A glimpse into history: an Irishwoman’s flight from the siege of Paris in 1870

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Parisian women queue for food during the Prussian siege of Paris, 1870

Sometimes the cases that are reported in the London Police Courts reveal glimpses of the wider history that was taking place both in Britain and around the world.

In July 1870 Napoleon III, emperor of the French, declared war on the kingdom of Prussia. Napoleon’s decision to take on his powerful European neighbour was prompted by his failing popularity at home and the (inaccurate as it turned out) advice of his generals. The Prussians (under Bismarck) saw the war as an opportunity to push forward the cause of German unification and, ultimately, begin to shape the continent in their favour.

The war went badly for the French from the start and ended in ignominious defeat at Sedan at the end of August, just over a month after it started. Napoleon was deposed and national government was declared which continued to resist the Prussian forces. This led to the siege of Paris which lasted until it too surrendered on 28 January 1871. In the aftermath of the war Prussia annexed Alsace-Lorraine and left  festering sore that when combined with mutual distrust and competing imperial ambitions, contributed to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.

Within all national and international conflicts of course there are personal stories and individual tragedies. An unnamed Irish woman (a ‘native of Cork’) appeared at the Marylebone Police Court in mid September 1870 having fled Paris and the advancing Prussian forces. Her husband was a French national she explained to Mr Mansfield, the sitting magistrate, and had been forced to remain in Paris to man the defences.

She described the situation in the French capital:

‘bills were posted up on the walls stating that those that did not wish to expose themselves to the siege must leave. My husband is a tradesman, and he was bound to go to the fortifications. I had no means of subsistence, and I had to leave and go to my mother at Cork’.

Sieges were hard on all the occupation of a city and the Paris siege was notable for the hardships the French suffered. There were later reports of people starving and eating cats and dogs and even the animals in the Paris zoo. Ultimately the siege led to further revolution and civil war, so it is no surprise that those that could opted to flee and become refugees.

The woman had traveled to London with her five children but had run out of money and was now desperate. That she turned to the Police Courts is indicative of the public’s use of the the London magistracy as centres of advice and aid in a crisis. Sadly for her, there was little Mr Mansfield could, or was inclined, to do for her.

She told him she was staying at a house at 57 Praed Street and had applied to the French authorities for help on several occasions. They had simply directed her from one ‘society’ to another; in all probability with the country at war and Paris under desire there was little they could do to help the Irish wife of one of their citizens. But the lady believed that there was more to it than this; she felt they didn’t want to help her because she was Irish and ‘they say they have so many of their own country-people to see to’.

Since Ireland was still part of the British Empire she therefore sought support from the British state. Mr Mansfield replied that the best he could do, since several charities had not helped her, was send her to the relieving officer at Paddington. In other words she could enter the workhouse. That was clearly not something she, as a ‘respectable’ tradesman’s wife, wanted to do. Mr Mansfield said he would send her instead to see Archbishop Manning’s chaplain, to see what he might do for her.

Archbishop Manning had a good reputation in Victorian London. As the senior Catholic cardinal in England and Archbishop of Westminster he had considerable influence. In 1889 he intervened and helped broker a settlement to the Great Dock Strike and so hopefully he (if his chaplain was prepared to get him involved) he may well have helped a fellow Catholic find the means to return home to Ireland and thence perhaps to France once the situation had claimed down. Presuming, of course, that the lady’s husband survived both the siege and then the Commune and its overthrow in May 1871.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, September 17, 1870]

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The flower pot man’s cunning plan backfires

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Victorian housekeeper c.1890

Emma Dunlop was employed as a housekeeper at 60 Cleveland Square in Paddington when she noticed a man descend the steps from the street and started inspecting the row of flower pots outside her windows. Opening the door Emma demanded to know what he wanted.

The man told her he ‘wished to see Mrs Davies’. There being no ‘Mrs Davies’ at that address he left. Emma, curious as to what he was up to, came out and poked around the flowerpots herself. She soon saw that one of the pots had been disturbed and digging below the surface she found some coins buried there.

In total there were 24s (around £50 today) and not surprisingly a few minutes later the man was back to retrieve it. However in the meantime Emma had removed the cash and so he was forced to knock at the door and ask her if she had found anything. Emma told him she had and he demanded she hand it over or he would call a policeman.

Fortunately a policeman was passing by at just that moment so Emma called him down and the three went into the kitchen. This is where it all started to go wrong for the man as PC Double (322X) suspected foul play. He arrested the man on suspicion of stealing the money and hiding it so it could not be discovered on him and made some local enquiries. He soon found out that the cook at number 55 Cleveland Square had reported that   24s and 6d were missing from the pantry.

The man was named as James Burton (aged 31 and a painter from Lisson Grove) and when the case was taken to the Marylebone Police Court the magistrate was told that Burton had been working in the kitchen that day. Burton was remanded in custody so the police could pursue their enquiries, his ‘cunning’ attempt to hide the proceeds of his theft and then bully Ms Dunlop into handing it over backfired. He doesn’t make it into the Old Bailey records so I suspect he eventually elected to be dealt with summarily and ended up with a short prison sentence, But maybe the police decided there was insufficient evidence to prove he had taken the money and he got away with it. As is often the case, it is unlikely we will ever know.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 14, 1879]

Thieves use chloroform to overpower their victim

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This summer London has been subject to a number of acid attacks. Teenagers (some as young as 12 or 13) riding mopeds have swooped on victims to steal mobile phone or overpower other scooter riders to steal their vehicles. What has made these attacks even more heinous is the use of acid (or liquid victims believe to be acid) sprayed in the faces of those attacked.

The main crime here is robbery, ‘highway robbery’ in eighteenth-century terminology in fact. Thieves that stole money or property using force or the threat of force, and robberies that took place on the street (or ‘highway’) were deemed highway robbery. We might call them muggings of course.

Judges and juries tended to view any theft that was accompanied by violence or the threat of it more seriously than simple larceny, and so those convicted could expect the full force of the law. The same is still pretty much true today; violent theft is dealt with more severely than indirect non-violent theft (such as picking pockets or shoplifting).

In the 1700s this meant death by hanging but by the mid Victorian period imprisonment  had largely replaced all other forms of punishment. Highway robbers could expect to be transported to Australia in the 1830s and 40s but by the late 50 transportation was effectively at an end. English prisons now filled with thieves, robbers and burglars.

When he was brought before the Marylebone magistrate in August 1858 John Jones was accused of perpetrating a robbery with a difference; a  difference which singled it out as worthy of press attention and (potentially at least) the full severity of the law.

Francis Stretch was walking along Munster Street near Regent’s Park between 10 and 11 in the evening of the 25 August when he was attacked from behind. As he stooped to tie his shoelaces three men rushed up and one thrust a handkerchief over his mouth and nose. Stretch noticed that the hankie was wet but wasn’t able to react quick enough.

He did notice a man he later identified as Jones take his watch from his pocket but before he could attempt to stop him or take hold of the thief he ‘became insensible’ and collapsed. The men ran off and Stretch later realised that he had been knocked out with chloroform.

Meanwhile the attack had been witnessed by a woman who was nearby. Shouting ‘stop their’ she ran after the fleeing thieves and a policeman, PC Whinkler (191S) joined the chase. The three men split up, the two others calling out ‘There’s no Peeler here, change your coat’, to Jones. PC Whinkler caught up with his prey soon afterwards in Charles Street and arrested him.

No watch was found on Jones and in court he denied any knowledge of it. Unfortunately for the victim and the policeman the female witness was not in court to confirm their testimony. As a result Mr Long, presiding, remanded the defendant for a few days to see if she could be produced. I expect that if PC Whinkler was able (as he insisted he was) to produce his witness then the magistrate would have committed Jones for a jury trial. It is likely this went to Clerkenwell and the Middlesex sessions because I can’t find it at Old Bailey. There, if the jury were convinced, Jones could expect a lengthy spell behind bars. Other Londoners would now be on the alert for the chloroform thieves just as modern city dwellers are (hopefully) keeping their wits about them when using their phones in public.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, August 26, 1858]

A man with a mission and some chalk

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It was not Edward Barnbrook’s first time in court. He had appeared before the magistrates at Marylebone Police court on a number of occasions. He was described on the charge sheet as having ‘no home’ and ‘no occupation’, but he certainly believed he had an important task to complete.

His crime?

– ‘defacing walls and hoardings by chalking verses from Scripture on them, [and] also sentences  satirising our statesmen and country’.

In late August 1861 he was brought up before Mr Mansfield having been arrested by PC Gaze (356S) between one and two o’clock that morning in Little Albany Street, close to Regent’s Park. The constable had interrupted the men while he was chalking a message on a wall. What was that message, the magistrate asked.

‘What nation can fight?’ replied the policeman to stifled laughter in the courtroom. Since Barnbrook had refused to stop writing the constable had arrested him and taken him back to the station to charge him.

Thomas Taylor, a man with the wonderful title of ‘inspector of nuisances’ appeared next, to explain that Barnbrook was  serial offender and his daubing was a constant source of irritation to local residents.

Mr Mansfield asked the slogan writer why he did it.

‘Prisoner (solemnly): To fulfil the prophets and prophecy, also the saints, and to make the Bible universal. I have a mission’.

Religious zeal was as prevalent in Victorian society as it appears to be in our own and seemingly dismissed or tolerated as harmless unless it was attached to violence. The magistrate remanded the prisoner for two days. In effect the man was being imprisoned without being convicted of any offence,a fairly standard practice for those caught doing something but not really guilty of doing that much.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, August 23, 1861]

From point duty to the ranks of the ‘brave 600’: one policeman’s dangerous career move

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The 13th Light Dragoons at the Battle of Balaclava (1854) by John Charlton

Yesterday I wrote about Police Constable Wallington and the problems he encountered as one of the new ‘Peelers’ to hit the streets of London after 1829. Many members of the new force either left or were dismissed in the first year of the Metropolitan Police for corruption, disorderly conduct or because the pressure of the job was too great. The difficulties these new law enforcers faced did not fade away quickly and the police continued to be resented by large parts of the public (wealthy and poor) and had to fight hard to establish themselves as an accepted part of British society.

Charles Bailey was one of those that clearly found that either the strains of the job or discovered that the unsocial hours and dreary repetitive nature of the work was not for him.

In August 1840 he had been detailed to stand on fixed point duty at 2.30 in the afternoon in Camden Town. PC Bailey (74S) was supposed to stand watching out for ‘ominous and cab irregularities’ until 9 o’clock at night. This was, I understand from Neil Bell’s excellent study of the Victorian police in the 1880s, an unpopular task. The officer was not supposed to move from his spot until he was relieved by another policeman.

Yet when sergeant Gladmen (18S) checked on the constable at 2.45 he wasn’t there. Gladman was forced to position a replacement there in his stead. PC Bailey had completely disappeared.

When he was tracked down it was discovered that the policeman had quit his job and joined the army. Bailey had swapped his swallow tailed blue coat and tall hat for the much more glamorous uniform of the 13th Light Dragoons. The sergeant and his superintendent were not impressed and had no inkling of the officer’s intentions. As a result (former) PC Bailey was summoned before the Marylebone magistrate and asked to explain himself.

All that Bailey would say was that he was sorry but he had already enlisted before he went on duty. Presumably he felt unable or thought it unnecessary to inform his station sergeant of his new career. In court he did get some support from his new sergeant (this time from the Light Dragoons) who confirmed his appointment and asked the magistrate for clemency. The Marylebone justice fined the constable £10 for his dereliction of duty and because the new Dragoon didn’t have the money to pay he was sent to prison by default.

This was an odd switch of career for the time; it was probably more common for former soldiers to join the police, as we saw with George Walters, a hero of the Crimean who ended up policing a London park. However, perhaps for PC Bailey being asked to stand and watch (not even direct) traffic was just not what he had signed up for and the temptation to join the army and see the world was just too attractive.

The 13th had seen service in the Peninsula and at Waterloo and would go on to see action in the Crimean. If Bailey was still serving in the Dragoons in October 1854 as it lined up on the right flank of the Light Brigade at the battle of Balaclava I wonder if he wished himself back on point duty in Camden rather than facing the Russian guns, ‘to the left of them’,  ‘to the right of them’ and ‘in front of them’.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, August 15, 1840]

Medals count for little in class warfare

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George Walters was a hero of the Crimean War. At Inkerman on 5 November 1857 his quick thinking and bravery saved the life of an officer in the heat of battle. Sadly although he carried the Brigadier General to safety he later died of his wounds in the military hospital at Scutari. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry and later left the army (and his home town of Newport Pagnell) to start a new career with the Metropolitan Police.

His mini biographer (in the link above) noted that he soon left the police and ‘joined the Regents Park Police, and little is known of what happened to him before the 1871 Census’. Well, thanks to the newspaper coverage of the Police Courts, I can fill in a small amount of detail, at least as to what he was up to in 1865 when he was about 36 years of age.

George was indeed working in Regent’s Park as a Parks constable and on 20 July a well-heeled group of men and women were enjoying a boat trip on the lake. At about twenty to nine in the evening ‘the whole party’ made their way to the exit gates close to the Zoo. The gates were locked and had been for some time it seems, as a small crowd of people were gathered there hoping to get out.

Henry Percy Berry, a ‘young gentleman’ of 81 Adelaide Road in fashionable St John’s Wood took matters into his own hands.

‘Being desirous that the ladies should not wait there for an indefinite period of time he got up over the gate and, as he was getting over a second gate for the purpose of going to the inspector’s lodge’, he was seized by constable Walters.

The park constable grabbed him by the throat, ‘and after shaking him violently said he should take him into custody and charge him with an assault’. Berry offered the man his card but he was ignored. Walter summoned another constable and together, with the help of ‘a drunken cabman who said he was a detective’ the young man was unceremoniously dragged to the nearest police station.

Berry claimed to have been beaten and kicked on the way and had the bruises and a torn coat to show for it. After a night in the cells he was presented before a magistrate in the morning (for assault) but the case was discharged.

Now, several weeks later he counter sued the constable for assault and so it was George Walters who found himself in front of a ‘beak’. The former soldier wore his medals with pride; the VC and Crimean Medal (with four bars) making a very clear statement as to his character. He was defended by counsel, Mr Johnson, and the case was observed by Inspector Caunt of the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Works (who looked after the Park and employed the constable).

Berry’s testimony (that he was an innocent and the victim of an aggressive attack by Walters) was challenged in court and he was forced to deny swearing at the constable or throwing any punches. He admitted climbing the gate but didn’t consider that it had made him a ‘wrong doer’ in the eyes of the law. He was also ‘perfectly sober at the time’ he insisted.

The young gentleman’s evidence was backed up by two  ‘well dressed young named Edward Castle and Matthias Milner’. Neither knew Berry personally they swore, but they said that they had seen the event unfold.

The constable brief now called his own witness, a retired policeman turned cabdriver named John Holder. He painted an alternative account to Berry’s and it was one which corroborated our hero’s. Berry had used bad language he said, and was violent. He had been called to lend assistance as a former police colleague. As to the term coat he argued that the damage had been done by Berry himself and Walter had warned him about it at the time. His warnings had been treated with contempt and abuse by the young man however.

As for the former soldier, Holder declared that:

‘He never saw a man exhibit more civility and forbearance than did the defendant on this occasion, and he never saw a man behave more violently than the complainant did’.

Holder’s account was supported by the other park constable. So in the end it came down to who the magistrate would choose to believe. Would it be the working-class constable who was a decorated war hero, or a rich young man with a fashionable address?

I think you can probably guess.

Mr Mansfield had tried the previous case when Berry had appeared on a charge of assaulting the constable and had dismissed it. He was hardly going to admit he was wrong in open court. He declared that the defence that had been offered by Walters was a fiction and he ‘could not adequately give expression to his feeling of indignation at the manner in which the cabman had given his evidence’.

He turned to George Walters and fined him the huge sum of £4 for the ‘outrageous’ assault on a respectable young man and warned him that failure to pay would result in him going to prison for  a month.

England, a home fit for heroes? Not in 1865 it seems, not when the reputation of the ruling class was at stake anyway. It reminds me of Kipling’s Tommy:

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! “
But it’s ” Saviour of ‘is country ” when the guns begin to shoot;

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, August 10, 1865]

Finders keepers? A diamond bracelet arouses the suspicions of a pawnbroker

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In 1871 Mr Tomlinson ran a pawnbrokers on the Kentish Town Road. Pawnbrokers served the whole community but mostly acted as a form of money lending for those unable to get credit elsewhere. For most people in Victorian London credit was very limited. Ordinary people didn’t have bank accounts as we routinely do today, and so lived week by week (sometimes day to day) on the small amounts of money they earned in cash paid work.

Rent, food and fuel consumed most of what they brought in and families were particularly at risk if they had children below working age (11-12 or under) and the mother had to stay at home to care for them. Many used pawnbrokers as a way of extending credit and coping with financial hardship. You could take an article of clothing, or some item of jewels (a watch say) to a pawnbrokers and pledge it against cash for a week. So long as you returned the money in the time allowed you would get your possessions back. If you did not then they became the property of the broker and he was allowed to sell them.

Pawnbrokers have not gone away but today they tend to be called something like Cashconverters and are a familiar sight alongside the fried chicken restaurants and betting shops on our depleted and decaying modern high streets.

On Monday 7 August a woman entered Mr Tomlinson’s shop and asked to pledge an expensive looking piece of jewellery. It was a ‘gold bracelet, set with diamonds and rubies’ and he estimated its value at over £40 (£1,800 today). Tomlinson’s foreman, Lewis obviously didn’t think the woman, Catherine Dickinson (a 48 year-old waistcoat maker who lived locally) was the sort of person to own such an item.

He wasn’t satisfied with her explanation of how she came by it so she promised to return later with her daughter, who had told her that her ‘young man’ had found it and had given it to her to pledge. About an hour later Catherine returned with Henry Benson, a 19 year-old cabman, who said he’d picked it up near a cab rank at Cremorne Gardens on the 22 July. The pleasure gardens were a fashionable spot for the wealthy (and not so wealthy) in the mid 1800s and it was entirely possible that a lady might have lost her bracelet there.

It was equally possible that Benson (or another) might have pinched it from her late at night or found it left in his cab,Either way he should have reported it to the police and handed the bracelet in but he hadn’t and the sharp actions of the pawnbroker had stopped him profiting from it. Pawnbrokers didn’t always have a good reputation and for over a century had been accused of facilitating the trade in stolen goods.

Tomlinson and his employee were no doubt aware of this and acted to make sure they weren’t tainted by the association with criminality. Mr Lewis reported the incident to the police and two detectives were despatched to make enquires. Detective constables John Dalton and Charles Miller of Y Division tracked down Benson and Mrs Dickenson and brought them before Mr D’Eyncourt at Marylebone Police Court.

The magistrate decided that both the young cabman Benson and his sweetheart’s mother should be held accountable for the potential theft of the bracelet so he bailed the former and accepted Catherine’s own recognisance to appear in a  week’s time. In the meantime the newspaper alerted its readers that the jewellery was available to view at Kensal Green police station in case anyone had recently lost it.

Presumably if no one claimed it at the very least Benson would be free to carry on as a cab driver, at best the bracelet would be returned to them and perhaps Mr Tomlinson would then be happy to hand over some cash (I doubt as much as £40 though) so the Dickensons could enjoy a bountiful summer for once.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, August 09, 1871]