More Great Marlborough Street Police Court Cases

In a previous article, we joined The Graphic as it took its readers on a visit to the Great Marlborough Street Police Court to learn a little about the type of cases that were heard therein.

All sorts of life paraded before the magistrates at this particular police court, from the poorest denizens of the Victorian metropolis to those who were amongst the wealthies residents of the capital.

Prisoners for night charges filing into court.
From The Graphic, Saturday, 16th July, 1887. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The article, which was published on Saturday, 16th July, 1887, then went on to pay a second visit to the court:-

“On the occasion of our second visit to Great Marlborough Street, we find a vacant-looking and disreputably clad prisoner bewildering the authorities not a little.

He had been taken up at three in the morning for imparting to a policeman on his beat the alarming communication that “Gladstone was dead.”

He was not drunk at the time, and had just come out of the hospital, he told the policeman, when some friend of his, on whose information he could implicitly rely, had broken to him the news that “Gladstone was dead.”


And the prisoner, having considered it his duty to disseminate the news as rapidly as possible, had button-holed a police constable with that view, and had refused to quit his society afterwards, but had gone into the full particulars of how he had been treated in the hospital, and what the doctors and nurses had done to him, and how he had been discharged cured, and then, as aforesaid, had met an old friend, who told him of the irreparable loss which the Liberal party had sustained.

He did not know where he lived, or what hospital he had been to, or where he happened to be at that particular time, the policeman explains in the witness-box, or even where he wanted to go to – the fact that “Gladstone was dead” – which he announced also to every late passer-by – had upset his usual equilibrium, and had totally unhinged him.


“I did not know what to make of him,” states the policeman, “so, as he refused to go away, I took him into custody.”

And now that he is in custody, it is very plainly apparent that no one at Great Marlborough Street knows exactly what to do with him either.


The man listens with great interest to all that the policeman has to say against him, and to all the questions which the magistrate puts to the policeman; he is not known to the police; he stands there a striking specimen of complete helplessness, a man friendless and alone.

In a weak moment, perhaps, and before dismissing the case, the magistrate asks the prisoner what he has to say for himself, and why he has gone about in the middle of the night disseminating such false and exciting news.

At this invitation the floodgates of the prisoner’s eloquence are loosed at last; he leans over the dock and proceeds with amazing volubility, and in a jerky, cracked voice, and with many odd contortions of his body, to explain the matter to the best of his ability.

Mr Newton, The Magistrate sitting in a chair.
From The Graphic, Saturday, 16th July, 1887. Copyright, The British Library Board.


And, for a few minutes, he is allowed a very fair hearing to a marvellously unintelligible story, until it becomes plain to the meanest capacity that the time of the court is being seriously trifled with, when the prisoner is summarily cut short in his harangue and conducted by a side door into the inner offices, there to await the examination of a medical man as to his mental condition, which evidently is a trifle disturbed.


It is another prisoner, also mentally disturbed, to judge by his wild, weak face, who replaces the last individual. A “wall-eyed ” or ” chaney-eyed” prisoner, with an open mouth, and a tongue inclined to stray out of it and rest on his chin.

There is a little method in his madness, for the weather is cold and he is scantily clad, and he has stolen an overcoat from the Army and Navy Club, taking with him, also, a clothes brush which happened to be lying handy, and then careering down the street with both illegally acquired articles, until overtaken by the servants of the club and given into custody.

He is not confused or abashed by his position, seems to be even a little vain of the attention which he attracts to himself, and asks various questions of each witness with a knowing wag of the head, significant of “I had him there.”

But he is very “balmy,” and will probably get off lightly at the next examination, when the member of the club is there to swear to his coat.


Clothes seem to play an important part at Marlborough Street.

Here is a tailor suing his late client” for running up a bill for innumerable suits, which, if we recollect aright, had been sold again or pledged, and the offence has thus become a felonious transaction.

And immediately afterwards follows a well-known theatrical costumier, who has been “done” in the matter of fancy dresses by a gentleman connected with an amateur dramatic performance.

Fancy dresses appear to have an especial attraction to the unprincipled or weak, and the costumier, it is said, turns up with irritating frequency, and on some plea or other prefers his case and wants his goods, or the money for his goods, and states to the magistrate how infamously he has been served by the dramatic aspirant or the fancy-dress-ball young man.

Tous les jours this man,” mutters our artist impatiently.

He is in search of fresh subjects for his pencil, but the costumier stops the way as persistently as those persistent gas-collectors and School-Board officers who do so much to swamp the court with stale, flat, and unprofitable details, and who are here again with their books under their arms, and their summonses for arrears and non-attendance.


Presently appears a boy whom nobody can do anything with – one of those dreadful boys! The reader will find his portrait in our pages; a poor, whimpering little waif enough, whose appearance at least belies the evidence that he is so very, very terrible.

In court, and out in the office afterwards, where he kindly stands as our model, and cries intensely all the while, he is the picture of meekness and uncontrollable grief, but the blacklist of his offences is a long and startling one.

Appearances are remarkably deceptive in the case of this youngster – who is eleven years of age and looks about eight – and the humiliating announcement is made by his pastors and masters that they can do nothing with him.


He is wholly defiant and incorrigible, they say, of this poor little atom, whom a rougher wind than ordinary seems capable of blowing out of court, and the incorrigible snivels on, and is at all events the picture of contrition.

The particular offence for which his small person is put into the dock on this occasion is that of stealing a letter, and adding to the complication by disappearing with another boy for a few days’ “life in London” together; the second offender who has been going it” with him being a much smaller youth, and who, though not as tearful as his friend, is much more scared, and has evidently a rapidly-beating heart beneath his plum-coloured worsted comforter.

The smaller youth is sent out of court with a caution; but retribution, or stern justice, or Nemesis “makes it hot” for the weeping lad, and has no mercy upon him – that is, from his point of view.


He is not set free, and told to go home and be a good boy for the future; he is summarily sentenced to durance vile in an industrial school, where the work will be hard and the discipline extra severe, of all of which he is probably aware, for he continues to cry hysterically when out of court, and whilst waiting for the policeman who is to take him in the first instance to Marylebone.

His forlorn condition even attracts the attention of the members of the force as they pass in and out on their various errands.

“Cheer up, young ‘un; it won’t be so bad,” says one good-tempered policeman, clapping him on the back; but there’s no cheering him up for that day. He is going away from all his pals – from the run of the streets – from all that makes “life worth living” at present, and that he has escaped the prison on account of his youth does not appear to afford the slightest consolation to him.


He walks away with his official custodian at last, sniffing and weeping still, un-cheered by the salient facts that he is going to be looked after carefully – that he has got off a committal to gaol – and that he has had his portrait taken by an eminent artist, and without a fraction of expense to him.

Somebody has been poisoning his mind about industrial schools, we fear, and life is a blank until he knows more surely what is good for him; which he may never know any more than we do, dear readers, who are so much more wise than this society’s offshoot!

There is a cook in trouble on the afternoon of our present visit to Great Marlborough Street.


The cook of a famous restaurateur, whose name is a household word in regions West. Whether a principal cook or a sub-cook, does not appear on the surface, but he is a gentleman who employs a solicitor, and fights his case at every point, tooth and nail, as it were, and without any remarkable degree of success.

He has not paid anything for a long while towards the support of his wife and child, from whom he lives apart, and his accuser – in the person of his better half, who conducts her own case fluently – is in the witness-box to claim maintenance from the defaulter.

This is a case requiring much delicacy of treatment on the part of Mr. Newton, in order to avoid being overwhelmed with domestic details, which have no bearing in that court regards the cook’s breach of contract, and which threatens to throw a very fierce and strong light on the cook’s motives for living apart from his partner.

“There’s another wo—-.”

“Yes,” says the magistrate promptly, “but the question is why your husband does not pay the fourteen shillings a week he agreed to allow you, and you agreed to receive.

The whole case lies in a nutshell, though the prosecutrix is very anxious to turn a few side-lights on as to the conduct of the chef; but the magistrate will have none of them, and, an arrangement as to future payments having been come to – if not to the satisfaction of every person concerned – the next case is called, and new business steps forward, to strut its little hour on the stage.


Always new business, and yet always new business so much like the old – like the new play, and the new books, where so many changes are rung. Nothing new even in this last case – the white-cheeked, hollow-eyed woman, who is “a remand,” who has slain her infant, and will be presently committed for trial, and taken to her cell again.

Ah well, nothing new under the sun, or under the glare of our metropolitan policemen’s bull’s-eye lanterns, which to supply with oil, and “clean, trim, and repair,” costs the London tax-payer more than five thousand pounds per annum.


We hope Great Marlborough Street Police Court is not to be swept away, as rumour insists.

It is very central; it is fairly spacious; is not objected to by the inhabitants who, indeed, are are petitioning for its remaining in their midst; it is very handy for the nobility, gentry, and public in general who may be run in from Regent Street and Oxford Street, without much fuss over the matter – who, in fact, have a very little way to walk in custody, or to be carried, if disposed to be recalcitrant, and insist upon the liberty of the subject.

For literary reasons even, it is a pity that Great Marlborough Street Police Court should be numbered amongst the bygone landmarks of London – there is much wealth of character to be found in Great Marlborough Street – all kinds of persons of all degrees of society rub shoulders together, here extremes meet with a vengeance.

Peers and pickpockets, Members of Parliament and members of the swell-mob, the army, navy, and the bar, literature and the fine arts, representatives of all the clubs in Pall Mall appear here in turn as prosecutors and prisoners, according to the Fates and their lucky and unlucky stars.


Our old familiar friends, “the night charges,” are at the adjacent station in full force.

There are larger and finer batches of them to be disposed of here when Mr. Newton or Mr. Mansfield comes, than at the other London courts, an infinite variety of men, women and children, some of them exceedingly anxious, some of them defiant; and others stolid, some anxious about their refreshments, “tea or coffee” – some more particular about seeing their solicitor – some jaunty and fuddled, of the feminine gender these, alas! – some full of “reserve force,” and not easy, even for a police constable, to make out.

A sketch of Mr Newton.
The Magistrate Mr Newton. From The Illustrated Police News. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Behind the scenes at Great Marlborough Street Police Court there is always considerable bustle of preparation.

In the station next door life begins early – inquiries begin early; people always “want to know, you know,” a great deal – whether the boy is in? whether one’s husband is there, and can be seen before his case comes on? and so forth.


In the yard beyond there are various dogs “run in” – the muzzle edict had not yet been rescinded by Scotland Yard decree at the time of our visit – and the poor animals are in greater trouble than the superior animals in the cells, for they know not in what way they have offended, do not know where they are, or what to make of the colossal many-sided kennel constructed to hold a quantity of animals on the solitary confinement principle.