Wednesday, 27 June 2012

‘If I live to get home again’

My series on Beatrice Pace's prison letters continues.

Excerpt from a letter written by Beatrice Pace to her friend Alice Sayes from Birmingham Prison, 27 June 1928

I am getting fed right up with one thing and another, as I don’t know what to be doing to be right. But I shall know if I live to get home again. ...

Then I knew little Leslie [1] was getting homesick before I left. So tell him when you see him again that Mam won’t be long before she will be home to him again. Poor little Leslie, it nearly breaks my heart to think how I am parted from him and all the rest. I am longing to get home again. ...
Well, I must not forget to thank you for the lovely things you brought me on Saturday. I ate the choc first. I was longing for a sweet as I had not seen one since I left Coleford. I thought they were ever so nice. ...

[1] Beatrice’s nine-year-old son

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Today in the Pace case: 24 June

Sunday, 24 June 1928: The World’s Pictorial News reports that Beatrice’s defence fund has reached £1,250.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

'My Dollies and Me'

One of the stranger newspaper stories published on the Pace case was the one shown below: written 'by' Doris Pace, Beatrice's eleven-year-old daughter, it considers the large number of dolls received by Doris from well-meaning strangers. (Click for a larger view.)

The People, 17 June 1928, p. 4.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

'Tonight I'm downhearted, for though we have parted I love you and always will.'

Given that Beatrice Pace suggested, in her prison letter of 20 June 1928, that 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' was one of her favourite songs, I thought it might be nice to post a version of the song that was possibly the one she knew and loved.

('Are You Lonesome Tonight', performed by Henry Burr, 1927)

I've come to the opinion that, should it come to a film version of the Pace story (come on, Hollywood, what are you waiting for?! Write me, we'll do lunch), this music would be an important part of its soundtrack.

It connects with the story on many levels.

And, in the context of the events of the 'Fetter Hill Mystery', there's something very haunting about it.

‘I am suffering for nothing’

My series on Beatrice Pace's prison letters continues.

Excerpt from a letter written by Beatrice Pace to her friend Alice Sayes from Birmingham Prison, 20 June 1928

I am longing to come home and sit in that cosy armchair of yours and hear that record of mine, ‘Are you lonesome tonight, do you miss me tonight, do the chairs in your parlour seem empty and bare. Do you stand on your doorstep and picture me there.’

I hope I shall soon be there as I am getting rather fed up. I am doing my best, my very best to keep up as I don’t want the good people here to think I am not well and happy, but they don’t know how I feel, how I am longing to see my Dear Children. ...
...I don’t want to worry you or anyone with any more of my troubles as I have done enough of that. But, Dear Alice, this case is worrying me to death because I am suffering for nothing. ...

Monday, 18 June 2012

On 'lewdness', 'annoyance' and turning a blind eye

Although the investigation into the death of Harry Pace and the trial of his widow Beatrice took place far, far away from the bustle of London's streets, the case became tangentially connected to a chronic problem in the policing of the metropolis in the 1920s: prostitution.

The connection had to do with debates about police powers, which (as I've noted here before) were a hotly debated topic in the latter half of the 'roaring twenties'.

In the context of putting some final touches on another essay of mine on the police powers issue, I was very pleased to discover that an article by my friend Stefan Slater has seen the light of day in the current issue of Law and History Review: 'Lady Astor and the Ladies of the Night: The Home Office, the Metropolitan Police and the Politics of the Street Offences Committee, 1927–28'.

The article is, unfortunately, behind one of those annoying paywalls, but if you have access to a good university library (or know someone who does), you should be able to get a copy.

The abstract runs like this:

Section 54 (11) of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 criminalized the act of a common prostitute causing annoyance by soliciting in public. For the police to implement this legislation was no simple matter, as no definition of “prostitute,” or indeed “annoyance,” was scribed in statute law. Although common law aided the interpretation of this offense—the case of Rex v. de Munck (1918): “We are of the opinion that prostitution is proved if it is shown that a woman offers her body commonly for lewdness of payment in return”—in practice, identifying a “common prostitute” and defining “annoyance” was left to the discretion of the individual police officer. Although specific squads were deployed to target streetwalkers in West End police divisions, where the presence of prostitutes was more likely to cause public offense, a “blind eye” was often turned to women soliciting in the less salubrious streets of the metropolis. Local knowledge gained on the beat and the informal advice of colleagues shaped an unofficial police policy of containment and toleration.
I had the pleasure of reading a couple of draft versions of this article and also discussing it and related topics with Stefan on several occasions.  

With articles like this one and this one, Stefan is establishing himself as one of the leading historians of twentieth-century British policing.

He's also probably one of the best barmen in London. 

This is a rare combination, you will admit.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

‘There is nothing in life for me now’

My series on Beatrice's prison letters continues.

Excerpt from a letter written by Beatrice Pace to her friends Alice and Leslie Sayes from Birmingham Prison, 12 June 1928:

My Dearest Friends,
I am now answering your most loving letter that I received from you on Saturday. I am glad to hear you are all well. I should have wrote yesterday but I did expect you would be up with Mrs. Paddock [1] and Mrs. Wadell. I was ever so pleased to see them both. They brought me some lovely flowers and Mrs. Paddock gave me some money as I buy my own food. ...

Well Dear Alice can baby [2] say anything yet. It is her birthday today. I hear she is allright and she has a nice Dolly. ...

Mr. Purcell [3] and Mrs. Purcell came last Saturday. I can remember seeing her in court the last time I was there. They were both very nice and said they would come and see me again. Someone has sent me a lovely bunch of flowers. I don’t know who it was. ...
If I live to get home again I shall sell it all. As I am almost broken hearted and think there is nothing in life for me now. This case has made me an old woman.

[1] Proprietor of the King’s Head Hotel in Coleford, Glos., who was also taking care of Beatrice’s daughter Doris.
[2] Beatrice’s infant daughter, Jean.
[3] A. A. Purcell, M.P. for the Forest of Dean and organiser of Beatrice’s legal defence fund.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Today in the Pace case: 10 June

Sunday, 10 June 1928: The Sunday News reports that Beatrice’s defence fund has reached £950.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Today in the Pace case: 8 June

Friday, 8 June 1928: The Dean Forest Guardian reports that Beatrice’s defence fund has reached £700.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Today in the Pace case: 7 June

Thursday, 7 June 1928: A. A. Purcell, M.P. for the Forest of Dean,  is reported in the Daily Herald as stating he was ‘in touch with a first-class K.C.’, i.e., ‘King’s Counsel’, to plead Beatrice’s case at her trial.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Police and public

Not only a fascinating story in its own right, the Pace case sheds light on many broader issues and themes in 1920s Britain. One of the most interesting--to which I devote a chapter--could be labelled 'justice'. Various criminal justice institutions or agencies were criticised (both in the press and in Parliament) for the way they treated the 'tragic widow', even more so after her acquittal.

The police took a lot of the heat, specifically the Scotland Yard detectives who came from London to the remote Forest of Dean to investigate the mysterious death of Harry Pace. As I've noted here before, accusations were made at the time that the detectives treated Beatrice badly during her questioning, using 'third-degree' methods in an attempt to influence the  'voluntary statement' she made to them on 11 March.

The 'third-degree' accusations didn't come from nowhere: the Pace case was actually only one of a series of scandals and controversies that rocked British police forces (especially London's Metropolitan Police) in the late 1920s. In my research, I've been able to show--for the first time--how this particular case fit into the broader concerns about alleged abuses of police powers and possible dangers to civil liberties in this period.

So, yesterday, I was pleased to receive the print edition of my latest article on police powers in the 1920s: 'Press, Politics and the "Police and Public" Debates in Late 1920s Britain' which appears in the current issue of Crime, Histoire & Sociétés / Crime, History and Societies (full details for you academic geeks out there: vol. 16, no. 1 [2012]: pp. 75-98).

I actually published my first academic article with CHS back in 2003, so it's nice to do so again (not least in an issue that contains articles and reviews by several good friends of mine in the crime and justice history field).

As CHS isn't the kind of thing you find on newsstands (you'll need a university library most likely), you may want to check out the final pre-publication draft which is available here.

The article focuses on the debates around policing, with a particular focus on the roles of the three main political parties (Conservative, Liberal and Labour) and the press in addressing the issues raised. 

This is how it opens:

In June 1929, a Manchester Guardian editorial[*] marked a London visit by continental police officials. ‘The French and the Germans do many things better than we do’, the paper noted,

but, by general consent, there is one institution that is rather better in England than in France or Germany. Our police are not at all perfect, as some recent events have shown, but they are, nevertheless, very good, and few foreigners visit this country without being impressed by their quiet efficiency. 

Parisian police, it continued, ‘are often brutal when they make arrests’, and while the Berlin police chief had done away with brutal, ‘third-degree’ methods,

Herr Zörgiebel, too, could learn a good deal from the study not only of British police methods but also of the way in which the public reacts instantaneously to anything that looks at all like an excess on the part of the police, demanding that there shall at least be an inquiry and, if there is guilt, the punishment of the guilty. 

Remarkably, this praise came in the wake of nearly two years of relentless scandals and parliamentary inquiries (the ‘recent events’ cited in the editorial); from the autumn of 1927, diverse concerns about the police fed into one another, resulting in a perfect storm of controversy and the most dramatic challenge to the legitimacy of a major British police force in the first half of the twentieth century. 
[* Manchester Guardian, 13 June 1929, p.10.]

By all means, if you like this kind of thing, please do read the rest...

‘I thought I should soon be home but now I think it is a long way off’

The series of Beatrice Pace's prison letters continues.

Excerpt from a letter written by Beatrice Pace to her friend Alice Sayes from Birmingham Prison, 6 June 1928:

To My Dearest Friends

I am just writing you a line. As you will see I am removed from Cardiff still farther away from you. I have lost all hopes of coming home, but I trust you will see and care for my dear Baby [1] as she is never out of my thoughts, also the others but I think of Baby most as she cannot speak and tell you what she wants. ...

I am very worried as I thought I should soon be home but now I think it is a long way off. Did Mr. Clarke [2] tell you any news or Mr. O’Donnell [3]. Please tell me when you write. Also remember me to all at home. ...

I remain your ever loving friend Beattie xxxxxx

X for Jean. I am delighted to hear she is improving. 

[1] Beatrice’s infant daughter, Jean. (See a picture here.)
[2] D. P. Clarke, another solicitor in the firm of Beatrice's solicitor, G. Trevor Wellington.
[3] Bernard O'Donnell, a crime journalist who wrote several articles on the case (such as this one and the one pictured here) and befriended the Pace family.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Today in the Pace case: 5 June

Tuesday, 5 June 1928: Beatrice is moved from Cardiff Prison, where she has been held since being charged on 22 May, to Birmingham Prison, to await trial.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Today in the Pace case: 4 June

Monday, 4 June 1928: The ‘committal proceedings’ at Coleford end with the magistrates sending the case on to the next Gloucestershire assizes which open within a few days.

Because of the shortage of time to prepare, however, the actual trial will be delayed.

In another development, the Daily Mail receives a donation of £500 for Beatrice's defence fund from Barbu Jonescu, a close associate of the exiled Romanian leader, Prince Carol. In early May, the Prince had been ejected from Britain after accusations emerged that he had been engaged in intrigues to regain his throne. The Prince (and Jonescu) had relocated to Brussels, but were apparently still reading the English press.

‘As this unfortunate lady has been under a terrible ordeal for months past owing to the long-drawn-out proceedings of the inquest’, Jonescu wrote, ‘I am enclosing my cheque … in order that she will be represented worthily at the trial.’

Further details of this rather odd aspect of the case are dealt with in the book.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The press and the 'tragic widow'

A typical page from the World's Pictorial News (which was among the more sensationalist newspapers of the time) with coverage of the Pace case, featuring pictures of Beatrice, Dorothy, Doris and Jean Pace (and an unnamed lamb):

World's Pictorial News, 13 May 1928, p. 10

Beatrice was, by the way, widely referred to as 'the tragic widow'.

This image comes from the period of the coroner's inquest, before Beatrice was charged with her husband's murder.

‘I am awfully worried’: Beatrice’s prison letters

While she was imprisoned awaiting trial, at first in Cardiff and then in Birmingham, Beatrice Pace wrote several letters to her friends and family.

Some of these letters – all of which had been written to her friend Alice Sayes – have been retained in the Home Office files related to the case. (The reason why these particular letters have been retained relates to a complicated and fascinating post-trial series of events discussed in the book.)
Detail from one of Beatrice's prison letters.

Together, they give insight into Beatrice’s thoughts in the weeks before her trial.

Over the next few weeks I'll be reprinting brief excerpts from the letters (a few of which were quite long) on the dates on which they were written, 84 years ago.

For each excerpt, I have added notes to explain references that might not be clear.

Excerpt from a letter written from Cardiff Prison, 3 June 1928
Ask Les [1] if he has heard when I shall be coming home. Try and keep the papers for me. Give my love to all that ask you about me. I am writing to Mr. O’Donnell [2] this week. I have had two nice letters from him. He was all smiles in court.

Have you heard about the fund they have opened for me. Do you know how much they have got? I am awfully worried. My head is very bad. Well now dear write me a nice long letter. Tell me all the news. I should like the Guardian [3] paper if you could send it. So now I shall have to close and wish you all so long.

I remain your loving Friend Beattie.
Be sure and keep Baby [4]. I am longing to nurse her once more. Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

[1] Les Sayes, husband of Beatrice’s good friend Alice Sayes.
[2] Bernard O’Donnell, a journalist who wrote several articles about Beatrice’s case.
[3] The Dean Forest Guardian, one of the local papers in the Forest of Dean, where Beatrice lived.
[4] Alice Sayes was taking care of Beatrice’s youngest child, her sickly infant daughter Jean.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Innocent until proven guilty

This is a commentary on some of the legal issues that the Pace case raised that I recently ran across, published eighty-four years ago today:

The comfortable British belief that in this country every accused person is treated as innocent until proved guilty has been upset by the finding in the matter of Mrs. Pace and her late husband. The Coroner’s jury, on the evidence before them, formed the opinion that the man did not lose his life through natural causes or by his own act. But they could not leave the matter there. By the Coroners Act of 1887 they were required to fasten guilt on some particular person or persons.

Thus Mrs. Pace, who has yet to be tried, was by them declared to have administered poison to the dead man. On a strict legal view, such a declaration is no more than a charge, but people in general lump all verdicts together, and until the wording, or the procedure, is changed there must be risks of the jury at the trial being prejudiced by the finding at the inquest. Why should not the Coroner’s jury be content to find simply that death was apparently the result of action by some party other than the deceased?

It is not only with reference to Coroners’ procedure that there is a case for enquiry. The time has come, it seems to us, when there might usefully be an investigation into the whole question of what we may call trials before true trials. The legal mind and the mind of the instructed layman may be depended upon to distinguish between preliminary proceedings, which result only in a charge, and true verdicts; but as regards the general public there is no small amount of confusion and prejudice.

Press publicity brings the results in Magistrates’ courts and Coroners’ inquests before a huge body of readers, and whatever the eventual fate of an accused person there does cling to him or her some of the discredit or criminality imputed by the preliminary finding. The motives with which the existing system was established are not in question, but a thorough investigation of its workings would be beneficial.

(‘Notes of the Week’, Saturday Review, 2 June 1928, p. 686. Some paragraph breaks added.)

Both of these matters--the role of the coroner and the press--became the subject of intense debate around the case and are discussed in depth in the book.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Today in the Pace case: 1 June

Friday, 1 June 1928: The Dean Forest Guardian reports that A. A. Purcell, Member of Parliament for the Forest of Dean, has started a defence fund to enable adequate representation of his impoverished constituent at her upcoming trial for murder.

‘The plight of Mrs. Pace and her children', Purcell is reported as saying, 'had moved him very deeply’.