It’s the Brandrams again!

You may have noticed that I am a bit obsessed with the Brandrams, who for a hundred and fifty years had a large chemical works near the river in Rotherhithe. If you go to Old Bailey Online, you can find the full records of trials at the Old Bailey from 1674 to 1913, and there I found accounts of several trials which give a glimpse of the Brandrams at work.

In February 1814, Dennis Briant, a porter, was charged with stealing 3 pounds weight of blue verditer (a paint or colour), value 10s, the property of Thomas Brandram, Samuel Caldwell Brandram and Henry Long. Their warehouseman William Moss said:

In a morning, I generally go over the warehouse and look at it, I had smoothed the cask of verditer, I observed the print of a man’s fingers in it. I could see that some man’s hand had been in it and seeing the prisoner’s coat all over with it I informed Mr Brandram of it.”

Thomas Brandram told the court:

I am a colour merchant, I live in Size Lane…I told the prisoner I suspected he had robbed me, I insisted on searching him.”

After the verditer had been produced and identified, Briant was found guilty and sentenced to be transported for 7 years.

The case involving the saltpetre in 1821 was much more complicated, as two of the men involved were found not guilty or fined a shilling, while the other man, Howard, who was the receiver of the stolen goods, was transported for 14 years. The other two, Johnson and Mitchell, did the stealing, from Brandrams’ warehouse in St Saviour’s Dock, and this is Mitchell’s account:

Johnson had told us we were to get in at the shutter, which he would leave open, then we could get in at the window and find the keys to the warehouse gates…we took a barge and put it under the prosecutor’s (Thomas Brandram’s) warehouse, which joins the river, and when the tide was down, we walked down, and got in the window and I found the keys hanging in the counting-house: we took 20 bags of saltpetre, one was sweepings and dirty, we chucked that overboard, and had 19 left.”

St. Saviour's Dock

St Saviour’s Dock, image by Andy Worthington

The saltpetre was valued at 30 pounds and the bags it was in at 5 shillings. They took the bags of saltpetre across the river to St Katherine’s Dock, where they met Howard, who had previously agreed to take it from them, and this is where things went wrong. It’s not clear to me quite what happened, Howard seems to have tried to find a buyer and failed, but the next definite thing was that the saltpetre was being held by the Thames police. Mitchell pleaded guilty and gave evidence, which must be why he was only fined, but I can’t see why Johnson got away with it.

There were other fascinating cases, in 1848 someone tried to steal “one bag of pale British vermillion” by presenting Brandrams with a note purporting to be an order from another firm, and in 1850 a Brandrams employee stole a keg of white lead by hiding it under a tarpaulin when he was loading his van “under the crane at the mill room door.” He drove off towards Deptford, but when challenged, made a run for it. Things don’t change much in the world of crime!

According to the tutorial at Old Bailey Online, the first thing most people do with the site is to try their own surname to see if they have any criminal ancestors! But it can obviously be used in all sorts of ways, and I was very pleased to find the firm of Brandrams going about their paint and saltpetre manufacture in 19th century Rotherhithe.