A mugging outside Swan & Edgar’s reveals the reality of everyday crime in London

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Some of the cases that come before the nineteenth-century magistracy are useful in revealing how criminals operated.

The most common type of offending throughout the 1800s was theft. This usually meant relatively petty, non-violent thefts such as shoplifting, picking pockets and embezzlement. The archetypal serious property crime of the 1800s was burglary and the papers devoted considerable space to the problem. However while ‘classic’ robbery (the sort we associate with highwayman) was largely confined to the previous century, it still happened in the Victorian period.

This example, from Marlborough Street in 1889, looks very much like a mugging to modern eyes, but then that is what robbery was.

It was a Sunday morning and a barrister-at-law named Moyses was passing by the windows of Swan & Edgars, the department store, at Piccadilly Circus when a man approached him. The man appeared to want to speak to him as he placed one of his hands to the side of his face and leaned in.

‘Then in a second or two he was knocked violently against one of the pilasters, and felt a hand in his pocket and something snap’.

The man, whose name was John Harrington, had struck him, pushed him against the building and then had stolen his watch from inside his  coat. AS several passers-by raised the alarm the thief attempted to make his getaway. Unfortunately for Harrington the crowd pressed in too quickly and he was surrounded; within moments a police constable arrived and the would-be thief was captured.

However, when Harrington was searched at the police station Mr Moyses’ gold watch was nowhere to be found. In court the justice was told that a second man had been involve din the attack. According to Henry Hart, a singer, as Harrington had assaulted the barrister another man had come up and ‘the prisoner passed something to him’. This must have ben the watch. So while the crowd concentrated on the attack on Mr Moyses, the other member of the ‘gang’ escaped.

This will be familiar to anyone who is aware of how pickpockets and thieves operate in modern London, indeed probably at Piccadilly Circus. If you are unlucky enough to be mugged or (more gently) ‘pickpocketed’, the initial thief will palm your phone or wallet to a confederate who will walk or run off sharply. They will then pass the stolen goods to someone else, or drop them in a ‘safe’ spot to be collected later, by another member of the gang.

All of this made (and makes) it extremely hard to get a conviction. For anything to stick in court there needed to be proof that a crime had occurred and that the accused could be associated directly with it.

In this case the witness, Hart, was potentially crucial. He said that he had seen the assault on Mr Moyses, and watched the prisoner Harrington try to escape from the ring of people that surrounded him. As Harrington had attempted to ‘dive’ between the legs of the gathered crowd the ‘vocalist’ had followed, grabbing onto the tails of his coat and holding him long enough for the police to effect an arrest.

The policeman had searched the immediate area for the missing watch, using his lamp, but nothing was found. At first he thought Mr Moyses was drunk because he was so dizzy from the attack. As a precaution he took both assailant and victim back to the police station in Vine Street where it became clear that the law man was simply suffering from the ‘violence of the attack’ made on him. In court Mr Moyses denied being drunk and said he was merely ‘dazed’ by what had happened.

In the end there wasn’t really sufficient evidence for a charge of theft however. There was no gold watch, no accomplice, and it was far from clear that Harrington had done much more than shove the barrister against the Swan & Edgar building. As a result all parties were dismissed and Mr Moyses would have had to accept that he needed to be a little more aware of where he was and what he was doing in future, and keep strangers at a distance.

As for Harrington, well so long as he kept out of Marlborough Street Police Court for the foreseeable future he was probably safe. If he appeared there again however, he was likely to face the full force of the legal system – especially if he found that the barrister prosecuting him was his previous victim!

[from The Standard, Tuesday, November 12, 1889]

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No news of the “Ripper” as London carries on as normal in the 1880s

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Charles Booth’s poverty map of London, areas coloured blue or black represent the worst level of poverty in the capital; red and gold indicated relative comfort or wealth

I thought today I’d peer into the pages of the London press a year after the so-called ‘Ripper’ murders reached their height. In late September 1888 the killer struck twice in one night (30 September), murdering Elizabeth Stride in Berner Street before he later killed and savagely mutilated Catherine Eddowes in Mitre Square. The ‘double event’ and the infamous ‘dear boss’ letter raised the level of public engagement with the Whitechapel murder series to fever pitch and helped to make it a global news event.

Researchers do not agree on when the murders ceased. There is some consensus that the last victim was Mary Kelly but three other homicides have been attributed (by some) to the unknown assassin known only as ‘Jack the Ripper’. These are are the headless body a woman found in Pinchin Street in 1889, and the murders of Alice McKenzie and Frances Coles (in July 1889 and February 1891). So given that ‘Jack’ was not (officially at least) in custody in September 1889 is there anything in the Police Court reportage that might link at all to the killer that had terrorised London in the autumn of 1888?

The answer for the 28 September 1889 is no, not really.

At Guildhall a general merchant was prosecuted for obtaining 400 sponges by false pretences. The case was complicated and the magistrate adjourned it for further enquiries. A salesman at the London Poultry market was charged with cruelty to chickens and was reprimanded several by the justice and fined 5s.

At Marlborough Street three men were charged with running a disorderly gaming house in St Martin’s Street. The court heard that the Cranborne Club was, despite appearance sot the contact, a ‘common gambling house’. The men were released on substantial recognises to appear again at a later date.

At Dalston a 22 year-old wood turner was committed for jury trial for assaulting and robbing a vicar. The Rev. Matthew Davison had just got home to his house in Downs Park Road, Clapton when Walter Taylor rushed up and rifled his pockets. The vicar lost a valuable watch and chain and worse, when he set off in pursuit one of Taylor’s associates attacked him from behind knocking him to the ground. Taylor was also charged with a similar theft, that of robbing a young woman named Lucy Millard in Hackney. Taylor (and two others) eventually faced a jury at Old Bailey in October 1889, where they were convicted and sent to prison for between 12 and 18 months.

At the West London Police Court violence was the subject of the newspaper report that day but not stranger violence (as the ‘Ripper’s murders were). James Cook was sent down for four months for for beating his common law wife, Caroline Moore. Cook had fractured his partner’s ribs by jumping on them but Caroline was still very reluctant to bring charges.

Over at Bow Street, the senior police court, four men were brought up to answer a charge of conspiracy to burgle the premises of the Railway Press Company. The men were tracked down by undercover detectives to a house in White Hart Street. The four were all in their twenties but a young girl of 16 was found to be living with them. This may have been what prompted the newspaper editor to choose this story from amongst all the others at Bow Street that day. Rose Harris said she ‘had neither money nor any friends’, and had lived in the sam room as the thieves for three weeks. She was, therefore, a possible witness, and  while the men were remanded in custody Rose was taken to the St Giles Mission to be cared for.

Finally there was a case from the Thames Police Court, one of two (with Worship Street) that covered the East End, the area that has since become synonymous with Jack the Ripper. Thomas Booth, a beer and wine retailer, was prosecuted for selling adulterated beer. Booth’s premises had been inspected by an officer from the Inland Revenue and his beer tested. On two occasions his beer was found to contain too much water. Booth tried to argue that his pipers were faulty and this had led to ‘washings’ (the beer slops) ending up back in his barrels. Mr Kennedy, the sitting magistrates, accepted his excuse in part but not in full and fined him 5s plus 10s costs. Watering down beer was inexcusable.

So a casual reading of the police court news from a year after the most notorious murder series in British history had unfolded would perhaps leave us to think that London carried on as normal. The everyday crimes and misdemeanours continued to occupy the columns of the London press and here was to be found ‘all sorts and conditions of men’ (and women).

The only footnote to this was a letter to the editor of the Standard, published in full at the end of the court reports section. It was from a R. C. Bedford, Bishop Suffragan* for East London. It was a long letter and concerned the ‘East End Poor’. He noted that the levels of poverty in the area were higher than usual by the docks, although had improved from the period of the Great Dock Strike earlier in the year. He was particularly concerned for the plight of the casual labourer in the wake of the strike, because while the workers had secured better pay (the ‘dockers’ tanner’) and some security of employment, those reliant on turning up for the ‘call’ in the early morning probably faced a more unpredictable future.

Bishop Bedford was asking for charitable help to be distributed through his church, and not indiscriminately.  However, he clearly believed that charity was not the solution, the real way to help the poor was to provide them with proper work not ‘doles and shelters’. The letter serves to remind us that late nineteenth-century Britain was a desperate place to live if you were poor and that in the 1880s unemployment was rife, and few areas were as badly affected as the East End. It is no coincidence in my mind that the editor of The Standard choose to position the bishop’s letter on the same page as the Police Court news. Here it would seen by the working and middle classes that read these reports (albeit for slightly different reasons). But it also serves to draw a link between crime, environment and poverty; something that was increasingly recognised in the later 1800s.

[from The Standard, Saturday, September 28, 1889]

*’A suffragan bishop is a bishop subordinate to a metropolitan bishop or diocesan bishop. They may be assigned to an area which does not have a cathedral of its own’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragan_bishop#Anglican_Communion)

Finders keepers? A diamond bracelet arouses the suspicions of a pawnbroker

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In 1871 Mr Tomlinson ran a pawnbrokers on the Kentish Town Road. Pawnbrokers served the whole community but mostly acted as a form of money lending for those unable to get credit elsewhere. For most people in Victorian London credit was very limited. Ordinary people didn’t have bank accounts as we routinely do today, and so lived week by week (sometimes day to day) on the small amounts of money they earned in cash paid work.

Rent, food and fuel consumed most of what they brought in and families were particularly at risk if they had children below working age (11-12 or under) and the mother had to stay at home to care for them. Many used pawnbrokers as a way of extending credit and coping with financial hardship. You could take an article of clothing, or some item of jewels (a watch say) to a pawnbrokers and pledge it against cash for a week. So long as you returned the money in the time allowed you would get your possessions back. If you did not then they became the property of the broker and he was allowed to sell them.

Pawnbrokers have not gone away but today they tend to be called something like Cashconverters and are a familiar sight alongside the fried chicken restaurants and betting shops on our depleted and decaying modern high streets.

On Monday 7 August a woman entered Mr Tomlinson’s shop and asked to pledge an expensive looking piece of jewellery. It was a ‘gold bracelet, set with diamonds and rubies’ and he estimated its value at over £40 (£1,800 today). Tomlinson’s foreman, Lewis obviously didn’t think the woman, Catherine Dickinson (a 48 year-old waistcoat maker who lived locally) was the sort of person to own such an item.

He wasn’t satisfied with her explanation of how she came by it so she promised to return later with her daughter, who had told her that her ‘young man’ had found it and had given it to her to pledge. About an hour later Catherine returned with Henry Benson, a 19 year-old cabman, who said he’d picked it up near a cab rank at Cremorne Gardens on the 22 July. The pleasure gardens were a fashionable spot for the wealthy (and not so wealthy) in the mid 1800s and it was entirely possible that a lady might have lost her bracelet there.

It was equally possible that Benson (or another) might have pinched it from her late at night or found it left in his cab,Either way he should have reported it to the police and handed the bracelet in but he hadn’t and the sharp actions of the pawnbroker had stopped him profiting from it. Pawnbrokers didn’t always have a good reputation and for over a century had been accused of facilitating the trade in stolen goods.

Tomlinson and his employee were no doubt aware of this and acted to make sure they weren’t tainted by the association with criminality. Mr Lewis reported the incident to the police and two detectives were despatched to make enquires. Detective constables John Dalton and Charles Miller of Y Division tracked down Benson and Mrs Dickenson and brought them before Mr D’Eyncourt at Marylebone Police Court.

The magistrate decided that both the young cabman Benson and his sweetheart’s mother should be held accountable for the potential theft of the bracelet so he bailed the former and accepted Catherine’s own recognisance to appear in a  week’s time. In the meantime the newspaper alerted its readers that the jewellery was available to view at Kensal Green police station in case anyone had recently lost it.

Presumably if no one claimed it at the very least Benson would be free to carry on as a cab driver, at best the bracelet would be returned to them and perhaps Mr Tomlinson would then be happy to hand over some cash (I doubt as much as £40 though) so the Dickensons could enjoy a bountiful summer for once.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, August 09, 1871]

A cabbie pushes his luck at Bow Street

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When Julius Beale hailed  a cab at Regent’s Circus at 1 in the morning it is fair to say he was a little the worse for drink. As the cab headed off towards his home in Gower Street, Beale fell asleep and didn’t wake until he was dimply aware of being outside his front door. While his head was clouded by the alcohol he had consumed he felt sure he’d paid the driver and made it up the stairs to his front door. However, as the cab pulled off he was suddenly aware that his watch – an expensive gold time piece – was missing. Assuming he had left it in the cab or it had been lifted while he slept, he ran after the vehicle. Eventually a passing policeman helped him stop the driver. The cab was searched and his watch and chain was discovered under the seat.

The next morning Beale, the policeman and the cab driver were all in the Bow Street Police Court where a charge of theft was brought against the driver, John Leggatt.

Having heard Beale’s evidence Leggatt’s lawyer, Mr Abrams, cross-examined the prosecutor.  Crucially of course he had been inebriated and therefore his testimony was fairly suspect at best. Could he really recall exactly what had happened? Had he in fact even paid the fare for his journey? An alternative scenario was presented in which Beale was actually running away from the cab driver who was demanding his money.

The policeman confirmed Beale’s account of the events but this didn’t include any evidence that Leggatt had stolen the watch or that Beale had paid him for the ride. It merely confirmed that the ‘cabman was driving away at a trot, pursued [it seemed] by the prosecutor’.

As far as Mr Henry, the Bow Street magistrate, was concerned there was not enough evidence either to convict Leggatt in a summary court or send him for jury trial. He concluded that:

 ‘the circumstances of the case were very suspicious, but drunken men sometimes did very strange things, and it was quite possible that the prosecutor might have put the watch and chain under the seat himself. At all events no jury would convict the prisoner on the evidence of a drunken man’.

And so he discharged him.

At this Abram decided to push his (or rather his client’s) luck. He said he hoped that Beale would now settle his fare. Mr Henry strongly advised Beale not to however. The cabbie had been driving away at a trot and this seemed suspicious if he hadn’t been paid. He should have at least have taken the man’s address and best practice would have been to drive him directly to the ‘station-house, that the [police] inspector might settle any dispute’.

The magistrate invited Mr Abrams to apply for a summons if he wished to take it further but he declined, given what he had heard from the justice. His client however, was much less easily dissuaded and did apply for one. Mr Henry told him he ‘could have the summons if he liked but it would probably not succeed, as he (Mr Henry) had very little doubt he had been paid’. Reflecting on this Leggatt chose to cut his losses and not spend his money on a summons that was doomed to fail.

Was Leggatt a thief? Possibly, or perhaps he saw the dropped watch and thought he’d take advantage of the windfall. Was Beale a fare-dodger? Again, how can we know that? In all likelihood he did pay or the cab driver would have pursued him on the night. The moral is probably don’t get into a cab when you’re drunk.

[from The Morning Post , Saturday, May 17, 1862]

Last night I went to a London Historians event at the Sir Christopher Hatton pub in Leather Lane where we were entertained by an excellent musician Henry Skewes (who set old ballads about convict transportation to music) and two fascinating talks on the history of crime. The first, by Dr Lucy Williams of Liverpool University, focused on the life of one woman convicted at the Old Bailey in 1876. Lucy, and the other speaker, Professor Tim Hitchcock of Sussex, are part of the Digital Panopticon project which is tracing the lives of those sentenced to exile in Australia after 1788.

Lucy uses the records of the courts, the census, and newspaper sources like these to track her ‘criminals’ through time and the findings of these long term project are already challenging what we understand about criminality and individual lives in the past. While I’m not part of the project my own work is already revealing how important it is to look outside the jury courts if we want to study criminality in the past. I started in the summary courts of the 18th century but have now moved on to this work on the 1800s, because here we seen a much better recording of crime and those involved in it. I will be presenting my academic version of this work in Liverpool, to the Digital Panopticon team, in September of this year.

 

The detective and the banker’s clerk

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London bank clerks dressed in the height of male fashion in the Victorian period

In the middle of a May night one of the housemaid’s at a hotel in Exeter was disturbed by sounds on the landing. Opening her door she was confronted by a man in ‘his nightshirt flourishing a pistol about, … in a state of great excitement’. She called her boss and the landlord escorted the guest back to his room, assuming he had ‘been partaking too freely of wine’.

The guest, who was a young man from London named Charles Pinkatone,  didn’t heed his host’s instructions to retire to his room for long however. Shortly afterwards the household was again in uproar and this time it was the landlord’s wife who discovered Pinkatone blundering about brandishing his gun, ‘capped and loaded’.

Nothing anyone could do would quieten him or persuade him to go back to bed so the police were called. This didn’t help and the young man ended up assaulting the copper and being arrested and remanded in custody at Exeter to face a local magistrate.

Police intelligence seems to have traveled more quickly in the 1860s than we might think, because one London detective was soon on the train for Exeter with a warrant for Pinkatone’s arrest.  Robert Packman had been investigating a forgery case and Pinkatone was a prime suspect. When he caught up with he young man in Devon and having confirmed his identity he charged him with forging and uttering two cheques; one for £100, the other for £200.

The two men returned to London and on the way Packman’s prisoner was talkative, and told his captor he intended to come clean and admit his guilt. When he had been handed over by the authorities in Exeter Pinkatone had £173 in gold, ‘8s in silver and copper, a gold watch and chain, and a portmanteau, containing apparel’.

Packman wanted to know what he had done with he rest of the £300 he had exchanged the forged cheques for. The fashionable dressed young man told him he had spent it: ‘He paid about £45 for his watch, chain and appendages; £1 for a pistol, which he bought a few days before he was locked up; £1 for a portmanteau [a suitcase]’. The rest of the money he had ‘lost’ (meaning, presumably, he had gambled them away at cards).

When the pair reached London Pinkatone was produced before the Lord Mayor at Mansion House and fully committed for trail. Representatives of Messr’s Martin & Co, bankers of Lombard Street attended. As did Pinkatone’s former employer, Mr Barfield (of Loughborough & Barfield), who told the magistrate that Pinkatone had been his clerk but that he had ‘absconded without giving any notice’. The two cheques were produced in court and Barfield confirmed that the forged signature and writing on them was Pinkatone’s but the cashiers at the bank where he cashed them were unable to positively identify who had presented them.

It is possible that this helped Charles in the long run. I can’t find a record of him appearing at the Old Bailey for this or any other offence in the late 1800s. Maybe he pleaded guilty and it wasn’t published in the Sessions Papers. Perhaps the banks let him go because they knew they could not prove his guilt but his reputation was such that he would not work in the area again. It is one of many cases which touched the newspapers but disappeared just as quickly, a mystery which must remain unsolved.

[from The Morning Post , Thursday, May 08, 1862]

Update – thanks to a reader I can now say that Charles was not so lucky; he pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey on 12 May 1862 and while the jury asked for leniency (on the account of this being his first offence) he was sent to prison for four years.

A ‘foolish country gentleman’ is scammed at London Bridge

In January 1877 Mr Fletcroft Fletcher had come up to London from his estate at Ash in Kent for the cattle show. Having completed his business in the capital he headed to London Bridge station to take his train home.

As he waited for the train he ‘got into conversation with a ‘respectable looking man’. The men talked first about the ‘cattle show and farming’ before his new acquaintance turned the discussion to charity.

The pair had decided to settle down in a public on Southwark High Street for some food and drink. While they were there another man appeared who gave his name as Richard Snowball. Snowball, who was in ‘a very excited state’, told the gentlemen  that he had just come into some money having won a law suit. In fact ‘he had so much money he intended to give some to the poor’. However, he wanted to find someone ‘with confidence to distribute it’. Fletcher and his companion seemed like just the men to help him with his philanthropy.

Snowball added that as well as giving money to the needy he thought he would also like to give each of the gentlemen  a gold ring (as a token of his gratitude and a mark of their new found friendship), unfortunately however, ‘all the shops were shut’ (as it was now well past seven in the evening).

So he reached into his waistcoat pocket and handed what appeared to be a large sum of money to the man Mr Fletcher had met at the station. ‘I have confidence in you’ he told him.

Turning to Fletcher he asked if, in a return of confidence, he would entrust him with his watch. The country gentleman obliged, handing over a gold watch and chain worth around £60 (perhaps £2,000 in today’s money). The two men then rose and left, requesting than Fletcher wait for them to return in a few minutes.

The ‘few minutes’ turned into ‘nearly an hour’ and there was no sign of either of them. When Fletcher realised that he had been conned he called a policeman and ‘laid an information’ against the the pair.

A week later he picked Snowball out amongst those detained at Stone’s End Police Station and he was charged at Southwark Police Court with theft. In court the investigating officer, Detective Inspector Ricahrd Stevens (of M Division) asked for Snowball to be remanded so they had more time to catch the other (unknown) party. The magistrate granted his application.

The case doesn’t appear to have reached a trial so the police probably didn’t catch the mysterious ‘other’ man. If they failed to find the watch or secure any other witnesses then they would have probably have had little to hold Snowball (if that was indeed his name) on.

Mr Fletcher, as an ‘foolish country gentleman’  had been caught by the ‘confidence trick’ (the paper described it). This was the nineteenth-century version of the email scam that promises a reward for doing good at no risk to oneself. If you are being promised ‘something for nothing’ be wary because if it seems ‘too good to be true’ then it probably is.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, January 13, 1877]

A disaster for Crystal Palace is an opportunity for someone else

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In 1851 the Great Exhibition opened at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. The glass structure was built to remain (like the Olympic Park at Stratford) as a resource for Londoners long beyond the duration of the exhibition itself, and after 1851 it was moved to South London, to a site at Sydenham. But the Crystal Palace was beset by misfortune; in 1861 it was badly damaged in a storm and in December 1866 part of it burned down in a massive fire.

During the fire in 1866 it seems that many visitors stopped to help those fighting the fire. One of these was the husband of Mary Chant and their lodger. On the afternoon of the 30 December 1866 they had visited the Palace as they were shareholders in the venture.

On hearing that a fire had broken out Mr Chant and their young friend handed their coats to Mary and rushed to assist. Mary was waiting when she heard a rumour some ‘wild animals had been let loose, and becoming much alarmed’ she turned to a ‘respectable-looking’ young man nearby, named Richard Rolls, who she assumed worked for the Palace company.

She asked him to show her to safety in the garden and he agreed. However, it soon became clear he was taking her downstairs, not to the garden at all.

Once they were underground he demanded she give him the coats and a gold watch (belonging to the lodger). When she refused he grabbed her by the throat and strangled her, seizing the items from her. She tried to scream for help but suspected that no one in that ‘dismal and lonely’ place would hear her. He must have thought much the same because now he tried to steal a chain she was wearing.

Realising her peril Mary turned and ran away from him. She found a policeman and reported the incident. From the description she gave Rolls was later arrested and the case came before the magistrate at Lambeth Police Court in early January 1867.

In his defence Rolls claimed he was not the man that had attacked Mrs Chant. Before his arrest he had changed out of the coat he was wearing and had donned a leather work apron. He still had a distinctive hat on however, and Mary was sure it was him.

The coats were found but the watch remained missing. With Rolls protesting his innocence the police asked for him to be remanded while they appealed for witnesses and looked for the watch. The justice remanded him ‘for a few days’.

Given the chaos of the fire and the difficulty of a clear identification I suspect Rolls might either have been innocent as charged or able to evade conviction on the basis of a lack of evidence. He doesn’t appear at the Old Bailey in any case in 1867. There were 8 other persons prosecuted that day for minor thefts or other incidents during the fire at the Crystal Palace, which is useful reminder that some people will always seek to profit from the opportunity presented by disasters.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, January 6, 1867]