Reg. v Alfred Jones and Samuel Gold

Source: Prosecution of Offences Acts, 1879 and 1884. Return to an address of the Honourable the House of Commons, dated 29 June 1900, 19th Century House of Commons Sessional Papers, vol. LXIX p. 247, no. 389 – Reg. v Alfred Jones and Samuel Gold

Text: These prisoners were “street showmen” and they were originally arrested for using bad language and causing a crowd to assemble in a public thoroughfare. On being brought before the magistrate, the police officer stated that her found the prisoners in the Southwark Bridge Road, a busy shopping thoroughfare, with a cinematograph machine, around which a large crowd had assembled, and that in consequence of the description they gave of the pictures to be exhibited therein her arrested them.

The magistrate, in view of the increasing number of cinematographs to be seen in the streets and at places of amusement, and of the danger which might arise if pictures such as those described by the officer were allowed to be exhibited, felt that his powers to deal summarily with the prisoners were insufficient, and he remanded the case in order that the Director might consider whether or not the prisoners should be indicted at the sessions for wilfully exposing to public view an obscene print or picture.

The Director caused inquiries to be made, and had the pictures in the cinematograph examined, when it appeared that the language used by the prisoners by no means exaggerated the obscene nature of the “film.” It also appeared that when inviting people to pay their pence and look into the machine one of the prisoners said that women and girls were not allowed to see it, as it was only for males. The Director thereupon took charge of the prosecution, and the prisoners were committed for trial at the quarter sessions. It was contended on their behalf that the exhibition was not an indecent one, and that similar pictures had been exhibited at a London music hall, and it was proposed to call the photographer who took them. In the end, however, defendants elected to reserve their defence. Subsequently they pleaded guilty at the South London Sessions in October 1899, and were sentenced, Jones to two, and Gold to three calendar months’ imprisonment with hard labour.

At the conclusion of the case the judge directed that inquiry should be made respecting the previous relationship between the prisoners, and as to when, how, and where they procured the films. These inquiries were made, and upon it being ascertained that no similar films existed, and that the photographers, in view of the conviction, did not propose to take any more of them the matter was allowed to drop.

Comments: The Street Cinematograph, which is possibly what was being used by Jones and Gold, was the invention of British manufacturer W.C. Hughes. It was a large peepshow comprising a film projector attached to nine-foot-long cabinet placed on trestles, with multiple viewing apertures so that several people could gather round and view the films on a screen at the far end of the cabinet. As the name indicates, it was exhibited in the open air and enjoyed a brief vogue 1898-99.