Another avoidable shooting in Hackney

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Frederick James was an anxious man. He kept a loaded revolver under his pillow in his Cumberland Street address, where he worked as a machine sewer in the shoe trade. There had been several burglaries in recent weeks and Fred, who didn’t trust the banks, kept just under £300 in his room and had the gun as his protection against robbery. But he was also a considerate man; his sister, Annie, lived at the property and she cleaned and cooked for him. He always took the pistol out from under his pillow in the morning and laid it close by him at his desk, so as not to alarm her when she turned the bed down.  Sadly, as we know from bitter experience of hundreds of modern tragedies, owning a gun often means that someone gets hurt or worse, especially when pride and machismo are involved.

James employed two other men – William Tripp and Thomas Hannibal – and took in work from larger operatives. On the 1 April 1872 a man named Charles Starkie turned up at 103 Cumberland Street, (off Great Cambridge Street, Hackney)  as he had done several times before, with a  pair of boots that required repair. As it was 5.15 the men were having their tea and so Starkie chose to wait.

There was clearly some underlying tension between the younger man (Starkie was about 28) and Frederick James (who was 39). The pair quarrelled and a lot of unpleasant words were exchanged. Starkie (according to Annie, Tripp and Hannibal) called the other man a ‘bloody thief’, a ‘bloody rogue, and a bloody shit, and a bloody swine’ (although the word ‘bloody’ was rendered in the Old Bailey Proceedings as ‘b_____’, so as not to give offence to the readers).

It isn’t clear exactly what happened after that but Starkie appears to have been taunting the cobbler, and threatening to take business away from him to give to someone else. It sounds like these were empty threats as James’ team enjoyed the confidence of their suppliers, but Frederick was still angered by the abuse he received.

A scuffle was heard upstairs and it may be that while James tried to walk away from the argument Starkie chose to continue it. Three shots were heard and when Annie and the others went to see what they were about, they found Starkie dead or dying.

When the police arrived – in the person of PC Edward Dunt (152H) – Fred admitted shooting the man but not intentionally. He had fired twice into the wall, which suggests he was either frustrated or wanted to send a strong warning. Starkie, as those in the house later  testified, poured scorn on James, saying he was just firing blanks.

Whether he was or not the third shot hit Starkie, entering his head via the jaw, fracturing his skull and ‘smashing’ his spinal cord. He probably died instantly and was dead before Dr Wallace reached the scene.

PC Dunt told Fred he must come with him to the station. James then asked to be allowed to change his shirt and promised to come quietly. He seemed to be very sorry for what had occurred and this was continued when he appeared some days later in the Worship Street Police Court. The charge was ‘wilful murder’ but there was clearly some doubt surrounding it. At Worship Street, on what was his second appearance his solicitor asked for  further remand so that James would not go before the next sitting of the Old Bailey. The higher court was busy, Mr Straight (the defence solicitor) told Mr Hannay (the magistrate) and it would not be fair to ‘hurry his defence on’ in such circumstances.

Hannah agreed and remanded him for a week, presumably meaning that he missed the sessions. The court reporter described James as looking ‘pale, and as if suffering much from the charge hanging over him’.

As well he might. If he were to be convicted of murder then he was quite likely to hang.

When it came to it however, the Old Bailey jury were lenient. There decided that there was ample evidence of provocation and insufficient evidence of intent. They found him ‘not guilty’ of murder but guilty of the second count of manslaughter. Frederick James escaped the noose and went to prison for 12 months.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, April 10, 1872]

A smash and grab raid on the Commercial Road

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The Commercial Road, Whitechapel c.1880s

As Charles Wakeman sat in the back room of his jewellers shop at 479 Commercial Road he was probably doing his paperwork or enjoying a late supper. Whatever he was doing it was soon to be rudely interrupted.

At a quarter past nine his assistant rushed in and told him they had been robbed. Wakeman ran through into the shop and saw that his front window had been smashed in. Outside a crowd was gathering – to see what all the fuss was about and, perhaps, to see if any ‘windfalls’ might drop nearby.

Wakeman quickly noted that along with the jewellery that was lying in the street a tray of rings was missing altogether. He picked up two gold bangles and was then approached by a young man. This lad, whose name was Ernest Marks, told the relieved jeweller that he had heard the smash of the window and spotted the thief running away.

Marks, who had been standing on the corner of Jamaica Street,  had sprinted after him and caught him in Bermuda Street. He recovered the tray of ’32 ladies gem rings’ (valued at £129 9s, or over £7,000 pounds in today’s money) and handed the thief over to a nearby policeman.

The suspected jewel thief (William Halbart) who was thought to be in partnership with another man, not yet in custody, was charged at Thames Police Court. The magistrate, Mr Lushington, fully committed him for trial.

Halbart’s case came up very quickly at the Old Bailey; he was tried and convicted of burglary on the 3 March. Despite his protestation that he had only  been a curious onlooker and had picked up some of the jewellery but not stolen it, adding: ‘I am perfectly innocent. I am the victim. I have never been locked up in my life’.

He was sent to prison for a year.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, March 2, 1890]

A Garroting in Victorian Islington

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In 1862 a series of attacks in London (starting with one on Hugh Pilkington MP ) by robbers who grabbed their victims from behind and throttled them, initiated a wave of reports of similar incidents up and down the country. Before long Britain was in the grip of a ‘moral panic’ and the police and courts clamped down on anyone they suspected of being a ‘garrotter’.

The key suspects were the so-called ‘criminal class’ and in particular those criminals that had been released earlier from imprisonment on license. These were known as ‘ticket-of-leave’ men and I’ve written about them before on this blog.

The 1862 panic soon faded from the attention of the public as the press moved on to new stories but the term lingered. Thereafter street robberies with violence were occasionally referred to as ‘garrotings’ as this example from 1867 shows.

James Perring, an Islington resident, was riding in his cart on Fann Street when a young man stopped his vehicle. Mr. Perring may have been elderly, the report is not clear, but he was certainly not able-bodied. He had suffered a recent wound in his leg and was forced to walk with a crutch for support.

The person that stopped his cart, later identified as 19 year-old William Brown, (a ‘stout looking fellow’), was not alone, he had three companions. Regardless of this Mr. Perring asked him to let go of his horse ‘or he would be kicked’.

As he said this one of the other men leaped into the cart and grabbed him around the throat, pulling him over. Perring suffered badly from this attack and the wound in his leg was opened up causing him to lose a lot of blood.

Brown saw this and pressed his advantage, kicking the cart owner in the knee when he tried to grab at him. As he shouted for help the four men or boys all ran away. Mr. Perring checked his pockets and found he had lost five sovereign coins (quite a bit of money for the 1860s). The robber had also dropped his cap which Perring later found it in his cart.

The police soon arrived and started to search for the gang but only managed to discover Brown. He had run into a lodging house, crept upstairs into a room and had thrown ‘himself on a bed, pretending to be asleep’. The landlord said he had never seen him before and the police took him away protesting his innocence.

Brown appeared at Clerkenwell Police Court in late January 1867 charged with felonious assault. He wasn’t charged with the robbery because fortunately for him and Mr Perring the sovereigns were found when a thorough search of the cart was made.

Probably because of this or because none of the other protagonists could be found this case never made it to the Old Bailey. It may have been an attempted robbery or simply antisocial behaviour by a group of young ‘hooligans’ (although that term wasn’t coined until the 1890s). Either way it was very unpleasant for  James Perring and evidence that the notion of the ‘garroter’ was still very much in the public domain five years after the panic had subsided.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, January 26, 1867]

A Daring snatch and grab robbery is foiled by an alert policeman

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19th century ‘life preservers’

It would seem that George Miller was a member of a dangerous ‘gang’ of criminals. One afternoon in late October 1849 Miller and two companions were riding in a cart on New Bond Street.

Unbeknown to them however, they were being watched by a plain-clothed policeman named Tottman. PC Tottman observed the cart move up and down the street before turning into Union Street, where it stopped. Tottman followed and kept an eye on them.

One of the men got out of the cart and looked around into Bond Street where a cab ‘with luggage on the roof’ presently appeared. The man vaulted onto the back of the moving cab and began to try and undo (or cut through) the straps that held a portmanteau in place.

As the first man joined his chums in the cart another of the men began to follow the cab at a safe distance. Clearly they three were plotting to steal the luggage and make off with in their cart. Tottman was on to them but he too was being watched. A woman in the street was acting as a casual lookout for the gang and she spotted the PC and alerted Miller and his friends.

Now the cart sped off, turning into Sheppard Street as the driver ‘urged the horses into a gallop’. Tottman set off in pursuit and caught them. However, as he tried to gain the cart and clamber aboard he was attacked by the occupants.

He later told the magistrate at Marlborough Street that his shots of ‘stop’ were ignored and he was hit about the head with the butt of a whip and by Miller with a ‘life preserver’. This was not what we think of today as a ‘rubber ring’ thrown from ships or docks, but a  short cudgel that could inflict a nasty wound.

The policeman was badly beaten but refused to loose his grip and eventually managed to arrest Miller when the cart collided with a cab in Oxford Street, throwing all the occupants into the street. Miller denied being involved and said he had just been holding the cart for the others. The magistrate remanded him for further enquiry.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Thursday, November 1, 1849]

A confectioner’s assistant is judged by his background not his deeds

Henry Lodge worked for a confectioner (a Mr Verey) in Regent Street in London’s West End. Verey’s was a well known establishment by the 1860s, mentioned as one of the places in the capital where a visitor could dine well. There the ‘Regent Street Longer’ could ‘sip a thimbleful of Verey’s cognac’ while he watched the world go by.

One morning in early October 1830 the Verey family’s servant discovered that the front door to their property was unbolted and that the shop had been robbed. The thief had removed ‘three dozen silver teaspoons, a quantity of table and dessert [silver], and. to add to the depredation, the party had regaled themselves with some cherry brandy which had stood in the window’.

It looked like an inside job and suspicion soon fell on Henry who was questioned about his movement the previous night. He claimed to have been at the theatre till late but his alibi was soon disproved. He was questioned by a police inspector from C Division and arrested.

On his appearance in court at Marlborough Street the magistrate asked if there were any other suspicious circumstances related to the prisoner.

The court was told (by Inspector Clements of the Met) that Lodge’s father had been transported for life, as had two of his brothers. It seemed then that Henry came from the ‘criminal class’. Indeed Henry had himself been tried for the burglary that had convicted one of his siblings but had been acquitted for lack of evidence.

The magistrate said would have been reluctant to remand Lodge in custody on the strength of the evidence against him if he could have be shown to be of ‘good character’ but given the information of his previous brush with the law he felt it was unlikely to affect him as much as it would ‘an honest man’. He was remanded for trial.

I’m not sure what would happen today but it seems that poor Henry was treated rather badly here. There was no evidence against him, no stolen items, no forensics, just the fact that he had been accused (and found not guilty) of a crime before and had relatives that were convicts.

He was condemned, perhaps, by his associations not by his deeds.

[from Morning Post 4 October 1830]

A thief can’t wait to get back inside

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Cowcross Street, Farringdon, c.1870

George Wood (also known to the police and the community as ‘Gentleman Jack’) was presented at Clerkenwell Police Court in late September 1881 charged with stealing a gold chain valued at £5.

Wood was described as a ‘general dealer’ who lived at Bath Street, off the City Road. The watch belonged to Mr Thomas Matthews, an engraver at the Albion Works on Cow Cross Street (near Farringdon station, Clerkenwell). Matthews was walking to work one morning when Wood ‘got in front of him, tugged at his chain’ and ran off with the watch.

He was soon arrested by a police detective (DS Maroney) and charged. Woods, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, immediately confessed to the robbery. He told the detective that ‘he should like to be sentenced at once, so that he could be doing his time and [therefore the sooner] be at large again’.

His worship did not oblige however, he decided the case was too serious for a short summary imprisonment and committed him for a jury trial at the Middlesex sessions of the peace.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, September 26, 1881;]

An opportunistic ‘white van’ theft

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It is sometimes hard for us to imagine  a London without cars, vans and buses. The internal combustion engine has become ubiquitous in all modern cities but in the last decade of the nineteenth century it remained  a novelty. While the steam locomotive represented a massive leap forward for the most part  Victorians literally relied on  horse-power  for their everyday transport needs.

London was served by a staggering 300,000 horses in the 1890s and so, in the absence of motorised transport until the late 1890s (the first horseless carriage took to London’s streets in 1896), the horse was a valuable commodity.  So just as people steal cars cars today, the theft of horses (and horse drawn vehicles) was a problem for the Metropolitan Police.

George Davelians was a car-man – a white van man in today’s terminology – and in May 1894 he found himself in court charged with stealing a van, its horses and the goods that were in it. Alfred Fillingback had ‘parked’ his van outside the South Devon Wharf, on Lower East Smithfield, while he popped into the offices to pick up some paperwork. When he came out the van was nowhere to be seen.

It was next sighted by John Reeve, the gatekeeper at the nearby British and Foreign Wharf. He was alerted to it because it was moving so fast. He recognized the driver as Davelians, as he’d known him for several years as a regular around the wharves but was surprised to see him ‘thrashing the horses, and urging them on as fast as they could go’.

When the van reached Tower Hill it was flagged down and stopped by PC Thomas Bristow who told Davelians he was arresting him on suspicion of stealing ‘a pair-horse van and ten sacks of flour’ from Perry & Cozens of Brick Lane, Spitalfields.

‘Doing what?” demanded Davelians, ‘I know nothing about that’ and he tried, unsuccessfully, to escape. In court a sergeant from CID appeared and asked that the car-man be remanded as he might be able to help the detective branch with their inquiries into a number of similar robberies. Davalians was remanded for a week.

P.S I can’t find this case in the Old Bailey website so it may not have got as far as a trial..

[from The Standard , Saturday, May 19, 1894]