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

Book review: Print Culture, Crime and Justice in C18th London

 “I have long said, that if a paragraph in a newspaper contains a word of truth, it is sure to be accompanied with two or three blunders; yet, who will believe that papers published in the face of the whole town should be noting but magazines of lies, every one of which fifty persons could contradict and disprove? Yet so it certainly is, and future history will probably be ten times falser than all preceding.” – Horace Walpole, 1782 [1]

image1Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London (Bloomsbury, 2014) is the first book by Richard Ward, formerly a research associate on the Leicester University project Harnessing the Power of the Criminal Corpse, and now working on the Digital Panopticon project run by the universities of Liverpool and Sheffield.

I was eager to read this book, having done some research myself into 18th century print culture; I have previously given a paper on the coverage of domestic violence cases in 18th century newspapers and periodicals, and am currently working on a paper looking at a different aspect of crime reporting.

I have long recognised the similarities between parts of 18th century news reporting and the excesses of 20th and early 21st century tabloid journalism.

Stories are stretched, exaggerated, or given undue prominence, to sneer at individuals or competitors, or to stir up public feeling.

Reading the Daily Mail and its seemingly endless stories about immigration and terrorism sometimes feels little different to reading certain stories in the 18th century press, which whipped the public up into ‘moral panics’ about the state of England and the crime rate in their local area.

Ward recognises this early on, pointing out:

“the significant impact of media in creating and shaping panics through increased reporting of crimes, exaggeration, the distortion of events to fit a particular theme, the portrayal of rumours as fact and the creation of negative and fearful stereotypes.” [2]

The main focus of Ward’s book is on the trial reports of the Old Bailey, where he is able to utilise the fantastic online resource The Proceedings of the Old Bailey.

But he also looks at other forms of print culture, from books to newspapers, to analyse the links between the printed word and 18th century forms of prosecution and punishment.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is Ward’s exploration of how the press covered crimes. He finds that different sections of the press responded differently, some by critiquing the criminal justice system, while others backed it.

This reflected both the timescales of newspaper production and the ways in which papers got their stories, with agents appearing to be based at particular places of justice and getting the bulk of their stories from that single location.

The book also shows that differences in patterns of reporting crime across different newspaper titles was a result of how publications chose to focus on different kinds of offences, with some papers concentrating on street and highway robberies, which were more likely to remain unsolved and thus present negative connotations of justice to the reader.

Ward offers an ‘alternative’ view on how the press covered crime compared to Esther Snell‘s previous analysis of the 18th century press, which focused on The Kentish Post. [3] He shows that although the press did publicise the failings of the judicial system, it also covered policing in a more positive manner.

He emphasises Shoemaker’s point that although the proceedings of the Old Bailey did not misreport events, by omitting details, such trial reports ‘were constructed to present a positive image of justice’. [4]

Ward concentrates on a tight period of history – the mid 18th century, a fascinating time that saw a growth in crime reporting, subsequent moral panics about crime, and the impact of the end of the War of Austrian Succession, which saw rapid demobilisation cause unemployment and an increase in crime in some areas.

By concentrating on a limited time span, he is able to study changes in reporting in depth, and offers some food for thought about the operation of the 18th century press and its effect on public perceptions of law and order.

References

1: Letter to the Rev Mr Cole (21 June 1782) in The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, Volume 6 (Richard Bentley, London, 1840), page 176

2: Richard M Ward, Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London (Bloomsbury, London, 2014), p.14

3: Esther Snell, “Discourses of criminality in the eighteenth-century press: the presentation of crime in the Kentish Post, 1717-1768″, Continuity & Change, 22:1 (2007), pp.13-47

4: Richard M Ward, Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London (Bloomsbury, London, 2014), p.142

The Magistrates Who Banned Bonfire Night

220px-Guy_Fawkes_by_CruikshankI was intrigued to see Justin Pollard‘s feature on the history of Bonfire Night on the BBC History website – and, more particularly, his mention of how Guildford magistrates were targeted by Bonfire Night pranksters in Victorian times. Magistrates being the subject of my PhD, I thought I’d investigate further.

On 21 November 1863, there was a riot in Guildford, resulting in the loss or destruction of a substantial amount of property.

The riot was a result of Bonfire Night celebrations – or rather, as the result of NOT celebrating. It emerged that certain local residents, and particularly one local magistrate, were hostile to residents celebrating the night, and had ordered that the usual demonstrations on 5 November should not take place.

This was a class issue; the press reported that the festivities were normally participated in by ‘certain classes in the town and neighbourhood’, whereas the objectors were ‘gentlemen’.

A troop of soldiers from Aldershot were ordered to come and protect the town; they did so, and the Bonfire Night activities did not take place. Bad feeling, though, rose instead.

The soldiers left Guildford on 19 November, and the townspeople started making plans. This had been predicted; many people had argued that:

‘as soon as the soldiers were withdrawn, the “guys” would come out.” [1]

At 11.30pm on 21 November, a group of men dressed as Guy Fawkes, carrying fireworks and bludgeons, assembled just outside the town at Stoke’s Fields.

Not an image of the Guildford riot, but it conjures up what it might have been like!

Not an image of the Guildford riot, but it conjures up what it might have been like!

They made their way down the Stoke Road to the houses of Mr Impey and Mr Bowyer, two special constables, and promptly smashed all their windows – a common means in the 17th and 18th centuries of making a political disagreement known, or to intimidate an individual [2].

The group – which had now become a large ‘mob’ – then marched towards Guildford, comprehensively destroying the exterior of a shop belonging to linen draper Mr Weale. His shop was said to have been targeted because it was situated just yards from where the town’s bonfire had traditionally been lit.

KENRG9_427_429-0365But there was another reason that Weale was targeted. He was probably Joseph Weale, described in the census two years earlier as a silk mercer based on Guildford High Street. Joseph Weale was also a magistrate – and is likely to have had a key role in the original banning of the bonfire.

His shutters, Venetian blinds, were destroyed, as were his plate-glass shop front and upper windows. Fireworks were then fired into the shop, and the damage was estimated at around £200, or around £8,600 today.

65-year-old Henry Piper was next in line. He was the chief magistrate of the borough, as well as being a former town mayor, and was, like Joseph Weale, deemed responsible for the ban on bonfire festivities.

After refusing to pay a ‘bribe’, and pleading to be spared as his wife was recovering from an illness, he found his house on Merrow Road in Stoke treated in a similar way. His front door was smashed in, and all the windows destroyed.

His house was only saved from being burnt to the ground by the speedy actions of his servants and neighbours, who ran round with buckets of water.

Meanwhile, another group, comprising special constables and volunteers, some fro the 24th Surrey Rifles, had assembled, ringing the town hall bell to raise other people to help them.

One constable, by the name of Sutton, was severely beaten by the rioters, although the press implied that it was his own fault for watching whilst the mob attacked Mr Weale’s shop, without doing anything to prevent it.

After the mob had done as much damage as they could to Mr Piper’s house, they dispersed back into the night, throwing their bludgeons and disguises into the street as they ran.

Three days later, none of them had been captured or even identified, although one newspaper argued that as they were ‘very well known’ in the town, they would soon be:

‘brought before the magistrates, and large rewards will be offered for the discovery and conviction of any other ringleaders.’ [3]

In the meantime, reported the press,

‘Guildford continues in a state of the greatest alarm and excitement.’ [4]

Even into the 21st century, there has been discussion about whether to ban Bonfire Night celebrations (see here and here, for example) – but the experience of the Surrey magistrates 150-odd years ago shows that it wouldn’t go down very well…

Sources:

1: The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, 24 November 1863

2: Robert Shoemaker, The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth Century England (A&C Black, 2004), 122

3: The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, 24 November 1863

4: The Leeds Mercury, 24 November 1863

Kill the witch!: murder and superstition in a Victorian village

Balai_sorcière_admin

An appropriate post for Hallowe’en…

Witchcraft is most commonly associated with the seventeenth century – the era of James II and his obsession with witches, and Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder-General. Yet in rural areas, even in the late nineteenth century, the association of elderly women with witchcraft persisted, and could – and did – result in murder.

It is 15 September 1875 in the village of Long Compton, which is, as its name suggests, a linear village, between Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire and Chipping Norton over the border into Oxfordshire.

It is, even today, a quiet place; there is one gastro-pub, the Red Lion, and one village shop, and a church and primary school. If you time it right, you can catch the infrequent bus service to Stratford; or else you can explore the lovely countryside on all sides of the village.

It’s a short journey from the Rollright Stones – Neolithic and Bronze Age stones that, folklore says, was a group of men turned into stone by a local witch.

But in 1875, the village had a closer link to witchcraft. One newspaper commented that “there is a general belief in witchcraft at Long Compton and in other villages of South Warwickshire, among a certain class of the agricultural population.”

There was even a “wise man” living near Banbury, whom the local residents visited to try and get rid of witchcraft affecting them.

There was suspicion of several aged women, in particular, in the village, and the area on one side of the pub was even known as Witch End. Often, witchcraft was associated with widows; but here, ordinary married women were also viewed with suspicion.

But I digress.

It was around 7.30 on Wednesday evening, and 79-year-old Ann Tennant was returning from the village baker with a loaf of bread for her and her husband’s supper. She was married to John, who had had a varied career history working as a butcher, agricultural labourer and small dealer.

They had had several children, but although all had moved out of the family home now, several still lived on the same road with their own families, including sons James and John and daughter Elizabeth.

The Red Lion in Long Compton: photo by Mike Faherty from Geograph.

The Red Lion in Long Compton: photo by Mike Faherty from Geograph.

Coming the other way was James Hayward, a local farm labourer, then aged around 44. He was accompanied by his stepfather, and close to them was a 16 year old farm labourer named John Ivens, all returning home from work.

Ivens saw Ann coming down the road on the footpath, carrying her loaf of bread. He then looked at Hayward, with a pitchfork over one shoulder, from which hung a basket and a bottle – his lunch from earlier.

With no warning, on seeing Ann, Ivens saw Hayward throw his bottle and basket into the road before walking calmly up to the elderly women. He thrust his pitchfork into her, stabbing her several time in both legs, then hitting her over the head with the fork’s handle.

The shock of the attack seems to have paralysed those who witnessed it, but James Taylor, a nearby farmer, heard Ann’s terrified screams and ran to her aid. He grabbed Hayward and held him while the village constable, John Simpson, was called.

Meanwhile, others who heard the screams picked Ann off the floor and carried her to her daughter Elizabeth’s house, which was only a few yards away.

The Chipping Norton doctor, George Wright Hutchinson, was called and saw Ann lying on the floor of her daughter’s cottage, mumbling incoherently. She had wounds to her left temple, right ear, and both legs. Ann died 15 minutes after the doctor’s arrival, and he gave the cause of death as loss of blood and shock.

PC Simpson arrived and told James he had to lock him up, as he looked like he had killed Mrs Tennant. James replied:

“There are no odds about it, I hope she will die – there are fifteen more of them in the village that I will serve the same. I will kill them all.”

James was taken to the nearest prison cell, which was the Shipston-on-Stour lock-up, but by the time he was taken out of Long Compton, a crowd had gathered, and he was hooted with derision and anger as he left.

Once at the lock-up, James showed no remorse. He said,

“I hope she’s dead, she was an old witch: there are fifteen more in the village I’ll serve the same. I mean to kill them all.”

He then said that earlier in the week, he had been trying to work in a bean field for hours, and had been unable to be productive – “as they had witched me.”

The following morning, at about 11am, Superintendent Thompson informed James Hayward that he was to be charged with murder, as Ann had died of her injuries. “Dead?” asked James. “Yes.” Answered Thompson. “Well, I didn’t kill her outright,” was the strange reply.

The next day, James continued to act strangely. From his cell, he called the superintendent, James Thompson, to him, thrusting out a jug of water and saying, “the water I have is full of witches!” He then added,

“It is only those that have witches about them that can see them, and no-one can work, only when the witches will let them.”

For the rest of that day, he continued to ramble incoherently about witches and witchcraft. He said the Banbury wise man had told him he was possessed, and that James believed it was his duty to kill the witch who had possessed him.

The 1871 census, showing Ann Tennant living next door to her murder James Hayward (with his mother and stepfather). From Ancestry.

The 1871 census, showing Ann Tennant living next door to her murder James Hayward (with his mother and stepfather). From Ancestry.

Once transported to gaol, Hayward marked passages in the bible that he thought showed he was justified in his acts; and finally, he tried to bribe the prison governor with a sovereign to let him off the murder charge, arguing that he had killed her only to “avenge” the injury she had done him in possessing him.

At Ann’s inquest, which was held at the Red Lion on 17 September, several witnesses deposed that James, although appearing “quite rational” and having worked since his youth as a farm labourer, “was under the delusion that he was haunted with witches”.

Young John Ivens was called to give evidence, and related what he had seen. He had been working with Hayward all day in the harvest fields, and had seen him threaten Ivens’ grandfather and some other local women. He said that these women – Ann Tennant, Betty Ford, and Betty Hughes – were all witches, that they had been haunting him, and that he would kill them all.

The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against James, and he was duly sent for trial at Warwick Assizes. His trial was held on Wednesday 15 December 1875, when he was indicted for murdering Ann Tennant. It was reported that,

“the prisoner entertained most astounding delusions and superstituons respecting witches and witchcraft, which had haunted him for years, impelling him to murder the deceased, and which still held his mind in thraldom [sic].”

James made no friends at his trial by repeatedly refering to poor Ann as “a wicked old wretch”. John Tennant gave evidence, and stated that Hayward’s parents had also been firm believers in witchcraft, and frequently said that witches were “at” their son – “they won’t leave him alone”. They therefore brought James up to believe that when anything went wrong in his life, or with his work, it was not his fault but that of witches.

Although John Tennant said James was seen by others as being “not quite right” in the head, and that “he would drink any quantity of gin or liquor that could be put before him, and then he would go mad after”, another witness estimated that a third of the village believed in witchcraft.

James Taylor, the farmer who intervened in Ann’s attack, said that although he didn’t believe in witches himself,

“There were many persons in the village whom he knew to be popularly regarded as witches. They were all old women, and mostly widows. He did not know an instance of a young woman or a sick old woman being suspected of being a witch.”

PC Simpson added to this, stating, “I feel sure there are many people in Long Compton who believe in witchcraft.”

To a rural labourer, such as James, brought up in a family with these beliefs, blaming witches for poor work was a reasonable thing to do; but the more modern, urban jury saw it clearly as irrational and madness. They found James to be not guilty by reason of insanity. The judge commented,

“I do really think something should be done towards putting a stop to this unhappy state of things. Such ignorance and superstition is most criminal and lamentable.”

James was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure; one source states that he starved himself to death a few months later.

 

Sources: The York Herald, 20 September 1875, p.3; Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 25 September 1875, p.6; The Bradford Observer, 16 December, 1875, p.5; Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 18 December 1875, p.3; Reynold’s Newspaper, 19 December 1875.

The House of Correction for Bad Wives

Joseph Townsend

Joseph Townsend

In 1791, the London Chronicle reported the existence of a “remarkable” house of correction in Barcelona, which had been visited by Joseph Townsend four years earlier.

It had two aims: the reformation of prostitutes and female thieves (the two apparently interlinked or one and the same thing to many); and the second aim was “the correction of women who fail in their obligation to their husbands, and of those who either neglect or disgrace their families”.

The women held in this house of correction were fed bread and meat, paid for mainly through fines, but the women were expected to help fund their own meals by working “as long as they can see”.

They were able to earn five shillings a month, half of which was given to the Governor, and the other half was kept on their behalf until their term of confinement had expired – enabling them to walk out of the House of Correction with some funds behind them.

It was made clear that this punishment was a last resort, for these strong-minded women should ideally be “corrected” by their husbands, fathers, or other relatives. If they were unable to give a “severe” enough chastisement, then they could apply to the magistrate to confine them “for a term proportioned to their offences”.

The relative who sought their confinement would be made to contribute the equivalent of fourpence halfpenny a day for their maintenance, “and with this scanty provision they must be contented.”

The whole building was designed to maintain 500 women, suggesting that Barcelona had (or anticipated) something of a problem with independent women, although at the time of Townsend’s visit, there were only 113 women confined there.

These included, apparently, some rather fashionable ladies, whose families would tell concerned people that they were “visiting some distant friends”. One woman present was a rather well-to-do lady who had been accused both of being drunk and “imprudent in her conduct”.

Such women would receive “bodily correction, when it is judged necessary for their reformation,” a good whipping presumably being just the think for getting rid of any unfeminine thoughts.

This tale was regaled to the English newspaper reader as a strange act carried out by those odd foreigners; one can imagine the Daily Mail salivating over the tales of posh drunks, prostitutes and errant wives, being forced to learn appropriate behaviour from men.

Yet the English press appear to have failed to realise the similarities between this establishment and the gaols of its own land; the willingness of the English law to punish women deemed guilty of unfeminine or immoral acts; and the legality of whipping for women in England at this time.

It wrote about the strangeness of the law in Spain, without recognising the equal strangeness of the law at home.

Source: London Journal, 30 June-2 July 1791; “A Journey Through Spain in the Years 1786 and 1787″ by Joseph Townsend (1791).

 

Why poor neglected females turn to crime

womenIt is a truth universally acknowledged that women do not always get paid the same as men for doing the same job, and this is in the 21st century. In the 18th century, women were often paid less than men, and had less recourse to the law than we do today to fight for a fairer deal.

Yet the fact that women were paid less, and sometimes paid a wage that they could not live on, was not a secret. Many knew it; and some had considerable sympathy for the plight of the female in the workplace.

One anonymous writer in 1796 argued that there was a clear correlation between the disparity in male and female wages and the likelihood of a woman turning to thieving as a result. He wrote that women were paid a quarter of what they should be, and added:

“I beg to remind the public that sempstresses had the same wages sixty years ago that they have now…while the wages of the men have been considerably advanced, those of the women had remained as before.”

In addition, legislation had regulated the wages of men, “while the poor neglected females have had none to plead their cause”.

And what was the result of this unfairness? The writer recognised the desperation of those who were out of employment, and who knew “the cravings of hunger”. He asked,

“Is there one man in a thousand who knows the cravings of hunger, who if a convenient opportunity offers to gratify his appetite even by means of theft, could withstand the temptation? No wonder that we heard of so many female thieves.”

The writer was relatively unusual in recognising why some women might be compelled to steal – not through a failing in their personality, or a lack of respect for society, but out of hunger, poverty, or lack of other choices.

Yet he still linked the criminality of women to that of men, unable to continue his argument that a woman could act independently of men. He concluded:

“The path of honesty once deserted, is very difficult to regain: but then entirely lost female virtue follows, and the consequence is, a connection is formed with the most infamous of the other sex, who then carry on the trade of thieving jointly.”

So once the female had set off down the path of thieving, it would be difficult to live an honest (poorly paid) life again; but if she met with an equally thieving man, she would be completely lost.

Source: The Oracle and Public Advertiser, 18 August 1796

 

'Six Stages of Mending a Face' (1792) © Trustees of the British Museum

Defacing Beauty

'Six Stages of Mending a Face' (1792) © Trustees of the British Museum

‘Six Stages of Mending a Face’ (1792) © Trustees of the British Museum

One eighteenth-century reviewer’s judgement on an exhibition of paintings, recorded in The Times, was marred slightly by one thing – the distraction of women.

The walking paintings at the exhibitions are by far more curious, more attractive, and more worthy the attention of the speculative mind than those whose situations are stationary. Why will women take so much pains to render their appearance unnameable – as Ordeal says in the new comedy, “they should be prosecuted for high treason in defacing beauty”.

- The Times, 13 May 1785, page 2

 

This put-out writer was misquoting the 1785 play Fashionable Levities, which had the character of Mr Ordeal praise a woman for her natural looks. Ordeal says, ‘her real face shall never be concealed under a counterfeit; some ladies coin complexions, and should be punished for high treason in defacing beauty’.

irish

Appropriately, given the legal language in the play, it was written by the Dublin barrister Leonard Macnally. He trod a fine line between comedy and the law, writing at least 12 plays – mainly satires and comedies – as well as comic operas, and writing both a well respected book on the law of evidence and a handbook (albeit described as ‘exceedingly inaccurate‘) on the role of the Justice of the Peace in Ireland. He is regarded as having helped define the standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ at criminal trials.

Yet Macnally was also a founding member of the Society of United Irishmen in the 1790s - set up to get parliamentary reform, but which became an Irish republican organisation – and defended other members in court, his clients including Wolfe Tone (also a former barrister). After his death in 1820, it was discovered that he had, in fact, been a government informant, spying on the United Irishmen for Britain. For the last 26 years of his life, he had been receiving payment for his services.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, one of his common tactics was, when given a brief for the defence in a government prosecution, to pass on its contents to the crown’s lawyers. Yet James McMullen Rigg stated that ‘though no great lawyer [he] was…a powerful cross-examiner.’

Of course, there are similarities between law and drama – there is an element of acting when you are a barrister presenting a case in court, and in drama, you say your lines wanting your audience to believe what you say, and believe who you are.

But Macnally confused things further, using legal language in his plays, and playing several characters himself – playwright, lawyer, republican, government informer.

Macnally’s life may have been interesting, but he does not come across as an attractive character – much like the made-up women he critiqued in his play.