Cruelty to cat grabs the attention of the press while across London the ‘Ripper’ murders begin.

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The 8th August 1888 has considerable significance for anyone familiar with the so-called ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders of that year. Although the brutal killing of a woman in George Yard, near Whitechapel High Street did not make the headlines that the later murders that summer did, for many it represents the beginning of the series.

The victim, Martha Tabram, was poor and probably survived partly by prostituting herself in the back alleyways of the East End. She had supposedly been out early on the night she died with a woman named Pearly Poll although the real truth will probably never be known. Martha was stabbed 39 times, most of the wounds being made with what was described as a ‘pen knife’, the one killing blow (to her heart or sternum) was probably made with a large weapon such as a bayonet or a dagger.

Martha’s dead body was found by John Reeves on his way to work at 4.45 on the morning of the 7 August. Death was calculated to have occurred at around 2.30-2.45 in the morning. Despite an initial belief that an off duty soldier was the killer (provoking a number of inconclusive and frankly farcical identity parades) no one was identified as the murderer.

Meanwhile the everyday business of the Police Courts continued with less dramatic (but still interesting) cases coming before the magistracy. On 8 August 1888 The Standard reported an interesting case involving violence, not towards a human but towards a cat. James Moor Bowman was summoned to Bow Street Police Court (the senior magistrates court in the capital) to face a charge of cruelty. Bowman, a pub landlord,  was accused alongside his barman Richard Ellis, with setting fire to his cat.

The prosecution witnesses (‘a workman named Boothy and his wife’) claimed that they saw Bowman pour methylated spirits over the animal’s head and then ignited it. The poor creature jumped up and over Mrs Boothy’s head and ran out of the pub (The Sovereign in St Martin’s Lane).

When Mr and Mrs Boothy ‘remonstrated with the Defendants on their cruelty’ they were kicked out of the pub. The landlord even called a policeman (PC 279C) to have them taken away for causing a disturbance.

Bowman and Ellis claimed the Boothys were drunk and the policeman confirmed that they were ‘lively; in fact they were semi-intoxicated’. Bowman produced an uninjured  cat as proof the witnesses had been making it up all along. Mr Boothy declared that it was not the same cat that he had seen burned by the publican.

Bowman added that he could produce several witnesses who would testify that he wasn’t in the bar at the time the incident was supposed to have occurred. The magistrate wondered why he hadn’t brought them along immediately, to save time. Bowman told him that it was a ‘trumped up charge’ brought by two drinkers who were upset about being asked to leave when they were the worse for alcohol (as barmen were supposed to do). It was ridiculous to think that he or his barman would have set light to an animal in the middle of a busy public house.

Sir James Ingham, the Bow Street magistrate on duty agreed the whole thing was very ‘circumstantial’ but he’d like to see it disproved before he made his judgement. He adjourned the case for a week so that Bowman could produce the witnesses he promised who would show the Boothys to be liars.

To this day no one has been conclusively proved to have been the Whitechapel murderer but the ‘hunt’ goes on. This blog concentrates on the Police Courts of London across the whole of the Victorian period but when the date falls on our near to those when the ‘Ripper’ struck I shall try and find a case for that day.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, August 08, 1888]

‘Orrible Murder! Read all about it! (but quietly please)

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At half-past 11 at night John Harris was attempting to sell copies of a local newspaper. There had been a murder in Notting Hill that had seized the attention of the reading public and, like any good salesman, Harris knew he had to capitalise while the news was ‘hot’. However, the area around Goldbourne Road was a quiet one and the vendor was disturbing the peace.

He was soon discovered by a policeman on his beat. He was shouting: ‘the dreadful murder at Notting Hill: verdict and sentence of the prisoner’ at the top of his voice. There were residents at their windows calling for the policeman to make him stop his racket. PC Gallagher approached him and when he refused to stop shouting (saying he ‘had to wake Notting Hill up to sell his papers’ ) he asked him for his name and address.

Harris replied: ‘Artful Bill, commonly known at the East End as the Scarlet Runner’.

This didn’t satisfy the constable who arrested him and took him back to the station. Having spent an uncomfortable night in the cells Harris was brought before Mr Paget at Hammersmith Police Court.

He was not a happy man. He ‘told the magistrate that he was traded worse than a felon, and locked up all night’. Mr Paget understood that he needed to sell his papers and accepted that some people might have liked to have read the breaking news, but…

it was ‘a great nuisance, particularly when the men [newspaper vendors I presume he meant] cried out all sorts of things that had not taken place’. Fake news in 1881?

Given that Harris had already been punished by being incarcerated in the local nick Mr Paget discharged him. Hopefully he found a different pitch to flog his news from in future.

The murder in question took place in May that year and in Goldbourne Road. Some of the occupants of number 48 were awaked by the smell of smoke and discovered the building was on fire. It seems to have been building of multiple occupation that opened on both Goldborne Road and Portobello Road. There was a shop on the Portobello side and the fire seems to have started there. Two people (William Nash and Annie Maria Weight) were charged with the murder of Elizabeth Clark who died in the fire, but it seems that several others were also consumed by the flames. The motive seems to have been insurance; Nash’s business (as a furniture dealer) was in trouble and he and his wife (the other accused – presumably not officially married so tried under her maiden name) may have set a fire to claim against their policy with the Yorkshire Fire Insurance Company (worth upwards of £120).

The jury acquitted Annie but found her husband guilty. They recommended him to mercy on the grounds that they didn’t believe he intended to cause death. That would have been small compensation to those that lost their lives, their loved ones or their homes. The judge sentenced Nash to death but he was later reprieved.

[from The Standard, Saturday, August 06, 1881]

A fishmonger takes extreme measures to protect his stock

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A brief entry today, if I may be permitted, but an odd one.

We are a nation of animal lovers. I am not sure when that started but it seems to have been in place for much of the Victorian period. Whether this ‘love’ extended past our pets (predominately cats and dogs and small birds) to livestock is a moot point but the RSPCA were founded early in the century (in 1824).

Cruelty to animals has been highlighted in several posts in this blog because on many occasions people were taken before Police Magistrates to answer for their behaviour. Such incidents included stolen dogs (a supposedly ‘modern’ phenomenon), horses worked until they literally died in the streets, or monkeys mistreated as they helped musicians beg for money.

But this one struck me as particularly unpleasant and unusual.

A summons was applied for at the Dalston Police Court in north east London to bring in a fishmonger who lived in Hackney-Wick. The tradesman was not named in the newspaper report but Mr Bros (the sitting magistrate) asked what the summons was for.

The applicant was a woman (also unmanned) and she told him that the fishmonger used a gun to scare off cats that came into his garden, no doubt attracted by the smell of fish.

According to her ‘he frightened everybody by firing across the gardens at the cats that went after his fish. On a recent afternoon the man fired at a cat two gardens off, the shot going through the cats head and killing it’.

This was a regular activity, she complained, and she was ‘afraid to go into the back yard’ for fear of being shot herself.

Mr Bros granted the summons. I have two cats and they roam across the neighbours’ gardens (and we are visited by several other local felines). It can be a nuisance, they are a danger to local wildlife, especially birds, and they have an unpleasant habit of digging holes in the beds and filling them. So I understand people wanting to keep them out.

The fishmonger undoubtedly wanted to scare them away for good reason, but shooting them two gardens away? I hope he got his just desserts.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 5, 1888]

A ‘knocker wrencher’ is nabbed!

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William Kilminster was presented in the dock at Worship Street Police Court in July 1837 charged with ‘wrenching off the brass knob from a door in Shoreditch’.

The court reporter treated the story lightly, as though it were amusing and perhaps this was on account of language he used to describe it, or instead because it revealed the different ways in which working-class and elite behaviours were judged. We should remember that in the 1830s most of those buying a daily or weekly newspaper would have been at least lower middle class or aspirational working class who aped those above them.

Kilminster had been seen at 1 in the morning by a policeman on his beat. The reporter recorded what the policeman had described to the magistrate:

‘he observed the prisoner working away at the knob of one of the doors with all the vigour and dexterity of the lordly personages that have heretofore monopolized this respectable recreation’. 

So was ‘knocker wrenching’ a thing? (His phrase, not mine I hasten to add). Indeed it was as this blog post from earlier this year shows. We find yet more information about this form of anti-social behaviour (or theft, which is what it is) here. It sounds like a Benny Hill sketch waiting to happen!

William Kilminster had been nicked and quickly thrown into prison when he’d first came before a magistrate. Now several of his friends had come to plead for clemency on the grounds that he was ‘an honest hard-working man who had acted under the influence of liquor, and too probably under the pernicious influence laid before him by crayon members of the aristocracy’.

Mr Grove was sympathetic to their appeals and released the ‘inoffensive and quite’ mechanic from gaol on condition that he paid a fine of 5s ‘to Her Majesty’ and a further 2s for the damage he had done to the door. With both monies secured William was free to go, with a small stain on his character and the admonition of the justice ringing in his ears.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, July 21, 1837]

Today is Graduation Day for my History students at the University of Northampton, I’m very proud of all of their achievements but every year there are one of two that stand out. We had several firsts this year and lots of upper seconds. Students get a bad press sometimes but I have to say that anyone gaining a degree from any university in England has earned it and deserves all the credit they get. As do all of those that help and support them, which includes family, friends and their lecturers 🙂

A father uses the police courts to accuse the police of taking work away from his boy

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Before alarm clocks were widely available (let alone radio alarms or digital alarms on mobile phones) most people were reliant on being ‘knocked up’ by a tap on the window in the early hours of the morning. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century this role was sometimes played by men from the night watch who patrolled the streets in the days before professional police forces were established. Private individuals also acted as ‘knocker uppers’ and continued to wake communities up until the 1950s, charging a few pennies a week for the service.

In 1881 young William Clutterbuck was employed to wake people in the streets around his home in Manchester Place, Bethnal Green but he had somehow got into a local policeman’s bad books and in July this landed both of them in court.

The boy’s father took out a summons against police constable 383K for assaulting his lad. Mr Clutterbuck admitted the assault was  minor but that was not the reason he had brought it; he was upset because the police were ‘interfering with the boy to take away his work’. That impacted on the family income and had therefore to be challenged.

This is an interesting example of working people using the summary courts to complain about the police and acts therefore, as a small test of how effective the metropolitan police courts were as arenas of negotiation for ‘ordinary’ people.

Young William was sworn and then gave his evidence to Mr Hannay, the Worship Street magistrate. He told him that ‘he went out very early in the morning, calling men who lived in his immediate neighbourhood to their work’. He charged sixpence a week for waking them but had lost one client because a policeman (PC 201H) had made them stop employing him.

PC 150K had also threatened him and said he would lock him up if he found him on the streets. When he and his father went to the station house to complain about this and other instances when the local police had tried to interfere with his work he was called a thief by PC 383K (the defendant). This was repeated three times in front of the inspector although there seems little justification for it.

The next morning William was out on the streets when he ran into the same copper who ‘abused him, asked why his father did not put a better coat on his back, threatened to lock him up and get him sent to a reformatory, and took him by the collar and twisted him around’.

This was the last straw for Mr Clutterbuck who took out the summons that brought the policeman to court. He also produced a ‘long list of persons’ who were prepared to testify on his sons’ behalf. Now it was for the magistrate to consider the evidence he had heard and decide whether the police had a case to answer.

Mr Hannay did seem minded to take it seriously. The assault ‘was of no matter’, but the allegation that the police were colluding with each other to ‘terrorise the boy’ was a grave one. He asked Clutterbuck to come back to court in a few days with some of those that had said they were willing to be sworn to give evidence.

This was a challenge to the police’s authority in the East End, an area where they were perhaps least popular in the capital as a whole. The local costermongers resented them for moving them and their barrows along, and when it came to the ‘Ripper’ murders in 1888 the community felt it necessary to form their own vigilance committees and patrol the streets themselves, so little faith did they have in the police to protect their womenfolk from the murderer.

The final resolution of this case does not seem to be recorded in the London press (or to have survived if it did). This is not surprising, the papers liked to offer their readers ‘tit bits’ of news from the Police Courts and this would have served to amuse or concern readers in equal measure. It was a dig at the ‘boys in blue’ and a reminder that working-class boys needed to contribute to the family income as well as go to school to learn the ‘thee Rs’.

I doubt much would have happened to PC 383K even if several local men had backed up the complaint against him, but if he then left young William alone to carry on his early morning work then that would have achieved all that his father set out to do. Why did the policeman do it? Perhaps they were able to earn a few extra pennies themselves whilst on their beats (as the old watchmen had) and resented the competition William provided. Whatever the truth this is perhaps an example of the police courts operating as the ‘people’s courts’ as some historians have suggested they did, working for local people against the authorities rather than simply being an arm of the disciplinary state.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, July 17, 1881]

An ill-conceived attempt to impose unwanted laws leads to rioting in London

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In June 1855 a bill was introduced to Parliament to close down shops and to suspend public transport  on Sundays, to better enforce the observation of the Sabbath. The bill was presented by Lord Robert Grosvenor and it sparked a series of demonstrations by working-class Londoners attacking the bill and the hypocrisy of the aristocratic class that sought to impose it. As the history Gerry White has described the ‘mob’:

‘assembled along the carriage drives between the Serpentine and Kensington Gardens crowds assembled to hoot and hiss the phaetons of the rich and their Sabbath-breaking servants. There were cries of ‘Go to Church!’ and horses were made to shy and bolt.’

The disorder spread and on Sunday 1st July around 150,000 people turned out to protest and Lord Grosvenor’s house was attacked and his windows smashed. The police eventually restored some order after a baton charge but almost 50 constables were injured. It was an example of the periodic outbreaks of rioting that London has seen down the centuries, the most recent of which being those that started in Tottenham in 2011. Perceived injustice, legitimate concerns ignored, overly officious policing, and extended periods of hot weather can combine to tip communities over the edge and inspire hot heads to take to the streets.

After the August 2011 riots hundreds of people found themselves before the capital’s magistrate courts, mostly of charges of looting. The punishments handed down to some (like Nicolas Robinson, jailed for 6 months for stealing a bottle of water) also demonstrate a historical continuity; in times of ‘moral panic’ or when authority is so obviously challenged the courts tend to overreact. At the end of the Gordon Riots (1780) dozens were publicly hanged  in mass executions as a show of determination by the state to those that had caused such chaos in the metropolis for a week in June.

In the aftermath of the riots against Lord Grosvenor’s Sunday Trading Bill there were dozens of prosecutions before the London Police magistrates. On Sunday 15 July Reynold’s Newspaper reported several examples including that of Charles Whitehouse, a lad of 14, who was present in the crowd gathered outside the peer’s London home in Park Street.

The case (that of smashing windows and so causing criminal damage) was presented by Inspector Webb of the Metropolitan Police. Webb described how he had seen the boy throw a stone towards his lordship’s window and had moved into the crowd to arrest him. Several of those assembled complained, saying that he had done nothing, but the inspector ignored them and tried to extract him and take him back to the station house.

As the inspector and a group of constables led Charles away there was a cry of ‘rescue’ and the crowd turned their fury on the police, pelting them with stones and anything else they could find. The attack was so violent that the police were forced to take refuge in the Mount Street workhouse. Two of his officers had been so badly hurt they still hadn’t been able to return to their duties.

He continued to explain how, while they sheltered in the workhouse, ‘the mob became so furious, calling for the release of the boy, otherwise they would pull down the building, that it was thought advisable, to prevent more serious consequences, for the constables to sally out with their prisoners, and literally fight their way through the mob to the lock-up house’.

In his defence Charles said that he had been forced to throw a stone by others in the crowd. His cap had been swept from his head by a man behind him who urged him to join in with the collective rage against the Grosvenor property. He was warned that failure to do so would mean he never saw his cap again.

Whether this was a weak excuse or the truth is impossible to say, but it made no impression on the Marlborough Street magistrate, Mr Hardwick. Addressing the boy he declared:

‘You must have been very imperfectly educated to have done an act of malice to a person to whom you are a stranger and who never did you the last harm’.

His next words were aimed at any of those present in court that might have been involved and, via the newspaper, the wider reading public. The boy’s actions were serious he said, and as for the context – the widespread rioting – that, if proven, could result in a  sentence of transportation to Australia. If anyone came before him charged with inciting or organising the rioting and stone throwing he would commit them for trial as he was ‘determined that both property and the public peace shall be protected’.

The boy’s father appeared in court and was there to hear his son be fined the relatively huge sum of 40s (over £100) for throwing one stone. He was mortified he said, and had tried to prevent all three of his children from getting mixed up in the trouble. On the day he had taken two of his boys on a long walk as far away from the crowds as he could but had never thought that Charles was likely to get mixed up in it.

Boys will be boys of course, and whatever his motivations I’m sure Charles was simply excited that something was happening and his curiosity got the better of him. Like Nicolas Robinson he ended up doing something he would probably never have done if it hadn’t been for the circumstances, and both young men paid the price for it as the authorities hit out at those they could catch in the wake of both incidents of rioting.

Lord Grosvenor quickly dropped his unpopular Sunday Trading bill and peace returned to the capital’s streets. Riots are often symptoms of underlying tensions based on perceptions of (or actual) inequality, the lack of a voice, impotence and frustration; it only takes a small spark (like the killing of Mark Duggan by the police, or the death of Cynthia Jarrett) to ignite the flames.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, July 15, 1855]

A ‘mysterious’ lost boy is ‘saved’ from the slums

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Bangor Street, Notting Hill

Lilian Edward was brought up before Mr Curtis Bennett at the Hammersmith Police Court charged with ‘being in the unlawful possession of a child’. The little boy was also called to court and questioned by the magistrate, even though he was only four years old. Lilian herself was just 18 and the circumstances suggested that the little boy, who was not named, may have originally have been lost (or indeed kidnapped)  as far away as Scotland.

Lillian cohabited with a man named McSweeney at a property in Bangor Street, Notting Hill (or Notting Dale as it was then known), but they were not married. According to one source Bangor Street :

Originally called George Street, it was the most notorious road of the Notting Dale ‘Special Area’ slum.
It was more colloquially known as ‘Do as you like Street’, a place where ‘no one left their door closed’, and the venue of the Rag Fair.

McSweeney was also in court and claimed the child as his, but Lilian testified that the boy did ‘not belong to him’. Who’s was he then, the magistrate wanted to know.

The child had been brought from the local workhouse at the special request of Mr Bennet because, as he explained in court, he had received a letter from Liverpool with a photo and description of a child who had gone missing in Dundee. The sender had presumably got wind (perhaps from some earlier hearing reported in the press) that a ‘mysterious child’ had been discovered and was living in a poor part of west London.

This reminds us that the provincial press regularly reported the goings on at the London Police courts along with entries about their own sessions. This sharing of crime news has a very long history with reports of cases at Old Bailey and the county assizes being  staple of early newspapers in the 1700s.

Mr Bennett wanted to see if the boy in his witness box was the same one that was described in the paper, and so he ‘questioned the little fellow’. PC Brown was unconvinced; he said that while ‘inquiries had been made’ (he was not very specific) they had not proved that this child and the one in the photo were the same. His eyes, he continued, were not there same colour as the description in the newspaper report. The magistrate was not sure though, he felt he might be the lost boy.

Next up was John Pike of the Children’s Aid Fund (founded as early as the 1850s) at Charing Cross who requested that the boy be sent to school in the meantime as ‘he was not under proper control’. McSweeney tried to intervene to demand the boy was given back to him but the magistrate refused to allow him to speak .

The whole hearing has the feel of a scene from a Dickens’ novel, with the ‘little fellow’ as another runaway like Oliver Twist. Mr Bennet clearly did’t want to send him back to the squalor of Bangor Street and the ‘care’ of McSweeney. He requested that the child be ‘remanded’ to the workhouse to give Mr Pike the time to draw up the necessary paperwork to have him admitted to the Industrial School at Milton. There he would he educated and cared for (in a fashion) but no further attempt was likely to be made to reunite him with his parents.

As for Lilian Edward, she was released to the relative freedom of Mr McSweeney’s company and his home in Bangor Street.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, July 14, 1889]