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Some of George Clarke’s early cases 1844-1860

George Clarke c. 1864

In my book, 'The Chieftain', several of George Clarke's minor criminal investigations could not be included because of space limitations. Rather than see them lost to posterity, I have decided to use this Blog  to provide information about some of the  unpublished events in which George Clarke was involved during his long career as a London policeman.

Clarke became a uniformed Police Constable in S Division (Hampstead) of the London Metropolitan Police in 1840.  He was probably first based at Albany Street Police Station (see 'The Chieftain' pp.19-20). As the principal activity of the London policeman was crime prevention, rather than crime detection, it is not surprising that there are few records (e,g newspaper  or Court accounts) of the daily activities of London's 'Peelers' or 'Bobbies' (as they were colloquially known). My research has unearthed only a few cases between 1840 and 1862 that were reported in contemporary newspapers, in which  a Police Constable or Police Sergeant George Clark(e) of S Division was involved . However, it is highly likely, though not 100% certain, that the George Clark(e) recorded in the following events was the individual who, in 1862, was transferred to the detective department at Scotland Yard. The accounts are also illustrative of the types of 'minor' crime dealt with by the 'Bobby on the Beat' in that era.

The Constipated Thief?

On 8th April 1844, Police Constable George Clark [sic] gave evidence at the Old Bailey in the trial of John White (aged 20) for stealing nine shillings and one groat . Three days earlier, White, had gone into the chemist’s shop of William Golding in Upper Albany Street, Regent’s Park and asked for a ‘black draught and a pill’ (a common purgative in the nineteenth century). The chemist’s errand boy, John Robinson, had given change of nine shillings and a groat for the half-sovereign that had been tendered before he noticed that the half-sovereign coin was counterfeit. Shouting “Stop Thief”, Robinson chased after White who was seen by a passer-by to throw away a packet later found to contain the nine shillings and a groat. P.C. Clark then appeared on the scene and, from his local knowledge, arrested White, who was subsequently found guilty at the Old Bailey and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. (References: Wikipedia - Black draught; Old Bailey Proceedings Online April 1844 John White (t18440408-1287)).

The Dangers of Staying Out Late

On 26th February 1849, George Clark [sic] (Police Constable S279) gave evidence in the trial at the Old Bailey of John Cummings (aged 20) for stealing a watch, two keys and one pound 18 shillings in silver, the property of John Turner.

Turner, a grocer’s assistant from Marylebone, had a few drinks on the night of 13-14th January and outstayed the curfew time for his own lodgings. He claimed to have met a woman who found him a bed in an accommodation house; at least that was his story and he stuck to it in cross-examination. After the woman had left, Cummings and an associate had entered the room armed with a poker, and claimed that the bed “belongs to me and my mate….[and] we pay 1s. 6d. a week for it”. Threatening Turner with the poker, they took all of his clothes, went downstairs and turned out his pockets before eventually throwing his trousers and boots back to him.

After getting dressed, and finding his watch, keys and money missing, Turner looked for the nearest policeman, who happened to be George Clark. After locating a colleague, Clark went to the house, where he found Cummings with two women in the bed previously occupied by Turner. Cummings was arrested for stealing and, at his trial, was found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation. (At that time, approximately 460 convicts a year were transported to Australia, but transportation was completely phased out by 1868 and had been uncommon for several years before that).
 (References: Old Bailey Proceedings Online, John Cummings ( t18490226-746); Wikipedia-Penal Transportation.)

A Police Officer's Retirement

Some five years after George Clarke had been promoted to Sergeant, The Lloyds Weekly Newspaper reported, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion, a police event of a kind that has probably changed little over the years and which, on this occasion, was chaired by Clarke himself:
Testimonial To a Police Inspector – On Tuesday [14th September 1858] a crowded meeting of the constables and sergeants of the S division of the metropolitan police, was held at Mr. H. Wilkins’, the Abbey tavern, Violet-hill, St John’s-Wood, for the purpose of presenting a very handsome silver tea service, to Mr. Edward Cooke, late an inspector in the S division. Sergeant Clarke (19S), occupied the chair, and Sergeant Westlake, (2S) the vice chair; and in the course of some neat and eloquent speeches, it appeared that Mr Cooke had been in the police force for twenty-five years, had always been a good and kind officer, was much respected by the inhabitants, and that the service of plate then presented to him was purchased by the subscriptions spontaneously given by the sergeants and men immediately after Mr. Cooke’s retirement. Mr. Cooke having replied in very forcible terms, the company separated.”
(Reference: Lloyds Weekly Newspaper 19 September 1858.)

The Silk Thieves

Sergeant Clarke 19S was to appear again in a case reported in the press in June 1860. It involved fraud and the theft of silk, a valuable commodity in Victorian times.

Mr Philip Hillmand, a draper from Daventry, Northamptonshire, had been seeking to fill a vacancy for an assistant and a ‘William Woodhouse’ had applied for the post, giving as a reference the name of Mr Nicholas Whitehall, a draper in St John’s Wood. The referee was written to at the address provided and a glowing testimony was subsequently received, leading to the appointment on 28th May 1860 of ‘Woodhouse’ to the vacant position in Daventry.

On 31st May while out in his gig, Mr. Hillmand spotted his new assistant with a parcel under his arm, hastening along the road in the direction of the railway, where he apparently intended to collect his luggage at the station. However, ‘Woodhouse’ never returned and Hillmand discovered on the following day that he had been robbed of silks and other expensive articles to the value of £40 (worth c. £1750 today. Understandably keen to locate ‘Woodhouse’, Hillmand contacted his local police who communicated with the Metropolitan Police, and Sergeant Clarke was waiting for him when Hillmand travelled to London. Clarke took Hillmand direct to a house where they discovered ‘Woodhouse’ and took him into custody on the charges of robbery, and obtaining a situation by means of false character.

The prisoner, now revealed as ‘Henry Alfred Yorke’, appeared at Worship Street Police Court, where it was stated that he was likely to be a member of a gang of 12 or 14 others (including a certain William Woodhouse Kitt) who systematically pursued this system of fraud. The magistrate ordered that Yorke should be returned to Daventry under a police escort and, at the quarter sessions of 4 July 1860 at Northampton, he was found guilty of ‘larceny by servant’ and was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. 

In helping to secure a conviction, George Clarke had clearly-demonstrated useful knowledge of the relevant villains on his ‘patch’.

(Reference: The Times 30 June 1860.)