The ‘Long Firm’ in late Victorian London

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Long Lane, Bermondsey in the 1930s, with its Victorian buildings still standing

I have always associated the ‘long firm’ fraud with 1960s criminals like the Krays. The scam, whereby a supposedly legitimate business is set up to develop a credit history before supplies are systematically defrauded, is described in Jake Arnott’s 2000 novel of the same name.  The long firm died out in the late 20th century as paper trails meant it became harder to get away with.

However, it seems that the form of fraud, and indeed the name, has quite deep roots in London criminal history, as this case from the Southwark Police court makes clear.

Charles John Holms, alias Frederick Jackson was described in court as a 41 year-old baker, although it is quite clear that he did very little baking and quite a lot of fraud. He opened a shop at 91 Long Lane, Bermondsey and an account with the London & South Western Bank. It seemed then, that he was trading legitimately, but this was very far from the truth.

Acting after a series of complaints were, made the police began an investigation, headed by Inspector Matthew Fox of CID. Having obtained a warrant to search his premises, the inspector turned up at Jackson’s shop in May 1880.

‘The shop had the appearance to an ordinary observer of being well stocked. On the shelves were a large number of kegs and cheese boxes, but on inspection they were all found to be empty, and with the exception of some loaves of bread and two sacks of flour, there was not a single article in the shop that the prisoner purported to deal in’.

In other words it was a front or a scam, and when he looked further inspector Fox found the evidence he needed to arrest the fake baker. Several letters from suppliers were discovered, along with a blank cheque book and some other paperwork that showed what he had been up to.

Jackson (or Holmes) had been carefully contacting supplies all over the country, ordering samples, paying for small orders of goods that he then disposed of quickly, before upping the ante and placing larger orders for goods he had no intention of paying for.

He used the bank account to draw cheques ‘payable to himself, which he passed away in payment of goods, thereby leaving an impression that he was carrying on a genuine trading business’.

Witnesses at Southwark, like Edward Elevy, (a starch manufacturer from Battersea) told the magistrate that he had received a letter of introduction from C. J Holmes of Bermondsey, written on a ‘bill-head on which the words “Established 25 years” were printed’. Soon afterwards he got an order for 25lbs weight of starch. This was never paid for and when another order arrived he ‘declined’ it and eventually sued him for the debt.

Elvey was not the only victim, the court was told that there were at least 68 suppliers in London that were owed money, and a further 40 ‘in the country’.

In May 1880 Holmes was remanded in custody for another week and in August he appeared at the Central Criminal charged, alongside several others, with fraud. It was a long and complicated case and the trial record runs to several pages. At the end of it Holmes was found guilty of obtaining goods by fraudulent means and conspiracy – he was sentenced to five years penal servitude. Three others were similarly convicted but received shorter sentences of 18 months, and four men were acquitted.

The ‘long firm fraud’ it seems, has a longer history than we might have thought, making its first appearance on Google’s Ngram reader in 1868.

[from The Standard , Wednesday, May 19, 1880]

The Salvation Army wins few friends in 1880s Islington

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When William Booth founded his Christian mission in Whitechapel in 1865 it was just just another example of nineteenth-century evangelical religious fervour. It was not until 1878 that he, with inspiration from his son, Bramwell, came up with the concept of an ‘army’ to give the movement a distinct and lasting mission. The Salvation Army grew from a small congregation in the East End to a worldwide movement promoting its own brand of aggressive Christianity served with a large helping of brass band music and singing.

In its early days, however, it would be fair to say that many people found it an unpalatable mixture of ‘rough music’ and rather un-English lay preaching. For some it was a welcome and much needed force for good, while for others it was a subject ripe for ridicule. This contrast is played out in a court case heard by the sitting magistrate at Clerkenwell Police Court in 1881, just a few years after Booth’s Army took to the streets.

As a Salvation Army band marched along Victoria Road in Islington one Sunday afternoon in early May, supported by about 100 ‘cadets’, ‘privates’, lieutenants’, and ‘captains’ John Roswell and others in the watching crowd hooted and poured derision on them. This was an ‘army’ in name only, and it aped the uniforms of Victoria’s finest, which may well have upset those who had served under the colours or who had sons or brothers, or husbands fighting for the Queen overseas.

As three of the young Salvation Army ‘cadets’ (those training for ministry)  passed by the crowd they were pelted with rotten fish and mud. Two of the cadets managed to identify those they thought responsible and on the following Wednesday John Rosewell was brought in front of the magistrate to answer a charge of assault.

His accusers were William Powell and Daniel Baugh. Baugh also alleged that when he remonstrated with Rosewell the youngster attacked him, beating him across the back with a stick. He was helpless, he insisted, to defend himself.

This brought about laughter in the courtroom because Daniel was a man mountain, whilst the defendant was a small lad, about half his size. He had pointed Rosewell out to a police inspector but the police could find no corroborating evidence against him. He was accused of throwing mud but had no mud on his hands or his clothes.

So, there was a case of disputed identification which would ultimately undermine the case against John Rosewell but the magistrate then demonstrated his own dislike of the Salvation Army and its activities.

It was a Sunday, Mr Ricketts asked, and you were singing songs?

Songs such as “My Grandfather’s clock”, “The Old Armchair”, and “Jim Crow”  he continued. The cadets looked confused. Amid more laughter they told him that they were ‘singing the songs of Zion, set to tunes for showing people the direct road to the Captain above’.

Did they work?, the magistrate asked. No, they marched and sang and were rewarded with lodgings and food for doing the ‘Master’s work’.

The justice didn’t like this at all:

‘Then I suppose these processions, these popular songs on a Sunday, and all this turning of religion into a mockery, is done solely for the purpose of getting money?’ he alleged.

It was to raise money for their work, for the mission and the Salvation hall protested the cadets, but to little effect. The magistrate, as a follower of a more traditional form of ‘sober’ worship clearly had little time for General Booth and his followers. He dismissed the charge against Rosewell (as unproven) and grumbled that ‘scenes like those caused by the Salvation Army were likely to lead to riot and tumult’.

Widely disliked in the late 1800s the Army changed tack and started to provide social welfare as well as evangelism and popular music. It survived the critics and the brickbats and now claims to have 1.5 million members across the world.

[from The Standard), Wednesday, May 04, 1881]

Daring burglars nabbed by a DC near the Duke of Wellington’s London home.

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Piccadilly, near Green Park, in 1897

In the early hours of the morning of the 27 April 1889 Detective constable William Wyers (294 C) had stationed himself in a secluded spot at the corner of Piccadilly and St George’s Place; from here he could watch Piccadilly and the homes of the wealthy that lived there.

In the Victorian period the crime that most exercised the queen’s subjects, after murder of course, was burglary. The papers were filled with reports of burgled premises and with advertisements for preventing intruders from entering your home. This was also the period that saw the birth of home contents insurance as homeowners sought to protect themselves from the supposed legions of ‘Bill Sikes’ and his ilk.

As DC Wyers watched he saw three men approaching a house at number 146 Piccadilly, adjacent in fact to where the Ritz Hotel is today.* He saw one of the men enter the gates of 146 and climb the steps to the front door. The man tried the door and seemed to fiddle with (perhaps to see it was unlocked). Finding it secure he retreated, climbed over the railings and lit a match, and waited a moment or two. From a distance Wyers couldn’t be completely sure what he was up to.

The ‘burglar’ then went back to the other men and slowly, and in single file, they each approached the property. The man (who was later established to be Arthur Thiviot, a stoker living on the Charing Cross Road) went back over the railings followed by one of his mates (William Booty, a porter ‘of no fixed abode’). While they did this the last man (John Pegg, a Soho printer) stayed back to keep watch.

None of them had noticed the detective constable however. DC Wyers took advantage of a passing hansom cab and jumped on to the back spring, hitching a ride towards them. He alighted opposite Apsley House, the London home of the Duke of Wellington. This now placed him behind the men and he crept on all fours to avoid being seen by the lookout Pegg.

Unfortunately for Wyers he wasn’t as careful as he might have been. Pegg saw him and whistled to alert the others. They ran for it, rushing across Piccadilly and into Hamilton Place, with the policeman in hot pursuit. Wyers caught Thiviot and Booty and cornered them in a doorway. Pegg was known to the police so the DC called him by name and ‘ordered him to stop’, which he did.

He asked Thiviot what he was up and what he had in his pockets. The alleged burglar told him he had nothing on him, and if he was a suspect then the copper better take him back to the station. Wyers thrust his hand into Thiviot’s pocket and produced  dark lantern, a common tool of the burglar.

‘Halloa, what are you doing with this?’ asked Wyers.

‘Oh, its all right Mr Wyers’, replied the stoker, demonstrating that the detective was also well known to the criminal fraternity, ‘I have just left my club. The stairs are very dark where I live , and I brought this lantern to show a light up there’.

It was a fairly pathetic excuse given the circumstances, but I suppose he had to offer something.

Myers grabbed Thiviot and told the others to follow him to the station, warning them that he knew where they lived should they chose to abscond. Thiviot also urged them not to abandon him. As soon as they met with two beat ‘bobbies’ on Piccadilly however, Wyers handed them over and all three were accompanied to the police station.

There all three were searched; Booty and Pegg were clean but Thiviot was found to have ‘a lock picker, a knife and a pair of scissors’ on him. DC Wyers then returned to 146 Piccadilly with Inspector Barrie and they discovered more evidence: a jemmy and marks on the door that suggested Thiviot had tried to force it earlier. They moved on to search Thiviot’s lodgings in Charing Cross Road where they also found a set of keys, ‘and a surgical lance’ (why this was mentioned is unclear, except perhaps to show that he must have stolen it at some point,  why would he have it otherwise?)

In court on the following Monday the Marlborough Street Police magistrate the three were remanded on a  charge of loitering with intent to burgle the home of Mrs Rose Joyce, 146 Piccadilly, London.

The three men went on trial at the Old Bailey in May 1889, but not for the attempted burglary in Piccadilly. Instead they were tried for burgling a warehouse in Charing Cross and the items found on Thiviot (the lantern for example) and the jemmy or chisel found at the scene of the attempted crime in Piccadilly, proved vital in convicting him. All three were found guilty and then admitted a string of previous convictions.

As a result Cheviot was sentenced to penal servitude for six years, the other two for five. The court also aware William Wyers the sum of £2 ‘for the ability he displayed in watching and apprehending the prisoners on another charge, which was not proceeded with’, this being the attempted burglary of Mrs Joyce’s home.

[from The Standard, Monday, April 29, 1889]

*The famous London landmark was not there in 1889 however, as it did not open until 1906.

Three lads in a boat, bound for Australia with ‘tea, cheese’ and a sense of adventure.

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Thomas Stead was only a young boy when he was brought to the Bow Street Police Court, the most senior of the summary courts of the capital. He was charged with stealing two bank cheques and a dagger.

Thomas was only 14 and had been arrested with two other lads in an open boat by officers from the Thames Police , who patrolled London’s arterial river. When they were seized they were found to be well equipped, with tea, cheese, candles, etc., and a pair of revolvers’. The boys’ stated plan was to row to Australia!

I’ve no idea why it was only Thomas that appeared at Bow Street, or what happened to the others, but perhaps he was the only one without a family to look after him.

The sitting magistrate was clearly somewhat impressed by the spirit and determination of this young thief, but at the same felt it necessary to try and cure him of his ‘stealing propensities’ (as he put it). He sent him to the reformatory at Feltham – a young offenders  institution that still exists (and I recall visiting when my father used to play football for the London Probation Service team).

The justice hoped, he said, that the 10 days he would have to spend in prison before Feltham (as was required with all reformatory sentences, quite against the wishes of Mary Carpenter who had champion this form of rehabilitation for youthful felons), and the spell in the Reformatory itself, would affect a change in the boy.

Then, ‘perhaps, if he still desired to be a sailor, he would be assisted in doing so, and would be able to go to Australia, not in an open boat, but in a legitimate, and in a much more safe way’.

He went on to tell Thomas that he:

 ‘was an intelligent lad, and if he only acted properly a bright future might be in store for him’. Australia was no longer the place where Britain disposed of its unwanted criminals and political prisoners, that had slowed in the 1850s and come to an end in 1868. Only ‘honest, industrious people were wanted’ there now he concluded.

I really wonder what happened to Thomas Stead. For all his faults he seems to me (as he did to the Bow Street magistrate) exactly the sort of youngster Victorian society celebrated. He was resourceful, brave and adventurous and had he been born into a wealthy family (instead of most likely being an orphan and condemned to living hand-by-mouth on the streets) he might be a name we all remember as well as Livingstone, Stanley, Scott or Rhodes.

The last convict ship, HMS Hougoumont (named for one of the key buildings that allied troops fought so hard to keep at the battle of Waterloo) sailed to Australia in 1867, with 281 passengers. It marked the end of a system of forced migration that had lasted nearly 80 years.

[from The Standard, Saturday, April 25, 1885

It has been a year since I started writing this daily blog. It began as an exercise in forcing myself to undertake a piece of research writing on  daily basis to keep myself ‘fit’ (in a sense) admit the routines associated with being a senior lecturer in a busy teaching university. It has grown (largely thanks to all the people that bother to read it and tell me they enjoy or find it useful) into a body of research that I will now attempt to use to form part of a couple of larger written projects over the the next few years. So, thank you for the positive comments made via the site, twitter and Facebook, and I hope you continue to enjoy reading the day-to-day stories from the police courts of London.

                                                                                                                           Drew 

 

A ‘suspicious person’ at Woolwich, but ‘not clever enough’ to be a terrorist.

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In the 1880s Woolwich was home to the Royal Arsenal, as it had been since the 17th century (and in fact earlier as there had been used for gun storage from the mid 1500s). After 1886 it was also home to what was to become one of London’s most successful football clubs, Arsenal FC.

Given that artillery and shells were manufactured at Woolwich in the 1800s the site was an important one for the Victorian military, but also a target for the enemies of the state. Security, then, as now, was an issue of national importance and the Victorian state was concerned about internal threats just as much as it was about  those posed by rival imperial powers.

In the 1880s there were  a series of terrorist incidents in London, all part of a long running campaign by Irish nationalists in the cause of independence. It is a subject I have looked at as part of my research into late Victorian London and I drew heavily on the capital’s newspapers and the work of K. M. Short, whose study of Fenian terrorism remains the most comprehensive one out there, despite its age.

So, given the background, we might expect the authorities at Woolwich to be on the look out for potential terrorists, and in April 1881 they thought they might have caught one.

Two constables from the Arsenal were patrolling by the river front when they saw a man rowing up and down, seemingly watching the shoreline. It was particularly suspicious because this was at just after one o’clock int he morning and they could not see what legitimate purpose he had for being there so late (or early). At three he was still there so they called to him and asked him what he was about.

He replied that he was lost and was it possible for him to land. The constables directed him to a pier, and when he docked and climbed the steps they arrested him. The police were called and they questioned him. It was soon discovered that the boat he was in had been stolen from an MP who lived at North Woolwich, Mr (later Sir) Thomas Brassey the member for Hastings.

The man’s name was Michael Sullivan and his peculiar behaviour and Irish background raised concerns that he was a Fenian bent on mischief at the Arsenal. However, when Inspector McElligot was called to give evidence he ‘repudiated any supposition that Fenianism had anything to do with the case, and complained that the most extravagant and unfounded rumours had been circulated’.

The magistrate agreed, he commented: ‘I agree with you that he is not a Fenian. I doesn’t look clever enough’, which was met with much laughter in the Woolwich Police Court, before his worship (Mr Balgey) sent him to prison for a for a month at hard labour.

1884 saw a number of terrorist outrages in London. A bomb was placed at Victoria Railway Station and other London termini, and a fairly inept attempt to blow up London Bridge resulted in the death of the bombers. In May 1884 two boys kicking an abandoned briefcase attracted the attention of a policeman who found they were playing with a case containing dynamite, fuses and a detonator! These incidents followed attacks in 1882 (at the Lord Mayor’s residence, Mansion House) and at the offices of The Times newspaper in 1883. In January 1885 the Houses of Parliament were targeted  along with he Tower of London, and the new underground railway was also subject to a bomb attack, as the Hammersmith train left Aldgate station.

There were few deaths and nothing like the serious level of injury that modern terrorists have inflicted recently, but it still reminded Victorian society that as long as Britain insisted on claiming Ireland as a colony Victoria’s subjects would not be safe in their homes or their streets. It also contributed to wider prejudice and the stereotyping of Irish immigrants in London and elsewhere, something that we see repeated in the demonisation of moslems today.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, April 20, 1881]

Cruelty to a performing monkey in Marylebone

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Italian organ grinders have figured before on this blog; there seems to have been  a fair few of them active in Victorian London and they nearly all seem to have used a monkey as part of their act. I suppose it helped to draw a crowd and buskers today often need a gimmick to help part passers-by from their cash.

Today we place considerable restrictions on the use of animals in theatres, circuses and on television and film but we frequently look back on the past as a time when people cared less about cruelty towards them than they do now. I’m not sure this really holds up to examination; after all the RSPCA was founded in 1824, long before the NSPCC ( 1884).

Police detective Cumner of D Division was walking around Portman Square in London’s fashionable West End, when he saw a man  knocking on the houses of the well-to-do. The man was ‘dragging a monkey along the street by means of a chain’. As he approached a house he tried to force the animal to camber up the railings, to perform one imagines. But according to the detective the poor beast ‘did its best to do as directed, but seemed unable to complete the task owing to its weak condition’.

The man then kicked the animal before a nearby police constable saw him and approached. At this the man seized his money, thrust it under his coat and walked away. The copper would have probably nicked him for begging or loitering with intent.

Detective Cumner decided to follow him however, to see what he did next.

He saw him stop in the next street and start to hit the animal ‘most cruelly’. At this Cumner intervened and when he got close he saw that the monkey was bleeding from its feet. The man, an Italian musician named Joseph Syra, was arrested and taken back to the police station.

The animal was then shown to a vet on Marylebone High Street. James Rowe examined the animal and discovered that it had suffered really badly under Syra’s ‘care’.

It ‘was dressed up as a soldier’ and strips of steel had been attached to its legs, to keep it upright. It was ‘very ill and emaciated’, and the metal splints had caused its hind legs and feet to bleed. The very act of standing in an unnatural position was, in the vet’s opinion, causing it great pain and injury.

When the case was outlined before Mr Cooke, the sitting magistrate at Marylebone he fined Syra 25s with 10s 6d costs. warning him that if he couldn’t pay he would go to prison for 10 days.

This alarmed the detective: ‘But what shall I do with the monkey, your worship, if the man goes to prison?’

‘I really don’t know’, came the reply, ‘I suppose they would not receive it at the Green Yard?’

This provoked a weak laugh from the courtroom. The Green Yard was the City of London’s holding pen for stray cattle and sheep that had been found wandering before or after they were supposed to be sold at Smithfield Market. It was unlikely that an Italian musician’s pet would be welcome there.

Fortunately  the vet stepped in and offered to keep the monkey for the duration. He had, he said, a large cage which was ideal for the purpose. One wonders whether anyone thought to remove the poor monkey from Joseph Syra’s clutches but perhaps, in 1886, that was beyond the authority of the magistracy.

[from The Standard, Monday, April 19, 1886]

An astrologer fails to see his own future in the stars.

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James Wallace was described in court as a 37 year-old astrologer. When he appeared before Mr Bridge at Bow Street he was charged with a violent assault on his wife. The case was fairly straightforward, although some things about Wallace clearly disturbed the magistrate and led him to hand the man a hefty sentence.

Mr and Mrs Wallace lived at Edward Street on the Hampstead Road. The newspaper report gives us no indication whether their marriage was a happy one or whether, instead, Wallace’s abuse of his wife was a regular occurrence. I expect it was the latter because the historical research that has analysed domestic violence in the 1800s reveals that many women put up with a considerable amount of abuse before they felt impelled to take the matter to court.

At Thames court, in the East End, spousal abuse was a weekly if not daily part of the business of the court and Messrs. Lushington and Saunders regularly sent violent men to prison or fined them, for beating this partners. Thomas Holmes, who wrote several article sand books on the Police Courts in the late Victorian and Edwardian period had this to say about domestic abuse before the Police Court magistrates:

These wives will put up with a lot before they complain to the magistrates, and it is only when the wounds are fresh, and pain and resentment have not yet subsided, that they will give evidence against their husbands. Smarting under their wrongs, they rush to our courts and beg for protection, but when the summons has been granted and a week has elapsed before it is heard, their resentment cools, and very little evidence can be obtained from them; in fact, many wives do not appear, and a great number of those that do appear lie unblushingly to the magistrate in order to save their husbands from prison‘.

Thomas Holmes, Pictures and Problems from the London Police Courts (Edward Arnold, London, 1900). p.64

Holmes was a Police Court Missionary, a forerunner of the Probation Officers that were to be created in 1907. PCMs attached themselves to the London courts and offered help and advice to defendants, whilst at the same time seeking to them to append their name to the pledge to refrain from drinking alcohol. These champions of temperance identified the ‘demon drink’ as the ‘curse of the working classes’ and became familiar and largely, it seems, welcome faces at the courts.

Anyway, let us return to James Wallace. He did not fit the usual profile of a ‘wife beater; in late Victorian London. Rather than being a rough manual worker who, on returning from work or the pub late in the evening, took out his frustrations on his life partner. Instead Wallace was an educated man, or so he wanted the magistrate to think. Whilst he was on remand for the attack on his wife he wrote to the magistrate. In his letter he explained that he was a former clerk, but now earned  a living as an astrologer. He spoke of his wife in ‘a very derogatory manner’, trying to excuse his own behaviour in chastising her.

However, Wallace hadn’t simply beaten his wife for her bad behaviour – as was commonly the case with men in the period, or at least was the justification they presented in court. Wallace had dragged his wife through the streets and punched her in the head. This stepped way beyond contemporary views of acceptable ‘chastisement’.

Moreover, James Wallace was, to the magistrate at least, a charlatan and a trickster. As an astrologer he claimed to be able to read peoples’ fortunes and Mr Bridge described him as someone who ‘obtained money by cheating unwily persons’.

It is quite easy to get the impression that Mr Bridge was disgusted by the man he saw before him in the dock. He was squandered an education to peddle false dreams and he undermined any pretence of being a ‘gentleman’ by his cruel treatment of his wife.

In his letter Wallace had apparently asked the magistrate to allow himself and his wife to separate. That at least Bridge was happy to agree to. But he added that the astrologer would have to pay his wife maintenance of 10s a week for the duration of that separation; neither were free to remarry unless they obtained an expensive divorce.

On top of that the justice ordered that Wallace be sent to prison for six months  at hard labour, a serious penalty that reflected his poor opinion of him, his chosen ‘career’ and his behaviour towards his spouse.

I guess James didn’t see that coming…

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, April 14, 1889]