For the last month I’ve immersed myself in all thing Soho, as I’m currently publishing an audio tour about the area ( when it’s published it will appear HERE )
As with all the tours I write you sometimes get a bit stuck in a particular part, sometimes inspiration appears and you move on, or occasionally it doesn’t and you have to go back to the drawing board. Sometimes the most difficult thing is when you are preparing the route. You know where you want to go and try to plan a route that gets the listener there without too much distance being travelled, and hopefully you can fill the time with some informative discourse as they walk.
Things were going well in the writing until I came to a couple of locations which followed on from each other. To leave the first and walk to the second was some distance and filling that time was something I was struggling with. The background information on the street was very sparse and it’s a bit of a crime in the audio tour world to have long silences. However, as luck would have it I stumbled on a short cut that I’d not seen on my map. This entailed bearing off down a side street and turning into a very dingy unmarked alleyway. Brilliant, gets the listener there in half the time, so just had to fill the space with commentary, but it was one of those location where a lot of the street names have changed, so it’s difficult to get a handle on what happened to who and where. A couple of hours trawling through my usual databases proved fruitless and I was about to give up and remodel this part of the tour which meant scrapping one of the locations, something I didn’t really want to do. Virtually within minutes of making this decision an email popped into my inbox from another London anorak of my acquaintance. Had I seen this recently released database of magistrate court cases? To cut a long story short, I managed to come up with a story gleaned from this database which filled the allotted time in between the two locations. Timing is everything! I’ll relay the story that happened in 1789 because it’s quiet a good one and I’ll put it down as written for the tour.
“Bentick Street still existed, the remnants of it are the exit to the courtyard that we’ll leave by later. William Voucher was successful hairdresser and had premises in Poland Street. One evening he had been out carousing with friends in Oxford Street and he admits that at the end of the night he is a little worse for wear, or as he says in his testimony “a little in liquor”. He starts to make his way home rather unsteadily when he is approached by Elizabeth Chance a working girl.
A bargain is struck between the two and Elizabeth guides the tottering Voucher along D’arblay Street into Portland Mews and finally into Bentick Street. One can only assume that the location was deemed a more secure one for them to transact their business. In court Voucher is a little coy about what is transpiring in the dim recesses of Bentick Street but says, “ in a little while she broke from me all at once, and I missed my watch”. Elizabeth scuttles off along Bentick Street with Voucher giving chase the best he can. We know he had difficulty in the pursuit because coming along Berwick Street is Night Watchman Richard Harris. In his testimony he states that he saw a woman emerge from the alley followed shortly by Voucher in a state of undress,” for his breeches were loose about his heels”.
Harris detains Elizabeth and finds she is holding a pocket watch that she quickly drops on the ground. Voucher having now adjusted his clothing joins them and starts to berate the woman accusing her of stealing the watch. Harris tries to calm the situation by handing the watch back to Voucher, but he refuses to leave the matter and as Harris notes, “he was much in liquor” A row ensues between Voucher and Chance who is heard to use language of a very strong nature. Harris tires of both parties’ behaviour and they are taken to the local Watchhouse to calm down before facing the Justices. Chance testifies that Voucher had only a sixpence about his person and had wanted to “ use her ill for the watch; but as he was not come up, then in fear I ran away, not knowing I had the watch”. You’d probably think the game was up as far as Elizabeth was concerned, but it appears either the Justice took a shine to her or she had a brilliant legal council as she was found not guilty of theft or pickpocketing and was allowed to leave the court a free woman.“