Charles Dickens is charged at Bow Street (for spreading a disease!)

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Charles Dickens, perhaps unusually for a novelist, was extremely popular in his own time with his stories being devoured  in serial form by tens of thousands of readers and his live performances drawing many others to the the theatre. His fame and admiration may well have led those who shared his surname to name their offspring after the great novelist. This would appear to be the background behind a rather unusual appearance at Bow Street Police court in September 1893 and perhaps explain why the editor of The Standard chose it as one of the few summary court cases he published that day.

Charles A. Dickens was a clerk working for a large firm based in Gloucester. On the 19 August 1893 Dickens had arrived in London with two of his sons, and they checked in to the West Central Temperance Hotel in Southampton Row.  As a 1927 guide tells us: ‘Temperance Hotels (especially in Bloomsbury), in which alcoholic liquors are not consumed, often afford comfortable quarters at very reasonable rates’, so perhaps this why Dickens (a clerk minding his pennies) selected it as a sensible place to stay.

On Sunday and Monday one of the children (also named Charles) was ill. On Tuesday he said he felt a little better but Mr Dickens was still concerned enough to call for a doctor. Having examined the boy the doctor (named Steggall) informed the clerk that his son was suffering from scarletina, the medical term for scarlet fever. As a highly infectious and potentially fatal illness Dickens should have isolated his son from others and informed the authorities; however he did neither of these things which is why he ended up facing a court case.

The magistrate at Bow Street (Mr Lushington – who had been promoted from the less the prestigious court at Thames) heard from Dickens’ lawyer (as the clerk himself did not  appear to testify in person) who spoke in defence of a charge brought by Mr H. C. Jones of the St. Giles Board of Works.

Mr Jones alleged that Dickens had breached the terms of the Public Health London Act (1891) by  exposing the sufferer of a contagious disease to others. The Dickens family had left the hotel without informing the proprietor of the boy’s illness. Mr Jones said that had the doctor not taken it upon himself to tell the hotel the room might have been let to other guests. As it was, once Dr Steggall had let them know of Charles’ condition,  the room was fumigated in accordance with the terms of the act.

Nevertheless, he said, the boy had still mingled with other guests in the ‘public coffee room’. Moreover they had then traveled back ‘on a public carriage and then a train to  Gloucester. How many people might have been infected was impossible to say’. Once back in Gloucester it appeared that Dickens had not even informed the medical authorities there, something Jones had checked with Dr Lovett at the Gloucester Sanitary commission.

Dr Francis Bond, from the Gloucester medical board, thought it serious enough to appear at Bow Street to back up Mr Jones’ case and help bring this to the attention of the press (and public). He explained that there was a ‘popular delusion’ that scarlet fever was only infectious in its later stages when in fact, he continued’, it was infectious from the beginning. As a result young Charles should have been isolated immediately and the relevant medical authorities informed.

In his defence Dickens’ lawyer argued that his client was unaware that scarletina was in fact scarlet fever and confirmed that the clerk wasn’t aware that the disease was contagious until ‘the peeling stage’. Thus he had ‘adopted the natural course of taking the child home to be nursed’. He hadn’t even been aware of the 1891 legislation (which is perhaps hardly surprising given that it was new and only applied to the capital).

However, ignorance is no defence in law and while Lushington was prepared to accept that it was a mistake and not a deliberate attempt to evade his responsibilities, he still fined the clerk two guineas with a  further five guineas costs. If Mr Dickens was unable to pay he added, he would go to prison for a month. Hopefully the clerk was able to produce the fines which were not insignificant. As for the author whose name both the clerk and his son shared, he knew all about the dangers of scarletina. His son (also Charles) contracted the illness in Paris in 1847. Scarlet fever was a dangerous disease, particularly for the children of the poor in Victorian England, and wasn’t really eradicated until the discovery of penicillin in the 20th century. That said, in recent years, it seems to have made a comeback.

The case here then reveals not only the celebrity of Charles Dickens (and his wide influence) but also the use of the papers as a way to inform the wider public of the law and the consequences of breaking it. This story served to remind readers (many of whom were working class) that the magistracy had the power to intervene in private lives, and that all citizens had responsibilities, not only for the health of their own family members but a also had duty of care to others. These then were not simply ‘criminal’ courts, they had a much wider purview.

[from The Standard, Saturday, September 16, 1893]

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‘An extraordinary story’ of a missing boy in North London

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Mrs Ada Wigg was clearly at her wits end when she presented herself at the North London Police Court in early September 1898. She said she needed the magistrate’s helping in finding her missing son, Frank. The Wiggs lived in Shrubland Grove, Dalston and on Saturday 3 September she had despatched Frank (who was aged 11 and a half) to Sailsbury Square in the City on business.

The boy came home in a hansom cab paid for by a ‘gentleman’ he had met. This man had apparently bought the young boy dinner, given him a shilling and told him that if he came again he would  ‘keep him and make a gentleman of him’.

For a young lad from East London (even one from a family that sounds like they were doing ok) this might have sounded very tempting, to his mother it must have been horrifying. Ada told her son that he was forbidden from ever seeing the man again and hoped that was that. Unfortunately on Sunday Frank went off to church as usual at 10.30 in the morning, but hadn’t been seen since. Mrs Wigg went to the police and they followed up enquiries around the boy’s known haunts, even sending a telegraph to Lichfield where they had friends, but to no avail.

It is hard to look back in time with any degree of certainty but it looks from here as if young Frank was being groomed. Mr D’Eyncourt thought it an ‘extraordinary story’ and hoped that by reporting in the newspapers the boy might be noticed and found. His mother gave a description that was carefully recorded by the court reporter. Frank was:

‘Tall, fair and good looking, with blue eyes. He was wearing a light Harrow suit and patent shoes, and carried a silver lever watch and chain’.

Mrs Wigg had not seen the gentleman concerned but the boy had told he was aged ‘about 50, tall and grey’.

Two days later The Standard carried  brief follow up to the story. The reporter at North London said a telegram had been received at the court which read:

“Frank Gent Wigg found safe at Clapham. Grateful thanks to Magistrate, Police and Press”, Mrs A Wigg.

So the publicity worked on this occasion and whatever the mysterious gentleman had in store for Frank – even if it was simply a benign desire to give him a leg up in life – was averted.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, September 06, 1898; The Standard, Thursday, September 08, 1898]

A waiter’s attempt to ‘over egg the pudding’ backfires.

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Many (indeed most) of the cases that ended being tried before a jury at the Old Bailey in the 1800s started with a hearing before a Police Court Magistrate. It was the duty and role of the magistrates to determine whether a person brought before them should be dealt with summarily (in other words by them without recourse to a jury) or be sent for trial at the sessions or Old Bailey. The less serious cases were sent to the Middlesex Sessions while the more heinous offences were generally reserved for the Bailey. In effect this meant that homicides, serious fraud or forgery, and violent theft and burglary ended up before the juries of London’s Central Criminal court (CCC).

When a case made it to the Old Bailey the pre-trial hearing in the Police Courts was often refereed to. If a defendant tried to change their tune at this stage the prosecution could and did use this against them. So, many of the cases that I’ve traced from the Police Courts to the CCC look very similar; in some cases we get a greater level of detail at the Bailey (because the reports of the summary hearings were often limited by space) but the basic fact are the same. In this case from 1898 however, the pre-trial hearing and the final jury trial seem to have several differences, and this probably contributed to the acquittal of the defendant.

In August 1898 William Farrington was drinking with his brother in the Hero of Waterloo pub in Waterloo Road, Kennington. It was 10.30 at night and Farrington taking a day off from his job at the Oval cricket ground where he was employed as the head waiter. At some point a man wandered across the room and thrust a pint pot under his nose and invited him to drink with him.

The man, Thomas Checkley, had been sitting with some companions and appeared to know the waiter. Farrington however, made out that the 30 year-old was a stranger to him and turned down his offer. Soon afterwards the Farrington brothers rose and left the pub. Once they got outside they were attacked by Checkley and his friends in the street. A policeman soon arrived and while most of the gang scattered, PC Frederick Habtick (45L) managed to secure Checkley. On the 19 August 1898 both Checkley and Farrington were in court at Southwark, the former charged with highway robbery and assault.

At Southwark Police Court Farrington complained that Checkley had punched him in the face, cutting his lip and then knocked him to the floor. Once he was down the other men had moved in to assault and rob the helpless man. One of the gang help his legs while another rifled his pockets and stole 28s from him.

The magistrate, Mr Fenwick, was told that the men were well known thieves. Detective Sergeant Divall of M Division, explained that Checkley belonged to  ‘Pickett’s gang’, a ‘notorious Waterloo-road’ group of criminals that had recently come out of prison. Checkley himself had recently served 15 months for robbing a ‘tipsy man’ of a watch and chain.

Faced with all of this evidence it was not a difficult decision for Mr Fenwick to commit Checkley to the CCC for trial and, on 13 September 1898 he appeared at the Old Bailey, charged with robbery with violence and theft from the person.

Here though a slightly different version of events emerged which probably helped to sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of the jury. The court heard much the same set of evidence from Farrington but under cross-examination the waiter stumbled a little. He admitted that he had actually shared a drink with Checkley in the pub, if only a small one. The defence argued that the men had in fact once been acquainted with each  other and had a fight some three months previously.

Checkley’s barrister then suggested that Farrington had invented the charge of robbery to ‘make it hot’ for his client; in other words he accused the waiter of inventing an additional and more serious crime as part of his ongoing feud with Checkley. The waiter denied this vehemently but I think the jury were convinced by the argument.

Curiously (given the evidence about street gangs offered by DS Divall at Southwark) the police seemed to have supported the defence (if not deliberately). Both PC Habtick and his station inspector (who was called to attend on the second day of the trial) stated for the record that when they had brought Checkley in they thought the charge was assault, not robbery. The inspector told the court that:

‘I saw the prosecutor when the prisoner was brought to the station—he had been drinking heavily all day, but was sober—he knew what he was doing—he said he had been out for a holiday that day and treated the prisoner to several drinks – the charge was striking the prosecutor in the face with his fist and kicking him on the head—nothing was said about his having been robbed’.

So had Farrington decided to use Checkley’s former criminal record to his advantage? It would seem so. Previous convictions dogged the footsteps of felons in the 1800s (much more than they do today) and were cited as reasons to prosecute and impose more serious sentences on those convicted. Had the jury not been distracted by the inconsistency in Farrington and the other police accounts of the incident I suspect Checkley would have been facing a spell of 5-10 years of penal servitude with all the horror that entailed. In this case, due in no small part to the honesty of the police a known criminal was acquitted of robbery and therefore in effect, acquitted also of assault.

Personally I would not like to have been William Farrington in the weeks and months that followed because I am  fairly sure that ‘Pickett’s gang’ would have been quite prepared to meet out their own form of ‘justice’ to someone that had tried to get one of their number sent away for something he had not done.

[from The Standard, Saturday, August 20, 1898]

A ‘passenger incident’ on the late Victorian Underground

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As someone who lives in London and regularly uses the ‘tube’ (the underground railway,  for those unfamiliar with the metropolis) I am used to the occasional delay in services caused by that saddest of announcements, a ‘passenger incident’. This can mean that someone is ill and a carriage has been stopped so that medical assistance can be sought, but it can also indicate that a person has thrown themselves in front of a train.

While I can just about imagine what motivates someone to do this I can’t begin the understand how the poor driver of a train must feel when he or she sees someone fall out the racks in front of his eyes, and they are unable to stop the vehicle from crushing them. Between 1993 and 2015 over 1400 people attempted to take their own lives on the Underground, that is an average of 64 a year, and over one a week.

The London Underground has been operating since the 1860s and it has been used for suicides attempts throughout that time. According to one piece of research, suicide on the railway increased after 1868 (just three years after the first train ran) when newspapers published details of the methods would-be suicides used.*

If that was the case then this example, from The Standard in 1893, was probably just as unhelpful.

Isaac Shelton was a 63 year-old ‘house decorator’ who lived on the Edgware Road.  At a quarter to six in the evening on 27 June (a Tuesday) Isaac was seen entering the tunnel at Baker Street underground station, heading for Edgware Road. A fellow passenger shouted to him but he was ignored. At the same time a train was arriving in the station and the driver was alerted and the service was detained.

The station inspector, Mr Coleman, was summoned but in the meantime a young man named Albert Swift set off in pursuit of Shelton.

‘In the darkness he could hear somebody scrambling about on the ballast, and going in the direction of the noise, he found [Shelton] about 150 yards into the tunnel, lying across the metals of the upline’.

Albert tried to get the man’s attention and lift him up, but all he got back was the request: ‘leave me alone, I’m going home’. Fortunately the young man was soon joined by Mr Coleman and a porter and eventually the three manhandled Shelton up and off the tracks and back out to safety.

He seemed ‘sober, but excited’, they later testified.

The case came before the Marylebone Police magistrate, Mr Plowden. Shelton claimed she had no recollection of how he had got where he was. He said he had been having epileptic fits for twenty years and one had come on as he made his way home that evening. His wife appeared and confirmed that her husband suffered from epilepsy, and was subject to fits.

I’m not an expert on epilepsy but I have known people who suffer. This seems something quite unlike a fit and more akin to an desperate act by someone who did not wish to carry on. It seems this was also the opinion of the justice, who remanded Shelton in custody, perhaps to seek a medical opinion on his condition. Fortunately his attempt (if thats what it was) failed, because someone was quick witted enough to spot him and do something about it.

I imagine that is how most attempts are foiled today – by someone caring enough to see what their fellow passengers are doing and to notice when a person looks like they need a gentle word or two to bring them back from the edge, literally and figuratively.

[from The Standard, Thursday, June 29, 1893]

*O’Donnell, I.; Farmer, R. D. T. ‘The epidemiology of suicide on the London underground’. Social Science & Medicine 38 (3): 409–418. February 1994

 

 

Upper-class rough stuff at the Aquarium

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The Royal Aquarium & Winter Garden, Westminster

The 1890s were infamous for the creation of the ‘hooligan’ menace. The papers reported the antisocial behaviour of working class boys and young men, and their fights with rival gangs across the capital. These gangs of youths came from the poorer areas of London, like Lambeth (where Clarence Rook’s character Alf hailed from) or from Whitechapel or the rougher bits of Marylebone.

While they were dubbed ‘hooligans’ in London in the 1890s these sorts of youth gangs were not a new phenomena; there had been an ongoing public concern about ‘roughs’ since the 1870s if not earlier. In Liverpool ‘cornermen’ terrorised passers-by, in Salford ‘scuttlers’ had running fights in the streets. In 2015 I published an article about a murder at the gates of Regent’s Park, which arose out of a feud between two groups of ‘lads’ that claimed territorial ‘rights’ along the  Marylebone Road.

What marked out most of the public furore and moral panic about anti-social youth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century however, was that it was entirely focused on young working-class men. The behaviour of the elites was rarely considered to be a concern, at least not a concern that reached the pages of the London and national  press.

So this story, published in Lloyd’s Weekly, gives us an interesting and unusual example of balance. Lloyd’s  was a broadly Liberal paper by 1890 although it did have more radical political roots, if not the radical beliefs of its early rival Reynold’s. It was a paper for the masses, not for the upper classes or well-to-do however, and these might help explain why it took this opportunity to point out the bad behaviour of those nearer the top of the social ladder.

The court reporter at Westminster Police Court chose, as his story for the day, to focus on the case of James Weil and Simon Skockock. Weil was a 23 year-old ‘dealer’ and his colleagues a diamond broker aged 29. Weil lived in St John’s Wood while Skockock resided in Compton Road, Highbury.

Neither were your typical ‘roughs’ or ‘hooligans’. They found themselves before a magistrate however, for causing a disturbance at the Royal Aquarium and acting in a ‘disorderly’ manner.

By 1890 the aquarium had been open for 14 years and was an interesting London attraction. It was built to stage plays and other theatrical productions but also to house art exhibitions, almost as a rival to the Crystal Palace built in Sydenham. As this interesting item from ‘know your London’ describes it was quite a different sort of venue:

The main hall was 340 feet (104 m) long and 160 feet (49 m) wide. It was covered with a roof of glass and iron and decorated with palm trees, fountains, pieces of original sculpture, thirteen large tanks meant to be filled with curious sea creatures and an orchestra capable of accommodating 400 performers. Around the main hall were rooms for eating, smoking, reading and playing chess, as well as an art gallery, a skating rink and a theatre (see Imperial Theatre below). The Aquarium adopted an expensive system of supplying fresh and sea-water from four cisterns, sunk into the foundations. This quickly ran into operating problems. The large tanks for fish were never stocked and they became a standing joke. The directors did display a dead whale in 1877.*

One Saturday evening in  June 1890 up to a dozen young men, including Weil and Skockock, were ‘perambulating the Aquarium’ in an aggressive and drunken manner. According to the report of Police Inspector Bird of A Division, they were seen to be:

‘pushing against people, flourishing walking sticks, and knocking hats off’.

Police and security at and around the venue warned them about their behaviour but were ignored. Finally some of them were ejected and the trouble spilled out into the streets. Some of them started to wander off, as instructed by the police, but Weil refused to nom home quietly. As a result he was arrested and as he was being marched off to Rochester Row Police Station his friends followed boisterously after him.

Skockock was the most vociferous  and when the police got fed up of listening to him he was also charged with being disorderly. The pair thus ended up in court before Mr Shiel the sitting magistrate.

Shiel waived away their attempts to say it was all something about nothing and that they had simply been arguing over the amount of bail that should exposited to gain their mate’s release. Nor was he sympathetic to the suggestion that they were simply ‘larking’ about. They were, he told them, ‘too old for that sort of folly’.

‘It is extraordinary to me’, the magistrate declared, ‘that the amusement and pleasure of other people should be interfered with by well-dressed roughs like you’, before binding them over in surety of £20 each for their good behaviour over the next six months, and asking them to produce others who would stand surety for another £10 a head. A failure to produce either would land them in prison for 14 days.

I doubt that it would have been hard for them to find the sureties or produce evidence that they themselves were ‘good for it’, but it was dent in their reputations. Had they been working-class roughs they might have gained some status amongst their fellows, but then again working class hooligans wouldn’t have been given the option to pay their pay out of gaol time.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, June 8, 1890]

*https://knowyourlondon.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/royal-aquarium-westminster/

Sometimes you get exactly what you pay for, a Bow Street justice explains.

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‘I left the room with silent dignity, but unfortunately I tripped over the carpet.’ (Mr Pooter in Diary of a Nobody, Grossmith and Grossmith, 1892)

Bow Street Police Court was the most senior summary court in the capital in the Victorian period. Its magistrates sat in judgement on tens of thousands of petty criminals and sent many of them on for trial at the Old Bailey. In the 20th century some of the most famous felons in our history appeared there, including Ronnie and Reggie Kray. The original bar (where prisoners stood to hear their fate) is now in the national justice museum at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, complete with cut-outs of some of those that stood there.

It is probably to assume that this case, from May 1900, was not one that troubled the sitting justice overmuch. It was hardly a crime at all, but serves to remind us that the London Police Courts were – as the parlour of the 18th century justices of the peace had been – a forum for the public to air their grievances, however small.

Mr Vaughan was in the chair at Bow Street when a ‘respectable-looking’ man applied to him for ‘some remedy’. The unnamed gentleman had bought a watch in the Strand and he was unhappy with it.

It had been advertised, he said, as ‘the cheapest watch in the world’, but it didn’t actually tell the time.

Mr Vaughan asked the man what he had paid for it. 4s and 9d came the reply.

‘Then  I should say it was “the cheapest watch in the world”‘, replied the the magistrate. ‘Does it go at all?”

‘It does go but it won’t mark the hours’, grumbled the applicant. He explained that he had taken it to a watchmaker who had examined it and told him that the ‘wheels [were] not cut to mark the hours’.

Mr Vaughan looked it over and expressed his opinion that it was amazing it went at all for that price. The case itself was probably worth the money and he advised him to take it back. No law had been broken, the man had just been something of a cheapskate and he was fairly fortunate his name was withheld from the reading public, or he might have become a ‘Pooterish’ laughing stock.

He left the court, apologising to the court for wasting its time….

[from The Standard, Thursday, May 22, 1890]

Two ungrateful sons take out their anger on their mother’s effects

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Mercer Street, Seven Dials c.1890

When Mrs Lang lost her husband she also lost the main breadwinner and the driving force for the family business. The Langs had run a coppersmith business in Mercer Street, close to  Covent Garden. Fortunately for Mrs Lang she had two grown up sons and they undertook to help out in the running of the workshop.

However, the brothers, William and George, were not keen to take on the business for ever and soon began to resent working for their mother. They hit on the idea to emigrate and decided to seek their fortunes in Australia. Australia, which had once been deemed only fit as a dumping ground for Britain’s unwanted criminals, was now flourishing. It had enjoyed its own gold rush and the transportation of felons had come to a halt in the 1860s. Now, in May 1890, it looked like an attractive destination for the Lang brothers, but they needed to the funds to get there and establish themselves.

They began by asking their mother for money, above and beyond what they earned from working in the shop. The requests soon turned to demands, and eventually to demands with menaces. So concerned was Mrs Lang that she told her solicitor who wrote to the men warning them to desist.

This did nothing to deter them however and after their mother rejected demand for a sum of £500 they threatened to ‘do for her’ and then went to her home and smashed it up. The damage they did was considerable. While the elderly lady sheltered in her bedroom the pair set to work on her effects. When she felt it was safe to emerge she found a trail of devastation:

All ‘her pictures and ornaments had been smashed, and were lying about in atoms. The damage would amount to quite £30’ [£1,800 today]. A week later William went further, assaulting his mother by striking her ‘several blows’.

After appearing in court at Marlborough Street William was formally committed for trial while George, although acquitted of causing the damage, was ordered to find sureties (to the tune of £50) to keep the peace towards his mother for six months.

[from The Standard, Friday, May 16, 1890]