the young woman’s clothing disarranged. He argued that the incident had been ‘grossly-exaggerated’ and that if ‘she had screamed out there at least three clerks who must have heard her and who would have come to her assistance’.

Miss Lowrie responded that the door to the clerks’ room had been firmly closed by the defendant and that she had not cried out but tried to fight him off instead. Her necktie had been ‘dissarranged’ (and Mrs Oldfield testified to this) and Morton had been responsible, having undone it while he held her down. Morton’s brief tried to argue that his client was merely helping her re-tie it after it had accidentally become undone, but this seemed unlikely to the court.

Stallard said the clerks were happy to back up the agent’s version of events but sadly none had made it to Bow Street. Mr Howard, the magistrate was unimpressed. He told the defence that they could easily have made them come, by issuing a subpoena. Their absence  spoke volumes.

Addressing the accused Mr Howard said that ‘it was at least a most improper and impertinent assault, especially from a man who exhibited  a picture of his own wife and child to the lady’. He fined the estate agent £5 with the threat of gaol if he didn’t pay. The fine was paid and all the parties left the court. One is bound to wonder what the ‘office’ atmosphere was likely on the following Monday morning.

 

[from The Standard , Monday, May 26, 1879]

Sometimes you get exactly what you pay for, a Bow Street justice explains.

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‘I left the room with silent dignity, but unfortunately I tripped over the carpet.’ (Mr Pooter in Diary of a Nobody, Grossmith and Grossmith, 1892)

Bow Street Police Court was the most senior summary court in the capital in the Victorian period. Its magistrates sat in judgement on tens of thousands of petty criminals and sent many of them on for trial at the Old Bailey. In the 20th century some of the most famous felons in our history appeared there, including Ronnie and Reggie Kray. The original bar (where prisoners stood to hear their fate) is now in the national justice museum at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, complete with cut-outs of some of those that stood there.

It is probably to assume that this case, from May 1900, was not one that troubled the sitting justice overmuch. It was hardly a crime at all, but serves to remind us that the London Police Courts were – as the parlour of the 18th century justices of the peace had been – a forum for the public to air their grievances, however small.

Mr Vaughan was in the chair at Bow Street when a ‘respectable-looking’ man applied to him for ‘some remedy’. The unnamed gentleman had bought a watch in the Strand and he was unhappy with it.

It had been advertised, he said, as ‘the cheapest watch in the world’, but it didn’t actually tell the time.

Mr Vaughan asked the man what he had paid for it. 4s and 9d came the reply.

‘Then  I should say it was “the cheapest watch in the world”‘, replied the the magistrate. ‘Does it go at all?”

‘It does go but it won’t mark the hours’, grumbled the applicant. He explained that he had taken it to a watchmaker who had examined it and told him that the ‘wheels [were] not cut to mark the hours’.

Mr Vaughan looked it over and expressed his opinion that it was amazing it went at all for that price. The case itself was probably worth the money and he advised him to take it back. No law had been broken, the man had just been something of a cheapskate and he was fairly fortunate his name was withheld from the reading public, or he might have become a ‘Pooterish’ laughing stock.

He left the court, apologising to the court for wasting its time….

[from The Standard, Thursday, May 22, 1890]

A cabbie pushes his luck at Bow Street

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When Julius Beale hailed  a cab at Regent’s Circus at 1 in the morning it is fair to say he was a little the worse for drink. As the cab headed off towards his home in Gower Street, Beale fell asleep and didn’t wake until he was dimply aware of being outside his front door. While his head was clouded by the alcohol he had consumed he felt sure he’d paid the driver and made it up the stairs to his front door. However, as the cab pulled off he was suddenly aware that his watch – an expensive gold time piece – was missing. Assuming he had left it in the cab or it had been lifted while he slept, he ran after the vehicle. Eventually a passing policeman helped him stop the driver. The cab was searched and his watch and chain was discovered under the seat.

The next morning Beale, the policeman and the cab driver were all in the Bow Street Police Court where a charge of theft was brought against the driver, John Leggatt.

Having heard Beale’s evidence Leggatt’s lawyer, Mr Abrams, cross-examined the prosecutor.  Crucially of course he had been inebriated and therefore his testimony was fairly suspect at best. Could he really recall exactly what had happened? Had he in fact even paid the fare for his journey? An alternative scenario was presented in which Beale was actually running away from the cab driver who was demanding his money.

The policeman confirmed Beale’s account of the events but this didn’t include any evidence that Leggatt had stolen the watch or that Beale had paid him for the ride. It merely confirmed that the ‘cabman was driving away at a trot, pursued [it seemed] by the prosecutor’.

As far as Mr Henry, the Bow Street magistrate, was concerned there was not enough evidence either to convict Leggatt in a summary court or send him for jury trial. He concluded that:

 ‘the circumstances of the case were very suspicious, but drunken men sometimes did very strange things, and it was quite possible that the prosecutor might have put the watch and chain under the seat himself. At all events no jury would convict the prisoner on the evidence of a drunken man’.

And so he discharged him.

At this Abram decided to push his (or rather his client’s) luck. He said he hoped that Beale would now settle his fare. Mr Henry strongly advised Beale not to however. The cabbie had been driving away at a trot and this seemed suspicious if he hadn’t been paid. He should have at least have taken the man’s address and best practice would have been to drive him directly to the ‘station-house, that the [police] inspector might settle any dispute’.

The magistrate invited Mr Abrams to apply for a summons if he wished to take it further but he declined, given what he had heard from the justice. His client however, was much less easily dissuaded and did apply for one. Mr Henry told him he ‘could have the summons if he liked but it would probably not succeed, as he (Mr Henry) had very little doubt he had been paid’. Reflecting on this Leggatt chose to cut his losses and not spend his money on a summons that was doomed to fail.

Was Leggatt a thief? Possibly, or perhaps he saw the dropped watch and thought he’d take advantage of the windfall. Was Beale a fare-dodger? Again, how can we know that? In all likelihood he did pay or the cab driver would have pursued him on the night. The moral is probably don’t get into a cab when you’re drunk.

[from The Morning Post , Saturday, May 17, 1862]

Last night I went to a London Historians event at the Sir Christopher Hatton pub in Leather Lane where we were entertained by an excellent musician Henry Skewes (who set old ballads about convict transportation to music) and two fascinating talks on the history of crime. The first, by Dr Lucy Williams of Liverpool University, focused on the life of one woman convicted at the Old Bailey in 1876. Lucy, and the other speaker, Professor Tim Hitchcock of Sussex, are part of the Digital Panopticon project which is tracing the lives of those sentenced to exile in Australia after 1788.

Lucy uses the records of the courts, the census, and newspaper sources like these to track her ‘criminals’ through time and the findings of these long term project are already challenging what we understand about criminality and individual lives in the past. While I’m not part of the project my own work is already revealing how important it is to look outside the jury courts if we want to study criminality in the past. I started in the summary courts of the 18th century but have now moved on to this work on the 1800s, because here we seen a much better recording of crime and those involved in it. I will be presenting my academic version of this work in Liverpool, to the Digital Panopticon team, in September of this year.

 

A fake vicar at Bow Street

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Eyebrows were raised when George Stanley appeared in the dock at Bow Street in May 1877. He didn’t look like your average thief, in fact he closely resembled a vicar, so what was he doing there?

Stanley, an ‘elderly man’ having ‘the appearance of a shabby-genteel clergyman’ was charged with loitering in and around Charing Cross with the intention of stealing from passers-by. Mr Flowers, the Bow Street magistrate, thought he seemed familiar and Sergeant Kerlay of Scotland Yard confirmed that he was a ‘known criminal’, and had been convicted several times before.

The habit of a cleric was a disguise, the sergeant explained, that allowed him to go about the crowds unsuspected. He usually had an accomplice, a woman, and he always carried an umbrella. He held the ‘brolly point down and slightly open, so that when his assistant had stolen something she could drop it in ‘without exciting the slightest suspicion’.

A prison warder from Holloway also testified that Stanley was a former inmate, he knew him well despite his ‘disguise’. The prisoner however, said, in a voice ‘that belied his aspect’ that the whole thing was ‘a pack of lies, and no magistrate should listen to such nonsense’. Mr Flowers clearly disagreed, as he sent him to prison for three months at hard labour.

 

[from The Standard, Monday, May 14, 1877]

An early example of the problems facing Peel’s ‘New Police’.

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In the first year or so from their creation in 1829 the ‘New Police’ experienced a somewhat troubling baptism of fire. Resented by the working class for interfering in their day-to-day lives, and looked down upon and resented by the middle class for being another expensive charge on the rates, the new ‘Peelers’ were attacked from all sides. Added to this was the reality that in the first 18 months of their existence a large number of new officers were disciplined and discharged for drunkenness, corruption, or for fraternizing with local prostitutes.

It was, then, an inauspicious beginning for Sir Robert Peel’s new force of law and order.

The reports of the Metropolitan Police Courts in the early years (when ‘Police Office’ is a more accurate term) are not as regular, or often as fulsome as they were after mid century, but this one from 1830 gives us a sense of the difficulties the police had in establishing themselves as protectors of the public and the state in the 1800s.

In early May 1830 PC John Harding (99 E) was placed in the dock at Bow Street accused of assaulting a member of the public. The charge was brought by a respectable member of society, a Middlesex magistrate no less, named Mr Mallard.

Mr Mallard claimed that he had seen PC Harding maltreating a woman in Russell Street, near the British Museum. It had been around 6 o’clock in the afternoon when he saw the policeman dragging a woman (later identified as Sarah Scott) up and down the street, while she protested.

Harding was not apparently on duty as he wasn’t wearing his badge, as the Middlesex justice told his colleague at Bow Street. When Mr Mallard attempted to stop the PC from continuing with his abuse of Sarah he received short shrift and a mouthful of invective. Crossing the road Mallard took out his pocket book and started to write down the copper’s details so he could report him.

At this PC Harding strode across towards him, ‘seized him by the collar’ and said: ‘I’ll teach a fellow like you to take a Policeman’s number!’ Mallard explained that he was a magistrate but Harding was undeterred; instead he grabbed him by the arm and ‘dragged him through St Giles into the High-street’, while a crowd of baying onlookers hooted at him.

Finally, Mallard was able to present PC Harding with his calling card and was released. He went and complained to the commissioners but was informed that the policeman was only doing his duty (as regards arresting the woman) and so would keep his job. Sarah Scott appeared and gave evidence that supported the magistrate’s version of events, while PC Harding argued that he had arrested the woman as she was interfering with his attempts to chastise a young street tearaway.

Mr Halls, the Bow Street justice on duty, was clearly conflicted. When presented with the word of a magistrate versus that of a policeman he felt unable to decide what the merits of the case were. Instead he chose to pass it up through the system, to the Sessions of the Peace, where a jury could decide whom to believe.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, May 03, 1830]

Three lads in a boat, bound for Australia with ‘tea, cheese’ and a sense of adventure.

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Thomas Stead was only a young boy when he was brought to the Bow Street Police Court, the most senior of the summary courts of the capital. He was charged with stealing two bank cheques and a dagger.

Thomas was only 14 and had been arrested with two other lads in an open boat by officers from the Thames Police , who patrolled London’s arterial river. When they were seized they were found to be well equipped, with tea, cheese, candles, etc., and a pair of revolvers’. The boys’ stated plan was to row to Australia!

I’ve no idea why it was only Thomas that appeared at Bow Street, or what happened to the others, but perhaps he was the only one without a family to look after him.

The sitting magistrate was clearly somewhat impressed by the spirit and determination of this young thief, but at the same felt it necessary to try and cure him of his ‘stealing propensities’ (as he put it). He sent him to the reformatory at Feltham – a young offenders  institution that still exists (and I recall visiting when my father used to play football for the London Probation Service team).

The justice hoped, he said, that the 10 days he would have to spend in prison before Feltham (as was required with all reformatory sentences, quite against the wishes of Mary Carpenter who had champion this form of rehabilitation for youthful felons), and the spell in the Reformatory itself, would affect a change in the boy.

Then, ‘perhaps, if he still desired to be a sailor, he would be assisted in doing so, and would be able to go to Australia, not in an open boat, but in a legitimate, and in a much more safe way’.

He went on to tell Thomas that he:

 ‘was an intelligent lad, and if he only acted properly a bright future might be in store for him’. Australia was no longer the place where Britain disposed of its unwanted criminals and political prisoners, that had slowed in the 1850s and come to an end in 1868. Only ‘honest, industrious people were wanted’ there now he concluded.

I really wonder what happened to Thomas Stead. For all his faults he seems to me (as he did to the Bow Street magistrate) exactly the sort of youngster Victorian society celebrated. He was resourceful, brave and adventurous and had he been born into a wealthy family (instead of most likely being an orphan and condemned to living hand-by-mouth on the streets) he might be a name we all remember as well as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott or Rhodes.

The last convict ship, HMS Hougoumont (named for one of the key buildings that allied troops fought so hard to keep at the battle of Waterloo) sailed to Australia in 1867, with 281 passengers. It marked the end of a system of forced migration that had lasted nearly 80 years.

[from The Standard, Saturday, April 25, 1885

It has been a year since I started writing this daily blog. It began as an exercise in forcing myself to undertake a piece of research writing on  daily basis to keep myself ‘fit’ (in a sense) admit the routines associated with being a senior lecturer in a busy teaching university. It has grown (largely thanks to all the people that bother to read it and tell me they enjoy or find it useful) into a body of research that I will now attempt to use to form part of a couple of larger written projects over the the next few years. So, thank you for the positive comments made via the site, twitter and Facebook, and I hope you continue to enjoy reading the day-to-day stories from the police courts of London.

                                                                                                                           Drew 

 

Two street urchins try (and fail) to argue the toss with a magistrate

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Charles McCarthy and John Harrison were described by the Standard’s  court reporter as ‘urchins’. We should probably understand that to mean that, in the late 1870s, they were young members of the working class. Youngsters like these played on the streets and were often associated with the so-called ‘criminal class’ that exercised contemporary commentators like Henry Mayhew and James Greenwood.

From the early 1800s discourse concerning youth crime focused on reform and the importance of education, good parenting, and work opportunities. It was argued that younger criminals needed to be separated from older ones, to avoid corruption. There was also a long standing concern about gambling, particularly by children and youth.

The ‘new police’ who patrolled London’s streets from 1829 were actively involved in the enforcement of laws that prohibited gambling, especially amongst the young. In April a police constable had arrested Charles and John for gambling in the streets, and so they were produced before the magistrate at Bow Street. However, they made a bold attempt to deny the charge, and in doing so reveal a little about the sort of passtimes that children got up to in the late 1800s.

They were accused of gambling on a Sunday (which made it worse, as they should have been in church) by an unnamed PC. They were ‘tossing for halfpence’ and this was, the paper’s correspondent reported, quite a common offence; there were ‘a dozen similar cases on a Monday’. What made this worthy of writing about was the bravado the boys displayed.

The eldest lad denied they were gambling, they were just ‘having a game [of] “back”‘. This involved tossing a halfpence coin up into the air and trying to catch it on the back of the hand. This is still a child’s game today, (although I suspect there is probably a mobile phone app for it now…).

The boy showed the magistrate (Mr Flowers) what he meant by taking out a coin and flipping it in court. ‘Why we only had a ha’penny betwixt us. That ain’t gambling’, said the youth.

The justice turned to the policeman and quipped:

‘I fear these boys have been reading the Act of Parliament for the purpose of evading its provisions’, drawing laughter from the courtroom.

Did they have more than penny on them, he asked? They did, said the constable, ‘There were a penny and a halfpenny lying on the ground close to them, your worship’, adding, ‘they are always at it’.

That was probably the most damning statement. Under the law the constable was probably  correct in arresting them but what happened next shows how’s unfair the Victorian justice system was to youngsters like these two. They were indulging in a pretty harmless game of chance, with little actual ‘gambling’ going on. Hearing the constable’s evidence Mr Flowers turned to the lads and said:

‘Ah that looks bad. You must pay a fine of 1s each, or be imprisoned one day’.

Just what good a day in prison would do for these two is questionable, nor do I imagine they could easily get hold of two shillings between them unless their parents were able to intervene. So probably these lads got a taste of Victorian ‘justice’ and came out a little less disposed to respect the law in the future.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, April 22, 1879]