Being a police officer in London has always entailed a certain amount of danger, and, for the Victorian Metropolitan Police Constables, the hazards they faced meant that they could find themselves exposed to danger at any moment as they patrolled their beats.
Of course, those officers were themselves far from lily-white and, in the event of an offender resisting arrest, the police were often able and willing to give as good as they got.
Three days before what is now generally believed to have been the first Jack the Ripper murder, that of Mary Nichols, which took place on the 31st of August, 1888, a case was heard at the Dalston Police Court concerning two men who had, for reasons that were never actually specified, attempted to gain admittance to the home of Mrs. Charlotte Brown, in Norfolk Road, Dalston.
Their initial defence that they had only done so as “a joke” didn’t go down too well with the presiding Magistrate, who was quick to point out that one of the men, Edward Woodruff, had also assaulted the police officer who had tried to arrest him.
ONLY A JOKE
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph provided its readers with a summary of their court appearance in its issue of Wednesday, 29th August, 1888:-
“Edward Woodruff, said to be a master cabinetmaker, of Dove Row, Haggerston, and Henry Jermy, of 63, Angrave Street, Haggerston, were both charged before Mr. Horace Smith, at the Dalston Police Court yesterday with unlawfully demanding admission to the dwelling of Mrs. Charlotte Brown, of 41, Norfolk Road, Dalston.
Woodruff was further charged with assaulting the police.
MRS. BROWN’S TESTIMONY
Mrs. Brown said that last night the prisoners knocked at her door, and demanded admission “in the Queen’s name.” She asked for their authority, and they, putting their hands to their pockets, said it was there.
She refused to admit them, and called a passing constable and gave them into custody.
JUST WATCHING A CHIMNEY FIRE
Mr. Young, solicitor, who appeared for Woodruff, denied that his client and his fellow prisoner were up the steps of the house, but stated that they were merely watching a chimney fire in the house of the prosecutrix.
If they did say what was attributed to them, it was only a joke.
A REBUKE FROM THE MAGISTRATE
The Magistrate: “But we can’t have women frightened in this way. You will have to bring me evidence of the character of these men. Besides, there is the desperate resistance to the police to answer for.
The Prisoners were remanded, bail being allowed.”
THEIR NEXT COURT APPEARANCE
Their next court appearance, a week or so later, was reported in The Hackney and Kingsland Gazette, on Monday, 10th September 1888.
More details were given in this report, and various witnesses came forward to give their accounts of the events as they had unfolded:-
CHARGED ON REMAND
“Edward Woodruff, 21, of Dove Row, cabinet maker, and Henry Jermy, of Angrave Street, Haggerston, were charged on remand with knocking at the door, 41, Norfolk Road, Dalston, without lawful cause, and Woodruff was further charged with assaulting the police.
Mr. C. V. Young appeared for Woodruff.
THE PRISONERS WERE AT THE DOOR
At the last hearing, Charlotte Brown, 41, Norfolk Road, Dalston, said she did not know the prisoners.
About 8.30 on Monday night, the witness was indoors when she heard a knocking at the door. She opened the area door and saw the two prisoners at the front door.
Woodruff said, “Open the door in the name of the Queen.”
WHAT WAS HIS AUTHORITY?
The Witness asked him what authority he had, when he put his hand into his pocket to take something out and he said that he would show her. They added that if the witness did not open the door they would do so themselves. They refused to go away.
Previous to this occurrence one of the chimneys of the house had been on fire.
A policeman came up and took the prisoners into custody. She saw Woodruff kick the constable.
THE CHIMNEY WAS ON FIRE
William Waller, of 99, Sandringham Road, said that he saw the chimney of the prosecutrix’s house on fire.
As he was looking at the chimney, the prisoner went to the door and demanded admittance in the name of the Queen.
A constable came up and endeavoured to arrest them when Woodruff became very violent and kicked the constable.
GIVEN INTO POLICE CUSTODY
P. C. 424 J said that, at 8. 30 on Monday night, he was on duty in Norfolk Road.
He went to prosecutor’s house and saw Woodruff inside the gate and the other man outside.
Prosecutrix gave the men into custody.
Woodruff then became very violent and he struck at the witness. In self-defence, the witness struck him back.
At the station Woodruff said he was not there at all, the other prisoner said he was on the opposite side of the road.
HE TOLD HIM FIFTY TIMES
By Mr. Young: He told the prisoner, Woodruff, about 50 times to leave the garden.
When he took the prisoner into custody, the prisoner struck him and the witness struck him back.
In reply to Mr. Young, the prosecutrix now stated that the two men were the only people who knocked at her door.
WILLIAM DONTON’S TESTIMONY
William Donton, of 4, Mountford Road, Dalston, said that he was in Norfolk Road on the night in question and he saw two men at Mrs. Brown’s door. He recognised Woodruff as one of the men.
When the prosecutrix came out, one of the prisoners said, “This place is on fire”, and demanded admittance in the Queen’s name.
Mrs. Brown asked them what authority they had, and they said that they would show her.
The police then came up and there was a struggle.
THERE WAS LAWFUL CAUSE
Mr. Young said that if the prisoner, Woodruff, did knock at the door then there was a lawful cause, but he could not admit to knocking at the door.
When the constable came up, Woodruff was pointed out and the prisoners were then taken into custody and were much hurt by the policeman.
IT WASN’T WOODRUFF
A young man, who said that he was a stranger to the prisoners, said that he was the one that knocked at the door and not the prisoner, Woodruff.
Prosecutrix ordered him off the premises in a rough manner.
THE COURT’S DECISION
Woodruff received a good character and was fined forty shillings for assaulting the police and ten shillings for knocking at the door.
The other prisoner would be bound over in the sum of £5 to keep the peace.
Mr. Young appealed to the Magistrate to reduce the fine for assaulting the police to twenty shillings, as the prisoner had been much injured.
The Magistrate agreed that course.”