The struggle for the breeches (or the ‘bloomers’ in this case!)

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The nineteenth-century Police Courts were full of assault, much of it perpetrated by men and most of that ‘domestic’ (in other words where the wife or female partner was the victim). Most studies of interpersonal violence have found that men are most likely to be accused of assault in all its forms (from petty violence to serious wounding and homicide); women tended not to be violent or at least were not often prosecuted as such. When women did appear before the magistracy charged with assault it tended to be for attacking subordinates (children and servants) or other women. It was very rare for a woman to accused of hitting or otherwise assaulting a man.

There are good reasons for this and it is not simply because women were somehow ‘weaker’ or even less violently disposed than men. For a violent action to become a statistic it needs to be reported and then (usually) prosecuted if we are going to be able to count it. Historians talk of the ‘dark figure’ of unreported crime and there is widespread agreement that this figure is particular dark where domestic violence is concerned.

The gendered nature of Victorian society made it very hard for a man to report an assault against him by a woman. The mere fact that he had allowed a female to abuse him (to repudiate his ‘authority’) was bad enough in a society which was highly patriarchal. But to compound that by admitting in public that he had been bested by a woman was considered shameful. I am not suggesting that women were frequently beating up their male partners but I suspect the real figure is higher than the records suggest.

So when a man did bring a prosecution against a woman it is not surprising that it made the papers, and (as in this case) provided an opportunity for amusement at the man’s expense.

When Jeremiah Lynch lost his first wife to cholera he took on a woman to help him keep his house together. Lynch, a tailor living in Redcross Street near the Mint, was elderly and employed a vibrant young Irish woman named Carolina. He had hired Carolina in October 1850 and for nine months she had performed her duties admirably. In fact so diligent was she that in July 1852 Jeremiah (despite the age difference) proposed marriage to her which she accepted.

This soon turned out to be a terrible mistake however as Carolina, now Mrs Lynch, appeared to transform into quite a different person from the amenable servant he had married.

He ‘had not been tied to her many days before she exhibited her true temper, by demanding possession of all his money, and wanting to wear the breeches’.

When he refused her demands she smashed all his crockery. At first he ‘overlooked her mad conduct’ but on Friday 19 September 1851 she came home at six and started on him again. She complained (in an example of gender role reversal) that he had not prepared anything ‘nice for tea’ and knocked him about the head and body. She declared that ‘she would wear the breaches’ he told the magistrate at Southwark Police Court on the following Saturday morning.

‘So’, the magistrate asked him (to mounting laughter in the court) ‘she is desirous of wearing the Bloomer costume?’

If Lynch responded it was not recorded but Carolina did speak in her own defence. She told his Worship that the tailor (described as ‘sickly-looking old man’ by the Standard‘s reporter) was ‘a nasty old brute’ who ‘ill-used and starved her’.

Jeremiah Lynch denied this but the magistrate didn’t convict her of the assault. Instead he granted a separation, perhaps acknowledging that Lynch had some responsibility in the matter. He further required that the tailor should pay his former housekeeper 10s a week. In the end then this was probably a fairly successful outcome for Carolina, if not for Jeremiah. In this struggle for the breaches then, it was victory for the ‘fairer’ sex.

[from The Standard, Monday, September 22, 1851]

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“Give her a good hiding”: marital violence and a lack of a sisterly support

Recently Married Woman With Bandage Across Her Face.

Poor Eliza Taylor.

East End women had, by all accounts, a hard life. Poverty was rife, childbirth dangerous, work hard to find and poorly paid, and husbands that were often drunk and not infrequently violent. The saving grace was usually other women and the extended family that helped keep communities together. Women looked out for each other,  patched up cuts and tended to bruises, and offered tea and sympathy.

Not in all cases it seems and perhaps this reveals the role of the police and local courts in acting as a ‘last resort’ when the community sanctions and support mechanism broke down.

As they clearly did for Eliza Taylor.

Eliza was married but like many relationships in the area hers was seemingly tempestuous. Perhaps her husband drank; maybe he was work-shy; in all likelihood he hit her. Poverty can place a huge strain on marriage, especially when the pressures of life mean  there is little time for caring about each other.

In September 1880 Eliza’s sister-in-law, Anna Desmond, called at the Taylor’s home. It was about 5 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon and Mr Taylor was also at home, suggesting he was out of work. Perhaps Eliza had been berating him for his lack of employment, or for being out since lunchtime drinking with his mates. Historians aren’t supposed to speculate in the way that novelists can but sometimes I think it is useful.

Anna hadn’t come come round (as Eliza might have hoped) to empathise with her sister-in-law. Instead she had come round to mete out some family discipline to a disobedient wife and mother. Quit complaining about my brother and this family, she might well have said.

Poor Eliza.

The next thing she knew Anna had attacked her and her husband had joined in:

‘taking Desmond’s part, he held her down, and said, “Give her a good hiding now you have got her”.

Anna had punched her in the head, cutting it open and knocking her to the ground and now Taylor piled in himself. Both assailants kicked and thumped the stricken woman until somehow she managed to get away and escape into the street where she was soon found by a local policeman.

Having told him what happened he arrested Anna Desmond and she was produced before the Thames magistrate on the Thursday morning following the incident. The court was told by the doctor that had treated Eliza’s injuries that she ‘was so weak from loss of blood she had to be taken home in a cart’.

Anna Desmond was notorious in the area it seems; the Poplar resident had been in court several times before, including on a warrant for biting another woman and for trying to kill herself in a police cell. There was clearly something very wrong with Anna Desmond. There was no sign of Mt Taylor in the courts, either as a witness or for the beating he had handed out to his wife.

Eliza probably didn’t want to prosecute her husband. Charging him would probably make things worse in her mind. If he was sent to prison then any chance he would find work afterwards was undermined; if Mr Lushington fined him then that was just another expense the family would have to bear. And of course, merely by dragging him through the courts Eliza would have angered him and made the possibility of further beatings more likely. Best to keep quiet and try and hope he took his frustrations out on someone else.

Mr Lushington was presented with a very easy case to deal with according to law. He didn’t need to look into the other details today. Anna Desmond was violent, abusive, quite possibly a regular drunk and disorderly ‘customer’ and clearly ‘deserved’ the full force of the justice system. He sent her to prison for three months hard labour.

In three months time she would out and back in Poplar. Her brother, fuming from the punishment handed down to his sister and the shame it brought on him and his family was already free.

Poor Eliza.

[from The Standard, Friday, September 10, 1880]

Fire and murder in the East End but business as usual for Mr Lushington

John Tenniel The Nemesis of Neglect

John Tenniel’s Nemesis of Neglect, Punch (29/9/1888)

On Friday 31 August 1888 the Standard newspaper reported on the ‘great fire’ that had raged at the London docks the night before. Workers had knocked off at 4 that day as usual but at 8.30 in the evening someone noticed the smell of burning. It took until nine for the authorities at Whitechapel to be alerted whereupon officials there ‘ordered every steamer to proceed to the scene’. By the time they got there (coming from all over the city) a massive fire was underway.

The fire was raging in the South Quay warehouses which were ‘crammed with colonial produce in the upper floors and brandy and gin’ at ground floor level. With so many combustibles it is not surprising that the 150 yard long building blazed so violently. The conflagration not only drew the police and fire brigade to the site it also attracted thousands on Londoners  in the East End to step out of their homes to see the fire.

The Pall Mall Gazette also featured a report on the fire within its fourth edition that day. It described the warehouse as 200 yards long and said 12 steamers were engaged in fighting the blaze. It reported that soon after the first fire was brought under control a second broke out at the premises of Messrs. J. T. Gibbs and Co. at the dry dock at Ratcliffe, damaging workshops, goods and a nearby sailing ship, the Cornucopia.

As dramatic as the dockyard fires were they were eclipsed by an adjacent report on the same page which read:

HORRIBLE MURDER IN EAST LONDON

ANOTHER WHITECHAPEL MYSTERY

This of course refereed to the gruesome discovery made by police constable John Neil as he walked his beat along Buck’s Row (now Durward Street) parallel to the Whitechapel High Street. PC Neil had found the dead body of a woman later to identified as Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Nichols, the first ‘canonical’ victim of murderer known to history as ‘Jack the Ripper’.

The Gazette’s reporter must have seen the body in the Whitechapel mortuary because he was able to describe it in some detail for his readers.

‘As the corpse lies in the mortuary it presents a ghastly sight […] The hands  are bruised, and bear evidence of having been engaged in a severe struggle. There is the impression of a ring having been forced from one of the deceased’s fingers, but there is nothing to show that it had been wrenched from her in a struggle’, ruling out (it would seem) robbery as a motive.

No one, it seems, had heard anything despite there being a night watchmen living in the street. It was a mystery and as more details of Polly’s injuries emerged in subsequent days the full horror of the killing and the idea that a brutal maniac was at work in the East End gained ground in the press.

Meanwhile it was business as usual for the capital’s Police Courts; at Thames Francis Greenfield was charged with cruelty to a pony. He was brought in by PC 73K who had found the man beating the animal as he exercised it around a circle, presumably training it. The poor ‘animal was bleeding from the mouth, and there was a wound on the side of its lip’. The constable was told by several bystanders that Greenfield had been ‘exercising’ the beast for well over an hour. Mr Lushington, the magistrate, adjourned the business of his court  to go and see the pony for himself. When he returned he sentenced Greenfield to 10 days imprisonment with hard labour for the abuse.

Having dealt with that case the next reported one was of Philip McMahon who was in court for beating his partner, Emily Martin. The pair had been cohabiting for four or five years and it wasn’t the first time he had hit her. After a previous incident, when he’d blacked her eye, she had forgiven him and had done so several times since. Then on Monday (27 August) he had come up to her on the Mile End Road and grabbed her by the throat. He tore off a locket that she wore and assaulted her. He declared he was leaving her and when she tried to reason with him and implore him not to go he hit her again, knocking her senseless. Mr Lushington gave him 6 months hard labour.

Both cases testify to the violence and cruelty that was often associated with the working class residents of the East End of London. This allowed the press to construct a picture of Whitechapel as a place that had abandoned any semblance of  decency. The area became the ‘abyss’, a netherworld or living hell, where life was cheap and personal and physical corruption endemic. The “ripper’ became the embodiment of this vice and crime-ridden part of the Empire, given form by John Tenniel’s nemesis of Neglect, published on 29 September 1888 at the height of the murder panic. As with the modern press, historians and other readers need to be very careful before they take everything written in them at face value.

[from The Standard , Friday, August 31, 1888; The Morning Post, Friday, August 31, 1888;The Pall Mall Gazette , Friday, August 31, 1888]

for more Ripper related posts see:

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

“Let me see the Queen, I know who the ‘Ripper’ is!”

 

‘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]

A ‘child of the Jago’ in the Mansion House court

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The Old Nichol area as shown on Charles Booth’s poverty maps (1889) showing the density of poverty maked out in black and blue.

The Old Nichol had a fearsome reputation in late Victorian London. The collection of about 30 streets at the north end of Brick Lane was in the area now occupied by modern day Arnold Circus. In the late 1800s the Nichol was home to around 5-6,000 people and it was immortalised in fiction by Arthur Morrison in A Child of the Jago (1896). It was a far cry from modern hipster Shoreditch and Bethnal Green.

In 1875 the Nichol was where Henry Stuck lived. Henry was nine and his parents occupied a room at 5 Old Nichol Street one of the most notorious streets in the Nichol slum. It seems that Henry played away from home, preferring to hang out with other boys in a property in Lower Thames Street, south of the Mansion House in the old City of London. He was also known to stay with known thieves in a lodging house in Shoreditch.

In fact reports said that a ‘gang of boys, 40 or 50 in number’ were ‘in the habit of frequenting a small coffee house’ in the street which they had dubbed ‘the House of Lords’. There they seem to have created their own private playground to ape the behaviour of their elders and (at least in the minds of the disapproving authorities) hatch plots to commit petty crime.

In July 1875 Henry was in court. He was brought before Alderman Phillips at the Mansion House Police Court charged with begging. As he stood in the dock a description of the boys’ haunt was delivered in court by Henry’s father:

‘Here they regaled themselves with halfpenny and penny worths of coffee’, he told the magistrate, ‘their language and behaviour being… of the most disorderly and disgraceful character when any of the parents visited the room in search of their children’.

When he wasn’t begging Henry went about the City selling fuses.

Why hadn’t the coffee house been closed down by the police the Alderman wanted to know? They had no power to do an inspector of police explained.

‘On one occasion when the boys were found tossing in the house, [in other words they were gambling, which was a summary offence] the police took out a summons, but it was dismissed’.

As far as Mr Stuck was concerned Henry was ‘a very bad boy’ who had been away for up to three weeks recently. His mother spoke up for him though, arguing that it was her husband’s poor treatment of the lad that had driven him out. She asked the magistrate to send Henry to a Reformatory school where he might learn skills and be away from bad influences. She added that her husband ‘would not work to support his children, and starvation only started the boy in the face at home’.

She had painted  a grim picture of life in the Nichol where poverty was endemic and many children lived hand-to-mouth on the streets. Morrison’s novel way well have served to exaggerate the reality of the ‘blackest streets’ of East London but the truth was bad enough.

A Reformatory was a popular choice for working-class parents who struggled to support let alone control their offspring. Many seem to have used the courts to try to get them off their hands. But magistrates were wise to this and often asked the family to make a financial contribution to the child’s upkeep, which may have deterred some from seeking this solution.

If this was Mr Stuck’s intention then he would have to wait to see if the Alderman would oblige him. The magistrate ordered the boy to be taken to the workhouse while the circumstances of the case were investigated. Mr and Mrs Stuck left the court without him, to pursue their domestic squabble in private. As for Henry, who was only nine, his future was far from certain but hardly appeared rosy.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, July 26, 1875]

The Southwark magistrate helps two wives obtain a brief respite from their abusive spouses

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George Wright so badly mistreated his young wife, Emma, that after 18 months of marriage she had walked out of his life, and had gone to live with her mother. During that time she had not taken a penny of his money but had ‘maintained herself’ independently of him. In July 1881 however, the pair had run into each other on the New Kent Road, and this had ended badly.

George Wright may have gone looking for Emma; he was aware that she had a new man in her life and was accustomed to ‘walking out’ with him and her sister, something that annoyed him greatly. When they met he assaulted her, knocking her to the street and kicking at her while she lay there helpless.

Emma was badly hurt and her sister helped her get some medical attention before making a formal complaint to the police about George’s behaviour. In court even George’s own sister testified to her brother’s cruelty and this helped make it an easy case for the Southwark magistrate to adjudicate on. He awarded Emma a judicial separation (as close as he could get to granting her a divorce under his powers), and ordered her husband to pay her 10s a week in maintenance.

Both this case and the next one reported that day at Southwark Police Court , that of  a 33 year-old ironmonger named Stafford, accused of assaulting his wife, were presented under the headline ‘Matrimonial Causes’. This referred to the Matrimonial Causes Act (1857) which was the first piece of legislation to give wives some semblance of control over their marriages. It hardly offered equality in marriage as we might recognise or understand it today but it was a hard fought victory for women nevertheless and it made some small difference to women of the middle or upper classes. For poorer women like Emma Wright or Mrs Stafford it did little but perhaps did at least establish some legal grounds for separation in abusive situations.

Wife beating was widespread in the nineteenth century and not just in working-class homes. It was here however that the spotlight tended to fall with drink and fecklessness being attributed as causal factors in so many women being attacked in their own homes.  Wllliam Stafford was sent to prison for three months at hard labour for the beating he handed out to Eliza, his wife. The justice also separated the couple and similarly ordered William to pay her a regular sum of 7s and 6d for the support of her and her children.

Emma Wright then was lucky, she had escaped from George’s violence, for the time being at least. But a full divorce and the opportunity to be a ‘respectable’ married woman with someone else (rather than simply being a ‘common law’ partner) was still a relative pipe dream. Moreover, while she had bene awarded 10s a week, there was little to ensure that it was paid other than to constantly be prepared to drag her husband back to court time after time.

So it was a victory of sorts, but possibly a short-lived one.

[from The Standard, Monday, July 18, 1881]

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]