A small treat and a careless driver leads to a tragic accident in Poplar

London was a busy city in the 1800s and, just as it is today, it was full of traffic and people in a hurry. As a consequence of this, accidents happened and fatalities were fairly commonplace. We should also remember that in the nineteenth century medicine was not as advanced as it is today and the emergency services (such as they were) far less effective. Sadly then, traffic accidents often led to death where today lives might be saved.

Every accidental death is a tragedy but the early death of a child is  more upsetting, and more devastating for the parents and those involved.

In May 1852 Mary Ann Merritt and her mother were in a grocer’s shop in Poplar. Mary Ann was three years old and probably as delightful as all three year-olds can be. The grocer’s wife offered her a fig, but her mother intercepted the treat, and told Mary Ann she must give half of it to one of her siblings.

Mrs Merritt divided the fruit in half and gave one part to her little daughter. Excited, Mary Ann ran out of the shop and into the street.

Meanwhile Matthew Gale, a 23 year-old greengrocer from Bromley, was ‘lolling’ in the back of his cart while his vehicle proceeded along the road, guided only a four year-old child he had entrusted the reins to.

As the cart rumbled along the cobbles at a speed of ‘four or five miles an hour’ Mary Ann rushed out to cross the road and the cart with its load of potatoes, collided with the little girl. Mary Ann was ‘knocked down and one of the cart’s wheels ‘passed over the child’s head, and it [sic] died almost immediately’.

Whe Mary Ann’s father, a mechanic, discovered what had happened he quickly found Gale and grabbed him. ‘You vagabond, you have killed my child’, clearly holding him responsible for the accident. Merritt hit the greengrocer and the pair ended up in the Thames Police court on the following Monday, with Gale charged with causing the child’s death.

The magistrate, Mr Yardley, thought that some responsibly did indeed lie with Matthew Gale. The court heard that if ‘the prisoner had been in his proper place, in front of the cart, with the reins in his hand, he could have pulled up and prevented the occurrence’. Drivers, he said, should ‘be more careful in a neighbourhood where children were running about’.

But Mr Yardley also attributed some of the blame to Mary Ann’s mother. She should, he said, ‘have looked more cautiously after her little girl, and prevented it running into danger’. Gale was bailed to await the findings of the coroner’s inquest. He doesn’t appear again so I expect that it was accepted that  this was just an accident. It was avoidable, and the young man would have to live with it, as would Mrs Merritt, her husband and their family.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, May 11, 1852]

A beer shop owner’s gamble fails to pay off

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Just this week, in the wake of the professional footballer Joey Barton being banned for placing bets on his own team, the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, declared that he thought there was too much gambling in modern society. He told the press:

‘It is a little bit I must say the general problem in our society. You you have everywhere, on every advert, bet … bet on Sky … bet on here and there, so you have not to be surprised when people get addicted to betting’.

Gambling and indeed, concerns about gambling are nothing new. There were worries about the effects of the lottery in eighteenth-century London, and plenty of pamphlets and tracts were written condemning games of chance such as cards or dice. It was especially concerning when apprentices or other young people were involved.

Georgian worries turned into Regency ones, and then into Victorian ones; what we see today is perhaps only the inevitable slide towards everyday betting on anything, that all those previous commentators had warned us about.

Nineteenth-century critics of gambling condemned the practice for the same reasons they (for it was often the same people) attacked the consumption of alcohol – at least to excess. Gambling, like the ‘demon drink’, drained the pockets of the poor and brought destitution and moral collapse. As a result most gambling was highly regulated, just like the sale of alcohol.

Which is why James Knott found himself in front of the police magistrate at Worship Street in late April 1857.

Knott ran a beer shop in Shoreditch which had aroused the suspicions of the police. Inspector Cole thought Knott was engaged in an illegal betting operation and had the shop watched. Having assured himself that the shop keeper was up to mischief he called on him one afternoon to ask some questions.

Inspector Cole wanted to look inside a desk which was nailed to the floor but Mrs Knott was reluctant. She told him that ‘the key had been taken away by her husband’ and she couldn’t open it. Cole’s response was to say he was quite happy to break it open.

Knott then appeared and miraculously produced the key and opened the desk. Inside (to Knott’s apparent ‘surprise’) the inspector found what he was looking for: ‘various documents relating to races, amongst which were telegraphic messages from York and Doncaster, and numerous betting cards and books’, with details of races run since September 1856.

Knott had explained when questioned by Cole that a man known only as ‘Jemmy’ ran the betting organization, but so far the police had been unable to apprehend him. Knott had a lawyer to speak for him in court who told the sitting magistrate, Mr D’Eyncourt, that his client was innocent, that at worst he had acted in ignorance of the law, and since he was ‘impoverished’ he hoped the justice would be lenient with him.

Mr D’Eyncourt wasn’t inclined to leniency however, and fined him the full amount – £25 (or nearly £1,500 in today’s money) – warning him that failure to pay would earn him three months in the house of correction. At first the ‘impoverished’ beer shop owner looked destined for a spell of hard labour but then, as miraculously as he had found the key to a desk the contents of which he claimed to be entirely ignorant of, he paid his fine and left.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, April 30, 1857]

‘for the protection of life and property’? A magistrate opts to believe the police despite the evidence in front of him.

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The Metropolitan Police Court Magistrate presided over the summary court of that name but he was not actually attached to the Metropolitan Police, so in some respects it is a bit of a misnomer. In reality as the nineteenth century unfolded, the police, (in the person of inspectors, sergeants and ordinary constables) played a much increased role in bringing prosecutions to court. In the first third of the century most cases were brought by the victims of crime, as had been the case throughout the previous century, and this situation persisted for much of the 1800s. Gradually, however, the police began to dominate proceedings, especially at this lower level of the justice system.

This was not without its problems. In particular there was considerable concern about how much authority a policeman’s voice carried in the courtroom. The Police were still a fairly new body in the mid 1800s, and although respect for the ‘boys in blue’ grew over time they certainly weren’t held in high esteem by everyone in Victorian society.

The working classes resented them for the most part, or barely tolerated them as a necessary evil. Henry Mayhew interviewed a costermonger (a person that sold food or other goods from a mobile street barrow) who declared that it was a source of pride for any of his class to punch one of the ‘Peelers’  that blighted their daily lives by moving them on when they were trying to earn a living.

The middle classes and the elites were just as ambiguous in their acceptance of the ‘new police’. They saw them (at first anyway) as an unwelcome extra burden on their pockets, or as a bunch of lower class busybodies who often got quite above themselves in telling them to do (or not to do) this or that.

It is probably fair to say that the ‘good old British bobby’ was not really accepted by society until well over a hundred years had passed since his creation. Dixon of Dock Green epitomises the trusted and honest copper of the 1950s, not the corpulent figure of the p’liceman from the late Victorian and Edwardian music hall.

So the police magistrate must often have been faced with a potential conflict between the police (as keepers of the peace) on one hand, and the public on the other. As a law man he had to try and square this tricky circle, and in this case from 1850 I think we can see how he falls back on the law to do so, whilst exercising some discretion at the same time.

In April 1850 Edward Williams found himself in the Worship Street Police Court accused of assaulting a policeman in the execution of his duty. It was a serious offence and the justices at Worship Street and the nearby Thames court (both of which served the supposedly ‘lawless’ and ‘criminal’ East End) normally came down hard on drunken brawlers that picked fights with the police or refused to ‘go quietly’ when asked.

Edward, then, was in trouble.

However, his version of events was quite different to that presented by the police who brought the charge, and in looking at both I think we can see some of the tensions that I’ve mentioned above.

PC Ward of N Division stated that he had been on duty with a  fellow officer outside a beer shop in Clapton when Williams had approached him. It was late, just before midnight, and Williams spoke to him asking him, ‘what I considered I was placed there for’.

Ward’s reply was: “For the protection of life and property”, which was the strap line of the Met in the 1800s. This didn’t satisfy Williams, who turned on him and told him: ‘that was a lie, that I was placed there , it seemed, for the purpose of insulting women, and he called me all the rascals and vagabonds he could lay his tongue to’.

At this the copper asked him to move along and go home. Williams, he claimed, refused and, after having been warned again, the young man struck him several times in the face, drawing blood. Eventually he was overpowered by the officers and taken to the station. PC Devitt (310 N) backed up his colleague’s testimony.

This assault on the person of a police constable was what had landed Williams, a supposedly ‘respectable’ young man, in court. He however, told a slightly different story and sought to justify but not deny, his attack on PC Ward.

Williams told the magistrate, Mr Arnold, that he had been walking out with a young woman, Frances Coleman, to whom he ‘had been paying his attentions’ (courting or dating as we would say now). He was walking her home to her parents but had to stop for moment and asked her to continue, saying he would catch her up.

As she passed the beer shop he heard one of the officers call out to her, ‘my dear’, then ‘whistle to her in a manner which could not be otherwise than insulting to a modest woman, and finally making a most disgusting noise with his mouth’. I leave that to your imagination.

He approached the policemen and remonstrated with them. So here, perhaps was the bones of PC Ward’s report. When the policeman denied acting in the manner Williams believed he had done, and then arrested him, he felt justified in resisting. The ‘assault’, he argued, was  the ‘perfecting justifiable result’ of the constable’s poor behaviour towards the woman he admired.

Frances supported her young man in court, confirming his evidence but at the same time allowing Mr Arnold some wriggle room. She said there was some noise emanating from the beer shop, something with which the police quickly agreed. Could the whistles and other offensive remarks have come from someone in there, asked the justice? She doubted it, repeating that she thought the calls towards her had come from one of the officers. However, despite two witnesses (Frances and Edward) telling a different tale to that of the constables the magistrate decided to believe one over the other but sought to use the beer house as a possible means of sowing some doubt.

Mr Arnold told the court that he could not imagine for one moment that the police would lie or to ‘knowingly and willingly commit perjury’ , but that at the same time neither would a decent young lady such as Frances. So it must have been the unruly occupants of the drinking den that acted so offensively.

The police then were in the clear despite the evidence to the contrary. As for young Edward however, his action had been ‘completely unjustifiable’. He had accused a policeman of doing something quite impossible for a public servant, and had then employed violence when asked to go home. Arnold opted to use the law in all its force to send a message that the police must be respected at all times, and especially when they were carrying out their duties.

He fined Williams £5 or one month in the house of correction if he could not pay. He found a way to implement the law and demonstrate that he was, in his mind, being even handed. I doubt Edward saw it that way.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, April 21, 1850]

‘Matrimonial miseries’ in the East End of London

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The marriage between Thomas and Lucretia Gates was not a happy one. The relationship had soured over time and Thomas’ poor treatment of his wife had provoked her to move out of the marital home in Bethnal Green. Thomas, who was described in the press as a ‘tradesman’, then employed a female servant to look after him. This seems to have been a bone of contention for his estranged wife.

On the 14 April 1852 the broken marriage reached the Worship Street Police Court as Thomas summoned Lucretia to answer a charge that she had assaulted him. This was rare; whilst many men might have been attacked by their wives and partners, very few were prepared to risk the damage to the reputations by admitting so in public.

Thomas Gates arrived with a police escort. He had so stirred up the community that a ‘great crowd, chiefly of women,  followed him to court’. This probably reflected both a show of solidarity with Lucretia by the ‘sisterhood’ and a degree of contempt for Thomas for running to the authorities instead of asserting his patriarchal rights and position.

The scene certainly enlivened the court reporter’s morning, however, and he must have regarded it as a welcome, if unexpected, bonus.

Thomas started by declaring that: ‘this woman is my wife, but we live apart, she in fact, having run away with another man’.

Lucretia was not having this; having vehemently denied this version of events she ‘reproached her husband with having taken a  young hussy home to supply her place’.

Thomas rejected this accusation and described how the assault he had accused her of had happened. He was at his home in Turk Street when Lucretia had called on him. She took him by surprise and rushed in, shouting abuse at him and the young serving girl, Sarah Hartlett. Both were assaulted by the angry wife before Lucretia turned her rage on the room.

She ‘swept all the china and glass from the shelves and cupboards, and having smashed them to pieces, set two work to demolish the furniture and everything she could lay her hands on’.

But she didn’t stop there, he said.

‘She tore the shirt entirely to pieces from his back, and tore the dress of the other woman also, exclaiming, “I’ll teach you to have a ____ here while I’m away,” and accusation which he assured the magistrate was quite unfounded’.

It was quite a display of anger and Lucretia did not deny it. Instead she explained that her husband had driven her away with his abuse and violent threats. On one occasion, she said, he ‘had stood over her with a knife, threatening to kill her’. He also repeated her accusation that Hartlett was his mistress.

It was now the servant’s turn to be questioned by the justice (Mr Ingham)  and she denied any impropriety on her part. She only worked there during the day and always left him alone  in the night. Thomas may have been having an affair but Sarah claimed it was not with her.

Several of the woman that had accompanied the couple to court testified to seeing or hearing Thomas’ abuse of his wife. One recalled her being thrown out of a window, while another said she had seen Thomas Gates chase his wife down the street brandishing an iron poker. Mr Ingham turned to the pair and told them that it was clear their relationship was in tatters but that did not give either of them to right to turn to violence or to disturb the public peace. He cautioned them both and dismissed Thomas’ charge against his wife. They then presumably left the court and returned to their, separate, lives.

Divorce was not really available to the majority of people in the 1850s. The government (through  a Royal Commission established in 1850) were looking at a reform of the law to allow the upper middle class to gain a full divorce, whilst at the same time making the cost of judicial separations prohibitively expensive to everyone else. In 1857 Parliament passed the Matrimonial Causes Act which removed divorce from the church (ecclesiastical) courts to the civil. The new law, not surprisingly (since it was created by men) favoured men over women. A man could sue for divorce on the grounds of his wife’s adultery whereas a woman would have to show an additional cause (such as as incest, cruelty, bigamy, or desertion) or prove cruelty on its own.

Thomas and Lucretia could not hope to get divorced, they simply could not have afforded it. Instead the best they could aim for was either to patch up their broken marriage or live apart and agree to ignore each other’s infidelities. Given Lucretia’s passion and temper, I think this might have been unlikely.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, April 15, 1852]

The wrong sort of military violence

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The Crimean War had raised some concerns about the quality of recruits to the British army and about the diseases they were exposed to at home and abroad. Large numbers of soldiers were admitted to military hospitals suffering from sexually transmitted conditions, and in the aftermath of the war attempts were made to control prostitution  and general disease with the passing of the (ultimately ineffectual) Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, and 1869).

Disease and prostitution went had-in-hand with off-duty drinking, another problem for the military authorities. Not infrequently soldiers fell foul of the civil authorities as a result of their commitment to ‘boozing’, and many of them found their way into the Police Courts. In March 1859 (three years after the Crimean War ended) a number of soldiers appeared in front of London magistrates.

At Lambeth Police Court George Robinson and Richard Burns (privates in the Grenadier Guards) were charged with being drunk and disorderly at the Crown pub. The story is interesting for one of the details which then links this to another case, at Southwark, on the same day.

The pair had entered the Crown on the evening of 17 March and while they weren’t Irish they were ‘keeping up’ St Patrick’s Day. They were already drunk however, and the landlord, a Mr Broadhurst, refused to serve them. Landlords were obliged to keep good order and refusing more alcohol to the already semi-inebriated was a wise move. Unfortunately for Broadhurst and his son, who was also serving behind the bar, this only provoked trouble from the soldiers.

Having been denied beer they attempted to get over the bar and help themselves. As the Broadhursts tried to stop them they were attacked. Burns took off his heavy leather belt and started to strike young master Broadhurst with it.

The police were called and they were marched off to the station, but not before several panes of glass had been smashed and a number of people injured, including the police who arrested them. The magistrates fined them 10s or 10 day in prison for wilful damage and a further 10s for the violence.

Over at Southwark a similar case of drunken military violence was being heard. John Whitsey (of the Coldstream Guards) was accused of assaulting a policeman and a member of the public, whilst drunk on Borough High Street.

PC James McCarthy (134M) was on his beat at 11.15 at night when he heard a disturbance. He saw Whitsey punch a man, knocking him to the floor. When the man got up, the guardsman hit him again, returning him to the street. When PC McCarthy tried to intervene Whitsey turned don him, kicking out and trying to take his legs from under him. All the time the guardsman was using ‘the most disgusting language’ McCarthy had ever heard.

The soldier was clearly drunk and belligerent. McCarthy was forced to call for help and ‘sprang his rattle’ (these were the days before the police were issued with whistles). In the scuffle that ensued the rattle was broken before the solider was eventually subdued.

The reporter noted that in court Whitsey appeared without his belt – ‘a sign of former bad conduct’ – and the belt seems significant to me in another way. In the last quarter of the 1800s young hands in London and Salford (but also in other towns) were using belts as a weapon. The Salford ‘scuttlers’ decorated heavy leather belts with horse brasses and wielded these as effective flails to beat their opponents and cause previous wounds. The belt (like the slipper’) was the weapon of choice for domestic violence – whether against spouses, children or servants, and since braces actually did the job of holding up one’s trousers it was an easy item to use in a fight.

Whether Whitsey had been divested of his belt at the the station to prevent further violence or whether the military had taken it away as a sharing punishment is a mystery, but either way it demonstrated he was ‘a bad sort’.

The man that Whitsey had knocked to the ground didn’t appear in court. The PC told the magistrate, Mr Coombe, that he was a ‘working man’ and probably couldn’t take the time to attend. Mr Coombe told the soldier that he was lucky; without a victim prepared to testify against him he would only be dealt with for the assault on the policeman. He fined him 5s, or seven days in prison.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, March 19, 1859]

A serial abuser gets his just desserts at the Guildhall

Maria Caddick was a tolerant woman who seems (like many victims of domestic abuse in the 1800s) to have put up with a lot before she sought the protection of the law. But in March 1859 her husband went too far and the couple ended up in the Guildhall Police Court.

It could have been worse for Mr Caddick because while he had often beaten his wife, this time he took a knife to her. Had she not been able to escape him the 60 year-old man might have found himself on a murder charge.

Maria told Alderman Salomens that her husband had come back late to their home in Field Lane, quite drunk (as he often was). The couple exchanged words (probably about Caddick’s frequent drinking) and the old man went for his wife. When he used language ‘unfit to be repeated’ she struck out with her fists, knocking him on the head.

He retaliated with blows of his own and she picked up a saucepan lid and threw it at him. Enraged, her husband now grabbed a knife and stabbed her in the forehead and then in arm.

Maria told the court: ‘I ran downstairs for a policeman, but before I could find one I fell down and became insensible. I afterwards went to the hospital.’

Caddick tried to deny he had done anything at first, and then blamed his wife. Finally, when this tactic was exposed for the falsehood it was he tried to dismiss his actions as the result of having had ‘a drop’ (of alcohol).

Mrs Caddick said the problem was that ‘he took those “drops” so often that one day he might kill her’.

She then admitted to the magistrate that she had brought her husband to court before when he had beaten her, but had forgiven him and pleaded for him to released without punishment. Mr Salomens was in no mood to be as lenient on this occasion and threw the book at him.

Mr Caddick, an old man with a serious drink problem, was sent to prison for six months at hard labour and told to find sureties of £20 (a considerable sum) for his good behaviour towards his wife on his release.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, March 8, 1859]

Technology and pornography clash in the summary courts of the capital

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Today’s story from the London Police Courts combines two changes in the mid nineteenth century; one technological and the other legal.

In 1851 David Brewster exhibited his stereoscope at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace. His stereoscope, invented by an Edinburgh mathematics teacher named Elliot and developed by  Jules Dobosqc, was not the first but it became very popular very quickly. The stereoscope allowed people to view 3D images on a handheld device, and had obvious entertainment and educational possibilities (sound familiar?).

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Brewster’s stereoscope

However, as with the still relatively new science of photography, some people soon realised that the stereoscope had other, less high brow or wholesome applications. In short, it opened new avenues for pornography.

The problem of pornography and its capacity to corrupt the morals of the population (especially young minds) was not lost on the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Campbell. While he presided over a trial for the sale of pornographic material Campbell was also involved in a  Lords’ debate on the restrictions of poisons. He recognised parallels between them and condemned pornography as ‘a poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic’.

He introduced a bill of parliament that became law in 1857 as the Obscene Publications Act, the first of its kind. The sale of offending material was now an offence and powers were given to seize and destroy obscene publications. The offence came under the powers of summary jurisdiction and was therefore dealt with in the Police Courts before a Police magistrate.

Lord Campbell may not have had the stereoscope in mind when he conceived his legalisation but technology and the obscene publications law were soon interwoven at Bow Street Police Court.

In February 1858 Sidney Powell of Chandos Street, Covent Garden appeared at London’s senior Police Court charged with the sale of obscene ‘representations’ in stereoscopic form.

The court report doesn’t detail exactly what these slides contained but Powell was adamant that they weren’t pornographic. He argued that they were intended for ‘medical men, being of an artistic nature’. They were no more explicit, he contended, than the poses adopted by artists models.

He assured his worship that he had plenty of experience of selling images and of the law and he was ‘well known amongst artists, who told him that the representation of a single figure would not be deemed “obscene”.’

Mr Henry, the magistrate, rejected his case out of hand. He had seen the slides. There was, he concluded, ‘a very wide distinction between the representation of a nude in a  graceful attitude, and the coarse disgusting pictures produced in this case’. While he gave Powell leave to appeal his decision he ordered the slides to be destroyed. The unhappy Powell accepted the decision and made his exit from the court.

He was not the only person prosecuted under the term of Lord Campbell’s act that morning. Two men were prosecuted for selling pipe heads which were indecent. One of the sellers, a Mr Bush, complained that the pipes were not covered by the act and had been licensed for sale by Customs House. Henry was having none of it and order the entire stock destroyed.

One wonders why someone would want to own (or smoke from) a pipe with ‘indecent’ images on it, but then again our society uses sexually explicit images of women to sell just about anything so who are we to judge our Victorian ancestors? We might also reflect that the invention of new technology, from the printing press to photography, to moving pictures and the internet, has allowed pornographers to find new and creative ways to exploit a new medium.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, February 18, 1858]