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History: ‘Twice in half an hour, she escorted men to the haystack’ - scandal in Collier Row pub

A pub in Victorian times A pub in Victorian times

Professor Ged Martin
Sunday, January 19, 2014
12:00 PM

In the late 19th century, Collier Row had a “scattered population of 750”.

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Collier Row todayCollier Row today

The straggling village was unimpressive.

“There is nothing picturesque about the houses in Collier Row,” remarked a 1911 guidebook.

In the 1890s, it was quiet and rural. Hay waggons lumbered along Collier Row Lane.

The local bobby, Constable Durrant, kept order.

“Smart capture by Pc Durrant,” a newspaper reported his biggest case.

In 1898, somebody stole one shilling (5p) from a charity box at the Church of the Ascension and “a decided ornament to the district”.

Roused at 5.30 on a Monday morning, Durrant pursued the main suspect, William Jones, a 31-year-old homeless labourer.

Apprehended in Romford, Jones incriminated himself by protesting he had not robbed the church – a crime Durrant had carefully not mentioned.

But the “disgraceful proceedings” at James Knight’s beerhouse in December 1892 required undercover police work.

Collier Row had three respectable pubs – plus the Rose and Crown.

It belonged to a small brewery at Abridge, and landlord-tenant relations were bad.

Knight complained there had been no water supply for three years – how did he wash the glasses? – so he’d stopped paying rent and ignored eviction notices.

The arrival of Annie Foster, a pale-faced London teenager, gave the law its opportunity to pounce.

Knight insisted that Annie was 18 (she looked younger). She was not living at his pub and he had no idea how she made her living.

Two plain-clothes policemen from Chelmsford had no doubt about her profession. Annie was wearing tweed trousers and a soldier’s tunic. Only bad girls wore men’s clothes.

“It was Christmas time,” said Knight, as if that explained cross-dressing.

The police watched as she danced with male customers. Twice in half an hour, she escorted men to the haystack behind the pub.

Mrs Knight objected to Annie’s presence. In fact, she protested by smashing the windows of her husband’s pub.

The policemen identified themselves and accused him of “harbouring a prostitute”.

James Knight was angry at the insult to Collier Row.

“Go to Romford,” he advised the cops, “and you’ll find the same thing in plenty of the [public] houses there.”

Asked in court what he meant, he explained: “Romford stinks of that sort of girls, but no notice is took of them.”

The defence lawyer argued that no offence had been committed.

Knight was obviously not living off immoral earnings, though perhaps Annie ensured that he had thirsty customers.

Was she really a prostitute? The Essex policemen admitted the Met had never heard of her.

She was observed cooking bacon in the pub. Was she a domestic goddess who just liked men? Nobody saw her take money for sex.

All the same, Knight was found guilty of permitting his pub to be used as “the habitual resort of a reputed prostitute” and heavily fined.

Right on cue, a representative of the brewery jumped up to say that he would be evicted “immediately”.

And so Collier Row’s Rose and Crown closed, and Annie Foster had to find another haystack.

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