A little local knowledge helps prevent ‘the grossest frauds and impositions’.

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When the Rev. Henry Burton, vicar of Atcham near Shrewsbury received a letter asking for his help he was immediately suspicious. Whether this was because he had be sent such missives or before and was wise to them, or perhaps on account of him being on the list of magistrates for Shropshire, we will never know but Rev. Burton decided to forward the letter to London. He sent it on to Mr Elliot, one of the capital’s Police Court magistrates, then looking after the Lambeth court.

The letter was from a  man named Henry Dewhurst who described himself as a doctor and begged the vicar to help him financially by placing an order (with payment) for a book that he had written. The book was entitled ‘The Moral Philosopher‘ and was priced at 8s and 6d (about £25 today). Dewhurst added that:

‘Diseased heart, want of employment, and the almost fatal effects of typhus fever to himself, wife, and two out of four children, have plunged them into the deepest distress. For two days they have not tasted food. Wife is fast sinking from consumption and want of nutriment. All they had is in pledge, even his clothes, for 56d. An early reply is humbly supplicated’.

Rev. Burton wanted to see if the magistrate at Lambeth could make some local enquires (as Dewhurst gave his address as 25 William Street, Nelson Square, Lambeth) and so Mr Elliot despatched the court officer, Sergeant Goff to see what he could find out.

When Goff returned he said it was a scam, or a ‘system of imposture’ as he put it. He had visited Mr Dewhurst and confirmed that he was someone who had previously been exposed as a fraud at the Lambeth Police Court. About a year earlier he had tried exactly the same method of parting gullible individuals from their money with a hard luck story and the promise of a book that never materialised.

Goff discovered that Dewhurst had also written other begging letters recently including one to another vicar (this time in Canterbury) where he tried to pass himself off as a having in MA in astronomy. That had also failed to convince the reverend gentleman who had asked a lady friend in Lambeth to check its validity.

Mr Elliot asked Goff if he was satisfied that Dewhurst was an imposter. Goff replied that he was, adding:

‘He has not his wife living with him, and whenever he is asked for the book he states he publish, his excuse is that it is at the binder’s, but who the binder is he does not say’.

The magistrate declared that if everyone was as careful as the Rev. Burton the ‘grossest frauds and impositions might be prevented’.

Interestingly in 1835 a man named William Henry Dewhurst did publish a pamphlet or book entitled the The Moral Philosopher, so perhaps he wasn’t such a fraud after all? 

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, September 7, 1848]

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‘Lazy’? ‘Good-for-nothing’? Or economic migrants with a dream of a better life?

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Frederick William Turner was described in the Southwark Police Court as a ‘singular-looking young fellow’ but also (by the magistrate), as a ‘lazy good-for-nothing’. What was it that Frederick had done to earn such a condemnation from Mr Burcham?

His ‘crime’ was dodging his fare on the railway. To be precise Turner had travelled from Portsmouth to London without paying. He had fallen asleep in a second-class carriage and when he was rudely awakened by a ticket inspector (Anthony Coleman) he ‘fumbled about in his pockets’ before telling the inspector ‘he had neither ticket nor money’.

Coleman grabbed him and marched him to the office of the station superintendent for him to deal with. There he admitted having no money, and no intention of ever paying for the ride. The superintendent recognised the lad as someone he had caught fare dodging not long ago. Indeed, six months previously Turner had made the same journey to London, had been caught without a ticket or the means to pay and was imprisoned for seven days because he (fairly obviously) didn’t have the 10s to pay a fine instead.

Now Frederick found himself once again before ‘the beak’ and got little sympathy from the bench. Mr Burcham asked him to defend himself but all Frederick said was that it was true. He had come up from Portsmouth to look for work in London. He didn’t have the fare, presumably because he was poor and out of work.

Instead of admiring his desire to find work (as Norman Tebbit might have done, despite the implicit criminality) Mr Burcham was clearly outraged that the lad had demonstrated that he had learnt nothing from his previous brush with the law.

He had ‘no right to defraud the railway by travelling on their line’, he told him. Fred’s response was to say that he had ‘tried to walk up but could not on account of the heat’. It was the height of summer after all and a particularly hot one. A temperature of 100.5 degree Fahrenheit (38 C) was recorded in Kent in July of that year, so the young man was not exaggerating.

Regardless of this Mr Burcham condemned him as ‘lazy’ when it seems apparent he was anything but. We might excuse his attempt to evade his fare if his higher purpose was to gain employment in the capital, but the magistrate couldn’t or wouldn’t. He handed down another 10s fine which the lad would not be able to pay and so, for the second time that year, Frederick Turner found himself in prison.

I have no idea how or if he then made his way back to Portsmouth from London, or whether he served his week inside and found work and digs in the capital. At some point in the middle of the nineteenth century an ancestor of mine made his way to London from Maney in the fens of Cambridgeshire looking for work after the agricultural depression.  He stayed and survived and started a line of family members that includes me. I’ve no idea whether he saved his pennies to pay for  ticket on the new railway line or not; perhaps he hid in a wagon or kept out of there way of the inspector.

He was more fortunate, it would seem, than Frederick Turner, but both young men had the same goal in mind: to make a new life in the city that consumed so many migrants fro so many parts of Britain and the Empire. I think to describe such people as ‘lazy’ or ‘good-for-nothing’ does them a deep disservice.

[from Morning Post, Saturday 1 August 1868]

A dishonest butcher is hooked

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Thomas Dubbin had enjoyed a steady job as a butcher’s foreman working for a respectable business on The Strand. But his relationship with his employer, Mr Grant, had soured and, after a decade of employment, Grant suspected him of dishonesty.

Nowadays firms (especially retail companies) try to solve these issues in house. Investigations into pilfering or fraud usually start with disciplinary hearings and only involve the police if it is serious, or the accused employee does not confess quickly to their offending. It seems here though that Mr Grant immediately took his concerns to police and consulted two detectives, DS Partridge and DS Drew.

Mr Grant then had a visit from one of the lads he employed , whose name was Marshall. Marshall told him that the foreman had approached him and ‘incited him to steal some kidneys and take them to a neighbouring  shoemaker’s’.

This gave the butcher the hook he required to explose his dishonest employee.

Young Marshall acted as he had been told and took the offal to the shoemaker’s premises. Meanwhile the police kept Dubbin under observation to see what he did. Sure enough he went straight to the shoemaker’s workshop where he collected the kidneys. The police were waiting for him and he was arrested.

The magistrate was disgusted with his behaviour; partly because of the dishonesty in robbing a master he had served for 10 years, and for inciting a much younger member of staff to steal on his behalf. Thomas Dubbin was sent to prison for 3 months at hard labour and lost his steady employment too.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, July 11, 1883]

Sad tales from the Police courts, and the hunt for the men that shot a policeman hots up.

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Islington High Street, c.1890

On June 27 1884 The Morning Post reported on several London’s police courts as well as updating their readers on an ongoing story concerning the shooting of a policeman. At Southwark a man named Hill was brought up for the second time, having been remanded on a charge of fraud. Hill had supposedly cashed fake cheques on at least two separate individuals for over £15 a time. That might not sound like much but a rough calculation for 1884 makes that around £700 in today’s money. The magistrate further remanded him for the Public Prosecutor to get involved.

At Westminster an Irish woman named Catherine Fagan was accused of begging but the case touched on her supposed involvement with the cause of Irish Nationalism. A membership card for the “W. P. Boyton” branch of the Irish National Land League was found in her possession. The INLL championed the rights of poor tenant farmers in Ireland and it was hardly a revolutionary organisation, but the 1880s were a difficult decade for Anglo-Irish relations, and saw several Fenian terrorist attacks in England (as I’ve written about previously on this blog). Fagan was eventually allowed to go, with some charity from the poor box.

But the story that touched me this morning concerned another woman in distress, Sarah Ann Cocksedge. Sarah Ann was presented at Lambeth Police Court charged with attempting to take her own life. This was, as I’ve written about on several occasions, a sadly regular charge before the magistracy. Even more tragic of course, was the fairly routine discovery of drowned bodies floating in or washed up on the banks of the River Thames. London was an unforgiving and hard place to live in the 1800s and Victorian society’s understanding of mental illness was far from as advanced as our own is.

Sarah Ann had tried to take a poison, ‘spirits of salts’ (which is hydrochloric acid) but had been prevented. In custody she told a policeman that she wanted to kill herself because  had been asked her to cover up the death of an infant child.

She said a ‘former mistress had given her a child to get rid of, which she had put into a garden (mentioning the place) and this had preyed on her mind’.

A detective from CID appeared in court to say that he had enquired into her claims but had been unable to substantiate them. The chaplain of the goal that had been holding her since her suicide attempt sent a letter to the court asking the justice to remand her back into his care, as he felt he could help her find a new home.

Sarah Ann continued to declare that she had spoken the truth regarding the dead child but it seems no one wanted to listen. She was again remanded and sent back to prison.

Finally, the paper reported that the police were closing in on two men wanted for shooting a police constable in Islington. PC Chamberlain had been shot in Park Street, ‘whilst in pursuit of two men suspected go burglary’. They had got away and the constable was injured, but not fatally it was thought. Two days later it was reported that he was ‘somewhat better’ and that the manhunt was focused on Hampstead.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, June 27, 1884]

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]

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

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‘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

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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]