Hiring, losing, and recovering a harp in 1840-42: the case of Emily Chappell and Sarah Price
Updated: Mar 3, 2019
In Auctioning Francis Tatton Latour’s Erard harp in Finsbury, London, in 1827 (28 February 2019) I considered the theft of a harp from Latour who, until 1 June 1826, had been in partnership with Samuel Chappell (c.1782–1834). At the end of their partnership Latour remained at 50 New Bond Street while Chappell moved to 135 New Bond Street (see document 6 in King George IV’s harps, their strings, and transportation: 1820-26 (1 March 2019)), a little to the south on the opposite side. By 1840 Chappell & Co., then owned by Emily Chappell née Patey (1787–1877), Samuel’s widow, and managed by her eldest son William Chappell (1809–1888), had returned to 50 New Bond Street. In that year the company suffered the theft of harp which, unlike Latour’s, was not auctioned but pawned.
On 31 January 1842 Sarah Price, aged 60, was tried and found guilty of stealing, on 23 September 1840, ‘1 harp, value £65 [or 65 guineas (£68/5/-), as reported in court], the goods of Emily Chappell.’ This case is less convoluted than the one in 1827, but it reveals the extent to which the musical instrument trade conducted business by word of mouth, on trust.
On 23 September 1840, an unnamed man purporting to represent a ‘Mrs Pugh’ (actually Price) of No. 41 Curzon Street, Mayfair, called at the 50 New Bond Street shop of Chappell & Co., and spoke to Andrew Roberts, Emily Chappell’s employee, saying that she wished to hire a good harp. Unlike Charles Olivier, Latour’s counterpart employee thirteen years earlier, Roberts made an initial inquiry before releasing an instrument on hire: he went to the house and saw there a Mrs. Mitchell who, claiming to be the landlady, said that Mrs Pugh was ‘a lady of very large fortune, and she had a good reference with her from Mr. Squire’s [sic], a merchant, in the City.’ On this basis, alone, the harp was promptly sent to Curzon Street that afternoon. (The house, now a 4-star hotel, still exists.)
Unlike Thomas Arnott in 1827, this hirer attended after a month to pay the first month’s hire fee. It is noteworthy that payment was made in arrears and that until that point no documentary proof of identity or status had been presented, and nothing had been put down on paper. Price (alias Pugh) asked Roberts to make out a bill, and duly paid 2 guineas. (In spite of slight net inflation, the monthly hire rate was the same in 1840 as in 1827, and Chappell’s harp was reported to be worth almost as much as Latour’s.) Although the hirer ‘wished to continue it at the same rate’, nothing was heard from her for the next three months. After that time [around 23 January 1841], Roberts called at the Curzon Street house, to be told by a servant that the hirer, who had ‘gone into the country’, was expected shortly to return.
The next part of Roberts’s account is difficult to interpret, but he seems somehow, through the offices of Mrs. Mitchell at Curzon Street, to have established contact with Mr. Squire’s, the referee, whom he understood to live in Bucklersbury [off Cheapside, in the City]. Roberts saw him only in July , ten months after releasing the harp; he was not the hirer’s agent but her son, who seems to have been involved in the deception.
Although it is unclear how Roberts found out, it transpired that Price had deposited the harp with William Edwards Luxmore, a pawnbroker in St. Martin’s Lane, on the very day she had received it. According to the Rules of the Pawnbrokers' Protection Society… (London: Pawnbrokers’ Protection Society, 1845), p. 36, Luxmore, who had joined the Society in 1838, was at 92 St Martin’s Lane [just north of Cecil Court].
The account of George Rowe, Luxmore’s shop assistant, is clear: on 23 September 1840, he had received a note from Price (alias Pugh) in Curzon Street; he went there to look at the harp, saw Price, and agreed to lend her £20 on the harp. Price sent the harp to Rowe by a servant, and he returned the money, receiving the harp in pledge. As Roberts only sent the harp to Price in the afternoon, and this exchange then involved four reciprocating journeys between Mayfair and Charing Cross (about a mile apart), she, Rowe, and their servants must have acted very swiftly.
Precisely how the harp was traced and Price came to be arrested is not recorded, but when Roberts eventually saw Price at the police station, she begged him, promising to have the harp returned and to pay the hire charge, not to prefer the charge against her. She had been searched at the police station on 6 January  by Ann Woolgar (searcher), who took from her the duplicate she had of the ticket issued by the pawnbroker. Price had torn up the ticket and was narrowly prevented by Woolgar from destroying the evidence by throwing it into the fire.
Sarah Price was tried on 31 January 1842, sixteen months after pawning the harp, for theft. As in the Latour case, the recovered harp was presented in court. Rowe produced the ticket he had issued for it, and the police constable to whom the searcher had given the torn-up duplicate ticket presented it formally.
Price was found guilty and, like the much younger William Arnott, fifteen years earlier, was transported for seven years.
On 31 January 1842 Sarah Price was tried for stealing a harp from Emily Chappell.
740. SARAH PRICE, alias Pugh, was indicted for stealing, on the 23rd of September, 1 harp, value 65l., the goods of Emily Chappell.
MR. LOCK conducted the Prosecution.
ANDREW ROBERTS. I am in the employ of Miss Emily Chappell, a musicseller, who lives in New Bond-street. On the 23rd of September, 1840, a man called and said that Mrs. Pugh, of No. 41, Curzon-street, May Fair, wished to hire a good harp—I went to the house to make inquiries—I saw Mrs. Mitchell, who told me she was the landlady—she said Mrs. Pugh was a lady of very large fortune, and she had a good reference with her from Mr. Squire's, a merchant, in the City—the harp was sent the same afternoon—on the 23rd of October the prisoner called, and said she came to pay for the month's hire of the harp, and asked me to make out a bill, which I did—I asked her name, and she said, "Mrs. Pugh, No. 41, Curzon-street"—she paid me two guineas for the month's hire, and said she wished to continue it at the same rate—I called at the house three months afterwards—the servant said the prisoner was gone into the country, but was expected shortly to return—I heard of Mr. Squire's, I think, in July, from Mrs. Mitchell, and I saw him—he is a merchant—apparently, he lived in Bucklersbury—he said he was the prisoner's agent, and was going to send her 400l. that day—it appears he is her son—I have ascertained that her name is Price—the value of the harp was 65 guineas—I saw the prisoner afterwards at the Police-office—she said she had sent the harp on the day she hired it, to Mr. Luxmore, a pawnbroker, in St. Martin's-lane, and begged I would not prefer the charge against her, and she would get the harp returned, and pay for the hire—this is the harp—(looking at it.)
GEORGE ROWE. I am assistant to Mr. William Edwards Luxmore, a pawnbroker. On the 23rd of September, 1840, I received this harp in pledge—I received a note from Mrs. Pugh, in Curzon-street—I went there to look at a harp—I saw the prisoner, and made an agreement with her to lend 20l. on this harp—she sent it by a servant, and I returned the money.
HENRY KIMBER (police-constable V 20.) I produce the duplicate of this harp, which was given me by the female searcher Woolgar, torn in pieces.
GEORGE ROWE re-examined. This is the ticket I gave for the harp.
ANN WOOLGAR. I am searcher at the police-station. I searched the prisoner on the 6th of January—I took from her this ticket relating to the harp—she tore it in pieces, and attempted to throw it into the fire—I said I must not have any thing destroyed.
GUILTY. Aged 60.— Transported for Seven Years.
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 24 February 2019), January 1842, trial of SARAH PRICE, alias Pugh, (t18420131-740).