The Saffron Hill Murder (5) — A Number of Italian Gentlemen

A further court appearance had been scheduled for the Wednesday following Friday’s inquest.  A fresh magistrate was in charge, the regular Clerkenwell magistrate — John Henry Barker (1806-1876) — for whom Alexander Knox from Marlborough Street had simply been covering the previous week.  Barker had no doubt been spending Christmas at his family estate at Bakewell, where he lived when not in London.  He was a man who seemed to have built up a rather cosy relationship with the local police.  Wakeling the prosecutor and Guerini, the interpreter, were once more in attendance. This was simply to be a formality, to see what the situation with Rebbeck was.  Hill, the surgeon, reported that “Although out of danger and progressing satisfactorily, he was not yet able to leave the hospital to give evidence”.   

Details of a 1957 BBC radio dramatisation of the case, written by the well-known crime writer Anthony Berkeley, introduced by Francis Iles, and with songs by Anthony B. Cox — all three were pen-names of the same man, Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893-1971). © Radio Times

It should just have been a matter of a further remand, but things were different this time round. According to the London Evening Standard (Thursday 5th January, 1865), “the court and its approaches were densely crowded by Italians and others, who appeared to take great interest in the progress of the case”.  The reason for this was that “a number of Italian gentlemen” had decided to retain a lawyer to act for Pelizzioni.    

The gentlemen were not named, but subsequent references enable us to identify some of them with a fair degree of certainty.  Henry Negretti, as we already know, was to become the chief mover in Pelizzioni’s defence.  We shall hear much more of him.  Also involved was Rocco Angelinetta (1828-1897), a well-to-do looking-glass manufacturer, employing around fifteen Italians — carvers, gilders, and silverers — who lived at his premises in St. John Street.  At least three of his workmen had been in the pub on the fateful evening.  Angelinetta was actually half-English — he was born in Worcester to an Italian father (a barometer-maker) and an English mother.  His wife, Emma Plumb, was also English.

Pietro Bordessa, whom we have already met, was probably involved, as almost certainly was Giacomo Traini, who had married Hannah Worms in 1857 — he was a man known for his local charitable endeavours.   Definitely involved was Charles (Carlo) Galli, one of Negretti’s neighbours in Hatton Garden.  Like Angelinetta and Bordessa, he made looking-glasses, but also, like Negretti, barometers and thermometers.  It was a business founded by his father and at that time employing around ten hands.  Born in Italy some forty years earlier, the younger Galli was a naturalised English subject with an English wife.

Another name mentioned was that of a Mr. Gatti.  This might simply be an error for Galli, but it would actually be surprising if the best-known Italian in London (Swiss-Italian, strictly speaking), the celebrated Carlo Gatti (1817-1878) were not involved.  He was the man who introduced both chocolate and ice-cream to the masses — from stalls, from shops, from cafés — and was by now running the largest ice-importing business in the country (two of his ice-wells survive below the London Canal Museum).  He was also very well-known as a music-hall impresario.  He had begun his London career in precisely these streets and had both a café and a chocolate factory on Holborn Hill at the foot of Hatton Garden.  Impossible to think that he would not have known his neighbour Negretti.  He is also a direct ancestor of my wife’s best friend — so almost counts as family.

The lawyer the gentlemen retained was James Graham Lewis (1804-1873) of nearby Ely Place, father of two brilliant Victorian barristers — the society lawyer Sir George Henry Lewis (1833-1911), and the master chess-player Frederic Hyman Lewis (1834-1889), the latter of whom was also to become much involved in the case.  The elder Lewis was said to have had the manner of a genial sea-captain in court, rather than that of a dry solicitor.  His humanity and compassion were such that he became known as “The Poor Man’s Lawyer”.  The family were Jewish and he would have known what is was like to be an outsider.  It is widely thought that he was the model for the character of Jaggers in Great Expectations.

He swiftly set to work, announcing to the court that despite the inquest verdict he would soon demonstrate through new witnesses, and by cross-examination of the earlier ones, that Pelizzioni was innocent.  He did not think that the earlier witnesses had deliberately lied, but he did think they were much mistaken and had identified completely the wrong man.  There had been another man in the pub that night who looked uncommonly like Pelizzioni.  That man had disappeared on the night of the murder and had not been seen since.  He would produce that man’s master to say so (his master was Angelinetta).  And he had numerous other witnesses to prove that this other man was the real culprit.

Victorian Saffron Hill

It only later emerged that this is precisely what Saul Worms had told the police on the very night of the murder.  He had also named the other man and suggested the police start looking for him.

Lewis intended to begin by cross-examining the previous witnesses.  There was now a pause while Acting Inspector Baldock explained that “owing to some misapprehension the whole of the witnesses that were previously examined were not now present”.   Not to be deflected, Lewis responded that “he would take their depositions at they stood” and begin to examine his own witnesses.

At this point Barker intervened to state that he would now adjourn matters until Rebbeck could appear in person.  Lewis replied that that was all very well, but there had been a great deal of “inflammatory matter” in the press, his client had been vilified, and he hoped the public would now suspend judgement until his evidence was heard.  Barker responded that he had not seen or heard of anything inflammatory in the press — he can neither have read the newspapers nor spoken to anyone who had. 

Facing this sudden adjournment, Lewis said that he “would merely call the magistrate’s attention to one fact”: the prisoner had been arrested on the spot, but no knife capable of inflicting the wounds was found on him.  The house had been thoroughly searched and no murder weapon found.  As for the blood on the prisoner’s hand — it was his own: he had been cracked across the head in the mêlée.  He hoped the press would take notice of all this.  It was quite wrong that he was not to be allowed to continue, “as he had nearly a dozen witnesses in attendance to confirm his statement in every particular”.

Barker was adamant.  Pelizzioni, “who seemed to treat the matter with the greatest indifference”, was remanded for a further week and led away to the cells.  

Cynics, both then and with the benefit of hindsight, regarded this whole exercise, particularly the failure to have the earlier witnesses in court, as a deliberate attempt to shield them until they could get their stories straight before a more challenging examination.  But the counter-narrative was now in the public domain — and from this point on the prisoner began to be referred to by his correct name of Pelizzioni, rather than the Polioni of all the earlier accounts.

Harrington’s funeral took place on the following Sunday.  The entire neighbourhood turned out, no doubt his sister, my great-great-grandmother Ellen Harrington, and her extensive family among them — “The murdered man being a costermonger, there was an unusual turn-out of that useful class of street-tradesmen on the occasion.  First came the hearse, a double-bodied one, containing the coffin in the front compartment and the chief mourners in the second; two mourning coaches followed; and after them a long line of cabs, gigs, donkey-carts, pony-barrows, and a large goods-van, all crammed with male and female occupants, the great majority of the men smoking short pipes. This extraordinary funeral procession, which took from ten minutes to a quarter of an hour to pass any given point, came slowly down Saffron-hill about three o’clock in the afternoon.  The windows in that locality were filled with spectators, and a large crowd of persons in the humblest ranks of life followed the remains to the cemetery.  Although there was no display of feeling, still the affair partook more of a demonstration in the Italian quarter of London expressive of disgust at the foul manner in which Harrington had met his death at the hands of a foreigner than a desire on the part of those who followed to be present at solemn ceremony” (The Sun, Monday 9th January 1865).

To be continued …

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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2 Responses to The Saffron Hill Murder (5) — A Number of Italian Gentlemen

  1. Peter Barber says:

    Dear Laurence

    Enthralling stuff particularly since you seem to be related to everyone! .I expect to hear that the magistrate, Barker, was your great -great-uncle’s brother in law!

    On a more serious and corroborative note. Pellizzioni’s case is exactly the sort that would have engaged the sympathies of Carlo Gatti. Giacomo Corazza’s biography of Carlo, published last year (and irritating in many ways) at last contains the texts of quite a few of Carlo’s letters: almost the first time that we have his actual words. They confirm that he was warm-hearted, emotional and liberal in his views (unlike his nephews who were staunch conservatives) and I’m sure he would have wanted to help Pellizzioni in much the same way that he helps Ticinese emigrants on their way to America and Australia from Liverpool and help Ticinese and (as he would have regarded it ) other Italians to start up their own business (while making sure, nonetheless, that he got a profit out of it!).

    All the best



    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Peter,

      Many thanks – you are right: not Mr Barker, but there are two further members of my family still to turn up in connection with the case.

      Two different articles in the London Evening Standard of 9th February 1865 mention a Mr Gatti as involved in two quite separate aspects of the case – but we shall come to that in due course. The saga has some way to run.

      All best wishes, Laurence


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