Monkey business on the Thames at Horseferry


Benjamin Elliot was appalled to see a ‘monkey boat’* being towed along the Thames at the Horseferry by a tug, seemingly without anyone on board her. He thought this was an accident waiting to happen and reported it to the authorities.

This resulted in the boat’s ‘captain’ – William Tiramine – who kept a pub, the King’s Arms at Thames-side, being summoned before the sitting magistrate at Westminster Police Court.

Tiramine complained that the summons was unfair; he had been on the tug and a couple of hands on deck who could have easily jumped over the to other boat if they had needed to. His protests that he had it under control were somewhat undermined by the revelation that there weren’t even any oars on the canal boat.

The witness counter argued that practice of towing a long narrow boat such as this was dangerous. Such boats were commonly used as family homes and needed to be piloted even when they were being towed.

The case was brought under the Thames Conservancy Act (1857/1866) on the strength of which the justice fined Tiramine 10s and awarded 11s 6d costs. The fairly hefty penalty may have had something to do with the fact that this was not the first time Tiramine had appeared in court for a similar offence; indeed the reporter noted he had been ‘convicted more than once’ for doing exactly the same thing.

[from The Morning Post , Monday, February 09, 1880]

*a Victorian term for a narrow (canal) boat. Outside of London it was also used to denote the second of two boats – i.e the one being pulled by the other. The Horseferry (at Lambeth) was finally replaced by a bridge (Lambeth bridge) in 1862, so presumably Tiramine’s boat was passing close by this spot when Ellitt saw it. Now the horseferry is memorialized in Horseferry Road.


A rubbish thief in Westminster


Parish Dustman, c.1820

Not for the first time I’m indebted to the curiosity of a fellow historian to make sense of a very short entry in the newspapers covering the Police Courts of the Metropolis in the early 19th century.

In February 1833 the Morning Post reported that John Stockton, ‘a well known flying dustman of Duck-lane, Westminster’ had appeared at the Queen’s Square Police Court charged with theft.

But Stockton hadn’t stolen valuables or money, or even food; he was accused of pinching ‘a quantity of dust’ from the Duke of Leeds in Whitehall. The report, sadly, gave no details of how much dust was stolen, or how the thief was caught. He was found guilty however, and the magistrate handed down a hefty financial penalty of £10.

Stockton didn’t have that kind of money and so he was sent to prison by default.

But what was a ‘flying dustman’?

I hadn’t a clue but I knew Lee Jackson would. His fascinating study of the ‘dirty trades’ of London is an excellent read and his Victorian London webpage is a resource I use all the time.

Dust was a by-product of the burning of fuels like coal and wood, and there was a lot of it. Ratepayers  demanded it was cleared away, and so parish officials employed men to take it away – sometimes carts passed streets twice a week in order to keep up with the mounds of dust and other refuse a huge city like London produced.

But dust also had a value. It could be mixed with other materials to make bricks and was employed for a variety of purposes. So its collection could be profitable and the capital soon spawned its own industry in waste removal. Flying dustmen were so called ‘from their habit of flying from one district to another’, a report into ‘Street Life in London’ from 1877 explained.

We still have ‘dustmen’ today of course, although they rarely collect ‘dust’ and are now given much more modern titles. They continue to remove the stuff we don’t want of course, and are part of wider recycling of materials and ‘rubbish’ that our Victorian ancestors would have understood and approved of.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, February 08, 1833]


Praise for one old copper while a sharp eyed dealer intercepts the theft of another…


Apologies in advance for the convoluted puns in the title but sometimes it is very hard to resist!

1856 was the year which saw the passing of the County & Borough Police Act – the final piece of legislation that ensured that professional police forces (the forerunners of the ones in place today) were created. The first act (in 1829) had established the Metropolitan Police in London (excluding the old City which retained an independent force). There were a series of small local acts and the important 1839 Rural Constabulary Act – or County Police Act (which allowed but did not demand) that counties create their own bodies on the lines of the Met.

The 1856 act finally ended the voluntary system of parish constables that had existed since the medieval period, in towns the old watch had gradually been replaced by uniformed constables under a hierarchical system of control.

Britain’s experiment with modern policing was now fully underway.

At Westminster Police Court in January 1856 there were just two hearings that caught the attention of the newspaper reporter sent there by his editor.

James Thomas was charged with stealing a copper (not a policeman but ‘a large kettle, now usually made of iron, used for cooking or to boil laundry’). Thomas tried to sell the copper to Charles Clark, a metal dealer who had a shop on Queen Street in Pimlico. 

Clark was suspicious because he thought from ‘its appearance that it had been stolen’, so he turned Thomas away. But when the prisoner left Clark quickly alerted a police constable who arrested Thomas and took him into custody.

The man denied the charge at Westminster and was remanded for further examination.

The press also reported that Inspector Moran from B Division was retiring from his present post to take up a position as the inspector of police at the House of Lords. Inspector Moran had served B Division for twenty years, so almost from the creation of the Met itself and the magistrate thanked him publicly for his efforts.

Mr Arnold told him:

‘I ought not, perhaps, to express regret at an event which I hope is conducive to your interests, but I will take this opportunity of publicly offering my testimony to the zeal and ability you have always exhibited in the discharge of your duties in this court, and of stating my entire satisfaction with your conduct in every instance brought under my notice’.

Praise indeed and evidence perhaps of the by now fairly widespread satisfaction with, and recognition of, established professional policing – something that was far from evident in the first decade of the Met’s existence.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, January 19, 1856]

Sibling rivalry gets out of hand at Westminster

Anyone with brothers or sisters is familiar with the petty arguments and jealousies that we grow up with, and I’m sure most parents are aware that these exist as well. Most of the time these are manageable and parents intervene to restore order and occasionally to ‘bang heads together’ if necessary. It is certainly unusual for them to end up in court, but this is just what happened to the Howell family in 1860.

17 year-old Jane Howell had been a domestic servant but had ‘left a position’ (either sacked, or had ran away we don’t know) at the end of December 1859. She returned to the family home where her mother and her brother Robert lived.

Almost immediately there were problems. Jane and her mother argued, and Mrs Howell accused her daughter of being ‘too fond of late hours’ (the Victorian equivalent of being a ‘dirty stop out’). When Jane and her mother fought it seems that Robert intervened on behalf of his mother.

On New Year’s day Robert struck his sister, blacking her eye. She put up with this but a few days later he entered her mother’s room where Jane was. Robert was looking for a comb on the mantle shelf but couldn’t find it. He and Jane exchanged harsh words and then he hit her again, ‘blackening her other eye’.

This was quite enough for Jane who went to get a warrant to bring an allegation of assault against her brother. He had managed to evade the police sent to pick him up however, and in the meantime had continued to abuse his sister. Finally Mrs Howell had thrown her daughter out of the house and the case eventually found its way to Westminster Police Court.

In court Mrs Howell presented a very different story, backing her son’s account. Jane was out late too often and when chastised for this my her mother she had rounded on her, abusing her. Jane’s accusations that Robert had hit her and used ‘filthy language’ were dismissed and instead Jane was painted as the villain.

The magistrate asked how she could have received the two black eyes but Mrs Howell told him that the girl had collided with the door of the house as she ran out. Robert claimed he had tried to mediate between the warring females, and tried to ‘coax’ his sister ‘as much as he could’ to behave better.

‘By pushing her out of the house, and blackening her eyes I suppose’ asked the magistrate, clearly frustrated with the whole sorry affair.

Jane declared that she could provide witnesses to the abuse she’d suffered and PC Page (147 B) reported that when he had arrested Robert the neighbours attested to the bruises the girl had suffered.

Mum had sided with her son over her daughter, there seems to have been no father at home (he may have died or abandoned them). Perhaps she felt she closer to Robert, perhaps she was scared of him and his violence. Perhaps Jane was a very difficult young woman. Whatever the truth it didn’t end very satisfactorily for the former servant girl.

Robert was bound over to keep the peace towards his sister but I can’t imagine they all lived happily every after.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, January 18, 1860]

‘You won’t believe it’s not butter’



Today we are protected by considerable and complex laws affecting our consumer rights. Food is labeled (albeit confusingly at times) with levels of fat, sugar, chemicals etc. There are directives about weight, sell by and use by dates and governing packaging and advertising. Caveat emptor applies to many things but not really to food.

In was very different in the early Victorian period when all sorts of things were added to food and other consumables to make them cheaper, sweeter, or more attractive. The 1800s saw an attempt to standardise food however, and to remove the poisons that were routinely used to adulterate things such as beer, milk and bread. The ever expanding bureaucracy of the Victorian state passed more and more pieces of legislation and hired inspectors to enforce them.

On occasion we can see the results of this in the Police Courts of the Metropolis.

In December 1876 Charles Theobald , a grocer with a shop at 20 Regent’s Street, was summoned before the magistrate at Westminster for selling butter that was not really butter.

Owen Williams, an officer of the Board of Works, had entered Theobald’s shop and asked for a pat of butter. Theobald’s 12 year-old son served the customer, and sold him a pound of butter.

Mr Williams explained to the court that he wanted the butter it for analysis and that what he thought he had been sold was ‘butterine’, not butter. This, he added, was not supposed to be sold ‘as the natural production from the cow’. Williams took it away for analysis by a Dr Du Pré who found that it was only 10 percent butter and 90 percent animal fats. What the Theobalds were selling was a butter substitute. There seems to have been nothing wrong with doing so so long as it was’t being sold as the superior dairy product.

Buttering seems to have been a successful product in the USA in the Edwardian period, most of the adverts (some of them terribly racist it has to be said) come from across the Atlantic. The first dictionary reference is just before the First World War, so the Theobalds may have been pioneers. It is certainly much older than ‘I can’t believe its not butter’ which has been manufactured by Unilever since the mid 1970s.

Charles Theobald explained that he had recently punched the shop and all its stock just 6 days earlier and his son had no idea that he was doing something wrong. He didn’t know that there was a different product, the buttering looked like butter after all. It was genuine mistake and would not occur again. Both he and his son were ‘perfectly innocent of any attempt at fraud, and any fraud lay with his predecessor’.

The magistrate accepted his word and cautioned him for the future, the summons was then dropped and the grocer was free to return to his new business.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, December 28, 1876]

NB if you are one of the growing number of regular  readers of this blog I just wanted to say thank you. I started this as an exercise in keeping my research brain active on a daily basis; the fact that hundreds of people seem to find it interesting enough to dip into from time to time helps me keep it going.

Cabbies get a raw deal at Westminster


The sitting magistrate at the Westminster Police Court in 1870 was a Mr Woolrych and it would be fair to say he didn’t much like Hansom cab drivers. These vehicles were the Victorian equivalent of the modern black cab with the ‘knowledge’ of the city streets and the license to trade upon them. There were rules about routes and about charges and about the places where cabs could ‘stand’ and wait for customers. In the eighteenth century there even seems to have been a one-way system in place in the City of London.

So cabs were regulated and this supposedly protected the public and the drivers themselves. But given that complaints brought for and against cabbies were usually heard by the capital’s magistracy, who sat alone and with considerable summary powers, the drivers often found themselves at the mercy of the justice’s prejudices.

This was especially the case when the complaints about cabbies were brought by ‘the better sort’ and where the drivers were attempting to prosecute someone of a social station above them (which was of course, often).

In December 1872 Westminster Police Court was thronged with cab drivers as two separate cases unfolded that concerned them.

First up was Harris Seaton, a driver who brought a charge against the Reverend Graham of Hawkhurst Lodge in Sydenham, for not paying his fare. There were some unusual circumstances behind the clergyman’s fare dodging. It had been raining hard when Seaton picked up his fare outside Burlington Arcade on Piccadilly a month previously. As they approached Hyde Park Corner the reverend requested that the driver stop and raise his window so he might get some air.

By now it was ‘raining and hailing’ and Seaton was concerned that his carriage would get wet making it serviceable for any other customers that night, so he refused. The Rev. Graham insisted but Seaton stuck to his guns, ‘as he did not wish to damage his master’s property and wet the cushions’. Angry, the clergyman alighted from the cab and walked off without paying. Seaton  had summoned him for the fare (1s) and so the pair found themselves in court.

The vicar complained that he had no air and ‘he was nearly stifled’. He had an umbrella with him and would have kept the cab dry with it. It was only a short ride (200 yards from Piccadilly), so he had hardly avoided much of a fare anyway he insisted. The magistrate sided with the reverend Graham. He thought it reasonable to allow him some air (so long as he took precautions to protect the can from damage), and if wilful damage was caused, well then the driver might prosecute him for that, but not for the fare. He dismissed the case much to the annoyance of the assembled cabmen in the public gallery.

If they were unhappy about Mr Woolrych’s decision making in the case of the fare dodging vicar then the next case did little to cheer them up.

Three cab drivers answered summonses charged with leaving their vehicles unattended at a cab rank on Stockbridge Terrace, Pimlico. Cabbies were supposed to remain with their cabs and be ready to pick up fares but it seems that on a fairly regular basis drivers vacated their cabs to go and get some refreshment.

A fellow magistrate, Mr Newton, had found cabs unattended before so he reported it to the police who set a watch on the stand. On the evening of the 28 November 1872 three drivers pulled up, left their cabs tethered and went into a nearby public house. They were observed going in and not reappearing for 25 minutes the court was told.

‘During this time’ Mr Woolrych was informed, ‘cabs were wanted and drivers could not be found, and among the gentlemen that complained was Sir Edward Cunyngham’. When the drivers came out fo the pub the PC on watch confronted them and was given a mouthful of abuse by two of them. The drivers’ solicitor defended them saying they had only been inside for a few minutes and it was reasonable that they sought some much needed sustenance. He also calimed that none had sworn at the constable.

Mr Woolrych thought it outrageous that the drivers should behave like this and fined them 4s 2d each, or threatened  them with five days in prison. They paid.

If I was the magistrate I’d have been inclined to make sure I didn’t need a hansom cab anytime soon.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, December 12, 1872]

P.S In 1876 Sir Edward Cunyngham, was accused along with two other men  (Charles de Chasterlaine and Nathan Wetherall, with conspiracy to defraud. Sir Edward was locked up in Newgate for want of bail and he died before he could be tried at the Old Bailey. The other two men were convicted and sent to gaol.

Two ‘disgraceful’ assaults at Westminster

In early December 1860 the newspaperman at the Westminster Police Court reported two unrelated cases of violence against women. This was a quite common sort of offence for the press to write about as it allowed them to comment on the brutish behavior of working-class males, especially where drink was involved.

The first of these hearings was that of William Becroft who was charged with assaulting Eliza Day. Eliza was a servant living at Leader Street in Chelsea and she was on an errand for her mistress when she ran into Bevrift and another man near the Admiral Keppel pub.

Without any provocation Becroft seized her ‘by the lower part of her abdomen, threw her on the stones, and turned her clothes over her head’. She hurt her back as she was thrown to the ground and dropped the 5s shillings she had been holding in her hand.

She must have cried out because very quickly the landlord of the pub came to her rescue, helping her up as a policeman arrived. She pointed out the two men who were running away and Sergeant Morgan (3B) of the Met ran after them and secured Becroft.

The prisoner’s mate however, tussled with the copper and briefly freed Becroft. Sergeant Morgan recaptured the offender but suffered some bruises and bites in the scuffle. The magistrate issued a warrant to arrest the other man and remanded Becroft in custody for a week.


Next up Abigail Mansfield appeared to complain about an assault at her place of work. She alleged that Henry Miller (‘a big powerful fellow’) had come into her ‘eating-house in Chelsea’, ordered some bread and soup, finished that and had ‘seconds’, and then refused to pay.

When she pressed him he hit her and ran away. Mrs Mansfield’s husband confirmed his wife’ s story and added that as he had tried to stop Miller getting away he had been pushed and a window had been broken by the assailant.

Miller was pursued by a policeman and captured. In court he said the husband had broken the window and claimed he had been drunk at the time so wasn’t responsible for his actions. Mr. and Mrs Mansfield were elderly and her injuries were serious and not surprisingly the magistrate was not inclined to believe Miller’s version of events or excuse his drinking.

‘So you think drunkenness an excuse for going into this woman’s shop, eating as much as you could, and then assaulting her in this way when she asked you for the money for what you had purchased?’

Miller was fined 40s plus 5s costs or offered the alternative of a month in prison. It seems he had no funds so prison it was.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, December 4, 1860]