A Disgraceful Disturbance

It makes for an intriguing past time to peruse the Victorian newspapers in search of stories relating to how criminals were dealt with by the 19th century police and, following their arrest, how they were subsequently dealt with by the court system.

And, it must be said, the newspapers are a wonderful source of great stories that provide us with some truly vivid insights into bygone London.

Firstly, we get glimpses, if only in the form of world portrayals, of individual police constables going about their duties in the streets of the Metropolis around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders.

Secondly, we get to see how mundane were  the majority of the crimes that the average “Bobby” on the beat had to deal with; as well as make the discovery that the majority of the cases that came up before the courts were not, in nature, far removed from the types of crime that the police today have to deal with.

Drunkenness, assaults, petty thefts, domestic affrays were the fodder of the court system, just as they, probably, are today.


Indeed, it could be argued that, when it comes to the committing of crimes, the human species has always shown an incredible lack of creativity, and the average criminally inclined 21st century homo sapiens have evolved little, if at all, from their Victorian counterparts!

On Saturday the 20th of March, 1897, The Illustrated Police News, presented its readers, with a report of an affray, involving two “music-hall artistes.”

By way of emphasising the story, the newspaper also gave it front cover prominence by making the altercation the subject of a full panel illustration.

The illustration showing the fight between police and the music hall artistes and their supporters.
From The Illustrated Police News, 20th March 1897. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The article, inside the newspaper, treated readers to the following account:-

“Two very stylishly-dressed young women, described on the charge-sheet as Lily Brown, nineteen, with no fixed abode, and Ellen Brown, twenty, residing at the Percy Hotel, Euston Road, music-hall artistes, were charged, before Mr. Plowden, with being disorderly and with using obscene language.

Frederick George Howe, twenty-four, a porter, living at Gower Place, Gower Street, was also charged with attempting to rescue the younger Miss Brown from custody.


It appeared from the evidence of several constables that, shortly before two o’clock in the morning, shrieks and cries were heard proceeding from Albany Street, Regent’s Park.

Going there the police found the two Miss Browns engaged in a heated altercation with two young men who accused them of robbing them while travelling in a cab.

The young men refused, however, to charge them, and after some persuasion went away.


The Miss Browns then followed them, using filthy and most disgraceful language, and creating so great a disturbance that the whole neighbourhood was aroused.

Eventually they were arrested.

Their behaviour from that moment until they were got to the police-station was very unseemly, and, to add to the difficulties of the police, the male prisoner – an entire stranger – came up, struck one of the officers in the chest, and, taking the younger Miss Brown by the arm, tried to wrest her from custody.

He, too, was arrested, and gave great trouble on the way to the station.


The Miss Browns, in their defence, denied having robbed the young men.

They had, they said, been taking part in a ballet at the Empire Theatre, and were on their way home when they were arrested.

Mr. Plowden said he was sorry to see the young women in such a scrape.

He should have thought that the cares of the Empire ballet would have been sufficiently exciting for them. But they seemed to have had an exuberance of artistic talent, and had disgraced themselves.

Their language was not only disgraceful, but discreditable.


He fined each of them 10s.

The male prisoner had behaved with great indiscretion, and would be fined 20s, or seven days.”