In the first few years of the Edwardian era, before soft porn was widely available to the masses, a lot of men bought for a penny the London Illustrated Police Budget. Here one could find, alongside church news and politics, pictures of attractive, tightly corseted, young ladies in various forms of peril. So if you were turned on by the sight of a maid being tied to a table by a powerful man, a wasp-waisted young lady being grabbed by the hair in a train carriage, a woman being pushed onto a railway line by an angry husband, a newly-wedded woman being yoked to a plough, or a ‘pretty girl ‘being violently assaulted in Peterborough, then this was the magazine for you.
But in its defence, it cannot be said that the Police Budget was invariably misogynistic, though there was always a covert sexual element to most of the scenarios. Some of the incidents featured women hitting back (literally sometimes) at their tormentors. In one picture dated January 1903 a young American lady with connections to the boxing fraternity then based in Chipperfield, Herts, is depicted whipping the backside of her husband having first lassoed him to a tree, Wild West style. His crime—-the dastardly one of perhaps deliberately ‘missing‘ his last train home from Euston. In another scene a woman is shown violently hitting her husband with an umbrella in Boulogne, having made the journey from London to do so. It would seem that she suspected him of transferring his affections to a woman named Lucy. Another, more unusual assault by a female, also involved an umbrella. In 1900 this weapon was used in Regent’s Park by a certain Louisa Venables on a hapless retired army officer who she had seen ‘ interfering ‘ with children , on one occasion offering them money to ‘ tumble over ‘. In the absence of strong evidence against the alleged pedophile his assailant was convicted of assault and fined 20 shillings.
In some incidents women were shown assaulting one another. In 1904 two ballerinas with the same surname came to blows in the green room of a theatre in Paris after a bouquet had been flung onto the stage by a male admirer. Each lady claimed the prize, a quarrel ensued which ended up with one of the combatants having her nose chewed off by the other. Rather bizarrely, an assault by a jealous wife resulted in her husband losing the tip of his nose, while the supposed mistress was stabbed. In another incident two ‘actresses’ started a fight on the top deck of an omnibus over a suitor. Feathers flew and hats were lost and things might have become more serious had not a gentleman intervened to stop the violence.
Transvestism—a familiar feature of many Music Hall acts in this period—was also catered for. In June 1903 the police were called to the Earl Grey public house in Mile End Road where they found a very drunk Alice Louisa Hooke dressed as a soldier, ‘ trousers and all’ capering around with a short stick in her hand. Although all the men in the public seemed to be enjoying the entertainment, Ms Hooke was afterwards convicted of drunken behaviour and fined the princely sum of 3 shillings. Interestingly, the publican who allowed such conduct was fined five pounds.
All these cases and others just as titillating can be found in a compilation of Police Budgetarticles entitled Dreadful ‘Twas, edited by someone called Sean Wyndham and published in 1958 from Connecticut, USA. [R.M.Healey ]