‘Lazy’? ‘Good-for-nothing’? Or economic migrants with a dream of a better life?

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Frederick William Turner was described in the Southwark Police Court as a ‘singular-looking young fellow’ but also (by the magistrate), as a ‘lazy good-for-nothing’. What was it that Frederick had done to earn such a condemnation from Mr Burcham?

His ‘crime’ was dodging his fare on the railway. To be precise Turner had travelled from Portsmouth to London without paying. He had fallen asleep in a second-class carriage and when he was rudely awakened by a ticket inspector (Anthony Coleman) he ‘fumbled about in his pockets’ before telling the inspector ‘he had neither ticket nor money’.

Coleman grabbed him and marched him to the office of the station superintendent for him to deal with. There he admitted having no money, and no intention of ever paying for the ride. The superintendent recognised the lad as someone he had caught fare dodging not long ago. Indeed, six months previously Turner had made the same journey to London, had been caught without a ticket or the means to pay and was imprisoned for seven days because he (fairly obviously) didn’t have the 10s to pay a fine instead.

Now Frederick found himself once again before ‘the beak’ and got little sympathy from the bench. Mr Burcham asked him to defend himself but all Frederick said was that it was true. He had come up from Portsmouth to look for work in London. He didn’t have the fare, presumably because he was poor and out of work.

Instead of admiring his desire to find work (as Norman Tebbit might have done, despite the implicit criminality) Mr Burcham was clearly outraged that the lad had demonstrated that he had learnt nothing from his previous brush with the law.

He had ‘no right to defraud the railway by travelling on their line’, he told him. Fred’s response was to say that he had ‘tried to walk up but could not on account of the heat’. It was the height of summer after all and a particularly hot one. A temperature of 100.5 degree Fahrenheit (38 C) was recorded in Kent in July of that year, so the young man was not exaggerating.

Regardless of this Mr Burcham condemned him as ‘lazy’ when it seems apparent he was anything but. We might excuse his attempt to evade his fare if his higher purpose was to gain employment in the capital, but the magistrate couldn’t or wouldn’t. He handed down another 10s fine which the lad would not be able to pay and so, for the second time that year, Frederick Turner found himself in prison.

I have no idea how or if he then made his way back to Portsmouth from London, or whether he served his week inside and found work and digs in the capital. At some point in the middle of the nineteenth century an ancestor of mine made his way to London from Maney in the fens of Cambridgeshire looking for work after the agricultural depression.  He stayed and survived and started a line of family members that includes me. I’ve no idea whether he saved his pennies to pay for  ticket on the new railway line or not; perhaps he hid in a wagon or kept out of there way of the inspector.

He was more fortunate, it would seem, than Frederick Turner, but both young men had the same goal in mind: to make a new life in the city that consumed so many migrants fro so many parts of Britain and the Empire. I think to describe such people as ‘lazy’ or ‘good-for-nothing’ does them a deep disservice.

[from Morning Post, Saturday 1 August 1868]

An excitable militia man and the shadow of Napoleon III

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In mid July 1859 there was something of a panic about a potential French invasion of Britain. This had been stirred up by the press after Louis Napoleon had become Emperor Napoleon III in 1852 and had operated as an autocrat for the first six or so years of his reign. As Louis Napoleon (the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), he had been elected president in 1848 but had seized power in a coup d’etat when he was denied the opportunity to run for a second term.

Invasion fears may well have prompted some in England to enlist in the army or the local militias. The latter were not ‘proper’ soldiers although they played an important role in defending the state throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. They never enjoyed the popularity that the Navy or Army did however, even in the hey day of Victorian militarism.

In July 1859 Reynold’s Newspaper reported several views from other papers about the situation in France. Reynold’s was notably more radical than many of its competitors and often served an audience that was more plebeian in character. The Morning Advertiser warned that ‘the country is in imminent danger of invasion from the ruler of France’ and a force of over 100,000 men. The Daily News wrote of ‘Louis Napoleon’s perfidy’ and noted that the governments ‘of Europe regard him with increased suspicion and dislike’. Even the sober Times claimed that ‘war and peace hang by a thread’.

Meanwhile in Bethnal Green the over excited militia seem to have been trying out their martial skills on the local passers-by.

On Monday 18 July an iron merchant named James Webster appeared in court to complain about a brutal assault he had suffered on the previous Saturday evening. Webster, who worked at premises in Digby Street, stood in the witness box at Worship with his head bandaged in black cloth.

He told Mr D’Eyncourt, the sitting magistrate, that he was on his way home from work at about half past 5 o’clock when he encountered several members of the Tower Hamlets Militia. They might have been a bit ‘tipsy’ he said, but he wasn’t sure. One of them threw a hat at him which hit him in the face and fell to the floor. He reacted by kicking it out of his way and carryied on walking.

As he went a few yards he felt a ‘heavy blow’ on the back of his neck, which knocked him off his feet. He got up and grabbed hold of the man he thought was to blame, a militia private by the name of Charles Lowe. As the two grappled others joined in and he described a scene of chaos with several men rolling around on the ground before he was overpowered and subjected to what seems to have been a pretty brutal kicking.

Webster told Mr D’Eyncourt that:

‘As I lay on the ground I was beaten and kicked so badly about the body that I am covered all over with bruises and cannot lie down with ease, and also, while I lay on the ground’ a woman had ‘somehow got her ear into my mouth and so nearly bit the upper part of it off that it only hung by a mere thread, and I have been since obliged to have it sewn on’.

This woman was Anne Sherrard who was described as married and living in Old Ford, a poor area of Bethnal Green associated with the new industries on the River Lea and the railways. Both Ann and Charles Lowe appeared in court to answer the charges against them.

Mr D’Eyncourt clearly thought this was a particularly serious assault because he chose not to deal with it summarily, as most assaults were, but instead sent it on for jury trial at the next sessions.  He noted for the record that:

‘This is a most brutal assault and it is high time that these raw recruits should be taught better; men like these fancy that as soon as they have a soldier’s coat they must commence fighting someone immediately, whereas an actual soldier would not be guilty of such infamous conduct’.

D’Eyncourt then was drawing a clear line between the professionals and the amateurs and finding the latter a much poorer specimen overall. History tells us that there was no invasion in 1859 or indeed ever again in British history to date. Had there been we might have been able to see how private Lowe and his companions fared when confronted by a real enemy rather than a perceived one. As for Napoleon III, his reign was the longest in French history after 1789 but came to the end in ignominious defeat by the Prussians at the battle of Sedan in September 1870. He ended up living out the rest of his life in England, but not as an all conquering victor but as a former head of state in exile.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, July 24, 1859]

This one is for Bill and Jim, and their family – I can only think that Charles must have been a very distant relative, and not at all like his modern ancestors.

An argument over what was written on the side of a bus lands the conductor in court.

Blackwall Viaduct 1843

Blackwall viaduct, 1843

In late June 1850 Lady Lennard was travelling with her steward, Mr Parrott, on a London omnibus towards The Blackwall Railway. They had picked this ‘bus in particular because it advertised the railway as its destination. This was made quite clear, they thought, because the words ‘Blackwall Railway’ were ‘conspicuously painted on a board in the form of a board immediately over the door’ of the vehicle.

Mr Parrott had handed the conductor Lady Lennard’s bags and he had deposited them in a storage area and set off. However, when the ‘bus reached Fenchurch Street and the end of Railway Place, it stopped. The conductor told the pair that ‘he did not go any further’.

Now Fenchchurch Street is not remotely close to where the Blackwall Railway station (on the Docklands Light Railway line) is today, nor was it in 1850. In fact it was just over 3 miles from the Fenchurch Street terminus of the London and Blackwall Railway. The conductor presumably believed that the omnibus’ sign was self explanatory; they transported passengers to Fenchurch Street (which served the London and Blackwall railway) , but Lady Lennard’s train went from Blackwall Station, close by the River Thames, so she wasn’t happy.

With bags to carry and being and three miles from her destination, Lady Lennard was not inclined to pay for her ride, and so refused. The conductor promptly seized her luggage and said he would not return it without his fare, throwing them ‘down with violence’, onto the pavement. Mrs Lennard strode off towards the station, with her lady’s maid in two.

Meanwhile Mr Parrott tried to reason with the driver, to little effect. He was met with a mouthful of invective which attracted the attention of a police constable. He hurried after Lady Lennard and advised her to pay the fare, retrieve her luggage and then summons the conductor for his poor behaviour.

As a result the whole sorry affair ended up before the alderman magistrate at the Guildhall Police who took a very dim view of the conductor’s attitude.

In his defence the conductor, who was not named in court, said ‘he was not bound to take luggage, but having done so, it to it to the station’. He had gone to the station and and onto railway property, if the lady was unhappy she should take it up with his master, he was simply obeying his instructions.

The magistrate was unimpressed. He didn’t accept the conductor’s argument that he wasn’t obliged to carry luggage. If that was the case then he shouldn’t have accepted it, or crazed an extra fee for it. Nor was he in agreement that ‘going on to railway property was the same as going to the railway, as the direction on the omnibus indicated’.

There were two offences here, he added, both liable under the relevant act of parliament. He was minded to make an example for he conductor and fined him the large sum of 40s, 20 for each offence, plus costs. If the conductor chose not to, or was unable to pay then he could instead go to prison for two months.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, June 30, 1851]

“Let me see the Queen, I know who the ‘Ripper’ is!”

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In the years following the murders of several women in Whitechapel in 1888, rumours of ‘Jack the Ripper’ continued to haunt the capital. The police investigation remained open because no one was conclusively proven to be the killer and he was assumed to have remained at large, if dormant. The discovery of a human torso in Pinchin Street in 1889 and then the murder of Frances Coles (in February 1891) fuelled popular fears that the murderer was still active in the East End.

In March 1890 a man presented himself at Buckingham Palace and demanded to see the Queen. A policeman on duty (constable 64A) told the Westminster Police Court that at 4 o’clock on the 18 March Charles Cooper , a ‘well-dressed’ railway sub-contractor, had walked up to the gates of the palace asking to be admitted.

He told the officer that his ‘particular business with her majesty was to inform her where “Jack the Ripper” was to be found, and where he had had his photograph taken’.

When he was refused entry he tried to force his way past the guards and was arrested. At Westminster he was charged with being a ‘lunatic at large’.

In court his wife told Mr D’Eyncourt (the magistrate) that her husband ‘had been drinking to excess lately’, and three weeks ago, when ‘quite out of his mind’, he was taken to the workhouse at Edmonton. Clearly Cooper was suffering from some form of mental illness and perhaps the ‘Ripper’ panic had exacerbated this.

He repeated his desire to talk to Queen Victoria but Mr D’Eyncourt ignored him and instead remanded him in custody for a week.

I’ve looked forward to see if Cooper reappeared in the pages of the London press but he doesn’t. The  provincial papers carried the same story – lifted word for word from The Standard – but I can see no record of him resurfacing at Westminster (which he must have done).

Sadly, the most likely outcome for Charles was that he was either readmitted to the workhouse or sent to one of London’s ‘lunatic’ asylums, such as the one near me at Colney Hatch. If he was sent to Colney Hatch then he may even have met one of those suspected of being the elusive serial killer – David Cohen, a ‘homicidal lunatic’ identified by Dr Scott Bonn in 2014.

[from The Standard, Thursday, March 20, 1890]

Smokers rights championed in the 1870s

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The new Paddington railway station, c.1866-70

Mr D’Eyncourt had only just taken his seat on the bench at the Marylebone Police Court when his first hearing of the day presented itself. It was late January 1871 and Mr Michael Pope, a solicitor from Great James Street, Bedford Row, requested that the magistrate issue him with a summons to bring in the directors of the Great Western Railway.

He cited statute law (31 and 32 Vic. cap.119, sec.20) which stated that all railway companies (excepting the Metropolitan underground railway) were obliged to provided smoking carriages for ‘each class of passengers’.

Smoking has of course been banned entirely on all British railways since 2007 but in the 19th century no such prohibition was in place. However, it was clearly ‘not the done thing’ to smoke in a compartment that was not labelled as ‘smoking’. Here is the advice from a contemporary etiquette guide:

‘One may smoke in a railway-carriage in spite of by-laws, if one has first obtained the consent of every one present; but if there be a lady there, though she give her consent, smoke not. In nine cases out of ten, she will give it from good-nature. One must never smoke in a close carriage; one may ask and obtain leave to smoke when returning from a picnic or expedition in an open carriage’.

                                                               The Habits of Good Society (1864)

Mr Pope recounted the story his daily commute from Ealing to Paddington, and at how he had walked the length of the train looking for a ‘second-class’ smoking carriage but could not find one. The guard directed him to a carriage but as it did not say ‘smoking’ and there were several occupants already, he did not lite up.

He wanted to summon the directors because he felt they were as much in breach of the law in not providing separate spaces for smokers as the ‘poor persons’ who were bring fined for smoking where they should not.

The magistrate said he couldn’t sympathise (as he wasn’t  smoker) and he couldn’t help as a summons would be of no use. The law was not a compulsion but a direction; the railways were encouraged to provide separate coaches but they were not compelled to do so. It would be  waste of time summoning them to court. Better instead that Mr. Pope wrote to them directly, as Mr. D’Eyncourt was sure they would ‘see into the matter’.

The solicitor went off grumbling that there was little point in a law that had no effect and presumably lit is pipe (or cigar) as soon as he was outside.

Nowadays we are getting used to smoke-free environments and there is no obligation for companies to provide their employees or the public with smoking areas , although they do exist (often at airports). ASH (Action on Smoking & Health) continue to campaign for restrictions on smoking on health grounds. By contrast Forest campaigns on behalf of the smoker, and oppose blanket bans.

Whatever your personal standpoint (and I’m a reformed smoker glad of the cleaner air around me) it is interesting to see that this debate has bene going on for a long time. I don’t want to share my railway carriage with a single or group of active smokers, and nor did my Victorian ancestors. Do I think the railway companies should provide a coach for those that want to smoke? Yes, if they can provide enough alternative space so the rest of us can actually find seat on a rain that runs to time for once.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, February 01, 1871]

A Railway enthusiast escapes a fine for putting the flags out

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Frederick Marriott was the publisher of a contemporary magazine entitled the Railway Bell. Thus far I have been unable to find out much about this paper but it is probably reasonable to say that it carried information about the railways, which, in 1844, would still have been a fairly ‘new’ thing.

London had got its first railway in 1836 (Bermondsey to Deptford) but the 1840s saw a ‘boom’ in railway building. Bradshaw’s Descriptive Guide to the London & South Western Railway (THE guidebook for the Victorian and Edwardian train devotee) was first published in the 1840s so perhaps Marriott’s was an early rival.

Mr Marriott certainly knew a thing or two about publicity and marketing and in late October 1844, when a Royal procession was expected, he determined to make sure everyone had heard of the Railway Bell.

The publisher had a huge flag ‘measuring forty feet by twenty’ suspended from his property on the Strand so that it spanned the road below. The police had been called as several people had complained that the flag (described as merely ‘a puff for the establishment’ –  in other words nothing more than a giant advert for his business) – was flapping in the autumn minds and frightening passing horses.

Not only that but when Queen Victoria’s coach passed under the flag the noise it was making drowned out the voices of the local ‘parish children’ as they attempted to sing the National Anthem.

Marriott was summoned to court where he was defended by his brief, Mr Clarkson. The prosecution were able to bring plenty of witnesses to testify that the flag was a nuisance, and that it had stayed in place for days after the procession – being ripped to threads by the wind. But no one could actually pin the blame on Marriott for installing it.

Much to the obvious dissatisfaction of the prosecuting counsel and the magistrate at Bow Street (Mr Jardine) it seemed there was little that could be done. However Jardine did warn the court that the police would be fully justified in taking into custody ‘any person who suspended it [the flag] again’ and that they would face the full weight of the law if it came before him. He then dismissed the case against Marriott who presumably went back to his office rather pleased with himself.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, November 08, 1844]

A case of mistaken identity in a tunnel, or a very adept thief?

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Mr Richard Chorley of Seymour Place , Bryanston Square (an elegant address in Westminster) was traveling back to London on the Paddington train from Taunton. At Bristol a respectably dressed young woman seated herself next to  Chorley and ‘leant against his side’.

As the Great Western train entered a tunnel shortly after Bristol Mr Chorley had placed his handkerchief on his knee. It was early in the morning (about 4 o’clock) and much of the carriage was asleep. When the train emerged from the tunnel the handkerchief was gone, someone must have taken it and Chorley suspected his neighbour.

Her name was Miss Maria Williams and Chorley asked her directly if she had removed it. She denied it but on arrival at Paddington he handed her over to the authorities to be searched. Nothing was found but he was convinced she had something to do with the theft.

The next day Chorley and Miss Williams were in the Marylebone Police Court where he charged her with sealing his property. The railway had its own police and one of them (Chillman, No’ 13) appeared to give his evidence of having searched her to no effect. Miss Williams told the court that there were ’25 to 30′ persons in the carriage she and Chorley has shared, so anyone of them might have taken his item.

She protested her innocence and complained at the way she had been treated, as well she might. The magistrate discharged her but she hinted darkly that she might be seeking compensation for the trouble she had suffered at Mr Chorley’s hands.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, August 22, 1845]