Saturday, 18 December 2010

Porter tells porkies to the police

My great grandfather, John McCarthy, was born at Erith in Kent on 27th October 1863, the son of Richard McCarthy and his wife Catherine (nee Brien).
Richard and Catherine (known as Kitty) came from Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland. They were both born about 1834 and probably came to England as part of the mass emigration resulting from the Potato Famine in the late 1840s. They were married at St George's RC Cathedral in Southwark on 22 June 1856.
King St, Mitchelstown, County Cork

Richard was illiterate and unskilled. He worked as a labourer, on a farm and in a factory, before settling in Bermondsey where he became a glue maker, using the by-products of the local leather and tanning industry.

Richard McCarthy
Richard McCarthy
John McCarthy was educated at St Joseph's Academy, Kennington Park Road, a grammar school run by the De La Salle Brothers as an extension of their work at St Joseph's College in Clapham (now at Beulah Hill). Obituaries described him as "a man of good education" and "a capital linguist" fluent in both French and Spanish.
In the autumn of 1878, aged 15, John went to work  for Edward Henry Waterworth at 147 Houndsditch in the City of London. Waterworth was a commission agent and dealer in china, earthenware and glass. In March 1880 John changed jobs to work for the London Brighton and South Coast Railway at Shadwell Station, first as a porter and later as a signalman.
Shadwell Station 1910
Shadwell Station 1910

His ambition, however, was to join the Metropolitan Police. Regulations required candidates to be over the age of 20 but John was too impatient to wait that long. In August 1881, with his 18th birthday approaching, he wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioners, boldly stating that he was about to turn 20 and asking to be considered as a candidate.
Various background checks were carried out but, fortunately, he was not asked to produce his birth certificate. Probably unaware of his deception, three "respectable housekeepers" vouched for his honesty, sobriety and good temper, as did his parish priest, Father Patrick O'Donnell of the Church of the English Martyrs, Great Prescot Street, Tower Hill.
Church of the English Martyrs, Tower Hill
Church of the English Martyrs, Tower Hill
On 27 December 1881, John was appointed PC 66140 in N Division, based in Islington. His starting pay was 24 shillings per week plus uniform. The terms and conditions of service which he signed on entry stated that: "Every police constable in the force may hope to rise, by activity, intelligence, and good conduct, to the superior stations" and that is precisely what he did.
* "Porkies" is rhyming slang for lies, from pork pies = lies.

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