A tale of two drunks at Westminster

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The London Police Court magistracy spent most of their time disciplining those brought in as drunk and disorderly by the officers of the Metropolitan police. Most were admonished and fined a small sum, but repeat offenders or those that resisted arrest, and used bad language or violence, were fined more heavily or sent to prison.

The press rarely bothered to report these sort of cases because they were hardly newsworthy but occasionally, perhaps to remind their readership of the dangers of alcohol or because a particular case merited it, they included it. In October 1877 two cases from Westminster Police Court were set out side by side and reflect the ‘usual suspects’ when it came to D&D charges.

Martin Sharp, a ‘carpet planner’ from Chelsea, had just left a club in Radnor Street off the King’s Road with some companions. They had made a bit of noise and this had alerted the attention of the local beat constable, PC Walter Cousins (243B). The policeman politely asked the men to go home quietly and, ‘to give them the opportunity to of doing so, walked on’.

However, while the others dispersed as requested Sharp leaned against a doorway and showed no sign of budging. PC Cousins insisted he leave but was ignored. Then, according to the constable’s report, Sharp ran at him full tilt and grabbed him by his whiskers. The attack was so violent that the carpet man managed to pull clumps of the policeman’s facial hair out; traces of this were later found in his pockets.

With difficulty Sharp was taken to the nearest police station and charged with being drunk and disorderly and with assaulting the officer. In court he denied being drunk and said that he had merely been sheltering in the portico from the rain when PC Cousins had ‘manhandled him very roughly’. Naturally, he added, he had resisted.

Since he could produce no witnesses to support his version of events Mr D’Eyncourt chose to take the constable’s word and fined Sharp 20s or ten days imprisonment. Placing his hat on his head Sharp paid his fine and left court.

According to the headline of the press report Sharp had had a ‘lucky escape’ but Eliza Smith was not so fortunate. She was brought in by another policeman, Isaac Sculpher (260B) who accused her of being drunk and violent. Eliza was well-known to the police and courts as a disorderly prostitute.

In this instance Eliza had apparently been quarrelling with two other street walkers and again, like Sharp and his mates, this had brought them to the attention of the police. When PC Sculpher attempted to ‘remove her’ Eliza resisted arrest and spat in his face. She was described in court as ‘the most violent and foul-mouthed prostitute in the neighbourhood of Knightsbridge’  and Sculpher had to enlist the help of three other officers to drag her to the police station.

In the course of this the policeman alleged that his prisoner had ‘hit him in the hand’ and had injured him. In court Eliza vehemently denied this saying that the reason that the man’s hand was marked was because he had struck her in the mouth, ‘loosening her teeth’. Once again the magistrate opted to believe the policeman not the drunk and sent her down for six weeks. Eliza left the court ‘uttering the most horrible threats and blasphemy to the magistrate, and was with difficulty conveyed to the cells’.

I wonder if her anger was justified on this occasion? It does seem a little odd that the only injury that PC Sculpher sustained was to his hand; that’s a odd place to hit someone. In fact in both cases while the police were evidently ‘doing their duty’ in attempting to clear the streets of late night revellers and unwanted prostitutes, they were both a little heavy handed in the process.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, October 20, 1877]

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An unfortunate cabbie picks a fight he can’t win

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On Saturday 7 October 1854 Henry Young, a currier from Westminster, hired a hansom cab to take him to a number of appointments across London. He was picked up in Victoria Street and finally set down at the Royal Military College in Chelsea.

The cab driver, John Blake, then asked him for 7s and 6d for the fare. Young now attempted to bargain with him, offering just 5s instead, which Blake refused. Either not wishing to pay more, or not having the money, the currier offered to leave the driver his name and address and made to walk away.

However, as he moved away from the Royal College Blake followed after him and started to attract a crowd around him. In the end there were upwards of 50 or 60 people harassing the currier, and presumably plenty of verbal abuse was directed at him. When Young hailed another cab Blake told the driver that he wouldn’t get paid, recounting what had heaped to him. Not surprisingly the cabbie refused to take the fare and poor Young was obliged to continue on foot.

When he reached the King’s Arms on Sloane Square the currier ducked inside, followed by the cabbie. Now Blake demanded his address, which Young wrote down on a  piece of paper for him, and then smacked him in the face with his fist and called him ‘an _______ thief’, who ‘wanted to cheat him’.

This was both a physical assault and a public insult and so Young was determined to prosecute his assailant. The case was brought beforeMr Arnold at Westminster Police Court. Despite there being some reasonable grounds for provocation (Young hadn’t paid the cabbie the full fare – or any fare it seems) the magistrate suspended his license for three months and sent him to prison for four weeks.

This is an example of the courts displaying a clear class bias; had Young not been a ‘respectable’ merchant with probably links to the City guilds I suspect he would have been prosecuted for not payment of his fare and Blake merely admonished for resorting to violence. As it was it the cabbie had overstepped the bounds of deference, and had assaulted one of his ‘betters’. We should remember that cab drivers then had a very poor reputation in certain quarters – especially amongst the magistracy and police who saw them as surly at best and disrespectful of ‘polite society’.

How things have changed…

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, October 12, 1854]

p.s The Kings Arms is no longer a pub but the building still exists next to Sloane Square tube station; I think it is a restaurant today.

An act of kindness or a juvenile prank?

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Westminster Bridge and the new Houses of Parliament, 1858

As a mother and her daughter walked along the banks of the Thames in October 1858 two young men hailed them from their cart and asked them if they’d like a ‘ride to the new bridge’.

I imagine the ‘new bridge’ in question was Westminster which was under construction in 1858. By the middle of the 1800s the old Westminster Bridge (which dated from the middle of the previous century) was in a bad state of repair. Thomas Page was commissioned to design a new bridge and the structure, with decorations by Charles Barry (the architect of the new Gothic Houses of Parliament) opened in May 1862.

The young men, named Shearing and Lloyd may have an ulterior motive in picking up the women but it certainly wasn’t robbery. The women were poor, being alter described as of ‘very humble position’. Moreover the younger woman was carrying an infant and so they gratefully accepted the lads’ offer and climbed aboard.

The men were smoking and probably showing off, or ‘larking about’ to use a term contemporaries would have understood. One of them threw his pipe away once he had finished with it and the cart rattled on towards the bridge.

Suddenly to their horror the women realised that there was a fire in the cart and their clothes quickly ignited. It seemed to have spread from a piece of paper, maybe lit from the discarded pipe. Since it was so shocking and had burned right through the women’s clothes to their undergarments they decided to press charges at the Westminster Police Court.

Mr Arnold, the sitting justice, was told that ‘the old lady’s hands were burnt in extinguishing the fire, and she and her daughter, who appeared very creditable people, were much grieved by the loss they had sustained to their clothes, amounting to at least £2’.

So the case turned on whether the fire was an accident, or set deliberately, perhaps as a prank.

Was that the reason the men had offered the women a lift, to lure them into the cart to play an unpleasant joke on them? It is certainly possible but Mr Arnold was unsure. Had he been sure, he said, that the fire was intentional ‘he would have visited it with the severest punishment of the law’. But there was not enough evidence against the pair so he was unable to order compensation, and so the lads were released. Regardless of whether there was any intent or not this judgement did nothing at all to help the poor women who probably could ill afford to lose their clothes to a fire, however accidental.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, October 05, 1858]

A Dartmoor prison warder has an expensive encounter with a ‘lady of the town’.

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Tothill Street, Westminster in the early 1800s (from http://spitalfieldslife.com/2014/04/01/more-long-forgotten-london/)

London was a huge draw for visitors in the nineteenth century, especially after the nation’s railway network was built. London was also the country’s criminal justice hub and many of those sentenced to terms of penal servitude were processed in the capital before being sent to institutions as far away as Devon or the Isle of wight. So Daniel Mahoney, a principal warder (prison officer in today’s terminology) at Dartmoor may have been in the capital for work or pleasure. Regardless of which it was he soon fell victim to one of the oldest tricks in the book.

As he was walking in Tothill Street (not far from where St James’ Park station is today) he was ‘accosted’ (his words) by Mary Brown. Mary was a ‘woman of the town’, a prostitute, but Mahoney (who was wearing his uniform) later made out that he didn’t realise this at first. According to the warder Mary asked him if he was looking for somewhere to stay and when he said he was she ‘told him she would take him to a nice clean place’ and went with him to an address in Orchard Street (near Marble Arch).

Once at the house she asked him if ‘he would treat her with some gin’. This was part of the usual transaction of prostitution and for Mahoney to later pretend otherwise was risible. Gin was fetched and two other women joined the party. The warder relaxed and took off his neck-stock (an uncomfortable early version of the stiff collar) and placed it on the table along with his handkerchief, watch and a purse of money.

Without detailing what happened next it must have been pretty obvious to the readership of The Morning Chronicle that Mahoney was enjoying the company of these ‘ladies’ and not paying attention to the danger he was in. London’s prostitutes had been decoying men into low lodging houses, getting them tipsy and parting them from their valuables for hundreds of years and a prison officer must have offered a particularly tempting prospect.

Before he realised what was going on the women had seized his goods and ran off with them. The next day (after Mahoney had reported the theft to the police) one officer made his way undercover to Orchard Street to make some enquiries. He probably had a fair idea from the warder’s description of who he was looking for even if Mary had not revealed her real name.

As police constable John Toomer (221B) strolled along Orchard Street Mary Brown came out into the street from her lodging at number 57 and spoke to him. Seemingly not realising who he was she started to brag about her successful exploits the night before.

Clutching a glass of brandy, ‘She told him she’d had  “a good pull” on the previous night’, that her victim was  ‘one of the Penitentiary officers; and she had got £3 10s in money, a beautiful watch and gold guard, and other things’.

The policeman asked her what she had done with he things and she admitted passing them on to one of her ‘companions’, Emma and spending some of the cash.  She then invited the policeman to go and have a drink with her. He agreed so he could pump her for more information and they walked on for a while. However, as soon as they got within striking distance of the nearest police station PC Toomer revealed himself and took her into custody.

Charged with robbery before the Westminster magistrate (Mr Paynter) Mary denied everything. In her version of events she had summoned by the warder to a house in Almonry. He had apparently paid a lad a shilling to fetch her, for sex one presumes. He had left his handkerchief there she told the justice. Thereafter they had continued on to Tothill Street where they met up with some other women and the warder bought them all something to drink. The last time she had seen Mahoney he was enjoying the company of one these women in a room in Orchard Street but Mary had left and knew nothing of the robbery.

Whatever the truth was the weight of evidence was fairly damning for Mary; especially her supposed confession to the plain-clothes policeman. But Mahoney did not come out of this very well either. The magistrate said he ‘was sorry to see a person of the prosecutor’s official position capable of such conduct’. He remanded Mary for a week for further enquiries.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, September 24, 1857]

‘It is a pity that people were foolish enough to have their feathers plucked by such people’.

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In September 1878 the police around Chelsea mounted a special exercise to clamp down on a perennial problem. Large groups of men and boys frequently gathered along Pavilion Road to play at cards in the streets. In doing they were causing such an obstruction as to block the road completely for other users.

On the 11th September the police swooped. They picked up five men who were presented the very next day at Westminster Police Court and charged with betting and causing an obstruction. John Gardiner (32) and Hermann Murray (42) were each fined £4 with the option to go to prison for a month if they were unable to pay.

There was a little more detail given about the arrests of John Jones, John Morley and James Magstow (though not their ages). The arresting police officers were detective sergeants Buxton and Bibby from B Division.  Jones was playing a game of cards with others and Morley was shouting the odds.

He called out ‘5 to 2 on the field’ to the onlooking crowd which prompted Magstow to step forward and make a bet. This was a serious game with high stakes and the detectives reported that upwards of 200 men were watching the game unfold. When they were sure they had evidence of betting activity (with Magstow’s bet presumably) they made the arrest, seizing the three men.

One imagine most of the rest of the crowd scarpered as quick as they could before the uniforms could move in and make further arrests. When searched ‘the usual cards and books were found on them’, and on Jones ‘a large sum of money’.

Inspector White explained that the nuisance was ‘intolerable’ and the magistrate (Mr Bridge) was satisfied that a charge of illegal betting had been proven against the men. Jones was the ringleader and Morley was his ‘clerk’. In some respects Magstow was also a victim (unless he was  dummy planted by Jones and Morley to temp others to stake their own bets).

Mr Bridge told the court that it ‘was a pity that people were foolish enough to have their feathers plucked by such people’, but was clear that this sort of behaviour needed to be dealt with firmly. He deemed Jones to be a rogue and a vagabond and initially sent him away for a month at hard labour. He fined Morley £4 and Magstow £2 (warning them that if they could not pay they too would go to gaol).

Then, for reasons that are not made clear he changed his mind and reduced Jones’ sentence to a £5. Perhaps he thought a pecuniary punishment more appropriate. The prisoner was apparently ‘highly delighted at the alteration of his sentence’ and left court  poorer but still a free man.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, September 12, 1878]

One man’s convenience is another’s inconvenience, or, there are two sides to every story

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Mr T Coggan ran a baker’s shop in Chelsea, to the side of which was a ‘dead wall’ (a wall without openings). Perhaps because of where it was (near the corner of Moore Street) or maybe because it wasn’t lit, this wall seems to have become very popular with those gentlemen that found  themselves ‘caught short’ on their way home.

James Tagg was one such person. Tagg, a provisions merchant who lived in Durham Place (close to the Royal Hospital, home of the Pensioners), was out with friends. It was about 9 o’clock and Tagg needed ‘to go for an ordinary purpose’ to use the wall.

However ‘he had scarcely reached it when [Coggan] came and took hold of his arm, [he] said something he didn’t understand, [and then] struck him a violent blow across the nose’.

The merchant was knocked over and out, losing consciousness in a pool of blood. He came to in a ‘doctor’s shop’ with blood continuing to flow from his nose and mouth. It only temporarily stopped, starting up again the following day. He plugged his nostrils and ‘applied ice to his head’ but the doctors declared he was in a ‘dangerous state’.

Tagg had suffered such a blow as to cause him to haemorrhage. A summons was issued to bring Coggan before a magistrate but it was a couple of weeks before Tagg was strong enough to testify against him. When he did, in mid August 1850, two different two versions of the incident were aired, demonstrating the difficulties that magistrates had in  unpicking the truth from contesting accounts.

The baker was represented in Westminster Police Court by a solicitor, Mr Seale. Seale queried whether the provisions merchant was rather the worse for drink at the time and perhaps suggested that he did not fully understand his client’s reasonable protests about people using his property as a toilet. Tagg responded that he was ‘perfectly sober’ and the wall in question was a long way from the baker’s front door. In fact it was just the sort of place he would have expected Mr Seale to use in extremis.

Tagg also produced three witnesses (presumably his companions on the night) who supported his statements. They helped fill in the gaps left by Tagg’s loss of consciousness (and therefore any memory of the attack itself). It sounded brutal:

‘It was proved that the defendant got complainant’s head under his arm and then struck him while in that position at least three times; that the complainant, when dropped by the defendant immediately after, remained insensible for ten minutes’.

The witnesses reported that the ‘pool of blood in the street would have induced a person to believe that a sheep had been slaughtered rather than a human being had been struck’.

Now Seale tried to explain the incident from his client’s point of view, presenting an alternative  narrative for the magistrate. The baker was sorry for the injury caused, it was not deliberate he said.

In fact, on the night in question he had been stood at his ‘own door with his wife, when observing the complainant crossing over to his wall, and having experienced the most intolerable annoyance and damage from persons committing a nuisance there, and sometimes even at his street door, he walked towards him and said “it won’t do; I won’t have it here”.

As he challenged the man who was attempting to pee on his property he claimed that the merchant ‘threw his hat off, and and struck [him] two blows’. Thus in Coggan’s version of events he was acting in self-defence and only after great provocation. It was not the first time that passers-by had used his wall as a public convenience and for Coggan, enough was enough.

Recalled by the magistrate (Mr Burrell) Tagg denied squaring up to the baker or throwing any punches. He stuck to his story that the attack came out of nowhere without warning. Even if he had hit the baker first the magistrate said, Coggan had not used ‘reasonable force’ in retaliating. It was an extremely violent assault which had gravely injured the victim.

However, while Mr Burrell felt it was an appropriate case to be heard by a jury he asked the provisions merchant whether he wished to take the case any further. Tagg said he had ‘no vindictive feeling’ towards the baker despite his injury, and said if Coggan would pay him compensation of £10 and cover the cost of his medical treatment (which was not free in the 1800s of course) he would be satisfied. After some wrangling they agreed and both left court.

So, gentlemen, when you are next making your way home after a night’s entertainment with your mates, be aware that what looks like a convenient place to undertake a ‘necessity’ is probably someone else’s property, and they may not be quite as understanding of your needs as you might hope.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, August 16, 1850]

A sadly typical story of an ‘unfortunate’ girl in Victorian London

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The Victorians condemned prostitution. They saw it as a vice, a personal failure of character, and a step on the slippery slope to damnation. Yet prostitutes also occupied a special place in contemporary debates being both victims deserving of pity and agents of corruption at the same time.

In the nineteenth century the idea that there was a class of society that existed on the proceeds of crime (‘those that will not work’ as Henry Mayhew described them) gained credence. The so-called ‘criminal class’ identified by Mayhew and others conveniently allowed all the ills of the society to be lumped onto a section of the working class, and prostitutes were part of this ‘class’.

In the 1860s in the wake of the Crimean War (when more British soldiers succumbed to disease than to wounds inflicted by the enemy) there was a moral panic about the prevalence of sexually transmitted infection. This led to the passing of the Contagious Diseases Acts which attempted to regulate prostitution and halt the spread of syphilis  and gonorrhoea. Working-class women were dragged off the street and forcibly examined for signs of disease, and then effectively imprisoned in ‘lock’ hospitals until they were ‘clean’. Men were not subjected to the same treatment but were encouraged to seek medical help. It was a classic Victorian ‘double standard’.

But the CDAs also provoked resistance by women and a campaign, led by Josephine Butler, eventually led to their repeal. Butler sought to understand the women that felt it was necessary to sell their bodies to survive and she brought some of them into her own home to ‘rescue’ them. These women were ‘unfortunate’ contemporary rhetoric said, they could be helped, and reclaimed from the awful class they had ‘fallen’ into.

Which brings me to the Police Courts and the magistrates that presided there. The capital’s police court magistracy probably saw more ‘unfortunates’ than anyone else (with the exception of the police). I’m not impugning their reputation, but one of the most common (if not the most common) charge heard in these summary courts was ‘drunk and disorderly’, and when this was applied to a woman it was likely she was a prostitute picked up on the street the night before by a beat constable.

Mary Anne Griffin was just such a girl. She probably attracted the attention of the papers because of her age – she was just 17 – and because she had a ‘genteel appearance’. Mary Anne had been found staggering along the Fulham Road by PC Stevens (266B) in a state of complete intoxication. As she approached the road the policeman saw her trip and fall down in a ‘fit’. He revived her with salt water and she promised to go home.

Half an hour later though he encountered her again and when he cautioned her for not doing as she was told she attacked him. Mary Ann ‘flew at him’, he explained to Mr Arnold at Westminster Police Court:

‘She made use of very disgusting language, and said she would tear his eyes out. She threw herself down on the ground, and  endeavoured to kick him, and in doing so, necessarily much exposed herself’.

PC Stevens got her back to the police station but it took three constables to bring her under control  and get her confined in a cell.

Mr Arnold turned to the girl and asked her what she had to say for herself.

‘I am very sorry’, she answered (with ‘her head down and […] in a very meek voice’) ‘I was so drunk I did not know what I did’.

The court gaoler said he had seen her before and that when she had been in the cells she was a quiet and ‘well conducted girl’. She was not like the ‘hardened girls of her class’ that usually came before him Mr Arnold agreed, and perhaps this was an opportunity for intervention (as a modern social worker or probation officer might term it). Sadly no. Mr Arnold completely misunderstood the reason why Mary Ann was drunk in the first place, which was to inure herself to the awful situation she found herself in. Alcohol acted as a sort of anaesthetic to the degradation she was subjected to on a daily basis.

What Mr Arnold should have done was to help Mary Ann find a path out of poverty and prostitution because, at 17 she was (as he noted) very far from being the  hardened criminal she would most likely become. If, that is, she lived that long. Many working girls died young, killed by disease, the brutality of men, or at their own hands.

What Mr Arnold did do of course, was to send her to the house of correction for 14 days; not for being a prostitute (that was not a crime) but for being drunk and resisting the policeman’s well-meant instruction to go home quietly. She probably didn’t have a ‘home’ as such, merely a bed in cheap lodgings which she may well not have had the money to pay for. That’s why she stayed out and ignored him in the first place.

[from The Standard , Monday, August 13, 1860]