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]

 

 

 

 

A returning hero of the Syrian war is robbed and left in a London gutter

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HMS Powerful

In 1840 Britain was embroiled in war in the middle east, fighting at sea off the coast of Syria in the Egyptian-Ottoman War (1839-41). Britain was allied to Turkey and when the the Ottoman fleet surrendered to the Egyptians at Alexandria the Royal navy entered the fray. A naval blockade, led by the British with support from the Austrian Empire, eventually secured a truce and the return of the Turkish vessels. A peace treaty followed in which the chief British negotiator was Admiral Charles Napier who managed to get the Egyptian ruler, Muhammed Ali, to renounce his claims to Syria in return for British recognition of his legitimate right to rule Egypt.

Napier had established his reputation in June 1839 (when he was plain Captain Napier) by bringing his command, HMS Powerful, to the defence of Malta when it was threatened by Egyptian forces. HMS Powerfulan 84-gun second rate ship of the line went on to lay a significant role in the war, being part of the force that bombarded Acre ultimately allowing Allied force to occupy the city.

So the Powerful  and the men that served on her were valorised as heroes and one of those men was Henry Collier, who returned to England in 1841 after being wounded in the conflict. Collier had been treated at the navy Haslar hospital at Gosport ‘in consequence of wounds sustained in actions on the coast of Syria, but by July 1841 he was in London.

As part of his recuperation able-seaman Collier decided he would take in the sights of the capital and headed for the Surrey Theatre with ‘a messmate’. He took his naval kitbag with him which contained some new clothes he had bought in town to ‘take into the country’, and his retirement from service.

Collier found the entertainment boring however, and left the theatre hailing a cab. He got talking to the cabman and the latter invited the sailor to join him and a fellow driver for a few drinks. Soon Collier was on a pub cruise with William Collison and John Stone and quite the worse for drink. He anded over a guinea to Collison to pay for his travel but only got 56s in change, not nearly enough. However by this stage the sailor was ‘so groggy’ that he didn’t really notice.

He was soon abandoned by the pair and when he was found, dead drunk on the street by a policeman, he had no money and no bundle of clothes. He described the men and they were soon apprehend and the whole case was taken before the police magistrate at Union Hall.

When the evidence was presented to him, the magistrate (Mr Cottingham) described it as a ‘scandalous robbery’ and asked if any of Collier’s possessions had been found in the possession of the cab drivers. They hadn’t the police replied, but Collison was discovered to have considerable funds on him, 10s 6d in fact. The cabbie, never the most popular figure in the pages of the Victorian press, claimed that this was simply his daily earnings for his trade. He not only denied stealing the sailor’s money or bundle of clothes but said that when he had picked him up he had nothing but the clothes he stood up in.

Had the sailor already lost his kit bag, was he drunk before he met up with the drivers? Both were possible of course but Collier ‘persisted in the truth of his account’. It was a familiar story of an unwary visitor to the capital being parted from his wealth by the locals and sadly, there was little in the way of proof on either side. It would probably come down to reputation and the appearance of anyone that could verify either of the conflicting accounts. Mr Cottingham therefore chose to remand the cabbies while other witnesses for the prosecution (or defence) could be found.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Monday, July 5, 1841]

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]