Glimpse a Household (1839)

January 8, 2019 at 3:25 pm (history, london's landscape, people) (, , )

Sometimes I come across the same item. That happened today when looking at a report of a court case.

When I went to put in JOHN WALKER as servant to the Christie household in 1839, I found the exact same story. But it had certainly been quite a while since reading this recounting of an incident of theft, boldly perpetrated during the day.

George Fountain was brought before the court for stealing – a spoon, valued at 1 pound; and 2 forks, also valued at 1 pound. It is the summation by John Walker that this time caught my eye.

I am servant to Mr. Langham Christie, of Cumberland-street, St. Marylebone.”

The Christies were Elizabeth Gosling (Mary’s elder sister) and her husband Langham Christie. By this time they had been married about ten years. They had a London residence, but also a small country estate at Preston Deanery (Northamptonshire). Langham had been battling for the inheritance of another estate, Glyndebourne (which you can read about here; opera-lovers will realize that his bid for the estate was successful).

But the morning of April 19th, a Friday, must have begun like any other.

The maid had washed the passage way, which left a connecting door open in order “to dry the passage”. Walker had been in the pantry, and, upon exiting, had “heard the street-door bell ring”. The time was “half-past twelve o’clock at noon.” Walker remembers closing the pantry door – which latched; but going up to answer the street door, he did not lock the pantry door.

The ring of the door evidently announced the arrival of the household’s newspaper (sharing was not unknown; so it could have come from a family member or a friend; as well as a true delivery): “There was a person there with a newspaper.” Walker “took it up to the drawing-room — mistress sent me into the dining-room with it.” MISTRESS would have been Elizabeth Christie, who, sitting in the drawing room, probably was finishing up a day’s correspondence, although she might also have been attentive to the arrival of any callers — unless she was NOT AT HOME (the standard phrase of the period, to denote both absence as well as not accepting callers).

Was Langham in the dining-room? Or was it merely placed at his plate? We are not told; Walker merely states the fact, and was quickly back at the pantry, “in less than five minutes.”

The time away is crucial (one almost wonders if the newspaper delivery was a ruse, but presumably not – for no more is mentioned about the paper).

The shock awaiting Walker was the sight of a man INSIDE the pantry (which, of course, stood with its door now open).

Walker called out, asking “what he wanted there”. George Fountain replied, asking if Walker “wanted any black lead.” But no one peddling their wares would be inside the house, at the bottom of stairs that led into the pantry. The game was up. Walker knew the clinking “blue bag” contained pieces of the family plate. Not much, you will say, citing three pieces of silverware – but being caught in the act obviously stopped the robbery in its tracks.

Walker sent for Langham, “my master,” who himself went for the police. No mention is made of whether Elizabeth already knew of the infiltration into the lower regions of her household, just as things were being readied for lunch.

Little further examination took place in court, a few follow-up questions with Walker. Then the policeman, Thomas Gane, gave testimony.

In parentheses comes the statement that “(The prisoner received a good character.)” – surely sworn testimony about the thirty-year-old prisoner. Fountain, found guilty, was “Strongly recommended to mercy.” and received a sentence of six months incarceration. The trial had taken place at the Old Bailey, London, on 13 May 1839. In the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, this is the only instance of George Fountain’s appearance.

Garrows_Law

keep in mind: You can visit the Old Bailey by booking a place

 

Permalink Leave a Comment

Crime and Punishment

July 31, 2016 at 12:50 pm (people) (, , )

In the July “newsletter” of The National Archives came several announcements of the digitization of criminal records, beginning c1770. Off-site availability are typically through FindMyPast.

NB: there’s a Smith & Gosling pedigree (open to public viewing) on FindMyPast!

Crime and Punishment

The Smiths and Goslings actually appear a few times (on the “right” side of the law) in court proceedings. But the deepest “mystery” I’m currently trying to unravel concerns Lady Elizabeth Compton – family letters make one reference, in May 1817: “The result of the proceedings concerning Shaw is entirely satisfactory“. But I’ve no idea who “Shaw” was, nor anything about the extent of his “molestation” that led to incarceration, for the letter mentions the future possibility of Shaw “being let out”. My assumption is that this case took place in Northamptonshire – but of that, even, I am currently unsure. Perhaps these records will help!

Click on the photo to read the e-newsletter in its entirety.

Permalink Leave a Comment