WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24, 1888
At the Vestry Hall of St. George-in-the-East yesterday, Mr. Wynne Baxter, coroner for East Middlesex, resumed the inquest concerning the death of Elizabeth Stride, who, early on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 30, was found with her throat cut in a yard adjoining the International Working Men's Club, Berner-street, Commercial-road East.
Detective-Inspector Reid deposed that since the last sitting he had found in the books of the Poplar and Stepney Sick Asylum at Bromley an entry recording the death of John Thomas Stride, carpenter, of Poplar, on Oct. 4, 1884.
Walter Stride, constable 385 W, stated that he had seen the photograph of the deceased, and recognised it as that of the woman who was married to his uncle, John Thomas Stride, a carpenter, either in 1872 or 1873. They lived in East India Dock-road the last time he saw them, which was soon after their marriage.
Mrs. Elizabeth Stokes, who shed tears bitterly, said: I live at 5, Charles-street, Tottenham, and am the wife of Joseph Stokes, a brickmaker. I was first married to Mr. Watts, a wine merchant, of Bath. Mrs. Mary Malcolm, of 50, Red Lion-square, Eagle-street, Holborn, who gave evidence early in this inquiry, is my sister. Her testimony is all false. I have not seen her for years, and it is untrue that she allowed me 2s per week for five years.
A juror suggested whether Mrs. Malcolm could have referred to another sister.
Inspector Reid thought not, because Mrs. Malcolm identified the deceased as a person with crippled feet, and Mrs. Stokes had crippled feet.
Mrs. Stokes (excitedly): She knows me well enough, and my crippled feet could not pass away in death, as she suggested might be the case. Her evidence was infamy and lies, and I am sorry that I have a sister who can tell such dreadful falsehoods. She has put me, a poor woman, to terrible trial, and I want to know if she is to be allowed to take my character away in such a cruel manner. She said that I had been the curse of many families.
The Coroner: I think that will do, Mrs. Stokes. Is Mrs. Malcolm present?
Inspector Reid: No, sir, and that is all the evidence I can produce.
The coroner having summed up, the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.
Mr. Wynne Baxter yesterday concluded the inquest concerning the death of Elizabeth Stride, who was found murdered in Berner-street, Whitechapel, early on Sunday morning, the 30th ult. Evidence was given to show that the testimony given at a former stage of the inquiry by a Mrs. Malcolm, to the effect that the deceased was her sister, and the wife of a wine merchant at Bath, was entirely false. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.
It may be said of the London costermongers that, like the poor, they are always with us, and that they are a constant source of vexation of spirit to the parochial authorities. There is, however, this appreciable difference between the street-sellers and the recipients of indoor and outdoor relief, that the former, although normally indigent, are not paupers, and do their best, in the face of many difficulties, to earn an honest livelihood. It is, nevertheless, extremely difficult to eliminate from the parochial mind the idea that there is little to choose between a costermonger and a vagrant, and that the best way towards ameliorating his condition is to improve him off the face of the land altogether. Such an utterly erroneous doctrine would appear to be extremely prevalent in the parish of Bethnal-green, to judge at least from certain proceedings at Worship-street, where, on Monday, the parochial sanitary inspector and street-keeper was summoned by a costermonger for the wrongful detention of his barrow. The case arose out of the desire of the parish to clear the streets of costermongers after eleven o'clock on Sunday mornings. This street traffic has been tolerated for at least five-and-twenty years, but the vestry have tardily awakened to the fact that Sunday trading during church hours is an iniquity and must be put down. Some years ago the Board of Works of the Holborn district, in their zeal for enforcing the due observance of the Sabbath, ventured on the heroic measure of bringing watering-carts into Leather-lane on Sunday morning and drenching the wares of the costermongers with diluted carbolic acid. The proceedings in Bethnal-green seem to be of a somewhat milder nature, the chief mode of coercion employed being to pounce on the costermongers' barrows unawares and sequestrate them at the green-yard. The complaining street-vendor had left his barrow and board unattended while he went to pay a neighbouring publican a small sum in which he was indebted to him. On his return he found, to his dismay, that the street-keeper, like the Assyrian of old, had come down like a wolf on the fold, or rather on the deserted barrow, which that official declined to surrender, and which was solemnly wheeled to the green-yard. Next morning the costermonger proceeded to the area of tribulation and demanded his property. The street-keeper was not "on hand," and the poor costermonger was coolly told that he could not have his barrow until the ensuing Thursday. Thereupon the man very fairly put it to the green-yard people that the continued embargo on his barrow, the use of which enabled him to get his living, was equivalent to a sentence of semi-starvation on himself, his wife, and children; but, according to his statement, the employés of the vestry replied, "Well, let them starve." It is to be hoped that there is some exaggeration in this assertion, for it is almost incredible that such brutal heartlessness should have been exhibited by men who know well enough how hard is the costermonger's life, and to what a large extent he must depend on his barrow or shallow for the means of earning his daily bread.
On the Thursday the complainant again proceeded to the green-yard, when the, to him, exorbitant sum of five shillings was demanded as a "yard fee." It is not surprising to learn that, as the complainant had not been able to go about selling his wares, he could not pay the two half-crowns asked for; so the barrow remained impounded, and the costermonger very justly took out a summons against the street-keeper. This functionary, however, had the high and mighty parish at his back, and the clerk to the vestry came down armed to the teeth with a fine old crusted Act of Parliament, passed in 1817, when the population of London was about a fourth of its present aggregate, under one of the clauses of which the vestry by their officer were empowered to seize and impound derelict goods, charging such fees as they thought fit. When the 57th George III. was solemnly quoted, Mr. MONTAGU WILLIAMS very naturally asked whether it was suggested that a man had no right to leave his barrow for a moment, just as he - the magistrate - had to keep his carriage standing in the street. The vestry clerk made answer that the costermonger had already been summoned for obstruction, and that his barrow would have been returned to him "if he had paid the green-yard fee of two-and-sixpence or five shillings, whatever it was." This truly sublime ignoring of the extortionate tariff of fees at the green-yard naturally elicited from the magistrate the remark that the vestry clerk talked of crowns and half-crowns as though such coins grew in the pockets of the poor. In reality, five shillings might represent the entire profits of a costermonger from early in the morning until late at night. The sanitary inspector and street-keeper affirmed that the complainant did not call for his barrow at the proper time; but the costermonger persisted in declaring that on the Monday morning he waited at the green-yard from ten to half-past eleven o'clock, and that on the Thursday he tendered three shillings and eight-pence in payment of the fee, but that his offer was contumeliously refused. A more lamentable tale was then told by a female street-seller whose barrow was seized at the same time with that of the complainant, the same being still under distringas at the green-yard, as she had no money to pay the fees. This poor woman declared that she had a sick husband and four little children to support, and that she could not procure food for them unless she went out hawking, which she was unable to do without her barrow. These may appear to high and mighty officials and superfine economists very mean and squalid details, but it is necessary that such unpicturesque particulars should be entered into in order that the humane and impartial public may know that the costermongers are a miserably poor class of people, who live literally from hand to mouth; and that there is the thinnest possible line of demarcation between their painful and laborious travail to earn an honest crust on the one hand, and absolute destitution, or the more wretched potentialities of crime, on the other. Needlessly to harry and worry the costermongers amounts to throwing them on the poor-rate or inciting them to get a living in sheer despair by preying dishonestly upon society; and it is not only a gross act of inhumanity but the stupidest of economical blunders to put arbitrary obstacles in the way of these poverty-stricken folk when they strive to earn an honest penny.
Obviously this was the opinion on the whole case entertained by Mr. MONTAGU WILLIAMS, who very properly administered a salutary check to the vestry clerk when, in his sublimely self-complacent manner, he talked of the costermongers setting the parish at defiance and leaving their goods in the street, to the mercy of the world. He might as well have accused them of disparaging the Zodiac or speaking disrespectfully of the Equator; and the magistrate had sharply to remind the representative of Bethnal-green Bumbledom that the female street-seller whose barrow was still impounded had not experienced much of the mercy of the world, seeing that she had a sick husband and four young children crying for bread, that for want of her barrow she could neither buy food nor pay her rent, and that her landlord had consequently put the brokers in. We dare say that the vestry clerk and the vestry of Bethnal-green behind him are all as well-meaning and kind-hearted gentlemen as need be, and that they would be extremely reluctant to be guilty of any act of cruelty or injustice, either to an individual or to a class. Nevertheless, just as to a white settler in the far West "Injuns is pisin," and to the Australian working man the thrifty and industrious Chinaman is an abomination simply because he is willing to work for two-and-sixpence instead of eight shillings a day, so, to the London parochial mind, the costermonger seems a normally objectionable and reprehensible being, chiefly because there is no roof to the shop which he keeps, and because he has no stake, so to speak, in the parish, and will never be elected a member of the vestry or the Board of Guardians. As regards the Bethnal-green case the magistrate made an order for the immediate restoration to the complainant of his long-impounded barrow; and he also advised the vestry clerk to give up the barrow of the female street-seller, who had not as yet taken out a summons; whereupon the parochial official, much to his credit, at once undertook to act on the magisterial suggestion. The public have unfortunately no guarantee of a surcease in the practice of worrying the costermongers, which may be called a sporadic form of persecution, breaking out as it does now in one part of the Metropolis and now in another. The fantastic tricks which are played one Sunday at Bethnal-green may be re-enacted a few Sabbaths afterwards at Hammersmith, at Camberwell, or at Camden-town. It is in any case bordering on the intolerable that a musty Act of GEORGE III. should continue to be used as an engine for the oppression of the costermongers. That Act was passed full twelve years before the establishment of the metropolitan police, and when parish constables and street-keepers were in the daytime practically the only officers who could control the traffic or preserve order in the thoroughfares. We do not for one moment wish to blink the fact that the costermongers are occasionally given to be troublesome; but their control should be left to the police, and in cases where they really cause an obstruction, or have been guilty of other misconduct, they should be summoned by the police, and suitably dealt with. At present a costermonger is at the mercy both of the police-constable and of the parochial official. That he should be punished if he infringes the law is expedient enough; but it is perfectly monstrous that, for a trifling offence under an antiquated Act of Parliament, the parish should be warranted in seizing his absolute means of livelihood, and refusing to give him back his property until he has paid an exorbitant fee.