A waiter’s cheeky swig lands him him in court

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The Strand, London (late 1800s)

In 1881 Thomas Carr (originally from Norfolk) owned and ran the King’s Head public house at 265 The Strand.* The hostelry was close to where the new Royal Courts of Justice was nearing completion (it opened in 1882) and on one of London’s busiest thoroughfares (as the illustration above suggests). In late November Mr Carr employed a waiter to work in the pub serving what would seem to be quite high class customers.

William Whitlock had been working at the King’s Head for just three weeks when he seriously blotted his copybook. He was accused of stealing a bottle of champagne by Mr Carr’s son, and prosecuted at the Bow Street Police court in front of the sitting magistrate, Mr Flowers.

Mr Carr junior said he had seen the waiter carrying a bottle of champagne into the pantry and so followed him in. Once inside he challenged him and Whitlock told him that a gentlemen had left some wine in the bottle after he’d finished with it and he was taking it as ‘his perquisites’.

Carr explained that ‘in obtaining wine for customers it is the practice to give a bono check [a blank cheque in other words], and mby these means the prisoner [Whitlock] obtained the bottle of champagne on the representation that it was for a customer’.

Now, whether he intended to take the whole bottle or just finish the dregs is not made clear. Carr’s son said he saw Whitlock pouring water into the bottle – to dilute the wine or rinse it out having swigged the last half glass? Either way he had ‘no right to any wine’ while he was working and so shouldn’t have acted as he did. But it hardly seems to be the crime of the century.

Nevertheless the magistrate was faulty adamant that a crime (theft) had been committed. He found the waiter guilty and sentenced him to one month’s imprisonment. I doubt Mr Carr expected this outcome nor , it seems, did he welcome it. His solicitor approached the bench and pleaded for Whitlock’s freedom. Mr Flowers then agreed to substitute a 30s fine for the prison term. This was still a hefty punishment for a low paid worker – 30s in 1881 represents about £200 in spending power today – but at least it kept him out of gaol at Christmas.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, December 17, 1881]

*The pub has long gone and now it is a smart office block owned by a Japanese telecom company.

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The Mansion House has no sympathy with those bent on ‘destroying themselves’.

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When an unnamed woman was charged with disorderly conduct at Mansion Police Police court in December 1841 the sitting justice took it upon himself to make a statement to the press. Sir Peter Laurie, the incumbent Lord Mayor, didn’t inflict further punishment on the woman because she had already been locked up overnight in the City’s compter (a old term for a prison). However, all leniency stopped there.

The Lord Mayor had previously punished her for attempting to ‘destroy herself’ (in other words for attempting suicide) by jumping off one of the capital’s bridges. Sir Peter said that there had been considerable numbers of suicide attempts in the past few months. No less than 26 people had been charged with the offence at Guildhall  and a further five at Mansion House from September to October.

As a result he had determined to deal with all future cases more severely. In November he had sent a man to Bridewell in an attempt to check ‘so revolting an offence’ by ‘a little wholesome severity’. That individual had tried to cut his own throat because he was suffering from ‘poverty and idleness’. A day later he sent a woman to the Old Bailey to face a jury trial. His fellow justice, Sir Chapman Marshall, followed his lead and committed a man for ‘attempting to drown himself’. In both cases the accused pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 14 days imprisonment.

Since then there had been a notable falling off in persons attempting to take their own lives so Sir Peter commended the actions of the bench.

The clerk of the court ‘observed that several desperate imposters had made money by the experiment of tumbling into the Thames. The infliction of imprisonment and hard labour for the offence would certainly check the practice as far as pretenders were concerned, whatever effect it might have on those that seriously wished to get rid of life.’ He added that the ‘great majority’ were imposters in his opinion.

Sir Peter concluded by warning ‘every man and woman brought before me jumping or trying to jump into the river shall most positively walk off to Newgate [gaol] , and I am very much mistaken if the Judges do not henceforward inflict upon offenders very heavy punishments’.

It hardly needs to be said that such draconian attitudes to what may well have been genuine mental health issues would not be applied today. Attempting suicide is no longer an offence under law although persons displaying suicidal tendencies may well be sectioned, and forcibly confined. So the Victorian bench looks particularly uncaring in this regard. But before we congratulate ourselves on living in more enlightened times we might note the report of the parliamentary commission created by the late Jo Cox that has revealed the worrying extent of loneliness in modern Britain.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, December 15, 1841]

A teenage apprentice laughs off his appearance in court

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In my PhD thesis (which I finished in 2005 which seems like a lifetime away!) I researched the summary courts of the City of London in the eighteenth century. One of the areas I looked at was apprenticeship because in the 1700s and 1800s magistrates were often called upon to adjudicate in disputes between masters and their young charges. In the City however, these cases usually came before the Chamberlain’s Court and here masters complained about the laziness or disobedience of apprentices, or were counter sued for poor or cruel treatment  or for not teaching their employees the secrets of their trade.

Having looked in some detail at the workings of the Chamberlain’s Court and the cases that came before it, this story, from Clerkenwell Police Court in 1860, seems quite familiar.

Edward Howard, a ‘respectably attired lad’ of about 16-18 years of age, appeared before Mr D’ Eyncourt on  charge brought by his master. Charles Thompson, a carpenter and joiner, told the magistrate that Edward had been absent from his work without his permission.

Apprentices were bound for 7 years (often from 14 to 21) and they worked for their keep and to learn the craft. In the 1700s they invariably lived with the family as part of the household, so would expect their food, clothes and bed to be supplied in return for their labour. After the Napoleonic Wars ended (with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo) there was a general decline in apprenticeships, especially live-in ones.

It would seem that Edward did live with the Thompsons, but perhaps the constraints of obeying the rules of the house and his master were especially difficult for this young man. This was not the first time he had been in trouble for leaving his work undone and staying away from home, and he had been in court on more than one occasion. The last time he was in front of a magistrate he was warned that a repeat offence would likely result in a spell of imprisonment at hard labour, but Edward seemed not to care.

The carpenter explained that Edward was ‘a very unruly lad’, and had done no work since the 9th July. This was a period of two weeks and Mr Thompson had had enough. The boy was, he said:

‘a very good workman when he pleased, but his general character was that of a dilatory idle lad’. He ‘was of an opinion that unless the prisoner was punished he would never do any good for himself’.

Mrs Thompson seems to have agreed, saying she could not speak up for him or ‘give him the best of characters’.

Faced with this attack on his character Edward responded, as many of the lads that came before the Chamberlain in the 1700s did, with a show of bravado. He told the magistrate ‘with the greatest levity’, that ‘it was all correct, but he did not like his business’.

Mr D’Eyncourt sentenced him to be imprisoned at hard labour in the house of correction for 14 days. He was, he explained, entitled to have him whipped as well but said on this occasion he hoped that a spell in the ‘house’ would be sufficient punishment to affect a change in his behaviour. He was warning him (again) that further sanctions – and physical ones at that – would follow if he didn’t start taking is apprenticeship seriously.

I’m not at all sure that Edward was listening because he was taken away still laughing out loud at his situation in an attempt (real or otherwise) to show that he cared little for anything the courts, or his master, might do to him.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, July 27, 1860]

Six weeks in gaol for cruelty to a cat

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I am a cat person – two of them let myself and my wife live in their house and feed them – and neither one has ever deliberately scratched me. Of course not all cats are quite so affectionate and scratches are part and parcel of living with felines, or interacting with those we meet in the streets. But if a cat does scratch you it is never appropriate to act as Herbert Wallace did in June 1899.

Alfred Bond, a commercial traveller, was being driven along the Harrow Road in his pony and trap on his way home to Harlsden, one Friday evening. He noticed a man, later identified as Wallace, pick something up and throw it to the ground. He then kicked it violently several times.

To his horror, Bond realised that the object of Bond’s violence was a cat. As he got close enough to see the condition of the creature he noticed that it was very badly injured.

‘apparently the back of the animal had been broken, because it scrambled onto its forefeet, but its hindquarters were powerless and it remained on the ground’.

He jumped down from the trap and remonstrated with Wallace, who rewarded him with ‘vile language’. Bond sent his driver to fetch a policeman and told Wallace that he would have him arrested. At this the 20 year-old labourer ran off, with the salesman in pursuit.

Bond caused the younger man down several streets before he caught up with him. As he tried to effect an arrest Wallace cursed him and struck him, threatening to kill him. Eventually three policemen arrived and with some difficult, dragged Wallace away to the station.

Herbert Wallace was brought before the Marylebone Police magistrate on Saturday 24 June, charged with cruelty to a cat. Having heard the evidence presented by Mr Bond he was asked to explain himself. All he could say in his defence was that he had been ‘nursing the cat when it scratched him, so he threw it down and kicked it twice’.

Bond had deposed that he had seen the labourer kick the animal no less than four times but two was bad enough. No one knew what had happened to the poor creature but with a broken back death would have been a deliverance.

I don’t know if the magistrate was a cat lover like me but he acted as if he might have been. He told Wallace that he was ‘guilty of most cruel conduct, and would go to prison for six weeks without the option of paying a fine’. I’d have given him six months, at hard labour.

[from The Standard, Monday, June 26, 1899]

A beer shop owner’s gamble fails to pay off

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Just this week, in the wake of the professional footballer Joey Barton being banned for placing bets on his own team, the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, declared that he thought there was too much gambling in modern society. He told the press:

‘It is a little bit I must say the general problem in our society. You you have everywhere, on every advert, bet … bet on Sky … bet on here and there, so you have not to be surprised when people get addicted to betting’.

Gambling and indeed, concerns about gambling are nothing new. There were worries about the effects of the lottery in eighteenth-century London, and plenty of pamphlets and tracts were written condemning games of chance such as cards or dice. It was especially concerning when apprentices or other young people were involved.

Georgian worries turned into Regency ones, and then into Victorian ones; what we see today is perhaps only the inevitable slide towards everyday betting on anything, that all those previous commentators had warned us about.

Nineteenth-century critics of gambling condemned the practice for the same reasons they (for it was often the same people) attacked the consumption of alcohol – at least to excess. Gambling, like the ‘demon drink’, drained the pockets of the poor and brought destitution and moral collapse. As a result most gambling was highly regulated, just like the sale of alcohol.

Which is why James Knott found himself in front of the police magistrate at Worship Street in late April 1857.

Knott ran a beer shop in Shoreditch which had aroused the suspicions of the police. Inspector Cole thought Knott was engaged in an illegal betting operation and had the shop watched. Having assured himself that the shop keeper was up to mischief he called on him one afternoon to ask some questions.

Inspector Cole wanted to look inside a desk which was nailed to the floor but Mrs Knott was reluctant. She told him that ‘the key had been taken away by her husband’ and she couldn’t open it. Cole’s response was to say he was quite happy to break it open.

Knott then appeared and miraculously produced the key and opened the desk. Inside (to Knott’s apparent ‘surprise’) the inspector found what he was looking for: ‘various documents relating to races, amongst which were telegraphic messages from York and Doncaster, and numerous betting cards and books’, with details of races run since September 1856.

Knott had explained when questioned by Cole that a man known only as ‘Jemmy’ ran the betting organization, but so far the police had been unable to apprehend him. Knott had a lawyer to speak for him in court who told the sitting magistrate, Mr D’Eyncourt, that his client was innocent, that at worst he had acted in ignorance of the law, and since he was ‘impoverished’ he hoped the justice would be lenient with him.

Mr D’Eyncourt wasn’t inclined to leniency however, and fined him the full amount – £25 (or nearly £1,500 in today’s money) – warning him that failure to pay would earn him three months in the house of correction. At first the ‘impoverished’ beer shop owner looked destined for a spell of hard labour but then, as miraculously as he had found the key to a desk the contents of which he claimed to be entirely ignorant of, he paid his fine and left.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, April 30, 1857]

A serial abuser gets his just desserts at the Guildhall

Maria Caddick was a tolerant woman who seems (like many victims of domestic abuse in the 1800s) to have put up with a lot before she sought the protection of the law. But in March 1859 her husband went too far and the couple ended up in the Guildhall Police Court.

It could have been worse for Mr Caddick because while he had often beaten his wife, this time he took a knife to her. Had she not been able to escape him the 60 year-old man might have found himself on a murder charge.

Maria told Alderman Salomens that her husband had come back late to their home in Field Lane, quite drunk (as he often was). The couple exchanged words (probably about Caddick’s frequent drinking) and the old man went for his wife. When he used language ‘unfit to be repeated’ she struck out with her fists, knocking him on the head.

He retaliated with blows of his own and she picked up a saucepan lid and threw it at him. Enraged, her husband now grabbed a knife and stabbed her in the forehead and then in arm.

Maria told the court: ‘I ran downstairs for a policeman, but before I could find one I fell down and became insensible. I afterwards went to the hospital.’

Caddick tried to deny he had done anything at first, and then blamed his wife. Finally, when this tactic was exposed for the falsehood it was he tried to dismiss his actions as the result of having had ‘a drop’ (of alcohol).

Mrs Caddick said the problem was that ‘he took those “drops” so often that one day he might kill her’.

She then admitted to the magistrate that she had brought her husband to court before when he had beaten her, but had forgiven him and pleaded for him to released without punishment. Mr Salomens was in no mood to be as lenient on this occasion and threw the book at him.

Mr Caddick, an old man with a serious drink problem, was sent to prison for six months at hard labour and told to find sureties of £20 (a considerable sum) for his good behaviour towards his wife on his release.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, March 8, 1859]

When prison is a better option than the Poor law

 

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The City of London workhouse

Ann Weeks and Sarah Hart were poor and they were starving.

They were so desperate  that they queued up to get into the London Union workhouse. Having not eaten for days they were admitted and given a bed for the night. But instead of the hot meal they had hoped for all they were given was ‘a small bit of dry bread’.

Their reaction was extreme and landed them in the Guildhall Police Court on the following day. Having decided that they would be better fed in prison the women started breaking the windows of the workhouse and pulling out the fittings in the hope that they would get convicted of wilful damage and sentenced to gaol.

The women admitted their crime and justified it on the grounds of desperation. The alderman magistrate had some sympathy for their plight and bemoaned the fact that ‘a gaol should be sought after as a superior refuge to the workhouse’.

The overseer admitted conditions were bad in his institution but said they were overwhelmed with paupers seeking shelter at night, since over 50 came to his door every evening.  The alderman said he had no choice but to give the women what they wanted and sent them to the Bridewell house of correction for two months.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, March 8, 1841]