A Dartmoor prison warder has an expensive encounter with a ‘lady of the town’.

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Tothill Street, Westminster in the early 1800s (from http://spitalfieldslife.com/2014/04/01/more-long-forgotten-london/)

London was a huge draw for visitors in the nineteenth century, especially after the nation’s railway network was built. London was also the country’s criminal justice hub and many of those sentenced to terms of penal servitude were processed in the capital before being sent to institutions as far away as Devon or the Isle of wight. So Daniel Mahoney, a principal warder (prison officer in today’s terminology) at Dartmoor may have been in the capital for work or pleasure. Regardless of which it was he soon fell victim to one of the oldest tricks in the book.

As he was walking in Tothill Street (not far from where St James’ Park station is today) he was ‘accosted’ (his words) by Mary Brown. Mary was a ‘woman of the town’, a prostitute, but Mahoney (who was wearing his uniform) later made out that he didn’t realise this at first. According to the warder Mary asked him if he was looking for somewhere to stay and when he said he was she ‘told him she would take him to a nice clean place’ and went with him to an address in Orchard Street (near Marble Arch).

Once at the house she asked him if ‘he would treat her with some gin’. This was part of the usual transaction of prostitution and for Mahoney to later pretend otherwise was risible. Gin was fetched and two other women joined the party. The warder relaxed and took off his neck-stock (an uncomfortable early version of the stiff collar) and placed it on the table along with his handkerchief, watch and a purse of money.

Without detailing what happened next it must have been pretty obvious to the readership of The Morning Chronicle that Mahoney was enjoying the company of these ‘ladies’ and not paying attention to the danger he was in. London’s prostitutes had been decoying men into low lodging houses, getting them tipsy and parting them from their valuables for hundreds of years and a prison officer must have offered a particularly tempting prospect.

Before he realised what was going on the women had seized his goods and ran off with them. The next day (after Mahoney had reported the theft to the police) one officer made his way undercover to Orchard Street to make some enquiries. He probably had a fair idea from the warder’s description of who he was looking for even if Mary had not revealed her real name.

As police constable John Toomer (221B) strolled along Orchard Street Mary Brown came out into the street from her lodging at number 57 and spoke to him. Seemingly not realising who he was she started to brag about her successful exploits the night before.

Clutching a glass of brandy, ‘She told him she’d had  “a good pull” on the previous night’, that her victim was  ‘one of the Penitentiary officers; and she had got £3 10s in money, a beautiful watch and gold guard, and other things’.

The policeman asked her what she had done with he things and she admitted passing them on to one of her ‘companions’, Emma and spending some of the cash.  She then invited the policeman to go and have a drink with her. He agreed so he could pump her for more information and they walked on for a while. However, as soon as they got within striking distance of the nearest police station PC Toomer revealed himself and took her into custody.

Charged with robbery before the Westminster magistrate (Mr Paynter) Mary denied everything. In her version of events she had summoned by the warder to a house in Almonry. He had apparently paid a lad a shilling to fetch her, for sex one presumes. He had left his handkerchief there she told the justice. Thereafter they had continued on to Tothill Street where they met up with some other women and the warder bought them all something to drink. The last time she had seen Mahoney he was enjoying the company of one these women in a room in Orchard Street but Mary had left and knew nothing of the robbery.

Whatever the truth was the weight of evidence was fairly damning for Mary; especially her supposed confession to the plain-clothes policeman. But Mahoney did not come out of this very well either. The magistrate said he ‘was sorry to see a person of the prosecutor’s official position capable of such conduct’. He remanded Mary for a week for further enquiries.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, September 24, 1857]

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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]

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 squabble over oxtail soup

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Letitia Horswell ran an eating house (the nineteenth-century equivalent of a café or fast food restaurant) on the Blackfriars Road. At about 9 o’clock on the evening of 16 August 1877 two men (brothers) entered her shop and ordered food.

The men asked for soup and bread, paying 6d each. However when one of the men (a plasterer named Albert Crockford) tasted his oxtail soup he spat it out, declaring it was bad. He told Mrs Horswell that ‘he was a good judge of soup, and demanded his money back’.

Letitia refused his request telling him that it was very good soup and that none of her customers had ever complained about it before. Crockford insisted she reimburse him and threatened to call the police if she continued to refuse to. Mrs Horswell was equally intractable and stood her ground; the soup was good, she ‘sold a great quantity of it’ and he would be getting no refund from her.

At this Crockford rose from his seat, marched over to the front door and shouted for a policeman. Although an officer soon arrived he could not (or would not) do anything. Mrs Horswell had broken no law and was powerless to compel the landlady to reimburse her customer.

Frustrated, Crockwell now seized his bowl of soup and threw it in Letitia’s face. The poor woman was temporarily blinded and her dress was ruined. She was angry, not just at the damage caused to her clothes (valued at 3s) but at ‘the insult she had received’. She took the only course of redress she had available and had the constable arrest Crockford for the assault.

The next day the pair appeared in the Southwark Police court before Mr Benson. He sympathised with Mrs Horswell and told the defendant that it was ‘rather expensive for [her] to have a dress spoiled by every dissatisfied customer’.

In his defence Crockford said he had not intended to throw the soup at Mrs Horswell but out into the street, he was very sorry for the harm and damage done. He had been drinking with his brother he explained, before they decided to get some sustenance.

Mr Benson suggested it might have been better ‘had they commenced with the soup and ended with the beer’, as drinking on an empty stomach was never a good idea. He advised Crockford to compensate Mrs Horswell for the damage and insult or he would be forced to fine him ‘heavily’. After a brief conversation the two parties agreed an undisclosed fee and both went their separate ways. This was an example of the magistrate helping smooth social relations by brokering a deal between the two combatants.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, August 18, 1877]

One man’s convenience is another’s inconvenience, or, there are two sides to every story

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Mr T Coggan ran a baker’s shop in Chelsea, to the side of which was a ‘dead wall’ (a wall without openings). Perhaps because of where it was (near the corner of Moore Street) or maybe because it wasn’t lit, this wall seems to have become very popular with those gentlemen that found  themselves ‘caught short’ on their way home.

James Tagg was one such person. Tagg, a provisions merchant who lived in Durham Place (close to the Royal Hospital, home of the Pensioners), was out with friends. It was about 9 o’clock and Tagg needed ‘to go for an ordinary purpose’ to use the wall.

However ‘he had scarcely reached it when [Coggan] came and took hold of his arm, [he] said something he didn’t understand, [and then] struck him a violent blow across the nose’.

The merchant was knocked over and out, losing consciousness in a pool of blood. He came to in a ‘doctor’s shop’ with blood continuing to flow from his nose and mouth. It only temporarily stopped, starting up again the following day. He plugged his nostrils and ‘applied ice to his head’ but the doctors declared he was in a ‘dangerous state’.

Tagg had suffered such a blow as to cause him to haemorrhage. A summons was issued to bring Coggan before a magistrate but it was a couple of weeks before Tagg was strong enough to testify against him. When he did, in mid August 1850, two different two versions of the incident were aired, demonstrating the difficulties that magistrates had in  unpicking the truth from contesting accounts.

The baker was represented in Westminster Police Court by a solicitor, Mr Seale. Seale queried whether the provisions merchant was rather the worse for drink at the time and perhaps suggested that he did not fully understand his client’s reasonable protests about people using his property as a toilet. Tagg responded that he was ‘perfectly sober’ and the wall in question was a long way from the baker’s front door. In fact it was just the sort of place he would have expected Mr Seale to use in extremis.

Tagg also produced three witnesses (presumably his companions on the night) who supported his statements. They helped fill in the gaps left by Tagg’s loss of consciousness (and therefore any memory of the attack itself). It sounded brutal:

‘It was proved that the defendant got complainant’s head under his arm and then struck him while in that position at least three times; that the complainant, when dropped by the defendant immediately after, remained insensible for ten minutes’.

The witnesses reported that the ‘pool of blood in the street would have induced a person to believe that a sheep had been slaughtered rather than a human being had been struck’.

Now Seale tried to explain the incident from his client’s point of view, presenting an alternative  narrative for the magistrate. The baker was sorry for the injury caused, it was not deliberate he said.

In fact, on the night in question he had been stood at his ‘own door with his wife, when observing the complainant crossing over to his wall, and having experienced the most intolerable annoyance and damage from persons committing a nuisance there, and sometimes even at his street door, he walked towards him and said “it won’t do; I won’t have it here”.

As he challenged the man who was attempting to pee on his property he claimed that the merchant ‘threw his hat off, and and struck [him] two blows’. Thus in Coggan’s version of events he was acting in self-defence and only after great provocation. It was not the first time that passers-by had used his wall as a public convenience and for Coggan, enough was enough.

Recalled by the magistrate (Mr Burrell) Tagg denied squaring up to the baker or throwing any punches. He stuck to his story that the attack came out of nowhere without warning. Even if he had hit the baker first the magistrate said, Coggan had not used ‘reasonable force’ in retaliating. It was an extremely violent assault which had gravely injured the victim.

However, while Mr Burrell felt it was an appropriate case to be heard by a jury he asked the provisions merchant whether he wished to take the case any further. Tagg said he had ‘no vindictive feeling’ towards the baker despite his injury, and said if Coggan would pay him compensation of £10 and cover the cost of his medical treatment (which was not free in the 1800s of course) he would be satisfied. After some wrangling they agreed and both left court.

So, gentlemen, when you are next making your way home after a night’s entertainment with your mates, be aware that what looks like a convenient place to undertake a ‘necessity’ is probably someone else’s property, and they may not be quite as understanding of your needs as you might hope.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, August 16, 1850]

Cruelty to cat grabs the attention of the press while across London the ‘Ripper’ murders begin.

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The 8th August 1888 has considerable significance for anyone familiar with the so-called ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders of that year. Although the brutal killing of a woman in George Yard, near Whitechapel High Street did not make the headlines that the later murders that summer did, for many it represents the beginning of the series.

The victim, Martha Tabram, was poor and probably survived partly by prostituting herself in the back alleyways of the East End. She had supposedly been out early on the night she died with a woman named Pearly Poll although the real truth will probably never be known. Martha was stabbed 39 times, most of the wounds being made with what was described as a ‘pen knife’, the one killing blow (to her heart or sternum) was probably made with a large weapon such as a bayonet or a dagger.

Martha’s dead body was found by John Reeves on his way to work at 4.45 on the morning of the 7 August. Death was calculated to have occurred at around 2.30-2.45 in the morning. Despite an initial belief that an off duty soldier was the killer (provoking a number of inconclusive and frankly farcical identity parades) no one was identified as the murderer.

Meanwhile the everyday business of the Police Courts continued with less dramatic (but still interesting) cases coming before the magistracy. On 8 August 1888 The Standard reported an interesting case involving violence, not towards a human but towards a cat. James Moor Bowman was summoned to Bow Street Police Court (the senior magistrates court in the capital) to face a charge of cruelty. Bowman, a pub landlord,  was accused alongside his barman Richard Ellis, with setting fire to his cat.

The prosecution witnesses (‘a workman named Boothy and his wife’) claimed that they saw Bowman pour methylated spirits over the animal’s head and then ignited it. The poor creature jumped up and over Mrs Boothy’s head and ran out of the pub (The Sovereign in St Martin’s Lane).

When Mr and Mrs Boothy ‘remonstrated with the Defendants on their cruelty’ they were kicked out of the pub. The landlord even called a policeman (PC 279C) to have them taken away for causing a disturbance.

Bowman and Ellis claimed the Boothys were drunk and the policeman confirmed that they were ‘lively; in fact they were semi-intoxicated’. Bowman produced an uninjured  cat as proof the witnesses had been making it up all along. Mr Boothy declared that it was not the same cat that he had seen burned by the publican.

Bowman added that he could produce several witnesses who would testify that he wasn’t in the bar at the time the incident was supposed to have occurred. The magistrate wondered why he hadn’t brought them along immediately, to save time. Bowman told him that it was a ‘trumped up charge’ brought by two drinkers who were upset about being asked to leave when they were the worse for alcohol (as barmen were supposed to do). It was ridiculous to think that he or his barman would have set light to an animal in the middle of a busy public house.

Sir James Ingham, the Bow Street magistrate on duty agreed the whole thing was very ‘circumstantial’ but he’d like to see it disproved before he made his judgement. He adjourned the case for a week so that Bowman could produce the witnesses he promised who would show the Boothys to be liars.

To this day no one has been conclusively proved to have been the Whitechapel murderer but the ‘hunt’ goes on. This blog concentrates on the Police Courts of London across the whole of the Victorian period but when the date falls on our near to those when the ‘Ripper’ struck I shall try and find a case for that day.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, August 08, 1888]

‘What a fool I have been!’

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Camberwell Green, c.1901

Sarah Mary Hopkins was a 48 year-old woman who had, for the past three years, lived under the roof of her master, James Bowler. Mr Bowler was very old, nearly 90 years of age, and he had befriended Sarah when she was a child.

In 1867 he had given her a position as his housekeeper and trusted her so completely that ‘she had control of everything’. He even wrote her into his will so that she would be provided for when he died.

Without knowing anything else about Sarah’s life it would seem that, as a spinster or widow, or at least with no male partner that she declared, she had found herself in a very fortunate position. She had a steady wage and a comfortable home to live in, with an employer that both respected and cared for her.

Why then would she jeopardise all of this? Sadly it seems this is exactly what she did do in the summer of 1870.

On Monday 25 July Mr Bowler noticed that some of his silverware was missing. Three spoons seemed to have disappeared. On Tuesday ‘two more’ had gone and a purse with £4 3s and 6d in it (about £200 in today’s money). More worryingly Sarah also vanished from the house, and wasn’t seen again that week.

Mr Bowler called for the police and PC Elliott (388P) managed to trace Sarah to a property in Camberwell. The policeman challenged her about the thefts but she denied it, moreover she even denied knowing anybody called Bowler and said she wasn’t employed as a housekeeper at his address.

PC Elliott was suspicious, it seemed that Sarah had been drinking and she was also sporting a black eye, perhaps there was a man involved. Her lodgings were searched and ‘the constable found thirty pawnbrokers’ duplicates relating to watches, silver spoons, rings, and other valuable articles, which she had plundered [the] prosecutor of’.

When the case came before the Lambeth Police court magistrate Sarah admitted her crime and declared, ‘what a fool I have been’. The justice remanded her in custody to wait his adjudication. He may well have wanted to find out a little more about her motivation. The black eye suggests that she might have been involved with someone who was intimidating her or otherwise pressurising her into stealing from the old gentleman. Perhaps too he wanted to hear if Mr Bowler was prepared to forgive her this breach of trust and plead for leniency.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, July 30, 1870]