John Brown and his John Thomas: a perversion stopped by the Vagrancy Act

800px-Tramp_smoking_cigar_with_cane_over_arm_-_restorationJohn Brown had a bit of a predilection. The white-haired Londoner, who was around 70 years old, had a disconcerting habit of exposing himself in public places.

John Brown would get his John Thomas out at every opportunity, in any public place in the vicinity of Whitefriars.

Whitefriars, between Fleet Street and the river Thames, had once been a salubrious place, but was now acquiring a reputation as “a debtors’ sanctuary and thieves’ paradise”, a dingy area where people fought and cheated their way through life.

It was in this darkening part of London that John Brown operated, targeting not not only women, but children, horrifying them. It was in this small, grim network of alleys and wharves that Brown had been able to carry on with his anti-social, sexual behaviour for a considerable amount of time.

But in 1824, a new vagrancy act was passed, that suddenly curtailed Brown’s activities.

The interior of the Guildhall, 1820

The interior of the Guildhall, 1820

Although the vagrancy acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth century have been regarded as categorising a huge range of activities and behaviour as disorderly, or as examples of vagrancy, for the purposes of prosecution and punishment, this act showed itself to have a useful purpose.

Its predecessor had already regarded exposing oneself as an act of vagrancy, referring to “all persons openly and indecently exposing their persons in any street, public place, or highway”, but 5 Geo IV, c.83 made this clearer.

It stated that “very person wilfully, openly, lewdly, and obscenely exposing his person, in any street, road, or public highway, or in the view therefore, or in any place of public resort, with intent to insult any female” would be classed as a rogue and vagabond, and be punished by being imprisoned in the common gaol for up to three months.

This was part of a concerted effort to clamp down on activities perceived as immoral – a moral crusade, if you will, as a reaction to economic and social problems following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, that continued over the course of the 19th century.

The local residents of Whitefriars took the first opportunity to bring John Brown to the sitting magistrate of the Guildhall, Alderman Thompson. He was charged under the new act with having “for several nights successively” exposing himself to his neighbours.

Two of his victims, both women, gave evidence against him, and it was established that the case was both fully proved and came within the remit of the new statute.

Alderman Thompson regarded it as a “very aggravated” case, because Thomas repeatedly carried on his activities, night after night, and therefore sentenced him to the maximum penalty the 1824 Vagrancy Act allowed – three months of hard labour in the House of Correction.

Source: The Times, 30 June 1834, page 3; “Old and New London: Volume 1” (Cassell, Petter and Galpin, London: 1878), pp.182-199, via British History Online.

 

 

Advertisements

The 400 arrests of Annie Parker: newspaper representations of a drunken woman

Pin cushion embroidered by Annie Parker, using her own hair, c.1879. Photo by Nell Darby.

Pin cushion embroidered by Annie Parker, using her own hair, c.1879. Photo by Nell Darby.

Yesterday, I looked briefly at the Museum of London’s forthcoming exhibition on London crime – The Crime Museum Uncovered. One of the artefacts being displayed in this exhibition is a pin cushion embroidered by a woman named Annie Parker in 1879, a woman notorious, according to the museum’s publicity material, for having been arrested over 400 times for drink-related offences, and for having embroidered the cushion using her own hair as thread.

I was intrigued by this simple rendering of Annie as a drunk with a penchant for pulling her hair out. Who was Annie, really?

On 2 March 1879, Reynolds’ Newspaper reported that “an unfortunate” 31-year-old by the name of Annie Parker had appeared in court in Greenwich accused of being drunk and incapable. Already, the mythologising of Annie was underway, as the piece on her appearance was titled “Three Hundred Times in Prison for Drunkenness”.

Annie was, at the time, living in the slum area of Mill Lane in Deptford, but had previously been ‘rescued’ by the Greenwich Branch of the Church of England Temperance Society, who had found her a home with a well-meaning ‘lady’. Annie had apparently been unable to cope with living with this paragon of virtue, and had run away back to her previous life.

On the night of this particular offence, Annie had been found by a police constable, lying on the pavement at New Cross. She was so drunk that he had had to transport her to the police station in a cart. Once there, she had started to tear at her own clothes, and had actually been charged with this offence too, until the police clerk said that it would only be an offence if she was in a workhouse ward (presumably because the clothes would have been the workhouse’s) and that “a prisoner could not be charged with tearing up her own clothes in a police cell.”

Before the magistrate in Greenwich, Annie heard that she had spent 350 out of the previous 365 days in prison. She had been written off by authority; the local police inspector said that if she was “discharged now, she would be in custody again on Monday.”

Yet Annie was suffering. She was an alcoholic who probably got more of a sense of security being in prison than ricocheting between workhouse, lodgings and the unfamiliar residences of well-meaning temperance society members who couldn’t possibly know how it felt to need alcohol as Annie did. In police cells, Annie complained of “suffering” and of waking up with water dripping from her hair – she was not treated sympathetically.

There was little the legal system could do for Annie, either. In this case, she was simply imprisoned again, this time to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.

It was noted in the press that the 300 prior convictions mentioned had all been cases heard at Greenwich; whether an additional 100 took place elsewhere, or after this one conviction, or whether there was an element of hyperbole in the reporting of her life is not clear. What was significant is that Annie was “never out of prison more than two or three days”.

This Annie may have been the same woman mentioned in a press report in 1875, although her given age was wrong; in this case, a 40 year old named Annie Parker came before the Greenwich magistrates accused of drunkenness and breaking a pane of glass in the window of the Deptford police station. In this case, it was reported that Annie had “only left Maidstone gaol on Saturday last, after undergoing a month’s imprisonment” for drunkenness, and that at the police station, whilst waiting for a charge against her to be taken, “she remarked that was the first time she had been brought to the station without being conveyed on a stretcher.” It sounds like the same person. (In this case, Annie was sentenced to two months in Maidstone Gaol – Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 7 October 1877)

In 1884, the press again reported Annie appearing before the Greenwich magistrate, “charged for over the 300th time with being drunk and disorderly” after being thrown out of the Centurion public house. In this case, Annie’s fragile state of mind was apparent. When the police inspector spoke, he related that Annie had tried to kill herself in the cell, and had to be monitored as a result. Annie’s response was to retort, “And I should have done it if I had the chance.” She was again imprisoned. (The Morning Post, 13 August 1884)

Just a year later, Annie was dead. It was not drink that killed her, but consumption, ending her life in the Greenwich workhouse infirmary. Unusually for a woman in and out of prison, her obituary was published in the press, in recognition of her ‘notoriety’. In this case, unusually, her positive qualities were focused on, and the embroidery featured in the Museum of London was also reported on in a sympathetic rather than exploitative way:

“The death has just taken place in Greenwich Union Infirmary of Annie Parker, aged 35 [sic], who has been over 400 times charged before the magistrates at Greenwich Police Court with drunkenness, but never with felony, and has spent the greater part of her life in prison… She was always exceedingly well conducted in prison, and shortly before her death sent a letter to Mr Marsham, the magistrate at Greenwich police court, thanking him for kindnesses, and at the same time acknowledging that her life had been misspent.

“She had a luxuriant head of hair, and on the morning of her death presented to Dr Dixon, the assistant medical officer of the infirmary, a lace-bordered sampler, on which was artistically worked, with her own hair, the hymn commencing ‘My God, my Father, whilst I stray.’ Another beautiful specimen of her hair work is in the possession of the Rev JW Horsey, for many ears chaplain to the Clerkenwell House of Detention, and a third is framed in the parlour of Mr James, Old King Street, Deptford.

“Annie Parker had received an excellent education, and a bad word never escaped her when before the magistrate. On one occasion a lady took her to Canada with a view to her reformation, but she could never resist intoxicating drink.” (Illustrated Police News, 29 August 1885)

This obituary recognised Annie’s good traits – her attitude to others, her careful work, and her education; it even commended her for never committing more serious offences. Yet there was no attempt to analyse her addiction to ‘the demon drink’, or to query the system that shuttled Annie in and out of prison and the workhouse. This was undoubtedly a complex woman with an addiction that could not be simply stopped by the good intentions of a few women; a woman who came from a decent background but who could never combat her own personal demons.

There was undoubtedly more to Annie than simply an ability to pull her own hair out to sew with – although the question of why she needed to do this is interesting in itself. Her obituary in the Illustrated Police News hints at a woman whose life deserves more attention than just a mention of how many offences she was charged with over the course of her short life.

 

Annie’s age was reported differently in different papers, as suggested above – the newspapers tended to be a bit inaccurate when it came to the personal details of those it wrote about. Her death certificate gives her age, in August 1885, as being 38 years old (FreeBMD, deaths, Sept 1885, Greenwich, 1d 567). It is also possible that Annie herself was unsure of her exact age, and gave different ages to the magistrates and police.

The case that revolved around the age of a goat

120px-Goat_PortraitIn 1839, a rather ludicrous case was heard at the Drumcondra Petty Sessions in Dublin regarding a goat stolen from a former policeman – where the case hinged on the age of the said animal.

The former policeman, Samuel Stephens, who was now working as a labourer, accused Conliffe Mill proprietor Mr Dollard of having a goat that Stephens swore had been stolen from him some three years earlier.

Magistrate Captain Cottingham noted that the case had been held over from a previous day in order for someone to be called to prove the age of the goat.

Stephens stated that his goat was around seven years old, whereas Dollard argued that HIS goat was only four.

In evidence, Stephens told the magistrate that in mid 1836, three goats had been stolen from him, and that he had received information that they had been stolen by a man and woman who lived in Spring Gardens.

When he had tracked down the couple, the woman said the goat was hers; but when asked where she had got it from, she burst into tears, and said she had bought it from a man in Dalkey about five weeks earlier.

Stephens said he was sure it was his goat; it had a white face, black neck and white sides.

The case got somewhat derailed by the defendant’s counsel’s curiosity about why Stephens had left the police.

“Did you like the service?”

“I did.”

“Did the service like you?”

“Certainly it did.”

“Then if you liked the service, and the service was equally fond of you, what was the cause of your leaving it and becoming a labourer?”

“I left it to go to a gentleman.”

“Will you swear you were not dismissed?”

“I left the police to go to a gentleman, I tell you.”

“Come, Sir, by virtue of your oath, were you not dismissed from the police?”

Stephens appealed to Captain Cottingham,

“Am I bound to answer the question?”

“You are.”

The defendant’s counsel, Mr Cantwell, then asked,

“Now, again, I ask you, and you must answer the question, were you not dismissed from the police?”

“Yes, I was.”

Further examination revealed that Stephens had been dismissed from the police for assaulted a man on the Naas Road.

His reputation for honesty somewhat damaged, he then detailed how he had bought the goats some three years before their theft.

One of the goats had been a kid then, and Stephens had paid half a crown for him. That was the goat he swore that Dollard had taken.

Mr Cantwell asked,

“Did you know the goat by any other marks than those you have described?”

An exasperated Stephens responded,

“Oh, it’s all a humbug! The goat is mine!”

“I quite agree with you that it is a humbug,” Cantwell replied.

A witness was then called, Laurence Brangan, who had given a kid to a Miss Connolly – and he thought this was the same goat that Dollard now had.

Then a Mr McLoghen was called, who said he was the man who had given a kid to Laurence Brangan, who had then given it to Miss Connolly… But he could not say that this goat was the same as that kid.

“Why, this gentleman’s evidence is of no value to anyone!” spluttered the magistrate. “He is not able to prove the identity!”

McLoghen was recalled. “Is it four or three years since you gave the kid to Mr Brangan?” asked the magistrate.

McLoghen was vague. “It is either three or four years since I gave it, but I cannot say which.”

Mr Cantwell complained that McLoghen was being given harder questions than Stephens had. McLoghen suddenly got his memory back, and said that the goat had been given three years earlier, not four.

Dalkey, home of the Connollys.

Dalkey, home of the Connollys.

Then Thomas Connelly of Dalkey was called, to state that Miss Connolly, his sister, had given him a goat the previous winter to keep on his land until the summer.

But in June 1838, McLoghen’s sister had asked Connolly to give the goat to Dollard’s wife as a present, and the goat was duly sent there.

Mr Cantwell believed that this convoluted evidence of multiple ownership made the case clear; but Cottingham, the magistrate, understandably remained confused. Again, he commented that he would like someone to tell him how old the goat was.

Now, for some reason, Stephens called a witness, called Larkin, ostensibly to prove that three years ago, Stephens had owned three goats.

Unfortunately for Stephens, though, Larkin, on being examined, couldn’t describe any of the goats to the magistrate.

And then, “a great deal of time” was spent “endeavouring to get somebody who could judge the age of a goat” – but nobody could be found.

Captain Cottingham, by now at the end of his – ahem – tether, announced his intention to dismiss the case. “I believe that Stephens is under the conscientious impression that the goat is his property, but it must be a mistake on his part.”

Stephens was not prepared to let this lie. “Oh! It is no mistake!” he exclaimed. “The goat is mine!”

The case looked like it would now have no speedy resolution, with both sides continuing to lock horns (sorry) over the age of a goat.

Source: Freeman’s Journal, Dublin, 19 September 1839

Looking through a magistrate’s eyes

I’ve been meaning to do this post since last summer – but better late than never! This is an insight into one of the magistrates I studied for my PhD, which includes a look round his house…

Richard Colt Hoare and his son

Richard Colt Hoare and his son

Sir Richard Colt Hoare was a Wiltshire magistrate, a member of the banking family. Born in 1758, he inherited the family estate of Stourhead, near Mere, on the Wiltshire/Somerset border.

Hoare was, as was typical for a rural justice, a member of the landed gentry. He professed sympathy for the rural poor, yet was, by his own status, somewhat distanced from them.

His attitude expressed a dichotomy amongst the magistrate; he commissioned portraits of the poor, showing them as both innocent and vulnerable and thus displaying publicly his empathy towards them.

However, he also kept man-traps in his house and made out lists of poachers who had been caught taking game from his lands.

Hoare’s ambivalence and contradictions perhaps reflected his own background. Although gentry, his status reflected the changing nature of the magistracy over the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The increasing workload of the rural magistrate was leading to the JP being drawn from a wider social group than previously – for example, a growing number of magistrates were now from a clerical background.

Hoare’s money was new(ish) money; he was descended from the founder of the bank, C. Hoare and Co. Unlike many gentry magistrates, Hoare was not educated at Oxford or Cambridge, and did not get admitted to one of the Inns of Court, a popular form of education for young gentlemen.

Stourhead

Stourhead

Instead, in his mid-20s, he inherited Stourhead, and indulged his passions for archaeology and travelling. But he was also a magistrate for decades – his notebooks covering the period between 1785 and 1834 – and High Sheriff for Wiltshire in 1805.

How accessible he was as a magistrate is debatable. He spent a lot of time travelling both in Britain and across Europe, and translated classical works.

He was certainly not always present at Stourhead, and in his absence, local people had to either travel further to another magistrate, or resolve their issues within their community rather than seeking the mediation and arbitration of a justice.

Hoare's library

Hoare’s library

Hoare was also concerned with appearances. He set his grand library up as his justicing room, where he would received those members of the local community who wanted him to resolve their disputes, or to report offences such as thefts and assaults.

This library must have appeared intimidating to callers. It was lined floor to ceiling with books – both antiquarian works and legal manuals, bound copies of statute law and books on local history.

But the most fundamental issue was access to the justicing room itself. Hoare constructed an exterior staircase entering into the room, so that callers would have to queue outside – regardless of the weather – rather than traipse through the interior of Stourhead to reach the room.

This does not suggest that Hoare saw himself as champion of the poor, or friend of the poor. Instead, it suggests that he was at a distance from those who came before him, and was keen to preserve that distance.

Those of equal status to himself may have been allowed to set foot in other rooms, but those who came before him charged with poaching, or other forms of theft, and who were drawn largely from the humblest ranks of rural society, knew their place as soon as they lined up on that staircase.

That is why visiting Stourhead is so valuable; the gap between the image the magistrate wanted to present, and the complex reality is clearly visible in the contrast between grand library and the small flight of stairs outside it.

For more information about the Hoare family, see the National Trust’s page here.

A pilfering barmaid at the Rising Sun

The Old Rising Sun on Marylebone High Street

The Old Rising Sun on Marylebone High Street

Florence Savins was a barmaid at the Old Rising Sun on Marylebone High Street. She was just 19 years old, and had been working at the pub for around two months.

But her behaviour was arousing suspicion. The pub’s takings had been falling off; money seemed to be disappearing. The landlord thought Florence had been taking money from her employer.

He called the police, and two police detectives, Keys and Brooks, duly arrived. He told them of his suspicions, and they took some coins from him and marked them.

They then called into the Rising Sun, pretending to be customers, and when Florence told them how much their beer was, they passed the coins over in payment.

When the landlord came to empty the till that night, he found that two shillings and a sixpence were missing. He called Sergeant Keys to the pub, and, in front of Palmer, Keys questioned Florence.

At first, she said she didn’t know what had happened to the missing purse, and said all the money she had been paid had gone straight into the till.

image2She then showed the men her purse, which contained over a pound, all in unmarked coins. However, she later produced the marked coins, admitting having pocketed them after receiving payment from a customer. She was immediately taken into custody.

Florence’s case was heard in May 1894 at the Marylebone Magistrates’ Court, the prosecutor being the famous solicitor Frederick Freke Palmer.

Freke Palmer asked for her to be dealt with leniently, and Walter Dobbin, from her employers (Dobbin & Co), promised her that if she told him all about the money, “he would do his best to be lenient to her”.

However, Mr Newton, the magistrate who dealt with her,  said,

“tradesmen could not carry on business if such offences were to be regarded as trivial matters.”

He sentenced Florence to 21 days hard labour.

Source: The Standard, London, 16 May 1894, p.6

The Bow Street Runners and the fortune-telling catoptrical

The Bow Street courtroom

The Bow Street courtroom

In a piece worthy of today’s Daily Mail, in 1800, the Caledonian Mercury reported on the illegal occupations undertaken by some of London’s immigrants.

It reported that ‘some foreigners’ who lived on Oxford Street, near Poland Street, were said to ‘possess a knowledge of the occult science, or, in plain terms, were fortune tellers’.

After a tip-off, John Revett, a Bow Street Runner, was despatched to Oxford Street. On reaching the house, he was ushered up to a chamber which contained a ‘very curious machine, called a catoptrical’ and a tablet on which were inscribed a series of questions.

The catoptrical was supposed to be able to answer these questions, but the audience had to pay a shilling for each question they wanted answered.

Each visitor had to look into a telescope-like barrel, supported on a glass tub, and, by the aid of mirrors, an answer would be shown.

The newspaper reported that only the ‘ignorant’ would have thought this was really magic, as the mechanism for working the machine was clearly visible, one of the ‘foreigners’ working the various figures and letters of the answer.

Officer Revett had been promised a wife for his shilling. He returned to the Bow Street magistrate, Richard Ford, to report this, and Ford duly issued a warrant to apprehend the ‘parties practicing this nefarious imposition.’

It took three officers – Revett, together with Townsend and Sayer – to carry out the warrant on Oxford Street. All, of course, paid their shilling to get their fortunes told first, with Sayer wishing he hadn’t, after he was told his wife would be unfaithful to him.

Unluckily for the ‘foreigners’, ‘no lucky omen gave notice of the approach of the officers of justice’; they were taken by surprise by their clients revealing themselves to be officers.

They were brought, in a coach, to the Bow Street public office at 10pm in the evening, and examined by Mr Ford.

Boys exercising at Tothill Fields Prison, or Bridewell. Via Wellcome Images (L0002980).

Boys exercising at Tothill Fields Prison, or Bridewell. Via Wellcome Images (L0002980).

Under the 1744 Vagrancy Act (17 Geo 2, c5), the prisoners were deemed to be rogues and vagabonds, as the act covered ‘persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry or fortune telling’.

They were unceremoniously packed off to Tothill Fields Bridewell to await trial at the next Quarter Sessions.

Before they had left the Bow Street office, however, the prisoners had admitted to Mr Ford that they were French immigrants, and that the government paid to them a regular allowance. This allowance was immediately stopped.

The Caledonian Mercury reported that the fortune-tellers ‘did not have recourse to any supernatural means to foretell what would shortly be their fate.’

Instead, Richard Ford – who, unhappily for them, also acted as superintendent of the Aliens Office – stated by the usual means that he would now use his influence to ensure that they were deported back to France.

Source: Caledonian Mercury, 20 October 1800

JM Beattie’s book The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840 (Oxford University Press, 2012) has lots more on Richard Ford and two of his Runners, Townsend and Sayer.

Trousers tempting for a hungry man

220px-Fortunes_of_a_Street_WaifIt’s always nice to see a bit of compassion evident in the verdicts of 19th century jurors – after all, it wasn’t always displayed, and many a poor man and woman ended up at the gallows despite, to modern eyes, having valid reasons for having committed some thefts, for example.

But one case before the Surrey magistrates in 1838 saw a man sympathised with for being so hungry that he stole a pair of trousers – not in order to eat the trousers, but to sell them on in order to be able to buy a bit of food.

The man was Thomas Miles, described in The Times as “a poor, half-famished-looking-fellow”.

He was of weak intellect, and had been unable to find any work. After having failed to find anything to eat for two days, he had applied to the local Poor Law Guardians for relief.

Despite telling the guardians that he had not eaten, they rejected his appeal. Instead, they said:

“Go about your business, and get work, and earn your bread.”

Thomas left the guardians – but he had tried and failed to find work already. He was desperate – and desperately hungry. He was about to walk past a clothes dealer’s shop, when he noticed a pair of trousers hanging up on a hook outside, ready to tempt buyers.

He grabbed them off the hook, thinking that he could sell them to a second hand dealer, and make a few pence for some bread – just like the guardians had told him to.

Unfortunately, not being very quick, Thomas had failed to notice other shoppers watching him. He was chased, and caught, still with the trousers in his hand.

Yet although he was quickly found guilty of theft at the next sessions the jury recommended him to mercy, apparently blaming the clothes dealer more than Thomas:

“We recommend him to mercy, principally on account of the temptation held out by the shopkeeper in hanging such articles outside his door, which was an inducement for the hungry.”

Thomas Miles was lucky, then, in one respect. He was committed to Brixton Gaol for one month, which meant a full month of being fed – something which the poor law guardians were not able to do for him.

Story taken from The Times, 7 February 1838, page 7