Victorian London - Police and Policing - Metropolitan Police - Scotland Yard


Somewhere about the period that Mr Joseph Tuggs (first cousin to Perkin Middlewick, and extremely like him) came into possession of twenty thousand pounds, abd went with his family to Ramsgate, "Boz" described Scotland Yard. "But," as Mrs T. herself would have said to Mr T., "no more like the Scotland Yard of to-day than the Wireduck is like 'obun 'ill." Then it was "a small - a very small - tract of land, bounded on one side by the River Thames, on the other by the gardens of Northumberland House, abutting at one end on the bottom of Northumberland-street, at the other on the back of Whitehall-place. When this territory was first accidentally discovered by a country gentleman who lost his way in the Strand some years ago, the original settlers were found to be a tailor, a publican, two eating house keepers, and a fruit pie maker; and it was also found to contain a race of strong and bulky men, who repaired to the wharfs in Scotland Yard regularly every morning about five or six o'clokc to fill heavy waggons with coal, with which they proceeded to distant places up the country, and supplied the inhabitants with fuel." Northumberland House is not, the gardens are gone, the "new market," which "Boz" says, "sprung up at Hungerford," and help to reform Scotland Yard, has itself been swept away, and therewith both "stairs" and bridge. The river is remoters, and the very police commissioners, who at the time of the Tuggses had "established their office in Whitehall-place," are now to be found permanently fixed in the Yard itself.
    Whether it was to steal a march on Mr. Dodder and the kinsman of the Mikado, his pupil, that I dipped into "Boz," or to provide an appropriate begininning for a description of our fourth expedition, is immaterial; there it is, half a page of the modern history of London written by one of London's most vivid historians. Northumberland House, the lion upon the roof thereof, and the porter at the gates, a majestic personage almost as well known as the himself, all gone! The mast-headed admiral remains, but immediately confronting him is a huge caravanserai of Amercian design, just beyond that the elegant boiler-like roof of Charing Cross Railway Station, and, on the other side of the river, now open to the view, the imposing tower of "the Patent Shot Manufactory" mentioned by Dickens.
    Here they are. Shimadzu is keenly interested in our visit.
    Familiar with the methods of making criminals uncomfortable in his native land, he is curiously to see how we do it. In order to test this thoroughly, Mr. D. informs him, he ought ot visit a prison in some capacity or other himself. Scotland Yard is not a prison, he observes, it is the centre of the police system of Great Britain. As it would occupy more time than there is to spare to explain to Shimadzu in which respect Mr Dodder is right and in what wrong, we enter the archway on the tavern side, turn suddenly round to the left, and while Chief-Inspector Neame is being apprise of our arrival, look ahead, and tacitly invited, I proceed to exposition. Mr Dodder is ill at ease. Can it be that he is known here? There never was a finer opportunity for him to read his pupil an austere lesson; and yet he is dumb. Shimadzu, also, is taciturn.
    What, then is left of the yard is, in shape, pretty much what it was when Dickens wrote; the great difference being that now nearly the whole of it is occupied by the heads of departments of the police. The building in the centre is partly occupied by Chief Superintendent Williamson and his subordinates, and partly by the functionaries who look after the cab-drivers of the metropolis. Cabby must come her for his license, and should you chance to leave any property in his carriage he must deliver it up at Scotland Yard without the least delay. On recovery thereof you pay a per centage on the value of the article lost, which commission is handed over to the finder as a reward for his honesty. On the right is the office of Mr Howard Vincent, and on the same side the rooms of the Commissioners. Nearer to where we are standing, also on the right, is the head telegraph office of the police system of London. This is the centre of a mighty spider's web, which widens in a series of electric rings that are bound together in an eccentric and (often to the criminal) unexpected fashion, and extend to the utmost limit of the London district. Only by means of a map would it be possible to demonstrate the singular completeness of this net. Lower down on the opposite side of the yard, in a line with us, is the printing office. Twice every day at fixed hours is an "information" sheet issued, and distributed amongst the branch offices. There is a special issue on a Sunday. Every scrap of intelligence necessary for a police officer to make himself acquainted with it gathered together by means of the telegraph and committed to the press. We are invited to enter, and pause in the passage. To the left upon a board is inscribed a series of names and addresses, whereof a word anon; to the right an opening which resembles-
    "Why," whispers Mr Dodder, "This is exactly like the aperture in a -"
    Out with it, sir. A pawnbroker's shop; yes, a superior establishment, mind. To complete the illusion one requires, on the other side of the barrier, instead of that intelligent young official, a tall portly white-haired bland churchwarden-looking gentleman who, in a voice of gentle melancholy, will inform you that picture which you bought off the easel for forty guineas has been hung in the sun and gone off colour, and he can only lend you three sovereigns on it. This is really the place where prisoners apply on their release for the restoration of their property; a pawnshop of another kind. We step upstairs, and are blandly received by Mr Neame.
    This is the library, or rather a part of it. These tall thick volumes are books of black biography. Open one. So-and-so's portrait on one page, the records of his life on another. Sickening reading, Mr Dodder, as you would find if you turned over many pages. These other volumes are photographic albums, every portrait in which is the counterfeit presentiment of a convict. There is no such gallery in the world. Twenty thousand five hundred portraits of felons, and the collection goes on increasing. Mr Chief Inspector turns over the leaves, and pauses now and then to point out prominent characters in the criminal world. Attention is drawn to a rather venerable countenance, the owner of which had, besides summary convictions, "done" seven, ten and fourteen years. The vast majority of the faces are bad, especially the faces of the women. There are portraits which betray the unwillingness of the sitter to be taken, and other in which it is evident that no portrait of any kind would have been obtained without the assistance of a determined warder. The hands of the latter helper are shown in some of the pictures in the act of holding the sitting with an iron grip. Mr Chief Inspector points out the excellence of the latter portraits as compared with the earlier. In many of them a hand of the sitter is shown spread across the breast. The was a fad of the governor of one of the principal London prisoners, who maintained that there is almost as much identifiable character in a hand as there is in a face. Mr Chief Inspector does not think much of the idea. What is the use of taking a portrait of a hand unless it be deformed? And his men - well, they don't believe in palmistry.
    Shimadzu, very timidly, ventures to ask whether the albums are found to be of use.
    Mr Dodder follows with a question as to the possibility of a criminal being able to disguise himself after being discharged from prison so as to deceive the police.
    Mr Chief Inspector is full of matter on both points. Formerly, if a criminal was not known to the London police it was possible for him to slip through easily enough, either without punishment or with a slight summary conviction. Now, no matter where a conviction takes place within the United Kingdom, the portrait of the convict is sent up to Scotland Yard, and added to the collection. There were officers in his (the chief inspector's) department who had been chosen for their knowledge of faces. It is the chief part of the duty of those members of the detective force to periodically attend the police courts and to see persons in prison, all the while keeping their memories for faces and facts refreshed by frequent recourse to the Black Library and Picture Gallery. Of course, convicts disguise themselves, just as they change their names.
    "Look here," added Mr Chief Inspector, "what do you think of that?" It was the portrait of a well-preserved swell, apparently about forty years of age; smooth shaven, with the exception of a heavy moustache; hair thin at the top, and strongly-marked eyebrows - a forcible face in every way, and not ill-favoured. 
     "Now, look here."
    Two portraits, both different, and apparently, to a casual observer, of two separate individuals. A close study of these faces disclosed at least two features in common with features in the first portrait which Mr Chief Inspector had shown. They were, of course, likenesses of the same individual - the handsome picture taken while he was at large - one of the most notorious criminals of modern times. "He was made up, when he was taken, as carefully as though a Madame rachel had performed the operation; but there was something about his physiognomy which he could neither spokeshave away nor fill up - you see what I mean - and our man went on that. He knocked his hat off. He got him just under the cheek, and destroyed the enamel. As he did so, he said this is So-and-So. So-and-so cried out 'That's a ----- lie.' But it was not. He is doing time now."
    Mr Chief Inspector also informed his querists that warders and men from all the metropolitan police divisions, members of the country police force frequently had recourse to the library and picture gallery. Were prisoners reclaimed? Well, yes. The names and addresses we saw on the black board as we entered were those of employers of labour who were prepared to give work to discharged prisoners. There were two societies for the assistance of discharged prisoners - the Royal, at 39, Charing-cross, and the St. Giles's Mission - and Mr Vincent makes a point of specially recommending persons to employers of labout who are willing to give them another chance. When it is found that there is a sincere desire on the part of a convict on licence, or a person under police supervision, to regain an honest livelihood, the Convict Office at Scotland-yard goes out of its way to lend him a helping hand. Another point, and a most important one : an employer who has unwittingly engaged a discharged convict is never by any chance apprised of the fact by the police. The reclaimed one who keeps on the square is not rounded on. (Joke by Mr Dodder).
    "And now, gentlemen," said Mr Chief Inspector, "suppose we have a look at the museum."
    Formerly, when this was the prisoners' property department, and owing to an idiotic Act of Parliament affecting such miscellaneous goods and chattels, it was forbidden to bestow them on any one else but the prisoner, whether they had been honestly acquired or not, the room teemed with articles of the most incongruous description. Chests of tea and bags of rice were cheek by jowl with axes and spades that had been used in some horrible murder. Smashed-up gambling tables, burglars' implements, articles of clothing, and so forth, were catalogued along with the blood-rusted razor of the suicide and the knife of the assassin. A better system prevails now. Thanks to the passing of a short Act of Parliament, the custodians of such property are relieved of the necessity of keeping it for ever. After a specified time, such of it as is saleable may be disposed of, and the proceeds given to the Prisoners' Aid Society. Nevertheless, the museum continues to be a sort of Chamber of Horrors of an unparalleled character.
    Mr Dodder proceeds on an independent tour of inspection, his eyes widening as he goes, and his face elongating. He is fascinated and - wretched. He would like to be able to retire, and yet he cannot muster courage to say so. Those knives, daggers, pistols, creases, jemmies, axes, and so forth, every one with a ghastly history attached, hold him far more tenaciously than the Ancient Mariner held the wedding guest. He manifestly shrinks as he gloats over the explanatory inscriptions. Shimadzu is unfeignedly delighted. He has not enjoyed anything half so much since he paid a visit to Drury Lane. He follows Mr Chief Inspector, as the latter points out first this and then that object of grisly interest upon wall and table, and looks as though he would like to spend the night here.
    There is the pistol with which Oxford shot at the Queen in Birdcage-walk in 1840, and underneath the weapon the ill-written farrago of rubbish which he addressed to Her Majesty in the form of a petition. A relic from France - characteristic enough. A portrait of a gendarme who committed a murder, then hacked the body of his victim into pieces and distributed them all over Paris. Murderer, victim, pieces, photographed upon two sheets and framed. The Labrador spear with which the Lennie mutineers "prodded" their captain. Jemmies by the dozen, and blood-stained razors, knives and daggers by the score. Arthur O'Connor's pistol. A hand in a bottle, its simple history set forth upon the label - "Found in the Thames on such and such a day." The pistols and pieces of candle, fixed in squares of soap, carried by the Blackheath burglar of glorious memory. The irons in which Jerry Abershaw was hanged. The corresponding capsule to that which Lamson adminstered to his victim. The nail-scizzors, fusee box, bunch of keys (alas! growing rusty), pocket knife, cambric handkerchief, etcetera, taken from Sir Roger Tichborne, Bart, when he was borne away to languish. Any number of infernal machines. Samples of the arms taken at Clerkenwell. An Irish thug knife - a present to the museum. This is a bevelled-edged stiletto, strong, of the finest steel, and as sharp as a razor. It is not a cross-handled dagger, but breaks off short, as it were, in the form of a T, and is, it is supposed, grasped with the blade within the palm of the hand, and then hidden up the sleeve, so as to inflict a deadly upper cut.
    Mr Dodder desires to go; he is satisfied; but our Japanese friend has not seen enough. He examines with scientific interest the wooden ladder, constructed on the principle of a set of "lazy tongs," which the late lamented Mr Peace used in his housebreaking undertakings. It was his habit to carry the ladder under his arm, when it looked like an innocent bundle of wood, or packed away snugly in a carpet bag. Mr Peace's false arm of gutta percha is also on view here. Dark lanterns, wedges, leaden hammers, skeleton keys, and a heap of other things of similar character attract Shim's attention. He is likewise deeply interested in the ghastly relics of the Wainwright murder; the chignon of the murdered woman, the piece of flesh that was cut out of the body by the medical man for the purposes of identification; the cigar which Wainwright was smoking when he was taken, and the hammer axe, and spade that were used in the disposal of the body. Mr Dodder takes another historical survey, but is interrupted in the enjoyment of that by coming suddenly upon a piece of the tanned hide of Bellingham, the insane murderer of Spencer Perceval. Then he insists upon taking his leave. On returning to the Library, Mr Chief Inspector draws our attention to the apparatus of Professor Zendavesta, and the fancy portrait of that adept at the Black Art. A street off Marylebone-road was the scene of his feats of hanky-panky. It was his wont to cast nativities, by letter, and to appear in person, in a darkened chamber, and a robe covered with cabalistic characters, in order that clients might, for a consideration, behold their future husbands. He drove a roaring trade. So extensive, indeed, that he was complained of by the neighbours. The professor's clients came in such numbers, in carriages and on foot, that they impeded the traffic. The aid of the police was, therefore, invoked, and the impostor exposed and punished. His apparatus is exceedingly simple. It consists of a series of photographs of persons of various ages stuck upon glass, and fixed in a revolving tube. By means of reflectors, the picture was thrown upon a disc, and - madam, behold your future husband! It was be interesting to those two gentlemen, at any rate, if not to their numerous friends and admirers, that, amongst the future husbands exhibited to his confiding clients by Professor Zendavesta were Mr Henry Neville and Mr Holman Hunt.
    This was enough. After making this startling discovery we thanked Mr Chief Inspector, and came away. So overwrought were the feelings of Mr Dodder he found it necessary to tarry awhile, either for the purpose of regulating his watch, or changing a sovereign at the hotel at the corner of Scotland Yard.

    Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 27 January, 1883