Friday 5 March 2010

Thomas Barry, Showman

I've mentioned the case of Thomas Barry before here but there's a much fuller account of his court appearance which I've just posted to the site. If you've wondered what fun was available on the Whitechapel-road on a Saturday night, read below. A great insight into the Victorian entrepreneur. Bear in mind Jack the Ripper's last murder was in November 1888 ... a mere three months before Mr. Barry was prosecuted for using 'representations' of the murders to draw people into his sideshow (I think we're talking about drawings, rather than wax-works, although I may be wrong).

Thomas Barry, a showman, was indicted at the Central Criminal Court, on Tuesday, before the Recorder, upon the charge of creating a nuisance by exhibiting figures illustrating a show, and thereby causing idle people to assemble and remain in the Queen's highway. Mr. Poland, Q.C., and Mr. Gore prosecuted for the Whitechapel District Board of Works, and Mr. Purcell defended.
    Mr. Poland, in opening the case, said that the defendant was the proprietor of a show at 106 and 107, Whitechapel-road, and the inhabitants thereabouts had complained of the nuisance caused by the show. I had been the custom of the defendant to exhibit outside the place representations of the Whitechapel murders of "Jack the Ripper", various fat people and dwarfs, and all kinds of monstrosities. There was a waxworks inside, and boxing and other performances went on. The price of admission was a penny. Noises were made outside to attract audiences, and large crowds assembled, obstructing the thoroughfare, and causing, he contended, a nuisance.
    A number of witnesses were then called in support of the case for the prosecution. It was stated that a piece called Maria Martin was played, and also Cartouche, the French Jack Sheppard. Each show lasted about twenty minutes to half-an-hour, and the shows followed each other in succession as audiences were collected. There was shouting when an audience was being gathered, and then large crowds were attracted. The showman outside called out that there was a "bearded woman" to be seen inside, and that this woman was caught by Buffalo Bill, and, having long hair and a beard, she represented "half a gorilla and half a woman." There was an imitation policeman in wax outside. There was a fat French woman exhibited inside, and it was stated that she weighed 39st. 11lb., and measured 8ft. around her shoulders, and one of her garments was exhibited outside to show its size. The announcement was also made that there was a "female champion boxer" who boxed three rounds with a tall soldier.
    Police-constable 28 J.R. proved that as many as 200 people had assembled outside the show premises at one time. The pictures that attracted most attention were those relating to the Whitechapel murders, exhibited at shop No.106. One picture showed six women lying down injured and covered in blood, and with their clothes disturbed.
    Police-inspector Cudmore stated that many known thieves loitered among the crowd and gathered outside the premises, and a large number of persons were arrested near the spot for pocket-picking and larceny.
    Henry Tate, in the employ of Mr. Hunt, a cheese-monger of 108 and 109 Whitechapel-road stated that the shop, No.107, was principally used as a "ghost show." Various pieces were played there, including Sweeney Todd. The showman outside kept calling out till the "house" was filled and performers in stage dress appeared every time they wanted to "draw the house full."
    Mr. Poland read a petition, signed by a number of residents in the neighbourhood, which had been presented to the Whitechapel District Board, complaining of the show as an injury to trade and a nuisance to the inhabitants.
    Mr. Purcell put in a counter-petition, signed by forty-three other inhabitants of the locality, saying that the show was not the least nuisance to them.
    Further evidence was given in support of the prosecution by a number of inhabitants living close to the defendant's premises. It was stated that trade had fallen off in consequence of the crowds that gathered.
    Mr. Johnson, a vestryman, said that in connection with the show there had been a barrel-organ grinding, a fog-horn blowing, and a gong being beaten. The organ, however, was done away with about four months ago.
    Mr. Purcell, for the defence, said that the business carried out by the defendant was not one that contravened the law at all. The pictures with reference to the Whitechapel murders were removed a long time ago. He contended that the defendant had not conducted his legitimate business in such a way as to make him amenable to the law. The defendant did not want people to stare outside, but to go into the show, and the roughs and pickpockets who gathered outside were as much a nuisance to him as to his neighbours.
    Witnesses were next called for the defence, being persons living in the neighbourhood, who stated that the defendants business was not a nuisance to them. It was stated that, besides stalls along the road, there was in the thoroughfare a seal and crocodile show under canvas, a cocoanut-shying stand, kinfe-ringing stands, shooting galleries, men drawing teeth and selling corn-plaisters, and these caused equally large crowds to assemble.
    The defendant was called as a witness on his own behalf. He said that for the two shops he paid £245 a year rent. As far as possible he had diminished the noise made to attract people, and he wished to carry on his business with as little annoyance to others as possible.
    In answer to Mr. Poland, the defendant said he could not carry on his business if he discontinued having a showman at the door to call out. He could do without pictures, but it was necessary to show the performers to attract the public.
    After a long consideration, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Mr. Poland said that there was a similar case against a man named Lindley arising in the same neighbourhood. The defendant Lindley said that he would plead guilty.
    Mr. Poland then suggested that both defendants should be allowed to go no their own recognisances to come up for judgment if called upon, and if the inhabitants of the locality were satisfied that there was no further nuisance no more would be heard of the matter. The only object of the prosecution was to stop a nuisance.
    The Recorder adopted this course and the defendants were discharged on entering into their own recognisances in the sum of £100 each to come up for judgment if called upon.
The Era, February 9, 1889


  1. That sounds like one heck of a rent - no wonder he appealed to the grosser side of human nature to try and draw folks in.

  2. Hi,
    Can you let me know who designed your "Victorian Poster"?
    My email is