Forging Money in the Regency- the sad case of John Binstead, 1815

On June 26, 1815, a young man from Sussex, John Binstead, entered a hosiery shop in Friday Street, Cheapside. Binstead was not alone; he had a companion, who was watching events from the back of the shop. Binstead examined the stock of socks, boots, gloves and coats. The owner, Robert Romanis explained that Binstead ‘came to my house, and purchased some goods from William Must, a person in my shop’- many London retailers, even upmarket ones like Romanis, lived on the premises, and the shop/warehouse/ home distinction was less clear in the regency than today. The goods cost £4 7 shillings and Binstead offered a banknote for £10, drawn on the Chichester bank of Ridge, Murray and Ridge, known as the Chichester Old Bank.

Until recently, paying with paper was common in our society, but in 1815 this apparently inoffensive habit was relatively new. This type of transaction was still quite novel in Regency England. Paper had replaced gold for transactions through an act of parliament of 1797 which took Britain off the gold standard and obligated more people to use paper.

A genuine banknote; could be forged with materials found in city street

The problem was its authenticity. Was it a forgery? Mr Romanis would have done a rapid calculation in his head. On the plus side, this was a learned young gentleman, who was spending his ‘money’ at the most upmarket hosier in Cheapside, who sold to both individuals and trade, including the East India Company. Most utterers of forged notes were women, who would appear at grocers or haberdashers and try to charm their way into having their notes accepted in exchange for small items and change in real currency. The other argument in his favour was that this was a £10 note. The poor could not be seen with them without creating instant and justified suspicion, but the large denomination notes were different. Most forgeries were £1 or £2 notes, which criminals actually preferred.

This crowning argument was when one of Romanis’s assistants whispered in his ear that he knew one of the gentlemen, presumably the one lingering in the background. The transaction was completed. Binstead was asked to endorse the cheque and provide ID by writing his name and address on the back of the piece of paper. He did so by adding a lie ‘Henderson, 16, Great Portland-street’- a prestigious address, deliberately chosen to create confidence

What did Romanis receive for his physical goods?  It was a mostly handwritten piece of paper with these reassuring words on.

“N. e, 1765,  Chichester Old Bank.

“I Promise to pay the bearer, on demand, Ten Pounds, here, or at Messrs. William, S. Fry, and Sons, bankers, London, value received. Chichester , the 16th day of February, 1815.

The fact that the cheque was drawn on a provincial bank would not have been a problem, as the cheque could be redeemed in London by a partner bank, in this case Fry’s . Romanis went there the next morning and was told that it was a forgery. One of its servants said this at the Old Bailey Trial.

WILLIAM DINMORE . I belong to the house of Fry and Co. bankers. The Chichester Old Bank notes are paid at our house. Mr. Murray signs notes for the house drawn upon us. The signature of this note is not his signature. This is not a Chichester note.

Romanis then visited Great Portland Street, and every other London street with the word ‘Portland in it’, but with highly predictable results.

Romanis then accompanied Thomas Fogg, a marshal man of the City of London to Arundel in Sussex where they tracked down Binstead to a local inn. He admitted his guilt and threw himself on to their mercy. It is not clear how they tracked him down; it seems to have been connected to the fact that the other person was known to the shop assistant; this is perhaps why they went to Arundel to find him rather than Chichester.

Binstead was not a typical forger and utterer of banknotes. For a start, he did both of the crimes himself and secondly, made no attempt to defend himself against a capital crime. The most remarkable difference was his method of making the notes. Forgeries were produced by criminal gangs who only needed the most basic of engraving tool to make a banknote. The equipment and the paper could be bought in any street. Sometimes individuals could make banknotes in their own homes by scratching out an outline on a piece of tin. Binstead had gone one step further and actually drawn the notes – he was a drawing teacher by trade, and a gifted one too, as he had fooled the Star Inn Gosport to take one, as well as Robert Romanis. He had made the monochrome note with a camel hair brush and some pencils. He admitted to making about £100 worth of notes (not necessarily of £10; notes could be drawn for any amount) and uttering them successfully.

He was sentenced to hang.  He was now on death row, awaiting his verdict. He still had reason to hope. Most death penalties, for any crime stood a good chance of not being carried out. He had been totally cooperative; he took the police officer to Chichester to showed him the brushes that he had used to draw his money. Five respectable witnesses had given Binstead a most excellent character for honesty, sobriety, and integrity, and the Chichester bankers Mr Ridge himself asked for mercy, because of Binstead’s  youth and good character.

From 13 September to 26 November he waited and hoped. On the next day the man whose trial came after his, John Elmes, who had passed a £10 note in London around the same time had his death penalty reduced to twenty-one years transportation. Binstead, however, was sentenced to be hanged until dead outside Newgate Prison. In the terminology of the Georgian Bloody code, it was to be a ‘simple execution’

A Newgate hanging

Why had he been selected? Well, there was no more invidious property crime that subverting the currency- technically it was treason. In 1815 there was a relatively low number of 58 executions in England and Wales (1814-74; 1816- 83). There were six for forgery and four for uttering, so currency crime made up 17% of all executions. Extreme deterrence was needed now and then, and Binstead fitted the bill. He was both an utterer and a forger. His accomplice had never been caught, and Binstead may have been deemed uncooperative in tracking him down. He had also made a lot of banknotes, and showed promising signs of getting away with it. He was too clever to be allowed to live.

Poor Binstead must have suffered. His defence at the trial was that he did not know they were forged, a comment completely contrary to everything else he said and did. He must have been crumbling. His failure to grass up Mr Jordane would have saved his own neck, and one plausible answer was that he simply did not know where Jordane was.

Cotton in action- the man in white, appropriately

He had eight days to wait for his hanging and during that time he came under the scrutiny of the gaol’s ‘ordinary’ (resident chaplain) Horace Cotton ( more about him here and below ). Cotton’s task was to help the condemned man’s launch into eternity to be as respectable as possible. This would start with a bloodcurdling sermon about the wages of sin the day before and then the chance to die well, with humility and resignation and without the fear of death. Binstead passed the test, spending the final night in prayer and contemplation with the house robber who was condemned with him. His only request that, after death, that his hands might not be applied to persons who came to be rubbed for the wen’ – a skin disease.

On December 5, 1815, Binstead was hanged outside the debtor’s gate at Newgate, cleanly and efficiently, but certainly a victim of the inconsistent and vengeful system that punished randomly and viciously because it could do nothing else.

A Protest against the Death penalty for forgery, signed by the hangman, Jack Ketch, produced by William Hone

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Please consider my two books on the Georgian and Victorian Era

The Dark Days of Georgian Britain– a political and social history of the Regency. More details here

Passengers – a social history of Britain 1780-1840 told through travel, transport, roads and hospitality. More details here

A Criminal Pub in Regency London-the Blue Lion, Grey’s Inn Road.

 

Was the Blue Lion, Grey’s Inn Road, known by the locals as the Blue Cat because of the utterly unconvincing inn sign, 1 the worst pub in late Georgian London?  Well, the short answer seems to be no- it was the third worst. In 1816, the House of Commons, increasingly panicked by the state of law and order in the metropolis, organised an investigation and took evidence from William Fielding, Justice of the Peace and father of Henry Fielding the author and crime fighter. The subject was the most criminal public houses in London in the last twenty years. The Blue Lion was one of the contenders- the Dog and Duck, and the Temple of Apollo had dishonourable mentions, but the Lion was third, and it was especially mentioned that it had been a terrible place for more than twenty years.

We know that this is not an exaggeration, although we have to rely on the memoirs of a criminal confidence trickster to prove it. In around 1798, it was the haunt of James Hardy Vaux, an ultra confident minor criminal who spent his evenings silently watching the immoral lower classes plot and carouse. He was fifteen. Hundreds dated their ruin from this pub, said Vaux. It was full of ‘thieves, sharpers and other desperate characters with their doxies’. He sat in the corner smoking a pipe and listened to their increasingly understandable criminal conversation, but not interacting with them.  Later he wrote a book based on his interactions with criminals; the fact that we know the criminal slang of the late Georgian era is down to the inhabitants of this famous public house and the unusual literacy of the criminal Vaux.2

Details (Amazon)

A little like today, it was the immediate environs of the pub that were the most dangerous, not the inside of the building itself. Violent robberies could not be committed without risk on the people in the pub; it was the unwary street traveller who was the main victim. Prostitutes worked inside and outside the pub, but mostly outside. Stolen goods could be fenced in any low public house, but there were plenty of pawn shops in Holborn that would take luxury goods, no questions asked. The Blue Lion may have been a refuge for criminals, but the crime spilt out elsewhere, all over Georgian London. The pub was a home to criminals rather than a home for crime.

 Another set of specialised thieves made the Lion their home now and then. One Sunday in 1812, the criminal Joseph Naples made a note in his diary;

Went Look out at Blue Ln. &c. did not go out Jack Bill & Tom Drunk the reason as Ben said for not going out.

A ‘look out’ was  a search to spot burials, and there was indeed a burial ground next to the Blue Lion, St Andrews graveyard. Naples and his friends were cold hearted grave robbers and would have felt at home in their local hostelry, although, as their diary shows, they robbed corpses from many places in their manor.

So fencing, robbery, and prostitution were the top three crimes, but the boundaries were fluid because the same people were committing all of them, and much of the action would take place in one of the passages and dead ends around the pub. This is where the Reverend Harris was frisked, mobbed and robbed by prostitutes at 7pm on an evening in mid November 1817. It had been dark for two hours, and the reverend took a shortcut through the most insalubrious part of London. Two ladies of the night pushed him into an alley and he gave them sixpence each to leave home alone. Now knowing now that he had more than a shilling on him, they followed him, embraced him again to have a feel of his financial assets and robbed him of bank notes and seventeen shillings in silver.

The silver would have been very welcome, but the banknotes would need experts to dispose of them- they would have been drawn by an individual who would have noted the number and could cancel it quickly, and/or would have contained the name of people who endorsed it later, creating an unfortunate paper trial for anybody trying to use them. The girls probably did not have the connections to deal with the notes themselves, but they would not have had to look too far for criminal expertise. It may not have been in the Blue Lion; there were lots of other places.

On a non-sensationalist note, it must be remembered that hundreds, if not thousands of people would have negotiated these streets without being attacked. My research noted six robberies in the decade 1811-1820-not really a crime wave. Our first victim, the reverend Harris, hailed from Battlebridge, which may sound like a rustic village in Kent or Sussex, but it was the old name for King’s Cross, and he would have known of where he walked, and the streets of Battlebridge were certainly no safer.

The Blue Lion is on Grey’s Inn Road, next to the burial ground

The area around the Blue Lion was perhaps more dangerous than average, however. There were fields nearby, and the passages were easily blocked at both ends, making ambush and robbery quite easy. Three seemed to have been the magic number when it came to robbery. When law stationer William Carr walked past the pub at eleven in the evening on a November night in 1822, he was accosted by a man and two women who stole a handkerchief (value 5 shilling)   and then ran away into the fields. Rather than put his loss down to experience, he chased them. This was a mistake;

Bell’s Weekly Messenger   November 10, 1822

This was clearly a set up. Mr Carr was naïve, but sensible enough to call the local police patrol, who found the unimaginative thieves in the next-but- one nearest public house to the scene of the crime.

So, footpads like these infested the area. They were little like highwayman, but without the myths that attached to them; lacking a horse as a fast getaway, and not being able to exploit the fact that their potential victims were confined in a metal box, instead their method was to use extreme violence to scare the victim into submission and make them think twice about any subsequent appeal to the authorities. When both murder and robbery could attract the same death sentence, this brutality made perfect sense.

It is clear that many crimes would not have been recorded because of the robbers’ threats or the fatalistic belief that the authorities would not retrieve their goods. Often it was better to advertise in the newspaper.

Some other examples; in 1810, Mr William Hill, poulterer, was robbed at double gunpoint by two ‘stout Irishman’ with a pistol to his mouth and left ear – ‘he gave them all the cash he had and they made off’ said the Star (20.10. 1810). Sensible man!. In 1813 a ‘Heniker  Bantley’ was brought up for robbing a Mr Hall of a gold watch, gold chain, gold seal, silver snuff box and silver spectacles.  He had two criminal compatriots to avoid it being a fair fight.

The area was also a base for house thieves; one event it in 1814 gives an usual insight into their modus operandi by listing their equipment.

2 July 1814 Public Ledger and Advertiser.

Our next robbery victim was the only one who actually visited the pub. Mr J Brockwell, a legal clerk had been there since 11pm and walked home in the fields towards Bagnigge Wells, believing that he was the only person who knew that he had £200 pounds in his coat. The favoured numbered of three footpads beat him up, took his money and left him for nearly dead.

This was not the end of the story. A week later, a group of drunken women turned up at  Mr Kirks Ham and Beef Shop in Bath Street and throw loads amount of gold and silver coins around. The constable was called and some stolen notes were found in their pockets, with a note endorsed by a William Goodwin. This paper trail led the authorities to the original robbery of Mr Brockwell. These notes should have been processed through a criminal network rather than stuffed in the pockets of the locals. Popping into the Lion did not seem to occur to them.

The only known case of crime inside the pub was in 1822 when a man called Marsden, was found guilty of buying four forged one pound notes for twenty-five shilling in coin. This was a far more serious crime than fencing, and one which attracted the death penalty, which was the sentence in this case. It was probably never carried out- it hasn’t been checked- as these overinflated, then commuted draconian sentences were part of the grotesque pantomime of Georgian justice, holding people in fear of a system that was cruel but deliberately inconsistent, so the poor knew where the power lay.

The same year saw the beginning of the end for the Bloody Code of draconian punishments and the end of the Georgian crime wave. The truth is that things had been slowly getting better anyway. When William Fielding complained about the Blue Lion in 1816 he was looking backwards. The state was now investigating in places that were left alone twenty years earlier.  The same Mr Read of the Hatton Garden Police who helped Mr Carr must have been keeping an eye on the pub. A month earlier, Read had visited the pub and arrested seven women for soliciting outside the Blue Lion; a remarkable four claimed to be called Sarah.  The criminal still had places to hide, and the Blue Lion was a more popular place than most, but now that the state was chasing them, it was more difficult to be notorious.  

1 Thornbury, G. W (1881)   Old and New London

2 Vaux,  J.D           A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language ( 1819)

Please consider my books on the Georgian and Victorian Era

The Dark Days of Georgian Britain– a political and social history of the Regency. More details here

Passengers – a social history of Britain 1780-1840 told through travel, transport, roads and hospitality. More details here

Radical Victorians – the clue is in the title, but it concentrates on reformers who remained mostly unappreciated in their life time

Voices of the Georgian Age– the social history of 1720-1820 Britain told through the stories of 17 very different individuals. Amazon link

An Apology for Justice in the Regency; humiliation of the poor in the newspapers.

What was Leeds cloth merchant Lepton Dobson going to do about it? It wasn’t a serious crime, but he couldn’t just let it go, could he? What would his neighbours think… and he had quite new neighbours, as well, and they needed to be impressed.  It was 1813; he and his brother George had purchased a lovely house and workshop in Park Square, Leeds. It had only been completed a few years early, and it was the address for the up and coming merchant classes who needed to be near the centre of commercial action but away from the rough slums and the rough people.

Park Square, Leeds

Then, late one night, the rough people came to him. Arriving  home one  Saturday night in October 1813, he heard noises in the house. Were these thieves? It was after dark; the crime was more serious in law at night and he could expect violent resistance if he confronted the robbers, with the punishments for the two crimes being so similar in severity that violence was worth the risk. 

The noise was coming from his servant’s room; James Crossland was there with three other men; they were eating his food and drinking his beer, and now that they had heard him, they were hiding. Peter Crossland, clothier (and presumably relative), John Porter, bricklayer and the marvellously named Marmaduke Spencer, cobbler were the guilty parties. They were essentially stealing his property in the same way as any thief, except that they carried it away in their stomach.

Lepton needed to prosecute to save his reputation as a man whose property could not be stolen without consequences. However, he did not prosecute; he did this instead.

Its hard to read, but you can get the gist

‘late servant …secreted in my lodging room…taken into custody…kindly consented to proceed no further against me…’

James Crossland was dragged to the Chief Constable and threatened with prosecution. However, there was a problem. The state did not prosecute for crimes such as this; it would have been a private prosecution that would have cost Lepton Dobson money. The Department of Public Prosecution did not come into existence until 1880; in the regency, and for much latter, such prosecutions were seen as a private, rather than public interest.

First, he sacked James Crossland. This was a given. Servants had a reputation for consorting with criminals and allowing them in the house to steal. This was more or less what had happened here. Mr Dobson made him pay £2 as a charitable donation to the Leeds Infirmary, and thirdly, he had to put a grovelling letter of apology in all of the Leeds newspapers (I have found it in the Leeds Intelligencer and the Leeds Mercury) at his own expense.  An advertisement in a provincial paper at this date would be 5 shillings (25p); none of these men would earn more than £1 a week, at most. It was a severe punishment in itself.

The three uninvited guest had to do the same.

Once again, this was heavy stuff. It was witnessed by the chief constable, and it was clear that prosecution would have followed without a   public apology. All of these men were literate (when similar ‘PARDON ASKED’ advertisements were put in the paper, there would be an ‘x’ and ‘his mark’ against those who could not write). Most men of this class seemed to be illiterate, which poses the question- who was meant to read these apologies?

Dobson and those of his class would have read this – it was on the front page- and it would have been reassuring to Dobson’s family and those who did business with him- but how well would it work  as warning to the lower classes not to eat rich people’s food? On one level it was worth it, as it would not have been done if it wasn’t- but the working classes would have got the message- those who could not read would have heard the gossip from people reading out newspapers in public houses.

Did Dobson do this to save money? That is doubtful; he was a substantial businessman by 1813, he could have afforded it. He did not rush to prosecution, and this was not uncommon in the Regency. There were regular apologies in the Regency newspapers, but the crimes were usually much worse than this- slander, poaching, assaulting women, dangerous driving; the probable truth was that Mr Dobson was actually being harsh rather than generous; he was letting nothing go. There is more evidence of this. In 1817, while the poor of Leeds starved, Mr Dobson signed an open letter proclaiming his loyalty to the constitution and the government; he also put advertisements in the paper asking for information about textiles that had been stolen, which was a capital crime.

1818

The same Mr Dobson, it can be seen, forced a donation to the Leeds Infirmary from James Crossland; Dobson had a history of charity. As he became more famous (He was mayor of Leeds in 1821 and an alderman afterwards) he devoted time and money to the Leeds Infirmary himself.  He could be generous to people were the deserving sick; but not those stealing his bread and beer  

In October 1828, Lepton and his brother George were declared bankrupt; the details were put in the newspaper for all to see.

Please consider my book, which is very much in the spirit of this blog. If you like the blog, you will like the book

More details here (brief) and here ( longer)

The Sweet Stink of the Georgian Dead

61l1BkkmGRL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Georgians were obsessed with clean air, which was not surprising as there was so little of it about.

There were bad smells- ‘effluvium’- everywhere. The most offensive were decomposing animals on the street, in the rubbish heaps, or at the slaughterhouse. These hazards to health were well known, and did not only extend to animals; the other health hazard was the decomposition of human remains buried a few feet into the ground in the graveyards of parish churches that could not cope with the explosion of birth in the late eighteenth century, and the concommitment blooming of death a generation later.

This problem was known, but not solved, in the Georgian period. It was the Victorian social reformers that dealt with the problem of the overstuffed graveyard, but the Georgians did go as far as to worry  about it a little.

Experts gave out warnings. Joseph Taylor’s The Danger of Premature Interment (1816) condemned the use of overfull graveyards; but reserved special scorn for the burial of corpses indoors in large, damp, unventilated buildings, where windows were never opened and fires were never lit, that were occupied very rarely during the week, but often full when it was in use – that is, a church. There was nothing sacred about this, he said. No other civilisation – ancient Rome or Greece, modern Jewish or Islamic, did such a dangerous thing. Only the most conscientious cleric would meet the corpse at the lych-gate if it had died of fever. The only thing that prevented  a disease disaster was that the church and cathedral were not heated.

Dr Buchan in his widely read Domestic Medicine condemned large, crowded funerals. Infections, especially fevers, did not die with the patient. If you attended the funeral of somebody who had been lain on a bier from a week in a crowded house, there was a chance that you would die of the same thing they did. The poor and desperate would often be in danger from the recycling of the dead person’s clothes, so it was thought.

The rich and famous had to wait even longer to go to their grave. In 1805, the Duke of Gloucester has been lying in his lead-lined coffin for five days; delayed by the desire for intricate decoration of the outer one. As he was about to be lifted in, the effluvia was obvious, caused by the smallest of cracks in the lead. The ‘two-coffin’ solution  for the rich was designed to solve this problem of offensive decomposition during the long drawn-out ceremonies, and mostly did; however, in the average parish graveyard, it was common for gravediggers to smash through earlier burials, or for the sexton to check the ground beforehand to make sure it was empty. Graveyards were full; but the desire to treat the consequences as a social rather than a religious problem were not present.

Some Georgians were defending unhealthy burial practice until the end. William Reader defending burials in church in 1830, pointed out that a building with secure foundations and large ventilated upper stories could deal with the inconvenience. Lead Coffins for all would solve the problem, he thought, although metal-lined coffins actually slowed down decomposition. The fact that Jews and Muslims did something different was turned on its head- perhaps they were wrong, like they were on other things?This was Reader’s conclusion;

But the custom renders our solemn assemblies more venerable and awful for when we walk over the dust of our friends or kneel upon the ashes of our relations this …must strike a lively impression of our own mortality and what consideration can he more effectual to make us serious and attentive to our religious duties

Your ancestral dead were performing one last function for you, according to Reader, and perhaps he had a point about the degree of danger. The mould on the walls of an unheated old church probably caused more death and suffering than the bodies buried beneath.

It was horrible, but the threat to health of buried corpses was overestimated. Noxious effusions from the lungs of the living where a much bigger problem, and in many parts of newly industrialising Britain, a row of slums smelly worse than a cemetery. There were occasional horror stories in the newspapers. Sextons were being poisoned when the tapped a vault to release noxious gases, which had to be done in the first months after death to avoid explosions. Cleaners who had found a decomposing body in the bottom of a well and had died breathing in their effluvia; body snatchers who had been directed to the wrong grave and opened up the wrong one; deaths in households were a murdered body had been hidden or a funeral that took too long to organise.

Nothing serious was done about the problem until the 1840s. The Georgians did not have the benefit of the germ theory of disease, and relied in the belief that bad air in itself caused disease. When improvements were made in public health, it was the smell that motivated reformers- ‘All smell is disease’ said Edwin Chadwick, and introduced effective reforms on the basis of a wrong analysis. It was hard to a prove scientifically that ineffective burials caused anything more than inconvenience, and some scientists disagreed with Chadwick; some suggested that liquefying corpses could pollute water courses, but the evidence was not conclusive but was believed. You could not see germs with your eye, but your nose could smell decay, which was fortuitous.

L0025698 G.A. Walker, Lectures on the metropolitan grave-yards.

In 1823, the Enon Chapel (above) was built near the Strand which consisted of a place of worship/ social space above, and palace of burial below, separated by now more than a floorboard. The problem of the Enon Chapel was not solved until the 1840s; for the previous twenty years, large numbers of cheap unregulated burials meant that at least 12,000 corpses were crammed in. Customers who used it as dance hall could taste something nasty on their sandwiches and worshippers took to ‘praising the Lord with a handkerchief pressed to their nostrils’*

*Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight against Filth by Lee Jackson

 

Please consider my two books on the Georgian and Victorian Era

The Dark Days of Georgian Britain– a political and social history of the Regency. More details here

Passengers – a social history of Britain 1780-1840 told through travel, transport, roads and hospitality. More details here

Radical Victorians includes a chapter on cremation, and deals with eighteen other advanced thinkers of the Victorian era. More details here  

Voices of the Georgian Age- out early 2023. Amazon link here