Ralph Mills

Objects of delight

Appendix III

The image of the broken cow and other Old Bailey stories


The proceedings of the Old Bailey, just a few streets to the east of Plumtree Court, offer a fascinating and sometimes disturbing glimpse of life in that part of London during the nineteenth century. The records are also valuable because they provide (sadly, tantalisingly few) tiny details relevant to this project, especially the estimated value at the time of ornaments as well as how they were regarded. Some of the objects were from middle- or upper-class contexts, but others were from less prestigious surroundings. Though the survey is undoubtedly sketchy, the record serves as a sample of what was almost certainly going on in other cities at the time, as well as moments from late eighteenth and early nineteenth century everyday life.

In the first 130-odd years of the Old Bailey records, "image" and "images", as decorative objects, are mentioned in about 50 cases (the records have not been digitised beyond the 1870s). The most common reason for their inclusion is that objects of value or importance were frequently hidden under or within them on the mantelpiece. Watches were also often hung from them — indeed some miniatures were made specifically for this purpose.

The first mention of an "image" in the records occurs in January 1730, when Obadiah Henshaw was "indicted for stealing a Leaden Image, value 10 s. the Goods of Joseph Beachcroft, Esq; January 2. The Fact appearing plain, the Jury found him Guilty to the Value of 10 d" (t17300116-26)1. Henshaw was sentenced to transportation. Another lead image is mentioned in May 1753 (t17530502-10).

In June 1761, George Gings and John Lamb were accused, and acquitted, of stealing five "plaister of Paris" 2images, valued at two shillings, from Jacob Salla. "The prosecutor being a foreigner, and could not speak English, an interpreter was sworn". It is likely that Salla was a Jew. One of the images was described as a horse, another as a "Jesus" and another as "a man". Salla appears to have been terrified by the affair, which occurred in Bridewell prison. Salla was, it seems, locked in for fun by the turnkeys, and on finally being released, abandoned the images he left behind and broke more when he collapsed outside (t17610625-36).

In December 1766 there is a mention of "cups and saucers of image china", the only reference to this combination of words that I have so far come across. It may be that this describes china bearing decoration (t17661217-31).

Eleven year old Thomas Hawkins, whose mother took in washing at her home in Bolton Street, was in August 1769, carrying a bundle of clothing belonging to Daniel Webb, of Old Change. He stopped "to look at an image about as tall as myself at a mug shop" when he was relieved of his bundle by Jane Beddis, 19. She was found guilty and transported (t17690906-87).

The highway robber Edward Millson attempted to hide a silver watch he'd stolen on the king's highway "near Pancrass" from John Tomlin in his room in a common-bawdy house "crammed up in the hollow part of a plaister of Paris image; a piece of rag was stuff'd in to keep it up" (September 1770) (t17700912-39). And in June 1773, searching for evidence of coin clipping, John Clarke saw three images on the mantelpiece of the accused Samuel Bennett "the middle was what they call an angel". The clipped gold was wrapped in paper, concealed in the image. Bennett, who denied that the images were his, was eventually acquitted (t17730626-67).

Fanny Hart was transported in 1775 after being found guilty of stealing property from Emmanuel Fernadez that included "a china image tipt with gold, value twenty shillings" (t17750531-61).

In April 1797, Henry Butler was sentenced to death for stealing a silver watch worth £3 that had "hung on a china image on the mantle-shelf" of Stephen Loosely, a butcher at Aldersgate Street (t17970426-22). On 13th July 1804, the landlady of The Mitre, in Aldgate, sold Thomas Bennett a half pint of porter. He gave her a shilling, which she laid "upon the mantelpiece, under an image". Having given him a sixpence and fourpence three-farthings change, she discovered that the shilling was "a very bad one"(t18040912-40).

There was an image shop in Rider's Court, Cranbourn Street in 1806 (t18061029-55) and another in Marylebone Street (t18061203-32).

When goods were pawned, the shop would provide a record that was sometimes called a "duplicate". These were often stored inside or beneath images, as in the September 1815 case of William Finlay, who hid his inside an image on the mantelpiece at his lodgings (t18150913-145), although his was for stolen property.

William Watson was sent to prison for six weeks in October 1824 for stealing an image worth two shillings (t18241028-65), while in June 1826 Mary Ann Elliott and Mary Harlow were found guilty of stealing an "earthenware image, valued at two shillings", from a shop on Oxford Street (t18260622-192).

An image of a "broken cow", one of five images that a girl in the public house had in a bundle "to ornament the taproom" of The Crown in Ratcliffe Highway, featured in a case in January 1830, when Richard James Price was found guilty of stealing six shirts and a handkerchief (t18300114-235).

George Lowton had put 17/6 "under a little image" on his mantelpiece, only to have it stolen by his lodger, James Rockwell, in February 1831 (t18310407-125). Later in 1831, Ann Clapton stole a necklace from Edwards Nelson. It had been "hung on an image, over the mantelpiece" (t18311201-273). Samuel Nesbitt kept five gilt sixpences wrapped in paper under an image on the mantelpiece (January 1833) (t18330103-79), while IsaacRussell kept a counterfeit half crown under an image on his mantelpiece (January 1835) (t18350105-430).

"Chimney ornaments"

The following, necessarily incomplete survey, focuses mostly on "chimney ornaments," "china" ornaments and "images" that were given monetary values:

In March 1800, five chimney ornaments amongst possessions stolen by burglar Richard Blakesley from a house in Haverstock Hill, St Pancras, were valued at £1, and two "china images" were valued at 6d. The china images were taken from "the beaufet" in the parlour – beaufet has been variously defined as a niche, cupboard or sideboard (Webster 1913). Blakesley was sentenced to death, but it seems the sentence was commuted3 (t18000528-1).

Edward Page valued the four chimney ornaments stolen from his Goswell Street (Finsbury) shop in January 1804 at 30 shillings, though the court disagreed, valuing them at 20 shillings. They had been on show in the widow of his pawnshop. The culprit, seventeen-year-old Thomas Lee, was fined a shilling and imprisoned for six months (t18040215-45).

The relative values of decorative objects might be suggested by a case in December 1815, in which 60 "glass ornaments" were valued at £4 (t18151206-113).

It was "great distress" that led Thomas Fox, 64, to steal five chimney ornaments from Benjamin Topham's hotel in St James's Street, in February 1818. The objects were valued at 5 shillings, and Fox was imprisoned for a month (t18180218-78).

A "set of chimney ornaments" was valued at 18 pence in December 1819 (t18191201-143) while "two chimney ornaments" were valued at two shillings in January 1822 (t18220109-37). In 1824 "two china images" were stolen from a Park Lane property. Their upper class origin is reflected in their value of five shillings (t18240218-24). This was in marked contrast to the twelve ornaments valued at three pence that Francis Gosling was accused of stealing in February 1825. (t18250217-58). A theft later that year from a garden summer house in Hoxton included three chimney ornaments worth one shilling (t18250915-75). Eight chimney ornaments stolen in December 1825 from Robert Williams, a labourer, who was lodging in Brighton Street, Grosvenor Square, were valued at four shillings. (t18251208-153).

William Richards, 19, denied stealing two chimney ornaments, valued five shillings, from Charles Robertson's sitting room in February 1827, saying that "a man came and put them in a gateway; I took them up". (t18270215-123). The ornaments having been found in his pocket, he was found guilty and imprisoned for one month. In May 1827 two chimney ornaments stolen from Potters Row, Cambridge Heath, were worth two shillings (t18270531-225). Sophia Mendoza was transported for seven years having been found guilty of stealing and pawning, amongst other things, seven chimney ornaments, valued at seven shillings (May 1828). Her defence that she'd been given them to pawn by the owner's wife when drunk was not believed (t18280529-170).

By December 1830, two earthenware ornaments were valued at only two pence. Nevertheless, Margaret Oddell, 25, was transported for seven years for their theft and that of a candlestick worth two shillings from her lodgings (t18301209-171).

A set of chimney ornaments stolen from surgeon Samuel Woodard in January 1831 was valued at £1 (t18310106-121). William Palmer was found guilty of stealing glass objects from his place of work, a glass lamp manufacturer (September 1832). They included six ornaments worth £1 and two bronze figures worth six shillings (t18320906-318). Having sold seven ivory figures worth four shillings to a schoolfellow at Bishopsgate Charity School for a halfpenny each, John Maulkinson, a 14-year-old errand boy, was found guilty of stealing them from David Hicks, his employer, "a turner and toy dealer." The boy claimed that he had stolen them to prevent his schoolfellow from beating him, one not being enough ("he gave me two or three punches to the head"). Maulkinson was "whipped and discharged" (t18320906-322).

November 1832, two china ornaments valued at one shilling (t18321129-130), September 1832, one image valued at two pence (t18320906-139); September 1833, two chimney ornaments worth five shillings (t18330905-99), October 1833, six Chinese ornaments valued at six shillings (t18331017-56).

Two of the three defendants accused in November 1833 of breaking and entering the home of St Pancras zinc manufacturer William Keyzer were sentenced to death, though again the sentence was not carried out. Amongst their haul were "several china ornaments" from the drawing room and "seven or eight china ornaments" from the rest of the house, together valued at £15 (t18331128-4).

Having unsuccessfully tried to hide two china mugs in his hat, James Flowers attempted to hide the four chimney ornaments, also referred to as "images", he stole from his employers in December 1833, in the straw in "the back place". The images were valued at nine shillings, though their owner told the court they could be sold for "seven shillings the pair" (t18340102-73). Flowers was imprisoned for three months.

April 1834, three chimney ornaments worth two shillings (t18340410-152), three china ornaments valued at 1/6 (t18340703-97). For stealing two images valued at 2 shillings six pence from pawnbroker Maria Newby of Drury Lane, George Robinson was sentenced in February 1835 to a year's imprisonment. Robinson told the court that because his eyesight was very poor, and being destitute, he decided "to be in prison for the remainder of my life, in order to be supported" (t18350202-515).

The three defendants were sentenced to death in November 1835 for breaking and entering a small cottage in Norwood owned by William Bryant, the keeper of the Horns Tavern in Kennington. Amongst the goods stolen were five ornaments valued at £2 (t18351123-2). Four china ornaments worth five shillings were stolen from "the mantelpiece of the front bedroom" along with a number of other possessions, when George Loscombe and John West broke into the home of Thomas Spiers in Lark Hall Lane, Lambeth in April 1836. The pair were transported for life (t18360509-1360).

Though most of the "images" discussed in this research were ceramic or plaster of Paris, they were also made of other materials. Two unfinished "brass images" worth £1/5/0 were stolen from brass-founder John Warner in November 1837 (t18370102-362). In January 1837 Alice Lewis stole a number of objects from her furnished lodgings including four ornaments worth 2/6 (t18370130-573). Her landlord at Stepney Causeway was a sail maker, and the case is interesting in that, as in a number of other cases, furnished lodgings included "images" and ornaments.

In January 1837, Thomas Rosevear stole a number of items, including three ornaments valued at two shillings from his master, an Edmonton shoemaker. The 13-year old told the court that "I was paid so low for my work I could hardly get my living—I could get a place in London, I knew, if I could get a few clothes; and therefore I got up in the morning and took these things" (t18370130-584).

Mary Ann Rupkins, who in August 1837 stole, amongst other things, an ornament worth 6 pence from her mistress explained that "I pawned this gown and shawl for food, as my mistress did not give me sufficient—I was kept up from six o'clock in the morning till one or two, till my mistress came home from the theatre" (t18370918-2073).

No fewer than 15 chimney ornaments , valued at 12 shillings, were amongst a number of objects stolen from their neighbour Robert Giles, a salesman, in Hedge Row Islington by George and Ellen Waters in 1837. The case is interesting in that the two households were separated merely by a painted-over window, between the Water's parlour and Giles's kitchen, and a trapdoor between Giles' kitchen and the Waters' bedroom. It seemed that the pair had been creeping into Giles' house through the trapdoor for some time. Giles had spied the missing articles when he rubbed away some of the paint from the window and peered into the Waters' parlour (t18371127-109).

That chimney ornaments were owned by high and low was demonstrated by a case in April 1838 when Mary and Rowland Dobie were found guilty of stealing from the Irish Earl of Charlemont. Amongst the stolen items found in their possession were two chimney ornaments worth two shillings (t18380402-1038). Both were transported for seven years.

Benjamin Hall, errand boy to jeweller John Sewell, stole items from his employer and took them home to his mother, Ann Hall (t18390408-1383). In an interesting exchange during the April 1839 hearing, it was asked "Was there any appearance of poverty in the mother's lodging?" "I should say a great deal, though there were many things about the room that did not belong to them—the mantle shelf and table were full of China ornaments".

The two pairs of ornaments worth 1/6 stolen from the china and glass shop of Jacob Bowling in St Pancras High Street on 1st June 1839 by Frederick Abbott ended up broken after a chase (t18390617-1826).

Francis Roberts tried desperately to jettison the possessions he'd stolen from Elizabeth Davis in April 1840 (t18400406-1214), throwing them away as he ran up Stanhope Street chased by Mrs Davis. His loot had included two china ornaments worth a shilling, which appear to have survived. Even houses of "ill fame" had ornaments, though not particularly valuable ones. Two, worth two pence, were mentioned in a September 1840 case (t18400914-2363) involving a drunken fracas that took place in Sun Court, King David Lane Shadwell.

Having been accused of stealing a number of objects, including four ornaments worth four shillings, from Isaac Day, who owned a beer shop in Greenwich Road (t18410104-559), John Oakley told the court that "in August, 1839, I was in Calcutta; I went raving mad, and was in the mad-house there; I was brought home to the London Dock in July last, and was given to the Thames police; I escaped, and got on board various ships, to try to get service; I was at the North Pole public-house, and this derangement came over me." His defence (the court was told that he had deserted from the army twice) was not accepted, and he was transported for seven years.

The hazards of letting out furnished accommodation were underlined in several cases. In November 1841 William Smith, 21, was transported for ten years, having been found guilty of stealing property from a rented room in Edwards Yard, Langham Place (t18411129-183). As well as cutting an oil painting from its frame and stealing bedding, Smith and his accomplice Mary Davis took two ornaments worth £1/5/0 from the front sitting room.

Nine chimney ornaments worth 1 shilling November 1841 (t18411129-233); April 1842, two ornaments worth six pence (t18420404-1204). Robert Beard:"I hope you will be merciful; I was under the influence of liquor; I have been in great distress of late." Three ornaments valued at one shilling February 1843 (t18430227-1010) stolen from master Mary Holland, 16, a servant paid 1/- a week. May 1843, two chimney ornaments valued at one shilling (t18430508-1649); February 1844, Samuel Mullett was found not guilty of stealing property, including four chimney ornaments (including two china greyhounds) valued at 15 shillings from Samuel Smith an omnibus proprietor (t18440205-751); March 1844, two china dogs valued at one shilling (t18440304-837) stolen from Somerstown shoemaker Peter Crocker; three china ornaments valued at 15 shillings stolen from the bar parlour mantelpiece of a beer shop in Burdet Street, Westminster Road, Lambeth, February 1846 (t18460223-779); July 1846, nine china ornaments worth ten shillings from the shop of William Perry, Cumberland Row Newington (t18460706-1479); a model of a church worth ten shillings, two pairs of ornaments August 1846 worth two shillings from a merchant's clerk living in Whitehorse Terrace (t18460817-1643); two china (chimney?) ornaments worth £1 and one chimney ornament worth 5 shillings from Henry Dewsbury, Upper Gore Kensington (t18460921-1930); June 1847, three mantelpiece ornaments valued at 6 pence stolen from Wilk Street Spitalfields (t18470614-1505); two bronzed ornaments valued at £2/5/0 from Joseph Muller a curiosity-dealer October 1848 (t18481023-2326).

Eleanor White, found not guilty February 1852 of the murder of her daughter lived in the front parlour of William Hathaway a French polisher Phoenix Place Somerstown (t18520202-254). Paid 2/3 per week, worked washing and charring "there were four chairs, a table, a box, a teakettle, a fender, a pair of tongs, a few ornaments, and a flock bed in the room"; (t18520405-393) April 1852 lodgers steal ornaments on mantelpiece; (t18570615-713) 15th June 1857 Harriet Bishop Ashby Street, St Pancras: "I had been out selling some fire ornaments, to help to get a living, for he had been out of work for a fortnight": Henry Ward Bishop: "we have been married fourteen years, to my sorrow; wherever I am at work this woman comes and annoys me" "I have been obliged to walk through the country over and over again through this woman, and no longer ago than last Thursday she said she would never sleep till she saw me out of the country".

May 1867 Stephen Samuel Wales Prince of Wales Crescent Haverstock Hill set fire to his home for insurance (t18670506-507) "the furniture was very good indeed—it was ordinary furniture—the stock consisted principally of clothes, chimney ornaments, bronze statuettes, a few watches, and a little mosaic jewellery".

July 1875 (t18750712-488) William Smith breaking and entering Kent House Villas, Lower Sydenham"the images which were in the drawing-room were figures of the four seasons—they were old Bow china, and—are worth 20l. a piece" "NATHANIEL BARNES . I am manager to Mr. Leo, pawnbroker, of 49, Stanhope Street—on Saturday, 15th May, the prisoner brought me four china figures which he wished to pledge for 10s.—I said "-Who do they belong to?"—he said they were given to his wife by her mother—I said "Well, what will you take for them?"—he said "What will you give for them?"—I said "I will give you 2l.—he gave the name of William—Smith, 63, Stanhope Street—the same day I saw them in the pawnbroker's list, and I gave information to the police—on 2nd June the prisoner came again with this figure (produced) and wanted me to buy it—I sent for the porter and gave him into custody".

October 1879 (t18791020-972) "I noticed that the ornaments on the mantelshelf had been recently removed, by dust marks where they had been, and also on the sideboard" "this doll and purse were found upstairs, and these three jugs and this brush in the kitchen—they are the same description of articles as we give away with our tea".

Last updated 1st February 2020

These notes appear as footnotes in the original text.

1Old Bailey reference numbers in brackets.

2All spelling and punctuation is as in the original.

3Death sentences were more often than not commuted: "Some 60% of those sentenced to death in the eighteenth century were pardoned, and this figure rose to over 90% in the 1830s" (Old Bailey Online)