Taking It Out On The Knocker

Everyday life in Victorian Whitechapel was a rich and varied mix of drama, comedy and tragedy.

The hardships faced by many of the residents and the heart-rending tales of the lives and deaths of the poor of the district provided a huge amount of tragedy and drama.

By the same token, the people who reside in the area were not backward at coming forward whenever they felt that their honour had been impugned, and disputes between neighbours, friends, and even families were commonplace.


Of course, drink was a huge contributor to these disputes, many of which could easily spiral out of control to the extent that the police then had to get involved.

A group of women drinking.
A Cosy Compartment In An East End Pub.


Often. these cases would then end up in court, where a journalist or court reporter would be on hand to take down the salacious details of the row and, in so doing, would leave us with some intriguing records that laid bare the rich tapestry of everyday life in the Victorian East End of London.

The following case was reported in the pages of The Lancashire Evening Post, on Wednesday, 29th May, 1895.

What is most interesting about this particular case is that the reporter took down the exchange in court verbatim, and so we can almost hear the two protagonists as they went head to head in trying to outdo each other, much to the chagrin of the exasperated judge!:-

The article read:-


With great volubility, the wife of a costermonger explained the wickedness of Harriet Spelman to Judge Bacon at Whitechapel County Court yesterday.

In March last year, said Mrs. Seal, Harriet came to her house when she was out, created a great disturbance and used most filthy language. When told that the plaintiff was out, the defendant said that she would take it out of the knocker, and went bang, bang, bang to it until she wrenched it off.


Defendant: “It’s all lies she tells. She abused me. She’s the most abusingest woman in London, that she is.”(Laughter.)

Plaintiff: “It ain’t lies. She was bound over to keep the peace at Arbour-square police station for the language, and Mr. Mead told me to sue her here for the damage.”

Defendant: “I know I was bound over, but it was she who worrited me. She came round that afternoon, and swore at me something awful. She called me a bad name, I said I’d make her prove it.”

Judge: “Could you prove it” (Laughter.)

Defendant: “No, she couldn’t. And my husband heard it too. She called him a white-hearted old rat.” (Loud laughter.)


Judge Bacon: “What was the origin of this interchange of compliments?”

Defendant: “Well, it was like this, you see. She wanted me to give her a half-quartern of whisky, I would not. She was drunk as a coster on Bank Holiday. (Laughter.) She then said that she did not care for my dirty whisky, and she could go and buy her own.”

Judge: “Then why go round to her place the same evening to have another row?”

Defendant: “I did not. I thought she would be sober by then, and I wanted her to apologise. She’s all right when she’s sober. She used to be “a real lydy,” and I only went to her for an apology, as one lydy would to another.” (Roars of laughter.)

Judge: And failing the ” lydy’s” apology, you took it out of the knocker?”

Defendant: “It was her husband that did that. She locked him out of the house all that night because he swore at her for being drunk.”

Plaintiff: “Oh, you wicked woman. Don’t you talk about my husband, it was you who was drunk.”


Defendant: “I can’t drink. I’ve got a bad inside, and you know it.”

Plaintiff: “What do I know about your inside? You can drink gin fast enough.”

Defendant: “So can you. Many’s the time I’ve nursed and washed your baby when you’ve been speechless.”

The Judge: “Have you any babies?”

Defendant: “Of course. I’m married.” (Laughter.)

Judge: “Then I suppose the plaintiff has done the same kind offices for you when you are drunk?”

Defendant: “No, my eldest girl Sal does that.”


Judge Bacon said that he had no doubt that the defendant had damaged the knocker. It was not for him to say whether one or the other was drunk on the day in question.

His own opinion was that both should divide the crown. (Laughter.)

He would give judgement for the plaintiff for five shillings and sixpence, but it would be a judgement against the defendant as a married woman without separate estate, and having obtained that judgement it would be no earthly use to the plaintiff, as the husband’s goods could not be taken to satisfy it.”