Sometimes you get exactly what you pay for, a Bow Street justice explains.

diary_of_a_nobody_p020

‘I left the room with silent dignity, but unfortunately I tripped over the carpet.’ (Mr Pooter in Diary of a Nobody, Grossmith and Grossmith, 1892)

Bow Street Police Court was the most senior summary court in the capital in the Victorian period. Its magistrates sat in judgement on tens of thousands of petty criminals and sent many of them on for trial at the Old Bailey. In the 20th century some of the most famous felons in our history appeared there, including Ronnie and Reggie Kray. The original bar (where prisoners stood to hear their fate) is now in the national justice museum at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, complete with cut-outs of some of those that stood there.

It is probably to assume that this case, from May 1900, was not one that troubled the sitting justice overmuch. It was hardly a crime at all, but serves to remind us that the London Police Courts were – as the parlour of the 18th century justices of the peace had been – a forum for the public to air their grievances, however small.

Mr Vaughan was in the chair at Bow Street when a ‘respectable-looking’ man applied to him for ‘some remedy’. The unnamed gentleman had bought a watch in the Strand and he was unhappy with it.

It had been advertised, he said, as ‘the cheapest watch in the world’, but it didn’t actually tell the time.

Mr Vaughan asked the man what he had paid for it. 4s and 9d came the reply.

‘Then  I should say it was “the cheapest watch in the world”‘, replied the the magistrate. ‘Does it go at all?”

‘It does go but it won’t mark the hours’, grumbled the applicant. He explained that he had taken it to a watchmaker who had examined it and told him that the ‘wheels [were] not cut to mark the hours’.

Mr Vaughan looked it over and expressed his opinion that it was amazing it went at all for that price. The case itself was probably worth the money and he advised him to take it back. No law had been broken, the man had just been something of a cheapskate and he was fairly fortunate his name was withheld from the reading public, or he might have become a ‘Pooterish’ laughing stock.

He left the court, apologising to the court for wasting its time….

[from The Standard, Thursday, May 22, 1890]

The ‘Long Firm’ in late Victorian London

wilds-rents-3

Long Lane, Bermondsey in the 1930s, with its Victorian buildings still standing

I have always associated the ‘long firm’ fraud with 1960s criminals like the Krays. The scam, whereby a supposedly legitimate business is set up to develop a credit history before supplies are systematically defrauded, is described in Jake Arnott’s 2000 novel of the same name.  The long firm died out in the late 20th century as paper trails meant it became harder to get away with.

However, it seems that the form of fraud, and indeed the name, has quite deep roots in London criminal history, as this case from the Southwark Police court makes clear.

Charles John Holms, alias Frederick Jackson was described in court as a 41 year-old baker, although it is quite clear that he did very little baking and quite a lot of fraud. He opened a shop at 91 Long Lane, Bermondsey and an account with the London & South Western Bank. It seemed then, that he was trading legitimately, but this was very far from the truth.

Acting after a series of complaints were, made the police began an investigation, headed by Inspector Matthew Fox of CID. Having obtained a warrant to search his premises, the inspector turned up at Jackson’s shop in May 1880.

‘The shop had the appearance to an ordinary observer of being well stocked. On the shelves were a large number of kegs and cheese boxes, but on inspection they were all found to be empty, and with the exception of some loaves of bread and two sacks of flour, there was not a single article in the shop that the prisoner purported to deal in’.

In other words it was a front or a scam, and when he looked further inspector Fox found the evidence he needed to arrest the fake baker. Several letters from suppliers were discovered, along with a blank cheque book and some other paperwork that showed what he had been up to.

Jackson (or Holmes) had been carefully contacting supplies all over the country, ordering samples, paying for small orders of goods that he then disposed of quickly, before upping the ante and placing larger orders for goods he had no intention of paying for.

He used the bank account to draw cheques ‘payable to himself, which he passed away in payment of goods, thereby leaving an impression that he was carrying on a genuine trading business’.

Witnesses at Southwark, like Edward Elevy, (a starch manufacturer from Battersea) told the magistrate that he had received a letter of introduction from C. J Holmes of Bermondsey, written on a ‘bill-head on which the words “Established 25 years” were printed’. Soon afterwards he got an order for 25lbs weight of starch. This was never paid for and when another order arrived he ‘declined’ it and eventually sued him for the debt.

Elvey was not the only victim, the court was told that there were at least 68 suppliers in London that were owed money, and a further 40 ‘in the country’.

In May 1880 Holmes was remanded in custody for another week and in August he appeared at the Central Criminal charged, alongside several others, with fraud. It was a long and complicated case and the trial record runs to several pages. At the end of it Holmes was found guilty of obtaining goods by fraudulent means and conspiracy – he was sentenced to five years penal servitude. Three others were similarly convicted but received shorter sentences of 18 months, and four men were acquitted.

The ‘long firm fraud’ it seems, has a longer history than we might have thought, making its first appearance on Google’s Ngram reader in 1868.

[from The Standard , Wednesday, May 19, 1880]

An American Private I at Bow Street, on the trail of silk smugglers

20160112-img_0011c_1

In the mid 1870s America was still recovering from the horrors of its civil war. Its president was the victorious Union general, Ulyssess S. Grant, serving his second term after an election which the Democrats did not field their own candidate. It was less than century, of course, from the War of Independence but America now enjoyed fairly good relations with its former colonial master, Great Britain. The two countries even had an extradition agreement after 1870, which allowed the USA to request the return of suspected offenders against US law so long as it could provide prima facie evidence of the person’s alleged guilt.

Which is why, in April 1875, the Bow Street Police Court was visited by a celebrated New York private detective, James Mooney, who was on the trail of a gang involved in smuggling contraband goods through US customs.

In 1872 Mooney and sheriff John Boland had set up a detective agency at 176 Broadway, New York, with the specific purpose of investigating business fraud. In 1874 they were hired by some prominent NYC merchants to look into falling silk prices that they suspected were being caused by an influx of cheap, untaxed materials on the US market.* Over the next few years they chased down smuggling operations all over the US, Canada, Europe and Britain.

In April 1875 Mooney appeared at Bow Street with a request to extradite Charles Lewis Lawrence. The case had  been delayed several times while evidence was being prepared but when it finally came before Sir Thomas Henry the charge laid was that Lawrence had used forged bonds to ‘pass goods through the customs at much lower duty than ought to have been imposed’.

In practice what thus meant was that Lawrence had set up a dummy company, Blanding & Co., and created fake labels for boxes of silk. The silk was labelled as cotton which drew a much lower duty ($18,000 lower in fact) than silk. One or two boxes containing cotton were then sent through customs for examination and the rest were waived through, allowing the American marked to be swamped with cheap silk. The whole operation anted to a fraud valued at ‘upwards of half a million dollars’.

Mooney, an Irishman who, like so many had emigrated to New York as a young man in search of a new life, was able to bring a number of witnesses to court to support his application. Frederick Brooks,  a US customs clerk, confirmed that there was no such firm as Blandings and a London-based handwriting expert, Mr Netherclift, testified that the forged bonds were indeed written by Lawerence.

The private detective explained that he had tracked 10 cases of ‘so-called cotton’ that had arrived in New York on the Pomerania merchant vessel. A customs officer named Des Anges had assigned just one of them for inspection. This one contained cotton, the others silk. Mooney found the crates in a  warehouse and seized them, arresting Des Anges in the process.

Lawrence had been caught on a ship leaving Dublin bound for London from America and the detective sergeant, Edward Shore, that took him into custody found a damning piece of evidence on his person. This was a note from Des Anges which read:

‘All is up. I am followed, and you are followed. Export all you can, and leave me to save myself’.

None of the evidence presented in court was challenged by Lawrence’s lawyer, Mr Lewis, but when the prosecution had finished its presentation he rose and addressed the magistrate. He explained that while he had not chosen to cross-examine the witnesses this was not because his client accepted the ‘facts’, merely that ‘the question of guilty or not guilty was not to be decided by this court’. All that the Bow Street court had to decide was whether he should be extradited.

Sir Thomas was satisfied that a prima facie [lit. “on the face of it”] case had been established; there was sufficient cause to send Lawrence for trial so he granted the extradition request. However, he added that in accordance with British law the American would be committed to a house of detention for 14 days. Lawrence ‘asked to be sent back at once’ (presumably not keen on experiencing any more British hospitality) but the magistrate refused.

Mooney & Boland were one of several US detective agencies, the most famous of which of course was Alan Pinkerton’s which still exists (if in a  slightly different capacity). James Mooney died in March 1892 at the age of 44. He moved his NYC office to Chicago where he was involved in a number of very successful investigations of business related fraud. The firm continued to operate well into the next century from its Chicago offices.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, April 16, 1875]

*Andrew Wender Cohen, Contraband: Smuggling and the Birth of the American Century, (W. W. Norton & Company, 2015)

Pirates on the Thames? Intellectual property theft at the University Boat Race

N1300871513T

 

If you are a British reader then you are probably familiar with the annual University Boat Race, where teams from the county’s top two academic institutions (Cambridge and Oxford) compete over a course of 4.2 miles (6.8km) on the River Thames, starting at Putney and ending at Mortlake.

The race was first staged in 1829 and has been run annually since 1856 (the only breaks being for the two world wars). In that time there have been 82 wins for Cambridge (the light blues) and 80 for Oxford (the dark blues). In 1877 there was a dead heat, and on five occasions one of the boats sank.

The boat race has been part of the London sporting calendar from the early Victorian people and continues to draw large crowds to the river on race days. In fact, it became so enmeshed in London culture that it gave its title to a popular phrase in cockney rhyming slang (‘boat race’ = face).

In 1871 (when Cambridge won by a length) the contest also featured in the daily ‘doings’ of the Police Courts. Just over a week after the race Theresa Conroy was brought before the Mansion House Police court accused of selling ‘pirated photographs of the last Oxford crew’. Detective Sergeant Funnell of the Metropolitan Police accompanied the prisoner and Mr George Lewis prosecuted; Conroy was represented by a Mr Merriman.

The charge laid was that the defendant was involved (with her son) in selling pirated images of the Oxford crew that had been created by her husband, who was sending them to her from his workshop on Jersey in the Channel Islands.

The crime had come to light because the official photographer for the Oxford crew, Mr Henry William Taunt, was surprised that his sales – having started briskly – were now dwindling. He had already sold 500 copies (of six different prints) at 1s a go, in fact he’d sold 14 dozen on the first day of issue. Puzzled and suspicious he himself investigated what was going on and was soon able to purchase five copies of his own work for 5s. The copies were of one particular shot he’d taken (of F.E.H Payne, one of the crew without his hat on), and it appears that the Conroys had stolen, or otherwise managed to get hold of the negative.

When the police looked into the matter they searched Conroy’s home and found over 120 copies there along with copies of the Cambridge crew. Moreover, they found a letter from Mr Conroy to his wife asking if the official photos of the crew ‘were out yet’ and also telling her that in Jersey there were demands for other popular images, such as ‘the King of Prussia (presumably Wilhelm I ) on his knees’.

This was a small but profitable business and demonstrates the popularity of owning such mementos of major events and of popular or significant individuals. The Victorians popularised the photograph and this was also the era with saw the rise of the popular newspaper, including some with illustrations. So in many ways this was a very ‘modern’ form of crime and of course something that is still a problem today. Now it is pirated music and film rather than photos but the effect is the same, in that the creator is deprived of the fruits of his or her labour.

The  magistrate took a dim view of this species of theft or fraud (intellectual property theft as we would understand it). He told the court that Conroy had ‘knowingly and audaciously carried on a trade that had inflicted a serious injury upon other persons, and which was a species of robbery of the worst kind, men of skill and talent being thus deprived of what was due to them’.

In consequence he handed down a hefty financial penalty, which fell directly on Theresa but ultimately on the whole Conroy family. She was fined £5 (or two months imprisonment) for the first copy sold and a further £3 each (or 21 days) for the other copies. Given that Theresa and her son were selling these for 3d each this would have crippled them financially.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, April 11, 1871]

Today is also my brother Roland’s birthday, he was born 100 years after Theresa appeared in the Mansion House dock and, as someone trained in the law, I’m sure he would appreciate the need to protect the property rights of someone like Mr Taunt. Happy birthday Rol!

A fake surgeon tries (and fails) to con Ellen Terry’s father

Ellen-Terry-jubilee

Today is of course the first of April, the day when japes and merry pranks fill the pages of the newspapers and the content of TV and radio news shows. This year there seems to be something of a paucity of ‘April fools’ perhaps because the world is quite mad enough without making stuff up.

The Victorians were just as gullible as ourselves it seems and the nineteenth-century press were quite happy to try and trick their readerships with ‘fake news’ stories. I doubt however, whether this extended to the reporters at the Police Courts, who were tasked with entertaining readers with the day-to-day ‘doings’ of this lower level of the criminal justice system.

Alongside the drunks, brawlers, petty thieves and wife beaters there were those who tried, in a  variety of ways, to trick the more susceptible members of society. These included fraudsters who sold things that didn’t work, or bought goods on ‘tick’ with no intention of paying, and others who persuaded people to part with money under false pretences.

One such person was Frederick Walter Ventris, a bookseller, who was charged at Wandsworth Police Court with ‘obtaining money by false representations’.

Ventris had knocked at the door of a Mr Terry (an actor) and his wife. He told the lady of the house ‘a pitiable tale of having been a surgeon, but could not follow his profession as he was paralysed, and had just been discharged from the Fulham infirmary’. Mrs Terry said she would speak to her husband, gave him some money to allow him to pay for his lodgings and invited him to call again soon.

Ventris returned a day or so later and this time managed to speak to Mr Terry. This was probably Benjamin Terry, a well-known actor and the head of what was to be a renowned acting family. Terry was married to Sarah Ballard, who also trod the boards, and then had several children. One of these was Ellen who went on to achieve international fame as a Shakespearean actress, appearing often alongside Henry Irving. Her great nephew was John Gielgud, demonstrating perhaps that great genes do run in the family.

Benjamin Terry was sympathetic to Frederick Ventris’ plight who wrote to the Charity Organisation Society on his behalf. Ventris explained that he had been given permission to deliver a series of lectures on chemistry by the vicar of Chiswick and in this way managed to persuade several other persons to give him money so he could buy the ‘chemical equipment’ he needed for the talks.

However, when the case came to court Ventris’ ruse began to unravel. The vicar, the Reverend Dale said he given no such permission to the supposed surgeon. He said the story he had been told was that the man was one of his parishioners and was applying for the job of caretaker at the local board school.

Ventris protested to the magistrate that all this was hearsay and false rumour but Mr Paget was having nothing of it. He saw through the attempt to hoodwink and actor and a man of the cloth, both potentially more open to believing a ‘hard luck’ story, and found Ventris guilty as charged. He told him he ‘had taken advantage of a superior education to commit a systematic course of fraud on charitably disposed persons’. He then sent him to prison at hard labour for three months.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, April 01, 1879]

Tyson and Henry Cooper in the dock at Southwark

Decline

My apologies if the headline caught you but after all that is what headline writers do. This isn’t a story about two boxing legends but instead a tale of fraud in 1870s London.

In late March 1872 George Tyson, alias George Tyler, alias Henry Cooper (I’m not making this up, honest) was brought before the Police magistrate at Southwark charged with ‘obtaining two rick cloths, value £32, from Messrs. Cox and Williams, late Benjamin Edgington, under false and fraudulent pretences’.

The firm’s lawyer opened the prosecution by recounting how, almost a year earlier, a man calling himself Tyson had called on the firm and said he required a rick cloth to protect his hay. The firm were told that he was an established customer of theirs and a respectable farmer at Reigate and that he could be found ‘in the directory’.

Mr Cox, on behalf of the firm, explained that they had checked their books and discovered they had a customer called Mr Tyson at Reigate and so, reassured, they duly despatched two cloths. However, when the invoice they sent was not paid and all the reminders ignored, they began to realise the whole thing was ‘a swindle’.

Mr Cox had met Tyson when he had come to London but had not seen him again until, by chance, he saw him getting into a cab at London Bridge station. He immediately called over a nearby policeman, explained the situation and helped make the arrest. Tyson was bailed on his promise to attend the Southwark court the following morning, but failed to show up in court and then disappeared.

A warrant was then issued for his arrest which came into the hands of inspector Matthew Fox of M Division, Metropolitan Police. On the Friday before this court appearance a man walked into Fox’s station house asking for help. Mr Lucy was a ship owner who had recently let a property to a man named Cooper. On visiting the property he was surprised to see Cooper loading up all his possessions as if was about to leave. The property was let for three years, at a rate of £53 a year (about £2,500 in today’s money) but it seemed Copper was leaving in a hurry. When the inspector called on him he also found it was full of commercial property (not described in court) which seemed to have come from an unknown manufacturer.

It all seemed a little fishy and given Tyson (or Cooper’s) propensity to avoid court appearances the inspector asked for him to be remanded so he could pursue his investigations. The report noted that ‘the prisoner ( who took the matter very coolly), said it was merely a matter of debt’. Regardless of this the magistrate acquiesced to the policeman’s request and Tyson/Cooper spent at least the next few days in gaol.

In early April Tyson was tried at the Old Bailey for fraud. It emerged that his wife had kept the house Lucy had let him and that when the landlord tried to extract the rent from him he was met by several fierce dogs. When Inspector Fox had tried to arrest him at the house he two had ben confronted by a least one ‘savage’ dog. Tyson had struggled with the officer and resisted arrest.

The jury were convinced that at least one fraud had taken place and the prisoner was convicted and then sentenced to five years’ penal servitude. One wonders, if when he got out he adopted yet another pseudonym and, like Evelyn Waugh’s Solomon Philbrick, lived to con another day.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 26, 1872]

P.s I’m delighted that the BBC have made a TV draw from my favourite Waugh novel: Decline and Fall starts on BBC1 next Friday (at 9pm).

One thirsty fellow’s scheme for ‘raising the wind’.

vauxhall_bridge_1829

Vauxhall Bridge c.1829

James Edwards was a man with a tremendously large thirst but very small funds. In early 1854 he came up with a cunning plan to cash in on what may have been a fairly common practice. Unfortunately for him it backfired, and in late February he found himself in the dock of the Westminster Police Court.

One day a house in Besborough Gardens, Pimlico, was inundated with tradesmen delivering all sorts of goods and services. Between 15 and 18 different butchers, bakers, sweeps, french polishers and the like descended on the fashionable parade near Vauxhall Bridge. The staff and the unnamed gentleman that resided there were puzzled – no one had ordered anything.

One can imagine the chaotic scene with bewildered homeowner turning away frustrated and annoyed tradesmen – perhaps much like the exchanges between Charles Pooter and his butcher and the other tradesmen that called on him (and then fell over his badly positioned boot scraper).

The gentleman and his family at first assumed it must have been ‘a hoax got up by some mischievous person’ but eventually the trail was traced back to James Edwards.

Edwards had apparently gone around the various local tradesmen making spurious orders for unwanted items and services in the hope that he would received a tip. This came in the form of ‘a few halfpence or pints of beer’ and, with up to 18 orders he must have had plenty of money or alcohol to drink himself silly for the rest of the afternoon.

Whether it was good luck or inside knowledge is not made clear in the report, but the family’s cook, who normally placed most of the orders for the household, had recently left. This allowed such an unusual situation to occur. Edwards had, as the paper reported, discovered  a new ‘mode of raising the wind’ (or obtaining there necessary funds).

It was a nuisance if not a crime and in the absence of the cook’s testimony that she had not made the orders the magistrate was obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt. He ordered him to enter into his own recognisances to behave himself for the next six months and warned the tradesmen to be on ‘their guard against tricks of this description’.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, February 27, 1854]