A brothel madam falls foul of the law

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In Victorian London overcrowding was common and tensions often flared between occupants of lodging houses and those that owned them. Disputes over non payment of rent were frequent and overcrowding and the demand for somewhere to sleep meant that landlords were able to kick out their tenants with relative ease. If they didn’t immediately evict those who were behind with the rent it was rarely out of any consideration for their welfare. More likely they were aware that if someone owed several weeks’ rent then evicting them was hardly likely to get the debt settled.

One option was to distrain their goods against the value of the debt. This was what happened to a young woman that lived in a house owned by Mary Lawson near the Gray’s Inn Road.

Mary’s unnamed tenant owed her the small sum of 2s 6d, or about £5 today. It wouldn’t buy you that much and helps illustrate how cheap the lodgings Mary ran were. Was this a week’s money, a month’s, we don’t know. What we do know is that the girl didn’t have the money to pay it and so Mary Lawson employed a broker named Chase (from nearby Saffron Hill) to seize her possessions.

The girl was obviously poor but she also had a child to support and so ‘was driven to wander about in great want’, until her former neighbours undertook to support her. The property she lived in at George Court,  Gray’s Inn Lane was home to many other people. Nothing remains of this property today and the space is occupied by Fox Court a modern office building which is home, a little ironically perhaps, to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (Social Security and Child Support).

In 1845 George Court was a brothel, and a large one. It had ‘accommodation for 46 girls’ in no less than seven houses, all of them owned by Mary Lawson. This ‘elderly woman’ was a madam on a large scale. The girl who she was in dispute with was a prostitute; we know this because when she came to the Clerkenwell Police Court to complain that Lawson had assaulted her she was described as ‘unfortunate’, Victorian code for a sex worker.

When Mary had heard how the other residents had clubbed together to help the girl she went into a rage, shouting at them and threatening to evict them all or seize their property. She couldn’t have her authority undermined in so direct a manner.

In court the magistrate, Mr Greenwood, saw an angle to challenge both Mary and her practice of extorting money with menaces. He called the broker over and told him, as one lawyer to another, ‘that no money can be due arising out of such places of immorality’. In short, Mary Lawson couldn’t charge her residents rent or distrain their goods for non payment because she was in effect living off their immoral earrings. He said he would inform the parish authorities (at St Andrew’s, Holborn) and have them put ‘down the nuisance’.

He added that it had already been allowed to be ‘carried on for too long a period, to the annoyance of the more peaceable and respectable inhabitants in the vicinity, as disturbances and robberies were the constant result of the nuisance, which had frequently been complained of’.

As for Mary Lawson, he took note of her relative wealth and how she had come by it and fined her the princely sum of 50s for the assault plus costs, and sent her on her way.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, Sunday, July 20, 1845]

A father uses the police courts to accuse the police of taking work away from his boy

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Before alarm clocks were widely available (let alone radio alarms or digital alarms on mobile phones) most people were reliant on being ‘knocked up’ by a tap on the window in the early hours of the morning. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century this role was sometimes played by men from the night watch who patrolled the streets in the days before professional police forces were established. Private individuals also acted as ‘knocker uppers’ and continued to wake communities up until the 1950s, charging a few pennies a week for the service.

In 1881 young William Clutterbuck was employed to wake people in the streets around his home in Manchester Place, Bethnal Green but he had somehow got into a local policeman’s bad books and in July this landed both of them in court.

The boy’s father took out a summons against police constable 383K for assaulting his lad. Mr Clutterbuck admitted the assault was  minor but that was not the reason he had brought it; he was upset because the police were ‘interfering with the boy to take away his work’. That impacted on the family income and had therefore to be challenged.

This is an interesting example of working people using the summary courts to complain about the police and acts therefore, as a small test of how effective the metropolitan police courts were as arenas of negotiation for ‘ordinary’ people.

Young William was sworn and then gave his evidence to Mr Hannay, the Worship Street magistrate. He told him that ‘he went out very early in the morning, calling men who lived in his immediate neighbourhood to their work’. He charged sixpence a week for waking them but had lost one client because a policeman (PC 201H) had made them stop employing him.

PC 150K had also threatened him and said he would lock him up if he found him on the streets. When he and his father went to the station house to complain about this and other instances when the local police had tried to interfere with his work he was called a thief by PC 383K (the defendant). This was repeated three times in front of the inspector although there seems little justification for it.

The next morning William was out on the streets when he ran into the same copper who ‘abused him, asked why his father did not put a better coat on his back, threatened to lock him up and get him sent to a reformatory, and took him by the collar and twisted him around’.

This was the last straw for Mr Clutterbuck who took out the summons that brought the policeman to court. He also produced a ‘long list of persons’ who were prepared to testify on his sons’ behalf. Now it was for the magistrate to consider the evidence he had heard and decide whether the police had a case to answer.

Mr Hannay did seem minded to take it seriously. The assault ‘was of no matter’, but the allegation that the police were colluding with each other to ‘terrorise the boy’ was a grave one. He asked Clutterbuck to come back to court in a few days with some of those that had said they were willing to be sworn to give evidence.

This was a challenge to the police’s authority in the East End, an area where they were perhaps least popular in the capital as a whole. The local costermongers resented them for moving them and their barrows along, and when it came to the ‘Ripper’ murders in 1888 the community felt it necessary to form their own vigilance committees and patrol the streets themselves, so little faith did they have in the police to protect their womenfolk from the murderer.

The final resolution of this case does not seem to be recorded in the London press (or to have survived if it did). This is not surprising, the papers liked to offer their readers ‘tit bits’ of news from the Police Courts and this would have served to amuse or concern readers in equal measure. It was a dig at the ‘boys in blue’ and a reminder that working-class boys needed to contribute to the family income as well as go to school to learn the ‘thee Rs’.

I doubt much would have happened to PC 383K even if several local men had backed up the complaint against him, but if he then left young William alone to carry on his early morning work then that would have achieved all that his father set out to do. Why did the policeman do it? Perhaps they were able to earn a few extra pennies themselves whilst on their beats (as the old watchmen had) and resented the competition William provided. Whatever the truth this is perhaps an example of the police courts operating as the ‘people’s courts’ as some historians have suggested they did, working for local people against the authorities rather than simply being an arm of the disciplinary state.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, July 17, 1881]

Indecency and rough behaviour spoil the tranquility of London’s Royal Parks

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One of the pleasures of London – as I was reminded by a good friend recently – is simply walking in the parks and taking in the everyday sights. On any day in London you can stroll in the Regent’s, Hyde or Green Park, enjoying an ice cream or a cold drink, and see ‘all sorts and conditions of men’ and women. There will be lycra clad cyclists; city businessmen with their suit jackets over their shoulders; kids rushing around and spooking the waterfowl; sun worshippers soaking up the rays; and elderly couples or sitting on benches reminiscing on life past.

The parks are one of London’s treasures: they are free and provide acres of green space  to counterbalance the emissions of millions of motorised vehicles. They have been places of  pleasure, exercise and, occasionally, political protest, for generations.

Hyde Park was originally a private hunting area acquired as such by Henry VIII in 1536. It first opened to the public in 1637 under Charles I, and in 1665 many Londoners sought sanctuary here from the plague that ravaged London in the reign of Charles II. The Serpentine was created in the 1730s, on the wishes of Queen Caroline, the consort of George II and by the early 1800s the park was used for public celebrations (much as Trafalgar Square was be used in the 20th century).

But London’s parks at night or at dusk offered a different sort of experience for some and caused considerable unease to others. In the 1880s rival gangs of youths from the  Marylebone area aggressively patrolled the boundaries of Regent’s Park searching for unwary members of each other’s ‘crews’, and prostitutes plied their trade in the darker, unlit parts where quick assignations were easy to keep from the prying eyes of the police.

Well, they were usually able to conceal their behaviour and many a policeman would have turned a blind eye to prostitution so long as there wasn’t a standing order to police it, or the people involved were not so blatant as to make it necessary for even the most discriminating of bobbies to intervene.

This seems to be what happened in early July 1869 and the indiscretion of the sex worker involved was compounded by the violent disorder displayed by her potential clients.

Police sergeant Martin (14A) was patrolling in Hyde Park near the Knightsbridge barracks when he saw several men noisy exchanging words (and worse) with a woman. The sergeant observed them and her to be acting ‘indecently’ (although we are not told exactly what this meant), and he moved over towards them to tell them to stop.

Quite sensibly the prostitute quickly made her escape, having no desire to be arrested, but the men decided to pick a fight with the police officer. They ‘made use of indecent language and put themselves in fighting attitude’. In other words they put up their fists as if to box with sergeant Martin.

When Martin attempted to tackle the nearest, a man named Joseph Tucker, he was wrestled to the ground and the other three men started kicking at him as he lay there. Luckily another policeman soon arrived and, with assistance of a passerby, he managed to rescue the sergeant and arrest his assailants.

All four men ended up in court before the Marlborough Street police magistrate the next day, charged with disorderly behaviour and assault. James Hunt, William Yardley, David Hodgman and Tucker represented themselves in court and none offered much by way of a defence, except to say the policeman attacked them first, which seems unlikely.

The man that had helped the stricken officer was there as well to give evidence. Mr Street, who was described as the manager of the Royal Exchange Association (an insurance firm) confirmed the policeman’s testimony and added his disquiet that members of the military, stationed nearby, seemed complicit on ‘setting the mob on the police’. The magistrate expressed his regret that the soldiers weren’t ‘before him’ so he could deal with them too. Several other witnesses came forward to support the police sergeant and insurance man’s evidence.

So it was a fairly straightforward case for Mr Tyrwhitt the magistrate. He handed down fines of 20to Hunt and Hodgman and 40 to Yardley, all with alternative custodial sentences if they failed to pay. As for Tucker, who seemed the ringleader and chief protagonist, he was sent to prison at hard labour for a months for the disorderly conduct and ‘two periods of twenty-one days for assaulting the police’. He warned all of them not to appear before him again, or the consequences would be severe.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, July 4, 1869]

Callous violence is punished with a fine

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Pall Mall, c.1842

This is an unpleasant if unusual case of domestic abuse. It is unusual because of the nature of the injury caused and how, and because it took place in public. It led to the arrest of a man and the hospitalisation of his victim.

James Jones of 9 Claremont Place, Lisson Grove, appeared at the Marlborough Street Police Court in early July 1844 on a charge of assault. His victim was his common-law wife, Mary Ann Drew. There was at least one witness to the attack, which happened in broad daylight on Pall Mall.

Jones had been out friends, dining in Chelsea, but it seems Mary Ann had been concerned that he was up to something else. She had followed him about during the day and had been imploring  him to come home. He had dismissed her and told he would come home when he was ready. Mary Ann was not satisfied however, and continued to dog his footsteps, which clearly annoyed him.

Edward Groom was also strolling on Pall Mall and saw the couple, Mary Ann walking a few paces behind her ‘husband’. It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and Groom saw Jones stop and turn around. He advanced on the woman brandishing his umbrella. Then he struck.

‘he made a lunge at her with his umbrella, and thrust the ferrule [the sharp metal tip] under her eye, so as to burst the eye-ball, and cause it to protrude from the socket’.

Mary Ann fell to the pavement screaming in agony, where she lay until a policeman came up and helped take her to St George’s Hospital. Meanwhile Jones was seized and arrested. As he was led away he muttered that ‘it served her right, for following him about’.

In court he admitted lunging at her but with no intention of doing her ‘serious injury’. He said he was drunk at the time. The surgeon who had treated her appeared to give the grim news that she would never recover her sight in that eye. She was also far too ill to testify before the magistrate at this time. Mr Maltby, the justice, fined her £5 which he paid straight away and walked free.

Domestic violence was endemic in Victorian London but it usually took place behind closed door and the police often turned a blind eye. No one wanted to get involved in ‘a domestic’. It was often only the actions of concerned neighbours that saved working-class women from their savage husbands and partners. For wealthier middle-class women the abuse was often just as bad but more carefully hidden by them, fearing embarrassment.

This blog is sadly filled with numerous cases of domestic violence meted out by brutish males and I have created a sub-section theme for those interested in learning more about this dark side of Victorian society. Follow this link for similar cases.

Domestic violence

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, July 03, 1844]

Six weeks in gaol for cruelty to a cat

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I am a cat person – two of them let myself and my wife live in their house and feed them – and neither one has ever deliberately scratched me. Of course not all cats are quite so affectionate and scratches are part and parcel of living with felines, or interacting with those we meet in the streets. But if a cat does scratch you it is never appropriate to act as Herbert Wallace did in June 1899.

Alfred Bond, a commercial traveller, was being driven along the Harrow Road in his pony and trap on his way home to Harlsden, one Friday evening. He noticed a man, later identified as Wallace, pick something up and throw it to the ground. He then kicked it violently several times.

To his horror, Bond realised that the object of Bond’s violence was a cat. As he got close enough to see the condition of the creature he noticed that it was very badly injured.

‘apparently the back of the animal had been broken, because it scrambled onto its forefeet, but its hindquarters were powerless and it remained on the ground’.

He jumped down from the trap and remonstrated with Wallace, who rewarded him with ‘vile language’. Bond sent his driver to fetch a policeman and told Wallace that he would have him arrested. At this the 20 year-old labourer ran off, with the salesman in pursuit.

Bond caused the younger man down several streets before he caught up with him. As he tried to effect an arrest Wallace cursed him and struck him, threatening to kill him. Eventually three policemen arrived and with some difficult, dragged Wallace away to the station.

Herbert Wallace was brought before the Marylebone Police magistrate on Saturday 24 June, charged with cruelty to a cat. Having heard the evidence presented by Mr Bond he was asked to explain himself. All he could say in his defence was that he had been ‘nursing the cat when it scratched him, so he threw it down and kicked it twice’.

Bond had deposed that he had seen the labourer kick the animal no less than four times but two was bad enough. No one knew what had happened to the poor creature but with a broken back death would have been a deliverance.

I don’t know if the magistrate was a cat lover like me but he acted as if he might have been. He told Wallace that he was ‘guilty of most cruel conduct, and would go to prison for six weeks without the option of paying a fine’. I’d have given him six months, at hard labour.

[from The Standard, Monday, June 26, 1899]

Yet more casual violence towards women in the East End

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Limehouse, Tower Hamlets. This photo is early 1900s but the scene would have been quite similar in the 1880s

There were two reported cases from the Thames Police court in the Morning Post on the 15 June 1881. The first was an awful case of domestic abuse that I will consider shortly, while the second was a case of fraud.

A compositor (someone that worked in the printing trade) named Jacob Marks was brought up before Mr Saunders charged with obtaining money by false pretences. It was alleged that Marks pretended to be a broker ’employed by the Inland Revenue to levy distress when the Queen’s taxes were not paid’.

He went around Tower Hamlets suggesting that he had some influence in registering people as tax collectors, a steady form of employment. He demanded a registration fee of 1 to 2 guineas but it was a scam. Several people parted with money but no one was appointed as a result and Marks promptly disappeared. Mr Saunders committed him for trial for fraud.

It was the other case that was more shocking however. Thomas Leigh , a 23 year-old ship’s cooper who lived in Limehouse, was accused of assaulting his wife, Ellen. Mrs Leigh was so badly hurt that she was unable to attend the court in person and there were fears over her life as a result of the injuries she had sustained.

I suspect no one is any doubt of how difficult the Victorian period was for women; domestic violence was a daily experience for many women and men resorted to violence in a routine manner. Moreover much of this was simply accepted by society as appropriate or even necessary. The law did little to protect females from abuse by fathers, husbands, lovers or employers and the prevailing rhetoric of patriarchy validated a man’s ‘correction’ of his ‘disobedient’ or ‘bad’ wife.

Proportionally very few women ever tried to prosecute their husbands in court and when they did it was probably after suffering silently or meekly for years. When they did go before a magistrate it was often because they feared that the ‘next time’ they were were assaulted might be the ‘last time’; and given the strong correlation between domestic violence and domestic murder this is not at all surprising.

Thomas Leigh was probably a man that sent considerable time away from home. As a  ship’s cooper he may have worked on land at the docks but it is more likely he traveled often, leaving his wife to cope at home and coming back periodically to (hopefully) share his wages.

The couple lived at Fuller’s Rents, Cotton Street in the East End and on Monday 13 June they rowed. We don’;t know what about but Leigh claimed that he was provoked into hitting his spouse.

‘She tore my shirt, and gave me a great deal of provocation before I struck her’, he told Mr Saunders in his defence.

The row and subsequent fight was loud enough to alert the neighbours (and presumably violent enough for them to not simply ignore it as many routinely did). One aspect of the later ‘Ripper’ murders (in 1888) was the fact that no one seemed to hear anything, or if they did, they chose not to intervene. One witness supposedly heard Mary Kelly shout ‘murder’ but that was so common in the dark courts of Whitechapel that she thought nothing of it.

When PC Robert Wells (346D) arrived he found Ellen in a terrible state. Her husband had beaten her and kicked her ‘five times about the body’. She was, the court heard, ‘enciente at the time’. In other words she was pregnant. Was it his child, did he even know? Was that what they had rowed about? At this stage we can’t know.

It was clear that this was serious but Thomas Leigh seemed ‘indifferent’ in court. PC Wells told Mr Saunders that two women had stayed up with Ellen all night but she was in a ‘dangerous’ condition. Leigh asked for bail which was refused; Saunders remanded him for a week and told him that he was facing a charge of assault that might easily become worse if his victim failed to recover.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, June 15, 1881]

Brickbats and stones ‘welcome’ the Salvation Army to Hackney

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Congress Hall, Clapton – a Salvation Army mission

None of the London papers reported the business of the Thames Police Court in their editions on the 14th June 1881, but fortunately The Standard did include a report from Worship Street, Thames’ sister court in the East End. Given that the Morning Post did have reports from other courts, this helps me understand that reportage was (as I was fairly certain it was) highly selective.

I have written before about the unpopularity of the Salvation Army in its early days. The Army marched up and down London’s streets and held meetings to draw attention to the moral plight of the working classes. Whether it was the moralising people didn’t appreciate or the supposedly awful row their amateur musicians made, is not clear, but they suffered a great deal of abuse.

What I found most interesting was not the brickbats of the working poor but the relatively lukewarm support they drew from the middle-class magistrates that served in the Police Courts. I would have expected them to approve of the Army’s message but it seems that they saw them as at best a nuisance and at worst an unwelcome example  of radical non-conformism.

On Sunday 12 June 1881 a Salvation Army procession was marching, four abreast, though Hackney on the way to a gathering at the Mission hall in Havelock Road(which they soon outgrew, moving in and adapting a former orphanage to build Congress Hall in the later 1880s).

As the marchers processed they were assailed with all sorts of missiles along the route and when they reached the hall some of them found their path barred by a group ‘of rough young fellows’ who had been dogging their progress through Hackney.

Edgar Lagden, a porter and member of the Army was attacked. James Elvidge saw two lads, later named as Israel Stagg and Henry Abbot assault his fellow marcher. Stagg hit Lagden with a stick which drew blood, Abbot had been throwing stones, some of which hit Elvidge and others.

Elvidge broke free and grappled with the boys and seized Stagg, but as he tried to get him under control several men attacked him to release the lad.  In giving evidence before the magistrate at Worship Street Elvidge explained that he and his section of the march had been waiting and making space for the female marchers (the ‘sisters’) to get through unmolested when the main trouble flared. He ‘admitted that the crowd appeared to object to their possession of the road’.

That didn’t excuse the violence shown towards them of course, and the magistrate, Mr Hannay was quite clear on that point. Stagg was apparently well known as a troublesome lad in the district  and he was described as being ‘in league with the street fighters’. His actions and those of the others who objected to the marching band of the Army was unacceptable, he was told, and ‘very nearly [constituted] a riot’. Mr Hannay sent Stagg to prison for two months and Abbot for seven days, ‘both with hard labour’.

But he wasn’t happy about the tactics of the Salvation Army either, he noted that the ‘course pursued’ by them was ‘such as to induce disturbance’. One gets the distinct impression that he wished they would find some other way to practice their faith, one that didn’t involve marching or the cacophony of brass instruments that accompanied it.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, June 14, 1881]