Tenants 1 rent collectors 0: Justice is done at Southwark

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Many of those that appeared in the dock at London’s many Police Magistrate courts were charged with assault. The registers at Thames Police Court are some of the very few that survive and there you will find literally hundreds of cases of assault every month. However, what you won’t discover is any context that will enable to you to understand why these cases came to court. Summary court records (unlike jury courts like Old Bailey) are sadly lacking in qualitative information. We might discover that someone went to court charged with assaulting someone else, and find out that they were fined or imprisoned, but we rarely know exactly what happened or why.

That is why the newspaper coverage of the police courts is so useful; it gives us the detail that we are lacking elsewhere and allows us to comment on the motivations of those accused of hitting, kicking or pushing their fellow Londoners, and ask whether they had (or believed they had) any justification for so doing.

Let’s take William Howard for instance. Howard was a ‘respectable mechanic’ living in rented rooms in Market Street, Borough, (just south of the river) with his wife and family. On the 19 November 1867 James Stephens called at his door. His youngest son answered the door and Howard called from indoors for the man to be let in.

Stephens worked for a man named Linfield, who was a landlord’s agent tasked with collecting the rent from a number of houses in the area. Rents were collected along with the rates (which went towards the Poor law for example).

The rent collector had come to ask Howard for 10 and 3d, which was two weeks’ rent plus 3s for the rates. William Howard handed the collector a receipt he had for 82d for money he had already paid towards the Poor Rate. He asked this amount to be deducted from his bill but Stephens refused and the pair argued.

Accounts of what append next differ but it is likely that the mechanic manhandled the rent collector out of his house and told him that before he settled any difference in what he owed he wanted to discuss it directly with his landlord first. Howard clearly felt aggrieved that the minion was demanding money he felt he didn’t owe or was possibly asking  him to pay his rates in advance.

All of this ended up in a summons for assault that was heard at the Southwark Police Court. It doesn’t seem to be an issue about not being able to pay, but more about the underlying principle of when he was supposed to pay, and how much. In this the magistrate had quite a lot of sympathy with him.

Mr Partridge (the magistrate) asked Stephens if the occupants of the houses were ‘on the rate books’. Stephens wasn’t sure. But ‘he knew that the landlord paid all the rates in a lump , thereby saving the parish some trouble in collecting the rates. The tenants were all aware of this’, he added.

The magistrate said that all tenants had a right to be rated and entered into the ledgers. Moreover, he ‘considered it very unfair of the landlords of these small tenements in raising rents for a future tax’. The relevant act, he stated, ‘specifies that the occupiers should pay the rates themselves, and if there is no other agreement deduct the same from the rent’. It seems this was what William Howard was doing and he saw nothing wrong with it. As for the assault, well he could see fault on both sides and so dismissed the charge against the mechanic who was free to go, his reputation intact.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 13, 1867]

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A case of cold feet or something more sinister? Child abduction in 1880s Hoxton and an echo of the ‘Maiden Tribute’.

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William T. Stead in his prison uniform

At Worship Street Police Court in late November 1887 a man was brought up on a charge of abducting an under-age girl. Harriet Regan was allegedly just 17 when she was enticed to leave her step father’s house in Hoxton to travel to Fulham to live with William Wilkinson.

Wilkinson was a 40 year-old traveler who had some friends living in the same house as  Harriet’s step father, George Hubbard. They had plied the girl with drink so that she was rendered (by her own account) ‘partially stupefied’. Nevertheless the court heard that she had lived quietly with Wilkinson in his home at Fulham for several weeks and so there was some doubt as to whether she had left willingly or not.

It was now nine weeks since she’d left and the couple had fallen out and quarrelled. Harriet had written to her mother, apologising for leaving and begging to be taken back and away from Wilkinson. She got away and was ‘restored to her friends’, but in the meantime a warrant was issued for Wilkinson’s arrest.

The case was brought by the Treasury and there was some debate as to exactly who should be charged and for what. Mr Hannay, the sitting magistrate, declared that while there was some suggestion that Wilkinson’s accomplices might have a case to answer for the abduction, there was not enough of a case to proceed with. The Director of Public Prosecutions, on the other hand, made it known that he didn’t think there was sufficient evidence to proceed against the 40 year-old traveller on the grounds that there was some doubt as the the girl’s age, and left it up to Worship Street magistrate’s own judgement.

Mr Hannay was clear that a prosecution was appropriate. A certificate was produced that confirmed that Harriet was just 17 years and 11 months old. She was under age therefore and should not have been taken away without her parents’ consent. Mr Hanney formally committed Wilkinson for trial. As he put it, ‘if a man abducted a girl under eighteen he must take his chances’.

This has echoes for me of modern cases where older men have run away with teenage girls, such as that of Jeremy Forrest who tried to escape to France with a 15 year-old pupil. We don’t know the circumstances of Wilkinson’s relationship with Harriet. It may have legitimate in their eyes but Harriet clearly got ‘cold feet’ quite quickly. Then again it might have been something much more sinister.

Wilkinson was being prosecuted under the terms of the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1885) which had been forced through Parliament after a campaign by Benjamin Scott supported by William T. Stead, the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette (pictured above). The legislation was aimed at tackling the problem of the sexual exploitation of young girls in London and elsewhere and Stead crewed a sensation by organising the abduction of Eliza Armstrong, a 13 year-old girl who he ‘bought’ for £5.

The action cost Stead his liberty (he spent three months in prison) but it was effective. The expose (entitled ‘the Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’) was a media sensation and whelped force the bill through the House of Commons and into law. It raised the age of consent from 13 to 16 and also made it illegal to abduct to abduct a girl under the age of 18 for the purposes of carnal knowledge. I can find no record of Wilkinson’s prosecution before a jury but this doesn’t mean he wasn’t tried and convicted. Cases with a sexual content weren’t aways reported.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, November 29, 1887]

NB: the Director of Public Prosecutions role was relatively new in 1887. The post had been created in 1879 under the Prosecution of Offences Act and emerged with the Treasury Solictor’s Department in 1884. So in this case we see both these new roles in action, the case was brought a Treasury solicitor and an opinion on the public prosecution of Wilkinson was expressed by the DPP. 

 

 

‘A gross outrage’ on a young woman reveals the commonplace nature of sexual harassment in London

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Farringdon station under construction in the 1860s

The news feed is still dominated by the Westminster ‘sex pest’ scandal with a growing list of male MPs having to deny, admit or explain their poor behaviour towards female colleagues in the palace or outside. What has emerged is that sexual harassment (from the relatively minor to the extremely serious) is endemic in British politics.

As I discussed last week the Victorians experienced this problem, especially when the new railways began to break down the barriers between the sexes (and classes).  The busy railway carriages of Victorian London provided men with an opportunity to get close to women in ways that were usually denied them. We have seen this replicated in the modern world with attacks on female commuters on the London Underground.

Of course sexual  harassment is not (and was not) confined to the tube or other forms of transport. The Westminster scandal is just the tip of the iceberg; the Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey revelations have opened a can of worms in the movie and wider entertainment industry and I fully expect that over the course of the next year or so we are going to see more and more women come forward to complain that they have been assaulted at work or pressured into having unwanted sexual relations by men in positions of power.

This is because we don’t live in an equal society in terms of gender, despite the progress that has been made since the end of the last world war. There needs to be a reckoning and I rather suspect that it is just beginning. But let us return to the nineteenth century and to an incident that was reported, if not in great detail.

Miss Mary Ann Newell was ‘quietly walking along the street’ minding her own business one afternoon in November 1866. Mary Ann was quite close to her lodgings in Northampton Square, Clerkenwell (close to where the London Metropolitan Archives are located today) when a young man came up behind her.

Without warning or introduction he reached around her with his arms and ‘assaulted her in a  very indecent manner’. The newspaper report does not give any more details than this but I think it is quite clear that he must have touched her breasts. Such an action was of course as outrageous then as it would be today. Mary Ann escaped from his grasp and ran home where she told her landlord.

He set off in pursuit of the young man, capturing him a few streets away and taking him to a police station. The next day all three appeared at the Clerkenwell Police Court in front of Mr D’Eyncourt.

The young man, whose name was William Sparrow Cumber was just 16 years of age, and described as a bookbinder. Several of his friends appeared to give him a good character but the offence was proven against him. The magistrate made no comment that was recorded by the reporter but fined him the significant sum of £2 10(about £240 today). Mr D’Eyncourt warned him that if he failed to pay the money he would go to prison in the house of correction for a week at hard labour.

Did this represent ‘justice’ for Mary Ann or an effective deterrent to William and those inclined to behave similarly? I suppose the proof would in what happened next. If this served to let the young bookbinder know that he couldn’t treat women as objects, then a hefty fine (rather than gaol) allowed him to keep his job whilst being effective in protecting women locally. If his mates helped pay his fine and his ruffianism and day in court was considered a ‘badge of honour’ then more young women were likely to fall victim to similar assaults.

Given the deeply gendered nature of Victorian society and the generally subservient position of women in it, and the experience of modern women in a society which is supposedly so much more ‘enlightened’ where equality is concerned, I rather fear Mary Ann was forced to tread much more carefully when she left her home, with more than half an eye on who was behind her from then on.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, November 07, 1866]

Officer down!: the Perils of Police work in Victorian London

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Today, in a slight break from the usual format of these posts, I want to write about two incidents that didn’t appear in reports of the workings of the London Police Courts, but are closely related to them. This is because they involve officers of the Metropolitan Police, the body of men that brought the majority of defendants before the capital’s magistrates.

Police work was (and is) dangerous. The police have to place themselves in positions of risk when they are pursuing criminals (who might be armed and desperate) or protecting the public. In my lifetime and think of several three high profile events in which officers lost their lives. In 1984 PC Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead outside the Libyan embassy in London, while only last year PC Keith Palmer was killed outside the Palace of Westminster in a terrorist attack. In September 2012 Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were murdered by Dale Cregan when they answered a routine call to investigate a suspected crime.

Police work then, can be perilous and, for all the criticism the police receive, it is worth remembering this. It is also worth noting that it was ever thus; from the very earliest days of the Met the men (and in those days of course it was only men) who joined up were exposed to everyday dangers. In 1830, in the first full year of the ‘New Police’, PC Joseph Grantham was beaten to death when he tried to break up a drunken brawl in Somers Town. The public ambivalence towards Peel’s new force was reflected in the coroner’s verdict which suggested PC Grantham had ‘over exerted himself in discharging his duty’ and his death was recorded as ‘justifiable homicide’.

In November 1882 The Illustrated Police News (not an ‘official’ police paper but one that traded in ‘crime news’) reported the death of one officer (by drowning) and the shooting of another. The reports were carried alongside all those that recorded the ‘daily doings’ of the Police Courts.

PC Fitnum (240R) of Kent police was at Foots Cray in Sidcup. It was thought that as his night patrol took him across the River Cray by means of a narrow plank bridge he had slipped and fallen in. The river had been swollen by heavy rains and it is quite likely that he was unable to swim. He was found by his son about half an hour after he left the station to commence his beat. The 43 year-old, with 17 years service, left a wife and seven children.

In the same week at Hampstead PC Charles Ellingham (221S) was perambulating his beat around the home of Mr Reginald Prance of Frognal, ‘a man well known in City circles’ the paper noted. Hearing a noise behind some bushes he walked over to investigate.

All of a sudden a man rose up from behind them, ‘pointed a revolver at the constable’s head, and fired at him, saying “Take that! This isn’t the first time you have disturbed to-night”.’

The bullet passed through PC Ellingham’s helmet but, fortunately,  missed his head. With ‘great courage’ the copper rushed his man but was unable to stop him getting another shot off. This one took PC Ellingham in the thigh, passing through his ‘great coat, tunic, trousers and drawers’ before ‘lodging in the flesh’. As the constable fell his assailant made his getaway, clambering over a wall into the Redington Road.

Amazingly, the policeman recovered himself and set off in pursuit, chasing the supposed burglar across the nearby fields. He nearly caught up with the ‘cowardly ruffian’ but despite the constable ‘springing his rattle’ (these were the days before police were issued with whistles)  the would-be assassin got away.

Ellingham returned to Mr Prance’s home and made his enquiries. He could see no evidence that the man had attempted a break in and the footman confirmed that he had heard the shots fired. The following description of the attacker was circulated:

‘Age twenty-six; height, 5 ft. 8 in.; fair, light, moustache; dress, long dark overcoat; light trousers, black felt hat’. The paper also reported that: ‘Great activity prevailed among the police the whole of Sunday in endeavouring to apprehend the man’, but so far no one had been found responsible for the attempt on the constable’s life.

PC Ellingham was a young officer, just 21 years of age, a ‘smart looking young fellow’ and unmarried. He was receiving the very best in medical care the reporter assured his readership and CID were actively investigating the event.

Both incidents reflect the risks of police work in the late 1800s and to that we could add numerous accounts of drunken assaults on officers as they patrolled the capital’s streets. Historians of crime have argued over the extent to which animosity towards the police was confined to ‘professional’ criminals and the so-called ‘criminal class’ and most would accept that at least in the first 50 years of professional policing the public’s attitude towards the police was at best ambiguous. The press were apt to highlight police incompetence and corruption whenever they could, but, as these reports show, they were also quick to praise brave officers and remind the public of their sacrifice when it was made.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, November 4, 1882]

The showman, the tram conductor, and the irritated magistrate.

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Fare dodging was frequently punished at the summary courts. Conductors of trams or buses, hackney coachmen, and train guards brought in travellers  who had refused or neglected to pay for their journeys. In some circumstance this was because they disputed the amount charged (most often when it came to cabs) or claimed that they hadn’t realised the vehicle was going as far as it was, or had missed their stop. It seems that in most of the instances that were reported by the press the customer paid up, often with an added penalty of paying the transport company’s court costs.

Harry Perkins was one such example of a fare dodger that annoyed the sitting magistrate  at Thames and ended up paying much more than he need have had he simply bought a ticket in the usual way.

Perkins was described as a ‘showman, living in a caravan at Dalston’. So perhaps he was a part of a travelling circus. His actions in late October 1890 certainly entertained the editor of The Standard who decided to submit his story to print for his readership. The circus man boarded a tram in Dalston and travelled to Shoreditch where he attempted to get off. At this point the conductor (‘Conway, badge 1227’) asked him for 1s for his fare. When this was refused Conway restrained his customer until a policeman was found who could take him into custody.

In court the next day Perkins was charged with refusing to pay his fare and with being drunk. The magistrate started by questioning the tram’s conductor as to Perkins’ conduct.

Was the prisoner drunk, Mr Williams asked Conway.

‘Well that depends’, came the reply.

‘What?’ said the justice.

‘It is a very difficult thing to say whether a man is drunk or not’, was Conway’s response.  ‘Some people say that a man is not drunk when he can stand; others say that…’

At this point the magistrate cut him off.

‘I don’t want a lecture on drunkenness’ he grumbled, ‘if you can’t prove that the man was drunk on your care there is an end of that part of the charge. How about refusing the fare?’

Once a sheepish Conway had muttered that yes, he had refused the shilling demanded Mr Williams turned his attention (and clear irrigation) to the showman in the dock. Why had he attempted to get off without paying he wanted to know.

‘I did not want to ride’, answered Perkins. ‘I got on the car, and found the seats on top wet, and the inside was full, so that I wanted to get off, and the conductor would not let me’.

‘But you had a good long ride’ declared Mr Williams, adding ‘so it took you about half-an-hour to find out that the seat was wet?’

The prisoner could only restate his previous explanation that he ‘did not want to ride’. The magistrate dismissed this with a curt statement that he was fining him 10for the trouble he had caused when all this could have been avoided had he simply paid, when asked, the 1s fare.

I rather suspect that the message Mr Williams was sending was intended for a wider audience than the circus man. His time had been wasted unnecessarily and he wanted to avoid similar cases coming before him in the future. It probably also served as a rebuke for the conductor (and therefore all bus and tram conductors) and allowed readers to chuckle over the discomfort of ‘jobsworths’ everywhere.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, October 29, 1890]

An ‘indescribable jabber’ at Marlborough Street

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It would seem that even the radical press in the nineteenth century were not above a little bit of casual racism. We might have expected The Charter, as a newspaper founded to represent Chartist views in London, to be more inclusive (to use a modern term) in portray of foreigners in the capital. Instead it seems to have replicated exactly the sort of representation of ‘others’ as all its less ‘radical’ rivals did.

Perhaps this was deliberate; in appearing to be as ‘normal’ as every other organ The Charter could position itself as a legitimate weekly newspaper covering all aspect of daily life but with a clear political purpose – that of promoting the People’s Charter and its call for universal manhood suffrage and five other demands. The Morning Star (the mouthpiece of the British Communist Party) does much the same thing today, providing its readership with a left of centre version of the news plus sport and entertainment.

So, let us return to the pages of the paper in October 1839, when it was at the height of its popularity. It reported the London Police Courts in much the same way as all the other newspapers did, and, as I suggested above, wasn’t shy of poking fun at foreign visitors to the capital. Two men appeared before the sitting justice (Mr Long) at Marlborough Street, one Prussian (Dirk Singer) and other Swedish (Tjebbes Raynor). Both men were tailors and they had come to blows after exchanging insults.

This was all fairly common material for the reportage of the summary courts; assault was a daily occurrence and most cases were settled or dismissed with just a few being sent on to the Sessions for a jury trial and some being dealt with by fines or even a short period of imprisonment. Unless an assault involved weapons or actual bodily harm it was unlikely to trouble the magistrates for very long.

Singer accused Raynor of putting ‘him in bodily fear, á-la-mode-Anglais‘ (which I take to mean with his fists). The case was conducted in weak English which the paper rendered in dialect for maximum comic effect. The essence of the case was that Singer has supposedly insulted Raynor by calling him ‘a Jew’.

To add to the European melting pot the main witness for the prosecution was Swiss. He explained what happened:

‘dey bote had much loud words. Dis-a man they call my fren a “Jew,” ven he am nevare dos von Jew’.

‘And I suppose this epithet was considered as a sort of affront?’ enquired the magistrate.

‘Vet mosh, Sare; zo my fren call upon him back as von verdomd “scheinhalt,” dat is der hedgehog ; and den dey stock upon each other’.

Earlier Singer had complained that the Swedish tailor had punched him in the face: ‘he made his fist for his box’ he said, ‘and knock upon my nose very not much’.

On can imagine the scene in court: a collection of angry and argumentative tailors dressed in their work clothes, with bristling beards and moustaches, and a cacophony of European accents being raised together. All of this was being conducted in a form of English which Mr Long struggled to understand. On top of this the case was clearly one which involved fault on both sides; insults had flown back and forth and both men had hit each others. It was hard for anyone to determine who was to blame and so, in the end, Mr Long declared that he ‘couldn’t make out who is in the wrong’ and dismissed the warrant against Raynor.

No one was satisfied with this outcome and the paper reported (with a last comic flourish) that the ‘foreigners set up an indescribable jabber, and were ushered into the passage’. Sadly even humorous stories like this were not enough to keep The Charter commercially viable. It launched in 1838 and reached a circulation of about 5-6,000 before folding in 1840. In London competition for readers was fierce and only a handful of papers continued to dominate the newsstands and survive into the 20th century.

[from The Charter, Sunday, October 27, 1839]

A tale of two drunks at Westminster

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The London Police Court magistracy spent most of their time disciplining those brought in as drunk and disorderly by the officers of the Metropolitan police. Most were admonished and fined a small sum, but repeat offenders or those that resisted arrest, and used bad language or violence, were fined more heavily or sent to prison.

The press rarely bothered to report these sort of cases because they were hardly newsworthy but occasionally, perhaps to remind their readership of the dangers of alcohol or because a particular case merited it, they included it. In October 1877 two cases from Westminster Police Court were set out side by side and reflect the ‘usual suspects’ when it came to D&D charges.

Martin Sharp, a ‘carpet planner’ from Chelsea, had just left a club in Radnor Street off the King’s Road with some companions. They had made a bit of noise and this had alerted the attention of the local beat constable, PC Walter Cousins (243B). The policeman politely asked the men to go home quietly and, ‘to give them the opportunity to of doing so, walked on’.

However, while the others dispersed as requested Sharp leaned against a doorway and showed no sign of budging. PC Cousins insisted he leave but was ignored. Then, according to the constable’s report, Sharp ran at him full tilt and grabbed him by his whiskers. The attack was so violent that the carpet man managed to pull clumps of the policeman’s facial hair out; traces of this were later found in his pockets.

With difficulty Sharp was taken to the nearest police station and charged with being drunk and disorderly and with assaulting the officer. In court he denied being drunk and said that he had merely been sheltering in the portico from the rain when PC Cousins had ‘manhandled him very roughly’. Naturally, he added, he had resisted.

Since he could produce no witnesses to support his version of events Mr D’Eyncourt chose to take the constable’s word and fined Sharp 20s or ten days imprisonment. Placing his hat on his head Sharp paid his fine and left court.

According to the headline of the press report Sharp had had a ‘lucky escape’ but Eliza Smith was not so fortunate. She was brought in by another policeman, Isaac Sculpher (260B) who accused her of being drunk and violent. Eliza was well-known to the police and courts as a disorderly prostitute.

In this instance Eliza had apparently been quarrelling with two other street walkers and again, like Sharp and his mates, this had brought them to the attention of the police. When PC Sculpher attempted to ‘remove her’ Eliza resisted arrest and spat in his face. She was described in court as ‘the most violent and foul-mouthed prostitute in the neighbourhood of Knightsbridge’  and Sculpher had to enlist the help of three other officers to drag her to the police station.

In the course of this the policeman alleged that his prisoner had ‘hit him in the hand’ and had injured him. In court Eliza vehemently denied this saying that the reason that the man’s hand was marked was because he had struck her in the mouth, ‘loosening her teeth’. Once again the magistrate opted to believe the policeman not the drunk and sent her down for six weeks. Eliza left the court ‘uttering the most horrible threats and blasphemy to the magistrate, and was with difficulty conveyed to the cells’.

I wonder if her anger was justified on this occasion? It does seem a little odd that the only injury that PC Sculpher sustained was to his hand; that’s a odd place to hit someone. In fact in both cases while the police were evidently ‘doing their duty’ in attempting to clear the streets of late night revellers and unwanted prostitutes, they were both a little heavy handed in the process.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, October 20, 1877]