Thefts of harp strings in early Victorian London 1: Cornelius Conway and Edward Bond
This is the first of two accounts, drawing on the online transcripts of The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913, of thefts of small quantities of strings, as they were heard in the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales.
Cornelius Conway and Edward Bond were indicted for stealing, on 2 August 1838, 1 box, value 2d.; 1 bag, value 1s.; 16 harp-strings, value 4s.; 20 violin-strings, value 2s. 6d.; 1 pair of scissors, value 3d.; 1 needle-case, value 1d.; and 1 comb, value 2d.; the goods of Frederick Giorgi.
Giorgi, a musician, and his wife, whose name is not given, had been playing music in a booth in Edge ware [now Edgware] Fair, between 9.00 and 10.00 pm on 2 August 1838. Giorgi's blue bag, containing the property stolen, though safely by him at 9.00 pm, was seen to be missing within the next hour. It was brought back to him, apparently by the police who had recovered it, the following day. When, no more than five hours after its disappearance, Henry Harley, a police-constable, apprehended the accused making their way along the Edgeware Road, he found the bag under Edward Bond's waistcoat, and the 'violin strings' (he didn't distinguish between the two kinds of strings) in Cornelius Conway's pocket. Although Bond is reported as having initially said that he 'brought the bag from home' he later, in his defence in court, admitted that he 'picked it up in the Crown and Anchor booth', claiming – notwithstanding Conway's having the strings – that 'there was nothing in it'. It is perhaps surprising that the two were found not guilty.
It is noteworthy that Georgi was performing, presumably in a professional capacity, with his wife; and it is reasonable, taking account of the strings they had with them, to conjecture that he played the violin and she the harp. It seems that the bag contained only the bare essentials they needed to maintain their instruments and personal appearance in public: 16 harp strings (perhaps kept in the box, which was of negligible value (2d. [d = pence, of which there were then 240 to the pound]), though not a complete set, could have covered the range of gauges needed for emergency replacements; and the scissors, presumably, were needed to cut the strings as required. The low value attributed to the strings is remarkable: those for the harp averaged 3d., and for the violin 1½d. each. (3 pence was an accepted price for the smallest, first-octave strings of the harp, so perhaps the Giorgis carried with them only treble strings, those most likely to fail.)
Fairground booths typically sold alcoholic drink and were often associated with criminal behaviour. For example, the 1822 Old Bailey trial record at https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t18220911-79 gives a detailed account of how John Harper, a 'labouring man', having drunk three pints of beer in a booth at Edgware Fair, was approached by a group of lads who later feloniously assaulted him, 'in a field ... near the King's highway ... at Edgware, putting him in fear, and taking from his person and against his will, one pair of shoes ... five sovereigns, and eighteen shillings, his property’.
It appears that this Frederick Giorgi was an older relation, perhaps the father, of one Leander Frederick Giorgi (born in 1826 in Westminster, London), also a musician, who married Catherine Myers (1829 - 1912) in 1847 (https://www.myheritage.com/names/catherine_giorgi). Leander Frederick would have been 12 and his future wife only 9 years of age at the time of the theft.
Given prevailing scholarly views of the separation of the spheres in early Victorian Britain, and preoccupation with the harp as an emblem of elite society, this account helps to broaden our view of the range of situations in which women played the harp.
CORNELIUS CONWAY, EDWARD BOND.
Theft: simple larceny.
20 August 1838
1953. CORNELIUS CONWAY and EDWARD BOND were indicted for stealing, on the 2nd of August, 1 box, value 2d.; 1 bag, value 1s.; 16 harp-strings, value 4s.; 20 violin-strings, value 2s. 6d.; 1 pair of scissors, value 3d.; 1 needle-case, value 1d.; and 1 comb, value 2d.; the goods of Frederick Giorgi.
FREDERICK GIORGI. I am a musician, and live in South-street [now (since 1912) Cadogan Gardens], Chelsea. I and my wife on the 2nd of August were playing music in a booth in Edge ware Fair [now Edgware], between nine and ten o'clock at night—I had a blue bag containing this property—this is the bag and property—(looking at it)—I saw it safe at nine o'clock, and missed it between nine and ten—it was brought to me the next day.
HENRY WILLIAM HARLEY (police-constable S 112). The next morning about two or three o'clock, I met the prisoners coming along the Edgeware-road—I took them, and found the bag under Bond's waistcoat, and the violin strings in Conway's pocket—Bond said he brought the bag from home.
Bond's Defence. I picked it up in the Crown and Anchor booth—there was nothing in it.
Source: Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 23 February 2019), 20 August 1838, trial of CORNELIUS CONWAY EDWARD BOND (t18380820-1953).