An ‘exceedingly painful case’ at Bow Street

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Charing Cross station in the nineteenth century 

Mrs Ann Leonardi (or Lee as she was also known) was, by her own description,  an ‘independent lady’. This probably meant she was unmarried, or widowed, or even an heiress (the latter seems less likely in these circumstances however) but whatever the reality she found herself in the dock at Bow Street charged with theft.

Ann had visited the ‘refreshment bar’ at Charing Cross railway station because, she later claimed, she felt unwell.  Ann had asked for a little brandy, that well known pick-me-up for ladies of a certain class. The barmaid placed a glass and two flasks of the spirit on the counter and Ann (‘with some little hesitation’) handed over enough money for a glass.

However, when the barmaid returned Ann had gone and so had both flasks.

It seems the station employed its own private detective, a man named Tom Toby, who was informed of the theft and went in search of Ann armed with her description. He soon caught up with her and discovered the brandy flasks in her possession. Ann offered to pay with a cheque for £5 but this was refused, she was arrested and handed over to the police.

When she was brought before Mr Vaughan at Bow Street she was bailed to reappear in a week’s time. For whatever reason (and Ann put this down to ‘foolishness’) she failed to appear and so a warrant was issued for her arrest. In the meantime however, Ann handed herself in to the nearest police station and apologised for her behaviour.

So in early July 1873 Ann Leonardi was in court and she pleaded guilty to the theft but with the mitigation that she had no idea she had the flasks as ‘her head was completely lost through trouble and too much drink that she had taken that day’. What was the cause of this ‘trouble’ and why was Ann so upset? Unfortunately we can never know this but a novelist might speculate. Was she unlucky in love? Or distraught about the death of a child or other relative?

Ann had some friends though, and several came to Bow Street to offer her a ‘good character’. They told the magistrate (Mr Vaughan again), that sometimes she ‘was not in her right mind’. So perhaps Ann suffered from some form of mental illness or, and this maybe more likely, she was an alcoholic.

Ann’s situation was about to get worse. Mr Vaughan expressed his opinion that this was an ‘extremely painful case’ but since she had broken the law and skipped bail, he had no choice but to send her to prison for a month at hard labour. In doing so he may have been influenced by the implication that she was in some way addicted to alcohol. Perhaps he felt this shock would be the necessary cure for her problem.

Personally I can’t see how a month in a Victorian prison would have done much for her well-being and the consequences would be felt by Ann for years afterwards. She had stolen two small bottles of brandy, which she had subsequently offered to pay for; the magistrate’s actions here seem to fall far short of ‘justice’.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, July 02, 1873]

Midsummer ‘madness’ at Marlborough Street

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There was much less understanding of mental health in the Victorian period than there is today. Public asylums were largely used as dustbins for the unwanted mentally ill poor, while private ones attempted to treat the ‘mad’ relatives of the better off. Some families simply locked their disturbed relatives away in the attic, too embarrassed to be seen to have insanity ‘in the family’.

But of course there was probably just as much mental illness in the 1800s as there is today, but while modern society has slowly become more accepting of it our ancestors saw sufferers as objects of pity, danger or ridicule. Just as casual racism is evident in reading the Victorian press, so are jokes at the expense of the mentally ill.

Jane Roderick (also known as Jane Waddy) was brought up before the Marlborough Street police magistrate charged with being drunk and disorderly. She had been arrested in Leicester Square a few nights before, proclaiming the health of the Queen and Royal family loudly to anyone in the vicinity.

She was still quite loud when she stood in the dock as she explained her behaviour to him. Jane told the justice that the reason she had undertaken her own public celebration was because she had heard the good news that the sons of Her Majesty ‘had been admitted into the House of Parliament to assume their rights as the Royal family without the consent of Parliament’, which she deemed a good thing.

It was such a good thing, she continued, that she felt duty bound to drink a toast (or two) in port wine.

She then entered into an elaborate story: she was, she said, born in Kent and was a ‘woman of Kent’. Her uncle worked in the Queen’s gardens, she claimed, and so she had brought a rose for him to plant for the Queen. Her father had made a communion table at Chislehurst, and now she heard the Queen was ‘ready to support her sons’. Finally she added that she was widowed and one of her sons lived in a vicarage at Greenwich under the Queen’s care.

It was probably a mix of fact and fantasy, but it was delivered in a chaotic manner that suggested that the poor woman was not in full control of herself. That is certainly how the press depicted her.

Mr Vine, the court’s gaoler, now appeared to give evidence to the fact that the same woman had been up in court on the same charge four months earlier, and had given exactly the same story in her defence.

At this Jane either affected deafness or really was unable to hear what the man said. On it being repeated to her she admitted to having been drinking: ‘I had a “little drop” then, of course, and unfortunately I have been given to it since my husband’s death’.

Mr Cooke, the magistrate, turned to her and asked her if she had any friends locally. She had claimed to have been born in Poland Street (which prompted titters of laughter in court, but why is not clear). In the 1880s it was quite a respectable place in Soho with a number of artisans and tradesmen living there. Jane replied that her sister-in-law lived nearby, and then told him (somewhat randomly) that she was the daughter of a carpenter, and that one of the guardians of the poor in Lambeth had a mortgage on her fathers house.

Again, this may well all have been true but it didn’t really answer the magistrate’s questions.

He declared: ‘I think you are not right in your mind. You will be sent down to..’

‘Sent down! Where?’ interrupted Jane.

‘To the House of Detention for a week; but they will not put you in the cell’.

She thanked him and added, ‘I shall charge you 13s for this; and if you have not money to pay, why, spout your ticker!’

This last remark brought the house down in laughter, clearly amusing the court reporter who added that she then left ‘with a  jaunty air’, calling the gaoler to ‘order her brougham [her carriage] to drive her to Hanwell’.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, June 21, 1885]

Happy solstice everyone!

The battle of the sexes claims another victim

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Victorian society is often described as one in which the sexes existed in ‘separate spheres’, with men occupying a ‘public’ space and women restricted to the home, or ‘private’ one. While this thesis works quite well for the women of the middle and upper classes it is less obviously true of the vast majority of the working class. Many working-class women worked and looked after the domestic environment. They were housewives, mothers and significant contributors to the family economy, and this often resulted in tensions at home.

Julia Bagot was one such women. She was married to Martin and they had several children. While Julia worked hard every day Martin Bagot had ‘done no work for 18 months’ and liked a drink with his mates. At home the domestic duties fell to Julia who was expected to undertake to keep her husband happy and fed while also performing the role of the family’s main breadwinner.

One evening in May 1884 she came home from work at 9 o’clock, tired and hungry. Her husband followed her through the door a few minutes later, drunk and belligerent. As he demanded tea she put a saucepan of water on the stove to boil and looked to the children.

One of her daughters had no clean clothes to wear for school the next day and when she pressed Martin about this he told her he had pawned them (presumably to get the money he needed for beer). An argument ensued, a ‘few high words were exchanged’, before the affair escalated and Martin seized the pan of water and threw the contents at his wife.

Julia’s face was scalded by the almost boiling liquid and she was temporarily blinded in one eye. Mrs Bagot was taken to the hospital where her wounds were dressed but the doctors feared that she might permanently lose the sight in her eye. The next morning the pair were in the Clerkenwell Police court with Martin facing a charge of assault and wounding. One of his children gave evidence against him and the injuries she had suffered were all too apparent, her head and face being largely wrapped up in bandages.

The magistrate remanded Martin Bagot in custody to see how his wife’s condition developed over the next few days. The papers don’t tell us whether Julia recovered or what punishment the Clerkenwell justice decided to meet out to Bagot. However, while he might have faced a fine or a spell of weeks or months in prison neither would have helped Julia much. Nursing a serious injury and potential crippled for life a women in her forties or fifties (Martin was 54) as she was would find it hard to continue working. With her husband unemployed and with several mouths to feed the outlook for the Bagot family was bleak, if not desperate.

The workhouse loomed large in the lives of the working poor of Victorian London and sadly, it was probably the family’s next destination. There they would be compelled to live in ‘separate spheres’, him on the male side, her on the female.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, May 15, 1884]

A beer shop owner’s gamble fails to pay off

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Just this week, in the wake of the professional footballer Joey Barton being banned for placing bets on his own team, the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, declared that he thought there was too much gambling in modern society. He told the press:

‘It is a little bit I must say the general problem in our society. You you have everywhere, on every advert, bet … bet on Sky … bet on here and there, so you have not to be surprised when people get addicted to betting’.

Gambling and indeed, concerns about gambling are nothing new. There were worries about the effects of the lottery in eighteenth-century London, and plenty of pamphlets and tracts were written condemning games of chance such as cards or dice. It was especially concerning when apprentices or other young people were involved.

Georgian worries turned into Regency ones, and then into Victorian ones; what we see today is perhaps only the inevitable slide towards everyday betting on anything, that all those previous commentators had warned us about.

Nineteenth-century critics of gambling condemned the practice for the same reasons they (for it was often the same people) attacked the consumption of alcohol – at least to excess. Gambling, like the ‘demon drink’, drained the pockets of the poor and brought destitution and moral collapse. As a result most gambling was highly regulated, just like the sale of alcohol.

Which is why James Knott found himself in front of the police magistrate at Worship Street in late April 1857.

Knott ran a beer shop in Shoreditch which had aroused the suspicions of the police. Inspector Cole thought Knott was engaged in an illegal betting operation and had the shop watched. Having assured himself that the shop keeper was up to mischief he called on him one afternoon to ask some questions.

Inspector Cole wanted to look inside a desk which was nailed to the floor but Mrs Knott was reluctant. She told him that ‘the key had been taken away by her husband’ and she couldn’t open it. Cole’s response was to say he was quite happy to break it open.

Knott then appeared and miraculously produced the key and opened the desk. Inside (to Knott’s apparent ‘surprise’) the inspector found what he was looking for: ‘various documents relating to races, amongst which were telegraphic messages from York and Doncaster, and numerous betting cards and books’, with details of races run since September 1856.

Knott had explained when questioned by Cole that a man known only as ‘Jemmy’ ran the betting organization, but so far the police had been unable to apprehend him. Knott had a lawyer to speak for him in court who told the sitting magistrate, Mr D’Eyncourt, that his client was innocent, that at worst he had acted in ignorance of the law, and since he was ‘impoverished’ he hoped the justice would be lenient with him.

Mr D’Eyncourt wasn’t inclined to leniency however, and fined him the full amount – £25 (or nearly £1,500 in today’s money) – warning him that failure to pay would earn him three months in the house of correction. At first the ‘impoverished’ beer shop owner looked destined for a spell of hard labour but then, as miraculously as he had found the key to a desk the contents of which he claimed to be entirely ignorant of, he paid his fine and left.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, April 30, 1857]

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]

A victim of the prison system takes his anger out at Thames Police court

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The Thames Police court magistrate, Mr Lushington, enjoyed a reputation as the scourge of the ‘drinking classes’. In the late 1870s and ’80s Lushington fined and imprisoned thousands of drunks and wife beaters, disorderly prostitutes and petty thieves; those that used actual violence against the police were a particular bête noire of his, and could expect length spells in gaol at hard labour.

In the process he must have made a number of enemies – indeed most magistrates would have upset or annoyed those that came in front of them in the course of their justicing work. So perhaps we might expect there to have been occasions when the magistrates themselves were the victims of violence from those they sat in summary judgement on.

This is just one example where Mr Lushington was almost on the receiving end of another form of summary punishment.

Lewis Britton was still a teenager when he appeared at Bow Street, London’s senior Police court. A year earlier he had been charged with stealing a small step ladder and the Thames magistrate (possibly Lushington but other justices did serve there) had committed him for trial at the sessions. He was convicted and received a six month prison sentence.

This apparently affected him very badly and according to his mother, had completely changed him as a person.  Prison had a very debilitating affect on those that experienced in the late 1800s; it was brutal and isolating, and many if not most prisoners were scarred by it for life. Lewis (just 18 when he went inside) found it very hard to adjust to life afterwards and had not been able to find employment since.

He clearly blamed Lushington for his situation and one day he determined to do something about it.

Britton turned up at the Thames court holding a large stone. He was met by the court’s housekeeper, James Denny, who asked him what he wanted. Lewis told him he needed to see Mr Lushington and when Denny asked him why he said: ‘I want to give him this’, indicating the stone, and added that he intended to ‘do for him’.

Naturally alarmed, Denny told him to go away and threatened to have him taken into custody if he didn’t. Britton’s response was to wave the rock at Denny and threaten him as well. The housekeeper summoned PC Charles Andrews (166K) who arrested him. When the officer got his prisoner under lock and key he questioned him. The young man told him:

I mean to settle him when he comes outside, for giving me six months for nothing. If I don’t do it now I will at some other time‘.

Lewis Britton was duly presented in court on a charge of threatening a magistrate’s life, and his mother appeared in his defence. She spoke of how his mind had been affected by the original court case and his incarceration, hoping for some leniency for her son. The Bow Street magistrate, Mr Flowers, asked if there was any evidence that Lewis was not in full control of his actions. The Police surgeon, Dr Horton, said he had examined the prisoner and ‘thought he was labouring under some delusions’. He doubted whether the lad had any real intention of striking Lushington with the stone, but that he merely meant to frighten him.

Having established that Lewis might be a ‘person of weak intellect’, Mr Flowers committed him to the St. Giles workhouse so he could be examined by the medical staff there.

Whilst the action he took was deplorable by any standards I have quite a deal of sympathy with young Britton. His original crime was hardly serious and seemingly a first offence. Yet he was sent into the Victorian prison system;  a system that was described by one middle-class inmate as a ‘vast machine’ that ground men down and crushed their spirits. He only served six months but that was enough to give him the taint of prison that marked him out as an ex-convict. It isn’t easy for prisoners who have served their ‘time’ to reintegrate into society today, and they have (arguably at least) much more support than their Victorian counterparts. Hopefully Lewis received some help at St. Giles but I’m not confident he did.

[from The Standard, Monday, March 31, 1879]

Losing ‘the war on drugs’: a nineteenth-century perspective

It is probably reasonable to say that for some people – the church, police, social reformers, and government – the consumption of alcohol has long been an issue of concern. Most of the problems of society in the nineteenth century seem to have been  associated with drinking at some point or another and sobriety was held to be a virtue. Whether they were were discussing poverty, domestic violence or anti-social behaviour the ‘demon drink’ was at the heart of the matter.

The Police Courts overflowed on Monday mornings with those dragged up from the cells on charges of being ‘drunk and disorderly’, ‘drunk and incapable’ or ‘drunk and refusing quit licensed premises’. Most were fined (with the threat of gaol if they didn’t pay up) while the worst offenders (i.e those that used violence or resisted arrest) could expect to spend a few weeks or months in a house of correction.

So one of the functions of the courts was to deal with the effects of alcohol but they also regulated the trade in beer and spirits. Justices of the Peace (magistrates) had been involved in issuing licenses from at least the late seventeenth century, and they continued to do this in the 1800s. Look above the door of any pub and you can often find the notice that denotes the right of the landlord to sell you a pint.

There were restrictions (locally applied) to the opening hours a landlord could keep but after 1872 the first national licensing law was introduced. The Intoxicating Liquor (Licensing) Act (also known as the Aberdare Act) was unpopular (as most restrictions on our consumption of ‘booze’ are!)  and it brought protests and a petition to Parliament, all to little effect.

Governments were also concerned to control the manufacture, importation and sale of alcohol (especially spirits) through taxation and this of course led to smuggling and the development of an illicit trade in home made alcohol.

In late March 1851 Henry Haines and Elizabeth Collins appeared at Clerkenwell Police Court charged ‘by the excise with having been concerned in working in a private still’.

Two officers of the excise, George Lowe and Richard Oliver, working on information they had received, turned up at a premises on St John’s Street, Clerkenwell at five o’clock on Monday, March 24th. They knocked the door and were met by a man who was struggling to restrain two large bulldogs. He quickly asked them to wait so he could tie them up, warning that otherwise they might bite them.

It was a ruse of course, while the excise men waited the man made his escape. Lowe and Oliver entered the building and soon found a kitchen with a large still in it. Haines was in his shirt sleeves busily working; Elizabeth Collins (who turned out to be the wife of the man that had run away) was also working in the kitchen along with a small boy, her son.

This was a serious operation; the officers reported that there was a ‘thirty-gallon copper still [which was] charged with rectifying spirits, and running from the worm end, and more than fifty-five over proof.  There were one hundred gallons of molasses wash in three tubs, and in a can seven gallons of strong spirits, and five bags evidently for yeast.’ There was lots of water and a fire burned under the still.

All of the goods were seized and the operation was shut down. Haines was fined £30 (about £1,7000 in today’s money) with a three month prison sentence with hard labour should he default on the payment. Collins was discharged on the assumption that she ‘acted under the coercion of her husband’.

It doesn’t reveal what the still was making but the widespread availability of cheap gin in the 1800s was a contemporary concern that agitated social commentators. Plenty of satirical prints and popular songs warned of, and  occasional celebrated, Londoner’s love/hate relationship with drink. This still was closed down but many others would have sprung up in its place; Haines’ fine might seem a hefty one but the profits to made outweighed the risks of being penalized. The authorities were fighting a losing battle, just as the we are losing (or have lost) the modern war on illegal drugs.

[from (Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, March 30, 1851]