056: Black London, 1874-1875

In mid-October 1874 Bow Street magistrates court heard the case against Charles Madonna, “a negro” who was a street entertainer. He was juggling canes or reeds in Villiers Street near Charing Cross railway station which the police thought was “to the danger of the public” but had refused to move on. A gentleman said he had known Madonna for five years – three in Natal and two in England – and said he was “well-conducted”. The magistrate debated the view : did the police constable have just cause to take the prisoner into custody. The arrest showed too much zeal, and Madonna was discharged.

In Chelsea, in the western part of London known as the World’s End after a pub there, two men had been arrested for assaulting a police officer named Walter Townsend “and other police-constables” outside that pub on 7 November 1874. To support the testimony of the police several citizens were called, including “a powerful negro, who gave the name Plantagenent Green, and described himself as an artist, but whose real occupation seems to be that of a pugilist”. Green was the first to go to the rescue of PC Townsend, and so prevented the two accused from kicking him. The two were found guilty.

At the Old Bailey on 1 February 1875 John Joseph, a ship’s steward who was living in dockland’s West India Road, testified that on 26 January Ann Cain (aged 29) and Emma Lavis (23) had robbed him. The two women were accused of “pocket picking”. Witnesses said Joseph was a “black man” and a “coloured man”. He had been robbed of £1. The two women were sent to prison for twelve months, each.

On 15 August 1875 at 15 Theobalds Road in Holborn, a 19 year old who later declared she was Mrs Alice Taylor wife of surgeon Peter Hugh Taylor, gave birth to their son – the future composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Dr Taylor, a November 1874 graduate, had returned to Sierra Leone probably unaware his friend Alice was pregnant. She and her father’s family relocated to Croydon within months as that part of the street was demolished. Her son died in Croydon in 1912; she died there in 1953. Dr Taylor died in the Gambia in 1904.


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