Daring burglars nabbed by a DC near the Duke of Wellington’s London home.

Picadilly 1897

Piccadilly, near Green Park, in 1897

In the early hours of the morning of the 27 April 1889 Detective constable William Wyers (294 C) had stationed himself in a secluded spot at the corner of Piccadilly and St George’s Place; from here he could watch Piccadilly and the homes of the wealthy that lived there.

In the Victorian period the crime that most exercised the queen’s subjects, after murder of course, was burglary. The papers were filled with reports of burgled premises and with advertisements for preventing intruders from entering your home. This was also the period that saw the birth of home contents insurance as homeowners sought to protect themselves from the supposed legions of ‘Bill Sikes’ and his ilk.

As DC Wyers watched he saw three men approaching a house at number 146 Piccadilly, adjacent in fact to where the Ritz Hotel is today.* He saw one of the men enter the gates of 146 and climb the steps to the front door. The man tried the door and seemed to fiddle with (perhaps to see it was unlocked). Finding it secure he retreated, climbed over the railings and lit a match, and waited a moment or two. From a distance Wyers couldn’t be completely sure what he was up to.

The ‘burglar’ then went back to the other men and slowly, and in single file, they each approached the property. The man (who was later established to be Arthur Thiviot, a stoker living on the Charing Cross Road) went back over the railings followed by one of his mates (William Booty, a porter ‘of no fixed abode’). While they did this the last man (John Pegg, a Soho printer) stayed back to keep watch.

None of them had noticed the detective constable however. DC Wyers took advantage of a passing hansom cab and jumped on to the back spring, hitching a ride towards them. He alighted opposite Apsley House, the London home of the Duke of Wellington. This now placed him behind the men and he crept on all fours to avoid being seen by the lookout Pegg.

Unfortunately for Wyers he wasn’t as careful as he might have been. Pegg saw him and whistled to alert the others. They ran for it, rushing across Piccadilly and into Hamilton Place, with the policeman in hot pursuit. Wyers caught Thiviot and Booty and cornered them in a doorway. Pegg was known to the police so the DC called him by name and ‘ordered him to stop’, which he did.

He asked Thiviot what he was up and what he had in his pockets. The alleged burglar told him he had nothing on him, and if he was a suspect then the copper better take him back to the station. Wyers thrust his hand into Thiviot’s pocket and produced  dark lantern, a common tool of the burglar.

‘Halloa, what are you doing with this?’ asked Wyers.

‘Oh, its all right Mr Wyers’, replied the stoker, demonstrating that the detective was also well known to the criminal fraternity, ‘I have just left my club. The stairs are very dark where I live , and I brought this lantern to show a light up there’.

It was a fairly pathetic excuse given the circumstances, but I suppose he had to offer something.

Myers grabbed Thiviot and told the others to follow him to the station, warning them that he knew where they lived should they chose to abscond. Thiviot also urged them not to abandon him. As soon as they met with two beat ‘bobbies’ on Piccadilly however, Wyers handed them over and all three were accompanied to the police station.

There all three were searched; Booty and Pegg were clean but Thiviot was found to have ‘a lock picker, a knife and a pair of scissors’ on him. DC Wyers then returned to 146 Piccadilly with Inspector Barrie and they discovered more evidence: a jemmy and marks on the door that suggested Thiviot had tried to force it earlier. They moved on to search Thiviot’s lodgings in Charing Cross Road where they also found a set of keys, ‘and a surgical lance’ (why this was mentioned is unclear, except perhaps to show that he must have stolen it at some point,  why would he have it otherwise?)

In court on the following Monday the Marlborough Street Police magistrate the three were remanded on a  charge of loitering with intent to burgle the home of Mrs Rose Joyce, 146 Piccadilly, London.

The three men went on trial at the Old Bailey in May 1889, but not for the attempted burglary in Piccadilly. Instead they were tried for burgling a warehouse in Charing Cross and the items found on Thiviot (the lantern for example) and the jemmy or chisel found at the scene of the attempted crime in Piccadilly, proved vital in convicting him. All three were found guilty and then admitted a string of previous convictions.

As a result Cheviot was sentenced to penal servitude for six years, the other two for five. The court also aware William Wyers the sum of £2 ‘for the ability he displayed in watching and apprehending the prisoners on another charge, which was not proceeded with’, this being the attempted burglary of Mrs Joyce’s home.

[from The Standard, Monday, April 29, 1889]

*The famous London landmark was not there in 1889 however, as it did not open until 1906.

A postman is ‘bitten’ by an angry magistrate

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Londoners puzzled at the arrival of new ‘post box’ mistake it for a stove, (Punch , January 1855)

The postman seems to have been a British institution for as long as we can remember. Every day (except Sundays and Bank Holidays), all over the country, the Royal Mail deliver letters and parcels (and a considerable amount of waste paper) in a system that has its roots in the 15th century. The first mention of the term ‘postman’ was in 1526 (according to the OED) and literally means someone who delivers a message by post.

The English postman really rose to prominence in popular culture after the introduction of the penny post by Rowland Hill in 1840. Hill’s innovation – to create a standard rate for letters – was followed up by the adoption of a (whisper it) French invention, the pillar box in the 1850s. Now ‘ordinary’ people could stay in touch with loved ones wherever they were in the country, just as long as they could read and write (or find someone that could) and had a penny for the stamp.

The arrival of the post (so much more exciting than the arrival of an email) was an event; if you had a relative or friend living far away, or serving in the armed forces, how special must it have been (in the days before telephones) to get a letter from them? As one contemporary remarked:

Who has not heard with pleasure the sharp, loud, firm ‘ rat-tat’ of the postman? What a stir it causes in the house!

                 Uncle Jonathan, Walks in and Around London, 1895 (3 ed.)*

I am struggling to find out whether ‘postman’ is or was an official term. The title ‘letter-carrier’ seems to be interchangeable with postman and it certainly appears to mean the same thing. Given that postmen (and women these days) are out in all weathers, walking long distances, carrying heavy loads, and fighting off the attentions of over-anxious canine guards, they have retained our affection.

However, as this case shows not all ‘posties’ were held in high esteem, at least not by everyone, and not when they ‘let the side down’.

Senior Stoker (which sounds more like a job description than a name) was charged before Mr Newton at Marlborough Street Police Court with being ‘drunk and incapable while employed as a letter-carrier for the General Post-office’.

Stoker, the court was told, had been working for the post office for five years. He had been found, as the PO’s solicitor (Mr Breton Osborn) testified, ‘helplessly drunk while in charge of a bag containing several post letters which should have been delivered’. The charge was ‘serious’ he said, and ‘of great public importance’.

The postman had been found ‘staggering about helplessly drunk’ by PC Knighton (230C) in Greek Street, Soho at half-past three in the afternoon, the bag over his shoulder. The policeman stopped him and asked what he had in the sack. ‘Only some cold boiled beef’ replied Stoker. PC Knighton didn’t believe him, checked, and found it actually contained about 30 letters.

Imagine the consternation in the Police Court; here was a public servant who should have been delivering the missives and messages of love, hope and congratulations to homes in the West End when instead he was as a drunk as a lord and swaying through the streets.

Not only that but Stoker had apparently got himself inebriated fast. One witness, Edward Powell (the assistant overseer of the Western District post-office) declared that Stoker had left the office at 2.15 and then he was sober. If he hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have been allowed to start his deliveries.

In his (albeit very weak) defence Stoker said that he ‘was short of food’ and ‘some drink he had in the morning took effect on him later in the day’. That must have been some delayed reaction if he was telling the truth. More likely he had met some ‘pals’ and stopped for some refreshment in a local beer-house.

The magistrate, Newton, asked Mr Osborn if Stoker would be dismissed from his job. That did ‘not always follow’, the Post Office’s solicitor explained, it was ‘at the discretion of the Postmaster-General’.  Mr Newton was pretty convinced that this sort of behaviour should mean that Stoker lost his job, and said so, but in the meantime he fined him £5 or one month in prison.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, April 08, 1880]

*http://www.victorianlondon.org/index-2012.htm [accessed 7 April 2017]

Cholera arrives in London and one woman finds herself in court as a result.

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From early 1832 to the last outbreak in June 1866 Londoners experience the full horror of cholera as it ravaged communities in the nineteenth century. Cholera spread quickly and those infected, if not teated swiftly soon developed the unpleasant and debilitating symptoms associated with the disease (dehydration, diarrhoea and vomiting), before death almost inevitably followed. Thousands died in London and other British cities during the three decades that the water-borne infection affected the British Isles, and many more died overseas, especially in India where the disease first appeared.

In late March 1832 the London press reported  cholera infections daily. On the 28th the were 89 new cases of which 49 people died. Since the outbreak started there had been over 1500 cases with 854 fatalities. The locations of the deaths were also listed, with the highest number for a single parish (16) in Southwark. This was not unconnected as Southwark was close by the river and was London’s poorest area. Three bodies were found ‘floating in the river’ and were added to the 25 the authorities had already dragged from the Thames.

On the same day, over at Guildhall Police Court, Mary Mahoney (a ‘poor Irish woman’) was brought up on a charge of ‘feigning an attack of cholera morbus at the foot of Blackfriars Bridge’. A local watchman (Easley) had found her and told the alderman magistrate, Mr Laurie, that this wasn’t the first time Mary had acted in this way. In fact it was the ‘fifth or sixth time’ she had tried it, and since on each occasion she was revived with a drink of brandy and water one might imagine she kept trying the same thing.

Mr Laurie turned to the prisoner and asked her how many times she had had the disease.

‘Not at all, your Honour, and I hope I never will’, she replied. ‘But this man says you exhibited symptoms of it’, the justice remarked. The poor watchman was perplexed: ‘Yes’, he interjected, ‘she lies down and moans, and won’t speak, and draws her nose and knees together’. 

‘Then you should take her to the Board of Health’, advised the magistrate, ‘they might give you a premium, for some of them are sadly at a discount for want of cases’.

He clearly wasn’t taking cholera very seriously, and certainly not as seriously as he should. He concluded by saying that:

Everything is imitated in this country, from a pound note to the cholera morbus‘, which triggered a laugh from someone in the courtroom.

Fearing that his wife would be punished Mary’s husband pushed himself forward. He was an old army pensioner, and quite blind. He told Mr Laurie that she was his only support and that if she were sent to Bridewell it would ‘ruin the family’. Mary chipped in to say that she really had been ill, albeit not with the cholera, and the justice let her go with just a telling off.

Mary had probably done nothing to warrant a spell in the house of correction; she hadn’t claimed to have cholera but the watchman – on edge and on the lookout for cases, especially by the river – probably misinterpreted the symptoms. This shows us, perhaps, that the arrival of this new and deadly disease in London quickly became the focus of conversation, press coverage, and rumour. As with many things that frighten us the truth of the situation (and therefore the best course of action to follow), often become obscured under in a fog of popular misconception. It took the medical profession several decades to arrive at a better understanding of cholera and a means to prevent it.

In 1854, after an outbreak in Soho, Dr John Snow (who had been investigating cholera since the late 1830s) was able to test a theory he had posited in 1849. Conventional belief held that cholera was spread by air  as a miasma (‘bad air’). Snow rejected this thesis and instead argued (correctly) that the disease was contracted by mouth through water. In Broad Street, Soho a street pump brought water to the local community (these were the days before Londoners had supplies of fresh running water). John Snow studied the outbreak and correctly concluded that the pump was the source of the cholera infections. Having stopped the use of the pump the area saw a significant fall in new cases. While he didn’t convince the medical profession until after his death (in 1858, John Snow’s name will always be synonymous with an effective medical and public health solution to the problem of cholera.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, March 29, 1832]

Children are the victims as a mother who cannot cope lashes out

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At around 5 o’clock on 25 February 1866 PC John Watkins (303) was called to attend at a house in Prince’s Row Square, Soho. In the 1860s this was a rough area of the capital and violence was part and parcel of everyday life.

When the constable arrived at number 23 he found a crowd gathered in front of it, a clear sign that something was happening within; something the community disapproved of.

As Watkins climbed the stairs he could hear sounds of violence and hurried into the bedroom where he found Eileen O’Leary ‘cruelly beating her children’. She had hold of the eldest of her two girls, Julia (14), and was banging her head against the bedpost.

Eileen was quite drunk and was threatening her daughter with a knife, screaming ‘I’ll do for you. I’ll do for you!’ PC Watkins intervened and managed to drag the child away from her mother, but in the process large clumps of Julia’s hair was pulled out. As soon as one child was rescued however, Eileen turned her anger on the second, pushing her away. She then picked up a third child, only a baby, and threw it to the floor.

He arrested Eileen and took her before Mr Knox at Marlborough Street Police Court on the following day. There the court heard not only his evidence but also that of a neighbour and the eldest daughter, Julia.

Mr Pennington said it was him that had raised the alarm. He lived downstairs at number 23 (most houses in working-class districts such as this were multi-occupied ) and had run upstairs when he heard Julia’s cries of ‘murder’!’ He found mother and daughter locked in a violent scene of abuse, as the former held her child down on the floor and held a knife over her.

Pennington succeeded in separating them temporarily and went to get help. He told the magistrate that O’Leary was ‘in the habit of ill-using the children every day, and I am sure she will, if not prevented, destroy the girl Julia before long’.

Now it was Julia’s turn to give evidence and she appeared in court as a ‘meek-speaking girl’ who was evidently very afraid of her mother.  She confirmed the evidence of the policeman and Mr Pennington and added the information that her brother was also involved, on the side of his mother. He had apparently joined in with the beating she had received.

She added that ‘I am afraid to be at home as my mother threatens frequently that she will take my life. My father took out a summons against her but forgave her’. This echoes many of the incidents of domestic violence I have studied across both the 19th and 18th centuries where women brought their husbands to court only to forgive their behaviour and take them back.

The justice, Mr Knox, turned to Eileen and told that since she had been before the court before on several occasions for violent behaviour she was ‘not fit to be trusted at large’ and so committed her for trial. She was only only committed for the attack on Julia however, not for pushing her other child or for throwing her baby to the floor. Today I imagine this would be a case for social services. Quite where the husband was in all of this I have to wonder, and whether he would be able to cope with the care of four children, one a babe in arms, is equally open to question.

[from The Standard, Monday, February 26, 1866]

Knife-wielding Belgians run amok in central London

Most if not all of the Belgians I know or have ever met are gentle, intelligent and considerate individuals and we rarely associate violence with that particular European nation. Recently there have been terrorist incidents and Belgium itself has been trampled over in two world wars (neither of which had been caused by its own actions).

So it was rather odd to pen that headline and I apologise to any Flemish speakers that were outraged by it but in 1853 it seems at least two Belgian nationals did cause a scene in the English capital.

An ornamental painter was strolling with his wife on Oxford Street at 11 at night, presumably on the way back to their home at 98 Dean Street, when two men rushed by. One seemingly deliberately shoved the unnamed painter and the artist, believing he had been insulted, turn down him. He put his fists in that most British of stances (adopting a ‘defensive attitude’) only for his assailant to pull out a knife.

According to the victim’s testimony at Marlborough Street Police Court the aggressor, named as Richard Demaine, ‘drew a stiletto, and held it up as to stab him’. Fortunately no one was hurt but one of the men escaped. The other was remanded in custody until he could find bail.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, February 07, 1853]

A misunderstanding leads to an accusation of theft and a missed concert

in 1880 Henry Bird ran a music shop at 56 Berwick Street, Soho, London. One afternoon Henry Everest turned up at his shop with an order for a double bass.

The order was handwritten and signed by James Parry Cole who lived in Maida Vale. The note was numbered and had carried his business address at 16 Rathbone Place. Mr Bird saw that everything was in order on the order and sgave the instrument to the musician, who took it away.

Cole had advertised for musicians to join his band, and Everest had answered the ad. The band had been about to perform a concert and on the day of show Everest turned up at rehearsals to report that the bass had been damaged on his way over. It had fallen off of the cab he’d used and the neck was broken off and smashed.

Everest now had to try and find another instrument and he turned to a man he knew who owed him money. However this person was abroad and without an instrument the musician was unable to play. He didn’t turn up for concerts and as a result Cole had no musician and Mr Bird was still owed for the double bass.

In consequence a warrant was issued for Henry’s arrest and when he heard about this he turned himself in at the nearest police station. He had managed to sell the broken bass for £5 (it had been on sale for £8 at Mr Bird’s) and had no intention of avoiding paying the music shop for it.

In court at Marlborough Street the magistrate was sympathetic. He didn’t see it as a case of theft but merely of delayed payment. The problem was one of communication he declared. Mr Bird and Mr Cole should have spoken to each other, and perhaps Cole should have listened to Everest when he had tried to explain about the bass being broken. The latter was preoccupied with the concert rehearsals (and admitted as much in court).

The musician agreed to pay back Mr Bird at 5s a week until the balance was cleared and everyone went home happy. Whether Henry Everest went on to pursue a successful career in music is quite another story.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, January 20, 1880]

New Year’s Eve revels end in a family brawl

I had a fairly sober New Year’s eve but of course it is traditionally a time of year when people over indulge and wake up with sore heads. Not surprisingly this is not a modern invention; there was plenty of alcohol consumed in the 1800s and it was often the subject of popular concern, especially when the drinkers were members of the working classes and the observers were their middle class so-called  ‘betters’.

Many of those found drunk and incapable or drunk and disorderly were brought before the ‘beaks’ at London’s various Police Courts to be admonished, fined or imprisoned. If their drinking had led to acts of violence (as they frequently did) then more serious punishments might be handed out.

Mary Ann Moody and her husband had gone to their son’s house in King’s Street, Soho, to see in the New Year 1857. All was going smoothly, she later told the magistrate at Marlborough Street, until she noticed that her son’s wife, Elizabeth, was ‘getting short in the temper’.

The clock had only just struck 12 when Elizabeth (the worse for drink) ‘lost it’ (as we might say). She turned to Mary Ann and ‘spat in her face’. The ‘lights were put out and a fight began’.

Mary Ann was then hit about the head with a poker before she collapsed to the floor senseless, bleeding profusely. She was rushed to hospital and the police were called. While she made a full recovery she was still bearing the visible scars of her injuries when she appeared in court to prosecute Elizabeth.

The police officers who arrived to deal with the chaos reported that everyone was very drunk and the magistrate said it was clear that while ‘all parties’ had been involved in a ‘general fight’, Elizabeth had used ‘excessive’ violence. He fined her £3 plus costs, or offered her an alternative of two months in prison at hard labour. The reporters did not record which option she took.

One imagine that in future years the ‘parties’ celebrated New Year in the comfort of their own homes.

[from The Morning Post,  Friday, January 02, 1857]