Monday, May 05, 2014

Recent publications: violent drunks and overzealous cops

In recent(ish) months a couple of my essays have seen the light of academic day in a pair of fascinating collections.

The first actually came out at the beginning of the year: a chapter in a wide-ranging collection on Drink in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: Perspectives in Economic and Social History, edited by Susanne Schmid and Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp (Pickering and Chatto 2014).

My contribution is a re-focused and updated version of some of my older work on violence and crime in nineteenth-century England, titled 'Drinking, Fighting and Working-Class Sociability in Nineteenth-Century Britain' (the link will take you to the final draft of the essay at my page).

A brief excerpt:

A few nineteenth-century London trials suggest a similar pattern. At the skittle ground at ‘The Bell’ public house, Abraham Pomroy had been drinking with Richard Dukes and others for about three hours in June 1830. As a witness put it, ‘they were a little fresh, but they knew what they were doing’. At some point, ‘Pomroy took up a pot of beer, and stood before the skittle-ground to prevent their playing’. He then ‘threw the pot of beer across the ground, and bent the pot nearly double’. The dispute escalated: ‘Dukes said, “Don't throw that beer away, you did not pay for it”—Pomroy then said he had paid for as much as [Dukes]; Pomroy then gave [Dukes] a shove—they had a scuffle together, and they both fell.’  Pomroy died of internal bleeding caused by a fractured skull.

In October 1850, a fight broke out in ‘The Ship’ in Limehouse between James Northeast and William Arnold.  ‘A few words passed’ between Arnold and Northeast, who were both drunk. ‘The prisoner was rather in liquor’, said a witness, and ‘the deceased was intoxicated’. Arnold had provoked Northeast: ‘As soon as Arnold came in he began blackguarding, singing, and dancing, and making use of very bad language.’ (A witness described Arnold as ‘a very drunken dissipated little fellow’.) Northeast dragged Arnold into the street, striking him fatally. A surgeon testified that Arnold’s ‘concussion of the brain’ may have been ‘caused by a fall.’ ‘Drunken persons’, he added, ‘have a good many falls.’

The second essay, 'Public Opinion and the Rhetoric of Police Powers in 1920s Britain', deals with another aspect of the space-crime continuum and arises out of my research into a significant series of police scandals in 1920s Britain.

It appears in the collection Justice et Espaces Publics en Occident du Moyen Âge à Nos Jours: Pouvoirs, Publicité et Citoyenneté, edited by Pascal Bastien, Donald Fyson, Jean-Philippe Garneau and Thierry Nootens (Quebec: Presses de l'Université de Québec, 2014).

One of the thing I looked at in that research is the reaction of various kinds of newspapers to what was perceived (by some) as the excessive and intrusive policing of public morals in London's public parks.

The more conservative or populist press expressed itself similarly. The World’s Pictorial News referred to Hyde Park as “Spied Park” and observed, “the public might have a very British objection to Nosey Parker business”: “The spy, the sneak, the preventive agent, however successful from a crude detective point of view are abhorred by the people. Their methods can be summed up in the most expressive phrase as un-English period.”  The Times thought “something—it may be called the system or the atmosphere or the tradition of the War years—is ripe for revision”. The Sunday Pictorial viewed the plainclothes surveillance methods in Hyde Park cases as “repugnant to British instincts” and condemned the “officiousness and mild fanaticism” behind such policing . ...

Negative comparisons were often drawn with other countries. Labour MP Tom Johnston—while recounting Savidge’s charges in Parliament—said his party must “offer resolute and determined opposition to anything in the nature of the ‘Cheka’, a Turkish system, Star Chamber methods, or what was known in the United States of America as the Third Degree”. The United States was in fact the key counter-example for British policing in the early twentieth century. ...  Likewise, during the late 1920s police debates the Manchester Guardian stated, “there is nothing in the United States that corresponds to the old British attitude towards a person merely suspected of a crime”: in America, “the police seem to be regarded as possible oppressors of the public quite as often as they are saluted as its protectors. That is not our way in England”.

As usual, you'll find (reasonably) up-to-date publication lists and/or downloadable documents here and here.

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