A Nice Point Of Law

The Morning Chronicle, on Saturday, 11th July 1857, published the following story abut a police officer’s visit to an illicit drinking den in Spitalfields:-


Mr. James Lawrence, landlord of the Duke of York public-house, in Grove-street, Spitalfields, appeared before Mr. Hammill, at Worship-street, to answer a police information, in which he was charged with having unlawfully served spirituous and fermented liquors before the hour of one o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday, the 21st ult., by means of an internal communication between his own house and some adjoining premises.


Inspector Griffin, of the K division, stated that, from information he had received, he visited the defendant’s house about twelve o’clock on the day mentioned, and inspected the interior, but observed nothing there to warrant his interference.

Witness then repaired to the rear of the house, and, on entering a sort of lumber room in the yard, he heard a confused murmur of innumerable voices, which induced him to ask the defendant if there was a chapel in the neighbourhood.

The defendant returned no direct answer to the inquiry, and evinced such manifest embarrassment, that witness proceeded to examine the lumber-room, in which he at length discovered a door concealed behind a lofty board to screen it from observation.


Finding the door securely fastened, he saluted it with his knuckles, and was responded to from the other side with the observation, “That’s not the governor’s signal,” which was followed by a rejoinder in other words, “No, you —— fool, we have not drunk out the beer.”

On hearing this suspicious colloquy, the witness at once forced the door and found himself in a capacious apartment, where a promiscuous assemblage of at least 100 persons were holding a jovial carousel.

A group of people drinking outside a pub.
Victorian Drinkers Outside A Beer Shop on Whitechapel Road.


The instant he made his appearance, the whole of the motley multitude simultaneously started to their feet and made a tumultuous rush towards an outlet leading to a private house next door to the tavern, through which they effected their escape into the street with such headlong precipitation that they tumbled over each other like a flock of frightened sheep.

Several of the fugitives had pewter pots and ale glasses in their hands, which they carried off, but a number of other drinking vessels bearing the defendant’s name were left behind, and secured by the witness and his party.


During the confusion the defendant quietly retreated into his own house, but the witness following him there he apprised him of his intention to take out the summons against him.


Mr. Child, of the firm of Wire and Child, who appeared for the defence, said that he should abstain from entering into the merits of the case, as he was prepared with legal objections which he felt satisfied must invalidate the information.

According to the wording of the summons, the defendant was charged with having established an internal communication for the purposes of Sunday trading, which had not been substantiated, the communication complained of being entirely external, and apart from the dwelling house.

He confidently relied upon this point for a favourable decision, but he would further direct the magistrate’s attention to the express language of the act, which provided “that no internal communication should be made or used with any house, shop, or place of public resort,” whereas the alleged offence bad been committed at an isolated apartment attached to a private house.


Mr. Hammill said that, after attentively considering the arguments of the learned gentleman, he was decidedly of opinion that the summons must be dismissed; but he trusted that proper measures would he instituted by the Excise authorities for the suppression of such pernicious practices, which were productive of great moral mischief, and seriously detrimental to the interests of the fair-dealing members of the trade.”