Police and The Public

One of the things that we cover a lot on our blog, and on our East End tours, is the arrest and subsequent court appearances by those who transgressed in the Victorian era and around the time of Jack the Ripper.

However, out stories often simply feature the reason for the arrest and then skip forward to what went on in the court appearance of the perpetrator of the crime.

But, what was it like to find yourself arrested by the Victorian police? What was the attitude demonstrated by the officer, or officers, that carried out the arrest?

Well, on January 10th 1894, a correspondent for the Pall Mall Gazette, wrote a report on what had befallen him the previous Saturday when, on his way home from his West End club, he had found himself on the wrong side of the 19th century law enforcers in the form of two Metropolitan Police constables.

His article is reproduced below in full:-


The point of this narrative lies in the fact that the experiences therein recorded might happen to any one.

Last Saturday was a chilly, foggy day.

Four of us played whist at the club during the afternoon, and dined rather late. We dined wisely and not too well.

After settling up for cards and dinner, it so happened that I knew precisely what money I had in my pockets.

Having dined we continued smoking and talking till well past eleven.

Then a final drink—the first and only one after dinner.

Then into the street for home.


Living, as I do, within half a mile, I started to walk to my chambers according to my usual custom.

It was nearly closing time, and Piccadilly was full of people.

In the slush at the bottom of the little turning that runs up to Vine-street police-court a small group of women and men were quarrelling loudly.

Before crossing over I stood for a moment on the kerb to watch the squabble.


Almost instantly I was violently hustled from behind.

Visions of pickpockets flashed into my mind, also a happy consciousness that I had on a thick double-breasted overcoat, well buttoned-up to the throat.

“Now, then, where the deuce are you coming?” I cried, as I turned round to face my antagonist.


To my surprise, he was a policeman, and with him another, also in uniform. “There, move on, and none of yer lip” said the fellow, giving me another violent push.

“Ho!” said I, “if you are a constable, you’ve still no right to assault me. I shall take your number.”

In a moment, I was hard gripped, with a policeman on each side.

“You come along of us,” said they, and I went quietly enough. I had heard what assaulting and resisting the police meant.

It was only a few yards to the police-station, and, as far as I know, no one out of the noisy little group so much as noticed my capture.


“What’s the charge ?” said the inspector, as I was ushered out of the fog into the station house. “Drunk and disorderly,” said one of the constables.

I protested against being put in the dock, but without avail. I was asked for my name, Christian name, and address, also my profession. All these I gave.

The police said that I was in Piccadilly very drunk, causing an obstruction; that they had requested me to pass away, and I had said I would do as I liked; that on arresting me I had attempted to strike one of them with my stick.

I denied the charge in toto. I said it was foolish to say I was drunk, as it was obvious that I was not. I would submit to any test the inspector chose. I had been dining, I allowed, and was quietly going home. The police had hustled me, and I had threatened to take their numbers.


” You can be examined by a surgeon if you wish,” said the inspector.

“Certainly,” said I.

“Give me 7s. 6d. then,” he replied, and motioned that I should be let out of the dock.

I protested against being fined 7s. 6d. for nothing, and asked whether I should get my money back if the doctor  certified that I was sober.

“I will sec that you get it back,” said the inspector.

I paid up, and was allowed to sit on the bench while I waited.


Meanwhile other charges were taken, among them that of a gentlemanly young fellow, whom I will call X, and who comes into this story later on. He, too, was proclaimed drunk and disorderly. No doubt he had had several drinks, for he was inclined to “chaff” his captors, but he was by no means what an ordinary Englishman calls drunk. He disdained the offer of the station doctor, was searched, and then taken to the cells.

It may have been a quarter of an hour before the doctor arrived.


His personal appearance suggested a preliminary query on my part as to whether he was a qualified man. He replied in the affirmative, but at first refused to put me to any test. So I wrote him a few words in my pocket-book, standing up the while, first in elaborate large “copy-hand,” and then in my ordinary handwriting. I offered to work out a problem in arithmetic, or do anything he might suggest.”

“Walk up and down,” said he, and having done so, I knew that I had “passed” in that.

So satisfied was I with myself that I then offered to “toe the line,” which I had always heard was an unfailing test of sobriety, and I executed this rather difficult manoeuvre the whole length of one of the planks on the floor, fair toe and heel, without a stumble and without a lurch.

The doctor made no report to me, but took his departure.

He had – so I heard before the magistrate on Monday – pronounced me sober, but that my breath smelt of drink. This phenomenon is, I should imagine, invariable in the case of everybody who has drunk but a single glass of spirits.

Nevertheless, though the doctor for whom I had paid PRONOUNCED ME SOBER.


I was put back in the dock, and the charge proceeded with.

I was then told I should have to appear before the magistrate at Marlborough-street on Monday morning.

“I can at least get bail,” I cried; and the inspector agreed, if I knew any one to whom to send.

“Certainly,” said I. “One of the gentlemen with whom I have been dining lives within five minutes’ distance, and will come at once. He will also be a witness to my sobriety,” I added injudiciously. “I will write him a few words on the leaf of my pocket-book.”


As I said this, having been let out of the dock, I stepped towards his desk, by which still stood the same two constables who had arrested me. They seemed to be both youngish men, if not mere recruits to the force.

Before I could write a word, they again gripped me on either side, as if I had been a madman. This though I had never raised my voice or resisted in any way, and after I had been pronounced sober by the doctor – a fact presumably known to them, but not known to myself.

“Have you any knives or matches about you ?” they cried.

I replied that I never carried a knife, but had some matches in the ticket-pocket of my overcoat.

Then they wrenched my coat open, and went over all my pockets with a rush, precisely as racecourse thieves do. Each held me tightly with his other hand, and so jerked me about.


Then they hustled me into a cell in which were two other men, one of them X, of whom I have already spoken, the other a fellow with a beard who was quietly drunk. I stood up by the door, and from the light of the gas which came through a glass pane in it wrote my letter to my friend, holding my pocket-book against the wall. Then I called a constable, but none came.

After two failures X said, “There is a bell to the right of the door; try that.”

I pulled it at intervals of a minute or two, and in the end a policeman arrived and took my note, but this note was never delivered.


Meantime, I had made acquaintance with X, and told him I was waiting for bail.

“Got any money ?” he said, “I find I’ve only a shilling or two.”

I told him that I had a little over two pounds, and felt in my pockets.

To my amazement I found only a ten-shilling piece, and a few odd shillings. Continuing my search I found that the box of matches was still in my ticket-pocket, and I handed it over to X, complaining bitterly that I had been robbed, whereas the very thing for which I had been searched was still in my pocket.

Now, it is not my intention to charge the police with this crime. It may be that the waiter who had helped me on with my overcoat had helped himself at the same time. But I know for a fact that I found myself without a sovereign in gold and 9s. 6d. in silver, which I had had in my pockets when I started for home.

But I do ask whether it is fair that two constables should be allowed to go out into the street to fetch in any well-dressed man who they may assert to be drunk and resents being hustled, and thereafter to themselves search his pockets with violence.

It is not every man who knows precisely what money he had about him; nor, indeed, is every man always sober.

Now, I had just been pronounced sober by the doctor, although I did not know this.


The cell had two benches, X and I sat on one, and talked.

After a while we resigned ourselves to the chance of being confined till Monday morning, a matter of over thirty hours.

But, about 3 A.M,  X was called by name.

It appeared that a companion who had been with him when he was arrested had himself escaped, but had returned to see what he could do for him.

The police had put him up to getting bail.

I will not say particularly what sort of person the bailer was, as I afterwards availed myself of his kind services.

Suffice that his charge was ten shillings for each of us, and that he held in pawn our watches and chains, a gold ring, a gold pencil case, and Russian tobacco box of silver niello work.

The policeman through whom the preliminaries were arranged was a genial and civil fellow.

He accepted a very small tip with alacrity, and with the aid of X and his friend I was let go about 4am.


On Monday morning I was early at Marlborough-street Police-court.

There were several cases to be taken before mine.

At last my turn came, and once again I stood in the dock.

One of the policemen who arrested me stated the charge.

The “prisoner” had been the centre of a group of people, was very drunk, and had refused to pass away, and so on.

I asked him a couple of questions as to the hustling and my threat to report him. I do not go so far as to say that the magistrate then disbelieved the evidence, but he inquired what the doctor had said, and on being told, seemed rightly amazed that I had been charged with being drunk, after I had been pronounced sober.

The policeman extended the interval of time before I saw the doctor to half an hour, but without effect.

Without even waiting to hear what the other constable had to say, or to ask if I had any witnesses, he dismissed the charge.


X had just been fined five shillings.

Outside we found our bailer. He asked a sovereign off me, but seemed well satisfied with half.

On inquiry at Vine-street that afternoon to have my seven-and-six doctor’s fee returned, another very civil inspector told me that the request was impossible. If the inspector who sent for the doctor had given me any hope of getting my money back, why, he had no right to do so.

Thus, without reckoning losses and expenses, I have, for no fault of my own, as proved in open court, been hustled, arrested, put in a dock, searched with violence, and subjected to ignominy in a filthy cell for some hours.

So far for myself.


But the experience, as I said at the outset, might be any one’s.

And the reason for this state of things?

Are our police immaculate?

Suppose I had bribed the couple of constables who arrested me, would they have taken me to the police-station?

I have already spoken about the searching; but as to the bailing-out, my note to my own friend was never sent.


Because he would have been a witness in my favour, and the police would have made nothing out of the job.

Instead, they get a man of their own. Also they are accessible to tips and in the case of the bailer-out whom they procure, is it possible that some proportion of what he makes goes into the constables’ own pockets ?

And how about the choice of the doctor? Ought he not to have told me what his opinion was? It is obvious that you cannot send for your own medical man, any more than for your own friend to bail you.

And how about the liberty of the subject, our common boast in this country?