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

The Sun-Spot Panic of 1816

‘This year has been a very uncommon one. The spring was exceeding cold and backward or rather there was no spring, the summer was cold and wet, or rather we had no summer. The crop was very bad and unproductive. The harvest was very late, the crop was not well got in’

Dairy of Thomas Lucas, Stirling, Scotland, 31 December 1816

When the vulgar and uneducated Georgian masses peered at the sun, what did they see? They saw a great ball of fire which provided daylight and warmth for all, and grew the food. Civilisation would end if the sun ever went out, and fires did go out; their vague recollection of Christian end-time stories told them that the the fading of the light would be the first sign of Armageddon.

Their betters, as their name implied, knew better. The Sun was no kind of fire, although they did struggle to explain how its energy was created. It was a star which revolved around its axis every twenty-four days (actually nearer twenty-seven). Its diameter was estimated at about 880,000 according to the Manchester Mercury and other papers (867, 000 in reality). It produced both heat and light, which people strongly believed were the same thing, but had not yet proved to everybody’s satisfaction. It was about 96 million miles from earth, it was estimated, and they were wrong by only a few million. It needs to be remembered that the (rich) Georgians were scientific!

The poor’s ignorance about the sun (nor indeed the knowledge of their social superiors) did not matter until the summer of 1816. Astronomers had been watching sunspots through telescopes for two hundred years, and the average English gentleman would have been able to assuage the fears of the masses from about 1750.

Sunspots became democratic in 1816; they were so numerous that they could be seen by all everybody with a piece of coloured glass as protection, and sometimes even without it on a hazy early morning (there were lots of them in 1816, another mystery). When they looked, the poor, who struggled to eat and did not buy a spyglasses or telescopes, drew different conclusions to the rich. The great moving blanknesses on the disc would put out the sun and the end of the word was nigh. There was a particular panic on July 18, 1816, the day when an Italian prophesied the end of the world. The Italian astronomer gave a few months notice  of the sun going out, and the newspapers all printed the same scoffing refutation.

A typical letter to the newspaper. Just the beginning, mind. They went on for ever.

The scare was easy to refute. The experts had all the facts.  The Morning Post on the very day that the sun was due to go out pointed out that the two summers of 1718 and 1719 were both the hottest on record and the last time there were so many sunspots. The year 1812 was spotless, and the weather and the harvest were calamitous. Most years had sunspots, and they could be tracked across the disc; they proved that the sun revolved around its axis. The sunspots were not lakes of water, or like a hole appearing in an old suit, suggesting the whole textile was worn.  ‘It would be useless to accumulate more facts to show that the spots on the sun ought not to create any uneasiness’, sniffed every newspaper in the land.

Frederick William Herschel, with the sun on his mind

This negative knowledge of sunspots was all they had. They did not know what sunspots were; Herschel’s view that they were solar mountains, some three hundred miles high, was treated with respect; some letters to the Gentleman’s Magazine suggested they were the shadows from other stars; but they did know that they could not make the sun go out.

The poor and ignorant were condemned out of hand by every amateur gentleman astrologer with a spyglass, but there was some justification for the concerns of the masses. The weather in Europe and North America had been appalling since the beginning of the year. Thomas Lucas of Stirling noted the events in his diary;

Several spots or holes in the sun has been observed by astronomers this summer and the summer has been uncommonly rainy but it is not pretended that the great and almost incessant rains that we have had of late is on that account.

Lucas was a surgeon, an educated middle-class man who knew the world was not ending, but his diary comment flagged up a real phenomenon. Something had gone wrong with the weather. It rained all of the time, temperatures were low, and the sky was dark and the seasons were not proceeding as they normally did. It was not only bad, but unpredictable beyond the experience of anybody living.  The Leicester Journal (July 1816) commented that ‘such inclement weather is scarcely remembered by the oldest person living’.  It was also cruel; spring brought repeated thaws and freezes, killing off the harvests and killing them again when replanted.  There was a dry yellow fog in the sky, which did not recede as the day warmed up, which made the sunspots easier to see, and to blame. You did not always need a piece of coloured glass; everybody could panic now.

Nobody really knew what was happening until the 1880s; the climate change was caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora a year earlier that caused a temporary lowering of the average temperature by about 1.5 percent, enough to cause a  climate catastrophe,  and is well documented. This was the ‘Year without a Summer’ in Britain and ‘Nine Hundred and Frozen to Death   in the USA’  

Chester Chronicle

The sun spots vanished in August and reappeared in September. They were even larger than those of June, and the world did not end then either. But this was definitely temporary climate change; it caused global starvation, including Britain, and increased pandemic diseases. Just imagine how bad permanent climate change would be?. Or is that ‘will be’?

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

Your 1816 Stagecoach Journey part three – Injury and Death.

By James Hobson ( @about1816)

There’s going to be death and serious injury on your 1816 stagecoach journey today. Yes, it will be you. We are not talking muscle strain, cuts and bruises when getting on and off, or the excessive heat and damp of the foetid metal box, or the damage cause by wind and rain if you are ‘on top’. This is about life- changing injury or life-ending death.

We are on board, and we are off, and you have ducked as you exited the stable yard of the coaching inn. Coaches have increased in height since the coaching inns were built. Everyone knows that one, and it is the only danger that the guard will warn you about. After this, you are on your own.

Your stagecoach- let’s call it the Quicksilver- looks absolutely fabulous, but it is an accident waiting to happen. The wheels are high, the luggage compartment is on the side and half way up, and the ‘on top’ passengers are eight foot in the air. It is ridiculously top heavy. Did the stagecoach operators know this? Yes they did, but they did nothing. It is not because they had spent money on the vehicles, as they are mostly leased, but because a coach with a low centre of gravity would be ugly, wide and squat, with luggage so near the ground that it would be dirtied and dusted by the roads. It was designed by the marketing department, not the health and safety one; indeed the latter did not exist.

How is your accident going to happen? There are two pieces of good news. One thing not to worry about is the head-on collision. People drive on the left-it was a social convention (until made law in 1834) , but for obvious reason it is popular-and you are the biggest thing on the road. The lamps are at the front, not the side, so coaches can see each other coming. Some routes are so reliable that coaches even know when another one is approaching them in the opposite direction.

Uphill- slow but safe

Secondly, your stagecoach will probably manage that tight corner despite its design, because both the driver and the horses have done it many times before, and the horses will not be full of alcohol and bravado.  Yes, your driver has been drinking, but then so have you, with that purl (ale, gin, sugar and spices) first thing in the morning. This is the Regency. Everybody has been drinking.

Your accident will be caused by your stagecoach stopping suddenly due to, in order, mechanical failure, reckless driving, obstacles on the road(including a poorly constructed one) or poor visibility caused by fog.

Wheels and axels are the weak point. If the lynchpin fell off, then the wheel would follow at the next sharp turn. Failure to grease the moving parts that came into contact with each other would lead to fires. Coaches were checked by those at the inn when horse was changed. They had neither time to do it properly or a vested interested in getting in right, as they were not the passengers and their lives did not depend on it.

If anything interfered with the horses, there would be problems. Stagecoaches had no brakes, and two of the four horses- the ‘wheelers’ – were trained to bring it to a halt. If they were spooked or injured, then the even the most experienced driver was powerless. If something went wrong, and the passengers panic, then the horse will do the same.

So now it is time for your accident. It is a much simpler one – you hit something on the road. Your coach is being driven too fast; it ploughs into something on the ground. If it’s in a city, it is a pile of horse manure a smooth road; if the country, it was a pile of soil pushed on the road by a flood.

Accidents were often regarded as a joke

Are you on top or in the box?  If you are on top, you will be thrown off, even if you had a second to anticipate the crash. If you are front facing, you may be thrown in front of the horses, who may well trample you to death. Moments afterwards the event they will rear up and lurch forward, with obvious implications if you have fallen in front of them. When faced with an accident, the experienced driver or guard would cut the horse free even before attending to the passengers.

Hertford Mercury and Reformer –  6 October 1835

If you are thrown out in any other way, a lottery follows. There could be good news if you are travelling on country roads with no fences, trees, and gravel to smash yourself against. In the town or city, the prospects are worse. You will remember that story of a coach overturn in Brighton when a man ‘of the Hebrew persuasion’ (as Georgian newspapers never failed to mention) impaled himself on the railings at the Steine. If you fell onto the rough stones that passed as road repairs, your will never be recognised again. You may smash your face, or jaw or your skull; each is more fatal than the last.

And if you  are inside? Well, don’t console yourself that you won’t be thrown about. You will move at the same velocity as those outside, but hit something a lot sooner. You have no seat belt or air bag, while those up top would be gripping something; you might even be going faster!  You will hit, in order or preference, a soft-bodied fat gentlemen, a cushioned wall, the door, or something attached to the inside of the coach. If a guard has left his copper horn attached the wall with a nail, and it smashes into your skull, you will be red head- for the rest of your life (or you could have the metal picked out of your bones in a hospital).

The glass in the windows will have smashed into shards, and if you do not fight the natural inclination to push down the panes to make an escape, then you will become your own guillotine. If you crawl out of a half opened window and the coach drops down as you do it, it will not just be your hands that get cut off.

If you have broken an arm of a leg you will need to go first to the local inn, and then to a hospital or surgeon. If they amputate, you may die a few days later of shock or blood poisoning. If you fracture your skull, you will never get further than the local inn and the newspapers will report that you ‘languished for hours’, which is shorthand for a lingering and painful death.

With the dead and injured all around, how will the survivors and the wider public react? They will be upset. What a melancholy incident!, they would say, and then they would move on, literally and metaphorically. The local newspaper would report the incident, unless they could be bribed or pressurized by the inn keepers and coach operators to keep quiet. They did this to protect their commercial reputation and not because they feared government action or claims for compensation.  Until 1846, any fines for injuring people went to the Crown and not the individual.

If today you live in a nanny state, or constrained by ‘elf and safety’, be thankful.

Part one and part two of this story are available.

My books are below.

PassengersMy blog and publisher’s details

Dark Days of Georgian BritainMy blog and publisher’s details