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]

 

 

 

 

The polluter pays in an early version of the ‘clean air’ act.

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On Friday, July 6 1855, a foreman operating one of the companies of river boats on the Thames appeared in court at Bow Street. Henry Styles was charged under an Act for the Prevention of Smoke in the Metropolis (or more properly, the Smoke Nuisance Abatement (Metropolis) Act 1853), which was the first attempt to tackle the problem of air pollution in the UK.

The company Styles worked for ran ‘halfpenny steam-boast’ between London Bridge and the Adelphi (or what would now be the Embankment) so their route is replicated today by the modern Thames Clippers. Styles explained that he was in court on behalf of the captain of the Curlew, the boat that had been accused of breaking the terms of the act. He told the Bow Street justice, Mr Jardine, that he would be pleading guilty to the charge.

Mr Bodkin, the counsel for the prosecution, was not content to let the matter rest however because, as he went to explain, this was not the first time that the Curlew’s captain, Thomas Shearman, had broken the law in this regard.

‘the boat in question had repeatedly been cautioned before any proceedings were taken…  [but still] the nuisance was permitted to continue, and thick volumes of black smoke were suffered to escape from the funnel in open defiance of the law, to the disgust and annoyance of all whose avocations took them to the vicinity of the river’.

Moreover, Bodkin, continued, none of this was necessary. A ‘very simple apparatus’ used by other steam boats that worked the river could have been deployed on the Curlew.  The company had even fitted it to some of their other vessels but not this one. So the captain could not plead ignorance, or argue that nothing could be done. The act had been in place for over a year and so their was simply no excuse for non-compliance with it.

The foreman agreed and said they had been experimenting with a device but so far it wasn’t working properly. The only way they could avoid the noxious smoke that polluted the river was to ‘use more expensive coal’, and they evidently didn’t want to do that all the time.

They were evading the act and hoping they wouldn’t get caught and having found themselves in court they tried to ‘come clean’ and hope for mitigation. In doing so they probably avoided a heavy fine as Mr Jardine imposed one of just £3, at the bottom end of the scale available to him. Styles was warned that the nuisance must stop however, or further charges and penalties would follow.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, July 07, 1855]

Sad tales from the Police courts, and the hunt for the men that shot a policeman hots up.

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Islington High Street, c.1890

On June 27 1884 The Morning Post reported on several London’s police courts as well as updating their readers on an ongoing story concerning the shooting of a policeman. At Southwark a man named Hill was brought up for the second time, having been remanded on a charge of fraud. Hill had supposedly cashed fake cheques on at least two separate individuals for over £15 a time. That might not sound like much but a rough calculation for 1884 makes that around £700 in today’s money. The magistrate further remanded him for the Public Prosecutor to get involved.

At Westminster an Irish woman named Catherine Fagan was accused of begging but the case touched on her supposed involvement with the cause of Irish Nationalism. A membership card for the “W. P. Boyton” branch of the Irish National Land League was found in her possession. The INLL championed the rights of poor tenant farmers in Ireland and it was hardly a revolutionary organisation, but the 1880s were a difficult decade for Anglo-Irish relations, and saw several Fenian terrorist attacks in England (as I’ve written about previously on this blog). Fagan was eventually allowed to go, with some charity from the poor box.

But the story that touched me this morning concerned another woman in distress, Sarah Ann Cocksedge. Sarah Ann was presented at Lambeth Police Court charged with attempting to take her own life. This was, as I’ve written about on several occasions, a sadly regular charge before the magistracy. Even more tragic of course, was the fairly routine discovery of drowned bodies floating in or washed up on the banks of the River Thames. London was an unforgiving and hard place to live in the 1800s and Victorian society’s understanding of mental illness was far from as advanced as our own is.

Sarah Ann had tried to take a poison, ‘spirits of salts’ (which is hydrochloric acid) but had been prevented. In custody she told a policeman that she wanted to kill herself because  had been asked her to cover up the death of an infant child.

She said a ‘former mistress had given her a child to get rid of, which she had put into a garden (mentioning the place) and this had preyed on her mind’.

A detective from CID appeared in court to say that he had enquired into her claims but had been unable to substantiate them. The chaplain of the goal that had been holding her since her suicide attempt sent a letter to the court asking the justice to remand her back into his care, as he felt he could help her find a new home.

Sarah Ann continued to declare that she had spoken the truth regarding the dead child but it seems no one wanted to listen. She was again remanded and sent back to prison.

Finally, the paper reported that the police were closing in on two men wanted for shooting a police constable in Islington. PC Chamberlain had been shot in Park Street, ‘whilst in pursuit of two men suspected go burglary’. They had got away and the constable was injured, but not fatally it was thought. Two days later it was reported that he was ‘somewhat better’ and that the manhunt was focused on Hampstead.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, June 27, 1884]

The perils of being a ‘known thief’

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Steam boats at Old Swan Pier, near London Bridge

After 1869 there was a change to the law. This was one of the long term consequences of the moral panic surrounding ‘garrotting’ (a form of violent street robbery) that occurred in London in 1862. The Habitual Offenders Act (1869) saw the creation of a register of prisoners who had been convicted. This included taking details of their physical features and photographing them. In 1871 the act was modified so that it was now limited to all those sentenced to a month or more in prison. The registers are held by the National Archives at Kew and and will be a part of a new historical online database, the Digital Panopticon.

Before that the court had no official record of previous offenders although there were plenty of instances where a person’s criminal record dogged them through the justice system. From the 1750s the Bow Street police office, run by Sir John Fielding (the ‘blind beak’) had attempted to create its own database of London’s criminals. Their early efforts were destroyed by fire in the Gordon Riots of 1780, and subsequent records were lost to history when the office moved to a new building in the late 1800s.

Many constables, watchmen, gaolers, and magistrates could however identify persons who had appeared on more than one occasion but this was limited by memory and geography. If, for example, a defendant was brought up before the magistrate at Bow Street and convicted and sentenced to, say, a month in the house of correction, on release he would ‘disappear’. If he was arrested and brought before the justice at Worship Street (in the East End) then he may have been unknown to them.

It was then, as it is now, the case that repeat or persistent offenders were likely to receive a stiffer sentence, or at least not get the benefit of the doubt when it came to conviction. So we can see the benefits to the authorities of a systematic system of identifying known criminals. By contrast we can also see why it was in the interests of thieves to try to pretend they were first offenders by denying previous convictions (that might be hard to prove) or by using alias, which many did.

The John Cox that appeared at the Mansion House Police Court in June 1866 was described in the papers as ‘a well known thief’. He was brought up on a charge of robbing a young lady named Elizabeth Gallagher, on Old Swan Pier as she waited for a steam boat by London Bridge.

He was seen ‘dipping’ her pocket by an officer named Henwick, who may have been City policeman or more likely someone working for the steam ship company. Henwick acted quickly and arrested Cox before he could make his escape, and told him there was no use him denying what he’d done.

In the Mansion House court Cox’s luck went from bad to worse as the gaoler of Coldbath Fields prison rose to give evidence. He told the presiding magistrate, Alderman Gabriel, that he knew the prisoner of old. Cox had served time in the prison for being a rogue and a vagabond and had also been sentenced to three years penal servitude at the Middlesex Sessions.

As a result, instead of dealing with him summarily by awarding a short prison sentence, the alderman fully committed Cox for trial. As he was a taken down Cox turned his anger on the gaoler, warning that he ‘would be “down on him” [at] the first opportunity’, and was led away muttering curses to the cells.

Cox was clearly guilty of the crime but the consequences of being identified as a repeat offender: as someone who had not learned his lesson previously, was severe. On 9 July 1866 he pleaded guilty to picking the pocket of Elizabeth Gallagher and was sent to prison for seven years.

Cox was listed at 23 years of age in 1866. In 1874 another man, also named John Cox (aged 35) was convicted at the Bailey of housebreaking. Listed as a previously convicted felon he was sent down for ten years. Was this the same John Cox? There is a slight difference in age (3-4 years) but it is not impossible. Cox would have been out of gaol by 1874 and would have found it very hard to gain legitimate paid employment. He may also have made acquaintances inside that would have helped him ‘progress’ from the smaller crime of picking pockets to the more serious one of breaking into someone’s home or business.

There is an alternative outcome however. In 1879 a John Cox was convicted with another man, William Price, of stealing 20 ‘dead soles’. The pair pleaded guilty and Cox was shown to have been convicted in 1870 and a further five charges were heard and proved against him. He was sentenced to 8 years.

I suspect one of these cases (but not both) was our man. From 1869 or 1871 onwards we could be clearer if we checked the Register created in the wake of the garrotting panic. That is an exercise for another day but is the sort of exercise the Digital Panopticon project was created to make possible, the tracing of criminal ‘careers’ and lives of those sentenced at London’s Central Criminal court.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, June 23, 1866]

Footnote: yesterday I received my copy of a new volume about the history of crime. A Companion to the History of Crime and Criminal Justice (edited by Jo Turner, Paul taylor, Sharon Morley and Karen Corteen) is published by the Polity Press and is full of short articles about criminal justice history across the 18th and 19th centuries. It features a short entry by your truly (on the Whitechapel Murders of 1888) and is an excellent companion to my own text book covering the period from 1660-1914

A morbid request for a reward reminds London of the Princess Alice disaster

 

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For those of you following this blog regularly and especially this week I hope you can see that I have tried to follow the ‘doings’ of the Thames Police Court for a whole week. Due the selective reporting of the courts however, this has not proved possible. I had hoped to be able to follow a couple of remanded cases, to see them reappear with some conclusion reached, but sadly this hasn’t happened. It all helps me understand though, just how selective the reportage was and suggest readers were more interested in a variety of ‘titbits’ about the courts than they were in finding out exactly what occurs in each court on a regular basis.

Historical research is always problematic and we can learn from what we can’t find almost as much as we learn from what we do. There is also the unexpected gobbets of information that the newspapers offer, that can open up new avenues for research and understanding, there were two of these today.

On the 66th anniversary of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo the Standard newspaper chose to concentrate on two cases from the Woolwich Police Court. In the first a ‘reputed lunatic’, James Peacock, was sent for trial by jury for allegedly stealing rockets from the Royal Arsenal.

The other case concerned a boy who had summoned the overseers of the poor at Woolwich for non-payment of a reward he was due. The reward was for recovering a dead body from the Thames and this linked the police courts to a tragedy that had occurred three years earlier, in September 1878.

On the evening of the 3 September the Princess Alice, a pleasure steamer loaded with passengers, was passing the shore at Tipcock Point, North Woolwich, when it collided with another vessel, a collier barge, the Bywell Castle. The Alice went down in just four minutes, dragging its terrified passengers into the polluted river. Over 650 people, men , women and children, drowned in the river and the loss of life was shocking.

The tragedy lasted long in local and national memory and must have impacted Londoners in particular. Liz Stride, one of the victims of ‘Jack the Ripper’ even claimed she had lost her husband on the Princess Alice, a claim that doesn’t seem to have much substance.  Stride might have been trying to get some charitable relief following the disaster, as several institutions, including the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House Fund, paid out to victims’ families.

Appearing in Woolwich on behalf of the Overseers of the poor, Mr Moore a relieving officer, said that the Overseers or the Guardians were normally quite happy to pay out for the recovery of bodies from the river. The boy also had a certificate from a coroner saying he was entitled to the money, so that seemed settled, but it wasn’t.

Mr Moore  told the court that a recent ruling at the Court of Queen’s Bench that in the case of the Princess Alice there was no actual law that gave authority for the paying of rewards. The Thames, he explained, was not included as part of “the sea”, which was what the original reward referred to. The magistrate, Mr Marsham grumbled that he couldn’t see how the two were not connected; after all the Thames was a tidal river which seemed to bring it within the act. Nevertheless he was bound to abide by the superior courts’ ruling and he dismissed the summons.

However, apparently the case was being discussed in parliament he was told, and so the lad (not named in the report) was advised to hang onto his certificate in the hope that the situation was eventually resolved to his benefit.

[from The Standard, Saturday, June 18, 1881]

As this was the 66th anniversary of Waterloo several papers mentioned the battle. The Daily News dedicated a small column to 200th anniversary of the Scots Greys, the ‘oldest dragoon corps’ in the British Army.  The ‘Greys’ had served with distinction in the Crimea at the battle of Balaclava, where they ‘tore through the Russians as acrobats go through a paper hoop’ (as the reporter described it). Their charge at Waterloo, which was more brave than effectual (if military historians are to be believed), was forever immortalised in Lady Elizabeth Butler’s Scotland Forever which was painted in 1881, to celebrate the anniversary. 

[from Daily News, Saturday, June 18, 1881]

The courts act against river pollution near Chelsea

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Sadly no Thames or Worship Street cases were included in newspaper reports for the 16 June 1881. This is one of the perils of historical research, those in the past didn’t always leave us the information we require in the form we need it. As a result I had to chose between the 8 courts where proceedings were recorded.

At Greenwich there was drunk driving case which ended in a fine; at Southwark a ‘malicious burglar’ was committed for trial; Westminster Police court was exercised over the ‘cock-crowing nuisance’, while at Marlborough Street it was a case involving cruelty to a horse which attracted the attention of the reporter. At Clerkenwell the RSPCA successfully brought a prosecution against a man for possessing and ill-treating a starling.

Two other cases involved violence: Edward Cleverly was sentenced to six months hard labour for beating his wife, while at Lambeth George Herbert was sent for trail charged with attempting to murder Caroline Penman by cutting her throat. Herbert was later convicted at the Old Bailey and sent to prison for four months.

But it is the a different sort case that I have selected today, perhaps because in week in which the Thames and Worship Street courts have served up a depressing diet of domestic violence we need some relief from human cruelty. Not that I find this particular incident much less troubling, involving as it does the polluting of the Thames river.

Charles Bates, a Chelsea based contractors, was summoned before the Hammersmith magistrate accused of tipping waste into the Thames. He was specifically charged with ‘allowing road-sweepings’ to be swept into the river.

The case was brought by the Thames Conservancy, an organisation formed as a result of an act of parliament in 1857 (the year Victoria came to the throne). It looked after the river from 1857 to 1974 (losing some control, to the Port of London Authority in the early 1900s), when the Thames Water Authority took over.

Bates and two others had been seen by John Rough a river keeper, dumping mud from a barge into the water ‘instead of wheeling it onshore’. As Rough approached them they ran away. He gave chase and caught up with one man who said he was being paid 30s (about £70 today) to dump the unwanted soil from the streets.

In a separate incident a policeman testified to seeing another group of men on a barge of mud. He didn’t see them empty any of the cargo into the river (although clearly that had been taking place) but assumed it was because they had seen him coming and had fled.

A Mr Rye was named as the person paying for the mud to be dumped and he was produced in court. Rye denied everything and since there was little solid evidence against him, and because he seemingly sub contracted work from Bates he was let off. Bates however was fully convicted. The magistrate (Mr Shiel) noted that this was probably why such a useful piece of legislation had been passed and he fined Bates £10 plus 2cost for each offence, a total of £20 and 4(nearly £1,000).

[from The Standard, Thursday, June 16, 1881]

Negligent landlords in Bermondsey are held to account

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Bermondsey in the 1880s

In the 1880s London was the capital city of the greatest empire in the world. Yet amongst all the wealth London was witness to some of the worst living conditions in the British Empire. We often associate the ‘abyss’ of Whitechapel with that squalor and in the lodging houses around Flower and Dean Street and Dorset Street poverty was indeed rife. But if you look at Charles Booth’s poverty maps (published in the early 1890s) it is evident that South East London was as bad, if not worse.

Despite there being no council housing the authorities did have a role to play in regulating the conditions people lived in and the quality of properties that were rented out. This task fell under the responsibilities of the London Police Courts and the magistrates that sat in judgement there.

Building regulation may not have been the most exciting work of the magistracy but it was important, and by reporting it the newspapers rogue landlords were put on notice that they might be prosecuted, and tenants were emboldened to report similar problems. For the historian these reports also serve a useful purpose in revealing living conditions in the capital.

Charles Randell owned several houses in Farncombe Street, Bermondsey, and in May 1885 he was summoned to Southwark Police Court for neglecting his properties. The Bermondsey Vestry charged him with ‘neglecting to put in proper habitable repair five houses, which were in a filthy state and unfit for habitation’.

The Sanitary Inspector for the district, a Mr Thomas, gave evidence in court in support of the prosecution. He told the magistrate that he had visited the properties in March, finding them in a ‘filthy state’.

‘The drains were stopped up with filth, the yards unpaved [and so simply muddied areas], and without water’.

He had been ordered to take action but nothing happened, at least not until now when the summons was executed on him. There was still no water supply, the court was told. Clearly Randall had ignored the original report and was now only doing the minimum possible under threat of prosecution.

The case revealed that he took 12s a week for each house, which each served as homes to two families. It is hard to be exact about family size without consulting the census but on average women had six children in the late 1800s. So with extended family members it is not unreasonable to suggest that these five small properties opening on to one court were home to around 20-30 people, all with a supply of water or property sanitation.

Randall blamed the problem on the man he employed to undertake repairs, who had, he said, ‘deceived him’. The magistrate was unmoved and fined him a total of £46 (or £2,200 in today’s money).

Another ‘house agent’ Drummond Palmer, who owned property in the same street was also brought to court for the same offence He too had ignored the Sanitary Inspector’s report and he too was fined £5 for each of his courses plus a shilling a day for the 81 days he had failed to make the repairs required. He left court with a bill of £18 and 6s.

Henry Illingworth was also in the sights of the Inspector. The boot maker was charged with failing to clean and repair two shops he owned on Grange Road, also in Bermondsey. Inspector Thomas said that they in a ‘very foul state’:

‘The stench from the houses was intolerable. There was no door or pan to the closet [the outside toilet], and it was without a water supply. They were devoid of dustbins, and the houses were unfit for anyone to live in in such a state’.

Palmer was fined £14 and 6s.

In Booth’s map Farncombe  Street is a mix of commercial (red) property and (at the end nearest the Thames) black and dark blue (‘semi-criminal’ and ‘very poor’ in Booth’s categories. Whether the families that lived in Randall and the other landlords’ houses saw the benefit of the fines levied on them is very doubtful. The work would probably have been carried out but there was little to prevent rents from being raised to cover the costs. The 1880s was a period of economic deflation if not outright depression; times were hard and work hard to come by. Until the advent of proper social housing schemes in the next century the poorest in Victorian and Edwardian society continued to suffer from the greed of others.

[from London Evening Standard, Thursday 4th June 1885]