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Subject: ‘Law’

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George Edalji was wrongfully convicted of butchering a pony

Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Law on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about miscarriages of justice first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 592 published on 19 May 1973.

Edalji case, picture, image, illustration
George Edalji was accused of killing animals despite a heavy police presence in the area

The family began to dread the sight of the postman. They had thought that the days of the cruel, unsigned poison-pen letters were over, but now the nightmare had begun all over again.

It had not been easy for the Reverend Edalji to settle down with his wife, daughter and son in the Staffordshire village of Great Wyrley, for he was an Indian in an area where hardly anyone had ever seen one. He had come to the village after marrying a local clergyman’s daughter.

At first, despite the villagers’ suspicion of him, there had been no actual trouble. But in 1888 the letters began to arrive. These original ones were not too alarming, and a servant later confessed to having written them. It was the ones that started arriving in 1892 that were so horrible.

The Edaljis were not the only people in the village to get them, but theirs were the worst. It was obvious that a local man was writing them and that he particularly hated their son, George, now a law student. The writer kept threatening him with death.

To make matters worse, junk was left in the Edalji’s garden, false advertisements were put in the paper about the family and then one morning they found the key of Walsall Grammar School on their doorstep!

The police had failed to track down the culprit, but their Chief Constable, the Hon. George Anson, was in no doubt. Anson wrote to George’s father and told him the letter-writer was his son.

He had no proof, and it was ludicrous to suppose that George would have threatened himself or risked his longed-for career by writing them, but that did not stop Anson making his accusations.

But Anson could not charge George and in 1895 the letters stopped. There was a lull of eight years until in February, 1903, a series of deadly night attacks on sheep, cattle and horses began and continued for 11 months, despite a growing number of police guards in the area. The letters began again too, some signed by “greatorex,” a local boy who could not have written them, as he was away at the time. The letters went to the Edaljis, other villagers and the police, and in them George was named as the leader of a gang of cattle killers, and the writer implied that he too, was in the gang and willing to inform. George was still living at home, but was now a respected and well liked Birmingham solicitor.

In August 1903, in the middle of the animal killing period, he was arrested and sentenced to prison for seven years for killing a pony several hundred yards from his house. Police “proof” included boots covered with black mud although the earth near the dead pony was reddish, and horsehairs on one of his jackets which they had flung into a sack with part of a horse’s hide in it!

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George Archer-Shee and the case of the stolen postal order

Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Law on Friday, 14 March 2014

This edited article about George Archer-Shee first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 589 published on 28 April 1973.

Sir E H Carson,  picture, image, illustration
The Right Honourable Sir E H Carson, the brilliant defence barrister for George Archer-Shee

For three gruelling hours, Sir Edward Carson, the most famous and feared barrister in Britain, grilled the 13-year-old boy, while the youngster’s father and brother sat watching and listening intently. At the end of the ordeal Carson announced himself completely satisfied. George Archer-Shee was innocent.

And what was the crime that the boy had been “convicted” of without any sort of trial and then dismissed in disgrace from the Royal Naval College at Osborne? He had allegedly stolen a postal order worth five shillings, taken it to the local post office and forged the signature of its rightful owner. The vindication of this obscure young naval cadet was to be one of Carson’s greatest triumphs, and the case he was most pleased to have won.

George had been in his third term at Osborne, the college set in the grounds of Queen Victoria’s old home near Cowes in the Isle of Wight. It was a temporary home for cadets while the famous Naval College at Dartmouth was being built.

On October 7th, 1908, Cadet Terence Back received a five shilling postal order which that afternoon was stolen from his locker while he was out running. He reported the theft to the chief petty officer, who had given two cadets permission to go to the local Post Office that afternoon. One was George, who slept in the next bed to Back, the other was a boy called Arbuthnot. According to the Postmistress, Miss Tucker, Arbuthnot bought a postal order, then later, another cadet came in cashing a five shilling one, signing it Terence Back. And the same cadet asked for a postal order for fifteen and six.

George agreed about this last one, for he wanted it to send off to London for a model train. At an identity parade the Postmistress failed to pick out George or Arbuthnot; then George was made to write Back’s signature down. He had seen it often enough and did so.

The signature and the postal order then went to a so-called handwriting expert who – amazingly to those who have studied them – was able to state categorically that they were written by the same person.

So it was that Mr Archer-Shee, a distinguished banker, received ten days later a curt note from the Admiralty asking him to remove his son from Osborne. Though he believed in his son, he had to obey.

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Women’s suffrage dominated Edwardian domestic politics

Posted in Historical articles, History, Law, Politics on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about women’s suffrage first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 584 published on 24 March 1973.

Votes for women,  picture, image, illustration
Votes for Women

“We are assembled here,” cried an Edwardian lady among others assembled outside the Houses of Parliament, “not as lawbreakers, but to show our determination to become law-makers.”

“Women in Revolt” was a headline above a newspaper article of the early 1900s, describing the goings on of the Women’s Social and Political Union founded in 1903, and whose members were soon to be known as the Suffragettes.

The man in the street called these ladies “The Revolting Women.” “Revolting” they may have been to most males in a male-dominated world, but these ladies meant business as they started to disturb the peace of the Edwardian half-golden scene. They were a noisy nuisance which, said society, ought to be swept under the carpet. Even the King himself, broad-minded though he was, had fixed ideas about the proper place of women.

In 1907 the King wrote to the Liberal Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman: “I rejoice to see that you put your foot down regarding the Channel Tunnel . . . I only wish you could have done the same regarding Female Suffrage. The conduct of the so-called Suffragettes has really been so outrageous and does their cause (for which I have no sympathy) much harm.”

Oddly enough, we have to go back to the United States of the 1840s and ’50s for the first visible signs of women fighting for equal rights. In Seneca Falls, a small town in New York State, Mrs Amelia Bloomer created for women a new style of dress, consisting roughly of a knee-length skirt beneath which, fastened at the ankle, was a ballooning pair of Turkish-style trousers. This immodesty of Mrs Bloomer’s, which gave women greater freedom of movement, went hand-in-hand with her campaigning for Temperance (prohibition of alcohol) and for Women’s Rights in general. “Bloomers” came in handy for the bicycling craze both in the States and in Britain, and were known as the “Rational Dress.”

The Rational Dress did not widely catch on. Like most gestures made by women – the “second-class citizens” – they were held in derision by the “superior sex.” They were a bit of a joke, these bloomers, but the “new woman” was not. She was going places. In 1901, when Edward the Peace-maker came to the throne, there were already over 200 female doctors, in practice and nearly 150 dentists. Chartered accountants and lawyers were on the way, and, on a lower scale, there were over 3,000 female telephonists – an occupation deemed highly suitable for the fair sex. But the average weekly wage for a working woman in a factory was little more than 7/6d (37 ½ p) per week. And she had no voice in the matter. What she wanted most of all was to be able to vote for such a voice in Parliament.

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The Norfolk Island Prison Colony’s massive break-out was crushed

Posted in Historical articles, History, Law on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about Norfolk Island Prison Colony first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 582 published on 10 March 1973.

Norfolk Island,  picture, image, illustration
Norfolk Island prison break-out

It was quiet. Too quiet. The overseers felt it. The soldiers felt it. And if the acting commandant had not been so busy coping with paperwork his sick superior officer had left, he would have felt it too. It was after sundown and the prisoners were back in their quarters. They should have been sprawling in their hammocks, each man too concerned with his own pain and fatigue to do more than curse fitfully at his neighbour. Instead, they were huddled together and when they thought they were unobserved, talking earnestly among themselves. A break-out was planned. That much was obvious. But when? And how?

It was January 1834 and the penal colony on Norfolk Island, about 400 miles to the north-west of New Zealand, had been in existence for almost 40 years. The island had been discovered and claimed for Britain by Captain Cook in 1774. In 1788 a small party was sent to colonize it and to develop a linen industry, based on the flax which grew there freely. Convicts went with the settlers to build and work on the plantations; and soldiers went to guard the convicts. But the settlement did not prosper and soon the island was almost deserted again. Early in the 19th century a fresh attempt was made to colonize it and it became an overflow penal colony, taking the worst offenders from the prisons in Australia.

The early days of the colony had been marked by a series of break-outs. Convicts had captured the boats in which they had been transhipped and had secured the garrison; but in each case the soldiers had overpowered them in the end. A single convict had got off the island and had hidden in the nearby Phillip’s Island where he lived on berries and roots; hunger had eventually driven him back to the prison.

The penal colony was called Kings Town. The principal building was the commandant’s house, set on a hill above the prison, its windows barred against attack. Below it lay the military barracks surrounded by a high wall, the infirmary, and the convicts’ quarters. When the prisoners were inside they were usually secured by leg irons; they slept in hammocks strung in two tiers. Near the prison was a timber yard, partly completed.

Prison life was harsh and monotonous. The men worked from sunrise to sunset with an hour for breakfast and another for dinner. They were either employed on buildings for the settlement or on the flax plantations. Working parties were guarded by soldiers and supervised by overseers, chosen from the most reliable prisoners. Since they were anxious to hold down these positions of trust and the privileges that went with them, the overseers drove the convicts as hard as they could.

The colony was ruled by fear. The overseers feared the soldiers and the convicts feared the overseers. But among the prisoners a fierce hatred swelled. They were like caged beasts and overseers and guards knew that when a break-out came no quarter would be given. For each side defeat meant death. Thus, as 15th January dawned, the guards waited in trepidation for the convicts to make their first move.

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The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel

Posted in English Literature, Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Law, London, Theatre on Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Arrest of Oscar Wilde,  picture, image, illustration
The arrest of Oscar Wilde:’The pet of London society, one of our most successful playwriters and poets, arrested on a horrible charge'; from the Illustrated Police Budget, 13 April 1895

Oscar Wilde withdrew from the prosecution case regarding The Marquess of Queensberry’s alleged libel on Friday 5 April, 1895. He spent time with both the Douglas sons, Percy and Alfred, over lunch, and in the late afternoon returned to the Cadogan Hotel where ‘Bosie’, Lord Alfred, was staying. Sir John Bridge had by that time issued a warrant for his arrest at the direction of the Home Secretary, Herbert Asquith, and at precisely 6.20 pm Oscar Wilde was arrested at the hotel. It is a myth that the arrest was delayed to allow him to escape to France on the last train, since there were three others he could have taken that night. This momentous event preceeded the so-called ‘Trial of the Century’, and was immortalised in Sir John Betjeman’s poem ‘The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel’, which contains this amusing stanza reporting what the plain clothes policemen in the above picture might have said:
“Mr. Woilde, we ‘ave come for tew take yew
Where felons and criminals dwell:
We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly
For this is the Cadogan Hotel.”

Many more pictures relating to crime and punishment in London can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

George Smith receiving his thirty lashes at Newgate

Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Law, London on Tuesday, 4 March 2014

George Smith the garotter,  picture, image, illustration
George Smith, the garotter, receiving the sixth out of his thirty lashes in Her Majesty's gaol of Newgate

Little is known about George Smith, the particular garotter being punished with the lash in this illustration. However, this old-fashioned punishment more characteristic of military and naval tribunals than of the Central criminal court, was considered quite distatsteful by the British public. A contemporary account of one such flogging written only two years later captures the terrible atmosphere of Newgate during similar proceedings to those pictured above showing George Smith:
“A brawny-shouldered, well-nurtured ruffian, with a bullet-head, and a chin deeper and broader than his forehead; a muscular young fellow, standing five feet eight or so. His shirt had been hung loosely over his back, and, as soon as the witnesses had settled in their places, he was revealed with his upper part bare, and the hangman led him to the whipping-post. He was in a mortal fright, but he said nothing: he only shivered while his bare back became what is known as “gooseflesh,” and uttered a muffled snort, like that of a horse with his head in a nose-bag. It was coming close now!”

Many more pictures relating to crime and punishment in London can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The murder of solicitor William Weare in Radlett by John Thurtell

Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Law, London on Monday, 3 March 2014

The Radlett Murder,  picture, image, illustration
John Thurtell and Joseph Hunt concealing the body in the pond

The murder of William Weare was particularly vicious and shocked the nation. John Thurtell, an amateur boxer, owed Weare £300, a huge gambling debt and one which Thurtell felt owed more to Weare’s cheating ways than to his own misfortune in Rexworthy’s billiard room in Spring Gardens, London. Whatever the truth in the case, he was unable to pay such a huge sum. After inviting the victim to one William Probert’s cottage for a weekend’s gambling sport, he shot Weare in the face, and finally cut his throat. John Thurtell and Joseph Hunt then hid the body in a pond at Elstree, and returned to the house for supper and a much-reported sing-song. In 1823 Thurtell was found guilty of the murder of solicitor William Weare in Radlett, Hertfordshire, after his accomplice, Probert, turned King’s Evidence; he was hanged on 9 January 1824. The crime is commemorated in some simple doggerel, as well as in longer popular ballads which catalogued the gruesome details and were sung in inns and taverns at the time:
They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
He lived in Lyons Inn.

Many more pictures relating to crime and punishment in London can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Dick Turpin’s ride to York would end in the condemned cell

Posted in Animals, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Law, Legend on Saturday, 1 March 2014

This edited article about Dick Turpin first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 575 published on 20 January 1973.

Dick Turpin on Black Bess,  picture, image, illustration
Dick Turpin's Ride to York on his horse Black Bess by Ronald Simmons

York Castle must have been a formidable sight for many a person destined for its cells. Thrusting its towers above the ancient city, it housed many kinds of prisoners – from Jacobite rebels to common cut-throats. But York Castle’s most famous prisoner entered it almost by accident.

John Palmer had recently moved to the village of Welton in Yorkshire. He had quickly been accepted by the neighbouring squires and lived the life of a country gentleman. A short, swarthy man, he would spend his time riding the moors astride his fine horse, hunting and shooting.

One day he had a particularly bad day’s shooting, and he returned empty handed and in ill-humour. One of his neighbours jokingly commented that perhaps it was not the lack of game which was to blame but his bad marksmanship. John Palmer immediately raised his gun and shot dead a cockerel that was strutting in the yard.

“That fine bird belonged to your landlord,” his neighbour told him. “There’ll be trouble for you now.”

John Palmer turned on him angrily. “Just give me time to reload this gun and I’ll give you the same!” he shouted.

The neighbour saw the look on his face, turned and ran.

Later, two constables came to the inn where he was having a drink and arrested him on a charge of having threatened one of his neighbours. He was taken to York Castle and placed in a cell to await his trial.

“Bah!” John Palmer exclaimed to his cell-mate. “This is only a trifling matter. If they only knew what my real name was, then they’d really have something to shout about.”

Then John Palmer made his big mistake. He confided his real name to his cell mate. It was not long before word reached other ears. Within a day he had been moved to a dungeon cell and placed in irons.

For John Palmer’s real name was Dick Turpin, England’s most notorious highwayman!

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Matthew Hopkins was a witch-hunting religious fanatic

Posted in Historical articles, History, Law, Religion, Superstition on Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This edited article about Matthew Hopkins first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 564 published on 4 November 1972.

Matthew Hopkins,  picture, image, illustration
Matthew Hopkins, the Witch Finder

Not all men with a mission have been governed by worthy ideals. Many indeed have been fanatics pursuing evil aims, hounding their fellow men, seeking to destroy them for some misguided principle or cause. Such a man was Matthew Hopkins, the witch hunter, who was responsible for the deaths of more than two hundred women in three years in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Huntingdonshire.

For his activities we have to put the blame partly upon the shoulders of Elizabeth 1. She renewed a law which was first passed in 1541 and which made witchcraft a crime. But it was not until the arrival of James I on the throne that the persecution of witches reached truly maniacal heights.

Between the arrival of James I on the throne in 1603 and the rule of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell in 1653, at least three thousand people were hanged or burned as witches. By his own efforts, aided only by an assistant and a “female searcher,” Matthew Hopkins personally sent to their deaths a very considerable portion of this appalling total. It is an achievement, which, although it cannot command respect, at least earns Hopkins a place in history, together with all those other frightful monsters of the past, whose main object in life seems to have been to kill as many of their fellow beings as possible.

Hopkins started his career harmlessly enough as a lawyer, but it was not a profession he was to follow for long. By the year 1644, the witch hunting hysteria was at its peak. Spreading like some evil disease across the land, it warped the minds of men in all walks of life. Countryman and courtier had fallen prey to it in the time of Elizabeth. Now it was the turn of the Puritans to be imbued with the same madness, but more severely than ever before.

Bringing their fanatical piety to bear on the so-called evil, they set about wiping it out with deadly efficiency.

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England’s wealthy had no intention of sharing their riches

Posted in Farming, Historical articles, History, Industry, Institutions, Law, Politics on Friday, 21 February 2014

This edited article about the Tolpuddle Martyrs first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 562 published on 21 October 1972.

Tolpuddle Martyrs shunned,  picture, image, illustration
Even when the Tolpuddle Martyrs were pardoned, their neighbours regarded them as convicts and avoided them, by Ken Petts

The picture of death, with its grim, gaunt features, was six feet high and awesome, terrifying. It seemed to fill the cramped room of the cottage at Tolpuddle, Dorset, glowering down upon the two initiates who knelt cringing before it.

For John Lock and Edward Legg, the sight increased the fears already fostered by the atmosphere of secrecy, and the solemn, white-robed figures of George Loveless and his brother James.

“Remember your fate!” James warned them, pointing to the picture, and it was in trembling awareness of exactly that, that Legg and Lock then took an oath never to reveal to outsiders anything of the agricultural workers’ union they were about to join.

Scenes like this deliberately designed to appeal to primitive fears and stir deep-rooted superstition, were not uncommon in the forming of trade unions. Intelligent men like George Loveless, founder of the Tolpuddle union in December 1833, disliked such ritual, but in the circumstances there was little alternative.

It was virtually the only way to impress illiterate workers, whose spirits had been withered into apathy by endless labour and absolute poverty.

As far as rural England was concerned, the myth persisted of the sturdy industrious peasant happily labouring in fresh fields and unpolluted air. This was indeed a myth, as George Loveless and his fellow unionists knew only too well, for a wage that never exceeded nine shillings a week offered nothing but despair.

There was little health or happiness to be found in the wretched insanitary hovels most employers grudgingly provided, nor in the constant presence of children, hollow-eyed and gaunt from lack of food. There could be nothing industrious about men who knew that however hard and long they worked, they could never earn enough to give their families any hope of anything better.

It was little wonder that in such circumstances, many were tempted into crime and some into violence. A few, like George Loveless, turned to the idea of forming trades unions to bargain with employers for better conditions.

Though this seems the most intelligent reaction, it was, apart from violent revolution, the most dangerous.

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