A father meets out his own brand of ‘justice’ on the man that ‘defiled’ his daughter

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Many of the cases prosecuted and heard by the magistrates of the Victorian metropolis were fairly mundane and soon forgotten.

Everyday across London drunks, disorderly prostitutes, pub brawlers, petty thieves and swindlers, took their place in the Police Court dock along with the occasional middle-class trader charged with selling meat unfit for human consumption or for adulterating milk or other goods. Landlords were fined for failing to maintain premises and cab passengers summoned for failing to pay their fares. Sad stories of suicide, poverty and child neglect were tempered by amusing tales involving country ‘bumpkins’, cross-dressing entertainers and defendants who showed a bit of bravado in the face of adversity.

Just occasionally however, the cases were quite serious and reflected the courts’ role as a court of first hearing for many of the trials that reached the Old Bailey.

In 1888 (the year that ‘Jack the Ripper’ perpetrated a series of brutal murders in the East End) Robert James Matthews stepped into the dock at Worship Street Police Court charged with wounding and attempted murder.

His victim was Henry Blaming, a 22 year-old ‘potman’ who had previously worked for Matthews at his pub in Brick Lane. Matthews ran the the Two Old Brewers and lived there with his wife, son and two daughters. Blaming took a fancy to one of his employer’s daughter and in January of 1888 there was some kind of incident and Blaming was sacked.

It seems that Blaming was accused of indecently assaulting Eliza Matthews and he was formally charged and tried at the Old Bailey, but acquitted. Blaming later claimed that Eliza was 14 years old at the time, but the Old Bailey puts her age as under 13. Whether there was simply insufficient evidence of Blaming’s guilt or he was indeed as innocent as the jury found him is impossible to know. The proceedings of the Old Bailey rarely went into any detail in publishing accounts of rape trials and this is typically uninformative.

After leaving the Old Bailey at noon Blaming decided to celebrate his acquittal by going for a drink with two of his friends. All fair enough we might think, except that the former pub worker chose to rub his old boss’ nose in the mud by opting to have his celebration at his old place of work. He took a position at the bar and asked to be served.

Matthews saw him smiling at him and demanded: ‘who are you laughing at?’

‘I have nothing to cry for’, was the younger man’s response. Things now escalated fairly swiftly. Matthews reached behind the bar and grabbed his revolver. He levelled it at Henry and fired.

Blaming was hit in the stomach and tried to run away. A second shot caught him in the buttocks before he escaped into the street. The wounded man was soon treated by a doctor and then taken to the London Hospital were he was an in patient for ten weeks.

In the meantime Matthews was arrested and taken to the station by a young detective, Walter Dew. Dew was to go on to serve on the ‘Ripper’ case (supposedly being the first policeman into Mary Kelly’s home) and, more famously, to catch the murderer Dr Crippen in a chase across the Atlantic.

Matthews told Inspector Bavington, who had questioned the landlord at the pub, that he had fired two shots but that he was provoked. He clearly believed that Blaming was guilty of raping his daughter and had gotten away with it.

On the way to the police station Dew said to Matthews: ‘This is a bad job;” only for his prisoner to reply: ‘What! I wish I had killed him, there would be an end to the b——then’.

There was a third bullet because when the police examined the gun they found one remaining in the chamber. Blaming had been lucky: the first bullet had entered his thigh but had missed his abdomen by a ‘faction of an inch’. The first bullet had been removed but the other remained lodged in his buttock and he was still receiving ongoing treatment.

When it came up to the Old Bailey Matthews was, unsurprisingly, convicted. The jury was sympathetic to him however and strongly recommended mercy on the grounds of provocation. The judge was lenient, sending him to prison for six weeks at hard labour she he could easily have spent much longer inside. If he was able to return to his management of the pub one imagines Blaming gave him a wide berth in future.

[from The Standard, Thursday, April 12, 1888]

The ‘people of the East End: a distinct class’ in need of ‘exceptional kindness’

Wentworth Street 1895 postcard

Middlesex Street (‘Petticoat Lane’) market c.1894

On most occasions London’s police  magistrates (men from a legal background with clear middle class roots) upheld the law the of the land without question. Men like Mr Lushington at Thames had little time for petty thieves, drunken brawlers, or wife beaters and dealt with then swiftly and dismissively. But now and then they displayed a level of good sense tinged with human kindness that reminds us that they were, as justices had been for hundreds of years, figures of authority whose overriding role was to maintain social cohesion in their communities, as far as that was possible.

Worship Street Police court (along with Thames) served the poor districts of the East End of London. Here were the overcrowded dwellings of tens of thousands of native and immigrant working-class Londoners, many living in what Charles Booth had identified as poverty. Here was the crime and degradation that Victorian ‘slummers’ went to gawp at on their visits to the area, here too were the dirty trades of slaughter men and tanners that had made their home in the east since medieval times. This was Whitechapel and Spitalfields and the killing grounds of ‘Jack the Ripper’, who preyed on the ‘unfortunates’ who plied their desperate trade on its ill-lit streets.

It is easy to depict the East End as down trodden and degenerate – and that is almost always the picture that emerges from contemporary reporters and later historians – but while the poverty and overcrowding was very real, so was the famed East End spirit and toughness. Nor was the entire area poor and forgotten. Booth’s poverty maps reveal plenty of ‘red’ streets where ‘respectable’ traders and the middle classes lived and worked. The Charity Organisation Society and the Salvation Army were active and local priests like Canon Barnett worked amongst their ‘flocks’.

There was also a vibrant street culture, which centred around the markets in Wentworth Street and ‘Petticoat Lane’ (Middlesex Street), which catered for all the ethnicities and pockets in the East End.

Markets, however, were also a bone of contention because the traders who set up their stalls, and stood individually elsewhere, often competed for use of the streets with other road users. The job of the keeping the streets clear for traffic and so moving on these traders – London’s costermongers – fell to the parish officials and then to the police.

As Stephen Inwood has shown, from their earliest days the Metropolitan Police soon released that resources meant that they needed to pick their battles. While their middle-class leaders wished them to enforce the law, close down Sunday markets and move on barrows, the local populace resisted and so for the sake of good relations many a blind eye was turned.

In 1889 a representative of the local parish authority appeared at the Worship Street Police court to complain about a number of costermongers who he had summoned to court for obstructing the streets with their barrows and stalls. The cases were heard by Mr Montagu Williams, the sitting magistrate.

Mr Besley, on behalf of the parish, told the court that several traders were in the habit of placing their stalls on the streets of Bethnal Green ‘where  a sort of fair was held every Sunday morning’. The market set up early but was often still there long past 11 in the morning. This was an infringement of the by-laws but the police were doing little or nothing about it.

The traders complained that they had been earning their living in this way for years, some for 25 or even 40 years; it was a tradition and the local people approved of it. Mr Besley argued that many of the costers were not ‘local’ at all, but came from other parts of the capital to sell their wares.

Mr Williams said he had himself walked the streets and seen the market, and those at Middlesex Street and Wentworth Street, and saw no harm in it. While it might infringe the by-laws of the parish it was of use.

He was convinced ‘that the people of the neighbourhood found it a great boon to be able to buy food in the markets on Sundays. One heard a great deal about the “Sweating” life led by the East-End poor, and it was precisely those people who, kept at work till midnight perhaps, needed to get their food on a Sunday’.

He thought that the vestry were being rather hard on the traders and while he recognised that laws were laws a little discretion was in order for the people of the area. He declared that the ‘people of the East End had a harder time of it than any class in the Metropolis, and therefore required an exceptional kindness’.

Mr Besley went off frustrated, quite possibly muttering under his his breath.

[from The Standard, Thursday, March 14, 1889]

A thief opts for the lesser of two evils

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The Criminal Justice Act (1855) allowed defendants in court to have their cases heard by a justice of the peace in a summary court, or elect to go before a judge and jury. This act was intended to speed up the prosecution system by enabling more smaller property crimes (larcenies) to be dealt with by the magistracy. Many of those brought before the ‘beak’ may well have thought it beneficial to give up their ‘right’ to a jury in return for escaping the longer sentence that judges could hand down.

In March 1872 there were a couple of cases before the Guildhall Police Court where defendants chose this option. One of them concerned the theft of a silver watch – a fairly serious crime which in previous years might have attracted a sentence  of death (before the 1820s) or transportation.

Charles Cordell gave a false address in court when he was accused of stealing Joseph Cook’s silver watch on Ludgate Hill on Thanksgiving Day*. Cook and his wife were walking on Ludgate Hill at about 4 o’clock when he saw Cordell  next to him and felt him try to take something from his waistcoat pocket. As he looked he claimed he saw the man steal is pocket watch, and immediately  grabbed hold of  him.

‘You have stolen my watch’, he cried, ‘You are mistaken’ replied Cordell, struggling to get free but the prosecutor and his wife held him tight by the hands. Cook called out for help and a policeman soon arrived on the scene. As Cordell protested his innocence the watch fell from his trousers onto the street.

Mr Cook bent down and retrieved his property and the policeman took Cordell prisoner and marched him to the station house. There he was searched and found to have ‘six handkerchiefs, a breast pin and a knife’ on him.

In court he gave an address in Spitalfields, an area synonymous with crime, and admitted having been charged with felony in the past. He pleaded guilty and waived his rights to a jury trial. The magistrate sentenced him to six months imprisonment, with hard labour.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, March 05, 1872]

*If this is the traditional feast day  celebrated by the Americans then this means early November, or it may be what we tend to call the Harvest Festival, but perhaps readers may know of another festival more applicable to late February/early March.

A man throws his wife out of a window – and she begs the justice for leniency

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Mile End, c.1910

Mile End in East London had a reputation as a hard working-class area in the late nineteenth century; indeed it maintained that reputation throughout the twentieth. At Mile End Waste Charles Booth (the founder of the Salvation Army) lectured crowds about the evils of alcohol – not surprising given the proliferation of beer houses and breweries in the area. Mile End  was so-named because of the presence of a turnpike that marked the distance (exactly one mile) from the countries of the affluent City of London; in between lay the less wealthy areas of Whitechapel and Spitalfields, home to so many of London’s poor in the 1800s.

The area was served by the Worship Street Police Court in Shoreditch and Thames Police Court in East Arbour Lane. Both courts were kept busy with police prosecutions for drunkeness, petty theft, and violence – much of it spousal.

In early February 1872 Owen Flynn, a 28 year-old coffin maker, was brought to Worship Street charged with assaulting his wife.

The couple lived on Preston Street which is now part of Hanbury Street, where Annie Chapman was murdered by ‘Jack the Ripper’ in 1888. Indeed there may be another ‘Ripper’ connection because I am working on a theory that may place the killer as living in Mile End at about the time that Flynn appeared at Worship Street (he would have been a small boy then however).

Mrs Flynn testified in court that on the previous Saturday night her husband had come home drunk and demanding his supper. As he ate the meal she had prepared he managed to knock over his glass of beer which sent him into a rage.

He took it out on his poor wife, punching her twice in the face and blackening her eye. She tried to get away from him but he prevented this by grabbing her and throwing her to the floor. He then attempted to strangle her.

She wriggled free and rushed over to the window, throwing it open and leaning out tom yell for help. He came up behind her and toppled her out. As she fell she grabbed at the roofing and tiles and managed to slow her fall down into the yard below.

Flynn was arrested and taken to the police station. There Mrs Flynn, although ‘much bruised’ was able to give the police a statement.

Now she had him in the dock however, Mrs Fynn asked the magistrate to be lenient. Presumably she didn’t want him to attack her again (and I doubt this was the first time, many women put up with a lot of abuse before they called the police) but nor did she want him put away. An abusivee husband that earned enough to pay the rent and put food on the table was better, sadly, than no breadwinner at all.

Flynn missed the mood of the occasion; instead of expressing his regret and promising to behave better in future he decided to brazen it out. He informed Mr Hannay (the justice) that his wife was making it all up, and what she said was untrue. This angered the magistrate who told him that ‘by calling his wife a liar he had made bad worse’.

He sent him to prison for four months, so neither of them would have been happy.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, February 4, 1872]

When authority figures clash in the Thames Court there can be only one winner

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St George’s in the East, London

Today’s case is of a complaint about the hearing of a complaint and, if that is not confusing enough, the complaint was levelled against a magistrate who then refused to listen to it!

Unpacking the story I think what happened was this:

In very early January 1847 the sister of a man named as Haggerty Jenson threw herself off the London Dock and drowned in the Thames. Suicides such as this were all too common in the 1800s and the reports from the Police Courts regularly  cover attempted suicides, almost all of them by women.

Haggerty Jenson then approached Reverend Bryan King, the rector of St George’s in the East , to arrange a funeral. His request was refused and Haggerty went to the Thames Police Court to complain to the sitting justice. The case was written in up in the newspaper where the rector was also accused of taking a fee and refusing to reimburse the family.

However, either the press seem to have misinterpreted the story or the one presented in court was not accurate, or at least did not fit the Rev. King’s version of events, and so he too went to the Thames Court to set the record straight. However, he probably went about it the wrong way.

He must have bristled with indignation as he stood before the magistrate to condemn the behaviour of his brother JP, a Mr Yardley. He told the bench that he had not refused Haggerty’s request and had certainly not taken his money.

The report in the paper was also wrong in recording the coroner’s verdict as ‘found drowned’. In fact the inquest had concluded that poor Miss Haggerty  had thrown ‘herself into the waters of the London Dock, but in  what  state of mind she was at the time there was not sufficient evidence before the jury’.

When he had heard that verdict he despatched the parish clerk to inform Haggerty that ‘I could not, consistently with my sacred calling and the Christian feelings I possess, perform the burial rights’.

The Victorian church did not always bury suicides, and certainly not in the churchyard. In the early century those who took their own life were interred outside of graveyards, at crossroads, and sometimes even with a stake through their heart, and even after rules were relaxed suicides were still buried at night until 1882. It wasn’t until the change in Canon law in 2015 that the Anglican church allowed for the full rites to be given to those that had taken their own lives, another example if one is needed, of how slowly religion adapts to changing attitudes in society.

The rector stood before the magistrate at Thames railing against the actions of his fellow justice, and tried to thrust a copy of the newspaper at him before the ‘beak’ silenced him and said:

‘I am Mr. Yardley, the person you complain of…I think any person of common sense, on reading the report you complain of, would come to a very different conclusion to the one you have arrived at’.

The rector was not not done however and tried to press his complaint arguing that the press report was false and that Yardley had allowed its publication. The magistrate denied that he had anything to do with its publication (‘I deny it sir! It’s false!’, he responded).

More than this Yardley added that ‘I saw nothing in the report that was incorrect or unfair, and I shall not listen to anymore you say’. The Rev. King ‘hastily withdrew’, well beaten in that particular engagement.

Perhaps Mr Yardley reflected a changing attitude towards suicides or maybe he simply saw far too many poor young and desperate women come through his courtroom who could have ended up like Haggerty’s sister. He may of course have merely been outraged that someone was challenging his authority, and a rival authority figure at that.

St George’s in the East was one of the churches built in the 18th century to bring Christianity (and the Anglican form of it particularly) to the ‘Godless’ people of the East End. Designed (like Christ’s Church, Spitalfields) by Nicholas Hawksmoor it dominates the skyline along Cannon Street between Cable Street to the north and what was the notorious Ratcliffe Highway below.

In 1850 (a few years after Rev. King;s appearance in court) the Church appointed a lay preacher as rector at St George’s. This didn’t go down very well with the congregation. According to the London Encyclopaedia (Weinreb & Hibbert, 1983):

‘As a protest, there were catcalls and horn blowing, and some male members of the congregation went into the church smoking their pipes, keeping their hats on, and leading barking dogs. Refuse was thrown onto the altar. The church was closed for a while in 1859, and the rector, owing to his poor health, was persuaded by the author Tom Hughes [the author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays] to hand over his duties to a locum’.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper, Sunday, January 10, 1847]

An echo of Oliver Twist in Bethnal Green

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If you are familiar with the plot of Oliver Twist you will remember that young Oliver is bound as an apprentice to Mr Sowerberry, an undertaker, by the magistrate (who takes pity on the boy and saves him from the clutches of the brutish chimneysweep, Mr Gamfield). Of course Oliver is far from safe at the Sowerberrys, because of the callous nature of the undertaker’s wife and the other apprentice, Noah Claypole. Eventually Oliver runs away and tramps to London.

Dickens published the first chapter of Oliver Twist in 1837 (the year Queen Victoria came to the throne) and – as a former court reporter himself – he drew upon his experiences and those of the people he observed in the courts, debtors prisons, and workhouses of early Victorian London.

At the every end of 1839 the sitting justice at Lambeth Street Police Court, Mr Hardwick, heard an application to apprentice a pauper boy (just like Oliver) to a silk weaver in Spitalfields. The application was made by the Beadle of St George’s in the East whose name was not Bumble, but Overton. He wanted the boy off the parish books (and therefore its costs) and apprenticed to a weaver so he could earn a useful trade.

However, the Beadle of Bethnal Green, a man named Christie, appeared in court to object to the application. He told Mr Hardwick that the local silk weavers (the descendants of the Huguenot refugees that had fled persecution in France after 1685 when Louis XIV revoked  the  Edict of Nantes) were in a parlous state. The weavers had prospered in the East End until their monopoly on trade began to unravel in the second half of the 18th century. By the 1830s many of them were facing desperate times.

Christie told the court that in the last few weeks the Bethnal Green Poor Law Guardians had been forced to offer relief to 200 families, ‘and of those upwards of 150 were silk weavers’.  The weavers simply could not afford to take on apprentices at this time as there was not enough work to support their families as they were, let alone to feed more hungry mouths. Even if a weaver worked 15 or 16 hours a day he was unable to earn more than 7 or 8 shillings a week (about £17 in today’s money).

The beadle confirmed that the Worship Street magistrates had stopped binding apprentices in the area because of the hardship. Mr Hardwick agreed to the objection and refused to bind the lad, sending him back to the workhouse. The poor law guardians would have to wait for an improvement in the local economy if they were going to get their ‘Olivers’ off the books.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, January 1, 1840]

A pair of (literal) ‘house breakers’ are caught in Spitalfields

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When Mr Smart let his house in Gun Street, Spitalfields to Mr and Mrs Fadey he probably had no idea of the trouble it was going to cause him.John Fadey and his wife Mary were elderly and poor but they had a letter of reference from a man who was ‘then making a good figure in the world’, Mr Groebecker.

That was in November 1834 but wind forward to August and the situation had changed and Smart and the Fadeys were in the Worship Street Police Court. Groebecker had fallen from grace and was in now prison. And Mr Smart’s house was being dismantled, piecemeal.

The court heard that the Fadeys had been stripping the house of all saleable parts. A boy ‘belonging to them’ (their servant probably, not their son) was seen cutting out the window panes for the couple to hawk ‘about the streets for sale’.

‘The doors and window sashes, chimney pieces, the lead from the roof, everything, in short, that could be made available, had been carried off.’ When a neighbour challenged them they were told to mind their own business. At last Smart found out what was happening and called the police.

Constable 26 of H Division turned up at the property and Mr Fadey tried to escape; the policeman chased him over the rooftops before finally securing him. When what remained of the house was searched it was found to be almost devoid of property; the couple had literally sold everything and were sleeping on straw.

In court a  surveyor estimated the cost of the damage at £31 10s (about half a year’s wages for a labourer) and another witness testified that the couple were suspected of committing similar offences in four other locations. The magistrate remanded them for further examination so these ‘other’ offences could be looked into.

I imagine John Fadey was trying to survive in the only way he understood and exploiting the absentee landlords of the East End to do so. Landlords were notorious for evicting tenants who couldn’t pay their rent, often detaining their goods in the process. Mr Smart was the victim in this case but it is hard not to have some sympathy with an elderly couple who have been driven by poverty to such a desperate state.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, August 28, 1835]