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ROBBERIES AT THE ROYAL HOTEL

Vic Rosewarne has delved into the records to find some more gems: accounts of inept burglaries at the Royal Hotel in 1893 and 1897. This was on the south side of High Street at number 27 - see a contemporary map. The Royal Hotel was demolished in 1927 and the site was used for an extension to the gas works. There are some notes at the end about individuals mentioned in the following accounts.

In the 1890s there were two robberies at the Royal Hotel, the first attempt was somewhat farcical affair, the burglars being more interested in feeding themselves, than the search for booty.

ANOTHER DARING ROBBERY

A VISIT TO THE ROYAL HOTEL

HUNGRY DEPREDATORS

During the night of Monday or the morning of Tuesday, burglars effected an entrance into the premises of the "Royal Hotel," Brentford, kept by Mr. W. G. Chovil. On going downstairs on the morning of Tuesday at the usual time, the servant found doors, which she knew to have been closed over night, were open, and a brief search shewed her that strangers had been about the premises during the night. She acquainted her master, and an investigation of the premises revealed that the burglars had effected an entrance by cutting away a pane of glass in one of the back windows and lifting the catch.

They must have gone down Messrs. Dorey’s wharf, or come up along the river shore, and climbed over the wall at the back of the Hotel in order to get to the window They broke open three valuable desks but did not succeed in obtaining anything, beyond some old coins, which the desks contained, only the best of these being taken.

Failing to find any booty, they devoted themselves to feeding the inner man, for having found a leg of mutton, they attacked it first with the orthodox knife and fork, but afterwards in the primitive fashion by gnawing it with their teeth. They smoked several cigarettes, and took away a box of these, and at least one box of cigars. They paid a visit to the fowl house at the rear and took several eggs, which they sucked on the spot and left the shells behind.

No trace was left of their identity, but it is a significant fact that on Tuesday morning directly Mr. Pearce, the jeweller, in the High Street, opened his shop, a stranger, giving an address in Brentford, offered to sell some old coins. The police have the matter in hand.

(County of Middlesex Independent 6 December 1893)

(A search of the newspapers for the following months shows no arrests were made for the robbery, it appears they got away scot free.)

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THE SECOND ROBBERY

Four years later there was a second robbery, this was far more successful, the burglars getting away with a considerable amount of property. The details of the case are of interest as it shows how the late Victorian police conducted their criminal investigations.

DARING BURGLARY IN THE HIGH STREET

In the early hours of Thursday morning a raid was made by burglars on the premises of Mr. W. G. Chovil (James Stout and Co.), distiller’s agents, in the High Street, and a considerable quantity of property stolen. From what can be ascertained at the scene of the burglary and a view of the premises, it would appear that Mr. Chovil retired to rest about half past twelve on Thursday morning, leaving every thing safe. He, however, was not the last to go to bed, as about one o’clock Mr. Reginald Chovil, his son, returned home, and was let in. Nothing then, however, pointed to any suspicious circumstances, and the whole house were soon asleep.

On wakening next morning, however, a very different state of things was discovered, it being found that a quantity of plate and other things had been stolen. Cruet and liquor stands, silver spoons, a number of overcoats, boots, and other clothing were missing, and the thieves had evidently enjoyed them selves, as some cooked eatables had also been purloined.

From the signs which they left it would appear that the depredators, who must have numbered several persons, gained entrance to the rear of the premises, either from Smith’s Hill into the Rev. Selbey Henry’s garden and then to Mr. Chovil’s, or from Mr. Dorey’s yard, or possibly from the river, most probably the latter. They then removed a pane of glass from a door leading into a coal cellar, through which one of their number necessarily of thin build, climbed, and then admitted his comrades.

They found, however, that entrance could not be gained that way, so returned again to the garden, procured a long seat, on which they placed two immense packing cases abstracted from the champagne room. On these they placed a short ladder, and thus reached the dining room window, through which they passed.

The value of the stolen property amounts nearly to £100. Detective Clark has charge of the case, and is making every effort to track the offenders, who, it is thought by some, live not far from the scene.

(Richmond & Twickenham Times 24 April 1887)

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Following the robbery, nearly a month passed before the police made any progress, then in mid May George Gage was arrested at Shepherds Bush by Detective sergeants Fowler and Clark. It is not clear from the newspaper reports when George Gage was arrested, but his first court appearance was made around the 17 or 18th May.

FIRST APPEARANCE IN COURT

George Gage (22), of no fixed abode, a rough-looking fellow, was charged, at the Brentford Police Court, with having burglarious entered the Royal Hotel, Brentford, between the hours of one and six a.m. on the night of the 21st / 22nd.April, and stealing a liquer stand, two decanter stands, three liquor tables, two plated candlesticks, one silver sugar sifter, and other articles of cutlery, and jewellery to the value of £80, the property of Mr. William George Chovil.

The evidence showed that on the night in question the hotel was entered by means of some panes of glass being removed from the wine cellar fanlight. From the cellar the thieves got two wine cases and a short ladder, which they placed on a seat in the garden, and so reached the dining room window, which was forced open. The rooms were in great disorder, and a quantity of goods were found to have been put ready for removal in addition to those stolen, and it was assumed the thieves were startled.

There were traces that they got away by means of a boat moored in the Thames, on which the hotel grounds abutted. The police had the matter in hand, and on Saturday morning Detective Sergeant Fowler, T division, saw the prisoner in High Road, Chiswick, and noticed he was wearing a pair of lady’s boots. Communicating with Brentford, he obtained the help of Detective Sergeant Clark, of the Brentford police, and they traced the prisoner to Du Cane Road, Shepherd’s Bush. The prisoner tried to make off when he saw them, but was caught, and the boots were found to correspond with a pair, part of the missing property from the Royal Hotel.

The prisoner said, "I’m done, I know, but if anyone has put me away, I would shoot him, and take you straight to where all the stuff is". When charged, he said he gave a man a shilling for the boots, but did not know the man’s name.

The prisoner, who throughout the evidence ejaculated "It’s all lies," when he was asked if he had any questions to ask, replied "No, I have no questions to ask, but I should like to do something."

He was remanded.

(Acton Gazette 21 May 1897 and Middlesex Chronicle 22 May 1897.)

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DARING ESCAPE FROM A TRAIN AT KEW BRIDGE

George Gage was due to make his next appearance at the Brentford Magistrates Court on Monday, the 24th May, the prisoner, however, did not appear, and the magistrate were informed that he had succeeded in escaping from custody.

From inquiries since made, it appears that Detective Clark, of the Criminal Investigation Department, was conveying the prisoner to the Brentford Police Court by the South Western line which runs from Gunnersbury to Brentford, and that just after Kew Bridge station Gage suddenly leaped from the carriage while the train was going at full speed, and thus escaped. The prisoner succeeded in diverting the officer’s attention by exclaiming, as the train passed a high brick wall, "That’s a good bit of brick-work." Detective Clark glanced at the wall, and at the same moment Gage opened the door on the opposite side and jumped out on the up line. At the time the train was running at the rate of fifteen miles per hour, and as is usual between short distance trains there is no means of communication between the passengers and the Guard.

Gage was seen to fall on his face and immediately got up and jumped over a wooden fence into some market garden, and was then lost sight of. Upon the train arriving at Brentford the escape was reported to the proper authorities, and all the police stations in the district were shortly informed of the occurrence by telegraph. The neighbour was scoured by police, but Gage remained at liberty until Wednesday, when he was re-arrested at Fulham. He was brought before the magistrate at Brentford yesterday and remanded for a week.

In the course of an interesting account of the occurrence the "Daily Mail" says: Gage was chatty and jovial, and after passing Kew Bridge station he called the officers attention to some brickwork on the platform side. The detective turned his head to look, and in an instant the prisoner opened the carriage door and was gone. "He vanished like a flash of lightening," said one of his fellow passengers, "and had it not been for the open door none of us would have been positive that he had got away that way."

Apparently Gage had premeditated this coup-de-main. He leaped into the up-line permanent way while the train was travelling at about fifteen miles an hour, and although he fell he jumped to his feet at once, dashed over the wooden fence into some market gardens, and was quickly lost to view. He is a slender and very nimble man, and the police suspect him not only of the burglary with which he was charged at Brentford, but of others.

Some sympathy is felt for Detective-sergeant Clark, who was thus outwitted, as his original capture of Gage at Shepherd’s Bush last April was a clever piece of work. He has been suspended temporarily from duty by order of the Chief Commissioner of Police.

(Acton Gazette - 28 May 1897)

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THE PRISONER RECAPTURED

It was feared that Gage had managed to get on board one of the Grand Junction Canal barges, and thus reached the Midlands. A description of his personal appearance had been wired to every police station in London and the country, and as a couple of constables were patrolling South Fulham, their attention was drawn to a man who bore some resemblance to the published description of Gage. They went towards the man, who immediately

TOOK TO HIS HEELS.

The constables gave chase, and by means of their whistles obtained the assistance of two other policemen on duty in the neighbourhood to join the pursuit. Gage, who is known as "Deerfoot," was gaining ground rapidly, and seeing that there was every probability of his getting away again, the two foremost constables hailed a passing vehicle, and by that means

CAME UPON THE MAN.

On being conveyed to Brentford, the most extraordinary precautions were adopted to prevent any further escapade, and even when placed in the dock, he was almost surrounded by police. He appeared to treat the matter very lightly, and frequently turned round to nod to an acquaintance in the body of the court, which was crowded.

The bench granted a remand, and the same precautions were observed in escorting Gage to the cells. Outside the court a crowd of several hundred persons assembled, and the prisoner appeared to be delighted at the public attention he was receiving.

(The People 30 May 1897)

(The report of George Gage’s escapade of jumping from the train to avoid justice, was widely reported in newspapers across England, and also in Dublin and Dundee. It was his fifteen minutes of fame.)

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THE BURGLARY AT BRENTFORD - A CHISWICK MAN ARRESTED

The second man arrested for the Royal Hotel burglary was James Tompkins, a labourer of 25a Bennett Street, Chiswick. He was charged at the Brentford Police Court on Monday 30 April with having been concerned with George Gage, then under remand, with burglariously breaking into the dwelling house of Mr. George Chovil, of the Royal Hotel, Brentford, and with stealing there from a quantity of articles valued at £80.

James Tompkins was traced as he tried to dispose of some forks, part of his proceeds from the robbery, unfortunately for him the lady who bought the forks became suspicious about their origins and went to the police.

The forks where formally identified by Mr. Chovil, the proprietor of the Royal Hotel, as being his property, and part of the proceeds of the burglary.

Caroline Harris, 89 Blackenbury Road, Hammersmith, a shirt ironer, said about five weeks ago the prisoner came to her house to lodge.

The Chairman : Have you been keeping company with him ?

No, but he lodged with me for five days. During that time he only paid her 1s. He asked her if she would like a present she replied, "Yes, I Should." The prisoner then showed her some forks, when she exclaimed, "They are very nice; I should like them very much." The prisoner then gave them to her, explaining that he was going to be married, but that he had had a few words with his young woman and he was selling up his home. He added he gave 6s. 6d. For the forks.

Later, the witness said, she heard more of Tompkins character, and that he had just come out of prison, and did not know if he had stolen them, so she sent the forks back, by her husband to prisoner’s father.

Amelia Hutt, of 117 King Street, Hammersmith, a laundress, corroborated.

The prisoner said he had bought the knives for a shilling off another man.

The Chairman : Do you know his name ?

I have given the detective all particulars.

The Chairman : (to Detective Fowler) : You must assist him as far as you can.

Detective Fowler : We are doing so.

The prisoner was remanded until Thursday

(Acton & Chiswick Gazette - 4 June 1897)

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The following week, the two arrested men, George Gage and James Tompkins were again brought up before the magistrates on Thursday.

Detective Morgan then stated that on Sunday 30th ult., the prisoner Tompkins was detained at Hammersmith Police Station. When charged he said, "I bought the knives (produced) of William Callaghan for 1s. My father had nothing to do with it.

Tompkins : You are speaking lies. I know nothing about the affair, and I told you that I bought the knives for a shilling.

Detective Fowler said that at two a.m. on the 30 ult., he went to a hay loft at the rear of the Manor Tavern public house, Devonshire Road, Chiswick, where he saw Tompkins father, who gave witness the four silver fish-knives (produced).

The hearing was then adjourned, as an expected witness failed to appear, the two accused men were then remanded for a further week.

(Acton & Chiswick Gazette - 4 June 1897)

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On the 11 June a third man was arrested in connection with the robbery.

ANNOTHER ARREST

At the Police Court yesterday, John Conner (61) bootmaker of 209 Devonshire Road, Chiswick, was charged with having received from James Tompkins, six table knives and carving knives and forks, valued at 18s. the property of Mr. W. George Chovil, knowing them to have been stolen from the Royal Hotel, and these were formally identified.

Inspector H. Morgan said on the previous evening, Sergeant Fowler and he, went to the Prince of Wales beerhouse, Devonshire Road, Chiswick, of which the prisoner was the licensee. There they saw Conner, and told him that Tompkins had sold some knives there, which had been stolen from the Royal Hotel, Brentford. Conner said, Not he. He has sold no knives here." Witness asked if he had sold anything, and he said "No." Witness then asked if Tompkins had sold anything to anybody else, and he said "I may as well tell you. He sold some crockery ware and pictures. I know nothing about the knives and forks."

Witness then asked if he could give them the names of anyone to whom Tompkins had sold crockery ware and pictures. He said, "Mr. Haslam and Mr. Fraser." His son then said, "You had better tell them about the knives.." Conner then said, I might as well make a clean breast of it." His son said to him, "Go and fetch the knives." Conner left and returned in a few minutes and handed witness the parcel of knives and forks (produced). He said, "Are these what you want ?

Witness said, "where did you get them ?

He said, "I bought them off Tompkins just after he came out, for 3s. 6d. He said he had them before he went away. He had intended to get married, but was now going to sell it all off."

Witness and Sergeant Fowler then went to Mr. Chovil’s, and on their return, witness said to accused, "You are charged with feloniously receiving these things knowing them to have been stolen."

He said "Very good."

On the way to the he said "I’ve never had a stain on my character, I had no idea they were stolen. Tompkins told me had had them before he was convicted the last time.

In reply to the charge he protested his innocence.

In answer to the Bench witness said the prisoner did not sleep at the beerhouse, but lived in a private house nearby, where he carried on the business of a bootmaker.

To Mr. Hanson (who defended) : Tompkins had been selling various articles in the neighbourhood, and other people had believed a similar story to what the prisoner had stated. Witness did not believe that the prisoner believed Tompkin’s statement, but he had no reason to disbelieve it.

A remand was asked for and granted, bail being allowed.

(Middlesex Chronicle - 12 June 1897)

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THE BURGLARY AT BRENTFORD

At the Brentford Police Court on Thursday 17 June, the two burglars made their last appearance at the Brentford Magistrates Court. There being no further evidence, the men were committed for trial.

The Chairman : Do you wish to say anything, or will you reserve your defence ?

Tompkins : I am not guilty, I bought the knives off a man named William Callaghan.

The Chairman : Do you know his address ?

Tompkins : Yes. I have given it to the detectives, who have tried to arrest him, but they have not yet been able to catch him.

The Chairman : (to Gage) Do you wish to say anything ?

Gage : Yes, I am not guilty. I bought the boots I was wearing off a man.

Tompkins : I should like the case to be sent to the Central Criminal Court, and have the case tried before a jury.

The Chairman : You are committed to take your trial at the Middlesex Quarter Sessions on the 30th inst.

(Acton & Chiswick Gazette - 18 June 1897)

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THE BURGLARY AT BRENTFORD - ANOTHER ARREST

At the Brentford Police Court on Friday in last week, before Andrew Pears in the chair, Mr. E. Underwood, and Mr. A. W. Perkins, John Connor, bootmaker, of 209 Devonshire Road, Chiswick, was charged with having feloniously received from James Tompkins, of Bennett Street, Chiswick, a number of knives, carving knives, and forks, valued at 18s., the property of Mr. W. G. Chovil, well knowing them to be stolen. The articles were part of the property stolen from the Royal Hotel, Brentford, and George Gage and John Tompkins had on the previous day been committed for trial for burglary.

Mr. Oswald Hanson defended.

Louisa Denham, a servant at the Royal Hotel, Brentford, stated that the knives produced were the property of Mr. Chovil.

Mr. Hanson : You say there is no distinctive marks on them by which you can identify them.

Witness : I do.

Mr. Chovil identified the knives as his property, stating that he missed them the day after the burglary.

Inspector H. Morgan said that on Thursday evening he went to the Prince of Wales beer-house, Devonshire Road, Chiswick, of which the prisoner was the landlord. Witness saw him, and said "We are police officers, and have received information that one of the burglars we have in custody, named Tompkins, sold some knives and forks here. They were stolen from the Royal Hotel, Brentford, in April last."

The accused replied, "Not here; he has sold no knives here." Witness said, "Have you seen him sell anything ?" and he replied "No." Witness then asked has he said anything to anybody else ?" and he said, "I may as well tell you he sold some crockery ware and pictures." Witness said, "It’s the knives and forks we want," and he replied, "I know nothing about them." Witness then asked, "Can you give me the name of anybody to whom Tompkins sold crockery ware and pictures ?" He said, "Mrs. Askew and Mr. Fraser."

His son then interrupted him by saying, "You had better tell them about the knives." The prisoner replied, I better make a clean breast of it." His son said to him, "Go and fetch the knives," whereupon prisoner left the bar, and returned in a few minutes and handed witness the parcel of knives and forks produced, saying, "Are these what you want?" Witness asked, "Where did you get them ? And he replied, I bought them of Tompkins just before he came out for 3s. 6d. He said he had them before he went away. He had intended to get married, but was now going to sell all off.

Witness said to him, "You will be charged with feloniously receiving these things, knowing them to be stolen." He said, very good."

On the way to the station he said, "I have never had a stain on my character. I had no idea they were stolen. Tompkins told me he had them before he was convicted the last time." In reply t the charge the prisoner protested his innocence as well as several times previously.

The Chairman : He is described as a bootmaker.

Witness : Yes : he does not live at the public house, but at a private house a short distance away, where he carries on business as a bootmaker.

Mr. Hanson : Do you know that Tompkins was selling various articles to other people in the neighbourhood of Devonshire Road ?

Witness : Yes.

Mr. Hanson : Have you any reason to disbelieve that story told you by the prisoner.

Witness : Other people believed a similar story to that which Tompkins me.

Mr. Hanson : From your own observation, do you think that he believed what Tompkins told him.

Witness : No, sir, ! Do not.

Mr. Hanson : Have you any reason to disbelieve that Tompkins made that statement.

Witness : No, no reason to disbelieve it.

Mr. Hanson, in applying for bail, said that the prisoner possessed a very good character, and there was an absolute answer to the charge against him. -- He was admitted to bail in two sureties of £50, and himself of £100.

(Acton & Chiswick Gazette - 25 June 1897)

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THE TRIAL OF THE TWO BURGLARS

The trial of George Gage and James Tompkins took place on Saturday 3 July, at the Middlesex Sessions. In the case of the third defendant, John Connor, the Grand Jury ignored the bill, and he was released. The evidence given at the various Court appearances was repeated, and the jury found the two men guilty of receiving the property mentioned, but not of burglary.

Before sentencing, the previous offences committed by the two men were read out, revealing both men had a long list of previous offences, considering their relative youth.

Warder Chesterton then said in 1889 prisoner Gage was sentenced to ten days’ imprisonment and five years in a reformatory, and in May 1895, he was sentenced to twelve months at these sessions. In May, 1896, he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and in October he had fourteen days for disorderly conduct.

With regard to Tompkins, on June 17th, 1893, he was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment, at the West London Police Court, as a rogue and vagabond. In January, 1894, he had three months for a similar offence.

Warder Weilett, of Wandsworth, said Tompkins was sentenced to strokes with the birch rood on 26th April, 1888, and 1889 had five days for larceny. In 1891 he was bound over for larceny, and in 1894 he was sentenced to fifteen calendar months for burglary. He had just come out of prison after twelve months for stealing ten forks.

Inspector Morgan said Tompkins was only liberated on April 6th for having stolen fifteen hundred fowls. He cleared out all Richmond of fowls, and the sort of man he was would be indicated by the fact that he was not adverse to poisoning watch-dogs. Prisoner bragged he only got twelve months for this. As soon as the prisoner came out of prison larcenies were committed right and left; and there was no doubt he was one of the party that had broken into the "Roebuck" at Chiswick. Captain Phillips, of Boston House, Brentford, had also seen the man, and he was satisfied that prisoner was one of those who had broken into the house and stolen property to the value of £60.

The Chairman : He appears to be as bad as he can possibly be. Have you anything good to say about him ?

Inspector Morgan : No, I am afraid not. With regard to Gage witness said he did not work, and was an associate of thieves.

The prisoners both admitted their convictions, and in answer to the usual questions, said they had nothing to say why the sentence of the Court should not be passed on them. Tompkins promised if he was given another chance, to "clear out of it."

The Chairman said the general public would certainly be rid of both prisoners for a considerable time to come. The Court would not be doing its duty were it not to inflict a sentence commensurate with the offence. They had both led careers of crime, and nothing seemed to deter them from their wicked purpose. The only course open for the Court was to remove the prisoners for a long time, so that they should not prey upon society. Tompkins was worse than Gage, and would be sentenced to penal servitude for seven years, whilst Gage would be sentenced to five years’ penal servitude.

The Chairman added that the Bench desired him to commend Detective Fowler and Clarke for their smart conduct in the case.

(Acton Gazette - 9 July 1897)

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Escaping from police custody by jumping from a train had also been done some twenty years before George Gage’s escapade, in nearby Twickenham.

DESPERATE LEAP

On Monday afternoon, considerable excitement was caused at Twickenham owing to a prisoner, named Richard Williams, a betting man, leaping from an up train and making his escape. It appeared that the prisoner had that day been charged at Kingston County Bench with committing an indecent assault on a young lady, when he was remanded for a full Bench, and removed handcuffed by train in charge of two constables; but after passing Twickenham Station about 500 yards, he complained of being seized with sickness, consequently allowed to put his head out of the doorway for the supposed purpose of vomiting, when all of a sudden he dexterously opened the door and leaped out, the train at this time was going at about thirty miles per hour. On stopping at Richmond Station, the police and some porters immediately proceeded down the line on foot, expecting to find the man cut to pieces or seriously injured; however, arriving at the spot, he was reported to have laid still a few moments, and then jumping up took to his heels in the direction of the river. Passing down some lane towards the ferry, he called at the British Lion for a glass of ale, but in consequence of not being quickly served, he went on without it; and on coming to the ferryman, begged him to take him across as quickly as possible as he wanted to get to Ham. The ferryman rowed him across, and did not notice the handcuffs, one of which he had slipped, till he had landed and was about being paid.

(Middlesex Mercury - 22 July 1876)

Notes

William George CHOVIL, landlord of the Royal Hotel, was a councillor; his life has been researched by Janet McNamara and he features in the middle row of a photo taken at the opening of Brentford Library, 1904.

The site has an early 1900s postcard view which covers the Brewery Tap and Royal Brewery; the Royal Hotel is just beyond the Brewery and a better photo of the hotel is in Gillian Clegg's Brentford and Chiswick Pubs, p. 97. This shows the entry to J. Dorey, Builder, to the left of the hotel.

DOREY's wharf is mentioned as a possible access route to the Royal Hotel. There is a page about this family which includes links to contemporary accounts found by Janet McNamara.

PEARCE the jeweller, who was offered the old coins by a stranger, was probably at 231 High Street.

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Page published September 2020