‘Every member of the force has a watch and chain, of course, How he got it, from what source?’ A policeman in the dock at Thames

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If you want to know the time, ask a policeman.
The proper city time, ask a policeman,
Every member of the force has a watch and chain, of course,
How he got it, from what source? ask a policeman.

This well-known music hall ditty (which I’ve mentioned before) reflects a contemporary working-class distrust of the police by suggesting that they weren’t always as honest as they should have been.

When William Harris, a Ratcliff wine cooper, and his wife got home from a night out they found the door of their house open and a policeman guarding it. It was half-past midnight and the couple must have been both surprised and concerned.

The officer quickly moved to reassure them. He told them he’d found it ajar and had investigated. There may have been a burglary but he wasn’t sure, no one was on the premises, but they had better check if anything was missing.

Mr Harris rushed upstairs and looked around to see if anything had been disturbed. It didn’t seem as if it had but then he realised his pocket watch and chain was missing from the dressing table. He went down to report it the loss to the constable.

Earlier that evening PC Patrick Barry (382K) and PC John Prestage (also K Division), were patrolling on Broad Street in Ratcliffe when the latter called Barry’s attention to a door that seemed open. PC Prestage told his colleague to wait outside while he investigated. He went upstairs but reported that no one was in the the house. He then sent Barry off to  to report a suspected robbery, telling him he would stand guard in the meantime.

Barry soon returned with sergeant Richard Plumsett, who had been checking the patrols of his constables as was normal practice. Sergeants would set constables off on their beats and time them to ensure they were  in the right place at the right time. He came over the the house in Broad Street and spoke to both officers. This was about 11.45 at night.

Just after 12.30 Sergeant Plumsett was back and now he found Barry, Prestage and Mr Harris embroiled in an argument. Harris was complaining about the loss of his watch but wasn’t keen on going along to the police station to officially report it. PC Prestage told his superior that:

‘Mr Harris does not seem satisfied about losing his watch: I don’t know whether he wants to blame the police for it’.

The sergeant then noticed that Prestage was drunk, or at least under the influence of alcohol. He immediately instructed the pair of them to return to the station with him.

Back at the King David Lane police station the situation developed. Mr Harris arrived later on and accused the policeman of robbing him. With a drunken officer and an unhappy local resident the desk sergeant, Robert Smith, told Prestage that he’d better turn out his pockets to satisfy the cooper’s suspicions.

‘Have you got a watch?’ Sergeant Smith asked.

‘Yes, I am in the habit of carrying two watches’, replied PC Prestage, and unbuttoned his great coat to reveal a watch on a chain around his neck.

‘Where is the other watch?’ the sergeant continued, and it was handed over.

When Mr Harris was shown the watch he immediately identified at the one he had lost from his dressing table. The police had no choice and the next morning PC Prestage found himself in the dock at Thames Police Court in front of the imposing figure of Mr Lushington.

The magistrate asked him to explain himself but all he could say was that he was ‘under the influence of liquor and was not aware he had taken the watch’. This was too serious for Mr Lushington to deal with there and then so he remanded him for a week with a view to committing him for trial at the Middlesex Sessions.

On 17 December 1877 John Prestage (described as a baker, not a policeman) was tried and convicted of theft at Middlesex Sessions and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. He was 20 years old and pleaded guilty. He was sent, as so many of those sentenced were, to Cold Bath Fields prison. I’m curious to know why he wasn’t described as a policeman when the newspaper report is very clear that he was.  The Daily Gazette (a Middlesbrough paper) reported the case at Middlesex as that of a ‘Dishonest Policeman’ so there seems to be no doubt as to his occupation.

[from The Standard, Monday, December 03, 1877]

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The sad story of an elderly seamstress and her Majesty

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In the light of yesterday’s happy announcement of a royal engagement I thought I’d feature a (sort of) royal story from Victorian London’s Police courts.

In 1871 Queen Victoria had been on throne for 34 years. Her husband Albert had been dead for a decade and she was yet to adopt the title of Empress of India. Victoria had a big influence on her subjects but her withdrawal from much of public life following the loss of her consort increasingly isolated her from public affection. 1870 had seen the overthrow of the French monarchy and the creation of the Third Republic, dark echoes in England called for a similar revolution, one that never transpired. In late November Victoria’s eldest son, Albert Edward, fell ill with typhoid (probably the same disease that had killed his father) and Victoria must have feared she would lose him as well.

Meanwhile, for ordinary Londoners life went on as usual. The ‘widow of Windsor’ was almost an abstract concept since she’d ducked out of view but her name, and what she symbolised, mattered  considerably.

It certainly mattered to an elderly seamstress called Mrs Lyons. She told the magistrate at Clerkenwell that she had been promised work by her Majesty but ‘court intrigues’ were preventing her from pursuing it. Mrs Lyons lived off the Caledonian Road in north London, close to where the new St Pancras terminal was being constructed. She was poor and in ‘want of money’ she explained, but was confident that with the queen’s patronage she would be fine.

Sadly Mrs Lyons was not very well; she suffered from some form of mental illness, as a police inspector told Mr Cooke, the justice sitting on her case at Clerkenwell Police Court.

‘About two years since the poor woman began to get strange at times in her speech, said that her room was full of rats, that she had an interview with the Queen and members of the royal family, and that her Majesty had promised her money, but that she was prevented from getting it by court intrigues’ .

He went on to say that up until recently Mrs Lyons had lived quietly but in the last few months her condition had worsened and she had started threatening people, including her landlady. A doctor had been called to examine her and he’d declared she was ‘not right in her head’ and she’d been carried off to Islington workhouse. From there she was to be sent to the Colney Hatch Asylum, Europe’s largest such institution.*

She had left her room with rent arrears and her landlady was refusing to give her sister leave to take away her sibling’s few possessions until that was paid. Mr Cooke said he was glad the woman was now in safe hands (although I’m not sure I’d consider being in the ‘care’ of a Victorian asylum ‘safe’. I suppose he might have meant the public were safe from her). He ordered the court to pay the arrears so she could be reunited with her ‘things’ and dismissed the case.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, November 28, 1872]

*(and now my gym!)

for another story that feature Queen Victoria see: “Let me see the Queen, I know who the ‘Ripper’ is!”

 

The student who thought he knew the law better than a magistrate

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John Williamson was a Law student who lived in Queen’s Road, Bayswater. In November 1874 he entered the Spread Eagle pub  accompanied  by a soldier he’d spent the afternoon drinking with, and demanded to be served.

The publican, Mr Barwell, took one look at Williamson and his companion and decided they were drunk and so refused to serve them. Victorian landlords were wary of serving drunks because they were obliged (under the terms of their licenses) to keep ‘orderly’ houses and overly inebriated customers could be troublesome.

The law student took this refusal badly however, and when he got outside he took out his anger on the landlord by smashing one of his windows before running away. The police were called and Williamson was arrested in Davies Street nearby and taken into custody.  He was then held overnight at a police station before being presented at Marlborough Police Station in the morning charged with being drunk and causing criminal damage to the value of £4.

Williamson, as a student of the law, decided (unwisely it has to be said) to challenge the legal basis for his arrest. He declared the arrest was unlawful because the ‘constable did not see him break the window’. Instead of arresting him and holding him in custody the policeman should have taken his name and address so that Mr Barwell could have applied for a summons.

Mr Newton (the sitting justice at Marlborough Street) told him he was wrong. The constable had acted correctly; the young man was drunk and acting in a disorderly manner. He convicted him of the damage and ordered him to pay for the damage he’d caused. In addition to the £4 for replacing the window he fined him 20s (a not inconsiderable amount) for being found drunk. The magistrate warned him that if he failed to pay either of the sums owing he would go to prison for six weeks.

It was an object lesson in presuming to know more than one’s ‘betters’ and I’m fairly sure the experienced legal professional enjoyed making his point absolutely clear to the precocious young undergraduate. Whether the  lesson was learned is a moot point.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, November 24, 1874]

George Carter ‘sticks it to the man’ and receives some sympathy from the bench

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George Carter was tired.

In fact he was so tired that he felt he needed, and deserved, a holiday. Sadly for him his employer, the North London Metropolitan Tramways Company thought otherwise. Workers had no statutory right to any holiday before 1938, and even that (one week a year) was hard fought and well below the minimum the Trades Union Congress had campaigned for. By contrast today the law states that ‘almost all workers’ are entitled to 28 days of annual leave.

The only way George Carter could get the rest he felt he required was to effectively quit his job, or at least stop working for a while. So on the 1st November 1875 George, who worked as a conductor collecting the fares on the trams, met with his supervisor and told him he was taking some time off. Mr Thomas Bradley, his inspector, said he found have to place someone else on his route and demanded he hand over any outstanding fares.

Carter was holding onto £3 15s 6d of the company’s money but he wanted to know what would happen if he left to have his well-earned break. Would he be discharged, he asked? If so he was going to keep the money.

At the Worship Street Police Court, where Carter appeared to answer a summons from the tram company, it was revealed that it was company policy to extract a £5 deposit from all the conductors prior to them starting their service. Presumably they were a distrustful lot and didn’t like the idea of their staff walking away with their money. Mr G. H Smith, the manager of the company, had  declared that he would be sacked and his wages and depots forfeited. It was this that had prompted the summons and the court case.

So inspector Bradley already had George’s money, indeed he had more than the £3 15s he was demanding he hand over. Moreover the tram company’s employees were forced to sign a document that made the bosses the ‘sole judges in any dispute’ and gave them power ‘to order the forfeiture of the deposit-money and all wages due’. Even in a world with zero-hour contracts and firms like Uber this was a terribly uneven distribution of power between employers and employees and the magistrate was appalled by it.

‘it was ‘very one-sided’, Mr Hannay said, ‘putting the men in the position of slaves without hope of redress in a court of law’, and it had been remarked upon a number of times in that court.

But there was nothing in law to stop the tram company setting the rules as it had; trades unions hardly operated  effectively in the period and it wasn’t until later in the century that they began to flex their muscles with any real hope of success. So all George Carter could do was withdraw his labour and hope to be reemployed at a later date by someone, if not his current employers.

Mr Hannay opted out of the debate; he said he had no power to adjudicate here and so dismissed the summons. As far as he could see the company had Carter’s £5 and he was hanging on to a ‘lesser sum’. If they wanted to pursue him for the fares he retained then they would have to do so in the county court, at their own expense. It wasn’t exactly a victory for the ‘little man’ but it was reported as an example of sharp practice by an employer than many people reading this would have been family with.

Whether that inspired them to look for alternative forms of transport in the future is questionable, but the publicity was hardly good for Mr G. H. Smith and his company were tainted by it, just as Mike Ashley’s appearance in front of the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee in July 2106 did nothing for the reputation of Sports Direct.

Trades Unions get a lot of stick, much of it well deserved. But we should remember that every single right that workers have today – to holidays, sick pay, pensions, safe conditions at work, training, and equal opportunities, have been extracted from the capitalist class by determined workers backed by union representatives. It is not for nothing that nearly every Conservative government since the second world war has attempted to curb the power of the unions in some way or another. Despite their claims of ‘one nation Toryism’ the Conservative and Unionist Party represent the ‘haves’ (like G. H. Smith) rather than the ‘have-nots’ (like George Carter).

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, November 14, 1875]

A mysterious case of arson in Mile End

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Charles Brighton had gone to bed at about 11 at night on the 26 October 1874. Brighton, a stableman, lived with his wife and children in Lombard Street, Mile End. He employed William Goodsall to help him in his stable work and Goodsall lodged with the family.

Between half past midnight and one o’clock in the morning Brighton was woken up by the cry of ‘fire!, fire!’ coming from downstairs. He recognised Goodsall’s voice and rushed down to find his sitting room in flames.

He found that the ‘house [was] full of smoke, the passage on fire, and the flames catching the stairs’.

With some outside help (including some members of the fire brigade who arrived swiftly) he managed to fight the fire and put it out. However, when he went into Goodsall’s room he began to suspect the blaze had started there, and had been set deliberately. He couldn’t find his servant anywhere and so his suspicions grew.

Others were affected by the fire. The wife of a dock constable (whose husband was presumably on duty at night and so not at home) had to jump out of a window to escape the flames, falling and injuring herself in the process. Brighton’s family escaped unharmed but it must have terrifying for them.

Later that morning Goodsall was found and arrested. Back at the police station he was asked if he set the fire and seemed to admit it: ‘All right, I have done it’ he reportedly told the desk sergeant, adding ‘I won’t swear if it was wilfully done or an accident’.

The case was heard at Worship Street Police Court before Mr Hannay. The magistrate examined the evidence and was told that there might have been a bit of unpleasantness between Goodsall and Mrs Brighton. What this was is not made entirely clear, either in the newspaper report of the pre-trial hearing nor in the Old Bailey trial that took place later in November.  It appears that Goodsall and Mrs Brighton argued because ‘Jim’ (as William was known) had visited the school where the Brighton children studied and their mother took exception to this.

It seems very unlikely that this alone caused the young man (Goodsall was 24) to set his room on fire to spite his employer, so perhaps there was more to it. Mr Hannay committed him for trial and on the 23 November the jury convicted him despite his defence that he had been out drinking at the time of the blaze. The Old Bailey judge sentenced him to two years in prison.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, November 8, 1874]

A furious ostler takes his rage out on the horses

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On Monday morning 3 November 1879 the foreman at a stables in Coburg Row, Westminster, found that one of the stablemen was  much ‘the worse for drink’ and sacked him on the spot. The stakes were owned by Mr W. Ackers Smith, who ran a cab and omnibus company and had dozens of horses.

The stableman, James Cooper, didn’t leave immediately however, but loitered around the premises for for a while. After he had left ‘it was discovered that no less than 12 horses had had the hair cut from their tails to the dock.’ Cooper, in his rage at being dismissed had mutilated his master’s stock. While none of the animals had been hurt by the attacks their value, had Mr Ackers Smith wished to sell them on, was significantly reduced.

The police were called and a detective, DS Church of B Division, was soon on the trail of the disgruntled former employee.

Cooper had been seen leaving the stables with a large bag and his movements led the police to a shop in Vincent Street nearby. The shopkeepers, who bought and sold material by weight (usually metals) had purchased a pound and a half of horsehair from a man matching Cooper’s description. The shopkeeper, Mr Oxford, had no more details than this as he only recorded his metal sales, nothing else. He merely offered the explanation that it was a perk of an ostler’s trade to take home horsehair for his own use, so he hadn’t asked too many questions of Cooper.

Cooper was eventually tracked down and arrested. Brought before the Police Magistrate (Mr D’Eyncourt) at Westminster he was charged with the theft of the horsehair. The idea of ‘perks’ (perquisites) prevailed throughout the nineteenth century even if the practice had been under attack for at least a century. Perks harked back to a time before wages had been as fixed as they were in the 1800s; workers were used to taking home benefits of their trades as part of their wage. So carpenters took ‘chips’, coal heavers ‘sweepings’, weavers ‘thrums’ and so on. Employers did their best to stamp out what they saw as pilferage but we are pretty wedded to our perks even today.

However, Cooper’s action, while described as a theft, was really a act of revenge for losing his job. Mr D’Eyncourt was not impressed with him.

‘it was a very dirty trick to play just for the sake of 10d or a shilling, which only represented a few glasses of ale, and for that he seemed to have disfigured a dozen horses’.

However, despite his anger the justice was hamstrung by the sanctions available to him. Cooper had pleaded guilty and thus opted to be dealt with summarily. Mr D’Eyncourt handed him the maximum sentence allowed, four months in prison with hard labour. He would therefore spend Christmas and New Year in gaol and start the new century unemployed and without a good character. That was probably the real punishment for his crime.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, November 06, 1879]

A ‘sex pest’ is exposed on the Liverpool Street to Stratford line

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Today’s papers are understandably full of discussion about sexual assaults on women by men in positions of power. Following the ongoing revelations about the American film producer Harvey Weinstein and suggestions that such exploitation of women is rife at Westminster , the world seems to be waking up to the reality that casual sexual assault is endemic in our society.

There is nothing new in this (in fact regular readers may be coming to the conclusion that the London Police courts reveal that there is almost nothing new today at all; when it comes to crime and anti-social behaviour our Victorian ancestors were just as ‘bad’ as we are). What may be different today is that the climate has changed and women feel more empowered to speak out – to speak truth to power as the saying goes.

It is not (and never was) easy for a woman to accuse a man of sexually assaulting her. In the nineteenth century a woman that cried ‘rape’ exposed herself to accusations that she was at best lying, and at worst had encouraged the perpetrator by placing herself in a vulnerable position. The Victorian lady that allowed herself to be alone with a male was effectively ‘asking for it’ in much the same way that those accusations are levelled at women who dress ‘provocatively’.

For Victorian society the answer was a separation of the sexes wherever possible. Of course this really meant a separation along class lines. The daughters of the wealthy middle and upper classes were chaperoned and never allowed out on their own. No ‘respectable’ women would be seen out at night without a male companion and so any woman that was on her own, could not, by definition,  be ‘respectable’. This led to women being accosted on the street in the evening (and in broad daylight if they were in areas where prosecution was common) by men who thought them ‘fair game’. Much of this went unreported of course, as did most of the assaults on servant girls by fellow domestic staff, or their masters and his sons.

When Victorian society began to develop a system of public transport the boundaries between public and private space began to become mutable. The railway carriage soon became a dangerous place for single or unaccompanied women, seemingly regardless of the time of day or even the other occupants. Today we are familiar with the problems some women face traveling on the London Underground (the ‘tube’) and attempts to get women to report offences. It would seem that from the very introduction of steam driven railways men were subjecting women to unwelcome sexual harassment.

Hobart Moore was one of these so-called ‘sex pests’. In October 1877 Mary Ann Cocks, a young governess, was travelling in a second-class carriage on the Great Eastern railway from Liverpool Street to Stratford. It was just after 8 o’clock in the evening and so Mary Ann was probably on her way home after a day out.

Moore entered the same compartment and sat down directly opposite her. There were three others in the car, a man and two ladies. Moore asked Mary Ann if the train went to Forest Gate, and she replied that it did. He had established conversation.

As the train left Bethnal Green nation Mary Ann noticed that Moore ‘shuffled about a great deal with his feet, and between Bethnal Green and Old Ford stations he leaned down and touched her’.

Clearly shocked by his behaviour, Mary Ann asked him move. One of the other women in the carriage then suggested they swop seats and the school governess gladly accepted the offer. Then the other man in the carriage then helped her move to another carriage when the train stopped. She had escaped the ‘pest’ but had still suffered form the unwanted contact with him.

This is a Victorian news report so it gives nothing in terms of detail about how or where Moore touched Mary Ann. But she considered that she ‘had been insulted’ and the gentleman that had assisted her now fetched a porter so she could make a formal complaint about Moore. The porter now rode in Moore’s carriage and handed him over to a policeman when they disembarked at the next stop.

Moore must have known what he had done and the embarrassing consequences should he be called to appear in a public court to answer the charges. He now compounded his crime by attempting to bribe his way our of the situation. He pressed a half sovereign into PC 79K’s hand and asked him to forget all about it. The constable did no such thing of course and so Moore found himself before the Police court magistrate at Worship Street in the East End.

In court Moore’s lawyer, a Mr Willis, explained that his client held a ‘highly respectable position’ in society and had ‘recently married’. Ms Cocks must have been mistaken in what she alleged he argued. His client had been out to dinner and had eaten and drunk too much.

As a result he was ‘sick, and leaned from the window. While ill in that way his foot or leg might have done all that the prosecutrix had said, but he denied the hand or any intention to insult’.

Mr Hannay, the magistrate, said that on balance the evidence suggested that there was a case to answer and so committed Moore to jury trial at the Middlesex Sessions. The Digital Panopticon has a record of a 28 year-old Hobart Robert Moore being in prison in 1879, although (and thanks to ActonBooks for the information on this) this wasn’t because he was convicted of the assault on the governess. Instead it seems that he pleaded guilty at the sessions to a common assault and was fined. Two years later he was sent to prison for stealing money from his employer, allegedly to feed his gambling habit (Cheltenham Mercury, Saturday 6 September 1879).

We have yet to see whether any of the current revelations in America or Britain result in prison sentences for those accused of sexually assaulting  vulnerable women. I’m not holding my breath however.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, October 30, 1877]