Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 18 October 2019), February 1891, trial of ELLEN WHEELER, alias INGRAM (70) (t18910209-223).

ELLEN WHEELER, Damage to Property > arson, 9th February 1891.

223. ELLEN WHEELER, alias INGRAM (70) , Feloniously setting fire to a dwelling-house at Walthamstow, Essex, on 9th October, 1890, with intent to injure and defraud.

MESSRS. BESLEY and GILL Prosecuted, and MR. ORMSBY Defended.

MARTIN GEORGE DEVITT . I am clerk to Mr. Simpson, an estate agent, in New Kent Road—on 16th September the prisoner came to take a house, No. 2, Portland Road, Seven Sisters' Road—she gave the name of Louisa Corrie; she took the house and paid a deposit of ten shillings—I asked her for a reference, and she referred to Mr. Wheeler, 29, Stanley Street, Battersea, and the name of Winch, Lorrimore Road, Camberwell—I wrote to Wheeler and received this answer—the prisoner then remained in possession of the house on a yearly agreement; the rent was £2 8s. 6d. a month—it was a six roomed house—she signed the agreement in the name of Louisa Corrie—a fire, took place there in October—she paid no rent.

JOSEPH WILLIAM SHEPHERD . I am one of the London Salvage Corps at Upper Street, Islington, Station—on 10th October, 1890, I took possession of 2, Portland Road, in consequence of a fire having happened there—I saw the prisoner there, and she told me that about ten o'clock she had left a candle burning on the table close to her bed; that she went out for a short time, and when she came back she found her house had been on fire—the bedroom at the back was burnt out completely, and the folding doors of the front sitting room were burnt right off, and the best part of the furniture was damaged—the fire in the back room ground floor had been a fierce one—I saw part of a paraffin lamp outside the window—it had been thrown out of the window into the front garden and was broken—I could not detect any smell of paraffin on the 10th.

Cross-examined. I did not see anything suspicious about the place—I

have had considerable experience of fires—if I had seen anything to arouse my suspicions I should have reported; I did nothing.

JAMES WALLIS . I am a clerk in the County Fire Office, Regent Street—on 9th October, 1890, I received this letter from 29, Stanley Street, signed Louisa Corrie—I afterwards received this second letter, dated 19th August—that was replied to, and I then got a proposal form from her to insure her furniture for £125—the premium was 2s. 10d.—I received that in this letter—in consequence of that proposal a policy was issued—on 10th October I received notice of a fire at 2, Portland Road—in the meantime the policy at Stanley Street had been transferred there; a claim was made; that was put into the hands of Price and Gibbs, who act for the office—the claim was for £136; that was settled by a payment of £115—I produced the receipt for it, signed Louisa Corrie.

CHARLES HENRY GIBBS . I live at 262, Kennington Road—I am assessor to the County Fire Office—in consequence of instructions I went to 2, Portland Road on the 11th—it was a six-roomed house, and appeared to be furnished only on the ground floor, except one room over the kitchen—the fire appeared to have broken out in the two rooms on the ground floor, which communicate—I did not see the prisoner on my first visit—I afterwards saw her at my office—she stated that she had left the house about half-past eight to visit a friend, and when she came back she found the fire had occurred, and the engines were still there—she said she had left a paraffin lamp on a table in the back room, used as a bedroom—she suggested that the lamp might have exploded, or been upset, a cat might have upset it—after I saw her at my office a list of the articles destroyed or damaged was furnished, and I went to the house again and saw her; I asked her for a list, and she supplied it—the claim was £137 3s. 6d.—I met her again at the premises and went through the claim, and finally it was arranged at £115; she agreed to accept that—the fire had burnt through the two rooms; they were severely damaged.

WILLIAM WILLIAMSON (Detective-Sergeant). I have seen the letter purporting to be written by Mr. Wheeler as a reference for Mrs. Corrie, also the letter from Stanley Street with reference to the insurance; to the best of my belief they are in the same handwriting. (The letters were read.)

MR. GIBBS (continued). I produce the agreement to accept £115, dated October 13th, signed Louisa Corrie.

Cross-examined. I saw the remains of the fire; I made the settlement with the prisoner—I thought £115 a fair compensation—I have had considerable experience in fires for years.

Re-examined. I saw remains of the majority of the items; the remains of wearing apparel and so on were not to be seen; there was a piano, chairs, and tables; what I did see were damaged—I had no suspicion that they had been set on fire—whatever the amount insured she would not get more than the damage actually done.

CHARLES BROWN . I live in High Street, Walthamstow, I know the prisoner—I removed her furniture and her daughters from Portland Road to Gerand Street, Bow, by order of the daughter—some of them bad been damaged by fire, kitchen utensils, bedroom furniture and a piano, which had been blackened by fire.

WILLIAM ROGERS . I am an agent at 18, Gerand Street, Bow—on 17th October, last year, two females called at my house, my wife answered them;

I saw them in the evening—I saw one of them at Southwark Police-court—I know her as Mrs. Wheeler, I was told by Brown that was her name; I did not know her name till then—they said they had been over the house, 20, Gerand Street, and paid 13s., one week's deposit—I asked for a reference, and it was given at an address at Walworth, which I have not at present—they took possession about nine that night; I did not see what they brought with them; the only article I saw was a palliasse—I think I could identify the person whose name was given as Brown. (Looking round the Court)—the prisoner is the elder woman who was in company with the other that gave the name of Brown.

GEORGE HAMPSHIRE . I am a member of the Salvage Corps at Shaftesbury Avenue—I went to 20, Gerand Street, Bow, with Inspector Williamson, and there saw various articles of furniture; I can't say the date exactly, I think it was in December last year—I was asked to look at the furniture—I saw a piano, a timepiece, some dresses, and other articles—pretty nearly all the furniture I saw there I had seen at 89, Great Dover Street, Borough, at the fire there—there were a lot of flimsy articles and fancy goods.

Cross-examined. In going through the claim with Mr. Roberts, I recognised the piano as having celluloid keys instead of ivory—in checking the claim I marked the keys to see which they were, I marked two with my penknife, and I explained it to Mr. Williamson—probably any other salvage man may have done the same thing, but not with the same keys; I marked six or seven on the left hand side of the piano—I marked two keys next to one another, and there was no name on it, there had been one, but it was rubbed off—the piano was damaged by the fire in Great Dover Street; it was pretty nearly in the same condition when I saw it again: if it had been in another fire since I should have expected to find it more damaged, especially if the fire was fierce; I should not expect to see much of the piano then.

Re-examined. I have not the slightest doubt it was the same piano; I have no idea of the value of the things I saw at Gerand Street.

WILLIAM WILLIAMSON (Re-called). On 5th December, 1890, I went with Sergeant Bush to 29, Stanley Street, Battersea; I had a warrant with me—I there saw the prisoner, and some friends of hers—I read the warrant to her; it was for being concerned with others for conspiracy and fraud, to deprive Fire offices of money—she said, "I did not conspire with ail those men; if they had taken my advice they would have had no fires"—I told her she would be further charged with wilfully and maliciously setting fire to No. 89, Great Dover Street, Borough, in the name of Kate Cranley—the name of Wheeler was on the warrant; I addressed her as Mrs. Wheeler—she said, "It is false"—I showed her the paper, and said, "You see it is signed Kate Cranley; she said, "Yes," that is my signature, and the body of the claim is my handwriting"—she was taken to Southwark Police-station and charged with conspiracy—she made no reply.

HENRY CORNISH EVANS . I am an auctioneer and estate agent, of 92, Hoxton Street, Shoreditch—in September, 1886, the prisoner applied to me to take the house 11, Gerand Street, Bow—she gave the name of Franklin—she gave me references, but I have not been able to find them—I accepted her as a tenant at a rent of 13s. a week; it was a six-roomed

house—she went into possession in September—she remained there until a fire occurred on 20th November.

FRANK STANLEY PRICE . I am assessor to the County Fire Office, and live at 262, Kennington Road—from instructions I received in November, 1886, I went to 11, Gerand Street, Bow, and saw the place that had been burnt—I saw a woman there; I do not identify the prisoner; it is nearly five years ago—I made the usual inquiries as to the origin of the fire—a claim was sent in for £91 15s., the policy was for £100—the claim was settled for £75—the body of the acceptance is in my writing; it is signed Elizabeth Franklin—£75 was paid.

Cross-examined. I have had twenty-five years' experience in settling these matters—my recollection of this matter is very faint—I should see certain remains of the fire—it was a severe fire; the back room was nearly burnt out, I see by my report, and the front room nearly down—I think £100 policy is the lowest we accept—I naturally do my best for my company—I should think the policy was issued between September and November—this is the claim; I think it was signed at the same time as the acceptance—the cause of fire is stated as an explosion of a paraffin lamp; that would be made by the person before she signed it.

WILLIAM WILLIAMSON (Re-called). I have seen the signature to this claim, and compared it with handwriting of the prisoner's—to the best of my belief it is her handwriting—I never saw her write; I have compared this with various documents, among others with the signature of Kate Cranley—I have compared a lot of the writing, several claim forms, and documents of different descriptions—she has a very peculiar way of forming the letters in each of them.

Cross-examined. There are two signed Louisa Corrie—I see very great resemblance through all the documents.

JOSEPH GEORGE CLARK . I am a valuer, connected with the Lambeth County Court—I lost my sister, and had to administer to her estate—she was the owner of 156, St. George's Road, Peckham, and I, as administrator, had that house to let—on 8th July, 1889, the prisoner Wheeler and Mrs. Ingram, her daughter, called on me about the house—the prisoner described Mrs. Ingram as her daughter; I don't know that she mentioned the name of Ingram—they told me they had been over the house, and offered to take it; I did not get a reference—she wanted to take possession on the Thursday—she gave the name of Mrs. Thornton—I told her I objected to widows as tenants—she said, "Oh, you have no occasion to be afraid of your rent; I am a widow and have a pension from the employer of my late husband"—the daughter said that she and her husband were going to Yarmouth, and they wanted to see her mother in before they went—they gave me a reference to the east of London; I said I could not have it—she said, "I will pay you a month in advance"—I thought she was respectable, and I took the rent in advance; that would take her up to August—another payment was made to my daughter, and after the fire she left a fortnight's rent with the tenant of the adjoining house—I received notice of a fire on the Saturday after the 16th; I went to the premises on the Saturday, I found the prisoner there—I looked over the place—I found that the walls and ceiling were very black; the paint was scorched, the bed-covers burnt, and a portion of the bed, a round pedestal washstand very nearly destroyed, and a towel-horse destroyed; when new the furniture I saw would have been worth about

£10—I did not see it before the fire, but there had not been much fire in that room; there had been very little damage done as to burning—Iasked her if I should make out the claim for her; she said she would let me know—she told me that she had left a lamp on a chest of drawers or dressing-table and gone out, and the lamp must have exploded—there was a portion of a broken paraffin-lamp I think on the drawers; she never came to ask me to make the claim; I did not see her again till she was in custody.

Cross-examined. I said at the Police-court that I had a suspicion of this tire—I did not offer to make out a claim for what I thought was a fraudulent fire, I left that to the assessors of the office—I did not say at the Police-court that I thought it was a fraud; I said I had a suspicion about it.

WILLIAM DENNY . I live at 158, St. George's Road, Peckham—I am a stone carver—the numbers are even on one side of the road and odd on the other—my house is next to 156—about half-past nine on the evening of 18th August, 1889, afire occurred there—I got into the house the back way, and put it out—before that I had seen Mrs. Thornton with her daughter and a little boy leave the house—I was standing at the front door; they left a few minutes before I discovered the fire—Mrs. Thornton is the prisoner—the fire was burning in the back parlour, which they made a bedroom; it was a great blaze when I first went round—I put it out in a very short time—there was burning in several parts of the room—after the fire was extinguished I found there was no furniture upstairs, only downstairs, the parlour and bedroom—I had been in the house before—on one occasion Mrs. Thornton came home one evening and sent the boy to say her door was open, and she was afraid; would I go in and see if it was all right, and I did—I should say what was in the room was of the value of about £8 or £10; the amount of damage by the fire was about £5—the prisoner came back that night very late; there was no one with her.

COLIN PEACOCK . I am a clerk in the London and Lancashire Fire Office—about 18th April, 1889, the office received this letter, signed "Elizabeth Thornton"—a form was sent, and this letter came on 22nd April—after replying to that this letter came, dated 3rd May, 1889, enclosing 3s. 7d.—a policy was then forwarded for £150 on household goods and personal effects—the original policy was to cover the goods in 6, Hazlewood Road, Walthamstow—on 8th July we received this letter, upon which the policy was transferred to 156, St. George's Road, Peckham—on 17th August we got notice of a fire at 156—this claim for £94 19s. was sent to us, signed "Elizabeth Thornton"—I have a letter agreeing to accept £70.

WILLIAM RADWELL, JUN . I represent the firm of Brown, Roberts, and Radwell, of Austin Friars, assessors to the London and Lancashire—on 17th August, from instructions, I went to 156, St. George's Road. Peckham—I found that a fire had occurred in the back room, ground floor—I saw the assured, Mrs. Thornton; I cannot identify her—she made a statement to me—I saw on a chest of drawers the remains of a paraffin lamp—I supplied the form on which the claim was sent in; the person came to the office, and the agreement to accept a sum less than £100 was signed in my presence—I believe the money was paid; that would be in the hands of the office.

Cross-examined. I have had a few years' experience at valuing—I saw the remains of this fire—I should certainly not have agreed to give £75 if I had seen the furniture was worth only about £8; the remains were worth considerably more than that.

Re-examined. The articles of apparel were considerably burnt—we found remains of nearly every article claimed for.

By the COURT. There were a quantity of remains—I saw the place first on 17th August, and again on the 19th—I made a cursory examination on the 17th, and on the Monday I went into the question in detail.

WILLIAM WILLIAMSON (Re-called). The whole of these documents, signed "Elizabeth Thornton," are in the handwriting of the prisoner.

JAMES CLEWLY . I am landlord of 89, Great Dover Street, and live there—on or about 1st May, 1890, the prisoner, with another woman, came and took two rooms on the second floor—she gave the name of Mrs. Cranley—the rent was six shillings a week—she took possession about the 6th May—she was visited there by her daughter—on 10th July, 1890, I saw the prisoner leave the house about twenty-five minutes to nine in the evening—I left at twenty minutes to nine—within three minutes after I heard of the fire—I ran back, and saw the flames coming out of the second floor window—the firemen came, and the fire was put out; we threw a lot of water on before they came—the fire was in the prisoner's front room—upon looking at it afterwards the fire appeared to be most in a cupboard opposite the window; the whole of the cupboard door was burnt down, which would measure something like five feet across by eight feet high—I noticed the iron part of a lamp standing on the corner of the table and the receiver broken on the ground—the prisoner came that evening about half-past eleven—I met her at the door, thinking, of' course, that she would be very much upset; I broke it to her in the quietest manner I could—it did not seem to upset her—I said, "I am very pleased to know you are insured, as the fireman has found your policy"—she said, "I should not have been insured if it had not been for a friend of mine"—she remained at my place for a little while; we made her up a bed in the parlour, and she remained that night—on the following Tuesday she gave a week's notice, and removed on the following Thursday, about nine at night—I never saw the contents of the room before the fire.

GEORGE HAMPSHIRE (Re-called). I went to 89, Great Dover Street after the fire, and took charge of the place—I saw the furniture; it was the same furniture that I afterwards saw at Gerand Street.

Cross-examined. I did not see anything in the least suspicious.

JAMES GEORGE WHITE . I am a clerk in the Westminster Fire Office, King Street, Covent Garden—on 24th January, 1890, this letter was received at our office, applying for an insurance of £125—a charge note was sent, a premium paid, and a policy issued on furniture at 66, Longhedge Road, Battersea, in the name of Kate Cranley—these three letters appear to be all in the same handwriting. (The letters were read; the policy vas transferred to Great Dover Street; a claim teas made for afire there of£121 15s., settled at £100, the salvage to belong to the assured, all signed "Kate Cranley. ")

REUBEN LYON . I am a silversmith of 124, Holborn—I am the owner of 46, Winchester Street, King's Cross—in January, 1887, the prisoner called on me in the name of Mrs. Hitchin, and I let her the house—she

said her grandson was coming to live with her; he came after she took possession—I recognised him at the Police-court, it was Culmer; he always paid the rent; I never saw the woman afterwards—about two months after there was a fire at the house—she told me she had a private income—I asked for references where she was then living—I wrote to that person, and I received a written answer—I gave it to Mr. Wontner.

WILLIAM HILL FIDDIMAN . I am a partner in the firm of Toplis and Harding, assessors to the Phœnix Fire Office—on 23rd March, 1887, I went to 47, Winchester Street; the fire was on the 22nd—the back room ground floor had been burnt out, it was a severe fire; the contents of the front room were damaged by smoke—I saw the remains of two lamps in the back room—I did not see the prisoner there—I saw a man who answered to the name of George Jones; I afterwards ascertained it to be Culmer—the amount of the claim was £153 19s. 3d., the amount paid was £55—the insurance was for £100.

Cross-examined. I have had experience in valuing things after fire—in the case of a severe fire it is very difficult to recognise whether things have been recently burnt; the remains of apparel would be reduced to tinder—the remains of a fire might do duty again—there was not much left from this fire that could be burnt again, beyond some few materials—we reduced the claim, because the remains of things were not to be seen that I should have expected to find there.

FREDERICK WHITEHEAD . I am a warehouseman, and live at 66, Ridley Road, Dalston—I have known the prisoner about twelve years—I have seen her on several occasions since October, 1889, down to 9th September last year—I have had conversations with her on the subject of fires—I remember the fire at 89, Great Dover Street, on 10th July—I saw her on that occasion with her daughter, Mrs. Ingram—I saw her directly after the fire, not before, on that day—I first saw them in Great Dover Street about half-past eight or a quarter to nine—Mrs. Ingram said, speaking of the fire, "It is off," meaning that it was alight; "will you go down and see if things are going on nil right?"—I watched the fire; I left them for a time, and returned and saw them later on—I saw that the place was on fire, I saw the blaze—I rejoined them at a public-house opposite Findlater's, at the corner of London Bridge—we were there some time, and then went across the bridge—after the fire the furniture at Great Dover Street was taken to 13, Whitmore Road, Hoxton.

Cross-examined. I believe I am what is termed an approver—the prisoner was present at the conversation with Mrs. Ingram; it was only a few words, so little that I easily retained it in my memory.

GUILTY.—Recommended to mercy by the JURY on account of her age. Five Years' Penal Servitude.