A waiter’s cheeky swig lands him him in court

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The Strand, London (late 1800s)

In 1881 Thomas Carr (originally from Norfolk) owned and ran the King’s Head public house at 265 The Strand.* The hostelry was close to where the new Royal Courts of Justice was nearing completion (it opened in 1882) and on one of London’s busiest thoroughfares (as the illustration above suggests). In late November Mr Carr employed a waiter to work in the pub serving what would seem to be quite high class customers.

William Whitlock had been working at the King’s Head for just three weeks when he seriously blotted his copybook. He was accused of stealing a bottle of champagne by Mr Carr’s son, and prosecuted at the Bow Street Police court in front of the sitting magistrate, Mr Flowers.

Mr Carr junior said he had seen the waiter carrying a bottle of champagne into the pantry and so followed him in. Once inside he challenged him and Whitlock told him that a gentlemen had left some wine in the bottle after he’d finished with it and he was taking it as ‘his perquisites’.

Carr explained that ‘in obtaining wine for customers it is the practice to give a bono check [a blank cheque in other words], and mby these means the prisoner [Whitlock] obtained the bottle of champagne on the representation that it was for a customer’.

Now, whether he intended to take the whole bottle or just finish the dregs is not made clear. Carr’s son said he saw Whitlock pouring water into the bottle – to dilute the wine or rinse it out having swigged the last half glass? Either way he had ‘no right to any wine’ while he was working and so shouldn’t have acted as he did. But it hardly seems to be the crime of the century.

Nevertheless the magistrate was faulty adamant that a crime (theft) had been committed. He found the waiter guilty and sentenced him to one month’s imprisonment. I doubt Mr Carr expected this outcome nor , it seems, did he welcome it. His solicitor approached the bench and pleaded for Whitlock’s freedom. Mr Flowers then agreed to substitute a 30s fine for the prison term. This was still a hefty punishment for a low paid worker – 30s in 1881 represents about £200 in spending power today – but at least it kept him out of gaol at Christmas.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, December 17, 1881]

*The pub has long gone and now it is a smart office block owned by a Japanese telecom company.

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Two thieves ‘going snowing’ are caught by the peeled eyes of a child detective.

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I have a dictionary of underworld slang on my shelves. It is a fascinating compendium of words associated with crime, criminals and punishment. There are dozens of words for policeman for example, very few of them nice ones! Much of it is thieves ‘cant’; slant – such as cockney rhyming slang – used to conceal meaning and confound attempts at arrest or prosecution. So we get slang words or phrases for certain sorts of offences, many of them to do with different kinds of theft.

One of these is ‘going snowing’. Nothing to do with the inclement weather we are currently experiencing but instead a reference to stealing clothes or linen from washing lines.

Ruth Williams and Catherine Conway usually earned their living by selling (or ‘hawking’) lace on the streets. I rather suspect that they weren’t always absolutely honest in revealing the sources of the materials they sold on, and in December 1849 a sharp-eyed young girl landed them in court.

Williams and Conway entered the garden of house in Chelsea and knocked on the door, offering to sell some of their lace. As Williams discussed her goods with the woman at the door Conway stayed close to a line of washing drying nearby. When she was quite sure she wasn’t being watched she must have snatched a few items from the line and concealed them about her person. The pair then made off, no doubt to try the scam elsewhere.

However, this time they had been observed. The house belonged to the Walbedge family and their 11 year-old daughter had been carefully watching the two strangers from the moment they arrived. As soon as they left through the gates the girl ran to tell her mother that she thought she’d seen them steal some linen.

Mrs Walbedge quickly despatched the child to follow the women at a  distance, to see where they went. Meanwhile she checked, and discovered that they had indeed been robbed. The little girl stuck to her task and followed the thieves for ‘some considerable distance’ before she met a policeman, ‘quietly’ told him what she’d seen and had the pair arrested.

Back at the police station the women were searched and the missing linen found on them. When they appeared at Westminster Police Court they were committed for trial on the child’s evidence. Shaw Taylor would be have been proud – ‘keep ’em peeled’ as he used to say on Junior Police Five.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 14, 1849]

The pair don’t seem to have made it to the Old Bailey on this occasion but just two years later a Catherine Conway was acquitted of a very similar theft (of a shirt that was wet, suggesting it had come from a line), in a location not that far from this one.

‘A very miserable story’ of the path to disgrace and ruin for a lady writer in Bayswater

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This case is curious because it sheds some light on late Victorian attitudes towards mental health, alcoholism and class.

Mrs Maria Wilkin was the widow of an army officer, a major no less. She was just 53 years of age and lived in rented rooms in Bayswater. It seems she tried to support herself by writing, a precarious way to earn one’s living, especially for a woman in the late 1800s.

She was up before Mr Plowden at Marylebone Police court on a charge of stealing a bottle of brandy from her landlady, Mrs Street. At first the hearing and been postponed so  that Mrs Wilkin could call witnesses in her defence and now, in early December 1893, she had one person to speak for her and a legal advocate.

The case was again presented, and Mrs Wilkin’s defence offered. Her character witness simply said she knew her, but not well. It was hardly a glowing reference and probably reflected the embarrassment the witness felt at being brought into public courtroom to defend someone whose behaviour she found objectionable.

Her barrister told Mr Plowden that Mrs Wilkin received regular visits from her family and was well cared for by them. At this point the accused woman objected, ‘denying she under the care of anybody’. She asserted her independence and  assured the magistrate she could support herself, by writing. Her previous landlady had ben quite happy to let her rent the rooms, so long as the rent ‘was guaranteed’.

‘Well, yes’, said Mr Plowden, ‘there’s the difficulty’. The rent clearly was not guaranteed and Mrs Wilkin was struggling to cope. He said it ‘was a most lamentable and painful’ case.

‘He had heard a great deal about the prisoner and her antecedents, and he did not know whether to blame or pity her, but it was a very miserable story. He had no doubt that she did steal the brandy. In her sober senses she would, no doubt, have shrank from doing such an act. But, under the influence of a craving for drink, she took the bottle of spirits’.

He would prefer it if her relatives would ‘take care of her’, in other words take her away from Mrs Street’s rooms and look after her at home. This would represent a move from independent living into care, something that we all may have to contemplate at one point in our lives, or the lives of our nearest and dearest. For the vast majority of Victorians care was not something they could contemplate; the working classes had the workhouse or the insane asylum, hopefully Mrs Wilkin, as a member of the middle classes, would be able to either continue her independent lifestyle or move in with her extended family.

The alternative was made starkly clear to her by the magistrate however. He would release her on the promise (guaranteed by her recognisances) that if necessary she would be recalled to court to face the consequences of her theft. It was a warning to her: if she was not able to resist the temptation to steal again then she faced prison where she ‘would be disgraced and ruined for life’.

Finally he told her that  he’d like her to enter a ‘retreat’ for a time, so that she could rid herself of her addiction to alcohol. Such retreats for ‘inebriate women of the better class’ had been established in England, Australia and the US in the second half of the nineteenth century. Whether Maria could afford one is a moot point however, and the court was offering her no financial assistance. Alcoholism was widely believed to be a working class issue and that is where most of the Temperance Movement’s efforts were concentrated, but this demonstrates that it was a problem at all levels of society in the 1890s.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, December 12, 1893]

A young girl is cruelly used by her callous stepfather

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When Sarah Craddock was put in the dock at Marylebone Police Court to answer a charge of stealing from her master it uncovered an ugly family quarrel, in which she was being used as a pawn.

Sarah was just 15 and had been working as a domestic servant in the home of Mr George Provaze in St John’s Wood. She had been dismissed, not for stealing, but for absenting herself from the house without permission. However, after she had left the girl’s stepfather had called on Mr Provaze to inform him that he’d found a number of items in Sarah’s effects that he believed belonged to him.

The case was reported to the police and a detective instructed to investigate. Detective sergeant Laidlaw accompanied Mr Provage south of the River Thames to the Craddock home in Bermondsey. There the following items were found: ‘a pipe and case, four handkerchiefs’ and a number of other things, amounting in value to around 20s. Having had a look at them Mr Provaze and one of his staff, Harriet Hazel, were able to confirm that they had indeed been stolen from the house.

In court DS Laidlaw revealed that the girl had insisted that her step father had asked her to steal the goods and she’d given the pipe to him. Indeed, he’d even used it!

Next to appear was Sarah’s mother who confirmed her daughter’s evidence and said that her husband had also tried to get her other, younger daughter, to steal for him. She also claimed that he had ‘been knocking her about most cruelly’. When she’d taken him to court about it he’d sought revenge by getting his step daughter into trouble. So the unnamed stepfather was trying to break up the family home, perhaps to strip away his wife’s support network from under her. Mr Mansfield, the justice at Marylebone, remanded Sarah in custody for further examination.

Given that the likely result of a successful prosecution would see Sarah not only dismissed from a valuable and respectable position but also publicly shamed and possibly imprisoned, it was a drastic and extremely cruel course of action. It reminds us that spousal abuse could (indeed can) take very many forms.

[from The Standard, Thursday, December 06, 1883]

A pair of well-read rogues at the Mansion House

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The New Police (created in London in 1829) spent most of their time on patrol. They were tasked with knowing their beat inside out; all the locals, shops, warehouses and dwellings while keeping an eye out for suspicious characters, open windows and broken locks. The aim of the police was crime prevention and deterrence and in this they were a ‘modern’ extension of the old watchmen of early modern and eighteenth-century London.

One of these new ‘Peelers’ (after Sir Robert Peel, the home secretary that created them) was walking his beat on Liverpool Street in early December 1851 when he noticed two men acting suspiciously. One seemed to be trying to hide something under his coat while the other glanced about, as if checking whether anyone had seen them.

Perhaps noticing the policeman they turned into a street and the ‘bobby’ (another nickname derived from Peel) watched as one stopped and trued to time a pair of books up with a piece of string.  The officer (named in the newspaper report) approached and stopped them and asked what they were doing.

The men, Henry Robinson and Henry Hamper, said they had been given the books by a beer-shop owner to take to a pawn shop on her behalf. The books in question were two volumes of the Waverley Novels by Sir Walter Scott. They were ‘elegantly bound’ and the policeman was unconvinced by the pair’s explanation.

It wasn’t hard to trace the beer shop owner, who doubled as the men’s landlady, and she and the would-be thieves all appeared at the Mansion House in front of the Lord Mayor. She explained that she had bought the books at £1 8 a volume and had a set of them.  There were a lot of the Waverley novels, published by Scott (anonymously at first) from 1814 to 1831. The novels (which included Ivanhoe, a work I have at home) were extremely popular with readers in the nineteenth century. The landlady’s set must have been worth quite a bit, as just one of them would be the equivalent of about £80 today.

In recent weeks she’d found that four of the books had been stolen from the trunk she kept them in. When challenged in court one of the Henrys admitted taking two books out of the trunk and selling them in Petticoat Lane for 5s, a fraction of their value.

The Lord Mayor chose not to send them for trial before a jury, possibly because the evidence was not as concrete as it might be. A jury might not be convinced that both of them had taken the items or that they hadn’t simply found them. Better then to use his summary powers and convict them as ‘rogues and vagabonds’ which required much less of a burden of proof. He sent them to prison for two months.

Sadly I don’t think they were allowed to take the books with them as reading matter.

[from The Morning Post , Tuesday, December 02, 1851]

A footman’s pledge lands him in court

Saturday Night Pawnbrokers

In a society where large numbers of Londoners lived quite close to the what became termed the ‘poverty line’* in the early twentieth century, people had to find a variety of strategies to survive. Obtaining credit if you were not already wealthy (or at least comfortable) was all but impossible. So, just as today’s society is blighted by ‘pay-day’ loan sharks that charge crippling amounts of interests on small amounts of borrowing to those who have no real capital to offset loans against, Victorian Britain had the pawnbroker.

You could take items of value to the pawnbroker to be exchanged for cash. In all probability you wouldn’t get the true value of your possessions or even close to it but, as the saying goes, ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ (Proverbs, 615.6). He would give you a ticket for your item and the cash. Hopefully you would then get enough money in the following week or so to be able to return to the ‘broker and redeem your coat, or hat or jewellery (or whatever it was you had ‘pledged’).

If you failed to redeem your possessions in the time allowed then the pawnbroker was allowed to sell it in his shop for whatever he could get. Today we see shops such as Cash-converters who operate in a quite similar way, providing a place for people to sell things they no longer want or buy cheap household goods that others have exchanged for much needed cash. This trade in second-hand (or ‘pre-owned’/’pre-loved’) goods has existed for centuries of course, its just that today we have taken it to a new level with car-boot sales, cash-converters and online auction sites like Ebay.

Pawnbrokers had earned a poor reputation in the late eighteenth century for stimulating a trade in stolen goods. When someone presented them with a item of clothing, some jewellery, or a watch, asking for a relatively small sum of money in exchange, many must have put aside any qualms they had and issued the ticket.

However, not all of them did and, as the courts tightened their grip on petty crime in the 1800s pawnbrokers increasingly came under scrutiny. The pawnbrokers was one of the first places the police would visit to enquire after stolen goods in the Victorian age and the ‘broker who had unwittingly (or wittingly) placed pilfered goods on his shelves would lose them or worse, risk prosecution himself. It therefore behoved the ‘respectable’ pawnbroker to ask a few questions before he accepted a pledge.

Henry Ayling was a footman working in the service of a fine London household run by Lady Stracey in Belgrave Square. Like most servants Ayling would have been paid monthly or annually (and not paid that much anyway) and so ready cash was at a  premium. Lady Stracey had hired a bicycle for her son but allowed Henry to use it when her son was at the family seat in the countryside. The footman must have found it useful in running errands across the capital and on his days off.

In November 1888 however, as he began to run out funds he seems to have decided that he could find another use for it besides hurtling round the streets of London. He deposited the bike with a pawnbroker in exchange for the princely sum of £2. He had apparently hoped to redeem the machine when he was paid. However, Lady Stracey had in the meantime decided her son no longer required the bicycle, so asked Ayling to return it to the hire firm in Maidenhead. Ayling promised to do so but it soon became clear that he hadn’t. When it was found that he’d pawned it the footman was arrested and charged with stealing it.

The case came before the police court magistrate at Westminster where Ayling explained what had happened. Fortunately  for him (and perhaps on Lady Stracey’s recommendation) Mr Partridge (the magistrate) opted to use his summary powers to deal with him. He applied the law, using the offence of ‘unlawful pawning’ (35 & 36 Vict. c.93. s.38) as set out in Oke’s Magisterial to fine the footman £3. This included the pledge of £2 to get the item back, so in effect he was being penalised to the sum of £1 for the offence. He was warned that if he failed to pay he’d go to prison for a month at hard labour.

Whether Lady Stracey penalised him further by dismissing him is not stated in the newspaper report but I rather suspect it is quite likely. Ayling was the loser here but so was the pawnbroker; the bike was worth £14 and he had only offered £2 for it. Had the footman defaulted he stood to make up to £12 profit on the deal, or around £750 today (about the cost of a modern high-end bicycle).

[from The Morning Post,  Monday, November 26, 1888]

One of there first investigators to use the poverty line ( which ‘denotes the minimum standard of necessities for life (fuel, lighting, rent etc) plus a calorific intake’) was Seebohm Rowntreee (1871-1954). His examination of poverty in York (published in 1900) was, (along with Charles Booth’s mapping of poverty in late 1880s London), a seminal study underpinning future social policy in the UK. 

A Frenchman’s ‘foolish frolic’ in Wardour Street

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Part of the role of a Police Court magistrate in Victorian London was to determine whether cases that came before them ought to be sent up through the justice system. Much of the ‘crime’ they dealt with was petty, but far from all of it was. The magistrate was often the first stop in a longer process of prosecution; he heard the initial case put by the police (or a private individual) and decided if it required to be heard by a judge and jury.

The magistrate had quite considerable summary powers (the ability to sit in judgement on prisoners alone and without a jury) and these increased after the implementation of the Summary Jurisdiction Act (1855). Nearly all juvenile crime and a growing amount of petty theft, non fatal violence, and a huge variety of disorderly and anti-social behaviour was left to these law men.

Today’s case is an example of a justice having to decide whether he was going to deal with something himself, as a minor offence, or whether he felt it was serious enough to warrant a jury trial at the Middlesex Sessions or the Old Bailey.

Mr Bingham was presiding over a number of cases on a cold Monday morning in November 1851. He might have preferred to have been taking in the sights at the Great Exhibition which was in full swing at the time. Sadly for him, a steady stream of drunks, vagrants, petty thieves and wife-beaters demanded his attention instead.

At least Theodore Guibelei offered some light relief and a touch of continental sparkle to his morning of deliberation. Guibelei (most probably a Frenchman) was initially charged with theft by the policeman that brought him into Mr Bingham’s courtroom.

PC Martin (C68) deposed that he had found his man knocking at doors on Wardour Street in the early hours of Sunday morning. It was about 2am and so this strange behaviour attracted the attention of the beat ‘bobby’. As Guibelei left the doorstep on No. 43 PC Martin stopped him. Clearly unhappy with whatever response the Frenchman have the constable asked him to accompany him back to the door he’d just left.

It was then that PC Martin saw that the house’s door knocker had been wrenched off completely. Assuming that it was an accident or a prank the officer demanded that Guibelei raise the occupants of the house so that he could ‘square the matter’ with them (in other words apologise for the damage and offer to pay to repair it).

When the man refused he was arrested and taken to the nearest police station. On being searched two knockers were discovered, and it was found that the other belonged to a house in Princes Street. As a result Guibelei was charged with theft and damage.

In court the justice had to make a decision. Was the man a thief or some sort of prankster or nuisance? It mattered because if he sent him for trial for theft there was a very real risk that, if convicted, he could go to prison or worse. In court Guibelei had support from a ‘professional person’.

He told Mr Bingham that his friend was no thief and there was no ‘animo furandi’ [no intent to steal] on his part. It was all just a ‘foolish frolic’. And the magistrate chose to believe him. He said he would deal with there and then and fined him £3 plus £1 in damages for each door knocker. The Frenchman paid the money and left a free man.

Perhaps because of the class of the defendant or his representative, or maybe b

 

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, November 25, 1851]