‘The very image of the Devil himself, with horns and eyes of flame’; Spring Heeled Jack in Kentish Town


At some point in the late 1830s a new monster appeared in the public consciousness. A humanoid figure with glowing eyes, that breathed fire and leap over walls attacked and frightened women across the capital. The fearsome creature – dubbed ‘Spring Heeled Jack’ – disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived, leaving the police baffled and the public in terror.

In February 1838 Lucy Scales and her sister were terrified by ‘Jack’ as they walked home in Limehouse. The cloaked monster shot ‘a quantity of blue flame’ into a face, temporarily blinding her and bringing on what sound like epileptic fits for several hours.

In Kentish Town in March 1838 PC Markham (S24) was walking his beat one Saturday evening when he screams and shouts ahead of him. Suddenly he saw ‘women and children running in all directions, screaming out “Here’s Spring-heel’d Jack’.

The constable drew his ‘staff’ (his truncheon) gathered his wits and courage and set off to confront the demon. Several women who had run to the policeman for safety pointed at a man in the street as the ‘terror of London’ in person.

‘Perceiving that a sort of blue froth was at his mouth, and his features were not altogether natural, [PC Markham] went up to him, and seizing him by the collar, dragged him to a butcher’s shop, by the light of which he discovered that he wore a mask, embellished at the mouth with blue glazed paper’.

The brave constable grabbed his man by the collar and frog-marched him off to the nearest police station. The next morning the monster, who went by the name of Daniel Granville, was set in the dock at Marylebone Police Court. He cut a strange and sorry figure: ‘a simple-looking fellow, with a most bewitching obliquity of vision’ as the paper described him. Granville apologised for frightening the public and said it was never his intention. The magistrate dismissed him with a warning, presumably as a sad rather than bad individual who was trading on the publicity that the real ‘devil’ had generated.

Sightings of Spring Heeled Jack multiplied across the 1830s and into the 1840s, and the phenomenon spread beyond the capital. Jack was spotted in Brighton later in 1838 and by the 1840s had traveled to East Anglia and Northampton Jack became a feature of contemporary popular culture – headlining in several penny dreadfuls and a number of plays and melodramas. ‘Jack’ eventually passed into myth (if he even existed at all) and by the 1950s was appearing in popular comics as a sort of dark vigilante, a caped anti-hero rather similar to Gotham’s Batman.

No one has ever been formally identified at the culprit and the reality may be that there were several ‘Jacks’. For me it is an example of how a growing urban populace retained some of the folk beliefs and ‘monsters’ from their rural past and merged them with the threats posed by the modern city environment. ‘Spring Heel’d Jack’ was embodiment then of the fears of the City at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign just as ‘Jack the Ripper’ was to become symbolic of urban degradation towards its end.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 20, 1838]


Young love triumphs as the old police give way to Peel’s bluebottles


Today’s post takes us further back into the nineteenth century than this blog usually ventures. We step out of the Victorian period and into the last months of the reign of George IV. The newspapers had been reporting the ‘doings’ of the Metropolitan Police Courts for  several years but their coverage was still quite patchy, and there was no systematic attempt to report from all of the capital’s magistrate courts. This report, from Bow Street in March 1830 – the capital’s premier summary court – is of interest because it shows the public and private role of the police courts in the early 1800s. It also mentions the New Police, created by Robert Peel in 1829, who had just started their their dual mission to protect the ‘person and property’ of Londoners and ‘preserve the public tranquility’*.

In the months following the creation of the Met existing parochial policing arrangements seemingly continued in some manner. The Watch were largely disbanded and replaced by the ‘boys in the blue’ but parish constables continued in some places in London as they did outside the capital. These men were possibly amateurs serving the communities in rotation or entrepreneurial thief-takers acting like modern private investigators. One of these of was a man named Wright (we don’t have his first name) who was described as ‘a constable of Chiswick’ by the Morning Post in March 1830.

Wright was summoned to Bow Street to answer a charge of assault. He had allegedly attacked two brothers – George and Charles Ideyman – in an attempt to ‘rescue’ a young woman. When the case came before the magistrate (Mr Minshull) it quickly became clear that this was not a ‘public’ or criminal matter (of theft or violence) but instead a ‘private’ (or civil) one.

Charles Ideyman was in love with a 16 year-old heiress who lived in Chiswick. The girl is named only as Miss Smith and her mother was in court to hear the case and give evidence. Miss Smith was due to inherit £7,000 when she reached the age of maturity at 21 and her parents had very clear ideas about who would be a suitable match for their daughter. They made it abundantly clear to her that Charles Ideyman was not marriage material.

The Smiths did everything they could ‘to prevent the match; but on Sunday evening last [the paper reported] Miss Smith ‘contrived to escape from home, and on the following morning she was married at Chiswick church to [Charles] Ideyman’.

Having lost their daughter (and her marriage value) the Smith employed constable Wright to get her back. He went to the Ideyman family home and demanded access. When he was refused entry he turned violent , punched George Ideyman and:

‘broke down every door in the house with a pair of tongs, and demolished several windows’. When Charles confronted him he too was attacked and so scared was his younger sister that she remained in a ‘precarious state’ for several days afterwards.

Under questioning Wright said he was only doing what he thought was appropriate to fulfil the task he had been sent. He believed he was ‘authorised in adopting the best means he could in effecting his object’.

When the magistrate suggested that it must have been a ‘love match’ Mrs Smith declared that while it was it was ‘in decided opposition to her daughter’s best friends’. She and her husband did not accept the marriage and would never be reconciled to their daughter or her new husband. The Ideyman’s solicitor pleaded for calm and reconciliation. He urged Charles to be good husband to his young wife and added: ‘do not permit any one to widen the breach which you have already been the making of in the family’.

Wright was bailed to appear at the next Sessions of the Peace to answer for the assault. Bail was set at 40s for himself and two sureties of 20each. Hopefully his employers (the Smiths) stood these. We might hope also that Charles and his bride lived happily ever after and perhaps were even reconciled to her parents. Mr Minshull clearly didn’t think it was any business of his to interfere however.

The footnote to this report of a private quarrel was the appearance in the dock of a ‘miserable-looking man’ named Daniel Hobbs. Hobbs, without even ‘a shoe to his foot’ was brought before Mr Minshull having been arrested the evening before by a constable of the New Police for being drunk. Hobbs had been ‘lying in one of the kennels in the neighbourhood of Long-acre’ [Covent Garden]. He was taken to a watch house (the predecessors of police stations) and searched.

Amazingly he had loads of money on him, including a £50 note and several gold sovereigns. In court Hobbs was recognised as someone who was often found drunk and sleeping rough, sometimes with as much as £400 in his possession. Who was this person and what was his story? Sadly (and typically) the paper doesn’t tell us so you’ll have to make up your own. What these two reports do show is that in 1830 the ‘old’ police and the New were operating at the same time (if not, it seems, side-by-side) as Londoners adjusted to the coming of the professionals and the courts worked out who now had the authority to act as law men and when.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, March 13, 1830]

*to quote Charles Reith, A New Study of Police History, (1956)

The Beadle and the ‘burdensome’ bride


In 1834 parliament passed the infamous Poor Law Amendment Act. Historians have debated the causes and impact of this piece of legislation for decades but few would argue that it was either popular or beneficial to the poor. It established the principle that anyone seeking relief from poverty should enter the workhouse, thereby deterring all but the most desperate from applying.

Its intention was therefore partly to deter idleness and encourage thrift but also to protect the pockets of the middle class ratepayers who paid for poor relief.

The act is a long document; running to 110 clauses it would bear comparison with a modern EU directive for its complexity and attention to detail. Amongst its stipulations is this one, number 57 which reads:

And be it further enacted, That every Man who from and after the passing of this Act shall marry a Woman having a Child or Children at the Time of such Marriage, whether such Child or Children be legitimate or illegitimate, shall be liable to maintain such Child or Children as a Part of his Family, and shall be chargeable with all Relief, or the Cost Price thereof, granted to or on account of such Child or Children until such Child or Children shall respectively attain the Age of Sixteen, or until the Death of the Mother of such Child or Children ; and such Child or Children shall, for the Purposes of this Act, be deemed a Part of such Husband’s Family accordingly.

This might seem fairly uncontroversial; a man was to take on the responsibilities of looking after the children of the woman he’d married if she’d had them before he married her.

What is interesting is that is seems that poor law unions were practising a form of cost-cutting in the years before and after the new Poor Law that involved persuading local men to marry mothers whose children had fallen chargeable to the parish. Moreover, this ‘persuasion’ involved a cash incentive it seems, as this case from the Guildhall Police Court in the City shows.

An unnamed ‘young man’ came to the court to ask Sir Chapman Marshall’s advice. He explained to the alderman magistrate that he had been asked by the beadle of St Bartholomew the Great to marry a young woman who had become ‘burdensome’ to the parish.

He alleged that the parish official had promised him £5 if he married the girl and said that as soon as he produced the certificate proving the union he would get his money, a sort of parochial dowry so to speak. The beadle visited the newlyweds and pressed a paper bill into the bride’s hand, insisting that she didn’t look at it until he had left. When the note was examined the couple were disappointed to discover that it was for £2 10s, just half the amount that had been promised.

As a result the unhappy groom had approached the magistracy seeking a summons to bring the beadle to book for his dishonesty and breach of contract. The paper made a point of saying that the ‘amendments of the poor laws have not removed the incitements to bring about pauper marriages’, and clearly disapproved of the practice.

Sir Chapman presumed that the young man was the father of the child anyway, but this was refused. No, the infant’s father was dead he was told, and it ‘belonged’ (all paupers belonged in the 1800s) not to St Bart’s but to Shoreditch, which lay outside of the City. The man was obliged, as the terms of the act above set out, to support the child regardless of whether he had fathered it, and he wanted the rest of his money.

There was nothing the magistrate could do for him however, as this didn’t fall under his jurisdiction as a magistrate. He recommend instead that the man took his case before the Court of Requests, which dealt with disputes over small debts. The beadle was liable, the magistrate declared, as he’d entered into a contract and hadn’t fulfilled it. The husband thanked him and said he would certainly take his advice.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, March 02, 1836]

‘The Lord is not so unjust as to hold a man responsible for a rash act when he is mad’: a man’s grief drives him to suicide.


Finsbury Square, c.1828

I am breaking, ever so slightly, with the normal pattern of these blog posts today. This story concerns the police courts but is not a report from one of them. Instead it came under the headings for London’s coroners courts, which detailed the inquests into those that died in suspicious circumstances.

On the 22 January 1838 an inquest jury sat at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital to listen to the evidence in case of a retired police court officer who had died at the age of 60. Thomas Van had worked at the Worship Street Police court ‘for nearly 25 years’ and was ‘an active officer’.

Each of the London police courts were served by half a dozen officers, modelled on the system set up by the Fieldings at Bow Street in the mid 1700s. Officers ran messages, brought up prisoners from the cells, kept order in the court and may well have played a role as active investigators in some instances. This was how the Bow Street officers (dubbed ‘Runners’ of course) operated.

Van’s wife had died in last year and he missed her very much. He lived with his son in rented rooms at 13 Queen Street, Finsbury Square and his landlord, Benjamin Watkins, gave evidence to the inquest. At about 9 o’clock a week earlier Watkins had heard a loud thud from Van’s room above and rushed upstairs to see what had happened. There he found the man stretched out on the floor with blood flowing from a gash in his throat.

There was ‘a large table knife on the floor besides him’ and while Van was not quite dead, he could not speak. Watkins called a carriage and took his lodger to St Bart’s where he died soon afterwards.

It was a tragic tale. Van had only recently been given a pension by the Worship Street office in recognition of his service, and because his grief made it impossible for him to carry on. He seems to have fallen into a deep despair and was quite unable to cope without his wife. His son testified to his father’s grief and told the coroner that Thomas Van ‘had been lately deranged’.

A suicide note was produced which read:

‘The Lord is not so unjust as to hold a man responsible for a rash act when he is mad’.

The inquest jury duly brought in a verdict of ‘temporary mental derangement’. Van probably had little to leave his son but suicides supposedly had their estates forfeited. They were also supposed to be buried at night, and not in consecrated ground. Perhaps the jury’s verdict allowed the family some license here.

Let’s hope so anyway.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, January 23, 1838]

Ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with? (especially a queen)


Queen Victoria in the Royal Box of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (after the oil painting by E. T. Parris, 1837)

At Christmas 1837 the young Queen Victoria had been on the throne for just six months. She was not to marry until 1840 and so remained an object of desire, and for one person at least, a fantasy. James Ash was certainly smitten by her. He had visited Windsor and caught a glimpse of the eighteen year-old monarch and had fallen her over heels in love with her. It would do him no go at all.

Sadly for James he was a pretty unsuitable candidate. He was ‘about forty years of age, rather ill-favoured and something above the mechanic class’, as the reporter at Marlborough Street Police court described. He had been brought into court at the request of the parish authroories of St Giles who wanted to send Ash to a lunatic asylum.

Mr Dyer, presiding as magistrate on the 22 December 1837, was unclear why he was being asked to adjudicate in this case. It would normally, he said, be a decision for ‘a medical man’ whether someone was sent to an asylum or not.

victoria-jenna-louise-colemanA surgeon gave evidence to say that Ash was, by all accounts quite normal and rational with the notable exception that he had declared not only that he was love with the queen but insisted that his affections were returned in full.

Mr Dyer questioned Ash about his lifestyle. Did he drink? Not at all, Ash insisted. Was he married or otherwise involved with any other woman? Ash declared that he:

‘was deeply in love with her Majesty , and he had the happiness of knowing that the passion was mutual’.

I suspect at this point the magistrate was convinced of the man’s delusional state but he asked him to continue. Had he expressed his affection by letter perhaps? He hadn’t but as  soon as the queen and her ministers had completed the ‘arduous task of setting the Pension and Civil Lists he should apply to them for suitable provision, in order that he might be enabled to throw himself at the feet of her Majesty’.

Mr Dyer had no intention of letting James Ash anywhere near the young queen and was entirely satisfied that he was ‘mad’. He signed  a warrant  to have Ash confined in the Hanwell lunatic asylum* where he might tell his story to all the other residents until the authorities there decided it was safe or expedient to let him go.

I suspect that might have been some time in the future. Meanwhile Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and the couple had nine children who married across the European continent earning the queen the epithet of ‘grandmother of Europe’.  Victoria’s reign was peppered with attempts on her life, the earliest in 1840 when Edward Oxford shot at her carriage as it made its way on Constitution Hill. There were a further six assassination attempts, none of which succeeded. So perhaps Mr Dyer and the St Giles authorities were right to err on the side of caution and lock poor James away.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, December 23, 1837]

*For more about the asylum at Hanwell see Mike Paterson’s post for the London Historians blog.

A ‘poor man’ and ‘a most depraved and incorrigible beggar’: Contrasting attitudes at Mansion House as winter sets in


We’ve just had a weekend of severe weather in which snow caught much of southern England by surprise. Many parts of London were covered in a white coating yesterday, all very attractive and fun for kids but a nightmare for commuters come Monday morning. My university is effectively closed as teaching is suspended and all the trains into central London are running slow or late or both. Mind you, I’m not sure how much difference that is to a normal day!

So winter is well and truly upon us and this is the season which hits the homeless and the poor the hardest. For those that have to decide between food and heating, or those sleeping rough in the capital, December through to the spring is particularly challenging.

That is why Shelter and the  other homeless charities campaign so hard to help people at this time of the year. We will all see the adverts on the tube or get a leaflet through the door asking for a one-off donation or a regular contribution. Each year the BBC supports the St Mungo’s charity, which does such good work with the homeless.

The early Victorians were certainly aware of the problem of poverty and homelessness. They had charities and dedicated people who worked, often through the church, to support those in need. What they didn’t have, as we know, is a system of poor relief that allowed people to be supported within their own homes. There was no housing benefit or  income support. If you needed ‘relief’ you went to the workhouse, and this was increasingly true after 1834 and the passing into law of the Poor Law Amendment Act.

Attitudes towards poverty had hardened in the 1830s and poverty, which had always been viewed in part as a personal failing, was now frequently associated with moral bankruptcy. At Mansion House Police court two cases came up in early December which highlight contrasting contemporary attitudes towards poverty and homelessness.

Peter Jordan was described as an ‘imbecile’. Today we would understand this as someone with learning difficulties and now, as then, we would have some sympathy with him. The sitting magistrate at Mansion House that morning was Alderman Pirie, who was deputising for the Lord Mayor. He certainly looked on Jordan’s case with compassion but he was fairly limited in what he could do.

Jordan had been brought it by Duncan Campbell, a parish officer for the City. He had found the man ‘soliciting for charity’. In other words he was begging and that was against the wide-ranging vagrancy laws. However, Campbell’s aim wasn’t to have him punished for begging but to help him. He wanted to ‘prevent him perishing in the streets’.

Had he applied for relief, the alderman wanted to know. This was complicated; there was no help to had at Cannon Street he was told, and the London workhouse had recently closed and a new one was not yet built. The City had also closed a house of refuge so that was no option either.

All that was left to the justice was to send Jordan to prison for begging. And so the ‘poor man, […] who used formerly to work in the coal pits, was removed to Bridewell, under particular directions’ (presumably not to be whipped or set to hard labour, but instead to be looked after).

The next defendant in the dock received far less sympathy. Maria Butcher and her two children were also presented for begging in the streets. A policeman testified that he had found the two children at five in the evening on the Saturday.

He said ‘he saw the poor children, half naked and shivering on the steps leading to London Bridge. He took them to the Station-house and found in their pockets eighteen-pence halfpenny.  Their mother, who was up to all the tricks of vagrancy, the officer said, was in the justice-room’.

Maria denied any knowledge of what her children got up to when she wasn’t around but no one believed her. She took in washing and had, she said, very ‘little to give them’. The alderman said he was sure she was happy to take any money they ‘earned’ by begging nevertheless.

‘I’d be very glad to get any’ she replied, ‘and I assure you I’d make good use of it’.

The magistrate was horrified:

‘What a wretch you must be to send out these poor infants in such dreadful weather’.

His feelings were echoed by a street keeper who said he knew Maria as a ‘most depraved and incorrigible beggar’ who exploited her children to avoid doing any work herself. She often sent then out without hardly any clothes or shoes, in all weathers, to beg for her. Another witness, a Poor Law Union official said the children were well known beggars and the police were obliged to bring them in under the law.

In the end although she begged for clemency Mr Pirie sent her and the children to Bridewell but – for her at least – there was no similar instructions for them to go easy on her. The children could expect some level of care but she would bread and water and the drudgery of hard labour, picking oakum most likely.

So that winter all four of the people brought before the Mansion House court ended up in prison. Their ‘crime’? Poverty. Today there will still be hundreds of men, women and young people sleeping rough and begging on London’s streets. So before we congratulate ourselves too much on creating a fairer and more civilised society than our early Victorian ancestors perhaps we should take a moment to reflect on that uncomfortable fact.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, December 11, 1838]

A respectable ‘kleptomaniac’ is caught out at the Soho Bazaar


The Soho Bazaar, c.1815

Mary Allen was almost certainly a pseudonym. The woman using this device was quite respectable and claimed to be protecting her ‘respectable friends’ from the disgrace of being associated with her.

‘Mary’ (as I am going to continue to call her) was arrested in November 1835 at the Soho Bazaar and charged with theft. She was brought before the magistrate at Marlborough Street by a police constable from St Anne’s station house having been given into custody by Ann Castle. who operated a stall at the bazaar.

Mrs Castle set out the facts of the case before Mr Chambers.

‘At about four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, as she was attending some Ladies who were at her stand, the prisoner  passed by; and, no doubt considering that her attention was occupied with the other Ladies, she laid hold of a muslin collar, thrust it into her muff, and walked hastily away to another part of the bazaar’.

It was a classic shoplifting ploy; to pinch an item quickly and calmly and hide it in a pocket, coat or, in this case, the large muff that women used to keep their hands warm in the colder months of the year.

However, ‘Mary’ had been seen and Ann Castle confronted her. At this the thief pleaded with her to let her go, thrusting the collar back to her. Ann was not in the mood for leniency and summoned a nearby police constable, who took her back the station.

Once there ‘Mary’ refused to give her name or address. She told the police she would rather ‘suffer the greatest punishments the law could inflict rather than say who she was’.

This was an example of what was to become a much more common occurrence in the nineteenth century; middle-class women caught for shoplifting presented the police and courts with a dilemma. All the demands of class deference and chivalry suggested that these female thieves should be treated differently from the ‘usual suspects’ who were routinely arrested, prosecuted and gaoled. Indeed, in the later 1800s the courts began to treat these ‘criminals’ as mad rather than bad, and society applied the term ‘kleptomania’  to them suggesting that they, as members of the ‘weaker’ sex, were unable to help themselves.

‘Mary’ however, was clearing helping herself to the goods on display at the Soho Bazaar. When she was searched at the station along with the collar the police found, ‘a package of twenty-two silk laces, a gilt thimble, a Prayer Book, with silver clasps, a jet bracelet, a jet necklace, a caddy-spoon, and some fancy toilet articles’ in her muff.

The bazaar itself was an unusual venture. Opened in 1815 it offered ‘respectable’ women an opportunity to display and sell items they had made themselves. So it was an early example of the craft markets we are familiar with today. So ‘Mary’ was not only stealing, she was stealing from her own class.

There were several other stallholders in court and one identified the laces as her own. Since the rest of the items remained unclaimed however, Mr Chambers said it would be necessary for the police to make other enquiries. The police inspector said he would do so and, additionally, said the police were also investigating thefts from the Pantheon Bazaar committed by a woman who fitted ‘Mary’s description. The Pantheon bazaar had existed much earlier, being built in the 1770s, although it was destroyed by fire in 1792. Samuel Smirke rebuilt it in 1833-34 so it must have just opened in time for ‘Mary’ to thieve from it.

The magistrate asked ‘Mary’ why she had committed the crime but she was unable to explain. ‘She could not tell what had induced her to disgrace herself in such a manner, except that she must have been mad at the time’, reported the press. In the end she was released but asked to reappear if others came forward to prosecute her.

This is a good example of how class-ridden the criminal justice could be in the 1800s. This was a fairly open and shut case of theft. We might sympathise with ‘Mary’ as someone possible suffering with some form of mental illness but that wasn’t why the court was gentle with her. It was entirely down to the fact that she was a member of the respectable middle class. If she had been a poor working-class woman the magistrate would have committed her for jury trial (where she would faced the possibility of being imprisoned or even transported for the crime) or, had he chosen to be lenient, sent her to the house of correction for a month or more.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, November 13, 1835]