A brothel madam falls foul of the law

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In Victorian London overcrowding was common and tensions often flared between occupants of lodging houses and those that owned them. Disputes over non payment of rent were frequent and overcrowding and the demand for somewhere to sleep meant that landlords were able to kick out their tenants with relative ease. If they didn’t immediately evict those who were behind with the rent it was rarely out of any consideration for their welfare. More likely they were aware that if someone owed several weeks’ rent then evicting them was hardly likely to get the debt settled.

One option was to distrain their goods against the value of the debt. This was what happened to a young woman that lived in a house owned by Mary Lawson near the Gray’s Inn Road.

Mary’s unnamed tenant owed her the small sum of 2s 6d, or about £5 today. It wouldn’t buy you that much and helps illustrate how cheap the lodgings Mary ran were. Was this a week’s money, a month’s, we don’t know. What we do know is that the girl didn’t have the money to pay it and so Mary Lawson employed a broker named Chase (from nearby Saffron Hill) to seize her possessions.

The girl was obviously poor but she also had a child to support and so ‘was driven to wander about in great want’, until her former neighbours undertook to support her. The property she lived in at George Court,  Gray’s Inn Lane was home to many other people. Nothing remains of this property today and the space is occupied by Fox Court a modern office building which is home, a little ironically perhaps, to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (Social Security and Child Support).

In 1845 George Court was a brothel, and a large one. It had ‘accommodation for 46 girls’ in no less than seven houses, all of them owned by Mary Lawson. This ‘elderly woman’ was a madam on a large scale. The girl who she was in dispute with was a prostitute; we know this because when she came to the Clerkenwell Police Court to complain that Lawson had assaulted her she was described as ‘unfortunate’, Victorian code for a sex worker.

When Mary had heard how the other residents had clubbed together to help the girl she went into a rage, shouting at them and threatening to evict them all or seize their property. She couldn’t have her authority undermined in so direct a manner.

In court the magistrate, Mr Greenwood, saw an angle to challenge both Mary and her practice of extorting money with menaces. He called the broker over and told him, as one lawyer to another, ‘that no money can be due arising out of such places of immorality’. In short, Mary Lawson couldn’t charge her residents rent or distrain their goods for non payment because she was in effect living off their immoral earrings. He said he would inform the parish authorities (at St Andrew’s, Holborn) and have them put ‘down the nuisance’.

He added that it had already been allowed to be ‘carried on for too long a period, to the annoyance of the more peaceable and respectable inhabitants in the vicinity, as disturbances and robberies were the constant result of the nuisance, which had frequently been complained of’.

As for Mary Lawson, he took note of her relative wealth and how she had come by it and fined her the princely sum of 50s for the assault plus costs, and sent her on her way.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, Sunday, July 20, 1845]

Robbery but not ‘the usual suspects’ in Albert Square

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Reynolds Map of East London (1882)

Fans of the BBC’s Eastenders soap will be interested to know that there actually was an Albert Square in East London in the past, even if it has long gone today. Census returns from 1871 reveal it as a dangerous place, home to prostitutes (‘fallen women’) and sailors. It was close to the Ratcliffe Highway, the scene of a pair of notorious murders in 1811, and shared much of the reputation for overcrowding and poverty as its near neighbour Whitechapel. The Shadwell area was covered by the Thames Police Court, the only magistrate court for which records survive in any real depth for the late Victorian period.

Prostitution (which was not a crime as such) and theft (which of course was) were interconnected  in the 1800s. Many of the women prosecuted at Old Bailey or before summary courts for stealing were prostitutes who took the opportunity of their clients’ drunkenness or exhaustion to remove their purses, pocket books, watches or other property of value. Some women used the ‘cover’ of prostitution to get close enough to men in pubs or in crowded streets to be able to pick their pockets whilst distracting them with their ‘charms’.

The Ratcliffe Highway and Albert Square and its environs were notorious areas for this sort of petty offending and so we might expect that the defendants in this case of theft might have been denizens of this East End district and that their unfortunate victim was an unwary traveler into their web. But this was not the case for William Collins and Richard Carthy who came up before the Thames magistrate in July 1863, or at least at face value it did not seem to be the case.

Both men lived in the Blackfriars district, further west along the Thames river. Collins was described in court as an engineer and Carthy as a musician. They were both reasonably well-do-do or at least had some wealth of their own because they had representation in court from a lawyer, Mr Joseph Smith.

Their victim (Margaret Taylor) on the other hand was a much less ‘respectable’ individual although we can only guess at this from the description of the circumstances of case she laid against them.  Mr Woolwich was told that Collins and Carthy had visited her rooms at 12 Albert Square after meeting her in Shadwell. She was not alone there, as ‘other persons were present, and a great deal of drinking was going on’.

Margaret testified that she had been sitting on her bed with the two men (which certainly does not suggest she was a ‘respectable’ woman in nineteenth-century terms) when Collins handed her  glass of beer. As she took it he purloined her silver watch and quickly palmed it to his companion. Margaret saw him do it and accused him of theft, a row broke out and it soon escalated.

There were several other men and women in the house and this makes it fairly clear that it was a brothel.  Perhaps it was one that was well known to the police and one where they turned  a ‘blind eye’; police corruption in the 1860s was entirely possible, or they may simply have wished to restrict prostitution on the street by containing it indoors. The men’s solicitor established that there were at least 25 other men and women in Margaret’s room at the time so the picture that emerges is one of considerable debauchery.  The fact that 12 Albert Square was a brothel may have influenced the magistrate’s decision-making and attitude towards the offenders Collins and Carthy who had visited it.

PC George Coleman (270K) was first on the scene and he rushed upstairs to Margaret’s room where the two men still were. He reported seeing Carthy pass the watch back to Collins who then lobbed it out of the window and ‘over the houses’, intent in getting rid of any evidence against him. He arrested both of them.

No one could find the watch. PC Coleman said they had searched for it but it might ‘have gone down the chimney of one of the houses’ and it was also likely that someone had picked it up and taken it for their own. He was convinced however, that the men were guilty as charged.

Mr Woolrych agreed and declared that ‘there never was a clearer case’. He told the pair that he would commit them for trial by jury and that they would be remanded in the meantime so further depositions could be taken. So it would seem that in this instance that the law was protecting the sex workers of East London (or at least, their property) from their wealthier clientele. It is not beyond possibility of course that Collins and Carthy were dupes. The case never came to Old Bailey and while it may well have been heard elsewhere it may also have been dropped if the men had found a way to pay off Ms Taylor. Perhaps then, what we see here was a more sophisticated form of robbery than it at first appears.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, July 16, 1863]

 

 

 

 

Indecency and rough behaviour spoil the tranquility of London’s Royal Parks

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One of the pleasures of London – as I was reminded by a good friend recently – is simply walking in the parks and taking in the everyday sights. On any day in London you can stroll in the Regent’s, Hyde or Green Park, enjoying an ice cream or a cold drink, and see ‘all sorts and conditions of men’ and women. There will be lycra clad cyclists; city businessmen with their suit jackets over their shoulders; kids rushing around and spooking the waterfowl; sun worshippers soaking up the rays; and elderly couples or sitting on benches reminiscing on life past.

The parks are one of London’s treasures: they are free and provide acres of green space  to counterbalance the emissions of millions of motorised vehicles. They have been places of  pleasure, exercise and, occasionally, political protest, for generations.

Hyde Park was originally a private hunting area acquired as such by Henry VIII in 1536. It first opened to the public in 1637 under Charles I, and in 1665 many Londoners sought sanctuary here from the plague that ravaged London in the reign of Charles II. The Serpentine was created in the 1730s, on the wishes of Queen Caroline, the consort of George II and by the early 1800s the park was used for public celebrations (much as Trafalgar Square was be used in the 20th century).

But London’s parks at night or at dusk offered a different sort of experience for some and caused considerable unease to others. In the 1880s rival gangs of youths from the  Marylebone area aggressively patrolled the boundaries of Regent’s Park searching for unwary members of each other’s ‘crews’, and prostitutes plied their trade in the darker, unlit parts where quick assignations were easy to keep from the prying eyes of the police.

Well, they were usually able to conceal their behaviour and many a policeman would have turned a blind eye to prostitution so long as there wasn’t a standing order to police it, or the people involved were not so blatant as to make it necessary for even the most discriminating of bobbies to intervene.

This seems to be what happened in early July 1869 and the indiscretion of the sex worker involved was compounded by the violent disorder displayed by her potential clients.

Police sergeant Martin (14A) was patrolling in Hyde Park near the Knightsbridge barracks when he saw several men noisy exchanging words (and worse) with a woman. The sergeant observed them and her to be acting ‘indecently’ (although we are not told exactly what this meant), and he moved over towards them to tell them to stop.

Quite sensibly the prostitute quickly made her escape, having no desire to be arrested, but the men decided to pick a fight with the police officer. They ‘made use of indecent language and put themselves in fighting attitude’. In other words they put up their fists as if to box with sergeant Martin.

When Martin attempted to tackle the nearest, a man named Joseph Tucker, he was wrestled to the ground and the other three men started kicking at him as he lay there. Luckily another policeman soon arrived and, with assistance of a passerby, he managed to rescue the sergeant and arrest his assailants.

All four men ended up in court before the Marlborough Street police magistrate the next day, charged with disorderly behaviour and assault. James Hunt, William Yardley, David Hodgman and Tucker represented themselves in court and none offered much by way of a defence, except to say the policeman attacked them first, which seems unlikely.

The man that had helped the stricken officer was there as well to give evidence. Mr Street, who was described as the manager of the Royal Exchange Association (an insurance firm) confirmed the policeman’s testimony and added his disquiet that members of the military, stationed nearby, seemed complicit on ‘setting the mob on the police’. The magistrate expressed his regret that the soldiers weren’t ‘before him’ so he could deal with them too. Several other witnesses came forward to support the police sergeant and insurance man’s evidence.

So it was a fairly straightforward case for Mr Tyrwhitt the magistrate. He handed down fines of 20to Hunt and Hodgman and 40 to Yardley, all with alternative custodial sentences if they failed to pay. As for Tucker, who seemed the ringleader and chief protagonist, he was sent to prison at hard labour for a months for the disorderly conduct and ‘two periods of twenty-one days for assaulting the police’. He warned all of them not to appear before him again, or the consequences would be severe.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, July 4, 1869]

A not so ‘jolly Jack’ at Bow Street

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The Police Courts of London were established in the late eighteenth century, after the passing of the Middlesex Justices Act (1792). The press reported the goings on at these courts from the start but their coverage in the early decades was patchy and much less regular than it became by the 1840s and 50s. It seems that the newspapers were working out how to use the information and stories that these summary courts provided. The tales of prosecuted thieves and fraudsters offered opportunities to demonstrate the efficacy (or otherwise) of the criminal justice system, to critique (or laud) the ‘New Police’, and, to alert Londoners to the threat posed by particular sorts of criminal.

However, the overriding purpose of publishing a half dozen or more of these daily reports from the Police ‘offices’ (as they were first called) or courts was entertainment. The everyday stories of ordinary folk, sometimes rendered in their own words or dialect, presented what we might now call a ‘Dickensian’ view of life in Victorian Britain.

This story, with its depiction of an Nelsonian Naval ‘hero’, is a good example of the court report as a entertaining distraction from the serious news that the papers contained.

In June 1830 the superintendent of Police, Mr Thomas, was at the Covent Garden watch house. These buildings were the forerunners of the police stations that were built following the establishment of the Metropolitan Police after 1829. The watch house was where the old watchmen set off from to patrol their beats and where those they arrested at night were brought back to to be charged or left to sober up.

On Wednesday morning (the 23 June) a sailor came into the watch house to make a complaint. He was a larger than life character and the Morning Post‘s reporter delighted in his representation of him for his readers. He described him as a ‘jolly-looking  weather-beaten tar, who came ‘tripping along with true sailor-like step’. He asked to be directed to the ‘captain’. In the watch house this meant the ‘super’, and Mr Thomas asked him what he wanted.

‘Your honour’, he began, ‘I am an old seaman and am come to you for redress’.

He went to explain that he had served his country for 15 years, seen many battles, including Navarino where he was part of the crew of the Asia. This battle, the last of the sailing ship age, had effectively decided the outcome of the War of Greek independence as the allied fleet (made up of Britain, France and Russia, led by Admiral Codrington) destroyed a superior Turkish one.

Navarino took place in 1827, and our hero had returned home some years later. He was ready to settle down it seems and, having ‘nothing particular to do’, he thought he’d travel to Windsor to ‘see the King, Lord protect him’. The king in question was George IV who was in the last few weeks of his reign at the time, because, on 26 June George died, at the age of 67. He was succeeded by the last Hanoverian king, his brother, William IV, who reigned for just under seven years.

In his patriotic fervour our unnamed sailor had made his way to Windsor and decided he liked it but that he needed a wife to complete his retirement from the sea.

He soon met up with a ‘jolly wench’ who’s name was ‘Fair-haired Poll’. It soon becomes clear that Poll was not your average Windsor maiden, but an experienced local prostitute who saw a sailor, recently discharged with deep pockets, as a profitable investment. The two soon became intimate.

The sailor told Mr Thomas: ‘I don’t like to be under any obligation, so I thought I’d buy her out and out’. They pair ‘struck a bargain’, and she was ‘his’ for ‘fifteen pounds’. They ‘got on comfortably well together’ at first, the tar explained, but he was getting bored in Windsor so decided to return to London.

‘So we tacked about, and got a-board a coach for town. Well, we comes to a place they call Piccadilly, or some such name, but my Poll thinks proper to bolt while I was treating the Jarvy, and she not only takes herself off but also £60 of my money, and all my toggery’.

So (to translate)  while the sailor had a drink with the coachman Poll ran off with his money and his trunk of clothes. Outraged, he headed for the nearest watch house to demand some help in finding her and his property. Mr Thomas, having listened to his tale brought him to Bow Street Police Court, to make a formal complaint.

There the magistrates sympathised with him (and were amused by the ‘naive style in which he presented it’) but could offer little real help. The man showed them several documents to prove he was who he said he was, but these were unnecessary, ‘as he completely embodied the appearance of a regular built tar’. He was told his best option was to return to Windsor as Poll would most probably have gone back to her old haunts.

The police superintendent promised to keep an eye out for her and his money but they all clearly thought it fairly useless. He was not the first ‘old salt’ to be separated from his prize money by a ‘privateer’ nor was he likely to be the last. Hopefully he found Poll in Windsor, if not then he was likely to end up as another of the hundreds of discharged seamen that struggled to survive in post-war nineteenth-century England.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, June 24, 1830]

Artists models raise an old lady’s hackles in 19th-century Fitzrovia

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Sarah Gibbons was an elderly resident of Charlotte Street, in what is known as Fitzrovia. Today it would be a smart London address, in the 1880s it was less genteel, but an area much frequented by artists. and Bohemians.

Sarah was in dispute with her neighbours across the road who she saw as noisy and disreputable. On the 8th May 1885 things had reached a point where she could stand it no longer and she left her house and crossed the road to number 98. There she was conformed by her nemesis, the much younger Maggie Jennings.

When she saw Sarah the younger woman called inside to her ‘creatures’ (as Sarah later described them in the Marlborough Street Police Court), who came running out into the hallway.

According to Sarah they then assaulted her violently:

Maggie ‘and another woman, rushed out of the room and struck her, scratched her, and tore her bonnet, and it was with difficulty that she stopped herself from going headlong into the the kitchen below’. Sarah told the sitting justice that Jennings and orchestrated the attack, calling on her friends to join in.

Where was the landlord in all this, she was asked. He was present but Sarah had no immediate blame for him in this instance, however she clearly held him responsible for  keeping the sort of house he did. She declared that she would happily have ”jumped him’ if she had been able, drawing laughter from the court.

Miss Jennings’ solicitor denied the facts as presented and said his client had been the victim not the aggressor. The court was told that Miss Jennings was an artist’s model with a ‘good connection’. Indeed, ‘ladies’ went there to have drawing classes and several artists regally called on the women who lived there, in a professional capacity. It may have been the noise these men made that caused Mrs Gibbons such consternation he suggested, but it wasn’t his client or her friends that were to blame.

The landlord also appeared and spoke up for his tenants, describing them as ‘respectable’ models and adding that it was indeed Sarah Gibbons who had landed the first blow in this fight, not Maggie.

This infuriated the old lady even further and throwing up her hands she made to leave the courtroom. ‘Models indeed!’ she exclaimed. ‘Do they take models in the dark?’, suggesting perhaps that while the men did have  professional relationship with the women, it wasn’t one based on the pure practice of ‘art’, but prostitution. This would have opened the landlord up to a possible charge of running a brothel or at least an unruly house and so the magistrate adjourned the hearing to wait for the report of the policeman that had attended to the assault incident.

A couple of days later the court reconvened the case and a police inspector reported that he had visited the property. He, and PC French who had responded to the disturbance on the 8th, both testified that ‘all the inmates were respectable persons’.

Mr Cooke, the magistrate, now turned his attention to Sarah Gibbons. He told that he was going to dismiss the charge because she had no right to have entered the property in the first place. If she wished to bring a complaint then she should have proceeded through the proper channels, and not taken the law into her own hands.

As she opened her mouth to say something the justice shut her up, and said ‘he would not hear any more’. Maggie Jennings was free to go, without a stain on her character and this verdict was met ‘with loud applause’ from those in court.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, May 25, 1885; The Morning Post , Wednesday, May 27, 1885]

A policeman brought to book – for assaulting an ‘unfortunate’

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Springtime in St James’ Park, London, c.1849

By the end of the 19th century most of the cases brought before the Police magistrates of the capital were initiated by the police themselves. This seems to have developed gradually from the 1830s as the ‘new police’ grew into their role after 1829. In the 1700s prosecution had been victim-led and, while this persisted throughout the 1800s, the presence of the ‘boys in the blue’ on the streets inevitably led to them prosecuting in court those they had arrested on their beats.

Maria Fenton was one of those arrested and charged in court on the word of a policeman. But in her case there was some doubt and it led to the copper himself having to answer some awkward questions about his professional conduct.

In March 1849 Maria was walking in St James’ Park, near Buckingham Palace when she was stopped by two policemen. In was very early in the morning, ‘before day break’ she told the sitting justice at Bow Street; she’d had a drink but swore she wasn’t drunk.

The press reporter described as an ‘unfortunate girl’ – Victorian code for a young prostitute. The police would have assumed that Maria was a prostitute, for what other reason would a working-class woman have to be wandering around the park in the early hours of a cold March morning?

One of the policemen, PC Pike (A224), told the court that he had arrested her because she was ‘creating a disturbance and [was] using disgusting language’. When he had given his testimony however, his inspector came forward to say that another officer, PC Whitty (A210) wished to speak on behalf of the defendant. Whitty told the Bow Street court that it was Pike who was in wrong, not the girl and so the magistrate turned the case on its head. Pike left the court and returned some short time afterwards, dressed in civilian clothes and was placed in the dock accused of assaulting  Maria and falsely arresting her.

Maria now gave her account. She accused Pike of swearing at her; called her a ‘b___h’ and pushing her over onto the ground in the park. When he pulled herself to her feet he sent her tumbling gain, but she got a good look at him and took a note of his number. Pike then called her ‘a hag’ and threatened to ‘lock her up’. When she continued to argue with him he took her into custody and ‘dragged her to the station’.

Back at the police station Whitty told Pike that if this came to court he would speak the truth, in favour of the girl. Pike replied that he ‘was a bl___y fool, and that if the sergeant got to hear of it they should all get into a row’. He corroborated Maria’s evidence in front of the magistrate and added that she had said nothing at all until his colleague had picked on her.

Not surprisingly Pike defended himself and said he would never have arrested the girl if she hadn’t been making such a noise, ‘screaming and making a disturbance’. Yes, he admitted, he had called her ‘a drunken beast’ but that was the extent of his ‘abuse’ of her. He called two other policemen, A226 and A229, both of whom backed his account, not Whitty’s. They said they had heard ‘the woman creating a great disturbance, using awful language, and attempting to escape from Pike, who was taking her to the station-house’.

The magistrate had now heard both sides, with supporting evidence from police officers and he had a hard decision to make. Should he believe PC Pike and the two other policemen, or should he listen to PC Whitty and the word of a young woman who by her own testimony was clearly not ‘respectable’?

In the end he did what we might not have expected him to do; he sided with PC Whitty and the girl. However, he chose to apply some leniency to Pike who had been with A Division for six months. He told Pike that legislation (unspecified here) allowed him to impose a prison sentence, but he had no need to take such drastic action. He could instead impose a fine of up to £10 and he set this at £5 (or a month’s imprisonment). The report doesn’t state which option Pike (whom I imagine was unlikely to have been able to continue in the force – at least not at A Division) chose.

I suspect this was a very rare example of police misconduct (as the justice described it) being dealt with publicly. But in 1849 the ‘new’ police were still very new and were the subject of debate and no little criticism. Perhaps the capital’s most senior magistrate (at Bow Street) was minded to take account of this prevailing attitude and nip bad police behaviour in the bud whenever he could.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, March 4, 1849]

Casual violence: an everyday occupational hazard for London’s ‘unfortunates’

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In late February 1865 Elizabeth Smith and Emma Harrington were standing at the corner of Gardener’s Lane at one in the morning. Clearly the two women were prostitutes although they were later referred to in court as ‘unfortunates’. Smith was particularly ‘unfortunate’ that night because she was about to become the victim of a nasty attack by a soldier.

Corporal Cornelius Ford, of the 1st battalion Scots Fusilier Guards, approached the girls and demanded to know if Smith knew the address of a woman he was looking for. When Elizabeth replied that she couldn’t help him he flew into a rage.

He said ‘You lie you _____’ and struck her, knocking her to the floor. Then he drew his bayonet and stabbed her just above the eye, causing her to ‘become insensible’. This was according to the evidence given to the policeman that attended and arrested the corporal; the wounded woman was taken to hospital.

Police constable Aitchison (PC A1) had already encountered Ford and the two street girls, they had been arguing and he had told the soldier to be on his way quietly. He ran back to the scene when he had heard Emma shout ‘murder!’ – the standard alarm for any attack in Victorian London it seems.

He removed the bayonet from the soldier’s hand and returned it to the scabbard at his belt before calling a colleague to take the woman to hospital and conveying his charge to the police station.

At Bow Street Police Court Ford was charged with assault and denied drawing his weapon or attacking Smith. Instead he accused her of trying to steal his watch. He suggested she was the aggressor and that she had run into a nearby pub, grabbed a pint pot, and came out and tried to hit him with it. As she did so she fell and that was how she cut her head.

His sergeant appeared in court to back him up by giving him and excellent character reference. Sergeant Parsons added that corporals were entitled to carry their bayonets when off duty, something that the magistrate felt was a mistake. Mr Henry noted that this ‘was one of the dangers of letting men wear their bayonets’. There ‘is no doubt that he used’ it and because of that, he added, he had to ‘go before a jury’.

In 1888 another street walker, this time in Whitechapel, was stabbed multiple times by a person or persons unknown. She was Martha Tabram (or Turner) and at the time two off duty guardsmen were suspected. It is quite likely (but hard to prove) that Martha was an early victim of ‘Jack the Ripper’.

‘Jack’ wasn’t around in 1865 however, when this case was heard. Corporal Ford would have been sent to the Middlesex Sessions that year, for a jury to decide if he was guilty of the assault on Elizabeth. I doubt he would have been convicted; it is more likely the ‘respectable’ men of the jury would have sided with a servant of the Queen than with a common ‘unfortunate’.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, February 23, 1861]