‘A very miserable story’ of the path to disgrace and ruin for a lady writer in Bayswater

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This case is curious because it sheds some light on late Victorian attitudes towards mental health, alcoholism and class.

Mrs Maria Wilkin was the widow of an army officer, a major no less. She was just 53 years of age and lived in rented rooms in Bayswater. It seems she tried to support herself by writing, a precarious way to earn one’s living, especially for a woman in the late 1800s.

She was up before Mr Plowden at Marylebone Police court on a charge of stealing a bottle of brandy from her landlady, Mrs Street. At first the hearing and been postponed so  that Mrs Wilkin could call witnesses in her defence and now, in early December 1893, she had one person to speak for her and a legal advocate.

The case was again presented, and Mrs Wilkin’s defence offered. Her character witness simply said she knew her, but not well. It was hardly a glowing reference and probably reflected the embarrassment the witness felt at being brought into public courtroom to defend someone whose behaviour she found objectionable.

Her barrister told Mr Plowden that Mrs Wilkin received regular visits from her family and was well cared for by them. At this point the accused woman objected, ‘denying she under the care of anybody’. She asserted her independence and  assured the magistrate she could support herself, by writing. Her previous landlady had ben quite happy to let her rent the rooms, so long as the rent ‘was guaranteed’.

‘Well, yes’, said Mr Plowden, ‘there’s the difficulty’. The rent clearly was not guaranteed and Mrs Wilkin was struggling to cope. He said it ‘was a most lamentable and painful’ case.

‘He had heard a great deal about the prisoner and her antecedents, and he did not know whether to blame or pity her, but it was a very miserable story. He had no doubt that she did steal the brandy. In her sober senses she would, no doubt, have shrank from doing such an act. But, under the influence of a craving for drink, she took the bottle of spirits’.

He would prefer it if her relatives would ‘take care of her’, in other words take her away from Mrs Street’s rooms and look after her at home. This would represent a move from independent living into care, something that we all may have to contemplate at one point in our lives, or the lives of our nearest and dearest. For the vast majority of Victorians care was not something they could contemplate; the working classes had the workhouse or the insane asylum, hopefully Mrs Wilkin, as a member of the middle classes, would be able to either continue her independent lifestyle or move in with her extended family.

The alternative was made starkly clear to her by the magistrate however. He would release her on the promise (guaranteed by her recognisances) that if necessary she would be recalled to court to face the consequences of her theft. It was a warning to her: if she was not able to resist the temptation to steal again then she faced prison where she ‘would be disgraced and ruined for life’.

Finally he told her that  he’d like her to enter a ‘retreat’ for a time, so that she could rid herself of her addiction to alcohol. Such retreats for ‘inebriate women of the better class’ had been established in England, Australia and the US in the second half of the nineteenth century. Whether Maria could afford one is a moot point however, and the court was offering her no financial assistance. Alcoholism was widely believed to be a working class issue and that is where most of the Temperance Movement’s efforts were concentrated, but this demonstrates that it was a problem at all levels of society in the 1890s.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, December 12, 1893]

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Fined for disturbing a mathematical genius

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Charles Babbage (1791-1871)

Most of you will be reading this post on a computer, or a tablet, or perhaps even a smart phone. It is too much of a leap to say that without Charles Babbage’s ground-breaking work in creating his Analytical Engine in the early 1800s such devices may not have been invented, but Babbage is often heralded as the father of computing.

Babbage was born in the eighteenth century (as the ‘terror’ was sweeping Paris in fact) and died in 1871 (as Germany completed its emergence as a major European power. His life then, neatly bookmarks the end of the ancient regime and the birth of modern Europe.

But of course, scientific genius also comes with the normal traits of human life. Babbage had to eat and drink, he married and had children. He also hated being disturbed, and had a particular antipathy to street musicians, as this quote, from 1864, show:

‘It is difficult to estimate the misery inflicted upon thousands of persons, and the absolute pecuniary penalty imposed upon multitudes of intellectual workers by the loss of their time, destroyed by organ-grinders and other similar nuisances’.

Babbage campaigned against ‘public nuisances’, not only musicians but children playing in the street and drunks rolling home after a night in the pub. He even produced a mathematical calculation to show the likely number of windows broken by drunks and contributed to a drive to ban children from playing with hoops in the street, because of the potential damage they could do to horses’ legs. He reminds me a lot of an elderly teacher at my North London grammar school who railed against paper darts on the grounds that ‘they will have someone’s eye out, boy!’

Babbage was well known for his hatred of street musicians, often Italian organ grinders, who played for the money they could extract from passers-by (or perhaps householders who gave then coins to go away). In December 1866 he appeared at the Marylebone Police court, near his home, to  bring just such a complaint before Mr Mansfield.

Joseph Jenanin and Andrew Roadling were charged with ‘refusing to desist from playing musical instruments when requested to do so’. Babbage testified that on the 29 November Jenanin and Roadling, along with seven others, were performing in Paddington Street, just 200 yards from the mathematician’s home.

He went out and asked them to stop but they ignored him. He called a nearby policeman who then confirmed his story in court. In defence of the men their attorney, Mr Sayers, called upon several local tradesmen who told the magistrate that the musicians had in fact stopped playing when Babbage asked them to. They added that the men were not a nuisance in the neighbourhood, in fact we might suppose they quite enjoyed the concert and perhaps it attracted some trade.

On this occasion Babbage was thwarted by the justice system, to some degree at least. While the magistrate was prepared to accept that the men were causing a nuisance to him, they were too far from his home to have done so deliberately. As a result he couldn’t or wouldn’t punish them with the full force of the law but simply fined them 10s each and Mr Babbage’s costs. This would probably mean they avoided the great man’s home in future, but would not have ruined them or forced them to sell their instruments.

We can imagine Charles Babbage returning home from court still fuming at the outrage. He was 75.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, December 10, 1866]

 

A young girl is cruelly used by her callous stepfather

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When Sarah Craddock was put in the dock at Marylebone Police Court to answer a charge of stealing from her master it uncovered an ugly family quarrel, in which she was being used as a pawn.

Sarah was just 15 and had been working as a domestic servant in the home of Mr George Provaze in St John’s Wood. She had been dismissed, not for stealing, but for absenting herself from the house without permission. However, after she had left the girl’s stepfather had called on Mr Provaze to inform him that he’d found a number of items in Sarah’s effects that he believed belonged to him.

The case was reported to the police and a detective instructed to investigate. Detective sergeant Laidlaw accompanied Mr Provage south of the River Thames to the Craddock home in Bermondsey. There the following items were found: ‘a pipe and case, four handkerchiefs’ and a number of other things, amounting in value to around 20s. Having had a look at them Mr Provaze and one of his staff, Harriet Hazel, were able to confirm that they had indeed been stolen from the house.

In court DS Laidlaw revealed that the girl had insisted that her step father had asked her to steal the goods and she’d given the pipe to him. Indeed, he’d even used it!

Next to appear was Sarah’s mother who confirmed her daughter’s evidence and said that her husband had also tried to get her other, younger daughter, to steal for him. She also claimed that he had ‘been knocking her about most cruelly’. When she’d taken him to court about it he’d sought revenge by getting his step daughter into trouble. So the unnamed stepfather was trying to break up the family home, perhaps to strip away his wife’s support network from under her. Mr Mansfield, the justice at Marylebone, remanded Sarah in custody for further examination.

Given that the likely result of a successful prosecution would see Sarah not only dismissed from a valuable and respectable position but also publicly shamed and possibly imprisoned, it was a drastic and extremely cruel course of action. It reminds us that spousal abuse could (indeed can) take very many forms.

[from The Standard, Thursday, December 06, 1883]

Pram (and class) wars in Regent’s Park

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A family nursemaid and her fellow servant were taking the children in their care to the park when they ran into an angry pedestrian. The case was trivial but reveals the deeply ingrained class distinctions of late Victorian London.

Evelyn Thatcher lived and worked for General Knox and his wife in Portman Square. The couple had two children, a boy of five and baby under 12 months old. On the 11 November 1891 Ms Thatcher and her assistant nurse, Annie Leadbitter, were on their way to Regent’s Park for the afternoon. The little boy was in his go-kart while Leadbitter pushed the infant along in a perambulator. Together, however, they occupied most of the pavement which as they made their way two abreast, with a yard between the children’s vehicles.

Meanwhile Captain Saunders, of 3 Upper Spring Street, (off nearby Baker Street), also enjoying the late autumn air. Looking up the captain suddenly saw the approaching women and their charges. He stopped in his tracks, ‘stamped his feet, raved, and flourished his umbrella’ before telling them to get out of his way as they were ‘obstructing the footway’.

Leadbitter (possibly ill-advisedly) was in no mood to be gracious enough to move aside. She said:’Good gracious man, are you mad […] what is the matter?’ before pointing down the street at a policeman and telling him to call him to arrest them if he really felt they were causing an instruction. After all there was clear yard of pavement between them he could easily pass through.

At this the captain started his ‘ravings’ again and Leadbitter decided to ignore him and set off again. This enraged Saunders who grabbed her by the shoulder, shook her and then proceeded to drag her along the street. The boy on his go-kart started to cry and the little baby looked terrified by his display.

The policeman soon arrived and while he agreed that the women should perhaps not have occupied all the pavement they had broken no laws. Nevertheless the captain seized hold of the nurse and shook his umbrella ‘violently’ at her and even in the face of the children. A nearby cabdriver saw the whole thing and when the captain was summoned before the magistrate at Marylebone, he testified in support of the servants against the military man.

Captain Saunders was seemingly apoplectic in his rage. The cabbie, Henry Canning, reportedly called him a ‘Zulu’ so fierce was he at having his daily perambulation  interrupted by a pair of lowly nursemaids and a boy in a go-kart.

Mr Newton (the magistrate) had heard quite enough of this nonsense and it was making a scene in his courtroom. Given that the public galleries often attracted the ‘meaner’ sort of Londoner we can imagine that they were enjoying the sport of watching a member of the ‘better’ class being bested on the street and in court by a pair of working-class women.

Captain Saunders vehemently denied assaulting Annie Leadbitter, the children, or indeed anyone else, ever. The nurses were in the wrong for blocking the pavement with the pram and cart. Mr Newton agreed with him on this at least but supported the view of the policeman at the time; it might be wrong but it was not against the law. Grabbing hold of the nurse and hauling her up the street was wrong however, and a crime. He fined him 2s 6d  – a trivial amount for what he described as a ‘trivial offence’.

With a snort that probably reflected his contempt for both the fine and the decision, the captain paid the money and left. Annie and Evelyn were also free to return to Portman Square with an amusing tale to relate over supper in the servants’ quarters later that day. Whether their employers were quite as pleased is another matter of course.

[from The Standard, Thursday, December 01, 1892]

An absent minded book thief at Euston

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Emma Hawkins clearly loved books. In fact she sometimes became so caught up in the reading of books that she quite forgot where she was, or even that the books might not belong to her.

The housewife from Rickmansworth was visiting London one afternoon in November 1886 and, whilst waiting for her return train was browsing the second-hand section at W.H.Smith’s bookstall at Euston Station. Seeing something she liked she took it over to the counter and paid a shilling for it.

Having acquired a cheap novel for the journey home she set off to catch the 4.45 which was making ready to depart. She stepped up onto the train and was about to settle down in her seat when a man approached her.

Edward Mallett was the chief clerk at W. H. Smith’s and he had been watching Emma whilst she browsed the book stall. He had seen her select a number of titles, picking them up and placing them back again, before she took one and put it in her bag. He felt sure he’s seen her steal and so had followed her to her train.

Mallett demanded that she open her bag and let him the contents. Inside were three books, the one she’d paid for and two others that she hadn’t. He’d only seen her pinch one but all three were his stock.

She pleaded with him not to take it further, offering to pay ‘double the amount’ for the books. He declined and handed her over to a policeman and she was brought before the Police magistrate at Marylebone to answer for the theft.

Detective-sergeant Hunt, who was employed by the London and North-Western Railway, told Mr De Rutzen that she had admitted the theft when arrested. He told the court that she had:

‘a box and a bag with her, in which [the] Witness found eight books, some of them from two libraries in London. There were also some new silk handkerchiefs and a long list of articles’.

So had Emma been on a shopping or  stealing spree in the capital? Her husband insisted it was not the latter. His wife, he explained, was easily distracted and ‘he was sure absentmindedness would explain her conduct’.

‘She had taken a book from a shop, and was about to go away with it without having paid for it’, he said, ‘so engrossed was she in the contents of the volume, and he had to remind her that she had not paid for it’.

It was a fairly weak defence and Mr De Rutzen was not inclined to accept it at face value. However, nor did he wish to remand an otherwise respectable woman in prison. If she and her husband could provide two sureties to the value of £20 then he was prepared to bail her to appear at a later date once further evidence had been collected.

[from The Standard, Thursday, November 18, 1886]

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]

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]