Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Month: February 2015

Marie_Manning,_murderer

Marie Manning, hanged with her husband Frederick outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol on 13 November 1849 – witnessed by Charles Dickens.

“I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger-lane…The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it, faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks and language, of the assembled spectators…

“When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds of every kind, flocked onto the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour.

“Fightings, faintings, whistling, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment.

“Nothing that ingenuity could devise to be done in this city, in the same compass of time, could work such ruin as one public execution, and I stand astounded and appalled by the wickedness it exhibits.”

Charles Dickens, 18 November 1849

Looking through a magistrate's eyes

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

Richard Colt Hoare and his son

Richard Colt Hoare and his son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stourhead

Stourhead

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

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

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

Hoare's library

Hoare’s library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Not a crime story, but I liked this Valentine’s story from 1871, so thought I’d share it:

“On the evening before St Valentine’s Day, there was an immense increase of labour in the inland branch of the Post Office, which was met partly by the employment of an extra number of men and partly by extra exertion of the regular hands, who were paid an additional shilling for coming an hour earlier than their usual time.

“The ordinary force of 350 sorters was made up to 500, by the enlistment of men who were off duty in their own right, and of others from the Dead Letter Office.

“The number of valentines despatched on Monday evening from the General Post Office was 250,000 more were received the same night and on the morning of St Valentine’s Day, for despatch by the day mails.”

The Derby Mercury, 22 February 1871 (who in turn had lifted their story from the Globe).

Dressing the Criminal, Stealing the Dress

Annie Wilson, admitted to Dorchester Prison in 1900 (Dorset History Centre, via Ancestry.co.uk).

Annie Wilson, admitted to Dorchester Prison in 1900 (Dorset History Centre, via Ancestry.co.uk).

When I was applying for university at 18, I originally intended to study fashion design, gaining a place at the London College of Fashion. Although I ended up doing something completely different, my interest in fashion history has remained.

This links to my work in criminal history, in that I am fascinated by what people wore in the past, and in particular, what criminals wore and what they stole in terms of clothing.

Clothing the elite: fashions on display at the V&A.

Clothing the elite: fashions on display at the V&A.

There’s plenty of evidence for what the elite wore – the paintings that adorn the walls of country houses show us.

The clothes that get preserved and exhibited in museums (such as the ones in the Victoria and Albert Museum) again tend to be those of the higher echelons of society.

But what about the poor, the marginalised members of society? One of the historians who has made the biggest inroads into this area is John Styles, with his book The Dress of the People, which includes a section on the clothes that criminals stole, and what these can tell us about what was seen as fashionable, popular, or what these people would have worn themselves.

The Old Bailey Proceedings detail the clothing stolen by individuals, in varying amount of detail. In 1692, for example, Abraham Stacey was indicted for theft, having stolen:

“One stuff Gown value 10s, one woman’s hood Dress, value 15s, another Scarf value 40s, a Feather Tippet, value 5s.” (Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 15 January 1692)

The status of the woman who the goods belonged to, a Jane Browne, is not known, but the goods were both valuable and valued. This is not your average plebeian woman’s wardrobe. Abraham, who stole the clothing, was a cook – a servant – and had stolen clothing that could be sold on.

The Old Bailey Proceedings do show that particular items of clothing were popular targets for thieves at different times. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, women’s hoods and muslin head-dresses, ruffles and pieces of lace were popular items to steal, together with Holland aprons.

In the late 18th century, bonnets, damask shoes, striped muslin aprons, silk dresses and petticoats were itemised; these were not only goods that thieves coveted or thought valuable – they were what Londoners were buying and wearing.

The poorer members of society coveted what their ‘betters’ wore; so in 1768, a female servant bought clothing with money she had stolen from her mistress, and was spotted “dress’d in gauze and a black apron, and other things, with a new gown.”

Of course, by the late Victorian era, photos were being routinely taken of criminals, which really bring to life what ordinary people were wearing in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Elizabeth Clode in 1890 (Dorset History Centre/Ancestry.co.uk).

Elizabeth Clode in 1890 (Dorset History Centre/Ancestry.co.uk).

The photo of Annie Wilson, at the top of this post, shows her wearing a distinctive double-breasted coat or jacket.

Elizabeth Clode, left, admitted to Dorchester in 1890, has some striking buttons on her top.

The wealth – or lack of it – is also visible in prison photos, with some men wearing waistcoats and relatively tidy jackets, whereas others are in torn coats and dirty neckerchiefs.

What does all of this show? Well, it shows that people have always been interested in fashion, in looking fashionable. It shows that crimes have been committed because of fashion – its monetary value, and envy of those who can afford it.

It’s also evident how one’s social status and financial worth have been made explicit through clothing in history. The exhibitions of eighteenth-century dress at the V&A are a world away from the prisoners’ mugshots online at Ancestry.

But both show the importance of dress to our ancestors – both to the poor and to the rich, to thieves and their victims – and what it can tell us about their position in society.

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