An acrobatic Raffles

Robert Fabian, in his book Fabian of the Yard, wrote about a new type of burglar.

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Robert Augustus Delaney will be remembered at Scotland Yard as the man who started a new fashion in crime that was to become known as cat burglary.

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Delaney trod the crags and precipices of Park Lane’s roofs with nonchalant skill. Wearing faultless evening clothes, he could apparently climb the sheer side of a house. I think he imagined himself as a kind of acrobatic Raffles.

Raffles found here

He certainly made the great criminals of the past, like Charles Peace, who carried a collapsible ladder disguised as firewood, look clumsy. In his pocket was a slender tool like a putty-knife for slipping window catches. Around his trimly tailored waist coiled four yards of black silk rope. 

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In 1924, when the rich and noble residents of Park Lane were trooping splendidly into dinner, Delaney would crouch beneath their windows, unwinding his gossamer rope. It was not really my case, nor was my pal Tommy Sykes assigned to it. But we kept an eye on the area hoping for a lead.

One night in October we saw a shadowy intruder flit across one of the white balconies. Tommy raced into the house and through bedrooms and corridors, with the alarmed householders behind him. The thief reappeared on the balcony, made no attempt to descend, but ran light footed and leapt a nine foot gap to the next balcony then vanished. The last thing I saw was the glint of a diamond stud in a dress shirt front.

world’s most expensive dress shirt found here

The next morning we went to the scene of the previous night’s burglary. By daylight that leap from one balcony to another seemed no less remarkable. I noticed a footprint on the ledge, so small and so exquisitely pointed that it might have been made by a woman’s dancing shoe. We found another imprint clearly showing the porous tread of crepe soles. “Rubber soled evening shoes” exclaimed Tommy. “He’d need to get those made specially.”

Louis Vuitton evening shoes found here

I spent the day visiting the exclusive shoe emporiums of Jermyn Street and Shepherd’s Market, where craftsmen took pride in handmade shoes to suit clients’ whims. In Albemarle Street I was lucky. The proprietor gave me an address in Half Moon Street which proved to be false but I thought it worth investigating the bars and lounges nearby.

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A man wearing good evening clothes passed me. A diamond sparkled in his laundered shirt bosom, his tiny pointed shoes moved soundlessly on the tile floor. I followed him back to a house in Vine Street…..

On his first conviction he received three years penal servitude at the Old Bailey. That was in 1924. Would you like to know what this daring, well educated and quick witted young man did with the rest of his life and that superb acrobat’s body that fate had given him?

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By the time he died in Parkhurst Prison in 1948, he had spent twenty years in various gaols. In his brief intervals of freedom, his pointed immaculate shoes had scarcely time to become worn down at the heels…..”

Published in: on December 28, 2011 at 11:01 am  Comments (44)  
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where detectives loaf about the village

In 1931, Dr Maurice Hammoneau gave an interview to the Evening Post about the French Foreign Legion

Belgian Foreign Legion found here

“France wants no gangsters, thieves or murderers to serve her flag. How are such men detected if they happen to enlist? France is thorough in such matters. Detectives have two chances of picking them out. First is at the depot in Marseilles and second at the distribution point in Africa where they remain for five days.

France’s most notorious gangster, Jacques Mesrine found here

They are still in civilian clothing so detectives are able to single out particular garments; an American hat, a pair of Italian shoes or an English suit. The recruits are studied carefully and then are passed on to training barracks in tiny villages. Even here they are not free from supervision, for detectives loaf about the village and watch them.

Detective found here

Sometimes the Legion suffers from an occasional desertion in peacetime but there has only ever been one wartime desertion. Hammoneau declined to give that man’s nationality or any particulars. “Caffard got him” he says. “the word translates into cockroach – imagine a cockroach gnawing at a man’s brain.”

Live cockroach brooch found here

I wonder if this is the same Frenchman I’ve been reading about in The Literary Life and Other Curiosities by Robert Hendrickson…..

Sold at auction in 1978 was a twenty one volume series about animals by Maurice Hammonneau. The author had hunted down each animal described and used the appropriate animal skin to bind each volume. Included was a book on human beings, but no explanation was given about the source of the cover.

book bound in human skin found here

the oiling of a stiff key

What is it with men of the cloth and scandalous women? I’ve lost count of the number of rectors I’ve written about at the Gimcrack. Here’s another one from a village in Stiffkey, Norfolk.


Harold Francis Davidson, sometimes known as the “Prostitutes’ Padre“, was a Church of England priest who was defrocked in 1932 for his allegedly licentious lifestyle.

from:That Thin Line Productions

During the First World War he served as a Royal Navy chaplain. When he returned, his wife, Molly, whom he had married in October 1906 after a six-year engagement, was pregnant by another man. There was some pressure on him to leave her, but he refused, claiming marriage vows were for life.

In November 1930, Davidson was late back from London for the annual Remembrance Day service. Major Philip Hamond, who had disliked Davidson since he refused to allow him to be churchwarden in 1919 and had had several further altercations with him since, was ‘incandescent with rage’ and accused Davidson of doing it as an insult to the war dead. A complaint was made to Henry Dashwood, solicitor to the Church of England and adviser to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

Dashwood then began investigating Davidson’s activities in London. He hired the Arrows Detective Agency to follow the rector and report his activities in London. The private detectives uncovered little; of the 40 girls they interviewed only one would say anything against him and then only when drunk (she recanted when sober).

from: Married to the Sea

His defence was that his work in London had been authorised by his bishop, and that only one had actually given evidence of immorality, she having been paid by the prosecution. He admitted to trying to help up to 1,000 girls with advice and sometimes money. The rector’s family including his daughter Patricia gave evidence that some of the girls had visited the family at Stiffkey and that neither she nor her mother had objected. The hearing lasted 26 days and attracted enormous crowds.

On 8 July Davidson was convicted on all charges. After he had exhausted his appeals, he was defrocked at Norwich Cathedral. Davidson then went to Blackpool to live off his notoriety. He would appear either in a barrel or being apparently roasted in an oven while a figure dressed as a devil prodded him with a pitchfork.


For the summer season in 1937 Davidson worked at Thompsons’ Amusement Park in Skegness, where he was billed as “A modern Daniel in a lion’s den”. He would enter a cage with a lion called Freddie and a lioness called Toto, and talk for about ten minutes about the injustice he felt had been meted out to him. On 28 July, he was moving through his act when he accidentally tripped on the tail of the lioness. Perceiving this as an attack, Freddie attacked and mauled him. Renee Somer, the 16-year-old lion attendant entered the cage and fought the lion back using a 3 ft whip and an iron bar.


Davidson was taken to Skegness Cottage Hospital with a neck injury and broken collar-bone and lacerations on his upper body. The lion had mauled him at the neck leaving a gash behind his left ear. The injury was not severe; the lion was old, toothless and sedated. He was recovering from his injuries and it was arranged that he should be taken back to London when his employer, a Captain Rye, sent private doctors to treat him. They diagnosed an advanced case of diabetes without testing him for the disease. They ordered insulin and supervised the injection themselves. The rector sank into a coma and died the next morning. Davidson’s widow refused to wear black and arrived for his funeral dressed in white. She wanted it to be a celebration of his amazing life.


we have detectives in the classes

dancing school

In 1925 Ned Wayburn wrote The Art of Stage Dancing, a book about his dancing classes and what he expected of his pupils

It is a well established rule of the studio that pupils shall weigh themselves every Monday and keep a record of their weight from week to week. For this purpose use the scales in the main office of the studio, please. They are accurate. You are expected to come into my private office and talk with me once a week, and when you do so I shall ask you about your weight, and you must be prepared to tell me. I know just how much you ought to weigh, and am interested in hearing whether you are gaining or losing flesh in the proportion that you should. I am able to tell who is faithfully following my instructions as to diet and the other simple and necessary requirements of our courses. You cannot disguise the real facts from me. It is my business to manufacture symmetrical bodies.

ann constance before ann constance after

before and after photos from Ned’s book

Don’t bring or wear valuable jewelry to the studios. All of our employees are trustworthy, and we investigate the pupils who come into our studios. We know all about them. If the wrong kind of person does get in, he or she doesn’t stay more than an hour or two. We also have detectives in the classes.


Now there is one little thing I am going to talk to you about that really is a bigger thing than it seems—and that is gum—chewing gum. If you had had stage experience you would know that gum is taboo in the theatre, and the reason for this is not only that to chew in sight of an audience would be an insult and result in immediate dismissal, but also for this very important reason, that a cud of gum if dropped on the stage would destroy that stage for dancing—your own dancing and everybody else’s. We have here the finest of clear-maple dancing floors in every one of our studios. Drop a piece of gum on this floor and then try your dance and see what would happen to you

ned wayburn

I do not charge anything for counselling, you may come to my office at any time. If I am busy with some important matter I may ask you to wait awhile, I’m a pretty busy man.

While waiting, weigh yourself and tell me about your weight.


image by Helmut Newton

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 6:54 am  Comments (28)  
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