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]

A deceptive haberdasher gets it on the chin for misleading the public

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Islington in the Victorian era

For many years before I became an academic historian I worked in retail, either running shops as a manager or serving in them as an assistant. It was hard work, mostly enjoyable because of the people I worked with and the majority of the customers I met. It was pressured, particularly on busy Saturdays and in the Christmas run-in, and I got a lost less free time than I do today. It was also considerably less well paid.

One of the areas of contention I remember concerned pricing. Customers would occasionally try and haggle over a price and were often on the look out for a ‘bargain’; so ‘Sales’ were always busy. Sometimes a customer would bring an item to the counter to pay for it only for myself or a colleague to realise that it had been mis-priced (meaning that the price advertised on the label was cheaper than the actual price). We would always apologise, occasionally sell it to them at the stated price anyway, and emphatically point out that under consumer law we were not obliged to sell anything at any price to anyone.

So I was interested by the following case from the Clerkenwell Police Court which arose from just such an encounter, but in 1842.

Mr Thomas Deacon, a ‘gentleman’ was strolling through Islington when his eye was caught by a ‘handsome shawl’ hanging on a door outside a habersdasher’s. Shops did have window displays in the 1800s but the tradition (begun in the 1700s) of displaying goods outside to entice passers-by in, clearly continued. In this instance it worked; since he shawl was labelled at 16s 6d (about £36 today) Mr Deacon decided to enter the shop and purchase it.

He enquired about the shawl and the shop assistant (‘shop man’ as they were called then)  offered to show him a section of others. No, he said, he wanted that one, which the assistant fetched. Deacon produced a sovereign to pay for it but was told this was not enough; the price of the item was in fact £1 13s (or £73). For a sovereign he would only get ‘half of it’.

Deacon was angry and remonstrated with the man. However, the shop man insisted he could not sell it to for less and so Deacon stormed out and went to the station house to bring a policeman. When he returned the owner of the shop, Mr Turner, was present. When he confirmed that his assistant had acted correctly Deacon lost his temper and ‘collared him’. At this Turner grabbed him, and threw him out of the shop.

This incident now escalated and Deacon summoned Turner for assaulting him. A few days later Turner ended up in the Clerkenwell court where Deacon’s interests were represented by a lawyer, a Mr Wakeling, while Turner hired a Mr Stoddard to defend him from the charge.

Having heard the evidence from both sides the magistrate, Mr Greenwood, said:

‘there was no law to prevent a man from labelling his goods at whatever price he sought fit, nor any law to compel the shopkeeper to sell the goods at the labelled price. The public, upon whom the deception was practised,’ he continued,’could best punish it’ (by withdrawing their custom I presume).

He dismissed the assault charge and everyone left. I doubt the experience did much for either man but it reminds us that our retail trading laws and regulations have been developing because of incidents such as this over hundreds of years.

Today our rights (as consumers) are protected by a number of laws but primarily by the Sale of Goods Act (1979). This requires retailers to meet certain conditions but it doesn’t protect us from the sort of ‘deception’ Mr Turner was accused of. This might seem unfair until you’ve worked in a shop. It is a fairly simple thing to switch a price label after all, so retailers need to retain the right not to part with something for less than its value, unless you choose to.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, May 6, 1842

The Salvation Army wins few friends in 1880s Islington

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When William Booth founded his Christian mission in Whitechapel in 1865 it was just just another example of nineteenth-century evangelical religious fervour. It was not until 1878 that he, with inspiration from his son, Bramwell, came up with the concept of an ‘army’ to give the movement a distinct and lasting mission. The Salvation Army grew from a small congregation in the East End to a worldwide movement promoting its own brand of aggressive Christianity served with a large helping of brass band music and singing.

In its early days, however, it would be fair to say that many people found it an unpalatable mixture of ‘rough music’ and rather un-English lay preaching. For some it was a welcome and much needed force for good, while for others it was a subject ripe for ridicule. This contrast is played out in a court case heard by the sitting magistrate at Clerkenwell Police Court in 1881, just a few years after Booth’s Army took to the streets.

As a Salvation Army band marched along Victoria Road in Islington one Sunday afternoon in early May, supported by about 100 ‘cadets’, ‘privates’, lieutenants’, and ‘captains’ John Roswell and others in the watching crowd hooted and poured derision on them. This was an ‘army’ in name only, and it aped the uniforms of Victoria’s finest, which may well have upset those who had served under the colours or who had sons or brothers, or husbands fighting for the Queen overseas.

As three of the young Salvation Army ‘cadets’ (those training for ministry)  passed by the crowd they were pelted with rotten fish and mud. Two of the cadets managed to identify those they thought responsible and on the following Wednesday John Rosewell was brought in front of the magistrate to answer a charge of assault.

His accusers were William Powell and Daniel Baugh. Baugh also alleged that when he remonstrated with Rosewell the youngster attacked him, beating him across the back with a stick. He was helpless, he insisted, to defend himself.

This brought about laughter in the courtroom because Daniel was a man mountain, whilst the defendant was a small lad, about half his size. He had pointed Rosewell out to a police inspector but the police could find no corroborating evidence against him. He was accused of throwing mud but had no mud on his hands or his clothes.

So, there was a case of disputed identification which would ultimately undermine the case against John Rosewell but the magistrate then demonstrated his own dislike of the Salvation Army and its activities.

It was a Sunday, Mr Ricketts asked, and you were singing songs?

Songs such as “My Grandfather’s clock”, “The Old Armchair”, and “Jim Crow”  he continued. The cadets looked confused. Amid more laughter they told him that they were ‘singing the songs of Zion, set to tunes for showing people the direct road to the Captain above’.

Did they work?, the magistrate asked. No, they marched and sang and were rewarded with lodgings and food for doing the ‘Master’s work’.

The justice didn’t like this at all:

‘Then I suppose these processions, these popular songs on a Sunday, and all this turning of religion into a mockery, is done solely for the purpose of getting money?’ he alleged.

It was to raise money for their work, for the mission and the Salvation hall protested the cadets, but to little effect. The magistrate, as a follower of a more traditional form of ‘sober’ worship clearly had little time for General Booth and his followers. He dismissed the charge against Rosewell (as unproven) and grumbled that ‘scenes like those caused by the Salvation Army were likely to lead to riot and tumult’.

Widely disliked in the late 1800s the Army changed tack and started to provide social welfare as well as evangelism and popular music. It survived the critics and the brickbats and now claims to have 1.5 million members across the world.

[from The Standard), Wednesday, May 04, 1881]

A tragic accident at the door of the Police Court

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HMS Warrior at Woolwich

Rachel Scott was 13 years of age and was walking in the street outside the Worship Street Police Court one afternoon in April 1841. At the same time a heavily laden cart belonging to the G Wells carrier firm from Hackney and Homerton was making its slow and steady progress towards the City Road.

The driver, Samuel Banks, called out to the girl but she seemed not to hear him. For whatever reason Banks was unable to stop or shift direction and the cart ran over the girl. An officer of the police court rushed to pick her up and Rachel was taken to her parents’ home at 22 Worship Street.

The surgeon that examined Rachel could only ‘proscribe lotions’ and warn that ‘serious effects might ensue’. The magistrate bailed the driver to appear again in three days, and at that point Banks and young Rachel disappear from history. The paper reported that the landlord of the house where Rachel lived with her family had experienced his own tragedy recently when a part of the cellar collapsed on his daughter, who was crushed to death.

In fact the Morning Post was full of ‘bad’ news that Saturday morning. At Islington a woman (the wife of a clergyman)  had been found face down on her bed, quite dead with a  small medicine bottle close by. In another report an inquest was held at University Hospital in Bedford Square into the death of a patient who had burned to death in a  private room.

The largest space was given over, however, to a story of four convicts from the convict ship Warrior, moored in the dock at Woolwich, who had apparently died of influenza. The four were taken to the dead house at the Royal Arsenal where they were examined by the coroner. Influenza was ‘very prevalent’ in the town and had affected the Justicia prison hulk as well as Warrior. The two ships were crowded, Warrior had twice as many convicts on board as it normally did and this was given as a potential cause of the spread of the epidemic. However, the verdict of the coroner’s court was not that overcrowding or poor sanitary conditions had led to the mens’ deaths but that they had died ‘by the visitation of God’.

The men were Edward Sheffield, from Hertford who was just 18 and under sentence of transportation for seven years; Michael Westal from Liverpool (also facing seven years); Samuel Medlam (29) from Warwick and David Owen, another teenager, who died 12 days after being admitted to the hospital at Woolwich.

It is a reminder to those of you researching your family trees that a sentence of transportation did not always mean that your ancestor made the long sea journey to Australia. Many died en route, and some, like the four men listed here, never left England. Warrior  had been a receiving ship until 1840, meaning that she served as a new home for sailors who had been recruited (or were ‘pressed’ – i.e forcibly recruited) into the Navy. In 1840 she started a new life as a prison hulk (a floating prison). Conditions on the hulks (like Justicia) were awful, worse men than prisons. Convicts were not supposed to stay there for the duration of their sentences, but just until a fleet sailed for Australia. Some. however, as we have seen, never made it that far.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, April 17, 1841]

The Mint’s finest foils a counterfeiting conspiracy

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James Brennan had been a detective in the Metropolitan Police (for G Division) but had left the force to join a specialist team at the Royal Mint. Their role was to actively pursue inquires and prosecutions against those involved in forging and distributing counterfeit currency.

In April 1860 Brennan and his team, acting on information received, visited the Penton Arms beer shop in Islington looking for suspected coiners. He saw his target, Harry Mason, talking with two or three others. Brennan went directly up to him and said:

‘Harry, I am instructed by the Mint authorities to take you into custody. You are suspected of dealing in counterfeit coin’.

With that he reached into Mason’s pocket and removed a small bag. Inside were ‘several little packets’ containing ’31 florins and 25 shilling piece, all of them counterfeit’. There was also a tobacco tun within which was a ‘good’ florin, evidently used to make the mould for the ‘bad’ ones.

The idea that people would bother to forge fake coins of such relatively small value might seem a risk not worth taking; much less obvious perhaps than counterfeiting a high denomination bank note. But look at what has just occurred in 21st century Britain? The Mint has just issued a brand new one pound coin, complete with all sorts of anti-forgery technology. Apparently 1 in 30 of the the old ‘Thatchers’ is fake, hence the desire to crate something that can’t be forged.

Back in Islington in 1860 Mason was bundled into a cab as a ‘mob’ was gathering and inspector Brennan presumably feared they might help him affect and escape. The Mint’s inspector took his prisoner to his last known address – 2 Pembroke Street, near Caledonian Road – where they found one of his known accomplices, Margaret Sawyer. Brennan told Mason that the Mint had been watching him for several weeks; this was a carefully conceived operation.

A search of the premises revealed plenty of evidence of coining: they found a mould in a cupboard, ‘two galvanic batteries fully charged, another mould, two or three cylinders, a number of bottles containing acid, and all the necessary implements for making and colouring counterfeit coin’.

Mason was, as they say, ‘bang to rights’.

Brennan took his charges before the Police Magistrate at Clerkenwell where it was revealed that Mason was a milkman by trade, and was well known to the police, having been charged and convicted of a felony more than once before. He tried of course to deny the charges, and said the florin in the tobacco tin was also ‘bad’; Margaret said she knew nothing about any of it and hoped the magistrate would discharged her.

He did nothing of the sort and remanded them both for a week, so the Mint’s solicitor could appear. Bail was refused.

The pair appeared at the Old Bailey just under  a month later to face their trial. Margaret Sawyer was acquitted as she’d hoped, Mason though was convicted. A century earlier, a little over 40 years even, he would have faced the gallows but by 1860 the death penalty had been abolished for all crimes except murder. Harry Mason was sent into penal servitude for 8 years.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, April 09, 1860]

A vociferous campaigner against alcoholism is treated gently at Clerkenwell

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As a crowd gathered around a speaker at Packington Street, Islington, one Sunday in 1866 the police felt obliged to intervene. It wasn’t the first time that William Henry Edwards had been at the centre of a furore; he had been standing on his soap box in Islington for the past two month’s of Sundays.

Edwards was a tarpaulin maker by trade but his actions had nothing to do with his profession. He had taken it upon himself to publicly condemn what he saw as one of the scourges of Victorian society – the over consumption of cheap alcohol. He described drunkenness as an societal ‘evil’; claiming also that ‘our prisons were filled through drink’. Edwards was a member of the Temperance Movement that grew to prominence in the mid to late 1800s, and like many a lay preacher in the Victorian age (and since)  he was prepared to take his message to the streets.

Men like William Edwards advocated abstinence from all forms of alcohol and while the middle classes also enjoyed a ‘tipple’ the movement was clearly aimed at the urban poor and working class who were seen to be the worst offenders, and the main victims of alcoholism. The police courts were full of drunk and disorderly people because the police cleared them off the streets at night and dragged the before the justices in the morning. Drunkenness then was a failing of the working man and woman, a failing that manifested itself in public.

On Sunday 25 March 1866 the police who moved in to the clear the obstruction on Packington Street found Edwards ‘standing on a chair, singing’. Having thus assembled a crowd about him he then swiftly warmed to his theme of temperance, and refused to stop and go away when the officers asked him to.

As the crowd grew the police again invited him to step down but again he insisted on continuing and by this time many people were arguing with him, while his supporters cheered his words. He was quickly becoming a nuisance and so the police were forced to arrest him and take him to the nearest police station.

When he appeared in the Clerkenwell Police court two days later he was unrepentant; because of the social problem of drink and drunken behaviour (and the effects this had on family budgets, tempers and so the persons of many working-class wives and partners) he felt justified in ‘holding open-air meetings on the subject’.

As for causing an obstruction (and that was the charge laid against him) he had, he told the magistrate, made all efforts to ask his audience to stand to one side so pedestrians could pass by. Today Packington Street is a through road that leads to the busy Essex Road, but the houses on it (smart Victorian terraces) suggest that in the 1860s this was a wide street which may have carried considerable local traffic.

The police, in the person of Inspector Wiseman, argued that while it wasn’t Edwards himself that was causing the obstruction he was responsible for the crowd of well-wishers and nay-sayers that had surrounded him. It was happening on such a regular basis, Wiseman continued, as to have become a nuisance even if that wasn’t the preacher’s intention.

Edwards apologised and said he would certainly ‘not go there again if it was wrong’. Mr Barker, the magistrate, told him that he had committed an offence which carried a potential fine of £5 but he would not, on this occasion, impose it. However, if he appeared before him again he could expect the full weight of the law to fall upon him.

Mr Edwards ‘thanked his Worship’ and left with his supporters. The cause of Temperance had been highlighted in the newspapers, and that, perhaps, was part of his strategy.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 27, 1866]

A Garroting in Victorian Islington

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In 1862 a series of attacks in London (starting with one on Hugh Pilkington MP ) by robbers who grabbed their victims from behind and throttled them, initiated a wave of reports of similar incidents up and down the country. Before long Britain was in the grip of a ‘moral panic’ and the police and courts clamped down on anyone they suspected of being a ‘garrotter’.

The key suspects were the so-called ‘criminal class’ and in particular those criminals that had been released earlier from imprisonment on license. These were known as ‘ticket-of-leave’ men and I’ve written about them before on this blog.

The 1862 panic soon faded from the attention of the public as the press moved on to new stories but the term lingered. Thereafter street robberies with violence were occasionally referred to as ‘garrotings’ as this example from 1867 shows.

James Perring, an Islington resident, was riding in his cart on Fann Street when a young man stopped his vehicle. Mr. Perring may have been elderly, the report is not clear, but he was certainly not able-bodied. He had suffered a recent wound in his leg and was forced to walk with a crutch for support.

The person that stopped his cart, later identified as 19 year-old William Brown, (a ‘stout looking fellow’), was not alone, he had three companions. Regardless of this Mr. Perring asked him to let go of his horse ‘or he would be kicked’.

As he said this one of the other men leaped into the cart and grabbed him around the throat, pulling him over. Perring suffered badly from this attack and the wound in his leg was opened up causing him to lose a lot of blood.

Brown saw this and pressed his advantage, kicking the cart owner in the knee when he tried to grab at him. As he shouted for help the four men or boys all ran away. Mr. Perring checked his pockets and found he had lost five sovereign coins (quite a bit of money for the 1860s). The robber had also dropped his cap which Perring later found it in his cart.

The police soon arrived and started to search for the gang but only managed to discover Brown. He had run into a lodging house, crept upstairs into a room and had thrown ‘himself on a bed, pretending to be asleep’. The landlord said he had never seen him before and the police took him away protesting his innocence.

Brown appeared at Clerkenwell Police Court in late January 1867 charged with felonious assault. He wasn’t charged with the robbery because fortunately for him and Mr Perring the sovereigns were found when a thorough search of the cart was made.

Probably because of this or because none of the other protagonists could be found this case never made it to the Old Bailey. It may have been an attempted robbery or simply antisocial behaviour by a group of young ‘hooligans’ (although that term wasn’t coined until the 1890s). Either way it was very unpleasant for  James Perring and evidence that the notion of the ‘garroter’ was still very much in the public domain five years after the panic had subsided.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, January 26, 1867]