‘When I come out I’ll have fifteen years for her.’

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Today living with someone you are not married to is almost as normal as being wed. There is no stigma attached to unmarried cohabitation and similarly little, if any, to having children outside of wedlock. This state of affairs (sometimes bemoaned by traditionalists) is often compared unfavourably to past societies, where marriage is presumed to have been universally accepted as the only way for couples to show commitment to each other.

Yet even a casual study of Victorian society reveals that amongst the working classes (by far the largest social group) the bonds of marriage were much more fluid. Men and women cohabited without being married, and had children, and no one (of their class at least) seemed to bat an eyelid about it. Perhaps we are not as ‘modern’ as we think we are.

Marriage can be expensive and divorce, in the 1800s, for most men and and women, was pretty much impossible. So I suspect many came together as lovers and stayed together as partnership being married in all but name.

Edward Chatfield and Elizabeth Wardle were an example of this type of ‘common law’ marriage. They had lived together at their home in Kent Street in the Borough, south London, for some time but their relationship was far from rosy.

Edward allegedly forced Elizabeth to prostitute herself when they had no money and beat her when she came home without any money. Their quarrels finally made it to the inside of the Southwark Police Court and the pages of the newspapers when, in 1863, Elizabeth took her ‘husband’ to law for an assault upon her.

She told the magistrate, Mr Coombe, that Chatfield had come home late and had attacked her. As she stood in court everyone could see the results of the assault:- she had ‘a cut on her under lip, and several marks on the arms’. Her man had beaten her and knocked her to the floor. He started kicking her and if a policeman hadn’t heard her cries and come to her rescue she feared for her life.

It was not the first time the couple had come before the magistrates. Three months earlier the very same justice had sent him down for two months for beating Elizabeth. He’d only been out for six weeks and he’d done it again.

No lesson learned there then.

Edward objected and offered this defence:

‘It is false’, he declared. ‘I should not have touched you this time, had you come home properly. Your worship, she did not come home till six this morning, and then she was half drunk and would keep the door open’.

When Elizabeth refused to shut the door and keep quiet he had pushed her out of the bed. This was the point at which Elizabeth accused her partner of pimping her out as a prostitute, something Chatfield vehemently denied. ‘Now, that’s a lie’ he said, ‘you know I go out a thieving to support you’. This admission caused a sensation in the courtroom provably at the self-declaration of offending and the very public disintegration of their relationship.

Mr Coombe was told that Elizabeth’s body was ‘covered in cuts and bruises’ and he sent Edward to prison for six months this time, at hard labour. The prisoner’s reaction was contemptuous, both of the court and his common law wife.

‘When I come out I’ll have fifteen years for her, as I want to get out of this ________ country’.

He may have been hoping to be transported to Australia but I doubt he got his wish. The numbers of convicts deported had slowed from the 1850s and the last ship sailed from England in 1867. Still possible but I can’t see him in the records of those sent so I suspect he minded his behaviour. Mr Coombe added a codicil to his six months, a requirement that he found bail against his good behaviour towards Elizabeth for a further six months on release.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, January 15, 1863]

You can use this site to search for specific crimes or use the Themes link in the menu on the left to look for areas or topics that interest you. If you are interested in a particular court (such as Bow Street or Marylebone) you can also limit your search to one court in particular. Please feel free to comment on anything you read and if something in particular interests you then please get in touch. You can email me at drew.gray@northampton.ac.uk

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Tenants 1 rent collectors 0: Justice is done at Southwark

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Many of those that appeared in the dock at London’s many Police Magistrate courts were charged with assault. The registers at Thames Police Court are some of the very few that survive and there you will find literally hundreds of cases of assault every month. However, what you won’t discover is any context that will enable to you to understand why these cases came to court. Summary court records (unlike jury courts like Old Bailey) are sadly lacking in qualitative information. We might discover that someone went to court charged with assaulting someone else, and find out that they were fined or imprisoned, but we rarely know exactly what happened or why.

That is why the newspaper coverage of the police courts is so useful; it gives us the detail that we are lacking elsewhere and allows us to comment on the motivations of those accused of hitting, kicking or pushing their fellow Londoners, and ask whether they had (or believed they had) any justification for so doing.

Let’s take William Howard for instance. Howard was a ‘respectable mechanic’ living in rented rooms in Market Street, Borough, (just south of the river) with his wife and family. On the 19 November 1867 James Stephens called at his door. His youngest son answered the door and Howard called from indoors for the man to be let in.

Stephens worked for a man named Linfield, who was a landlord’s agent tasked with collecting the rent from a number of houses in the area. Rents were collected along with the rates (which went towards the Poor law for example).

The rent collector had come to ask Howard for 10 and 3d, which was two weeks’ rent plus 3s for the rates. William Howard handed the collector a receipt he had for 82d for money he had already paid towards the Poor Rate. He asked this amount to be deducted from his bill but Stephens refused and the pair argued.

Accounts of what append next differ but it is likely that the mechanic manhandled the rent collector out of his house and told him that before he settled any difference in what he owed he wanted to discuss it directly with his landlord first. Howard clearly felt aggrieved that the minion was demanding money he felt he didn’t owe or was possibly asking  him to pay his rates in advance.

All of this ended up in a summons for assault that was heard at the Southwark Police Court. It doesn’t seem to be an issue about not being able to pay, but more about the underlying principle of when he was supposed to pay, and how much. In this the magistrate had quite a lot of sympathy with him.

Mr Partridge (the magistrate) asked Stephens if the occupants of the houses were ‘on the rate books’. Stephens wasn’t sure. But ‘he knew that the landlord paid all the rates in a lump , thereby saving the parish some trouble in collecting the rates. The tenants were all aware of this’, he added.

The magistrate said that all tenants had a right to be rated and entered into the ledgers. Moreover, he ‘considered it very unfair of the landlords of these small tenements in raising rents for a future tax’. The relevant act, he stated, ‘specifies that the occupiers should pay the rates themselves, and if there is no other agreement deduct the same from the rent’. It seems this was what William Howard was doing and he saw nothing wrong with it. As for the assault, well he could see fault on both sides and so dismissed the charge against the mechanic who was free to go, his reputation intact.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 13, 1867]

Mindless male violence in Bermondsey?

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Victorian Bermondsey

Sometimes even when you have a full trial account at Old Bailey in addition to the initial report of a pre-trial hearing before a Police Court magistrate it is hard to work out what happened. Ultimately this is often because there were contested narratives and a lack of hard evidence.

Let’s take this case, from December 1856, as an example.

On Thursday 4 December three men were presented before the sitting justice at Southwark charged with attempted murder. Richard Burchall, Abraham Burchall (his brother) and Patrick Ryan were accused of beating and stabbing Patrick Griffin and almost causing his death. The incident had occurred back in late October that year but Griffin’s injuries were so severe that he had been unable to attend court before this time.

At Southwark the court was told, by Edmund Valentine (the house surgeon at Guy’s Hospital) that Griffin had been brought in just after 11 at night on a police stretcher.

‘He was under the influence of liquor and his left side was besmeared with blood. On being undressed’ [Valentine] ‘discovered that he had been stabbed on the left side, between the eight and ninth rib’. The wound was an inch long and two inches deep and ‘matter [was flowing] from it like vomit’.

Once he was sufficiently well enough to identify his attackers Griffin pointed the finger at the men now occupying the Southwark dock. He also managed to identify a ‘black-handled clasp knife’ as the weapon that had been used against him.

On this evidence (and that already heard by a number of witnesses at previous hearings) the tree men were committed for trial at the Bailey.

The case came up on the 15 December (there was a much quicker turn around in the Victorian justice system than there is today) where two barristers (Mr J. W. Payne for the prosecution , and Mr Lilley for the defence) conducted matters.

However, what actually occurred that night in late October is far from clear. Patrick Griffin and his brother John had visited the Burchalls’ house on what appears to be a mission for revenge. Some weeks earlier Richard (or Dick) Burchall had beaten up John Griffin and now the brothers wanted to ‘pay him out’ for it.

Before they went however, they paid a visit to a local beer shop or pub (or both) and drank four or five pots of beer between them. They claimed not to be drunk but they were certainly under the influence. Fueled with ‘dutch courage’ they set off to seek their vengeance on the Burchalls.

When they reached the house they apparently got no reply at first and so may have knocked a little louder. According to the defendants version of events the brothers’ shouted abuse, threats and hammered on the door. It was late at night and with two drunken young men calling the odds outside their house it is not surprising that Richard Burchall and his brother came out ready for a fight.

Both Patrick and John were attacked as a fracas ensued; a brick was thrown and hit Patrick Griffin in the head and eye and he went down. He received a sharp kick in his backside and and someone (possibly Dick Burchall) stabbed him with a knife.

At that point it all became something of a blur and so the idea that either Griffin could really describe what went on is somewhat fanciful. A policeman arrived (though no one could be sure who’d called him) and he found John cradling his brother and kissing his head – he believed he was dead or mortally wounded. The Burchalls and Ryan were arrested and Griffin taken to hospital as the surgeon had testified.

In the end the jury were just as confused as the modern reader is and acquitted the threesome as charged. Clearly Griffin had been stabbed but who knows what he might have done had he got his retaliation in first, so to speak. It was a confusing and confused case of drink fueled male violence between young working-class men in a Bermondsey street, nothing remarkable and sadly quite in character with this rough part of the capital in the mid 1800s.

[from The Morning Chronicle , Friday, December 5, 1856]

Sharp practice by a Bermondsey landlord is averted by a sensible application of the law

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A brush-maker drilling holes in the backs of brushes

The Police courts weren’t there just for the prosecution of petty criminals, they could function quite well as a court of redress for ‘ordinary’ people. The magistrate’s courtroom  became a sort of  unofficial advice centre for London’s poor; quick, inexpensive, and accessible. Men like Mr Partridge at Southwark offered their opinions on a range of day-to-day problems and sometimes, in cases like this, upheld the law in favour of the ‘little man’.

Thomas Clark was a brush maker who supplied a number of businesses in the Bermondsey area. It was a family affair, his wife helping him to make and repair brushes. The couple lived in Hunter Street, off Dover Road, renting a room there. 50 years later this was a dreadfully run down and poor area, and in 1869 it was hardly a fashionable address.

The Clarks were struggling to make ends meet and had fallen behind with their rent. This was fairly common in nineteenth-century London and landlords were often quick to move in and evict tenants. Equally tenants were known to do midnight flits, packing up their belongings and moving in with relatives or friends while they found somewhere else to live. The frequency with which people abandoned homes when they were in arrears is celebrated in the popular early twentieth-century music hall song, ‘My Old Man’ (popularised by Marie Lloyd):

We had to move away,
‘Cos the rent we couldn’t pay
The moving van came round just after dark
There was me and my old man
Shoving things inside the van
Which we’d often done before let me remark
We packed all that could be packed
In the van, and that’s a fact
And we got inside all we could get inside
Then we packed all we could pack
On the tail board at the back
Till there wasn’t any room for me to ride.

Written & Composed by F. Leigh and C. Collins, performed by Marie Lloyd

One of the strategies landlords applied was to seize the goods of tenants who hadn’t paid them. This ‘distraint of goods’ was legal but only after they had served notice and given the tenants time to pay.

Thomas Clark was 11s behind with his rent and his landlady was making threats to evict them.  Thomas now decided to lock up his room and move his family elsewhere while he worked out what to do. Was is going to try and avoid paying what he owed? Or was he genuinely hoping to find a solution? It is impossible to know from such a distance but his landlady wasn’t keen to take the risk.

Since he’d left all his tools in the room Clark sent  girl to fetch some of them. But when she arrived she was met by the landlady who ‘took the key from her and bundled her out’. When Thomas visited on the following day all his possessions were gone, cleared out by Thomas Farrell, a ‘sworn broker’ called in by the landlady.

The Clarks had now lost their home and the tools they required for their livelihood. It was a disaster and so Thomas turned to the courts for help. He summoned Farrell to the Southwark Police Court and appeared their to prosecute him for illegal distraint in November 1869.

Thomas Clark complained that Farrell (and his son) had seized his goods but given no notice and left him no inventory. He calculated that they had taken £7 worth of items when he owed just 11s in rent. Mrs Clark supported her husband’s claim. She said she was there  when Farrell had arrived at the property demanding the rent arrears and told him her husband would deal with it when he got home in the evening. Farrell refused and demanded and extra 5s costs on top of the rent that was owed. When she was unable to pay the pair began to remove the brush-making tools from the room.

Farrell’s son said he had left an inventory and claimed not to know that he had to give notice of distraint of goods. Mr Partridge ignored his excuses and told the pair that they had acted illegally. He ordered that they return the goods as soon as the rent was paid, and only the 11s, nothing more. If they failed to do so they would be liable to pay the Clarks the full value (£7) of the tools less the rent, in other words a sum of £6 9s plus 21 costs.

In the end it was a compromise that applied the law fairly. Thomas Clark did owe 11s rent and the magistrate acknowledged that. But he could hardly be excepted to find the money if he couldn’t work to earn the money to pay it. The Farrells had been too eager to make a profit from the brush maker’s difficulties and now the law was holding them to account. In this way the Police Court magistrate was regulating daily life in the capital and doing it quickly before a worse situation arose.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, November 27, 1869]

The struggle for the breeches (or the ‘bloomers’ in this case!)

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The nineteenth-century Police Courts were full of assault, much of it perpetrated by men and most of that ‘domestic’ (in other words where the wife or female partner was the victim). Most studies of interpersonal violence have found that men are most likely to be accused of assault in all its forms (from petty violence to serious wounding and homicide); women tended not to be violent or at least were not often prosecuted as such. When women did appear before the magistracy charged with assault it tended to be for attacking subordinates (children and servants) or other women. It was very rare for a woman to accused of hitting or otherwise assaulting a man.

There are good reasons for this and it is not simply because women were somehow ‘weaker’ or even less violently disposed than men. For a violent action to become a statistic it needs to be reported and then (usually) prosecuted if we are going to be able to count it. Historians talk of the ‘dark figure’ of unreported crime and there is widespread agreement that this figure is particular dark where domestic violence is concerned.

The gendered nature of Victorian society made it very hard for a man to report an assault against him by a woman. The mere fact that he had allowed a female to abuse him (to repudiate his ‘authority’) was bad enough in a society which was highly patriarchal. But to compound that by admitting in public that he had been bested by a woman was considered shameful. I am not suggesting that women were frequently beating up their male partners but I suspect the real figure is higher than the records suggest.

So when a man did bring a prosecution against a woman it is not surprising that it made the papers, and (as in this case) provided an opportunity for amusement at the man’s expense.

When Jeremiah Lynch lost his first wife to cholera he took on a woman to help him keep his house together. Lynch, a tailor living in Redcross Street near the Mint, was elderly and employed a vibrant young Irish woman named Carolina. He had hired Carolina in October 1850 and for nine months she had performed her duties admirably. In fact so diligent was she that in July 1852 Jeremiah (despite the age difference) proposed marriage to her which she accepted.

This soon turned out to be a terrible mistake however as Carolina, now Mrs Lynch, appeared to transform into quite a different person from the amenable servant he had married.

He ‘had not been tied to her many days before she exhibited her true temper, by demanding possession of all his money, and wanting to wear the breeches’.

When he refused her demands she smashed all his crockery. At first he ‘overlooked her mad conduct’ but on Friday 19 September 1851 she came home at six and started on him again. She complained (in an example of gender role reversal) that he had not prepared anything ‘nice for tea’ and knocked him about the head and body. She declared that ‘she would wear the breaches’ he told the magistrate at Southwark Police Court on the following Saturday morning.

‘So’, the magistrate asked him (to mounting laughter in the court) ‘she is desirous of wearing the Bloomer costume?’

If Lynch responded it was not recorded but Carolina did speak in her own defence. She told his Worship that the tailor (described as ‘sickly-looking old man’ by the Standard‘s reporter) was ‘a nasty old brute’ who ‘ill-used and starved her’.

Jeremiah Lynch denied this but the magistrate didn’t convict her of the assault. Instead he granted a separation, perhaps acknowledging that Lynch had some responsibility in the matter. He further required that the tailor should pay his former housekeeper 10s a week. In the end then this was probably a fairly successful outcome for Carolina, if not for Jeremiah. In this struggle for the breaches then, it was victory for the ‘fairer’ sex.

[from The Standard, Monday, September 22, 1851]

A waiter’s attempt to ‘over egg the pudding’ backfires.

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Many (indeed most) of the cases that ended being tried before a jury at the Old Bailey in the 1800s started with a hearing before a Police Court Magistrate. It was the duty and role of the magistrates to determine whether a person brought before them should be dealt with summarily (in other words by them without recourse to a jury) or be sent for trial at the sessions or Old Bailey. The less serious cases were sent to the Middlesex Sessions while the more heinous offences were generally reserved for the Bailey. In effect this meant that homicides, serious fraud or forgery, and violent theft and burglary ended up before the juries of London’s Central Criminal court (CCC).

When a case made it to the Old Bailey the pre-trial hearing in the Police Courts was often refereed to. If a defendant tried to change their tune at this stage the prosecution could and did use this against them. So, many of the cases that I’ve traced from the Police Courts to the CCC look very similar; in some cases we get a greater level of detail at the Bailey (because the reports of the summary hearings were often limited by space) but the basic fact are the same. In this case from 1898 however, the pre-trial hearing and the final jury trial seem to have several differences, and this probably contributed to the acquittal of the defendant.

In August 1898 William Farrington was drinking with his brother in the Hero of Waterloo pub in Waterloo Road, Kennington. It was 10.30 at night and Farrington taking a day off from his job at the Oval cricket ground where he was employed as the head waiter. At some point a man wandered across the room and thrust a pint pot under his nose and invited him to drink with him.

The man, Thomas Checkley, had been sitting with some companions and appeared to know the waiter. Farrington however, made out that the 30 year-old was a stranger to him and turned down his offer. Soon afterwards the Farrington brothers rose and left the pub. Once they got outside they were attacked by Checkley and his friends in the street. A policeman soon arrived and while most of the gang scattered, PC Frederick Habtick (45L) managed to secure Checkley. On the 19 August 1898 both Checkley and Farrington were in court at Southwark, the former charged with highway robbery and assault.

At Southwark Police Court Farrington complained that Checkley had punched him in the face, cutting his lip and then knocked him to the floor. Once he was down the other men had moved in to assault and rob the helpless man. One of the gang help his legs while another rifled his pockets and stole 28s from him.

The magistrate, Mr Fenwick, was told that the men were well known thieves. Detective Sergeant Divall of M Division, explained that Checkley belonged to  ‘Pickett’s gang’, a ‘notorious Waterloo-road’ group of criminals that had recently come out of prison. Checkley himself had recently served 15 months for robbing a ‘tipsy man’ of a watch and chain.

Faced with all of this evidence it was not a difficult decision for Mr Fenwick to commit Checkley to the CCC for trial and, on 13 September 1898 he appeared at the Old Bailey, charged with robbery with violence and theft from the person.

Here though a slightly different version of events emerged which probably helped to sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of the jury. The court heard much the same set of evidence from Farrington but under cross-examination the waiter stumbled a little. He admitted that he had actually shared a drink with Checkley in the pub, if only a small one. The defence argued that the men had in fact once been acquainted with each  other and had a fight some three months previously.

Checkley’s barrister then suggested that Farrington had invented the charge of robbery to ‘make it hot’ for his client; in other words he accused the waiter of inventing an additional and more serious crime as part of his ongoing feud with Checkley. The waiter denied this vehemently but I think the jury were convinced by the argument.

Curiously (given the evidence about street gangs offered by DS Divall at Southwark) the police seemed to have supported the defence (if not deliberately). Both PC Habtick and his station inspector (who was called to attend on the second day of the trial) stated for the record that when they had brought Checkley in they thought the charge was assault, not robbery. The inspector told the court that:

‘I saw the prosecutor when the prisoner was brought to the station—he had been drinking heavily all day, but was sober—he knew what he was doing—he said he had been out for a holiday that day and treated the prisoner to several drinks – the charge was striking the prosecutor in the face with his fist and kicking him on the head—nothing was said about his having been robbed’.

So had Farrington decided to use Checkley’s former criminal record to his advantage? It would seem so. Previous convictions dogged the footsteps of felons in the 1800s (much more than they do today) and were cited as reasons to prosecute and impose more serious sentences on those convicted. Had the jury not been distracted by the inconsistency in Farrington and the other police accounts of the incident I suspect Checkley would have been facing a spell of 5-10 years of penal servitude with all the horror that entailed. In this case, due in no small part to the honesty of the police a known criminal was acquitted of robbery and therefore in effect, acquitted also of assault.

Personally I would not like to have been William Farrington in the weeks and months that followed because I am  fairly sure that ‘Pickett’s gang’ would have been quite prepared to meet out their own form of ‘justice’ to someone that had tried to get one of their number sent away for something he had not done.

[from The Standard, Saturday, August 20, 1898]

A squabble over oxtail soup

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Letitia Horswell ran an eating house (the nineteenth-century equivalent of a café or fast food restaurant) on the Blackfriars Road. At about 9 o’clock on the evening of 16 August 1877 two men (brothers) entered her shop and ordered food.

The men asked for soup and bread, paying 6d each. However when one of the men (a plasterer named Albert Crockford) tasted his oxtail soup he spat it out, declaring it was bad. He told Mrs Horswell that ‘he was a good judge of soup, and demanded his money back’.

Letitia refused his request telling him that it was very good soup and that none of her customers had ever complained about it before. Crockford insisted she reimburse him and threatened to call the police if she continued to refuse to. Mrs Horswell was equally intractable and stood her ground; the soup was good, she ‘sold a great quantity of it’ and he would be getting no refund from her.

At this Crockford rose from his seat, marched over to the front door and shouted for a policeman. Although an officer soon arrived he could not (or would not) do anything. Mrs Horswell had broken no law and was powerless to compel the landlady to reimburse her customer.

Frustrated, Crockwell now seized his bowl of soup and threw it in Letitia’s face. The poor woman was temporarily blinded and her dress was ruined. She was angry, not just at the damage caused to her clothes (valued at 3s) but at ‘the insult she had received’. She took the only course of redress she had available and had the constable arrest Crockford for the assault.

The next day the pair appeared in the Southwark Police court before Mr Benson. He sympathised with Mrs Horswell and told the defendant that it was ‘rather expensive for [her] to have a dress spoiled by every dissatisfied customer’.

In his defence Crockford said he had not intended to throw the soup at Mrs Horswell but out into the street, he was very sorry for the harm and damage done. He had been drinking with his brother he explained, before they decided to get some sustenance.

Mr Benson suggested it might have been better ‘had they commenced with the soup and ended with the beer’, as drinking on an empty stomach was never a good idea. He advised Crockford to compensate Mrs Horswell for the damage and insult or he would be forced to fine him ‘heavily’. After a brief conversation the two parties agreed an undisclosed fee and both went their separate ways. This was an example of the magistrate helping smooth social relations by brokering a deal between the two combatants.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, August 18, 1877]