A career in crime looks inevitable for a young servant that could not resit temptation

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William Luker, The Mansion House Police Court, (c.1891)

Sometimes, in order to understand exactly what is going on in a historical courtroom (like the Mansion House Police Court in 1866) we need to have some clarity about which laws were in operation and being utilised. That isn’t always easy because laws were amended and new rules superseded them. It is also often the case with the history of crime that the practice of those applying the law (in this case the Police Court magistrates of London) preceded that of lawmakers rather than following it.

In September 1866 Mary Ann Goodchild, ‘a young girl’ of 18 and a domestic servant, was brought before the Lord Mayor and Alderman Abbis in the City of London to answer a charge of theft. Mary Ann was accused of stealing face sovereigns from her master, Noah Aaron.

This was a serious offence, one worthy of a criminal trial before a jury and the possibility (if convicted) of a long prison sentence. However, the defendant was young, female and, crucially, prepared to admit to her crime.

The court was told that Noah Aaron, a general dealer who worked out of a property named Roper’s Buildings, had placed 44 sovereigns in a drawer in his bedroom. Sometime later he counted them and found that the money was short by £5. His suspicions immediately fell on Mary Ann because only she and his wife had access to the room.

The servants were the business of Mrs Aaron so when her husband told her what had happened she confronted Mary Ann with it. Having tried and failed to deny the charge Mary Ann admitted it but pleaded with Mrs Aaron not to ‘do anything with her’. Whether she hoped that this would not lead to a court case or was simply desperate to keep her position is not made clear, but having confessed she clearly hoped for some leniency from her employers.

Mrs Aaron would give her no such assurance and so Mary Ann was forced to give more information about the missing money. She said she had given it to another woman, Alice Alexander, ‘who she said had out her up to it’. In court at Mansion House Alexander was produced but denied all knowledge of the crime (as well she might). Mary Ann was left high and dry.

Since she had confessed to the theft Mary Ann was able to opt to be dealt with summarily. Under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act (1855) magistrates were able to deal with cases of theft up to the value of 5 shillings without sending it on to a jury so long as the accused consented. If the defendant pleaded guilty then the theft of goods over 5s came under the power of the magistracy. In 1879 the basic requirement was raided from 5s to £2 as the summary courts began the main tribunal for hearing nearly all small-scale property crime in the capital.

Mary Ann was dealt with under legislation that was initially intended to speed up the process of justice in London and to  keep the higher court clear of petty offenders. She was young and the summary jurisdiction acts were aimed at young offenders (albeit a little younger than she was).

The Lord Mayor sent Mary Ann to prison for four months, a fairly lenient sentence in the context of Victorian punishments but she was probably a first offender, again a factor that was at the heart of legislation that extended the summary jurisdiction of magistrates in the 1800s.

It hardly mattered to Mary Ann however. Having lost her job and without references, with her character therefore ruined and a criminal record added to her CV she was unlikely to find legitimate work in the future. When it launches later this week the Digital Panopticon project may allow us to find out whether Mary Ann managed to make it back to the straight and narrow or descended into a ‘career’ in criminality.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, September 11, 1865]

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An H Division policeman gets away with brutality towards a defenceless immigrant

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The Kind Hearted Policeman by  L Huard (1864). This was the image of policing the Met were keen to promote but it did not always reflect the reality

Under the headline ‘More outrages of young women’, The Era newspaper (which was aimed primarily at the entertainment industry and licensed traders) carried a story of what appeared to be police brutality in the East End of London.

A respectable married woman (aged about 30) named Sarah Gompertz was walking towards Spitalfields at four o’clock in the afternoon. One imagines Sarah lived here as part of the area’s large Jewish community as her name suggests a Russian, Polish or German origin. There was always tension between the immigrant population and the indigenous one (even allowing for the fact that London has been home to migrating peoples for as long as it has existed), but this was not as pronounced as it was to become in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.

As she made her way along a policeman from H Division was patrolling his beat ahead of her. As the constable came alongside her he allegedly spat a mouthful of half-chewed carrot at her as he passed. Outraged Sarah protested. Instead of apologising the officer, PC William Gulley, responded by telling her to move along. When she refused to move he manhandled her violently, as the paper described:

‘this valiant constable of the H Division seized Mrs Gompertz by the back hair with one hand, and grasping her dress with the other, violently propelled her forward by the length of several houses, expediting her movements with brutal blows from behind with his knees, tearing open her dress by the force used, and exposing both her shoulders and her neck and bosom in a most indecent, and to the sufferer, most humiliating, manner’.

And, the report continued,

‘in this disgraceful way, with her dress unfastened, her shawl and bonnet streaming behind, she was pushed and dragged to the station, like a common troll or drunken prostitute, charged with taking part in a street disturbance, and refusing to move on at the voice of authority’.

Back at the police station the inspector on duty refused to register the charge and related the poor woman immediately but did little else to publicly  admonish the constable. The woman had walked home in a state of distress and collapsed. A doctor was called and he noted that her exhaustion and stress was compounded by the fact that she was pregnant. Its not clear whether witnesses saw the constable’s actions or merely saw the effects when she reached home but the paper was clearly convinced that the assault had happened.

Mrs Gompertz later pressed a charge of assault against PC Gulley at Worship Street but the constable was able to find three fellow officers who were prepared to testify in his defence. It went to the Old Bailey in November but the constable was acquitted and no details were recorded. In the end it was probably the word of an immigrant against that of a ‘guardian of the public’ backed up by three colleagues who had not seen what had happened. The inspector must have believed Mrs Gompertz’s account but was presumably too timid to take on his own men.

[from The Era , Sunday, September 4, 1864]

A furious driver collides with a lamp post

 

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Stepney Green in the Victorian Period

This is what might be described as a ‘cautionary tale’ for the readers of the Morning Post. William Jarvis was a brickmaker who worked for a contractor named Thomas Morris based at Bow Common. At the end of August 1868 Jarvis was seen driving his horse and cart along Stepney Green in what was described as ‘a furious and reckless manner’.

The offence of ‘furious driving’ was created by statute in 1861 as part of the Offences against the Person Act (1861) from which many of our laws concerning injury to people are derived. The full charge is as follows:

“Whosoever, having the charge of any carriage or vehicle, shall by wanton or furious driving or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, do or cause to be done any bodily harm to any person whatsoever, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years …”

People are occasionally caught and prosecuted under this charge and in 2014 a man was brought before the courts in Leicester after colliding with a cyclist. More recently the law was mentioned in regard to the case of Charlie Alliston who is facing a trial for manslaughter after the death of a woman he hit whilst riding a bike which was not fitted with brakes.*

One of the Commercial Gas Company’s inspector witnessed Jarvis hurtling along the street, swerving to avoid pedestrians and other road users before he ran smack into a lamp post on the corner of Hannibal Street. The post was badly damaged – he had ‘knocked it out of the perpendicular’ as the report stated – at a cost of 7s 6(or around £18 today) the court was told.

When he came to he was arrested by the police. He gave his address as Bow Common but the the police could find no trace of a man under his name there. He later explained that his boss, Mr Morris kept his horses there; perhaps he had no address. Jarvis admitted his fault and apologised, adding that he had been ‘tipsy’ at the time.

Mr Benson the sitting magistrate declared that it was ‘most disgraceful and dangerous’ to be driving ‘through the crowded roads and streets of Stepney on Sunday evening’, Presumably he meant at speed and under the influence of alcohol. He fined 2s 6d for being drunk and a further 7s 6d in damages to pay for the bent and broken lamppost. Jarvis had no money, or at least not the 10s he needed to settle this bill. A failure to pay one’s fines meant a spell in custody and William was marched off to start a 10 day sentence at hard labour in Holloway prison.

He could count himself lucky perhaps; had he hit a person – a child perhaps – instead of a piece of street furniture, he may well have been facing a much longer ‘holiday’ from his brick-making career.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, September 01, 1868]

*update: Charlie Alliston was cleared of manslaughter but found guilty of wanton and furious driving. He could face up to two years in prison for the offence.

The pitfalls of being a newly arrived sailor in Victorian London

Sailors' Home, Well Street, London Docks

The Sailors’ Home, Penny Illustrated Paper, (29 August 1868).

London was the world’s largest and busiest port in the Victorian period, and ships and sailors from all over the globe traveled to and from it. Merchant seamen were generally paid off when they arrived in port, getting their money from the Mercantile Marine Office that was situated in the Minories, close to the borders of East London and the City.

After weeks or months at sea many sailors simply blew their hard earned cash in a  matter of days or even hours on drink or women or both. Others fell victim to thieves. These were often the prostitutes that picked them up in the many pubs and lodging houses along the Ratcliffe Highway.

As a result (either of criminality or their own carelessness and profligacy) many sailors found themselves destitute and in danger of falling into crime themselves, especially if they couldn’t quickly find another ship to take service on. In 1827 the Destitute Sailor’s Asylum was founded in Dock Street but welcome as it was it soon became inadequate to the needs of the hundreds of seaman that required its help. In 1835 a second institution opened its doors: the Sailors’ Home in Well Street.

The Home also helped sailors avoid some of the dangers associated with being a fresh face (and a potential meal ticket) for unscrupulous locals in the dock area. They did this by sending agents or arranging for others to meet sailors at the Marine Office and escort them to safety at the Home. We can see this in operation in a case that reached the Mansion House Police Court in 1868.

On the 19 August a  sailor presented himself at the Marine Office to collect his wages of £6. He wanted to get home to Liverpool as soon as possible and was worried about getting distracted or robbed  and so he asked if an agent could escort him to the Sailors’ Home.

John Williams, who was employed by the Marine Office as a messenger, was directed to accompany the seams through the throng of ‘loose characters waiting outside’. However, ‘the moment they got into the streets they were mobbed by a number of crimps, touters, and lodging-house keepers’. The sailor was bundled into a waiting cab and driven away.

One of the crowd of vultures was identified as William Lee and he was later arrested and brought before Alderman Causton at Mansion House on a summons.  The justice fully convicted him of using ‘threatening and abusive language’ towards the Marine Office messenger and condemned the fleecing of newly arrived sailors. He told Lee that these ‘poor fellows who received their money after long and severe labour should be protected’ and he fined the lodging-house keeper 40s and made him enter into a recognisance of £10 to keep the peace for six months.

It is unlikely that it would have done much good however, the sailor was probably already parted from his £6 and if he made it to Liverpool there were just as many ‘crimps and touters’ there to exploit him. Lee would have chalked it off to bad luck at getting caught, I doubt it would have altered his behaviour much. The Ratcliffe Highway was a notorious area for crime and prostitution and a magnet for discharged seamen throughout the 1800s and beyond. The Sailors’ Home itself only closed its doors in 1974, more than 100 years later.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, August 27, 1868]

A man with a mission and some chalk

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It was not Edward Barnbrook’s first time in court. He had appeared before the magistrates at Marylebone Police court on a number of occasions. He was described on the charge sheet as having ‘no home’ and ‘no occupation’, but he certainly believed he had an important task to complete.

His crime?

– ‘defacing walls and hoardings by chalking verses from Scripture on them, [and] also sentences  satirising our statesmen and country’.

In late August 1861 he was brought up before Mr Mansfield having been arrested by PC Gaze (356S) between one and two o’clock that morning in Little Albany Street, close to Regent’s Park. The constable had interrupted the men while he was chalking a message on a wall. What was that message, the magistrate asked.

‘What nation can fight?’ replied the policeman to stifled laughter in the courtroom. Since Barnbrook had refused to stop writing the constable had arrested him and taken him back to the station to charge him.

Thomas Taylor, a man with the wonderful title of ‘inspector of nuisances’ appeared next, to explain that Barnbrook was  serial offender and his daubing was a constant source of irritation to local residents.

Mr Mansfield asked the slogan writer why he did it.

‘Prisoner (solemnly): To fulfil the prophets and prophecy, also the saints, and to make the Bible universal. I have a mission’.

Religious zeal was as prevalent in Victorian society as it appears to be in our own and seemingly dismissed or tolerated as harmless unless it was attached to violence. The magistrate remanded the prisoner for two days. In effect the man was being imprisoned without being convicted of any offence,a fairly standard practice for those caught doing something but not really guilty of doing that much.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, August 23, 1861]

Officer down on the Ratcliffe Highway

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Police Constable William Izzard (133H) was walking his beat on Ratcliffe Highway on the 5 August 1866 when he heard raised voices. It was late at night and this was not uncommon in such a rowdy and notorious area. He moved towards the disturbance and found a small group of ‘foreign sailors’ quarrelling in the street.

PC Izzard approached the group and, since they were making a great deal of noise and disturbing the peace he asked them to disperse. No one seemed to be listening to him and one man in particular seemed very agitated so he lightly tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. The man turned around and the policemen indicated that he should ‘go home and sleep’.

As the man moved off another one stepped forward and drew a long bladed knife which he thrust at the copper. Fortunately PC Izzard stepped back quickly, avoiding the attack. As he did so he pulled out his truncheon (or ‘stick’ as it was described in the report) and used it to ward off more attacks from the sailor.

Meanwhile another unconnected man had seen what was going on. Charles McCarthy was a stevedore who worked on the docks and he noticed a ‘a short stout man’ come up behind the constable holding a knife. McCarthy shouted a warning to Izzard but it was too late; the man (an Italian sailor named Ferato Lorenzo) had caught his victim off guard and stabbed him in the belly.

The policeman fell to the ground with blood pouring from the wound as the sailors scattered. McCarthy set off in pursuit of Lorenzo, catching him and hauling him to the floor. Amazingly PC Izzard picked himself up and helped secure the prisoner with the help of a fellow officer (H56) who came running from a nearby street.

The Italian sailor, who was much the worse for drink, was presented at the Thames Police Court charged with violent assault. He offered no real defence and was fully committed to trial by the magistrate, Mr Partridge. The policeman appeared in court but was still suffering from his injuries even though the attack had taken place over two weeks earlier. He had lost a lot of blood and was unable to return to duty. He had been examined by the H Division surgeon, George Bagster Phillips who was to go on to achieve some kind of fame as the police doctor who investigated the Ripper murders in 1888.

In the end Lorenzo took his trial at Old Bailey on the 13th August 1866 where he was found guilty of felonious wounding and sent to prison for 12 months at hard labour. PC Izzard was lucky; the surgeon told the Old Bailey courtroom that the knife had entered his abdomen, ‘penetrating through the muscles to the peritoneum,’ but had not reached his bowels. He survived; had he not the Italian may well have found himself facing a charge of murder with the very real prospect of being executed if convicted – so Ferato was also ‘un uomo fortunato’.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 19, 1866]

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]