(or The Tea Leaf Porters of Dalston)
(originally published in Journal 53, March 2012, of the North London Railway Historical Society)
[Charles Alfred Alldred, John Baker, George Samuel Belsham, James George Edwin Dorling, and Charles Joseph Green]
Over quite a long period complaints had been received that passengers’ luggage consigned from long distances to the docks and passing through Dalston Junction had been tampered with and articles of value abstracted. About 11 o’clock in the morning of Sunday 24th July, 1904, Detective-Sergeant Tye and Detective Hibbs concealed themselves in the waiting room at Dalston station. A train came in from Willesden, from which bags and packages were to be transferred to the train going to Poplar. After the station was closed to the public, as was then usual on Sunday mornings, the van marked ‘Dalston’ was unloaded. Four porters, John Baker, 28 years old, George Belsham, 24, James Dorling, 20, and Charles Green, 29, took some of the packages and placed them on trolleys. Baker and Green sorted the parcels, Belsham read out the addresses, and Dorling entered them. A number of parcels were opened at the ends and the contents examined. Dorling and Green ‘operated’ on a locked Gladstone bag. While Green held one end Dorling undid the strap and catch at the other, and gently pulled the side end of the bag open taking something out. The bag was then turned round and the other end opened in the same way. Baker and Belsham were standing near, and could see everything that went on.
They all went into the porters’ room, and the two detectives followed them. When the detectives showed themselves, Tye told Dorling to turn out his pockets. He produced a number of handkerchiefs and two neck ties, which came from the Gladstone bag. Green handed Tye a spokeshave, a silver watch and chain, and a silver match box. Nothing was found on Baker and Belsham, but at their rooms some collars, alleged to have been stolen, were found.
They were all arrested and the following day appeared before Mr Fordham, the Magistrate at the North London Police Court. They were charged with having been concerned together in stealing and receiving seven pocket handkerchiefs and two neckties from a Gladstone bag, and a spokeshave from a box, value in all 5s, the property of the London and North-Western Railway Company. Green had refused to give his address, but the lodgings of the other men were searched and a large quantity of property was found. They were remanded for eight days. Bail was granted for Baker and Belsham in two sureties in £10 each.
Eight days later, Tuesday, 2nd August, all four appeared on remand, together with Charles Alldred, aged 19, another porter from Dalston who had not been on duty on the Sunday morning. Further charges were preferred: stealing two gross of plated finger rings, wholesale value £1 18s 5d, were then proceeded with against Baker, Belsham, Dorling, and Alldred. After evidence Mr Fordham discharged Baker and Belsham on this particular charge. Charges of stealing a parcel to the value of £1 2s 6d were then preferred against Baker and Dorling, and of stealing a gold albert and other articles, valued at £8 0s 6d against Dorling and Alldred. They were remanded for further evidence in other cases, Baker and Belsham were again admitted to bail.
The further evidence was collected quickly and three days later the resumed hearing continued. Mr Fordham said that the evidence against Baker and Belsham was not conclusive. They were only looking on at the most, and, although morally guilty, they were not criminally so. The other three all pleaded guilty to the various charges preferred against them. Green received two months, Dorling nine months, and Alldred six months, all with hard labour.
The North London Railway sacked all five.
Sources: The National Archives: RAIL 529/62, 3 Nov 1904, Loco Com Mins 12457/63.
The Times, Tue 26 Jul 1904, page 15; Wed 3 Aug 1904, page 12; Sat 6 Aug 1904, page 14.
Charles Alfred Alldred was born in Bow on 19th January 1885 and lived with his elder brother and sister in Bow. He attended the board school in Old Ford where he was a very standard boy. He became a train register boy in February 1899, by which time he had two younger sisters. In April 1902 he became a junior porter on 15 shillings a week and 12 months later progressed to porter on 18 shillings a week. On census night for 1901 (Saturday 30th/Sunday 31st March) he was on night duty at Broad Street station, together with three railway policemen, three signalmen and one other train train register boy. The 1911 census shows a Charles Arthur Alldred, whose birth details match and who was a stage artiste, staying in a boarding house in Colne, Lancashire. On the assumption that that he was the ex-NLR porter, does this conjure up in one’s mind that he might have been a conjurer? Perhaps one who took gold rings from members of the audience and gave them back brass ones.
Sources: The National Archives: RAIL 529/62, 3 Nov 1904, Loco Com Mins 12457/63 RAIL 529/130/235 f137 (Staff Register)
RG 12/317, f51, p31 (1891 Census) RG 13/262, f142, p17 (1901 Census) RG 14/24929 RG 78/1425 (1911 Census)
John Baker was born about 1878. He was a 6th standard boy at Morning Lane Road School, under the headmastership of a Mr Whitehouse. After school he became a deep sea fisherman in the North Sea. Following on from fishing three and half years were spent in the Berkshire Regiment, nearly two and a half of which were in South Africa, earning him the South African Campaign Medal for 1899/1900. He was medically discharged as unfit for further service on 28th February, 1901, leaving with a conduct assessment of ‘Good’ and a recommendation from a Colonel Dickson.
Notes which appear to have been made when he was employed by the NLR show that his parents had lived in Hackney from about 1880, his father being a dustman with Hackney Vestry, and he was ‘quite a stranger to this line.’ He was taken on as a porter on 19th March, 1901, at a wage of 18 shillings a week.
He could well have been aware as early as March 1903 of what was going on at Dalston because on the second of that month, he was cautioned by the Superintendent for allowing, through carelessness, an insured parcel to be stolen. A portent, perhaps, of what was to come.
Sources: The National Archives:
RAIL 529/62, 3 Nov 1904, Loco Com Mins 12457/63 RAIL 529/130/507, f 274 (Staff Register)
George Samuel Belsham was born in Mile End in 1880 and lived with his parents and siblings on Allan Road. After leaving school he spent a period of time in the army. During this time his elder sister, Florence, married and moved to Folkestone in Kent. It was here in 1901 that he married his sister’s sister-in-law, Kate Amelia Smith, who was a cook to a retired hotelier and his family. In their first nine years marriage they had four children. About August 1903 he became a porter with the NLR on a wage of 18 shillings a week. He was present at Dalston station when goods in transit were stolen. He was accused of stealing goods but was discharged, the judge remarking that he was morally guilty but not criminally guilty. Nevertheless, his services were no longer required by the NLR and he became a baker in Highbury. No army documents can be traced at The National Archives so whether he was recalled to the Colours for The Great War is unknown. He died on 24th April 1973, aged 93, St John’s Hospital Vanderhoof, Fort Fraser, British Columbia, Canada.
Sources: The National Archives: RAIL 529/61, 6 Aug 1903, Loco Com Min 12120 RAIL 529/62, 3 Nov 1904, Loco Com Mins 12457/63 RG 11/480, f 47, p 21, 1881 Census RG 11/1729, f 65, p 73, 1881 Census
RG 12/821, f 77, p 6, 1891 Census RG 12/1327, f 25, p 43, 1891 Census RG 13/849, f 5, p 1, 1901 Census RG 13/848, f 37, p 65, 1901 Census RG 14/973, RG78/33, 1911 Census James George Edwin Dorling was born in Bury St Edmunds in late 1883/1884. His father was a brewer’s foreman and after school young George became a brewer’s labourer (obviously nepotism ruled in breweries as in railways). He moved to London and became a porter with NLR in August, 1901, giving his age as 19. He obviously lied about his age, presumably to get men’s rate – 18s a week instead of 15s. As to his name: his parents registered him one thing and then turned the first two around for the census, and that is how the NLR recorded it (George James); The Times and/or the court couldn’t make up their mind whether he was James or George. In 1910 he married Ellen Drane and lived in Hackney, working as a printer’s assistant. In the Great War he enlisted in Hackney for the King's Royal Rifle Corps and served as Rifleman in the 12th battalion in France, being awarded the War and Victory medals. He died of wounds received in action on the 21st March, 1918, and is remembered on Panel 61 to 64, Pozieres Memorial. Hardly surprisingly, he does not get a mention on the NLR War Memorial.
Sources: The National Archives: RAIL 529/62, 3 Nov 1904, Loco Com Mins 12457/63 RAIL 529/130/545 f 293 (Staff Register) RG 12/1450, f 136, p22 (1891 Census) RG 13/1755, f 19, p5 (1901 Census)
RG 14/1081 (1911 Census) Medal card, via ancestry.co.uk CWGC details http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=1580076
Charles Joseph Green. The only point that can be said with any certainty regarding Green is that before becoming a porter with NLR in mid 1903 he was born – about 1875. After being dismissed from the NLR, he did his two month’s hard labour and at sometime died. He would not divulge his address to the police during their investigations. An elusive character indeed.
Sources: The National Archives: RAIL 529/61, 1 Jul 1904, Loco Com Min 12079 RAIL 529/62, 3 Nov 1904, Loco Com Mins 12457/63
Additional research by Amanda Bloomfield
Sub-title by Tadeusz Opyrchal