‘We will have Bread!’ is the cry from Wandsworth

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Richard Davey, John Young and William Cornish had entered the Wandsworth Union workhouse in February in search of food and shelter. Unfortunately for them this didn’t amount to much and came at a price. Having been given a very basic subsistence breakfast (as was normal for those visiting the casual ward) they were expected to pay for their keep by undertaking some menial work.

The three refused and considered the meal (of ‘six ounces of bread and cheese’) insufficient and were discharged from the workhouse along with nine other men, all of who seemingly ungrateful for the ‘help’ they’d received.

The trio made their way along Wandsworth High Street and entered a baker’s run by James Plummridge. Davey asked for some bread as he and his friends were starving. The assistant, James’ wife Susannah, refused; she must have realised they were paupers and therefore unlikely to have the funds to buy her stock. Moreover, she and her husband ran a business, not a charity.

Davey was undeterred however, and grabbed a half-quarter loaf and ripped into three pieces, handing two to Cornish and Young. They quickly left the shop with Mr Plummridge in hot pursuit.

He followed them until he saw a police constable and then had them arrested and taken to the nearest station house. There they were locked up and brought before Mr Paynter at Wandsworth Police Court in the morning.

They were poor, dishevelled and out of work. Davey had pinched a loaf of bread because they were hungry. Nevertheless they had not only committed a theft they had wilfully abused the rules  the New Poor Law (passed 12 years previously). The magistrate could have dealt with this summarily and locked them up for a week or so. Instead he chose to

make an example of them and sent them for trial at the Old Bailey. There, on the 23 February, Davey was convicted and others found not guilty. The judge handed Davey a sentence of one month’s imprisonment. He and his fellows had already served 10 days inside and so Davey may have spent nearly six weeks locked up for the offence of stealing a loaf of bread.

Life could be tough in the 1840s.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, February 13, 1846]

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A teenage thief with an uncertain future

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Occasionally a dip into the Police Courts reveals an individual that we can trace using some of the existing historical databases for the history of crime. When that coincides with a topic I have been teaching in the same week it is all the more interesting.

My second year students at the University of Northampton have been studying historical attitudes towards juvenile crime and seeing how these developed throughout the period from the mid 1700s to the passing of the Children’s Act in 1908. We’ve looked at the beginnings of attempts at intervention (such as the Marine Society) and at the coming of Reformatories and Industrial schools. These aimed (as the name suggests) at the rehabilitation and education of young people (even if they often failed to live up to Mary Carpenter’s vision). However, parallel institutions  (such as the hulks and then Parkhurst Prison) continued to offer a  more punitive form of penal policy.

In February 1842 (a few years before legislation was passed that created Reformatories or gave magistrates formal powers to deal with most juvenile crime) Sarah Watson appeared before Mr Greenwood at Clerkenwell Police Court. Sarah was 14 years old and so, from the 1850s onwards, would have been a suitable example for summary trial and punishment.

She was accused by a Bloomsbury grocer of stealing  the not inconsiderable sum of £8 in cash. Mr John Wilkinson (of 18 Broad Street) testified that the young girl had entered his shop and asked for ‘an ounce of cocoa and some sugar’. As his assistant had turned to fulfil her order Sarah somehow managed to steal a packet on the counter that contained a number of coins from that day’s taking.

The shop worker realised  immediately that the packet was missing and, since she was the only customer in the shop at the time, he grabbed the child and found the property on her.

She was caught red handed and there was seemingly little or no allowance for the fact she was so young. The age of criminal responsibility in the nineteenth century was just 7. Up until 14 there was an understanding in law that the court should determine that the offender was able to understand that what they were accused of doing was wrong (the principal of doli incapax) but there seems to have been little doubt in Sarah’s case. Now of course a child of 14 would not face a magistrate’s hearing or a full blown jury trial but this was 1842 not 2018. Sarah offered no defence and the magistrate committed her for trial and locked her up in the meantime.

Just over two weeks later Sarah was formally tried at the Old Bailey. The court was told that the packet she lifted from the counter contained ‘3 sovereigns, 8 half-sovereigns, 4 half-crowns, 18 shillings, 9 sixpences, and 5 groats’. The evidence differed slightly from that offered at Clerkenwell as Mr Wilkinson’s shopman said that there were actually two other female customers in the shop at the time. He also stated that Sarah had tucked the packet under her dress concealed in her waist band, which made it seem clear to the listening jurors that her actions were intentional.

It seems a plausible story and it convinced the jury. Rather than an innocent child Sarah came across as a cunning and practised thief, who fitted the stereotype of the Victorian juvenile delinquent as characterised by the Artful Dodger and his chums in Oliver Twist. The policeman that processed her told the court that Sarah had been in and out of the workhouse, had been previously prosecuted for begging and sometimes maintained herself by selling matches. As a street urchin, with no family to speak off and a pattern of criminal behaviour, things didn’t look good for Sarah.

Nevertheless she was only 14 and the judge respited sentence on her while he decided what punishment was appropriate. At this this point she might have disappeared from the available historical record, at least the easily available one. But the the new Digital Panopticon website allows us to pick up her story if only in a limited way.

Sarah’s immediate fate is far from clear; she may have been imprisoned or even transported (although I think the latter is unlikely from the sources we have). We do know however that at some point in her life she left London and moved north, to Cumbria. Maybe this was escape of sorts, leaving the capital to find a better life. Maybe at some point she married; I doubt she was sent north by the penal system.

Whatever the reason Sarah appears for the last time in any official records in 1886 in Whitehaven, where she is listed in the death register. She was 58 years old. What happened in those intervening 44 years? Did her brush with the Old Bailey court serve as a deterrent to future offending? Like so many of the characters that pass through the police courts of Victorian London sarah Watson remains an enigma, only briefly surfacing to leave her mark on the historical record.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, February 10, 1842]

A young mother is driven by ‘wretchedness and starvation’ to throw her boy into the canal

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The entrance to the Regent’s Canal at Limehouse in 1823

A few days ago I wrote up the case of mechanic that rescued a woman from drowning herself in the Regent’s canal. That case was from 1866 but lest we suppose that it was an isolated incident today I’ve found another attempted suicide in the canal, and this one ended being prosecuted at the Old Bailey in 1849.

In February 1849 a woman was placed in the dock at the Worship Street Police court before Mr Hammill, the sitting magistrate. Her name was Anne Mallandine and she was charged with attempting to murder her own by throwing him to the Regent’s canal. The chief witness was John Stoddart, a clerk employed by a Haggerstone builder, who was looking out over the canal from his boss’ counting house at four o’clock in the afternoon of the 6 February.

He saw Anne walking along canal tow path pulling a small boy along by the hand. The child was resisting and saying ‘don’t mother, don’t!’. Anne ignored him and propelled him towards the edge of the path clearly determined to throw him into the water. Suddenly, to Stoddart’s horror,  she picked him up and threw him in.

As the boy struggled and moved away from the bank Anne started to undress. She had taken off her bonnet and shawl before the clerk could reach her but he was able to stop her jumping in after her boy. Another man arrived on the scene and secured the woman while Stoddart bravely plunged into the water to rescue the little lad.

The clerk and the other man managed to get both parties to a nearby pub where they were cleaned up and handed over to the police. The boy was taken from his mother and placed in the workhouse while Anne was locked up for the magistrate to decide  what to do with her in the morning.

After Stoddart gave his testimony a young man named John Wilding said he had seen the incident and noticed Anne earlier. He said she had been trying to ‘lure the boy to the bank by showing him some ducks that were swimming in the water’ but he had got wind of her real purpose and tried to get away.

PC Heath (N48) told Mr Hammill that on arrest Anne had expressed regret that the witnesses had arrived as quickly as they had since ‘then she would have been spared the trouble of going before a magistrate or anybody else’.

Mr Hammil wanted to know what had brought her to do such a dreadful thing. Anne told him that she and her son were starving and had not eaten anything for at least a day. She was probably also trying to avoid the shame of going to the parish for help and clearly dreaded the workhouse more than she feared death.

Anne was committed to take her trial at the Old Bailey and imprisoned in Newgate gaol in the meantime. On the 5 March she was formally tried for attempting to kill  her little boy Mason. Anne (or Hannah as she was named in the Old Bailey Proceedings) was described as 28 years old and unmarried; she cried throughout the trial as the witnesses recounted the events of that afternoon. The court was told that the water was about five feet deep at the part of the canal and that probably helped save Mason’s life.

Her defence counsel accepted that she had done as was alleged but had only acted out of desperation. He stopped short of declaring her insane but  argued that she had been brought to do what she did from ‘wretchedness and starvation’ and suggested that at the time she was not in a state of mind that allowed her to act rationally. This probably did just enough to convince the jury , who found her not guilty.

[from The Morning Chronicle , Thursday, February 8, 1849; The Morning Post , Tuesday, March 06, 1849]

Attempted fratricide, or self defence in Somers Town?

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PC 45S was making his way down Brewer Street in central London at six in the morning when he heard a cry of ‘murder’ from inside one of the houses. When he forced his way into the house he found an ‘old man weltering in his blood from a terrible gash down his face’.

Pointing to a younger man, the victim said faintly, ‘he has stabbed me’. The policeman quickly found the weapon used, a table knife, concealed in a drawer and arrested the young man and took him back to the police station.

The old man was Charles Jones and it was his son, John, who was eventually charged with attacking him. Charles was taken to University College Hospital where he was held for a few days on account of his injuries. He was still in hospital when his son appeared before the sitting magistrate at Marylebone. The magistrate warned John that if his father died then he would be facing a trial for his life and asked him if he had anything to say for himself.

John said that he had been at home eating some bread and cheese when his father came home much the worse for drink. The pair quarreled and Charles had attacked him with a poker. In self defence he grabbed the knife and held it up, he ‘supposed that he accidentally cut’ his father in the process.

This case doesn’t seem to have made it to a higher court. Jones Jones was remanded in custody but there’s no record of him at the Old Bailey or of his father as a victim. Hopefully the old man survived the assault and, when he’d recovered, made his peace with his son.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, January 18, 1841]

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

‘I think you are a fool, nothing more’; playground insults in Hyde Park

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The reports of the Victorian police courts reveal much about society in the 1800s. Some of this is very familiar to us and we can imagine ourselves in their world. In other instances it seems a world apart, almost ‘another country’ entirely.

Take this case, from the Marlborough Street Police Court in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. This suggests a society that is riven with deep concerns regarding status and reputation. The two men involved are prepared to use the law to challenge assaults not on their person, but on their public image. Personal slights and insult is treated so seriously that it requires redress before a magistrate. I’m not sure that would be the case today.

Mr Dunn and Mr Smyth were well-to-do members of London’s middle class. Richard Dunn was a barrister while Smyth was a surgeon. Both were Irish and (in Victorian popular culture at least) the Irish had a reputation for being hot headed.

The pair were not formally acquainted with each other but met often, as they walked through Hyde Park. For some unknown (or undeclared) reason they didn’t like each other and a sort of feud had been established.

On January 9 January 1846 Dunn was strolling across the park when he saw the surgeon walking towards him. As the men crossed each other’s path Smyth blew a raspberry or made some similar noise with his mouth.

It was a pathetic thing for a grown man of quite high social status to do to another. In fact it was the sort of behaviour we’d associate with the school playground. But the barrister was determined that this insult should not pass unchallenged. Instead of ignoring it he went to his local police court, at Marlborough Street, and obtained a summons against Mr Smyth to bring him in to answer a charge.

On the 13 January the pair were up before Mr Maltby and Smyth was accused of behaviour that was intended to cause a breach of the peace. Dunn’s allegation was then, that by continually making rude noises or gestures towards him the medical man was actually attempting to make his lose his temper and provoke a fight between them.

Smyth didn’t deny making the rude noise but counter-claimed that Dunn had started it by ‘thrusting his tongue out at him as he passed’. ‘I had no wish to insult the complainant’, Smyth told the magistrate; ‘I only meant to say to him, by what I did, I think you are a fool, nothing more’.

‘Such conduct does appear likely to cause a breach of the peace’, the magistrate declared and fined Smyth 40s. This enraged the surgeon who refused to pay. He then threatened to sue Mr Maltby ‘for daring to fine him’ but he calmed down  and paid up when the justice had him locked up in the cells for a while. We might imagine the frustration of the sitting justice, to have his time wasted by such a pair of self-important middle-class men.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, January 14, 1846]

The Marlborough Street magistrate helps Big Ben’s missus deliver a knock-out blow

In the 1840s the biggest name in English boxing was Benjamin Caunt. Ben Caunt (pictured below) was one of the first English prize-fighters to seek international acclaim. In 1841 he traveled to the USA to look for rivals to fight for a world title but ended up bringing an American boxer home with him to manage instead. Caunt was so famous that some have suggested the bell within the clock tower at the Palace of Westminster was named after him, which seems unlikely.

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By 1846 ‘Big Ben’ was running a pub in St Martin’s Lane with his wife, although he continued to box well into the 1850s.

John Gill was a baker who lived in Cumming Street, Pentonville. On Saturday 19 December 1846 he had been drinking in the Caunts’ pub and got up to leave. Mrs Caunt asked him to settle his bill of 5s and at this point the baker made some wrong choices.

First, while he acknowledged the debt, he argued that since  her husband owed him 5 guineas it was a bit unfair of her to ask him to pay up in full when ‘Ben’ was already in his debt.

Such familiarity didn’t go down terribly well with Mrs Caunt. She came around from the other side of the bar and stood toe-to-toe with him.

‘Does Ben owe you anything?’ she asked, ‘Then I’ll pay you this way’, and punched him twice in the face.

Regaining his feet if not his composure, and finding his mouth full of blood, Gill staggered to the bar and launched a stream of abusive words at the landlady.

That was his second mistake.

Ben Caunt heard the foul language aimed at his wife and loomed into view, hauling the baker to his feet and throwing him out on to the street.

All of this of course landed Mrs Caunt in court before Hardwick at Marlborough Street. In her the dock Mrs Caunt didn’t deny the assault but said she had been provoked. She alleged that Gill had used bad language towards her before she had thrown any punches and was able to produce a witness to that effect.

The newspaper reporter for Lloyd’s Weekly clearly enjoyed the story and its associations with the English champion. Mrs Caunt had delivered a punch that ‘would have done no discredit to her husband’s powers’. The hapless baker was the butt of the story and that is how the magistrate saw it as well.  So Gill’s third mistake was in not simply putting the whole episode down to experience and going home quietly. Mr Hardwicke told him that he had ‘provoked the assault, by using language that was almost certain to cause a breach of the peace’, and he dismissed the summons.

Gill was beaten again, this time by a justice system and a magistrate that favoured the ‘weaker’ sex (who was clearly not the weaker one on this occasion).

[from Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, Sunday, December 27, 1846]

Two thieves ‘going snowing’ are caught by the peeled eyes of a child detective.

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I have a dictionary of underworld slang on my shelves. It is a fascinating compendium of words associated with crime, criminals and punishment. There are dozens of words for policeman for example, very few of them nice ones! Much of it is thieves ‘cant’; slant – such as cockney rhyming slang – used to conceal meaning and confound attempts at arrest or prosecution. So we get slang words or phrases for certain sorts of offences, many of them to do with different kinds of theft.

One of these is ‘going snowing’. Nothing to do with the inclement weather we are currently experiencing but instead a reference to stealing clothes or linen from washing lines.

Ruth Williams and Catherine Conway usually earned their living by selling (or ‘hawking’) lace on the streets. I rather suspect that they weren’t always absolutely honest in revealing the sources of the materials they sold on, and in December 1849 a sharp-eyed young girl landed them in court.

Williams and Conway entered the garden of house in Chelsea and knocked on the door, offering to sell some of their lace. As Williams discussed her goods with the woman at the door Conway stayed close to a line of washing drying nearby. When she was quite sure she wasn’t being watched she must have snatched a few items from the line and concealed them about her person. The pair then made off, no doubt to try the scam elsewhere.

However, this time they had been observed. The house belonged to the Walbedge family and their 11 year-old daughter had been carefully watching the two strangers from the moment they arrived. As soon as they left through the gates the girl ran to tell her mother that she thought she’d seen them steal some linen.

Mrs Walbedge quickly despatched the child to follow the women at a  distance, to see where they went. Meanwhile she checked, and discovered that they had indeed been robbed. The little girl stuck to her task and followed the thieves for ‘some considerable distance’ before she met a policeman, ‘quietly’ told him what she’d seen and had the pair arrested.

Back at the police station the women were searched and the missing linen found on them. When they appeared at Westminster Police Court they were committed for trial on the child’s evidence. Shaw Taylor would be have been proud – ‘keep ’em peeled’ as he used to say on Junior Police Five.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 14, 1849]

The pair don’t seem to have made it to the Old Bailey on this occasion but just two years later a Catherine Conway was acquitted of a very similar theft (of a shirt that was wet, suggesting it had come from a line), in a location not that far from this one.