A career in crime looks inevitable for a young servant that could not resit temptation

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William Luker, The Mansion House Police Court, (c.1891)

Sometimes, in order to understand exactly what is going on in a historical courtroom (like the Mansion House Police Court in 1866) we need to have some clarity about which laws were in operation and being utilised. That isn’t always easy because laws were amended and new rules superseded them. It is also often the case with the history of crime that the practice of those applying the law (in this case the Police Court magistrates of London) preceded that of lawmakers rather than following it.

In September 1866 Mary Ann Goodchild, ‘a young girl’ of 18 and a domestic servant, was brought before the Lord Mayor and Alderman Abbis in the City of London to answer a charge of theft. Mary Ann was accused of stealing face sovereigns from her master, Noah Aaron.

This was a serious offence, one worthy of a criminal trial before a jury and the possibility (if convicted) of a long prison sentence. However, the defendant was young, female and, crucially, prepared to admit to her crime.

The court was told that Noah Aaron, a general dealer who worked out of a property named Roper’s Buildings, had placed 44 sovereigns in a drawer in his bedroom. Sometime later he counted them and found that the money was short by £5. His suspicions immediately fell on Mary Ann because only she and his wife had access to the room.

The servants were the business of Mrs Aaron so when her husband told her what had happened she confronted Mary Ann with it. Having tried and failed to deny the charge Mary Ann admitted it but pleaded with Mrs Aaron not to ‘do anything with her’. Whether she hoped that this would not lead to a court case or was simply desperate to keep her position is not made clear, but having confessed she clearly hoped for some leniency from her employers.

Mrs Aaron would give her no such assurance and so Mary Ann was forced to give more information about the missing money. She said she had given it to another woman, Alice Alexander, ‘who she said had out her up to it’. In court at Mansion House Alexander was produced but denied all knowledge of the crime (as well she might). Mary Ann was left high and dry.

Since she had confessed to the theft Mary Ann was able to opt to be dealt with summarily. Under the terms of the Criminal Justice Act (1855) magistrates were able to deal with cases of theft up to the value of 5 shillings without sending it on to a jury so long as the accused consented. If the defendant pleaded guilty then the theft of goods over 5s came under the power of the magistracy. In 1879 the basic requirement was raided from 5s to £2 as the summary courts began the main tribunal for hearing nearly all small-scale property crime in the capital.

Mary Ann was dealt with under legislation that was initially intended to speed up the process of justice in London and to  keep the higher court clear of petty offenders. She was young and the summary jurisdiction acts were aimed at young offenders (albeit a little younger than she was).

The Lord Mayor sent Mary Ann to prison for four months, a fairly lenient sentence in the context of Victorian punishments but she was probably a first offender, again a factor that was at the heart of legislation that extended the summary jurisdiction of magistrates in the 1800s.

It hardly mattered to Mary Ann however. Having lost her job and without references, with her character therefore ruined and a criminal record added to her CV she was unlikely to find legitimate work in the future. When it launches later this week the Digital Panopticon project may allow us to find out whether Mary Ann managed to make it back to the straight and narrow or descended into a ‘career’ in criminality.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, September 11, 1865]

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A mistake that could have proved costly as a woman knocks a ladder onto the railway lines

Construction of the Metropolitan Railway, London, 1866.

Building London’s underground railway, c.1866

Ellen Childs believed she was doing a good thing when she knocked a ladder over a parapet onto what she thought was waste ground below. She did it to prevent children climbing the ladder which had been left there by men who had been painting girders close to a nearby hoarding. The hoarding itself further obscured Ellen’s view of what lay below the parapet, which was in fact the track of the Metropolitan Railway.

Ellen Childs was walking over the Britannia Bridge (which crossed the railway below) when she had seen a small child clambering up the ladder as it leaned against the parapet. She clipped him around the ears and sent him packing. Her motive was to keep him (and others like him) safe but when she tipped the ladder over the wall it landed on the tracks.

Thankfully before any damage could be done to passing trains it was found by Robert Bloy who was working on the line and heard the ladder fall.  Since trains passed ‘every two to three minutes’ Bloy’s quick actions might well have averted a serious accident as the six foot ladder had landed square across the rails.

Ellen was arrested and  prosecuted before Mr Bros, the sitting magistrate at Clerkenwell. She was distraught at what she had done and swore that there was no evil intent in her mind. It was a serious case however and beyond Mr Bros’ powers to judge. He committed her for trial (probably at Middlesex Sessions as she is not listed in the Old Bailey) but accepted bail and released her in the meantime. It was an honest mistake but it could have been a very serious one.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, September 9, 1888]

An H Division policeman gets away with brutality towards a defenceless immigrant

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The Kind Hearted Policeman by  L Huard (1864). This was the image of policing the Met were keen to promote but it did not always reflect the reality

Under the headline ‘More outrages of young women’, The Era newspaper (which was aimed primarily at the entertainment industry and licensed traders) carried a story of what appeared to be police brutality in the East End of London.

A respectable married woman (aged about 30) named Sarah Gompertz was walking towards Spitalfields at four o’clock in the afternoon. One imagines Sarah lived here as part of the area’s large Jewish community as her name suggests a Russian, Polish or German origin. There was always tension between the immigrant population and the indigenous one (even allowing for the fact that London has been home to migrating peoples for as long as it has existed), but this was not as pronounced as it was to become in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.

As she made her way along a policeman from H Division was patrolling his beat ahead of her. As the constable came alongside her he allegedly spat a mouthful of half-chewed carrot at her as he passed. Outraged Sarah protested. Instead of apologising the officer, PC William Gulley, responded by telling her to move along. When she refused to move he manhandled her violently, as the paper described:

‘this valiant constable of the H Division seized Mrs Gompertz by the back hair with one hand, and grasping her dress with the other, violently propelled her forward by the length of several houses, expediting her movements with brutal blows from behind with his knees, tearing open her dress by the force used, and exposing both her shoulders and her neck and bosom in a most indecent, and to the sufferer, most humiliating, manner’.

And, the report continued,

‘in this disgraceful way, with her dress unfastened, her shawl and bonnet streaming behind, she was pushed and dragged to the station, like a common troll or drunken prostitute, charged with taking part in a street disturbance, and refusing to move on at the voice of authority’.

Back at the police station the inspector on duty refused to register the charge and related the poor woman immediately but did little else to publicly  admonish the constable. The woman had walked home in a state of distress and collapsed. A doctor was called and he noted that her exhaustion and stress was compounded by the fact that she was pregnant. Its not clear whether witnesses saw the constable’s actions or merely saw the effects when she reached home but the paper was clearly convinced that the assault had happened.

Mrs Gompertz later pressed a charge of assault against PC Gulley at Worship Street but the constable was able to find three fellow officers who were prepared to testify in his defence. It went to the Old Bailey in November but the constable was acquitted and no details were recorded. In the end it was probably the word of an immigrant against that of a ‘guardian of the public’ backed up by three colleagues who had not seen what had happened. The inspector must have believed Mrs Gompertz’s account but was presumably too timid to take on his own men.

[from The Era , Sunday, September 4, 1864]

A ‘murderous assault’ in Kensington

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Francis Harben and George Parr both worked for as a harness maker in Kensington but their relationship wasn’t good. Parr had quarrelled with Harben’s uncle (about what it is not clear) but the two young men (Parr was 20) hand;t spoken to each other in weeks.

At half past four on 31 July 1881 Harben entered the saddler’s shop at 10 Holland Place to ‘brush his clothes’. Parr was already there and, seemingly without provocation, he ‘sprang upon him’ and attacked him.

The attack was brutal and almost deadly:

Parr ‘caught hold of his throat and pushed him against the wall’, Harben ‘struggled to get away but [Parr] picked up a leather-cutter’s knife from the board and stabbed him in the throat with it’.

Harben was then stabbed in the back of head and three more times in the face and neck. As he fell to the floor he dragged his attacker down with him and the pair wrestled for some moments before Harben managed to escape.

At no point did the other man say anything that might explain his ferocious attack on the harness maker. PC Northover (T415) eventually arrived at the shop and found the attacker himself bleeding profusely from a wound in his throat. He helped Parr get to the St George’s Hospital where he was treated for his injuries. Soon afterwards Harben also arrived at the hospital having been helped there by some passers-by.

The surgeon that rated them said that Harben was ‘in a state of collapse, suffering from great loss of blood’ and he kept him in hospital for several days before he could appear at the Hammersmith Police Court as a witness against his work colleague. As for Parr he too was close to death with ‘a dangerous wound, [that] must have been done with considerable violence’, he later told an Old Bailey courtroom.

At Hammersmith Parr was charged with ‘cutting and wounding’ and with attempted suicide. The suggestion was that he had, for no stated reason, attacked Harben and then turned the knife on himself. Parr had no recollection of doing anything and so his mental health was called into question. Mr Shiel at Hammersmith committed him to take his trial at Old Bailey and there the house surgeon at Newgate was called to speak to his mental state.

Mr Rowland Gibson did not think that Parr was ‘mad’: ‘the prisoner appeared to be perfectly placid, and quite rational’ when he examined him he said. He ‘had lost a great deal of blood, and was very pale, and is now—the loss of blood might take away his memory for the time—he offered no explanation of how the thing occurred—he said he could not remember anything about it’.

Parr was charged with attempted murder and inflicting grievous bodily harm and tried on 12 September 1881. The jury acquitted him of the first charge but found him guilty of GBH. The judge handed down a sentence of penal servitude for five years.

[from The Standard , Monday, August 29, 1881]

Thieves use chloroform to overpower their victim

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This summer London has been subject to a number of acid attacks. Teenagers (some as young as 12 or 13) riding mopeds have swooped on victims to steal mobile phone or overpower other scooter riders to steal their vehicles. What has made these attacks even more heinous is the use of acid (or liquid victims believe to be acid) sprayed in the faces of those attacked.

The main crime here is robbery, ‘highway robbery’ in eighteenth-century terminology in fact. Thieves that stole money or property using force or the threat of force, and robberies that took place on the street (or ‘highway’) were deemed highway robbery. We might call them muggings of course.

Judges and juries tended to view any theft that was accompanied by violence or the threat of it more seriously than simple larceny, and so those convicted could expect the full force of the law. The same is still pretty much true today; violent theft is dealt with more severely than indirect non-violent theft (such as picking pockets or shoplifting).

In the 1700s this meant death by hanging but by the mid Victorian period imprisonment  had largely replaced all other forms of punishment. Highway robbers could expect to be transported to Australia in the 1830s and 40s but by the late 50 transportation was effectively at an end. English prisons now filled with thieves, robbers and burglars.

When he was brought before the Marylebone magistrate in August 1858 John Jones was accused of perpetrating a robbery with a difference; a  difference which singled it out as worthy of press attention and (potentially at least) the full severity of the law.

Francis Stretch was walking along Munster Street near Regent’s Park between 10 and 11 in the evening of the 25 August when he was attacked from behind. As he stooped to tie his shoelaces three men rushed up and one thrust a handkerchief over his mouth and nose. Stretch noticed that the hankie was wet but wasn’t able to react quick enough.

He did notice a man he later identified as Jones take his watch from his pocket but before he could attempt to stop him or take hold of the thief he ‘became insensible’ and collapsed. The men ran off and Stretch later realised that he had been knocked out with chloroform.

Meanwhile the attack had been witnessed by a woman who was nearby. Shouting ‘stop their’ she ran after the fleeing thieves and a policeman, PC Whinkler (191S) joined the chase. The three men split up, the two others calling out ‘There’s no Peeler here, change your coat’, to Jones. PC Whinkler caught up with his prey soon afterwards in Charles Street and arrested him.

No watch was found on Jones and in court he denied any knowledge of it. Unfortunately for the victim and the policeman the female witness was not in court to confirm their testimony. As a result Mr Long, presiding, remanded the defendant for a few days to see if she could be produced. I expect that if PC Whinkler was able (as he insisted he was) to produce his witness then the magistrate would have committed Jones for a jury trial. It is likely this went to Clerkenwell and the Middlesex sessions because I can’t find it at Old Bailey. There, if the jury were convinced, Jones could expect a lengthy spell behind bars. Other Londoners would now be on the alert for the chloroform thieves just as modern city dwellers are (hopefully) keeping their wits about them when using their phones in public.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, August 26, 1858]

A waiter’s attempt to ‘over egg the pudding’ backfires.

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Many (indeed most) of the cases that ended being tried before a jury at the Old Bailey in the 1800s started with a hearing before a Police Court Magistrate. It was the duty and role of the magistrates to determine whether a person brought before them should be dealt with summarily (in other words by them without recourse to a jury) or be sent for trial at the sessions or Old Bailey. The less serious cases were sent to the Middlesex Sessions while the more heinous offences were generally reserved for the Bailey. In effect this meant that homicides, serious fraud or forgery, and violent theft and burglary ended up before the juries of London’s Central Criminal court (CCC).

When a case made it to the Old Bailey the pre-trial hearing in the Police Courts was often refereed to. If a defendant tried to change their tune at this stage the prosecution could and did use this against them. So, many of the cases that I’ve traced from the Police Courts to the CCC look very similar; in some cases we get a greater level of detail at the Bailey (because the reports of the summary hearings were often limited by space) but the basic fact are the same. In this case from 1898 however, the pre-trial hearing and the final jury trial seem to have several differences, and this probably contributed to the acquittal of the defendant.

In August 1898 William Farrington was drinking with his brother in the Hero of Waterloo pub in Waterloo Road, Kennington. It was 10.30 at night and Farrington taking a day off from his job at the Oval cricket ground where he was employed as the head waiter. At some point a man wandered across the room and thrust a pint pot under his nose and invited him to drink with him.

The man, Thomas Checkley, had been sitting with some companions and appeared to know the waiter. Farrington however, made out that the 30 year-old was a stranger to him and turned down his offer. Soon afterwards the Farrington brothers rose and left the pub. Once they got outside they were attacked by Checkley and his friends in the street. A policeman soon arrived and while most of the gang scattered, PC Frederick Habtick (45L) managed to secure Checkley. On the 19 August 1898 both Checkley and Farrington were in court at Southwark, the former charged with highway robbery and assault.

At Southwark Police Court Farrington complained that Checkley had punched him in the face, cutting his lip and then knocked him to the floor. Once he was down the other men had moved in to assault and rob the helpless man. One of the gang help his legs while another rifled his pockets and stole 28s from him.

The magistrate, Mr Fenwick, was told that the men were well known thieves. Detective Sergeant Divall of M Division, explained that Checkley belonged to  ‘Pickett’s gang’, a ‘notorious Waterloo-road’ group of criminals that had recently come out of prison. Checkley himself had recently served 15 months for robbing a ‘tipsy man’ of a watch and chain.

Faced with all of this evidence it was not a difficult decision for Mr Fenwick to commit Checkley to the CCC for trial and, on 13 September 1898 he appeared at the Old Bailey, charged with robbery with violence and theft from the person.

Here though a slightly different version of events emerged which probably helped to sow some seeds of doubt in the minds of the jury. The court heard much the same set of evidence from Farrington but under cross-examination the waiter stumbled a little. He admitted that he had actually shared a drink with Checkley in the pub, if only a small one. The defence argued that the men had in fact once been acquainted with each  other and had a fight some three months previously.

Checkley’s barrister then suggested that Farrington had invented the charge of robbery to ‘make it hot’ for his client; in other words he accused the waiter of inventing an additional and more serious crime as part of his ongoing feud with Checkley. The waiter denied this vehemently but I think the jury were convinced by the argument.

Curiously (given the evidence about street gangs offered by DS Divall at Southwark) the police seemed to have supported the defence (if not deliberately). Both PC Habtick and his station inspector (who was called to attend on the second day of the trial) stated for the record that when they had brought Checkley in they thought the charge was assault, not robbery. The inspector told the court that:

‘I saw the prosecutor when the prisoner was brought to the station—he had been drinking heavily all day, but was sober—he knew what he was doing—he said he had been out for a holiday that day and treated the prisoner to several drinks – the charge was striking the prosecutor in the face with his fist and kicking him on the head—nothing was said about his having been robbed’.

So had Farrington decided to use Checkley’s former criminal record to his advantage? It would seem so. Previous convictions dogged the footsteps of felons in the 1800s (much more than they do today) and were cited as reasons to prosecute and impose more serious sentences on those convicted. Had the jury not been distracted by the inconsistency in Farrington and the other police accounts of the incident I suspect Checkley would have been facing a spell of 5-10 years of penal servitude with all the horror that entailed. In this case, due in no small part to the honesty of the police a known criminal was acquitted of robbery and therefore in effect, acquitted also of assault.

Personally I would not like to have been William Farrington in the weeks and months that followed because I am  fairly sure that ‘Pickett’s gang’ would have been quite prepared to meet out their own form of ‘justice’ to someone that had tried to get one of their number sent away for something he had not done.

[from The Standard, Saturday, August 20, 1898]

Officer down on the Ratcliffe Highway

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Police Constable William Izzard (133H) was walking his beat on Ratcliffe Highway on the 5 August 1866 when he heard raised voices. It was late at night and this was not uncommon in such a rowdy and notorious area. He moved towards the disturbance and found a small group of ‘foreign sailors’ quarrelling in the street.

PC Izzard approached the group and, since they were making a great deal of noise and disturbing the peace he asked them to disperse. No one seemed to be listening to him and one man in particular seemed very agitated so he lightly tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. The man turned around and the policemen indicated that he should ‘go home and sleep’.

As the man moved off another one stepped forward and drew a long bladed knife which he thrust at the copper. Fortunately PC Izzard stepped back quickly, avoiding the attack. As he did so he pulled out his truncheon (or ‘stick’ as it was described in the report) and used it to ward off more attacks from the sailor.

Meanwhile another unconnected man had seen what was going on. Charles McCarthy was a stevedore who worked on the docks and he noticed a ‘a short stout man’ come up behind the constable holding a knife. McCarthy shouted a warning to Izzard but it was too late; the man (an Italian sailor named Ferato Lorenzo) had caught his victim off guard and stabbed him in the belly.

The policeman fell to the ground with blood pouring from the wound as the sailors scattered. McCarthy set off in pursuit of Lorenzo, catching him and hauling him to the floor. Amazingly PC Izzard picked himself up and helped secure the prisoner with the help of a fellow officer (H56) who came running from a nearby street.

The Italian sailor, who was much the worse for drink, was presented at the Thames Police Court charged with violent assault. He offered no real defence and was fully committed to trial by the magistrate, Mr Partridge. The policeman appeared in court but was still suffering from his injuries even though the attack had taken place over two weeks earlier. He had lost a lot of blood and was unable to return to duty. He had been examined by the H Division surgeon, George Bagster Phillips who was to go on to achieve some kind of fame as the police doctor who investigated the Ripper murders in 1888.

In the end Lorenzo took his trial at Old Bailey on the 13th August 1866 where he was found guilty of felonious wounding and sent to prison for 12 months at hard labour. PC Izzard was lucky; the surgeon told the Old Bailey courtroom that the knife had entered his abdomen, ‘penetrating through the muscles to the peritoneum,’ but had not reached his bowels. He survived; had he not the Italian may well have found himself facing a charge of murder with the very real prospect of being executed if convicted – so Ferato was also ‘un uomo fortunato’.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, August 19, 1866]