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]

The Hungerford Market boys provide early trouble for the Peelers

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I’ve mentioned the unpopularity of the New Police on more than one occasion in this blog and it was certainly a truth that not everyone welcomed Peel’s innovation. It took several years for the ‘Peelers’ to become grudgingly accepted on the capital’s streets and even by the end of the 1800s not everyone welcomed them. In the early days of the professionals there were accusations of corruption and collusion with local criminals and prostitutes, and of heavy handedness and a lack of discipline.

This case demonstrates some of that early tension and is a useful reminder that many policemen were vulnerable to attack from those that resented their presence in their communities. In this example it was a ‘gang of fellows in Hungerford market‘ that were determined to show their contempt for the ‘boys in blue’ at every opportunity, and had organised themselves to deal with any legal consequences that might arise.

PC Richard Wallington (19 F Division) was proceeding along his beat along Villiers Street between 11 and 12 at night on Wednesday 11 August 1830 (less than a year after the first of the Peelers had taken to the streets) when he saw a group of men harassing a private watchman.

He heard ‘high words’ as the watchman tried to get them to go home quietly. One of the men, a ‘sturdy looking fellow’ named Thomas Moody, said they would not quit because they were looking for someone. In fact they were looking for a policeman that he claimed ‘they had paid £8 for’.

This sounds like a bribe and presumably they expected something for it. However, it seems as if whatever they expected the copper to do (or to not do perhaps) had not been forthcoming and now they were after revenge. Moody declared that if they found him they meant to ‘rip [his] b_____ guts out’.

At this PC Wallington turned away, sensibly enough perhaps as he was outnumbered. Unfortunately for him the men had seen him and followed him into the Strand. Mood confronted the PC and threatened to ‘rip his guts out’. Wallington  told him to be quiet and go home. Instead of following that advice however the man attacked him, kicking and thumping him before the policeman was able to call for assistance. As Inspector Wovenden and some other officers arrived the pack of men scattered but Moody was overpowered and taken back to the station house.

In the morning he was produced before the magistrate at Bow Street and the case of assault against him outlined to Sir Richard Birnie. Inspector Wovenden testified that Moody had also insulted and threatened him and declared that he didn’t fear the consequences. Moody insisted that his gang had clubbed together to create a subscription fund out of which any fines incurred for assaulting policemen would be settled.

It is an interesting concept and shows how the so-called ‘criminal classes’ of nineteenth century London might have found a strategy to deal with this new threat to their operations. Many of the street crimes that the New Police dealt with were punished by fines: drunkenness, disorderly behaviour, gambling, refusing to quit licensed premises, obstruction – all carried a fine of between 1s and 10s. Even assault routinely incurred just a fine.

However, a failure to be able to pay any fine would land you in the house of correction for anything up to a month so swift payment was necessary. Later in the century, if the records of the Thames Police Court for the 1880s are reliable, it would seem that magistrates were choosing to punish serious assault (i.e that meted out to the police or to women) with prison, regardless of any ability to pay a fine.

In August 1830 though Sir Richard was content to test the theory of whether the Hungerford Market gang would make good on their boast to pay the fines incurred by anyone that took out a policeman. He handed down a hefty fine, £5 (or £250 today) which Moody could not find quickly. In consequence as he was in default he was taken away to serve two months in prison. It didn’t answer the wider question of who the gang had ‘bought’ but at least it sent a message that Peel’s New Police could not be interfered with with impunity.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, August 13, 1830]

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]

A drunk explains how ‘Going native’ in New Zealand saved his life

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When a man named Burns appeared before the Union Hall Police magistrate on a  charge of being drunk and disorderly, he caused quite a stir. Burns (his first name was not recorded by the court reporter) declared himself as English, and he spoke perfect English, but his appearance was that of Maori warrior.

His face was tattooed in the Maori fashion so that he resembled ‘a New Zealand chief’. How had he come to allow himself to ‘be so disfigured’, the Chief Clerk wanted to know. Well, he replied, ‘it was better than being eaten’. With that dramatic start Burns then gave a brief account of his life and travels, and of what had brought him to London in July 1835.

In 1829 Burns was a sailor on a ship that ran into trouble and was wrecked off the New Zealand coast. He and six others made it to shore but everyone of his companions were killed by the natives. For some reason however, Burns’ life was saved on the intervention of one of their captors and he quickly adopted the local ‘manners and customs’ in order to survive, with, he added, one exception. He refused to eat ‘the bodies of the enemies of his tribe slain in war’.

There were contemporary reports that the Maoris practised cannibalism up until the early 1800s so Burns may have witnessed this. He may also have been playing on popular representations of the savage for effect.

Having settled into the community, he continued, he was soon adopted as a chief. In order to take up this new position he ‘was compelled to undergo the painful operation of tattooing, which was performed with such skill that it is now impossible to distinguish his visage from that of a native’.

As a senior member of the tribe he also learned to master the Maori war canoe and this led to his escape. One day, when he and several other canoes were patrolling along the coast looking for enemies, he spotted a western ship in the distance. He tricked the others into canoeing  off in one direction before turning his own canoe towards the sailing vessel and paddling hard. He quickly got himself out of reach of his former companion’s spears and made it to the ship. The crew helped him on board but it took him some time to convince the Spanish captain that he was indeed and Englishman and not the Maori warrior he appeared to be.

Eventually the Spanish ship had dropped him off in England and he had made his way to London where he now intended to exhibit himself at the Surrey Zoological Gardens. He told the justice at Union Hall that he would be dressed in the ‘costume of New Zealander, and [would] display his dexterity in the management of the canoe, and perform other feats which he had acquired during his six years residence amongst them’.

The magistrate declared that he could not deprive the public of such an entertainment and dismissed the charge against him.

The early 1800s were a time of war for the Maori peoples. Much of this was bloody internal fighting as the rival tribes acquired and used Western guns on each other. ‘Tens of thousands’ died in the so-called ‘musket wars’ of the 1810s, 20s and 30s, at just the time Burns was shipwrecked. Western weaponry was not the only killer however: disease also took its toll of the native population.

From the 1840s onwards tribal rivalry was expressed less in warfare and more in economics but by then New Zealand was increasingly being dominated by European interests. After the purchase of land at Auckland in 1840 the European population grew steadily, and many Maoris left. By 1858 there were more white faces than Maori ones. British policy was to acquire land the Maori deemed worthless or ‘wasteland’, and while there was continued fighting between the Maori settlers and the newer European colonists for most of the rest of the century, there was only ever going to be one final victor.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, July 23, 1835]

A ‘knocker wrencher’ is nabbed!

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William Kilminster was presented in the dock at Worship Street Police Court in July 1837 charged with ‘wrenching off the brass knob from a door in Shoreditch’.

The court reporter treated the story lightly, as though it were amusing and perhaps this was on account of language he used to describe it, or instead because it revealed the different ways in which working-class and elite behaviours were judged. We should remember that in the 1830s most of those buying a daily or weekly newspaper would have been at least lower middle class or aspirational working class who aped those above them.

Kilminster had been seen at 1 in the morning by a policeman on his beat. The reporter recorded what the policeman had described to the magistrate:

‘he observed the prisoner working away at the knob of one of the doors with all the vigour and dexterity of the lordly personages that have heretofore monopolized this respectable recreation’. 

So was ‘knocker wrenching’ a thing? (His phrase, not mine I hasten to add). Indeed it was as this blog post from earlier this year shows. We find yet more information about this form of anti-social behaviour (or theft, which is what it is) here. It sounds like a Benny Hill sketch waiting to happen!

William Kilminster had been nicked and quickly thrown into prison when he’d first came before a magistrate. Now several of his friends had come to plead for clemency on the grounds that he was ‘an honest hard-working man who had acted under the influence of liquor, and too probably under the pernicious influence laid before him by crayon members of the aristocracy’.

Mr Grove was sympathetic to their appeals and released the ‘inoffensive and quite’ mechanic from gaol on condition that he paid a fine of 5s ‘to Her Majesty’ and a further 2s for the damage he had done to the door. With both monies secured William was free to go, with a small stain on his character and the admonition of the justice ringing in his ears.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, July 21, 1837]

Today is Graduation Day for my History students at the University of Northampton, I’m very proud of all of their achievements but every year there are one of two that stand out. We had several firsts this year and lots of upper seconds. Students get a bad press sometimes but I have to say that anyone gaining a degree from any university in England has earned it and deserves all the credit they get. As do all of those that help and support them, which includes family, friends and their lecturers 🙂

Mr D’Eyncourt sends his own message after a telegraph boy is attacked

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Frederick Caius was a telegraph boy. Employed to deliver messages, sometimes by bicycle but mostly by foot, he would have been a familiar figure around the Westminster streets. The service was operated by the General Post Office from its head office in St Martin’s-le-Grand and over 300 locations throughout the capital. You could send a message from almost anywhere in the country to a receiving office and then have it hand delivered by a boy like Caius.

Dressed in a smart uniform and well trusted by their employers boys like Caius may well have attracted the wrong sort of attention. Telegraph boys might have carried sensitive messages, or the proceeds of tips from generous customers; or they may simply have been the cause for some resentment from other youngsters less fortunate than themselves.

If the example of Charles Swinscow is anything to go by, telegraph boys could earn around 11s a week, not a huge sum of money but not insignificant for a teenager either. Swinscow was the boy at the centre of the Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889 which exposed the goings on at a male brothel run by Charles Hammond. The scandal helped cement the idea that homosexuality was an aristocratic male vice, born of the debauched nature of the rich elite. The scandal was investigated by Fred Abberline who had played a prominent role in the Whitechapel murder case a year earlier. It was also rumoured to have connections to Prince Albert Victor, grandson of Queen Victoria (himself later named as a possible suspect in the Ripper case).

All that was in the future in 1881 however when the 13 year-old Fred Caius made his way through Chelsea at seven in the evening. He was close to the King’s Road, on the corner of Jubilee Place and Cale Street when he heard a shout of ‘take that!’ A fearsome blow to his head knocked him flying and when he came to his senses he was lying in the arms of a policeman.

Cause had seen the man that hit him but was unable to avoid the blow, he was however able to identify him. Two men appeared in the Westminster Police Court; one (James Cummings, 19) charged with assaulting Caius and other (Martin Sullivan, 22) with attempting to rescue the culprit from custody.

Both young men, the magistrate Mr D’Eyncourt was told, were part of a ‘gang of roughs’ who ‘infested’ the neighbourhood making life ‘unbearable’ for local businesses and their customers. The attack on the telegraph boy had occurred, PC 115B explained, after a large number of roughs had been excluded from the Red House pub for behaving riotously. The landlord had refused to serve them as they were already intoxicated and they had reacted by leaning over the bar and ‘turning the spirit pumps and then sallied out in a raid against any inoffensive person who might pass them’.

A second officer appeared to support his fellow’s testimony and to add that plenty of local shopkeepers and publicans would be prepared to testify to the trouble caused by these roughs if the justice required them to. Mr D’Eyncourt did not need any more evidence however, he was convinced of the defendant’s guilt and the need to punish them for it.

Turning to the men in the dock he declared that Cummings was by ‘his own showing a brutal ruffian’ and he sent him to prison for two months with hard labour, while his companion Sullivan would go down for six weeks of the same. The magistrate was sending his own message to the local youth that their sort of ruffianism would not be tolerated.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, July 19, 1881]

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]