An Irate Showman In Court

Norton Folgate is an eclectic thoroughfare that nestles, almost in a time-warp, behind the modern high-rise office blocks of Bishopsgate. It is one of a knot of streets that are lined with sturdy 18th-century houses.

Nowadays these houses are much sought-after, and they cost a pretty penny, or should that be a pretty million?

A photograph of the houses in Norton Folgate.
Houses In Norton Folgate.


But, at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, the houses attracted a mix of residents, from middle-class doctors to shop-keepers and showmen.

In 1891, number 37 Norton Folgate received a great deal of newspaper coverage throughout the country, when a case was brought, at nearby Worship Street Police Court, against a showman by the name of William Norman who was charged with obstructing the highway by displaying photographs and pictures in his windows that the passing crowds seemed unable to pass without enjoying a prolonged gawp at them!

The Birmingham Mail, took up the story on Thursday, 26th March, 1891:-


At the Worship Street Police Court, London, yesterday, the case of  William Anderson, who claimed to exist by eating red-hot cinders, live coals. &c., describing himself as a “Fire King” was before Mr. Montagu Williams, Q.C., again: but joined with the “Fire King” appeared Mr. William Norman, who said he was a “showman by trade,” he being, in fact, the master, carrying on shows in various parts of London, and in particular at 37, Norton Folgate, for which he was summoned on a charge of “wilfully obstructing the free passage of the highway of Norton Folgate.”

Inspector Farquhar, G Division, repeated the evidence given by him last week against Anderson, to the effect that on the 26th February he saw the pavement blocked by persons gazing at the pictures in the shop where the show was carried on.

Anderson was standing at the door shouting and causing the crowd to assemble. The defendant Norman stood inside and took the entrance money.

Similar evidence was given by Police-constable 37 G R, Sergeant 5 G R, and a hairdresser carrying on business three doors away, and it appeared that for a  month the pavement had been obstructed at the times the show was carried on – usually between the hours of five and eleven at night.


Norman, who alone answered to the summons, cross-examined the witnesses as to whether they would swear that they saw him on the 26th – admitting that he had been acting as stated at earlier dates; but the summons was taken out on on the 26th, and he denied being there then.

The magistrate told him to call his witnesses.


The Defendant said that he would call his wife, but when the Magistrate informed him that he could not call his wife, he opted to call Mrs. Ley, his caretaker at another show.

Mrs. Ley was sworn, and she said that she was caretaker at defendant’s show at Poplar.

On the 26th the defendant was there till eleven o’clock at night in her company.


The Magistrate, Mr Williams, asked her if she knew the shop in Norton Folgate, to which she replied, “Yes, Sir; I have been there once.

Mr. Williams:- “That is quite enough for me. Stand down.”

Defendant:- “But I gave it up on the 18th, and she will tell you so.”

Mr. Williams:- “I dare; say. You are standing there prepared to tell any amount of lies that may occur to you.”

Defendant:- “I can prove it by the agreement prepared by my solicitor, of King Street, Cheapside, if you will adjourn the case.”

Mr. Williams:- “No; I have five or six witnesses who swear that you were there on the 26th, taking money. That is enough for me.”

Defendant:- “But that is not my defence. I want to try and convince your worship that I had given up the place, though I had lived there up to a fortnight ago. I can call witnesses.”

Mr. Williams:- “You are fined forty shillings and two shillings. costs.”

Defendant:- “I will appeal against it.”


The defendant then left the Court, paid the money, and, returning presently, he stepped into the witness-box and asked permission to make an application. Would his worship give him his opinion on his position?

If he paid rates and taxes, and rented a shop to carry on his business, had he not as much right to do so, so long as no man stood at the door and shouted?

The pictures in the window were as much his-stock-in-trade as the goods of any other shopkeeper, and he could no more be responsible for people standing on the footway to look at them than could a linen-draper or Bennett’s, in Cheapside.

Mr. Montagu Williams:- “If you have a show – whether it is a spotted dwarf, a fat lady, a woman in a tank, or what not, you must conduct your business in a proper place. You are not allowed to exhibit in any shop where people stand outside and block the pavement.

Defendant:- “But not my people.”


Mr. Williams:- “You asked my opinion, and I’ve given it you.”

Defendant:- “I’m much obliged, sir. I’ve paid forty shillings for it, and I should ——”

Mr Williams:- “You’ve not paid forty shillings for my opinion. You’ve paid that as fine for breaking the law.”

Defendant:- “But how? I only exhibit. I would pay 40 shillings or £40 for your opinion to know my position, but since your decision in these cases you’ve upset our snowman’s business so as it never was.”

Mr. Williams:- “I have decided.”

Defendant:- “Yes, without hearing my case, ruining us showmen, only nobody has never had nerve enough to say so.”

Mr. Williams:- “Stand down.”

The defendant left the box and the court greatly excited and loudly talking.”