At the end of June, 1899, a lady “of foreign nationality” found herself hauled up before the magistrate at the South-West London Police Court, charged with a terrible offence.
What had she done?
Had she murdered her husband? Had she stolen the gold reserves from the vaults of the Bank of England? Had she attempted to blackmail a member of the Royal Family, or perhaps a high Government official? Had she, perhaps, outraged people with an act of lewd indecency on the streets of London?
The answer to all these scenarios is a resounding “NO.”
In fact, the offence that led to the unnamed lady’s court appearance was that she had decided to enjoy a cigarette in a London tavern.
The Illustrated Police Budget provided its readers with a detailed account of the court exchanges in its edition of Saturday, 1st July, 1899:-
THE LADY WHO WOULD SMOKE CIGARETTES
The Landlord of a Well-known Tavern Objected to her Doing So, and a Visit to the Police Court was the Result.
“At the South-West London Police Court, a married lady, residing with her husband at Battersea, was charged before Mr. Lane, Q.C., with being guilty of disorderly conduct.
Mr. Hoskins defended the lady, who was allowed to be seated in the court.
CONSTABLE MOORE’S TESTIMONY
Police-constable Moore, 511 V, said that on Wednesday night he was called to the tavern, and there he saw the accused with two gentlemen in the saloon-bar, sitting with her legs crossed, and smoking a cigarette.
As she had refused to leave he took hold of her arm, and she walked out of the house.
Mr. Lane:- “Was she doing anything else, for smoking is not contrary to law, neither is crossing the legs contrary to the law?” (Laughter.)
Witness:- “She had an altercation with the landlord. As soon as she got outside she argued with me and caused a crowd to assemble.”
The witness added that he thought that she was the worse for drink, and he preferred the charge against her. But the inspector at the Police Station refused to take it.
Mr. Lane:- “Well, she has committed a technical offence, for she was bound to leave the house when asked to do so by the landlord.”
THE LANDLORD SPEAKS UP
The landlord of the hotel said that she would not desist from smoking, and, on her refusal to leave, he sent for a constable.
SHE WAS OF FOREIGN NATIONALITY
Mr. Hoskins mentioned that she was a lady of foreign nationality, and naturally thought she was doing no harm in doing what she was accustomed to do in her own country.
The husband of the lady said that he was one of the gentlemen sitting with his wife in the bar, and there was an American gentleman with them. They were all smoking cigarettes. The potman came up and told them that the lady must not smoke.
They thought they were doing no harm, and they commenced to argue the matter, when the policeman arrived.
AN INTERESTING CASE
Mr. Lane said that it was one of those interesting cases in which all the parties were right. There was no law against smoking, and a lady was at liberty to indulge in it as far as her health, her head, and her stomach would permit. Probably female smoking in a public place had a tendency to disorder, and a landlord had a perfect right to make a regulation prohibiting it; he also had a right to send for a policeman and have the lady removed if she refused.
Under the circumstances, he ordered her to be discharged.”