• 52 Ancestors 2022, week 2: Favourite find
St Marylebone Workhouse, 1866
St Marylebone Workhouse, 1866

This week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks topic is favourite find, and is one that didn't take too long at all to think about.

It's a find that involves a house of ill fame, a basket of walnuts, a "nearly capsized" fishmonger, a pheasant, a "tiger"... and my 3x great-grandfather.

Yeah, that's got you interested, hasn't it?

My 3x great-grandfather, James Whipp (1809-1873), was born and raised in the outskirts of Bracknell, Berkshire. He joined the Metropolitan Police as a police constable in Marylebone, west London, in February 1830 at the age of 21, when the force itself was barely 4 months old.


Topographical survey of the borough of St. Marylebone, as incorporated by Act of Parliament 1832, embracing and marking the boundaries of the parishes St. Marylebone, St. Pancras and Paddington. The plan was engraved by B.R. Davies, blank spaces filled with plans and elevations of 20 important buildings. Dated 1834. Public Domain



What was the area like in the 1830s?

Railway links into and around London were planned but hadn't yet been built; the first mainline station at Paddington wouldn't open for another 8 years. On the map above, and highlighted in this cropped image, you can see the large patch of empty land it would occupy, labelled with a number 3 in the bottom left corner.

The London Underground didn't open until 1863, although Baker Street was one of the first stations to open, linking Paddington to Farringdon. Marylebone railway station opened in 1899, and its Underground station in 1907.

Marylebone Workhouse in Northumberland Street, now Luxborough Street, was a large workhouse at one point accommodating 2,264 inmates two blocks away from the main Marylebone High Street. The 2-storey complex incorporated a chapel, infirmary, a boy's school, and nightly asylums for vagrants.

Credit: Part of St. Marylebone Workhouse prior to reconstruction. From a drawing by a pauper inmate in 1866, initials W.A.D., published 1881. Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


James and the Police

Records show James, his wife Sarah, and their children, living in Holborn (just over a mile east of Marylebone) in 1840, then Edgware (a part of west London between Marylebone and Paddington) the following year. From the 1851 census they're listed as living at number 3 Marylebone High Street. The police station, or police office as it was known then, was established in a rented house at 86 High Street (source, page 20).

Funnily enough, the charity I work for has a shop just down the road at 24 Marylebone High Street so, when I visited London as part of their refit, I couldn't help but take a wander down to see what it's like now. The shop unit on the ground floor is Sweaty Betty, a British activewear retailer, and there are 3 flats over four floors above.

I can't say for sure how the building was configured in the 1840s, although it's likely the shop space was still there but at the time of the 1851 census there were four households living there. From the front windows, there's a clear view down Blandford Street and I can't help but imagine what James and his family would've seen whilst they were there.

The St John's Wood Memories site describes policemen at the time earning one guinea a week, about £117 today, for working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week - and they didn't even get a boot allowance! Constables would most commonly be dealing with burglary and incidents of being drunk and disorderly, and carried just a wooden truncheon and a rattle. Even the familiar policeman's whistle didn't arrive until the 1880s.

Immediately behind the police station at 86 High Street is Grotto Passage and Paradise Street, now Moxon Street, which has been described as "notorious" for criminal activity, not helped by nearby pubs fuelling riots as prisoners were ushered in and out of the police station and courtrooms.

The house of ill fame

But what about this house of ill fame? Well, if you hadn't worked that out by now, it was a brothel, and one that was mentioned in a court proceedings write-up in The Times, 14 November 1837, and it's this that is my favourite find. Here's a transcript:


Yesterday Captain Frederick Philip Hay, (said to be a son of Colonel Hay, of the Lancers,) who about a week ago was charged with having, while in a state of intoxication, fallen as dead as a herring into a fishmonger's shop, was brought before the sitting magistrate, Mr. RAWLINSON, to answer for the following extraordinary conduct.

Whipp, 86 D, deposed that on Saturday afternoon he saw a great crowd in Shepherd-street [now called Dering Street], Oxford-street, and on going to the spot, ascertained that the defendant had thrown from the first floor of a house of ill fame a hare and a pheasant, which were picked up, and quicky carried off. In a few minutes afterwards defendant came out, and flourishing over his head a stick, made his way into Oxford-street, when he laid siege to a poor woman's basket of walnuts, the greater part of which he took from her, and, placing them on a post, began shying at them with his stick. He afterwards attempted to knock down a respectable female who was walking quietly along the footpath, and on his refusing to go quietly along towards home, witness conveyed him to the station-house.

Mr. RAWLINSON (to defendant). -- What do you say to throwing these things out of the window?

Defendant. -- I'll tell you, Sir; I'll own I was in an improper house, but if I think proper to fling anything from a window, I contend that no one has a right to take it.

Mr. RAWLINSON. -- It's a pity that your friends don't interfere and take proper care of you; you are continually getting into custody, and bringing disgrace upon yourself and family.

Defendant. -- What the constable has said in this case is quite false; is there any other charge against me?

Sarah Hains, 19, Shepherd-street, who stated that hers was a lodging-house, said that defendant on Sunday night took two rooms at her house, and brought with him a lady, who he represented to be his wife, and a youth, whom he called his "tiger". They had all three refreshments, and on her asking for the money due to her, defendant not only refused to pay her, but made a stab at her with a knife; it however very fortunately missed her, but penetrated to the depth of at least half an inch into the wall near to where she was standing. He also struck her with a whip.

Defendant denied this charge, and said that his boy was, without the slightest provocation, nearly pulled to pieces.

A third charge was preferred by John Hewitt, driver of the cab No. 1,225, who stated that on the previous morning defendant hired him at 11 o'clock, and kept him driving about till 7 in the evening. On the road he threw a bottle of soda water at a gentleman, and in other respects behaved in a most extraordinary manner. The cabman concluded by stating that he was discharged without getting a single penny due to him.

Defendant was ordered to pay the cabman's demand of 10s. 8d,. together with 5s for being drunk, and to find bail for his better behaviour in future.

I also found four other mentions of his policework in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey.

The first, in 1831, relates to John Bowler who was accused of stealing 10lbs of bread from a baker making deliveries around Harley Street. The court heard that "some boys stole the bread", and so Mr Bowler was found not guilty.

In 1842, Elizabeth French was confined for 14 days for stealing a chair from outside a shop.

Two in 1843 relate to a Reuben Lidstone, who was accused of theft and embezzlement from his employer. He was found not guilty of one charge, but guilty of a second.


James was discharged from the police service in May 1855 after 46 years due to "mental debility". He received a £36 a year pension, the equivalent of £3,965 today.


I've often wondered what James looked like. There's a brief description of him in his police records at the time of his discharge: 5 feet 11 inches (180cm) tall, grey hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion, no particular marks.

If you've already taken a look around my site, you may have already seen my Mystery Photo Album which I believe belonged to James' daughter, my 2x great-grandmother, Charlotte. I'd love to think that one of the men pictured is James himself, perhaps even this gentleman on the right, but I just can't be sure.

I'm going through a painstaking task of trying to find out the dates each photographer was in operation, matching them up to the photography styles, and where people lived at the time, so perhaps in future I'll be able to take a better guess. I'm sure I'll be talking more about the photo album over the year, so keep an eye on my future 52ancestors posts!