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

Bank clerks

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]

‘If you want to know the time, ask a policeman’

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It is fairly unusual to see the police in the dock at the Police Courts, mostly they appear as prosecutors or witnesses. However, from the creation of the Met in 1829 the new force had been subject to complaints about the behaviour of officers, including fraternising with local women, taking bribes from pimps and their prostitutes, corruption, and even petty theft.

The Music hall standard ‘If you want to know the time, ask a p’liceman’ was a gentle send up of the ‘boys in blue’ and makes reference to their shortcomings.

If you want to know the time ask a p’liceman
The proper Greenwich time, ask a p’liceman
Ev’ry member of the force, has a watch and chain of course
If you want to know the time ask a p’liceman.

as sung by James Fawn, composed by E. W. Rogers & A. E. Durandeau – 1889.

Every copper had a ‘watch and chain of course’ because (the accusation went) he had lifted it from a drunk he’d found in the street.

On Boxing Day 1893 a policeman did find himself on the wrong side of the law in the Greenwich Police Court. PC Joseph Muller (of M Division) was 26 years old and married. He had an impeccable record as a serving officer but something must have gone wrong that December.

At 4.25 on the morning of Christmas Eve PC Muller and the landlord of the Dover Castle public house at Rotherhithe presented themselves at the Police Station to report a possible break-in at the pub. PC Muller said that while he was out on his beat he had discovered that the door to the pub was open and unlocked, although he had earlier checked and found it secure.

Inspector Hawkes, Muller and the landlord, Frederick King then returned to the pub and made a search. The inspector concluded that the pub had not been broken into but it had been made to look as if it had. ‘A piece of wood had been cut from the door’ to fool any inspection. The inspector’s conclusion was that someone must have hidden on the premises after closing time and then had burgled the place.

Mr King checked his property and found that a cash box containing £1 in ‘new money’, some cigars, tobacco and cigarettes were missing. The inspector and PC Muller returned to the station.

About an hour later King was at the station levelling accusations at PC Muller. He said he thought he had heard some coins ‘rattling in his pocket’. Inspector Hawkes said that this was a very serious accusation and turned to Muller, asking him to turn out his pockets.

The copper did so, revealing nothing. But then he suddenly gave up all pretence and confessed. ‘It’s no use’, he said, ‘there’s the property’, prodding the cash-box from inside his coat.

In court at Greenwich he pleaded with the magistrate to take pity on him and hear his case summarily (as that way he would received  a lesser sentence and avoid a jury trial). He said he had got into bad company (with a sailor) and they had been drinking. He had no idea what had come over him.

Despite having a good character in his five years with the force Mr Mead (the justice) said it was ‘far too serious an offence’ for him to deal with and he remanded him for a full jury trial.

It didn’t reach the Old Bailey so I imagine it went to the Sessions or to the Surrey assizes. Given that he admitted his guilt there was only really one course of action open for the courts; he would have lost his position, his career and his freedom.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, December 27, 1893]

A swindling ‘fellow with mustachios’

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Henry Seplater, described as a ‘tall young fellow, with mustachios, ..having all the appearance of a foreign swindler’, was brought before the magistrate at Lambeth.The charge was obtaining watches (8 in total) from a manufacturer in Holborn.

Lucien Marchard was a watchmaker who had a business at 1-2 Red Lion Street in central London. On the 12 October 1852 Seplater had entered his shop and declared that he was acting for a Mr Cooke who wished to buy some watches.

The watchmaker then allowed him take away 8 time pieces, one of gold and the others silver. He said he would return on the next with the money for those his client wished to keep and return those he had no use for.

The following day he was back – not with money, but with three of the silver watches which he exchanged for ‘three of a better description’. Then he vanished and Marchard heard nothing from him for several days. After some time the watchmaker received a note from the young man saying that he was being prosecuted at the Court of Exchequer for selling watches without a license. The only way he could ensure that Marchard got his money was if he was prepared to wait for two months.

Marchard was not convinced and obtained a summons against Seplater. On arrest several duplicates (pawn tickets) were found on him relating to the watches and other items. He was presented at Lambeth for the justice to consider the case. The magistrate, Mr Elliott chose not to accept the defence’s argument that this was simply a matter of ‘credit and account’, to him it seemed to have more to do with larceny and fraud.

Seplater was remanded in custody for further examination and the reporter suggested that other ‘cases of swindling’ were expected ‘to be brought against him’.

[from The Morning Post,  Saturday, November 13, 1852]

A thief can’t wait to get back inside

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Cowcross Street, Farringdon, c.1870

George Wood (also known to the police and the community as ‘Gentleman Jack’) was presented at Clerkenwell Police Court in late September 1881 charged with stealing a gold chain valued at £5.

Wood was described as a ‘general dealer’ who lived at Bath Street, off the City Road. The watch belonged to Mr Thomas Matthews, an engraver at the Albion Works on Cow Cross Street (near Farringdon station, Clerkenwell). Matthews was walking to work one morning when Wood ‘got in front of him, tugged at his chain’ and ran off with the watch.

He was soon arrested by a police detective (DS Maroney) and charged. Woods, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, immediately confessed to the robbery. He told the detective that ‘he should like to be sentenced at once, so that he could be doing his time and [therefore the sooner] be at large again’.

His worship did not oblige however, he decided the case was too serious for a short summary imprisonment and committed him for a jury trial at the Middlesex sessions of the peace.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, September 26, 1881;]