[-193-] CHAPTER VI.
THE POLICE OFFICES.
Their Number and Names—Remarks on Bow Street Office—The Thames Police Office—The Magistrates—Number of cases daily brought before them—Yearly Expenses of the Police Offices—Their Expenses Forty Years ago—The Station Houses—Anecdote of a Prisoner—Scenes to be witnessed in the Station Houses— Exhibitions of Human Nature to be witnessed in the Police Offices—Specimens given—North Country Simplicity—The Poetical Cobbler—A Drunken Frolic— Case of alleged Horse-stealing.
IN a work devoted to the metropolis, it were an unpardonable omission to pass
over in silence the Police Offices. I will, therefore, make them the subject
of the present chapter, and shall endeavour to enliven the statistical details
which it will be necessary to give by the introduction of matter of a lighter
The Police Offices of London are nine in number. They are thus enumerated in the Report of the Parliamentary Committee appointed in 1833 to inquire into matters connected with the police of the metropolis :—Bow Street, including the horse-patrol—Marlborough Street—Hatton Garden—Worship Street —Lambeth Street—High Street, Marylebone—Queen Square— Union Hall—Thames Police—City of London Police. In this list of the Police Offices, it will be observed that no mention is made of the Mansion House, Guildhall, or the Town Hall in Southwark. The reason of this is, that these three places are differently constituted from the other police establishments. The Mansion House, as every one knows, is presided in by the Lord Mayor for the time being, while justice is gratuitously administered in Guildhall, and the Town Hall, by one or more Aldermen. These last three offices are under the jurisdiction Of the City authorities, who have a large police establishment of their own.
The oldest of the existing offices is that in Bow Street. it is at least a century since it was originally established for the purpose of administering justice. Until 1792, however, it was on a very different footing from what it has been since. Previous to [-194-] that time, it was not established by act of parliament, but was simply an office used by the county magistrates, who gave their services gratuitously. Mr. Henry Fielding, the author of “Tom Jones,” and other celebrated novels, was the first magistrate who received any remuneration for his services in administering justice in Bow Street. The precise time when he first received a salary is not known. To the circumstance of Fielding having been a London police magistrate, we are, in a great measure, indebted for some of his choicest works of fiction. The many-coloured scenes of life which he witnessed while discharging the functions of a magistrate there, furnished him with that intimate knowledge of human life which he displays so strikingly, and at the same time afforded him some of the happiest incidents which are to be found in his works.
In 1792, seven police offices were established by act of parliament in different parts of the metropolis. To each of these offices three magistrates were appointed, at a salary, respectively, of 4001. per annum. The other two offices were subsequently established, a growing metropolitan population having so much increased the amount of police business, as to render them necessary.
Bow Street Office has the most extensive jurisdiction among the police offices of London. It can take cognizance of any case which may occur in any part of the county, though its positive limits are the line of the city, which is at Temple Bar eastward, Holborn and High Street on the north, St. Martin’s Lane on the west, and the river Thames on the south.
The only other establishment whose limits I shall mention, is, the Thames Police Office. My reason for specifying the extent of its jurisdiction is, that it is much greater than any of the remaining seven offices. The limits of this office upon the Thames are as far as the river runs between the counties of Middlesex and Surrey, Essex and Kent. The more common supervision, however, is confined to the busier and more active parts of the river,—namely, from Greenwich to a little above Westminster Bridge. The land district is restricted to the populous parishes of Wapping, Aldgate, St. Katharine’s, Shadwell, and Ratcliffe.
All the police magistrates are either banisters-at- law or serjeants- at-law. This was not the case formerly: it is the effect of a recent resolution on the part of government, made under a conviction that it would prove highly essential to the ends of justice, and conducive to the respectability of the magisterial character, that the magistrates should be men, not only of general intelligence, but that they should be well acquainted with the law which they are called to administer.
[-195-] The appointment of the magistrates is vested in the Home Secretary; and their continuance in office is dependent on the good pleasure of every successive individual who may hold that important appointment under his sovereign. The magistrates are liable to be set aside, without being entitled to any pension, at any time, should it suit the whim or caprice of the Home Secretary to come to such a determination. In this respect they are very disadvantageously circumstanced as compared with the judges; the latter being, from the very moment of their appointment, ever afterwards entirely independent of the crown. It is but right, however, to say that police magistrates are seldom dismissed from their situations, and. never without some reason. The only recent instance was that of Mr. Laing, of Hatton Garden, who was set aside seven or eight weeks ago.
The salaries of the police magistrates were doubled some years since. They are now 8001.* (* The chief magistrate in Bow Street has a salary of 12001. a year. There is no chief magistrate at any of the other offices.) per annum. After they have served for a certain time, they may retire, if they wish it, on a pension of 500l. per annum. Mr. Halls, of Bow Street Office, retired on that pension about twelve months since. The police magistrates are prohibited from pursuing their professional pursuits as barristers, or engaging in any trade or business: it is expected that they shall apply themselves exclusively to the duties of their office. They have to sit every day during the week, Sunday excepted. They commence their sittings at eleven o’clock, and continue, in most cases, till five; and again sit an hour or two after seven o’clock. One out of the three magistrates always presides at each office. Hence the expression, the “sitting magistrate.” One of the other two is always present, but takes no part, except in extreme cases, in the proceedings. Two magistrates must be in the office when hearing cases. They always sit by rotation; so that each magistrate is the sitting or presiding magistrate; two days in every week.
The magistrates at the Police Offices have no control over the police constables. They have all a greater or less number of officers of their own, according to the amount of business done at each establishment. In Bow Street Office, the number of constables or officers at the disposal, and under the sole control of the magistrates, is ten. Their salaries are in most cases twenty-five shillings per week; but when they are sent to the country in pursuit of any party, the individual so employing them must allow them ten shillings each per day for his pay, twelve shillings for living, and pay all coach hire and other expenses besides. These constables are all appointed by the Home Secretary, the magistrates seldom interfering even so far as to recommend any [-196-] particular person for the situation. They are always dressed in plain clothes, and have no connexion, and but very little intercourse, with the other policemen. The magistrates employ them in all those cases in which they have themselves received private information either of an actual or intended violation of the law. If, for example, information were communicated of a contemplated duel, the magistrate to whom such information is given, immediately despatches two of his own officers to arrest the parties. The magistrates never employ the ordinary police. In the other offices, except the Thames Street Office, the number of constables retained by the establishment is seven, eight, or nine, according to circumstances. In the Thames Police Office, there are nearly as many constables as in all the other offices put together: the number is seventy, exclusive of thirty-one surveyors. The reason why so great a number of officers is required at this establishment, is the circumstance of all the business connected with the river being under its jurisdiction. The parties in the employ of this office have to look after all illegal transactions on the Thames. The whole number of persons employed as constables in the Police Offices is about one hundred and forty.
The number of cases daily tried before the Police Offices of London considerably varies. Some days it is as high as ninety, other days it is as low as sixty. The Edinburgh Review, in its last number, estimates the average number at seventy. The writer grounds his opinion on an examination of the police sheet for a given day. Probably seventy is about the average number. Of course it will be understood, that I am here speaking only of the number of cases for larceny, and those other crimes which, if proved, would render the party liable to be tried at the central criminal court. I exclude altogether what are called night charges: that is, quarrelling with the policemen, getting up a row, or being drunk. If those cases were to be included, the number would be nearer three hundred; for instances have occurred in which upwards of ninety persons have been shut up in Bow Street Station-house alone, in one night.
The police sheet, which passes between all the offices every day, and to which the Edinburgh Review refers as its authority for the supposition that the average daily number of cases of the class of offences to which I allude, is seventy, divides that seventy into three descriptions of cases. It gives the summary convictions or commitments for trial at the Old Bailey Sessions at sixteen; the remands twenty-seven; and the discharges as twenty-seven.
The yearly expense of the nine Police Offices is upwards of 50,000l., making that of each to be on an average somewhat about [-197-] 5500l. One considerable item of expense at each of these establishments is the salaries of clerks. There are three or four clerks at each of the eight offices, and double the number at Thames Street Office. Their salaries vary from 4001. to 1201. per annum.
Connected with the Police Offices there is a Receiver, at a salary of 500l. per annum. The following tabular view will show at one glance the various kinds of officers at the differentpolice establishments, with the salaries they severally receive for their services. It is taken from the parliamentary returns of 1835.
PAY OF EACH CLASS OF OFFICERS.
Chief Magistrate of Bow Street, 12001. per annum.
Police Magistrates, 8001. per annum each.
Receiver of the nine Police Offices, 5001. per annum.
Chief Clerk of Bow Street, salary 2501., increasing 101. per annum to 4501.
Second Clerk, salary 1801., increasing 81. per annum to 3001.
Third Clerk, salary 1201., increasing 51. per annum to 2501.
Constables and Police Officers, 25s. per week.
Thames Police Principal Surveyor, 1601. per annum.
Inspecting Surveyor, 1001. per annum. Twenty Surveyors from 751. per annum to 901. per annum each.
Thames Police River Constables—thirty at 23s. per week each; forty at 21s. each.
The following were the expenses of each of the offices in 1835, including contingencies:—
CONTINGENCIES / OFFICES / TOTAL EXPENSES.
£1263 11s 4d / Bow Street / £9768 14s 2d
£432 1s 0d / Queen Square / £4574 7s 2d
£351 1s 10d / Marlborough Street / £4402 10s 0d
£246 0s 0d / Marylebone / £3978 17s 5d
£280 4s 11d / Hatton Garden / £4250 18s 3d
£365 4s 4d / Worship Street / £6106 9s 4d
£205 10s 5d / Whitechapel / £3775 6s 4d
£329 19s 0d / Union Hall / £4152 4s 10d
£763 19s 11d / Thames Police, including the River Force / £10,712 17s 11d
Making the aggregate expenses of the nine Police Offices, in 1835,— £51,724. 5s. 5d.
Connected with Bow Street Office, as before stated, is the Horse Patrol, the expenses of which, in the same year, were 10,169l.; making, if the cost of both departments be put together, the expenses of that office, in 1835, about 20,000l.
[-198-] Forty years ago, the expenses of Bow Street were not above one-third of what they now are, as will be seen from the following table :—
Three Magistrates, at 4001. per annum each £1200 0s 0d
OneClerk at £160 0s 0d
One Clerk at £130 0s 0d
One Clerk at £100 0s 0d
One Extra Clerk £80 0s 0d
Six Officers, at 11s. 8d. per week £182 0s 0d
An Officekeeper £35 0s 0d
A Housekeeper £35 0s 0d
A Messenger £35 0s 0d
An Assistant Gaoler £17 10s 0d
Attached to the office there is a patrol, consisting of sixty-eight persons, divided into thirteen parties, each having a captain at 5s. per night, the men having 2s. 6d. per night, amounting in the whole, annually, to about £3695 12s 6d
There is also paid to the clerks, on account of the patrol £71 0s 0d
And in remuneration to the magistrates, in lieu of fees and perquisites, and for special services £900 0s 0d
[-Total-] £6641 2s 6d
The amount of gratuities, and penalties levied at each of the nine offices in the same year, is thus given in the parliamentary paper whence I have copied the above statistics
Bow Street - £1528 16s 4d
Marlborough Street - £1040 3s 0d
Queen Square - £1007 12s 11d
Hatton Garden - £1112 3s 9d
Worship Street - £804 6s 11d
Whitechapel - £799 4s 0d
Marylebone - £1025 7s 1d
Union Hall - £1312 17s 2d
Thames Police - £753 6s 10d
Making a total of £9383 18s 6d
Of this sum upwards of 1000l. consisted of fines exacted from parties who had committed assaults on the police. The money thus collected is applied to the expenses of the several offices.
Of the expenses of the three City Police Offices, I have said nothing. As the magistrates there receive no salary, the ex-[-199-]penses are confined to the pay of a few officers, and do not much exceed 500l. per annum.
The Police Offices are for the most part ill ventilated, confined, sombre-looking places. They are not at all worthy of a great city like London, and the important space they fill in the public eye. There is a great want of room in them, considering the amount of the business which has to be transacted. They are often crowded to suffocation, to the great annoyance of every one who has occasion to be present. They are also, with two or three exceptions, in badly chosen situations.
The cells in the station-houses belonging to them, in which prisoners are locked up over the night, are in striking keeping with the offices. These cells are most uncomfortable places:
they are so, apart from the unpleasantness of feeling which arises from the disgrace of the thing, in all those cases, where the party is not so intoxicated as to be deprived, for the time, of his reflecting powers. They are narrow, damp, dark, and cold. In some of the station-houses they are on a level with the streets; in others, they are under ground. In either case they are the most miserable receptacles into which a human being could be put, short of burying him alive. When the number of prisoners is few, each one has often a cell for himself. When an “apartment” cannot be spared to each, owing to the number of candidates for admission, two, in some cases it may happen three, four, or five, are shut up together in one little cell. It is often curious to reflect on the strange errors as to where a party is, and with whom he is, into which he falls on recovering from that state of extreme intoxication called “dead drunk.”. A few months ago I was amused with the account given me by one who was in the same cell, of the conduct of a young man, whose name I afterwards ascertained to be Snitch, and who had been deposited in the station-house about twelve o’clock the previous evening, in a state of such entire intoxication, that but for the circumstance of his breathing, you would have concluded he was dead. Until five o’clock in the morning— it was in the summer season—he slept as soundly and lay on the stones as quietly as if he had been in his grave; hut he then all at once opened his eyes, and sitting up, Looked for a moment wildly around him. His eye at last lighted on his fellow prisoner; and after a temporary gaze on him, he uttered in accents of a most unearthly kind, “Where am I? Who is that? Sophemia! who is that?” Who Sophemia was, whether sister, sweetheart, or wife, was at the time a mystery; but it was clear the unlucky wight fancied he was in his own home, and that he had metamorphosed his companion in trouble into an apparition. His horror and bewilderment seemed for a few seconds only, to [-200-] increase when the other spoke to him. He had not the most remote idea of where he was; nor, when acquainted with his temporary “local habitation,” could he recal to his mind a single circumstance connected with his capture by the police, or his conveyance thither. His latest reminiscences did not come within two hours of the time at which the police took charge of him. He was then, he stated, admiring “a show of beauties” in the saloon of Drury Lane Theatre. The period which elapsed from that hour, which he stated to have been ten o’clock at night, down to the time of his waking in the station-house next morning, which, as before stated, was five o’clock, was a perfect blank in his existence. Had he been literally dead, he could not have been more oblivious of what had occurred in his personal history in the interim. But the most interesting circumstance in the affair, was his ignorance of the offence for which he was Locked up, coupled with the intense anxiety he manifested to ascertain it. What could it be? Was it murder or manslaughter? Was it committing some serious assault? Was he a prisoner for felony? Could he have smashed people’s windows? What in the name of wonder could he have done to justify the police in confining him in the dungeon—he was in a cell below ground—in which he then found himself? These and a dozen other questions suggested themselves to his mind, and filled him with the most horrible fears. His awful apprehensions were not lessened by observing that his hat was shattered to pieces, and that one of the tails of his coat had been entirely torn away. At last, no longer able to endure the frightful forebodings of what might be the disclosures when brought before the magistrate, he turned to his brother in adversity, having been by this time satisfied that he was a fellow mortal, and with a most dolorous expression of countenance, and in truly touching accents, said, “Pray, Sir, can you inform me for what crime I was brought here ?“
“I know one violation of the law with which you are charged,” answered the other, quite coolly.
“Violation of the law, Sir ?“ said the terrified party, with great earnestness.
“Of course; otherwise you would not have been here.”
“Pray, Sir, do inform me of its nature! Was it a serious breach of the law ?“
“Very serious,” answered the other, with some emphasis. “No life lost, I hope ?“ gasped Mr. Snitch.
“Why, the policemen who brought you here did say something about being uncertain whether some person of whom they were talking, were living or dead.”
“I’m a lost man !“ groaned the poor fellow, violently striking [-201-] his forehead. A public trial, a verdict of guilty, transportation for life—if not suspension by the neck—with all their concomitant horrors, were ideas which in a moment crowded on his mind. “Oh, Sophemia! that ever it should have come to this! Little did I think ____“
“Don’t be so much alarmed,” interrupted his companion; “possibly your fears are worse than the reality. It may have been yourself the policemen alluded to, when they spoke of its being uncertain whether the party was dead or alive.”
“My dear friend,” said the poor frightened youth, seizing his fellow-prisoner with a cordial grasp by the hand, “do you really think that is the fact?”
“I hope it may be so,” replied the other.
“My dear Sir, you delight me. I feel as if—”
At this moment a friend, to whom the other had written to come and bail him out, arrived, and he was liberated,—leaving the unhappy youth to himself to be tormented between his doubts and fears until he appeared before the magistrate, as to what crimes he had committed while drunk.
I was present at the police-office when the charges for the night were brought before the magistrate. After several others had been disposed of, the magistrate said, in his usual sharp and hasty manner,—” The next charge on the list.”
“Sophemia Burgess !“ bawled out one of the officers, at the full stretch of a powerful voice, opening, as he spoke, a door which communicated with a passage leading to another room, where the undisposed “charges” were congregated together.
In a few seconds, Mr. Snitch was conducted to the bar. His pale countenance, with the marked expression of horror which was depicted on it, told in silent but impressive terms of the agony of mind under which he laboured. His unshaved beard, his dirty face, the crumpled breast and collar of his shirt, and sundry patches of mud which still adhered to his apparel, were in strict keeping with his one-tailed coat. Taken altogether, the appearance of Mr. Snitch was so much in character with the usual effects of a drunken debauch, that it needed not the testimony of any living witness as to the way in which the unfortunate wight had spent the previous night.
“Why, office;” said the worthy magistrate, with some tart. ness, “you have made a mistake. You have brought me a man instead of a woman.”
“It’s quite right, your worship.”
“Quite right, your worship.”
“Why, the name on my list, of the next charge, is Sophemia Burgess.’
[-202-] “This is Sophemia Burgess,” said the officer with a steady voice. The magistrate looked at the officer with an air of infinite surprise; and Mr. Snitch’s pale face coloured deeply, as well as indicated the utmost amazement, when the name was mentioned. The latter rapidly glanced his eye round the office, as if looking to see whether some person of that name, with whom he was on terms of intimacy, was in the place. It was afterwards ascertained, that Sophemia Burgess was a young lady to whom he was paying his addresses; and as she still absorbed his thoughts so long as he was able to think, he had stammered out her name when asked his own.
“Why,” said the worthy magistrate, addressing himself; with increased sharpness, to the policeman,—” why, Sophemia is a woman’s name, not a man’s.”
“That is his right name,” insisted the knight of the bludgeon. “Is that your name, Sir ?“ said the magistrate, addressing himself to Mr. Snitch.
“It is not, Sir,” answered Mr. Snitch.
The magistrate now looked quite ferocious at the policeman, as if he had meant to say, “What have you now to say for yourself, you blundering blockhead?”
“That is the prisoner’s name, your worship,” repeated constable H, of the G division, without the slightest disconcertion of manner.
“Is that the name he gave you, when you took him into custody ?“ inquired the magistrate.
“No, your worship; he was not able to give any name at all.”
“What! was he so drunk as that?”
“He was, your worship, dead drunk: he could neither move hand nor foot, let alone speaking.”
Mr. Snitch hung his head still lower, and audibly groaned. “And how did you come to know his name, then?” continued the magistrate.
“Vy, your worship, a person who had seen him before he was quite so bad, told me he had inquired his name, and that, with an effort, he managed to answer, ‘Sophemia Burgess;’ but, besides that, we found in his pocket a card with her name on it.”
“And you mean to say, Sir, do you,” said the magistrate, addressing himself to the prisoner, “that Sophemia Burgess is not your name?”
“That is not my name, Sir.”
“Well, then, will you tell the bench what is your name ?“
“It is Tugworth Snitch, Sir.”
Mr. Snitch had no sooner mentioned his right name, than he reproached himself for his stupidity in not giving an assumed one; but the rapidity with which the magistrate proceeded to [-203-] dispose of the charge, left but little time for reflection on the subject.
“Well, Sir, you hear the charge: what have you to say in your defence ?“
Mr. Snitch whispered in tremulous accents, that he was not aware of what specific offence he was charged with.
“Why, with being in a state of beastly intoxication,” said the magistrate, with some acrimony.
Mr. Snitch’s countenance brightened up, as if a poet’s paradise had all at once opened on his view, on thus hearing that the charge against him was confined to being drunk.
“I am sorry for it, Sir,” answered Mr. Snitch, in a tone of mingled penitence and joy. “I never was in the same situation before, and hope I never will he again.”
“I hope it will be a warning to you, Mr. Tugworth Snitch: you have great reason to be thankful that you were not run over, and killed by some vehicle, when the policeman found you rolling in the mud.”
Mr. Snitch was silent, and looked as if he assented to the proposition.
“You are fined five shillings, for being drunk,” said the magistrate. “Officer, the next charge,” he added, in the same breath.
Mr. Snitch paid the fine, and retired from the bar, rejoicing that matters were not much worse.
Some extraordinary scenes are to be witnessed in the station houses, when all the “charges,” as the prisoners are called, are brought forward from their different cells, to one place, immediately prior to their being transferred to the police-offices. Not long since, I saw an odd exhibition of this kind in the Vine-street station-house. The number of persons who had been shut up during the greater part of the night, was fifteen. It will at once be concluded, that they consisted of both sexes; but it will not be so readily inferred, though such was the fact, that a majority of the company belonged to the female sex. There may be, in the estimation of some persons, but little gallantry in making this statement; but gallantry, in such cases, must give way to the truth. A more motley assemblage than that to which I refer, it has never been my fortune to behold, either at a station-house or elsewhere. It embraced all ranks as well as both sexes. There were parties moving in the higher walks of life, and there were the very humblest of mankind. There were persons of every shade of character; from those of correct morals, who had been consigned to a gloomy cell simply because they had refused, in going home, to submit obsequiously to the behests of a capricious policeman, down to the most worthless [-204-] and depraved creatures to be met with in this vast metropolis. And their external aspect exhibited as great a variety as did their moral character. There was the tastefully-dressed man of fashion, and the poor mendicant, wrapped up in a mass of dirty rags. There were some, both men and women, whose apparel, at the best, had only been of an humble description. There were others who were what is called “elegantly attired” the previous night, whose clothes were either torn to tatters, or covered over with mud. Hats without crowns, and minus the greater part of their brims to boot; coats converted, by the tails being torn off, into jackets; straw and silk bonnets transformed into shapes which the milliners who made them never intended; shawls and gowns either torn into fragments, or affording abundant evidence that their wearers had recently been paying their respects to the pavement, were among the things which gave variety to the scene. Then there were the langour and heaviness of manner caused by the dissipation of the preceding night, which were so visibly impressed on the countenances of many: to say nothing of the unwashed faces, unshaved beards, and unbrushed clothes of others. The odd effect which all this was so well calculated to produce on the mind of him who had slept comfortably in his bed at home, and was but an accidental spectator of the scene, was very materially heightened by the hanging down of the heads of those who were particularly ashamed of the situation in which they were placed, and the significant looks which others exchanged with each other, as if they had meant to say, “We are brethren and sisters in adversity.” Altogether, it would have been difficult to have fancied a group in which there could be a greater diversity of external appearance, or in moral or social character. For a time they were doomed to be separated: instead of being all conveyed together to the police-office, they were transferred thither in separate detachments of ones, twos, or threes. Those of them who could afford to pay for a hackney-coach, and preferred incurring the expense to being walked to the police office in Great Marlborough-street, in the company of a policeman, had it in their power to avail themselves of the services of Jehu; while those who were less favourably circumstanced, or grudged the coach fare, were obliged to submit to encounter the rude and unhallowed gaze of every unmannerly person they met on the way. The separation of those who had parted at Vine-street station-house was but of a temporary kind. At the police-office they were all destined to meet again, previous to being severally called before the magistrate. Here they were all huddled together, and pent up in a small space, as if they had been so many black cattle for sale in Smithfield-market. They were introduced to another lot in the [-205-] same predicament as themselves, who had been deposited in the course of the night in some other station-house. Here, again, the scene was worth seeing. It was on a still more extensive scale. What struck me particularly was, the genuine republican character of the assemblage. The most strenuous advocate for the extinction of all conventional differences in society, and for the substitution of the most thorough equality, would have been gratified with the spectacle to his heart’s content. The highest and the lowest—the most elegantly attired and the most ragged in their apparel—stood there on precisely the same footing, and treated each other in the genuine republican style. It was altogether a truly curious spectacle to witness, and one which could not fail to Lead to an interesting train of reflection in a meditative mind.
Perhaps there are no places in the world, in which a more complete insight into human nature, in all its simplicity, extravagances, eccentricities, follies, and viciousness, may be had, than in the police-offices of London. The cases which daily come before the magistrates, develope at one moment deep-laid schemes of unredeemed villany; in the next, instances of such perfect simplicity or “greenness,” as no one could have previously deemed of possible existence. I will give a few of the more interesting cases which have lately occurred in several of the offices, which will go far to confirm what I have just said about the complete exhibition of human nature, in all its aspects, which is to be seen at these establishments. For the sake of classification, it may be as well to give the cases such headings as it is very likely they would have received, had they been written for the daily newspapers. It may perhaps be right to mention, that none of the cases have before appeared in print. The first is a case of Thomas Watson, whose broad manner of speaking would of itself have been sufficient to satisfy any reasonable person, that he was a recent importation from the land o’cakes, came forward to prefer a complaint against a young gaudily-dressed damsel, well known in the neighbourhood of Covent-garden. Mr. Watson was seemingly about twenty years of age, of a copper-coloured physiognomy, thick lips, broad flat nose, and of a most good-natured, unsuspecting expression of countenance. He was clad in his holiday clothes, and had what is called a decent, though sheepish, appearance. “Well, Sir, what is your complaint?” said the magistrate, in a tone of kindness, being struck with the manifest simplicity of the young man.
[-206-] “It’s aboot the loss of my siller, Sir; may I speek a word or twa ?“ said the Scotchman.
“Certainly,” answered the magistrate. “That’s the very thing I was requesting you to do. State your case.”
“But, pray, what are you?” interrupted the magistrate.
“Do you mean, Sir, what country I belong to ?“
“Oh, no; I don’t want to know that: that is sufficiently clear without your telling us.”
“Do you mean, Sir, what line of life I follow ?“
“Aw, then, Sir, I’m a mekanic.”
“But what is your trade ?”
“A heckler, Sir.”
“A heckler!” exclaimed his worship, evidently at a loss to know what the simple Caledonian meant.
“Yes, Sir, a heckler,” repeated the Latter, with great innocence.
“It means, your worship, a flax-dresser,” interposed a sergeant of the police, who was himself a transplantation from the north of the Tweed.
“Oh, very good; I see,” said the magistrate. “Pray go on with your story,” he continued, addressing himself to Mr Watson.
“Weel, Sir, as I was a-going to tell you, I came up to Lunnun, to an uncle wha’s in a good way, thinkin’ he might do something for me, as I dinna like my bisness very weel: but on comin’ up here, I found that he had left his former house, and the folks that live in it couhldna tell me whar he had gane to.”
Here the young man stopped, as if he had finished his story. “Well, go on,” said the magistrate; “you have not yet told the Bench why this female is brought here.”
“I’ll tell you that the noo,” resumed the other. “It ‘was near ten o’clock at night,” he continued, “when I reached the place which is called the Strand, whar my uncle formerly lived; and findin’ that he was not there, I made up my mind to go into the first public-house I could see, to ask for lodgings for the night. Jost whan I cam’ to this resolution, I met this young leddy, wha,’ as I thought at the time, cam’ in o’er to me with great kindness, and spoke to me.”
“What did she say ?“ inquired the magistrate.
The poor Caledonian coloured, and hung down his head.
“Come, don’t be so modest. Tell us what she said. Something tender, I suppose?”
“Very!” answered the young man, in a tone something between a groan and a sigh.
[-207-] “Why,” said the magistrate, observing the blushes and hesitation of Sawney, “she seems to have made an impression on you!”
The Scotchman only coloured the more.
“Come,” resumed the magistrate, with some sharpness, “you must lay aside your modesty, and tell us what she said.”
“Weel, I will,” answered Mr. Watson. “She said – “
Here he again faltered, and looked as if he could have sunk into the earth.
“Come, out with it,” said the magistrate
“She said, ‘Ah, my dear! how do you do?”’ (Loud laughter.,
“And you thought, I dare say, that there was something very kind in her saying that?”
“I did, indeed, Sir: I thought she must be a tender-hearted creatur to speak to a perfect stranger like me in that way.” (Renewed laughter, in which the magistrate joined.)
“And what more passed between you ?“
“I thaunk’d her kindly for her condescension, and hoped she was weel herself.”
“Ladies are not in the habit in your country, I suppose, of speaking in this way to strangers ?“ observed the magistrate.
“No, Sir, they are not: besides, what made me think mair of this leddy’s kindness was, that she was so brawly dressed. She had on a veil, Sir.”
“Well, but you have not told us what passed between you.”
“When I thaunked her for her kindness, she asked me whether I was not newly come to toon; and I told her that I was, and that I had been inquiring about an uncle, but could not find out his hoose. She then asked my uncle’s name; I said it was John Watson. ‘Oh!’ says she, ‘I know him quite well: but it’s too late to go after him to-night, as he lives at such a distance. You’ll better come with me, my love, and I’ll get you a bed for the night; and I’ll direct you towards your uncle in the morning.”’
“Pray try to make your story as short as possible, and come to the charge against her as quickly as you can,” said the magistrate, thinking the Caledonian was rather diffuse in his mode of telling his story.
“I’ll soon be done noo. I said to her that I could not think of troubling a leddy of her respectability to get a bed to me; but she begged of me not to mention it, and assured me it would be a pleasure, and not a trouble to her. As sure as death, Sir! I thought her the kindest creatur I ever saw in my life.”
“But you don’t think so now, I presume ?“ remarked the magistrate.
Sawney held down his head, and muttered something, which [-208-] was understood to signify a concurrence in the observation of the Bench.
“You went home with her, I suppose ?“ continued the magistrate.
“Yes, Sir; but I would not have presumed to do such a thing, if she had not asked me. She took a-hold o’ my arm, Sir; and I was almost ashamed to be seen walking with so finely-dressed a leddy.” (Loud laughter.)
“Well, and what more?”
“Then I went into an elegant room, whar I saw another pretty leddy; and she also spoke in the kindest and most condescending manner to me.”
“I suppose,” observed the magistrate, “that you thought all the women in London were angels ?“
“I just did that same, Sir, if I must tell the truth; for I never saw the leddies in our country treat strange men with so much kindness.” (Renewed laughter).
“So the second was as kind to you as the first ?“
“She was, Sir; indeed, if there was ony difference, she was the kindest a’ the twa.”
“In what way did she show her kindness?”
The poor simpleton blushed at the question, and was silent. “Come, tell us!” said the magistrate, in half authoritative tones.
“Why, then,” answered the other, in broken hesitating accents, “she cam’ and sat doon on my knee.” (Roars of laughter).
“Without your inviting her to do so, I presume?”
“O dear! yes, Sir. I would never have had the assurance to use such freedom with a leddy.”
“Well, go on.”
“Weel, after being about a quarter of an hour in the same room as the twa leddies, I said, if she would tell me whar my bed was, I would go to it, as I was very wearied; but, said I, as I’m a stranger here, might I ask of you the very great favour to keep my money to me till next morning, in case of accidents. ‘Oh, with the greatest pleasure, my love!’ said the one: ‘Oh, certainly, my dear!’ said the other. And with that I gave the one—the one noo standing there, (pointing to the bar)—a five-pound note of the British Linen Company,* (* The name of the leading bank in Scotland.) and said I would be particularly obleeged to her if she would keep it quite safe to me till the morn’s morning.” (Loud laughter).
“And, of course, she promised she would?”
“She did, Sir: they both assured me it would be quite safe.”
[-209-] “And you found, next morning, I suppose, that it was so safe that you could not get a sight of it again ?“ (Laughter.)
“It’s a’ true as your honour says. I never clapped an ee (eye) on her or the money, after she got it.”
“Did she leave the room as soon as you gave it her ?“ inquired the magistrate.
“Oh, no; she sat about a quarter of an hour longer, until I said, that if she would be kind enough to tell me whar my bedroom was, I would bid them both good night.”
“And did she tell you where your bed-room was to be ?”
“She said, Sir, that she would go and call the servant, who would show me where I was to sleep; and after thanking her for her kindness, and saying I was sorry to be putting her to so much trouble, she said, ‘Oh! it’s no trouble at all, my dear!’ and then left the room.”
“And was in no hurry in returning, I suppose ?“ observed the magistrate.
“Ots, Sir!” said the poor fellow, with great simplicity and much emphasis; “ Ots, sir! she did not come back at a’.” (Loud laughter.)
“And did the other remain long with you ?“
“She did for some time, until I said, wondering that the other leddy was so long in returning, ‘I’m afear’d that I’m gieing your frien’ a great deal o’ trouble?’ on which, she begged me not to mention it; and said she would go and see what was detaining her.”
“And she also disappeared ?“
“She jost did, Sir.”
“And was in no haste in returning either?”
“Faith, Sir! she did not come back again at a’, mair than the ither.” (Roars of laughter.)
“Well,” said the magistrate, “and what did you do then?”
“To tell you the truth, Sir, I did na ken what to do.”
“But what did you do?”
“What did I do!“ repeated the raw Scotchman with great innocence.
“Yes; what did you do? You either remained in the house, or you quitted it.”
“Oh, it’s that you mean, Sir! I remained in the place until a middle-aged woman came and asked me who I wanted.”
“And you told her, of course
“I said to her that I wanted two leddies.”
“Well, and what then ?“ inquired the magistrate.
“‘Two leddies,’ says she, as if quite surprised. And I said ‘Yes, mem.’ On which she said, ‘Pray what’s their names?”’
[-210-] “And you did not know, I suppose ?“ observed the magistrate.
“You have jost spoken the truth. I did not; and I told the woman so; adding, that I had never thought of speering at them.” (Renewed laughter.)
“Well, and what happened then ?“
“Why, Sir, she said I must have mistaken the house; for that no leddies lived there ?“
“Well, go on,” said the magistrate.
“I said I had been brought there by a leddy, who engaged to get me lodgings for the night; when she said, ‘Oh, there must be some mistake! There’s no lodgings here; but you’ll get lodgings in the public-house over the way.”
“And did you leave the place ?“
“The woman made me leave it, Sir: she opened the door, and told me I could not lodge there.”
“Well, and what next did you do ?“
“I ga’ed o’er the way to the public-house, and told them a’ that had happened; and they told me I had been regularly done for, and called a policeman for me, to whom I stated the whole circumstances; and he said he would see what he could do.”
The magistrate then desired the policeman to be called. He stated that, from the description given of the prisoner, he knew her at once, and traced her to a gin shop, where she had tried to get the five-pound note changed, but without effect, as it was on a Scottish bank, and would not therefore pass current in London. He took the money from the “leddy,” and conveyed her to the station-house. He then went and desired the young man to attend at the office that day.
In answer to a question from the magistrate, the prisoner declared that she did not mean to retain the five-pound note, but only went out, knowing that the young man was quite unacquainted in town, to endeavour to get it changed for him.
“Eh me !“ said Sawney, holding up both his hands, and showing by his looks that, in the simplicity of his soul, he gave “the leddy” full credit for the truth of her statement; “Eh me! was not that so verra kind o’ her? I’m now so sorry that I ever said a word about it.” The broad accent in which this was delivered, coupled with the manner of the raw youth, threw all present into convulsions of laughter.
“If you take my advice, young man,” said the magistrate, when the laughter had subsided, “you’ll never again trust to the friendship or kindness of the ‘ladies’ who meet you in the street: but pass on, and not mind them.”
“Wed, Sir,” said the unsophisticated youth, with great earnestness, “if your honour thinks so, I’se tak’ your advice. [-211-] I’se never open my mouth to them again, but appear as if I were both deaf and dumb.” (Loud laughter.)
“As for you, madam,” said the magistrate, turning to the prisoner, “it is fortunate for you that this unsuspecting lad gave you the money, instead of your having taken it. As the note has been recovered, you are discharged.”
The next case I shall give is one of a different kind. It smacks of matrimonial squabbles and of poetry, in pretty equal proportions. Perhaps the most appropriate heading of it would be,
THE POETICAL COBBLER.
Sally Muggs, a little squat-looking woman, not very fair, and on the wrong side of forty, came bustling forward to the bar, and looking the sitting magistrate expressively in the face, said, “Please your vorship,” and then suddenly paused.
Magistrate—Well, ma’am, and what is your pleasure?
Mrs. Muggs—Vy, your vorship, it is— (Here the lady again abruptly paused, and buried her face, in quite a theatrical manner, in her handkerchief.)
Magistrate—Well, what is it? Let us hear it.
Mrs. Muggs—Please your vorship, this ‘ere man at the bar is my husband.
Mrs. Muggs turned about, and emitted a disapproving glance at “the man at the bar.”
Magistrate—Very well; go on.
Mrs. Muggs—And he is a mender of old shoes, your vorship.
Magistrate—Well, and what about it? Why don’t you proceed?
Mrs. Muggs (with a deep sigh)—And I married him six months ago.
Magistrate—Really, my good woman, if you have any complaint to make to the bench, you must proceed to do it at once, otherwise I shall order you from the bar. You have, I understand, a charge to prefer against the prisoner; pray come to it without any further circumlocution.
Mrs. Muggs—I vill, your worship. Vell, as I was a sayin’, I married this ‘ere man six months ago, and—
Magistrate—What has your marriage six months ago to do with the present case?
Mrs. -Muggs----.I soon diskivered, your vorship, that I had married a—Oh, Sir! I cannot utter the word.
Here Mrs. Muggs held down her head, and appeared to breathe so rapidly as to threaten instant suffocation.
Magistrate - And pray, madam, whom or what did you marry?
Mrs. Muggs—A-a-a-a poet, your vorship.
[-212-] The wife of the poetical cobbler pronounced the word “poet” -with a most emphatic groan, as if she had, in her own mind, associated something horrible with it.
The court was convulsed with laughter, in which the worthy magistrate heartily joined.
Magistrate— But what has the circumstance of your husband I being a poet to do with the present charge?
Mrs. Muggs—I’ll tell you presently, your vorship. I had some money when I married him; and so long as it lasted, he always spoke to me in pleasant poetry; but yen the money was all gone, his poetry became very disagreeable.
Magistrate—You mean, I suppose, that he scolds and quarrels with you in poetry? (Laughter.)
Mrs. Muggs—He does both of them ‘ere, your vorship; but he does something more.
Magistrate—Assaults you, perhaps?
Mrs. Muggs—Yes, your vorship: he beats me, and kicks me about most cruelly, and all the while keeps talking poetry. (Renewed laughter.)
Magistrate—But pray do come to the present charge. Mrs. Muggs—I vill, your vorship. He came home last night a little the vorse for leekur, and axed me, in poetry, for half-a-crown to spend with some fellow-snobs. I told him I had not a single penny in the house; on which he threatened, in poetry, to make gunpowder of me, if I did not give him what he wanted.
Magistrate—And was he as good as his word?
Mrs. Muggs—I’ll tell you all about it. (Laughter.) I again told him I had not a farthing in the house: on which he took down my best green silk bonnet, which was hanging on a nail, and which cost me ten-and-sixpence a fortnight before, and which I bought from Mrs.— Magistrate—Never mind what your bonnet cost you, or who you bought it from, but tell us about the assault.
Mrs. Muggs—Yes, your vorship. Vell, as I was a sayin’, he took down the bonnet, which was as handsome and fashionable a ‘un as was ever a-made by any milliner in Lunnun, and which was—
Magistrate (with considerable warmth)—Pray do not expatiate any more on the good qualities of the bonnet, but come at once to the assault on yourself.
Mrs. Muggs—I beg your vorship’s pardon; but I vas a-comin’ to that ‘ere as fast as I could. Vell, ven he took down the- I bonnet, he dashed it on the floor, and stamped upon it with his feet, as if he would drive the werry life out on’t. “Oh, my new bonnet !“ said I; and the vords wos hardly out of my mouth, when he gave another stamp on it with both his feet. “ My ten-and-[-213-]sixpence bonnet !“ said I; and with that, he gave it a kick which sent it right up to the ceiling, and down again. (Loud laughter.) I then tried to snatch it up, saying, “ Oh! my green silk bonnet !“ on which he again put both his ugly hoofs on it, and stood with it underneath, just as if it had been a mat to wipe one’s feet ‘with. That bonnet, your vorship, wos von of the best —
Magistrate—Really, madam, if you go on in this way, I must dismiss the case at once. You are speaking only of an assault on your bonnet; pray come to the assault on yourself
Mrs. Muggs (curtseying gracefully)—Vell, I vill, your vorship. As I was a-going to say, I tried to get the bonnet from him, and then he began to have a regular dance upon it. I stood a ghost at the sight, your vor—
“Aghast, she means, your honour; but she has no intellect— not a morsel,” growled the cobbler, who had hitherto not only looked sulky, but remained silent.
Mrs. Muggs resumed—I did, indeed, your vorship; but he grinned in my face and, spoke poetry. I tried to push him off the bonnet, yen he struck me so wiolently on the face, that the blood poured in rivers from my nose, and I fell down on the floor. ‘I cried out “Murder !“ and another ‘ooman as lodges in the same house called a policeman, who took him into custody.
A black eye and a swollen face bore ample testimony to the forcible nature of the blows which Mrs. Muggs had received from her poetical husband.
The policeman said, that when he took the defendant into custody, he also addressed him in poetry. When he asked him,
‘Why did you knock this woman down?’
‘I’ll go to the station house with you,
If you’ll only wait a minute or two,
Till I wash my face and comb my hair –
A request which you must admit is fair.’
The defendant, who was a short, thick-set, massy-headed personage, with a most unpoetical expression of countenance, evinced, all this, while, the utmost impatience to address the worthy magistrate. The latter having apostrophised the poetical cobbler with a “Now, Sir,” he advanced a step or two further up the bar, and putting both his hands behind his back, looked the presiding magistrate earnestly in the face.
Magistrate—Well, Sir, what have you got to say to this charge?
‘I admit that I was somewhat rude,
But not until I had reason good:
[-214-] She call’d me a horrid ugly brute,
Which sure enough did put me out;
I then hit Mrs. Muggs two or three blows,
As your worship already very well knows.’
Magistrate—You seem very anxious to be considered poetical. Do you call it poetry to commit an assault of this kind?
Mr. Muggs—Do I call it poetry to beat my wife?
I do—the deed with poetry is rife.
Magistrate—You do! Will you be so obliging as to tell us (in plain prose, if you please) what kind of poetry you call it?
Mr. Muggs—Most certainly: I’ll tell you in a fraction
of time—I call it, Sir, the poetry of action.
At this sally, the office was again convulsed with laughter, in which the bench heartily joined.
Magistrate (to Mrs. Muggs)—Does he always speak in this way?
Mrs. Muggs—Not always, your vorship, but he is sure to do so when he has drunk too much, and also occasionally when he is perfectly sober. He is now and then seized with fits of speaking poetry, as he calls it, and threatens at times to knock my “unpoetical soul” out of me. Mrs. Muggs, as she made the latter observation, tried to look wise, as if she had said something of surprising cleverness.
Magistrate—(to Mr. Muggs)—I understand you mend shoes.
Mr. Muggs—(hesitatingly)—Why—yes—I believe I dooes.
Magistrate—Don’t you think you would be much better occupied in attending to your business, than in making a fool of yourself by affecting to be a poet.
Mr. Muggs—It may be so, Sir, but I don’t know it.
Magistrate—Well, if you persist in making an ass of yourself in this way, you must be permitted to do so; but you shall not be allowed to assault your wife.
Mr. Muggs—I’ll not do it again, Sir, upon my life. (Loud Iaughter)
Magistrate—You are sentenced to —
“Pray,” interrupted Mrs. Muggs, addressing herself to the worthy magistrate, her heart having relented as she beheld her poetical husband looking touchingly towards her,— “pray, do, your honour, let him escape this time; I’ll be bound he von’t beat me again, nor destroy my bonnet.”
Mrs. Muggs looked as well as spoke so imploringly on behalf of Mr. Muggs, that even the magisterial nature, proof as it is generally supposed to be against entreaties of the kind, could not withstand the earnest supplications of the cobbler’s lady.
[-215-] Magistrate (to Mr. Muggs)—Sir, we shall allow you to get off this once at the request of your wife, but if the offence be repeated we shall deal with you in a very different way.
Mr. Muggs—I thank you, Sir, and wish you good day (Laughter.)
Mr. and Mrs. Muggs then cordially embraced each other as if their mutual affections had been wondrously improved by what had happened.
“I’m sure, Dick,” * (* Richard was Mr. Muggs’ Christian name.) said Mrs. Muggs, looking up touchingly in her husband’s face, as he clasped his arms around her, “I’m sure, Dick, you von’t do it no more.”
To which tender appeal, Mr. Muggs, as Milton would have mid, answered thus
“No, Sally, dear, I will not do’t again,
Never, my angel. I will refrain,
From this time forward, and for aye,
Perish my hand, should ever the day-
Arrive, in which ‘twill hit thee a blow;
Oh, Sally, my love! oh, Sally, oh!
Your kindness has me quite overcome:
As I will prove whene’er we get home.
So let us hence, and leave this place;
I’m thankful we quit it with such a good grace.”
The parties then retired, with their arms most affectionately entwined around each other’s neck, amidst peals of laughter from all present.
A DRUNKEN FROLIC.
A young man, who afterwards proved himself to be of good address, though his dress was rather awkward, and contrasted oddly with his appearance otherwise, was brought before the sitting magistrate, charged with being found drunk in the streets.
There was a general titter in the office as he advanced to the dock. And no wonder; for the odd appearance he presented might well have affected the risible muscles of even Democritus himself. He carried in his hand the bonnet, and his back was graced with the coat, of a private soldier; while his small-clothes, which had once been light cassimere of a fashionable make, were so extensively plastered with patches of mud, that it was with difficulty you could ascertain what the original colour was. His waistcoat was also of a fashionable cut, and though now wofully soiled with the commodity just mentioned, had evident-]y been, the night before, one which Beau Brummel himself need not have been ashamed to wear. Neckerchief or [-216-] stock he had none; his neck—clearly for no other reason than the accidental absence of either stock or cloth, and not from choice—was quite exposed to the rude gaze of the policemen, and of all in the office who chose to fix their vulgar eyes on it. To add to the singularity of this part of his personal aspect, the collar of his shirt had somehow or other disappeared, as if ashamed of itself. His crest-fallen looks also added much to the oddity of his appearance.
“Well, Sir,” said the magistrate, “What is your name?”
“Anthony Nonsuch,” was the answer.
“And pray, what are you ?“
“I am—I am—I am.—Sir, I am a gentleman by profession.” The first part of this answer was uttered with great hesitation, and the latter with an energy which so oddly contrasted with it,
as to raise a general laugh.
“I do not know,” said the magistrate, sarcastically, “what you are by profession, but you certainly are not in a very gentlemanly situation at present. (To the officer.) Tell us what you know of the prisoner.”
“Plase your honour,” said the policeman, who was an Hibernian,* (*This occurred under the old police system, when almost all the guardians of the night were Irishmen. ) “as I was on duty last night about one o’clock this morning, in Great Russel Street, Covent Garden, I saw this young man lying on his broad back in the mud while it was pouring oceans of rain. Says I to him, ‘What in the name of St. Patrick was after bringing your body here?’ ‘Go home to Paddy’s Land, you spalpeen of an Irishman,’ says he. ‘It wid be bether for the likes ov ye iv ye were at home in such a night as this,’ says I. (Laughter.) ‘Pat,’ says he, ‘I mane to sleep here for an hour or two.’ ‘By the powers, and you won’t do that same,’ says I; ‘it’s not a very comfortable bed that yourself would be after finding it,’ says I. ‘The sheets feel a little damp, but we must not stick at trifles,’ says he. (Laughter.) ‘Come, come,’ says I. ‘Good night, Pat,’ says he; ‘you be sure and call me early in the morning, my boy.’ (Laughter.) Wid that, your honour, he laid hisself down again on the street, among the dubs, as if he had been slapeing on a bed of down.”
“And you raised him up, of course,” said the magistrate.
“I tried to do that same, plase your honour, but never an inch would he move. He felt as weighty, yer honour, as a ton of lead; so I was obliged to get the assistance of another policeman, and we put him on his feet between us.”
“And they were of no use to him, I suppose, when you did so?” said the magistrate.
“Maybe yer honour’s quite right there,” said the Irishman, [-217-] with a significant shake of the head; “he could not put them beneath him at all at all.”
“Did he speak when you lifted him up?”
“Did he speak, yer honour? Faith and he did that same.”
“What did he say ?“
“‘Paddy,’ says he, ‘bring me a noggin of whiskey;’ but I tould him, yer honour, there was none to be had. ‘Why?’ says he. ‘Why!’ says I, ‘sure bekase all the public houses is shut up.’ ‘Is it too late,’ says he, ‘to get one noggin more?’ ‘It’s meself that doesn’t know,’ says I, ‘whether it be too late or too early; but I know that not a drop is to be had for love or money at this blessed hour of the night.”
“Did you ask him what was his name.”
“I did, plase yer honour.”
“And what did he say it was
“Och, and faith, yer honour, he did not speak the thruth.”
“Are you quite sure of that ?“
“As sure, yer honour, as it’s meself is my mother’s son.” (Laughter.)
“And pray how did you come to know that he did not speak the truth ?“
“Bekase, yer honour, it was himself that was after giving me a wrong name.”
“But how did you come to know that ?“ repeated the magistrate with some sharpness.
“Bekase I’m sure it was not the right one.” (Bursts of laughter.)
“Let us hear what it was.”
“Och, I’m quite sartin, yer honour, it was not the thrue one, answered the Emeralder, showing an evident reluctance to answer the magistrate’s question.
“Come, come, Sir; do tell us at once what name he gave you.”
“Well, then, yer honour, if I must be after telling you, sure enough it was Daniel O’Connell.” (Roars of laughter.)
“And how do you know that is not the prisoner’s name ?“
“Bekase, yer worship, I know Daniel O’Connell, and therefore by this same token could not be mistaken.”
“The Agitator, you mean ?“ continued the magistrate.
“I mane Mr. O’Connell, the same fat gentleman as makes orashuns in Dublin.”
“But you don’t mean to say he is the only Daniel O’Connell in the world ?“
“Faith, yer honour, and I never thought of that same before,” answered Pat, looking quite surprised at his own stupidity.
“Well, we’ll pass over his name. Did you ask him where he lived ?“
“I did, yer worship.”
[-218-] “And what answer did he give you ?“
“He said, in his own house.” (Loud laughter.)
“And what did you say ?“
“Must I tell your honour the very words I said ?“
“Then I called him a stupid spalpeen, and tould him that it was no answer at all at all that he had given meself to the civil question I asked him.”
“Did he then give you his address ?“
“He then said, yer honour, says he, ‘Paddy, my boy, I live in Ireland,’ (Renewed laughter) and thinking that too far to remove him to that night, we brought him to the watch-house, yer honour.”
“You did quite right,” observed the magistrate; and turning to the prisoner, said, “Well, Sir, what have you got to say for yourself?”
“I would much rather not say anything, your worship,” answered Mr. Nonsuch, in a subdued tone, and hanging his head; “the truth is, Sir, I had been dining with some friends, and took a glass too much.”
“But how come you to have on this strange dress? You are not a private soldier.”
“No, Sir, thank heaven, I am no soldier of any kind: I am not come to that yet. The fact is, that all I remember is this; that a young friend and myself, in coming home from the place where we had been dining, went into the tap-room of a public-house in the Strand, to have a lark; and two or three privates being drinking there, one of them proposed, for a frolic, that I should try on his red coat and bonnet, and he my black coat and hat, to see how we should severally look with this change in our apparel. I at once assented, thinking the thing was an excellent joke, and the moment he had put on my coat and hat, he bolted out of the house, crying, ‘Catch me if you can.’” (Loud laughter.)
“And did you try to catch him ?“ inquired the magistrate.
“I did, your worship; but I lost sight of him in a few moments, and have not seen or heard of him since. I suppose the open air must have made me worse, for after losing sight of him I have no recollection of what passed.”
“Well, Sir,” said the magistrate, with considerable sternness, “I should think the ridiculous figure you now cut, and the situation you are now in, must be no slight punishment for your folly. You are fined five shillings for being drunk. Officer! the next charge.”
“But what am I to do?” said the unfortunate wight, addressing himself to the magistrate in a tremulous tone; “what am I to do for my coat and hat? I cannot go home in this state.”
[-219-] “That is no affair of mine,” answered the magistrate hastily. “The next charge, officer !“
“Coming, Sir,” said the latter. And that moment another servant of the establishment led into the office a man, seemingly about thirty-five years of age, whose stiff gait and erect head denoted that he belonged to the military profession.
“Oh, there he is, your worship !“ exclaimed Mr. Nonsuch, with some vehemence, turning about to the magistrate; “that is my coat on his back, and that is my hat in his hand,” he added, pointing to the prisoner.
“Silence, Sir! order in the office 1” said the magistrate, in authoritative accents.
Mr. Anthony Nonsuch remained in the place to see the upshot of the matter, his countenance irradiated with joy at the sight of two such indispensable parts of his wardrobe, and especially at the prospect of their being restored to him.
“ What is this person charged with?” inquired the magistrate; addressing himself to the police -constable who stood beside the prisoner.
“Please your worship,” answered the guardian of the night, “as I was going my round at half-past one this morning, I saw this here man with a crowd around him, quite drunk, and hollering aloud that he had been a sodger before, but that he was a gentleman now. Seeing the trowsers, waistcoat, and stock of a private on him, with a gentleman’s hat and fashionable black coat, I took him into custody, not only for being drunk and disorderly, but thinking he had stolen the coat and hat.”
“What are you, Sir?” said the magistrate to the prisoner.
“A private in the 69th regiment,” answered the latter.
“And what have you to say to the charge?”
The soldier admitted he had taken a drop too much, and expressed his sorrow for what had happened.
“Do that coat and hat belong to that person there?” said the magistrate, pointing to Mr. Nonsuch.
“They do, your worship,” answered the soldier, after bestowing a transient glance on his companion in the previous night’s frolic.
“You are fined five shillings for being drunk.”
“Give me back my coat and hat, and I will pay the five shillings,” said Mr. Nonsuch eagerly, addressing the son of Mars. The latter promptly complied with his wish by doffing coat and hat. The red coat and bonnet were returned to their proper owner along with the five shillings, and both parties quitted the office, Mr. Anthony Nonsuch declaring that he would take care never to get himself into such a plight again.
I shall only give one more police-office case, which may be headed—
[-220-] CASE OF ALLEGED HOUSE-STEALING.
Rory O’Niel, a short, thick-set, recent importation from “Ould Ireland,” whose countenance was one of the most innocent-looking that ever graced the bar of a police-office, and whose black bristly head of hair had as rough an appearance as if there were not a comb in Christendom,—was charged with having stolen a horse. The charge excited more than ordinary interest, and gave rise to a variety of observations on the part of other persons in the office, touching the enormity of the crime of horse-stealing.
The complainant, a surly-looking sour-tempered personage, of middle size, and about forty years of age, stated the case with great pomposity. “The horse, your worship, with which this Irishman,” pointing with an air of scorn to the prisoner, “ran away, was –“
“He ‘s not spaking a word o’ the blessed thruth, yer honour,” interrupted poor Pat, with great earnestness of manner.
“Silence !“ said the magistrate, addressing himself to the prisoner; “you must allow the complainant to state his case without interruption.”
“But, yer honour, there isn’t a morsel of the blessed thruth in what he ‘s spaking.”
“Well, but you must be silent now; you’ll be heard when he’s done.”
“Heaven bless yer jewel of a sowl, yer honour, for that same! If I had known that, sure it’s not meself wid have throubled yer honour with a single word at present.”
The complainant resumed. “The horse, Sir, with which this person ran away, was one of the finest animals in Lon—”
“Do not tell the bench anything about the qualities of your horse; that is not the matter we are called to decide,” interrupted the magistrate.
“Very well, Sir,” said the complainant, in a subdued tone, his vanity being clearly wounded by the observation of the magistrate. “Very well, Sir. Having, then, occasion to visit the British Museum, I desired this person, whom I saw lounging about in Great Russell Street, to hold the horse, and walk him about for an hour, saying I would, on my return, give him a shilling for his trouble.”
“And he undertook to do as you requested ?“ observed the magistrate.
“He did, Sir: he put his hand to his hat, and said he would take particular care of the animal. On quitting the British Museum, about an hour afterwards, I found both the horse and the man were gone.”
[-221-] “And what did you do then ?“ inquired the magistrate.-
“I informed the police of the circumstance, and the horse was brought back to my hotel, in Westminster, in about two hours afterwards.”
The policeman, who restored the animal to the complainant, stated, that about half an hour after the time mentioned by the complainant, he saw the horse coming in the direction of Tottenham-court-road, at a furious gallop, with the prisoner on his back, but having all the appearance of one who was the reverse of comfortable in his seat. On turning the corner to go down Tottenham-court-road, in the direction of the Hampstead-road, the prisoner fell off the animal, when the latter galloped away at still greater speed. He was, however, soon seized by the bridle and stopped by a man in the street; when he ran up and took charge of him.
“Of the horse, you mean?” said the magistrate.
“Of the horse, your worship.”.
“So that you left the rider who had fallen off to take care of himself”
“I thought, your worship, that as the horse was very restive, if he was not taken care of, he might escape again and do greater mischief.”
“ Is the person here who raised the prisoner after he fell off the horse’s back ?“
“Yes, yer honour: it was myself that did that same act of kindness to a countryman,” responded a tall, clumsy, but benevolent-looking man, in a strong Irish brogue.
“Well, I shall examine you presently,” said the magistrate, addressing himself to the latter.
“Whenever your honour plases,” observed the other, drily.
“You hear the charge against you, prisoner; what have you to say to it?” -
“A great dale, yer honour.”
“Well, make your statement as short as possible.”
“I will, yer honour; but would yer honour be so condesanding as to allow me to begin first?“ observed Pat, amidst shouts of laughter, caused not less by the archness with which the remark was made, than by the wit of the remark itself. The magistrate could not help joining in the general laugh.
“Well, Sir, do be so good as to let us hear your defence.”
“ Och! and sure that I will, yer honour, in less than a minit.”
“Well, Sir, proceed.”
“My defence, yer honour, is, that the gintlemin has not spoken a word of the blessed thruth, as sure as the Virgin’s in heaven.”
[-222-] “Do you mean to say,” inquired the magistrate, with some emphasis, “that the complainant did not leave his horse with you ?“
“Och! sure, yer honour, and it’s not meself would be after sayin’ any such thing.”
“What do you mean to say, then ?“
“What do I mane to say, is it yer honour manes?”
“Yes. Do you mean to say that you did not run away with the horse ?“
“Faith, and it’s myself manes to do jist that same.”
“How, then, were you seen gallopping in the direction of Tottenham-court road ?“
“Och, yer honour! that’s it, is it? Then I mane to say it happened in this way.”
Here Pat hesitated for a moment, as if ruminating on what he would say further.
“Come, Sir: you say that you did not run away with the horse: how, then, were you seen gallopping the animal at so furious a rate ?“
“Bekase, yer honour, the horse ran away with me.” (Roars of laughter, in which not only the magistrate, but even the demure, sulky-looking complainant joined.)
“How do you mean ?“ inquired the magistrate, when the laughter had subsided.
“How do I mane? What I mane is this, that instead of meself running away with the horse on my own blessed back, the horse ran away with me on his back.” (Renewed laughter.)
“You are not charged,” said the magistrate, “with carrying the animal on your back.”
“Am I not, yer honour?” shouted Pat, his countenance suddenly lighting up with a beam of joy. “Am I not? Then the charge is dismissed, is it ?“ (Laughter.)
“Not quite so fast as that,” answered the magistrate, drily.
“Then-what am I charged with, yer honour?” said Pat, with great shrewdness of manner.
“With stealing the complainant’s horse.”
“How, yer honour,” said the prisoner, with the most imperturbable gravity of countenance, “could I stale the baste, when it ran away with me, and not me with it ?“
“Come, tell us how you got on the horse’s back ?“
“Faith, and I will, this blessed minit, yer honour!”
“Well, let us hear. How was it?”
“Well, yer honour, as sure as I hope that my soul will be saved, I’ll tell you the blessed thruth. It was in this way.”
Here Pat suddenly dropped his eyes on the floor, and made a dead pause, which lasted for some seconds.
“Why don’t you proceed ?“ inquired the magistrate, with some tartness.
[-223-] “Wid yer honour be so good as to let me be after telling you what I was thinking of?” said the prisoner, with great simplicity, and slightly scratching his forehead.
“Well, what was it?” inquired the magistrate, sternly.
“Well, then, yer honour, I was thinking, in case you shouldn’t belave what I say, though it’s the truth of the gospel, it would be good for meself if the horse could spake, and be produced here before yer honour.”
The office was again convulsed with laughter, which, indeed, it would have been impossible for the most demure to resist, owing to the air of simplicity and singularly ludicrous way in which the poor fellow made the remark.
“Well, but as we must unfortunately dispense with the presence of the horse, he being unable to give his testimony to the point, will you tell us,” said the magistrate, “in a few words, how you came to get on his back?”
“I will, yer honour. As I was standing walking (loud laughter) with the animal, a great big spalpeen who was driving a cart, comes in over to me, and says, says he, ‘That’s a handsome-looking horse you have got.’ ‘May be, you’re right there,’ says I. ‘Ah, Paddy!’ says he, ‘why don’t you get on his back, and ride him about?’ ‘What’s that to you?’ says I. ‘Oh,’ says he,’ it’s because you cannot ride, you Irish —,‘ says he. ‘You —‘ Shall I tell yer honour the word I made use of here?”
“Do,” said the magistrate, “if it’s not a very bad one.”
“It’s partikerly bad, yer honour. Says I, ‘You lie, you stupid thickskull!’ On that, says he again, ‘You can’t put a leg on horseback. I’ll bet you anything you like, you can’t.’ ‘A noggin of gin!’ says I. ‘Anything you like,’ says he again.’ ‘Well, then,’ says I, ‘let it be a noggin of Fearon’s best.’ ‘Done!’ says he. And with that, yer honour, to gain the wager, as sure’s my name is Rory O’Niel, I leaped into the saddle, and was about to have a gintle trot, when he takes his whip and lashes the animal with all his force, and away it flew with me at full gallop, yer honour. That’s the blessed thruth, as I hope to be saved !“
“We shall now hear,” said the magistrate, “what the person who took the prisoner up, when he fell off the horse, has got to say. Well, Sir?” continued the magistrate, addressing himself to the witness in question.
“I’m here, yer honour.”
“You say you were the first that came to the assistance of the prisoner when thrown off the horse.”
“ I was, yer honour.”
“Tell us, then, what you know about this matter ?“
[-224-] “When I saw him fall,” answered Rory’s countryman, “I ran in over to him, not knowing at the time that he was from Ould Ireland, and said, says I, ‘Are you much hurt, my darlint?’ But, yer honour, the never a word did he spake in answer to my question. Says I, again, ‘Are you living or dead, honey?’ And sure enough, yer honour, he raised up his two big eyes, like a wild duck in a thunder storm, and said, ‘Don’t you see I’m dead, you spalpeen? the horse has kilt me quite?’” (Loud laughter.)
“But do you know anything as to the circumstances connected with the starting of the horse ?“ inquired the magistrate. “Were you near the place at the time ?“
The witness stated that he was not within sight at the time the horse went off, and consequently did not know anything about that part of the matter.
The policeman, who took charge of the horse after he was caught, here came forward, and said that a highly respectable gentleman came up immediately after the accident, and when a concourse of persons were gathered around, and gave precisely the same statement as that of the prisoner, as to the circumstances under which the latter had mounted the horse.
The bench being satisfied that poor Rory had told the truth, and that, instead of deserving more punishment, he had been too much punished already, ordered him to be discharged.
“Thank yer honour, and may yer honour never be kilt by a fall from a horse, to the end of your blessed days,” said Rory, amidst much laughter, on hearing the decision of the magistrate. Pat was then in the act of quitting the office, when he suddenly turned about, and addressing the bench with a remarkable peculiarity of manner, said, “But, plase yer honour, the gintleman has not given me the shilling yet, at all at all, for houlding his horse.”
“You have not,” observed the complainant, “entitled yourself to the shilling: you did not fulfil your engagement: you let the horse go.”
“And sure, that was not my fault,” answered Rory, with much dryness of manner. “The baste ran away against my will.”
A loud burst of laughter followed the observation; and so pleased were the two magistrates who were present, with the -readiness and wit of Rory, that they each gave him half-a-crown. The complainant, surly though he seemed to be to the last, could not resist following their example. Pat then left the office, seven-and-sixpence richer than he entered it, singing, with great seeming sincerity, “Och! long life to all yer honours !"
James Grant, Sketches in London, 1838
The police of the city of Westminster and the suburbs is under the jurisdiction of twenty-seven stipendiary magistrates, who hold their sittings from eleven in the morning till five in the evening, at the following police courts Bow Street; Covent Garden; Queen Square, Westminster ; Great Marlborough Street, High Street, Marylebone; Hatton Garden; Union Street, Borough; Worship Street, Shoreditch; and Lambeth Street, Whitechapel.
Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844
cartoon from Punch, 1861
see also J. Ewing Ritchie in The Night Side of London - click here
[ ... back to main menu for this book]
Police Courts. —
BOW-STREET: Bow - street, Covent-garden. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 am., and at intervals; summonses heard at 2 pm,; remands and charges from 10 am till 5p.m. NEAREST Railway Station Temple; Omnibus Routes, Strand and Oxford-street; Cab Rank, Wellington-street.
CITY POLICE OFFICE, 26, Old Jewry. NEAREST Railway Stations, Mansion House and Moorgate; Omnibus Routes, Cheapside and Moorgate-street; Cab Rank, Lothbury.
CLERKENWELL King’s-cross-road. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 a.m., and at intervals; summonses heard at 2 p.m.; remands at 11.30 am.; and charges from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Stations, King’s-cross and Farringdon-st; Omnibus Routes, Gray’s-inn-road, Exmouth-street, Euston-road, and Pentonville-road; Cab Rank, King’s-cross.
GREENWICH. Applications for summonses to be made at 12 noon; remands heard at 11 a.m; summonses at 12 noon; and charges from 10 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. NEAREST Railway Station, Greenwich.
GUILDHALL JUSTICE - ROOM. Applications for summonses to be made at 1 p.m.; summonses, remands, and charges are heard from 12 noon. NEAREST Railway Stations, Mansion House and Moorgate-street ; Omnibus Routes, Cheapside and Moorgate - street; Cab Rank, Lothbury.
HAMMERSMITH: Vernon-street, Hammersmith-road. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 a.m. ; remands and summonses heard at 11 a.m. ; charges from 10 am. to 1.30 p.m. NEAREST Railway Station, West Kensington; Omnibus Route, Hammersmith-road; Cab Rank, Red Cow-lane.
LAMBETH: Renfrew-rd, Lower Kennington-lane. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 a.m., and at intervals; remands heard at 11.30 a.m.; summonses at 2p.m.; and charges from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Station, Elephant and Castle; Omnibus Routes, Newington-butts and Kennington-park-road; Cab Rank, High-street, Newington-butts.
MANSION HOUSE JUSTICE-ROOM. Applications for summonses to be made at 1 p.m. ; summonses, remands, and charges are heard from 12 noon. NEAREST Railway Stations, Mansion House and Moorgate-street; Omnibus Routes, Cheapside, Moorgate-st, Queen Victoria-street, and King William-street; Cab Rank, Lothbury.
MARLBOROUGH-STREET: Great Marlborough-street. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 a.m. and 12 noon; summonses heard at 2 p.m.; remands at 12 noon ; and charges from 10 am. to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Stations, Portland-road and Charing-cross (Dist. and S. E.); Omnibus Routes, Regent-street and Oxford-street; Cab Rank, Conduit-street.
MARYLEBONE: Seymour-place, Bryanston- square. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 a.m. ; summonses heard at 2 p.m. ; remands at 11 a.m.; and charges from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Station, Edgware road; Omnibus Routes, Edgware-rd and Marylebone-road; Cab Rank, Edgware-road.
METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICE, 4, Whitehall-place. NEAREST Railway Stations, Charing-cross (SE. & Diet.); Omnibus Routes, White- -hall and Strand; Cab Rank, Horse Guards.
SOUTHWARK: Blackman-street, Borough. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 am. ; summonses heard at 2 p.m.; remands at 12 noon; and charges from to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Station, Borough-rd ; Omnibus Routes, Blackman-street and Borough; Cab Rank, Newington-causeway.
THAMES: Arbour-street-east, Stepney. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 a.m. and 12 noon; summonses heard at 2 p.m.; remands at 11 a.m. ; and charges from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Stations, Stepney and Shadwell; Omnibus Routes, Commercial-rd-east, Burdett-road, and Mile-end-road.
WANDSWORTH: Love-lane, Wandsworth. Applications for summonses to be made at 2.30 p.m.; summonses heard at 4 p.m.; remands at 3 p.m.; and charges from 2.30 to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Station, Wandsworth.
WESTMINSTER: Vincent-sq, Westminster. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 a.m.; summonses heard at 2 p.m.; remands at 12 noon; and charges from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Station, Victoria; Omnibus Routes, Rochester-row, Vauxhall-bridge-road, and Victoria-street; Cab Rank: Vauxhall-bridge-road.
WOOLWICH. Applications for summonses to be made at 4 p.m.; summonses heard at 4 p.m. ; remands at 3 p.m.; and charges from 2.30 to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Station, Woolwich.
WORSHIP-STREET: Finsbury, near Finsbury-square. Applications for summonses to be made at 10 a.m.; summonses heard at 2 p.m.; remands at 11 p.m.; and charges from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. NEAREST Railway Station, Moorgate-st; Omnibus Route, Moorgate-street; Cab Rank, Finsbury-pavement.
For localities comprised in each police-court district, see POST OFFICE DIRECTORY, p. 1923.
Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879
see also The Mysteries of Modern London - click here (1) (2) (3)
A LONDON POLICE-COURT.
To make the acquaintance of a police-court is, at some time or other, the common lot of most of those who bear the burden of life within the limits of the great metropolis. It is not necessary to belong to the criminal classes, whose knowledge of the subject—like Mr. Sam Weller's of London in general—is extensive and peculiar; nor either to be a victim of the predatory race, although, in that case, the experience is likely to be remembered. For there are many other ways in which the jurisdiction of the police-court may be brought; home to you.
Have you left home on some wintry morning without providing for the clearance of snow from the strip of pavement in front of your dwelling? Has your chimney caught fire, and have the services of the fire brigade been zealously administered to put it out? Has your little dog run out unmuzzled into the street, and been run in by the active officer on the beat? Have you, in fine, offended in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, against the written or unwritten law, whether civil, municipal, or criminal, you have a fair chance of enjoying an evil quarter of an hour about the precincts of a London police-court.
The police-court is not usually to be sought in busy thoroughfares and well-frequented streets. It is, in most cases, rather difficult to find, and boasts of little outward embellishment. In a quiet, dowdy street, the plain, inconspicuous building may be passed without any particular notice. Sometimes, indeed, the quietude may be broken by the loud, passionate cries of some female, furious at being temporarily deprived of her mate :
"What, my Bill to 'ave three months' hard for mugging that wretched scoundrel Joe! Oh, let me get at him!"
And Joe stands a chance of putting in a bad time, if he should encounter wild-eyed Bess in her present mood. But these clamours soon die away in the distance, as discreet friends hurry the girl away from the dangerous neighbourhood, where her riotous demeanour might involve her in the same fate as the beloved one. And the street resumes its accustomed quiet, people slipping in and out of the portals of the police-court in a quiet, undemonstrative way.
Yet, if some case is going on which excites public interest—such as a prize-fighting prosecution, or the sequel of a gambling club raid—then there will be a rush and a crowd that will startle the neighbourhood from its propriety, and task all the energies of the burly constables on duty to prevent the whole court being carried by a rush.
But, arriving at the police-court about ten a m., the hour at which business usually commences, there will be found, perhaps, a number of people, chiefly women, clustered about in the lobby, and pressing upon the policeman in charge of the inner door; people of chirpy and chaffy demeanour, and respectable, if homely attire, who seem quite free from the nervous misery which attends an unaccustomed visit to a court of justice, whether as plaintiff or defendant. And these jocular people may prove to be a number of careless matrons and maidens who have lost or mislaid certain valuable securities known as pawn-tickets — a mischance which renders necessary a statutory declaration before a magistrate. And when these are disposed of, a knot of people still remain who are passed into the court one by one, by the attendants. These are applicants for summonses; neighbours, perhaps, who have ceased to be neighbourly, and have come to open warfare; servants who have complaints against former employers ; people who have been beaten, and are not content. With these there may be a few who have come for " advice," it may be upon a matrimonial dispute, or on some knotty question of lodging-house ethics ; while there are, perhaps, one or two females of eccentric costume and deportment who seize every occasion of having a word or two with the magistrate in reference to some treasured grievance.
When all these applicants have been admitted, and ranged in order, a little time will elapse during which they will have an opportunity of studying the interior aspect of a police-court : the bench, with perhaps a few ornamental festoons of drapery overhead ; but everything else plain and of strictly utilitarian arrangement. The chief clerk is below, arranging his papers and dockets; the solicitors' pew is occupied by a single representative of the profession; while the box reserved for the fourth estate contains a solitary reporter, who seems to be thinking of anything but reporting on his own account, as he sits absorbed in the morning newssheet.
Indeed, of all that passes in a police-court, a very small portion finds its way to the public press. Only if your case should chance to present anything unusual, grotesque, sentimental, or amusing, it will be picked up as so much treasure-trove by the vigilant reporter, and, multiplied by the ingenious flimsy, will form a paragraph perhaps in every morning paper, and thus disseminate your name and fame to the four quarters of the globe. With all this there is a gentle buzz of conversation ; the public exchange confidences as to the merits of their cases; police officers murmur discreetly to officials; when, suddenly, there is a little stir in the court, the usher calls out "silence!" and the magistrate makes his appearance from his private room, and takes his seat with businesslike alacrity on the bench of justice.
The police have the first turn, as might be expected; but the list of summonses they require for various infractions of the law is soon gone through, and then the general public has its turn. Each applicant steps up to the witness-box, states his or her case; the magistrate puts a question or two, and then grants a summons or refuses it. If the summons is granted, the applicant passes into an adjoining office, pays two shillings, and, having ascertained on what day the case will come on, has nothing more to do in the matter till then, as the police undertake the duty of serving these summonses. Then follow the applications for advice, and sometimes for relief — for each police-court has a poor-box, which is replenished from time to time by gifts from the charitably-disposed, who have a well-founded confidence that their contributions will be distributed only to deserving and pressing cases.
When all this light and preliminary business is disposed of, the real, grim, serious work of the police-court begins. The charge-sheet, a document of portentous size, and often containing a formidable catalogue of offenders, is handed in by the police, and the hearing of the night-charges begins.
And the prisoners—whence come they? Probably from many different quarters, and by various means of transit. Some may have walked, under the charge of police, from a neighbouring police-station ; or a cab may have brought some prisoner of higher pretensions than the ordinary. But the most have arrived some time before the opening of the court, driven up in the spacious, but not individually roomy, police-van. There has been a general gaol delivery of all the police-cells throughout the metropolis—such a delivery as occurs every workaday morning, when omnibuses, trains, and trams are crammed with smart, well-draped, and cheerful-looking young men, and, in these latter days, with a considerable sprinkling of young women, who may answer to the same description, hurrying, with hearts more or less light, to their daily employment. There are not many light hearts in the police-van, probably, although a reckless joviality is often assumed by its more seasoned passengers, and songs and choruses, with a dismal kind of gaiety about them, often enliven the long and dreary passage.
A certain number of police-courts, indeed, are in direct communication with adjacent police-stations—six of them, to be exact, out of a total of sixteen—and in these cases, the prisoners are brought direct from the police-cells to the dock of the court. But when the first batch of prisoners has been delivered, there is still work for "Black Maria "—the half-affectionate sobriquet of the police-omnibus, although she is not exactly black, but as dark a green as can be painted—for the "remands " have to be brought up from the various prisons, from Holloway, Pentonville, or Millbank. And there is a good deal of "remanding" under the police system of prosecution; and an unfortunate prisoner — presumably innocent — may be jolted about for some hours, as his conveyance deposits passengers at one police-court or another, before he arrives at his destination, and may spend a long day in the police-court cells, only to appear for a moment before a magistrate, while some piece of formal evidence is given to justify a " remand." To the seasoned offender this is a rather agreeable diversion of the monotony of prison life, he enjoys the ribald songs of the police-van, the coarse jokes and highly-seasoned language of the police-court cells with the companionship of birds of a congenial feather. But to the prisoner who is as yet not inoculated with the criminal taint, the experience is sad and depressing enough.
It is now eleven a.m., and the business of the police-court is in full swing. The night charges are on, and on a Monday morning these charges are rather heavy. Saturday night, with wages paid, and drink in plenty to excite the quarrelsome, brings a good many to spend the Sunday in the weary confinement of the police-cells. And the lobby of the police-court is well packed with a miscellaneous crowd—witnesses, friends of prisoners who have come to see how they get out of their scrapes, people who are waiting to surrender to their bail. Here are shabbily-dressed women with babies, wearied and depressed; a coster's bride, in smart hat and ostrich feather, and brilliant shawl; a knot of sturdy but predacious - looking fellows whispering among themselves, well and warmly clad in corduroys and velveteens ; poor starving creatures in rags and tatters, and wild-looking females in silks and satins, all frayed and faded.
It is a dreary, drizzling day, well suited to the occasion ; the stone-paved passage is damp, and smeared with mud from the trampling, weary feet which have passed to and fro, and the long, wooden bench by the wall is filed from end to end. Halfway up the passage is the entrance to the court, enclosed within a wooden screen, and jealously guarded by a burly constable. The court is nominally a public one, but practical considerations prescribe the rule, "No admittance except on business," At the extreme end of the passage another door opens into the interior regions of the court; and here are gathered a number of women and youths who watch anxiously for the opening of the door, and hold hurried conferences with the warder. These, we are told, are mostly the friends of prisoners on remand, who hope for the opportunity of communicating with them; and some are provided with baskets or basins or pocket-handkerchiefs containing provisions, for an untried prisoner is permitted to have his meals from the outside world if he has money to pay for them, or friends willing to provide them. If he has neither, and is detained in the police-cells till the afternoon, he is entitled to a meal, cost not exceeding fourpence, at the public expense. But the choky feeling of one awaiting examination is generally meal enough for him, and the allowance is seldom claimed.
Next to the prisoner's door is the warrant-room, where uniformed policemen transact the business relating to the issue and execution of those peremptory documents. And beyond this there is nothing to be seen of the economy of the police-court by the weary expectants in the lobby. Women huddle together on the benches and try to keep their babies warm in the folds of old worn shawls ; men hunch up their shoulders and stick their hands in their pockets, Now and then a name is called by the usher, and repeated in stentorian tones by the stalwart policeman. The people called are generally those who do not happen to be there. The friend of overnight, who valiantly promised to bear witness on behalf of the prisoner, is generally found wanting in the cold atmosphere of the morning's reflection.
But now the doorkeeper thinks he can find room for one or two more, and the interior of the court is revealed, with the magistrate on the bench, a prisoner in the dock, a witness in the box, and the proceedings going on with a slow deliberation that shows something serious to be in progress. The summary cases are disposed of quickly enough ; but this is an Old Bailey business, and the clerk of the court is getting the evidence into the depositions, that bulky bundle of papers which will accompany the prisoner before the Grand Jury, which will be spread before the Judge as he sits on the awful judgement-bench, and finally endorsed with the finding of the Jury, will be buried for all time in the legal archives of the country. The case, indeed, is serious enough. There has been a fight with knives in the slums, and one of the combatants has been desperately wounded, and is now dying in the hospital. His antagonist is here in the dock, a dark, powerful young fellow, stolid enough, and seemingly almost unmoved, as he listens to the slowly-enunciated evidence that is accumulating against him, "Have you any question to ask this witness?" says the magistrate, as a policeman finishes his story. "We begun with fists and we finished with knives, that's all I got to say," he murmurs, doggedly ; and, in effect, it is all that he has on his mind. And when he is remanded he turns away with a look of relief on his face, and returns with alacrity to his cell.
The next case is one of picking a pocket. The prisoner, a strong, burly young fellow, not at all of the Artful Dodger class, nor belonging to the sleek, slippery class of thieves who wind in and about a crowd like so many eels. Our prisoner evidently belongs to the heavy-handed, rather than the light-fingered gentry; and such is the prosecutor's experience, a respectable, amiable-looking country manufacturer, who complains of having been unceremoniously hustled as well as robbed. That the hustling profession is a profitable one is shown by the result of the search by the police of the prisoner's pockets, which contained, besides five pounds in gold—which happens, curiously enough, to be the exact sum the prosecutor lost—nearly two pounds' worth of silver and copper.
While this is going on there is a little stir of interest and expectation among a little knot of young men, who are leaning over the barrier of what is called the public part of the court. They are of the same build and general appearance as the prisoner, and probably belong, not exactly to the criminal class, but to that border region which unhappily seems to be growing more extensive in these latter days, whose denizens turn their hands indifferently to honest labour or to deeds of violence, with a general preference for the latter. The cause of this interest is presently manifest when a prison official comes forward to prove a previous conviction against the honest youth in the dock. Upon this the solicitor, who has been defending the prisoner, holds a hurried conference with his client, and announces that, by his advice, the prisoner will plead guilty, in order that the matter may be settled by the magistrate. " Six months' hard labour," is the result of this advice, which was probably wise enough. For although there might have been a slender chance of acquittal before a Jury, who are not allowed to know anything about "previous convictions," yet the sentence, if found guilty, would have been much heavier for previous convictions — and half-a-dozen more might have turned up at the Sessions — which count for a good deal in the allotment of punishment.
"And what about the money?" asks the now-convicted prisoner. "Is he to have it all?" indicating the prosecutor, whom he evidently considers to be a very unworthy character. The magistrate orders the gold taken from the prosecutor to be restored to him. The rest, the silver and bronze, is the property of the thief, who leaves the court with a hop, skip, and jump, seemingly consoled by the prospect of starting in business with a little capital at the end of his period of retirement. And yet, perhaps, we do the thief injustice, who may have tender feelings, like anybody else. Possibly one of those patient women with a baby, who waits in the lobby, may be the prisoner's wife, and the money may be meant for her, to keep body and soul together till she can find employment.
A string of cases follow of no particular interest, and some are dismissed rejoicing, and others go, bewailing fine or imprisonment, back to the cells. Again appears a wild, reckless, passionate girl in tawdry, ragged garments, who bursts into loud lamentations as she stands before the magistrate. She has been "put back " for some petty theft, being young, and hitherto unconvicted, to see if some benevolent lady will take charge of her in a Home. The Home is ready if the girl is willing. But no! she loudly and passionately declares that she will not go to any Home. And then the girl's mother is sent for, who is waiting outside-an eminently respectable woman in appearance, who might be housekeeper in a nobleman's family—and mother and daughter exchange looks with the width of the court between them —the decorous-looking woman in black silk, and the wild, unkempt, and draggled creature in the dock. The mother is for the Home, too—one wonders what sort of a home she made for this wild, erring daughter of hers. But the girl is firm enough, amidst her tears, with a decided negative.
"Then there is nothing for it but a prison," says the magistrate, severely.
And at the prospect, the girl's resolution breaks down. "Oh, I will be good!" she weeps forth like a froward child.
And so the incident terminates to everybody's satisfaction. And we will hope that the young woman will come under firm and capable hands.
After this, "remands" come in thick and fast; prisoners appear and disappear. People who have been "put back" are, perhaps, finally discharged with a caution; others get small fines, which they pay, and they, too, go their way rejoicing. At last the charge sheet is disposed of; it flutters from the hands of the magistrate to those of the chief clerk. And that is a sign that the morning's business is finished, and there is a general clearance of the court as the magistrate disappears into his private room. It is only a break in the day's proceedings. The court will sit again at two, and continue till the business then in hand is disposed of : and that will be business of a more private character. Today may be devoted to the School Board ; and parents and children, school visitors and managers will be in the respective positions of defendants and plaintiffs. Another afternoon will be given to private summonses, the squabbles, grievances, and offences which the police have not taken up. Cabmen and omnibus conductors may have a sitting to themselves. And, after the luncheon hour, the lobby will be filled by a more orderly and respectable crowd than that which usually awaits the disposal of the night charges.
But the luncheon hour may afford us a good opportunity for examining the interior economy of a police-court, which, in this case, happens to be one of modern construction, and among the most convenient of its kind. To the right of the public court is the private room of the magistrate, and the office where the clerical business of the court is conducted. The other side reveals another phase of the police-court ; it is a gaol as well as a court, a gaol in which no prisoners spend the night, but which has its gaoler, who is responsible for the safety of the prisoners while under his care. A long passage is lined with a row of cells, which are mostly occupied at the present time, each cell holding four or five prisoners. It is not a gloomy place by any means, and the prisoners, a presumably innocent crew—although, perhaps, they do not look it—are not altogether silent or brooding, but seem to cultivate a jocose and cheerful spirit. And such cells as are empty are clean and sweet, with sufficient light and ventilation. The walls are done in white glazed bricks, and the cells warmed with hot-water pipes. And there is plenty of work going on in the way of enlarging and beautifying the present accommodation for prisoners. Opposite the cells is the waiting-room, so called, a room divided into compartments like the old-fashioned chop-house. For the ordinary prisoners from the police-courts, are not placed in cells, or put in charge of the gaoler. Each takes his seat in one of the reserved compartment and the constable whose captive he may be takes up his position in the central passage. Then, as the cases are taken, the prisoners are ranged along the passage with their attendant policemen, who see their charges safely into the dock, and then are quit of them altogether, except in so far as they may have to appear as witnesses in the case. From the dock, the choice is, liberty or the police-court cell. Even those who have the option of paying a fine must go to the cells till the fine is paid, unless they can discharge it on the spot.
On the floor above there is a similar arrangement of cells; passages, and waiting-room, for the use of female prisoners; and here, too, everything is being renovated and improved—the result of a Commission appointed several years ago to enquire into the accommodation provided for untried prisoners at police-courts. Coming downstairs again, the passage from the cells leads into a roomy courtyard, surrounded by high walls, all the windows looking out on which are strongly barred, while a formidable pair of gate, closed by heavy bars, will presently give admittance to the police-van, and will then be carefully closed till the van has taken up its load. In a general way, the van will arrive at about half-past two, and carry off the bulk of the prisoners detained in the cells. But for any who may be expecting release on bail, or on the payment of flue, or who may be subsequently committed, "Black Maria " calls again as late as seven o'clock, after which nothing further goes ; and those who cannot find bail in money must be driven off to prison. And with the clanging of the gate behind the last batch of prisoners, the police-court is free, till next morning, of the labours and responsibilities of its position.
All the Year Round, 1890
see also Montagu Williams in Round London on Thames Police Court - click here
HOW A LONDON POLICE COURT IS WORKED.
THE average Londoner is strangely ignorant of the methods by which the
law and order secure for him his accustomed immunity from the depredations of
what are vaguely known as "the criminal classes." One or two of the big police
courts dotted here and there about the metropolis are probably known to him by
sight, but his acquaintance with them generally ceases at the doorway. Even
should he obtain permission from the portly official stationed at the door to
penetrate within the court, he will receive but little enlightenment.
Pushing open the swing-doors he finds himself in an interior which makes up in height for what it lacks in width. At the far end is seated an elderly gentleman, over whose head the royal arms throw a golden nimbus. In a railed-off platform in the middle stands the prisoner, gesticulating energetically, and a harassed clerk beyond him is adjuring the witness to "Please speak up, the prisoner can't hear one word you say, I'm certain." There is an inarticulate murmur from the bench. "'Ow much?" cries a brawny armed, shawl bedizened woman at the visitor's side. " Se'n d'ys; I'll do thet on me 'ead!" returns the prisoner jubilantly, and prisoner and gaoler depart together through a side door.
The clockwork regularity, the matter-of-fact indifference of the whole procedure, is the very reverse of impressive. There is no break in the general monotony ; everyone present seems bored to the last degree. A baby on the visitor's left sets up an infantile squall ; the magistrate looks up, and the black-robed usher hurriedly conducts mother and baby to the door. A few legal gentlemen are seated at a bench, each one buried in a newspaper ; in another part two reporters are chatting together in whispers, and the general public on each side of the onlooker lean stolidly against the wooden partition in front, trying to make sense out of the scattered words which are all that they can catch.
Such are the first impressions of the casual visitor ; but, if he observes more closely, he will perceive that the apparent absence of all haste is really due to the perfect orderliness of the whole procedure. As fast as one prisoner is taken from the dock another is marshalled in; witness follows witness in unbroken succession ; and, as on a well-ordered stage, everyone knows his cue, and there is never the suspicion of a "wait." There is really no time for delay of any kind, for the press of business at many of the courts is enormous; and so perfect is the routine, that as many as forty of the more unimportant cases can be disposed of in a couple of hours.
Let us then take a glance at the workings of the complicated human machinery by the interaction of which this result is brought about. To do this it will be necessary first to proceed to the police station adjoining, where the processes preliminary to placing the prisoner in the dock are gone through.
There is little of interest about the room we enter. One or two policemen are writing at desks; one corner is railed off as a dock for the reception of the prisoner, with painted on the wall a measurement table to take his height, and, beyond, the inspectors' room, which is furnished exactly like a merchant's office. A prisoner is brought in and placed in the dock ; the inspector on duty comes forward and hears the story of the prosecutor and his witnesses, and decides whether or no he shall take the charge. If the accusation made be frivolous, or impossible of proof, the prisoner will not have to wait for the decision of the magistrate upon it, but will be at once released, particulars of the charge and the reason for its refusal being first entered in the "Refused Charge Book" for the benefit of the central authority at Scotland Yard, whither reports of all police business have to be sent.
Should, however, the charge be one of some substance, as is more likely, the inspector takes a long strip of cartridge paper, known as the "charge-sheet," and enters thereon the prisoner's name, age, address, the charge preferred against him, the names and addresses of the prosecutor and his witnesses, and an inventory of all articles found in the prisoner's possession. From this document another similar description is entered in the magistrate's "Charge Book," and this sheet also, once the case is completed, will find its way into the archives of "The Yard," having attached to it a careful abstract of the contents, so -that it may be capable of immediate reference.
Meanwhile, the prisoner has been searched—a process varying from a mere inspection of the contents of his pockets to the thorough over-hauling of every part of his clothing, according to the nature of the case—and the inspector next busies himself with the compilation of yet another document, containing a description of the prisoner's appearance and clothing, and, most important of all, of any marks upon his body. It is a noticeable fact that quite ninety per cent. of the lower class of criminals are tattooed, generally upon the left arm ; and very inconvenient indeed no they find these indelible marks when for any reason they wish to conceal their identity. Not much originality is shown in the subject of these decorations, which are generally amatory. A heart transfixed by an arrow, or a motto such as : "I love Emma Jones"—alas, poor Emma, discarded ere the scars were healed!—usually entirely satisfies the artistic or amative aspirations of the tattooee.
These formalities completed, the prisoner is conducted to the station cells, there to await his appearance before the magistrate. All things considered, perhaps a police cell is rather an improvement upon the usual nightly lodging of the average prisoner, and certainly it has the advantage in its spotless cleanliness. It is by no means uncommon for a man to enter the station and demand to be locked up, and the request, if sufficiently persistent, is sure of satisfaction. The only disadvantage about it is that the magistrate is liable to extend the period of detention over a week, in default of a pecuniary penalty, which fact may lead the applicant to revise his views on the merits of a police station in providing free board and lodging.
The furniture of the cell is of the simplest possible description. A wooden settle, serving as bed or seat, extends round the three walls, and the heavily bolted door, with its little grate, bars all outlook to the incarcerated one. Unless the prisoner is too intoxicated to eat, or is brought in very late at night, he will be supplied with a meal consisting of a pint of either tea or coffee, according to taste, and three thick slices of bread and butter (which is not margarine). As the contract price of this meal is threepence per head, it can easily be seen that the prisoner has no reason to complain of lack of food here. A drink of water can be obtained at any time by application to the constable in charge of the cells. Between 8 and 8.30 the following morning a breakfast, similar in quality and quantity to the meal of the previous night, will he furnished ; and at both these meals it should be stated, the prisoner has the option of obtaining at his own cost any other provisions that he may desire, alcohol and tobacco alone excepted.
Another wait of an hour and a half ensues, and then at 10 sharp the prisoners are conducted to the court and placed in the Prisoners' Waiting-Room, the constable in charge of each case being left with the prisoner in his custody. At most courts this is a lofty white-tiled room, with a broad bench running right round it, divided by lofty partitions into seats to accommodate two people, the constable and his captive, and so to some extent preventing communication between the prisoners. But the methods by which prisoners converse with one another are far too many and too ingenious to be much interfered with by such a simple precaution. No sound may pass, but a gesture, a facial contortion, will enable any criminal of experience to understand what his neighbour wishes to say. Of course "thieves' patter" and "back slang "—the latter an ingenious inversion of common words—are current coin through all ranks of criminality, but to use such language in the waiting-room is only to risk a quick "Hold your tongue there," frcm the watchful custodian, with the certainty that he has understood all that was said, however cunningly wrapped up in slangy periphrasis.
On his entry into this room the prisoner passes under the control of the gaoler, and this official is responsible for him frcm the time when he is "sent to court "—to use the language of the charge sheet—until at the end of the day the black van arrives to transfer him to the prison. The duties of a gaoler are many and onerous. At a court with an average amount of work he may have as many as a hundred prisoners passing through his hands in one day, and it will be his task to see that each one, with the constable in charge, appears before the magistrate in the order fixed. He should also have a list of each prisoner's previous convictions, if any, at his finger's ends, and to do this he has to compile a voluminous register of his own. Of course a good memory of faces is a sine qua non, for a criminal of any record may have as many as half a dozen aliases, with a conviction standing to his discredit in each one.
A cultivated memory of this kind is capable of many surprising feats. Some years ago a man was charged at Bow Street Police-court with stealing a watch from one of the Judges of the High Courts. Police-sergeant White, who was then chief gaoler at that court, identified the prisoner as having been charged with theft as a ]ad thirteen years before. The man entirely denied this, declaring that he was a native-born American, and had only just come over to this country, but the gaoler supported his accusation by giving the name under which the man had been sentenced, and at this the prisoner admitted the truth, explaining that after serving his sentence he had emigrated to America
When brought before the magistrate the prisoner will be placed in the "dock "—a small railed platform generally constructed to accommodate four, which is occasionally mistaken by too eager witnesses for the witness-box. If the offence be a simple misdemeanour, however, the prisoner will not be required to enter that place of dishonour, but will take his station in front of it. All evidence must be given in the hearing of the prisoner, being interpreted to him in case of need, or bawled into his ear by the gaoler if he says that he is deaf. On the same principle no statement made about the prisoner to a witness by a third person is admissible in evidence unless the accused himself heard it—a fact which it takes years of drilling to get even a policeman to realise. Police-court sentences vary from a fine of a shilling to a sentence of six months' hard labour. A misdemeanant, however, can only be imprisoned in the event of his having no money and no property whereon to distrain for the amount of the fine. Persons charged with theft have the option, generally speaking, of taking their case before a jury. With respect to the graver offences, such as forgery, the magistrate has no power to convict, and police-court proceedings in such cases are only a necessary preliminary to the trial.
The case being disposed of, the prisoner is returned into the care of the gaoler, and locked by him in one of the court cells until the prison van (in common slang the " Black Maria ") removes him. A very great amount of watchfulness is needed on the part of the gaolers during this period, both to prevent any forbidden articles being smuggled in by the prisoner's friends, and to anticipate any attempt that he himself may make upon his life. The fact that friends of the imprisoned one are allowed to provide him with food and drink until he is removed, naturally affords opportunity for a good deal of ingenious trickery in the effort to convey to him in addition alcohol and tobacco, to alleviate his first period of incarceration. A favourite plan some years ago was to hollow out a thick slice of bread for the reception of matches and tobacco, masking the fraud with a liberal allowance of butter, whilst the accompanying can of tea or coffee would contain a little bottle of spirits. but all food is carefully inspected before it reaches the prisoner's hands ; the bread and butter, slightly pressed, reveals its secret, and the tea is always poured into another can, so that these tricks have little chance of success.
Far more serious are the attempts made by the prisoners themselves upon their lives. It is easy to imagine how, in the first shock of despair which ensues when the sentence is pronounced, there should come the insidious temptation "to mend or end it all." Women are most prone to give way to this impulse, and many are the strange and determined efforts made to end a life that has proved but a terror and a shame to its possessor A handkerchief, a garter, or a strip of cloth torn from a petticoat, offers a ready means of strangulation, and instances are not unknown where women have attempted to take their lives by the extraordinary means of thrusting bent hairpins down their throat. A criminal who has been released on bail must often be an object of special suspicion to the gaoler, for when he surrenders he may have hidden in his clothes the poison or the knife by which he intends to cheat the law if he is sentenced. Where any suspicion has been aroused, a strict search will be made through the prisoner's clothing, and if any weapon is discovered— as not infrequently is the case —the governor of the gaol will be made acquainted with it, though it may never reach the public ear. In one instance which has come to the writer's knowledge, a man who had concealed a razor in his boot attempted to commit suicide while the gaoler was in the very act of searching him, and so nearly succeeded that it was six months before he had recovered from the wound.
But the records of the police-court are not all of this gloomy shade. Many a lad can date his first real start in life on the day when the magistrate handed him over to the representative of the Police-Courts Mission stationed at that court, and many a wandering daughter has been restored to her home by the same kindly aid. A very large amount of work is done, too, by the police in rescuing homeless child-vagrants from the streets, and during the year hundreds of struggling families obtain from the poor-box the temporary relief they need to tide them over some especially bad time.
The element of humour, too, is not entirely lacking in the proceedings, although it is hardly of the nature depicted by some imaginative writers for the evening press. A naive rejoinder, or an unlooked-for explanation by the prisoner, will always provoke a laugh, and even the magistrate condescends to crack a little joke at times. The quarrelsome neighbours who seem to choose their lodgings close to a police-court for convenience in getting summonses are often amusing enough in the extraordinary and vehement denunciations which they throw at one another's heads, and the wild and frothy flow of verbiage which constitutes their evidence, whilst the complainant will generally conclude her string of accusations by producing from her pocket a piece of newspaper containing hair which she will take "her dyin' oath " was torn from her head by the righteously indignant defendant, utterly ignoring the fact that this hair is black, while her own is of the brightest shade of "carrots."
To the popular imagination also a magistrate not merely possesses absolute power in every branch of the law, but is the rectifier of all grievances, real or imaginary. Hence the police-court is the happy hunting-ground of cranks of all descriptions. One of the metropolitan courts was haunted for years by a little old lady who might have served as the model for Dickens's sketch of Miss Flite, who was for ever seeking to bring to justice the criminals who, by her account, had poisoned her husband, and buried his remains in her back garden seventeen years before. Another applicant will ask the magistrate's advice as to how he can establish his claim to an earldom which has been extinct for the last hundred years ; and he may be followed by a young girl who wishes the magistrate to mediate between her and "her young man." All meet with an attentive hearing, and to each is given the advice they need ; but, to judge by their faces as they leave the court, the result is seldom as satisfactory as they anticipated.
But these are only stray items in the day's work, and meanwhile the gloomy progress of prisoners from cell to dock, from dock to gaol, has recommenced, and, as we step from the grim building to the street, it is with a sense of relief that we feel once more a breath of fresh air upon our cheeks.
HOWARD H. BIRT.
Leisure Hour, 1899