Local Judges (2): Francis Oswald Langley (1884-1947)

A stipendiary magistrate who sat chiefly at Old Street, but also from time to time at the Thames court (see here for some cases involving possession and use of cannabis), his story is included because at Old Street he heard some cases connected with the Battle of Cable Street.

After Uppingham School (where he won the Latin declamation prize in 1902) he went to Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge as a classicist to study law. He was admitted to the Bar at the Inner Temple. At Cambridge, he had been a contributor to the university magazine Granta, and from 1905-22 regularly wrote articles and verses for Punch (described as the 'London Granta' - A.A. Milne was another contemporary who wrote for both), and other journals - for example, this verse in the Saturday Review 1912, inspired by a press report about the prison conditions of Mehmet Cavit Bey (Reginald McKenna was Home Secretary).

Mr McKenna's Way Out
SALON IN GAOL: EX-MINISTER'S LIFE OF LUXURY The luxuries of prison life in Constantinople are described by a special correspondent of the Matin, who, haying applied in vain for permission to visit the imprisoned Djavid Bey, ex-Minister of Finance and editor of the suppressed journal Tanin, went to the prison and asked to see him. He was immediately shown in, and after signing a visitors' book was ushered into a magnificently furnished room where the governor and several attendants were receiving the prisoner's guests. A large table in the centre of the room was laden with cakes and Oriental sweetmeats, and coffee was being handed round by uniformed servants. 
Djavid Bey was delivering a political speech at the far end of the apartment. He concluded amid rounds of applause from his fellow-prisoners, and then welcomed the journalist. Together they made a tour of inspection of the sumptuous house of detention, where the prisoners' rooms are decorated every day with fresh-cut flowers and where the sentries are expected by the governor to wait on the prisoners.  When the correspondent was about to leave Djavid Bey said, I will accompany you on your way. The prison doors were opened to him without the slightest demur, and half an hour later,the ex-Minister bade the journalist farewell, saying that it was too cold to stay out late, and that he was returning home.

I saw McKenna worn and pale
With efforts always doomed to fail
To keep his Suffragettes in gaol.

I saw him read of Djavid Bey
And smile. I even heard him say
Ah! Now, of course, I see a way.

Suggestion, artfully conveyed,

Is bound, if subtle, to persuade
The childish mind which won't be 'made'.

So let us, as a last resource,
Tempt with a luncheon (fifteen course)
Those whom we cannot feed by force.

Our residents shall dine as well
As in the costliest hotel;
Such dishes, that their very smell

Compels a movement of the jaws,
Forbids the Militant to pause
And think about her tiresome Cause.

Our daily fare shall lick to fits
The Carlton or Savoy or Ritz,
And each shall have her fav'rite bits.

'Twas done. The quality was such
As none could say I will not touch!
The quantity was very much.

Lives there a man who ever yet
Contrived a means by which to get
The better of the Suffragette?

She did not hunger-strike. Instead
She got herself as good as dead
By other means. She overfed.

First World War
Langley served throughout the war; he enlisted as a Lieutenant in the 1/6th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment [right in 1916], serving on the front line, was awarded the Military Cross in 1916 and was promoted to Captain, and then Major, joining the Intelligence Staff; he was twice mentioned in dispatches, and was also awarded the Legion of Honour. During the war, Punch ran an anonymous feature 'The Watchdogs' by various writers, including Langley. In the words of one later commentator, he transmuted trench warfare into a laconic exchange of letters between one languid young officer, Henry, to another, Charles. The ghastly conditions in Flanders were again domesticated [as other writers had done]. The other ranks are portrayed as brave, cheeky children whose delight is to annoy the neighbours, some humourless Germans on the other side of a 'well known and highly-respected turnip field' ... Henry describes a sentry shouting 'gas!' then collapsing. The men blaze away at attackers who never come, one Tommy yelling 'Put another shilling in the meter, Allemand'.Tall tales were later told of braving 'black clouds and pungent smells'. But Henry can find no evidence of the emission of gas by the Germans; on the other hand, he asks Charles, what is to be made of the fact that the sentry, 'notoriously imprudent in his consumption of the Tinned Meat and Vegetable Ration', had that night 'excelled all his own previous efforts with the rich gravy'? Some of this material was included in the The War History of the Sixth Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment (Heinemann 1924).


From 1921-23 Langley was a Law Officer in the Straits Settlements, living in Malaya with his wife and children. He drew on this time in later writings:
How Straits Chinese Stopped Cheats (in The Crown Colonist vol 12,1942)
Mr. F. O. Langley, a Metropolitan Police Magistrate and a former Law Officer in the Straits Settlements, has recalled an experience illustrating the qualities of the Straits Chinese. There was an epidemic of fraud in local Oriental commerce, the flooding of the markets with lead pencils devoid of lead therein, and with reels of sewing cotton found on use to be a little too much reel and much too little cotton. Japanese origin was clear. Chinese probity was anxious to be vindicated. A deputation of the Chinese business community approached Mr. Langley with an offer of voluntary aid to expose the evil and to identify and convict the cheats. Chinese sentiment is essentially practical: their first-named contribution was the manufacture of special machinery to measure cotton-reels at retail and the offer to instal the necessary plant and personnel at their own expense — the Straits dollar equivalent of £12,000. Chinese worth and humour need to be appreciated. Japanese characteristics of ill-temper and vice need to be explained, he writes.

In 1944 he published a 62-page pamphlet Singapore to Shoreditch: A Sentimental Traveller from China in the Dock, based on a case which came before him involving a Chinese man accused of using insulting behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace; it had been described as a minor piece of propaganda (at a time when Britain was allied with China during World War II) to show that the Chinese are not so strange after all.

On his return to England, Langley was appointed Recorder of Oswestry, and later as deputy stipendiary magistrate for Wolverhampton. (Before the war he had been a director of a Wolverhampton brewery, W Butler & Co.) He was also appointed Chancellor (an ecclesiastical judge: the bishop's senior legal officer, who holds 'consistory' courts and issues judgements on ecclesiastical matters) of the diocese of Lichfield. At this time they lived at Abbot's Lodge, Sibton, near Saxmundham in Suffolk - anciently a dower house for Sibton Abbey (a Cistertian house), rebuilt in the 18th century with various later additions, it was listed Grade II in 1951 [left].

In 1926, from Abbot's Lodge, from Brook's Club and from his chambers at 7 Fig Tree Court, Inner Temple (blitzed in 1940 - right) he wrote various letters to James Smyth & Son, Peasenhall, Suffolk, at first attempting to help them find new markets during the depression, but then turning into a bid for the company, which was rejected - details in Leslie Larnder Smyths of Peasenhall (2002). In that same year, he was appointed by the Ministry of Transport to hear appeals from bus proprietors against decisions of the joint committee set up to licence and control bus traffic between Barrow, Dalston and Ulverston, which were being developed to cope with increased demand (including the purchase of four 26-seater buses for the new coast road to Ulverston in the summer).

Metropolitan Magistrate
In 1932 Langley became a London police magistrate - and also the Chancellor of the diocese of Ripon. He sometimes sat at the Thames court, but mainly at Old Street. One case he heard there, in 1936, involved Victor Francis Leonard Kennedy, a 33-year old painter from Stepney who three times in the previous fifteen months had abandoned his wife and child (to whom the London County Council was paying 24s. a week). He claimed this was because he had been an NCO in the Foreign Legion, in charge of a prison containing four Englishmen who had returned to Britain and were after him; but since all but one had now left the country, he was prepared to pay the arrears, and was given three months to do so.

Graver issues arose that year with the rise of Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts (ironically, Oswald was Langley's middle name) and their activities in East London; and in several cases he showed himself to be an uncritical supporter of police action while claiming - how convincingly? - that the courts were neutral on the issues of Fascism and Communism.

For example, when Detective Inspector Brunsden informed him that he would be seeking remands, he replied I wish to make it perfectly clear that I am entirely behind the police in any remedy they may ask for. And on another occasion that year he said at Old Street I want to make it clear that there are only two sides to this controversy — those charged to maintain the peace and those said to disturb it. Whether they are Communists or Fascists, or anything else, does not matter to this court. This mischief is getting beyond limits and more drastic steps may have to be taken.  (A fellow-magistrate, Mr Harris, at Thames police court said The very people who had been protesting against the Fascist procession on the ground that it would cause a disturbance form themselves into an anti-Fascist procession. That is what I cannot understand.)

Here is a fuller report of a 1936 incident:
A man described as a political officer [elsewhere he was said to be an editor], and also as a Fascist, who was alleged to have attacked Jews in a speech at an open-air meeting, was again before Mr F.O. Langley, the Old Street magistrate, in London. He was Alexander Raven Thomson, aged 36, of Carlyle Square, Chelsea. He was charged with using insulting words whereby a breach of the peace might have been caused at Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green. Police witnesses who gave evidence previously said that his remarks included:
The Arabs fought a damn sight better than the Jews ever did.
How many Jews were with Clive in India?
How many Jews were with Wolfe in Canada?
Who made money out of the South African War? Jews, of course.
Lawrence of Arabia promised Palestine to the Arabs for fighting on our side, and the sending of British troops to Palestine to suppress the Arabs is an insult to his memory.
Our boys are being killed, and for what? Purely Jewish interests.
Detective-Sergeant Joss, of the Special Branch, Scotland Yard, who had given evidence as to a note he had taken on Thomson's speech, was recalled.
Mr F.H. Lawton, defending, said he hoped to show that the parts of the speech dealing with the Jews were auxiliary to the main part, which was political.
Cross-examined by Mr Lawton, Sergeant Joss agreed that Thomson told his audience all about motor roads in Germany and how they were built. He also spoke of the economic and general progress being made in Germany. There were 14 minutes of the speech in which there was no suggestion of anything insulting about the Jews. Mr Lawson said Therefore, it if is suggested, as I understand it is, that this speech consisted of a direct attack on the Jews, that is untrue so far as we have gone.
Sergeant Joss said that it would be rather difficult to hear everything the speaker said. He was not suggesting that his report was word accurate. The general tenor of the speech was right. Mr Lawton said that if it were contended that he had a case to answer, no Fascist speakers would be able to criticise Jews in public places in future.
Henry C. Clark, who said that he was in charge of the meeting, stated that he did not notice any particular interruption, nor did he see any fighting.
Mr Langley giving his decision said:
I do not think the conduct of the police is to be criticised in the least particular. The police are bound to take preventive action, and they can take no more admirable step than to arrest a man upon whose head the quarrel rages and to bring him here and present a note of his speech, leaving the Court to decide. The Court holds and expresses no views about Fascism or Communism. It is not interested in either, but the question of Jew-baiting is a matter upon which it has to express an opinion. If Fascists come down and make wholesale attacks on a law-abiding community they will be punished fully for using insulting words, and certainly bound over to find sureties to discontinue this conduct.
If on the other hand a coterie of Jews or somebody else claiming to associate with Jews challenges the remarks, Thomson is free to deal with the challenge and comment on the Jews in the same way.
Mr Langley, commenting on an alleged remark by Thomson in which reference was made to Jews and Marxists, said that what followed flowed from that. If the statement he had singled out had been made deliberately and intentionally with reference to the conduct of Jewish ex-Servicemen he should have regarded is as not wholly untrue but as offensive. I am satisfied, concluded Mr Langley, that no such statement was ever intended or made. The charge was dismissed.

Two days after the Battle of Cable Street, Langley dealt with Harry Goodrich, aged 30, an electrical engineer of Carlton Road and ward secretary of the Mile End Labour party, charged on remand with using insulting words and behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace, and with obstructing Inspector Pennick in the execution of his duty. When Goodrich suggested that Inspector Pennick had punched out right and left Langley said I have a good mind, if you say anything further, to order a prosecution for perjury, and added to his lawyer, Mr Mallalieu, He is lying. I say it deliberately - he is lying. Mallalieu replied, He is entitled to say what he has said and it is a most improper remark for you to make at this stage of the proceedings.  See further Joe Jacobs (a Communist participant) here.

Second World War
By now the Langleys were living at Alderton, near Woodbridge, Suffolk. Their daughter Barbara Rose had married James Edmunds in 1938. F.O. Langley (a son?) died on active service as a squadron leader in the RAF in 1943.  See below for the exploits of his son Jimmy. Here is a mix of serious and curious items from his court during these years.

In 1940 he was called on to determine whether the wartime Lighting Order was wide enough to justify the Secretary of State requiring a light to be carried before an animal. He decided that it was, and found the charge proved, but dismissed it under the Probation of Offenders Act because of mitigating circumstances. (Shortly after, Defence Regulations were revised and clarified the matter.)

In 1943 he said in his court that that railwaymen who persistently broke into cases in transit and stole goods from them, were so utterly unpleasant, loathsome, treacherous, and useless that the country would be better rid of them.
And the following year, the worst man we have to deal with in this Court is the receiver — always has been, and always will be.

An issue arose in 1943 over 'utility suits'. A Whitechapel tailor was charged with making trousers with pleats, turn-ups and four pockets. A Board of Trade inspector told him that it was the general opinion of the trade that the restrictions saved no cloth at all. He showed his sympathy with this view by imposing a low penalty. The War Illustrated commented that It is not just male obstinacy or innate conservatism that makes the Utility suits unpopular; trousers with turn-ups last longer and there is always something to put in any and every pocket.

In 1944 the Daily Mail described the 'doughnut criminal' as a typical victim of government red tape. Isaac Simons, baker, of Roman Road in Bethnal Green, saved half a pound of the sugar which the law permitted him to mix into his doughnuts before baking and sprinkled it on top of the doughnuts after baking. Langley gravely asked Mr. Arthur W. Kemp, prosecuting for the Ministry of Food, Is a doughnut a doughnut if it has not got sugar on top? Mr Kemp thought carefully: It can be, he said. Then he produced this shaft of knowledge: As a matter of fact a doughnut is a cake — according to the order. Mr. Langley: Are doughnuts now absolutely devoid of sugar on top?  Mr. Kemp replied Absolutely. It is permitted to have some sugar inside doughnuts. Mr. Langley: Very dismal doughnuts — that's all I can say. I gather it is an offence to take the legitimate sugar out of the doughnut and sprinkle it on top? Mr. Kemp said That is so. Baker Simons was thereupon fined £2 12s.

Last Days
Paying tribute to a former court reporter, he said The relations between the Press and the Court have always been of the happiest, and this in no small measure has been due to that dear old gentleman whom I have always been pleased to see during the time I have been on the Bench at Old Street.

In 1946: There is a lot of nonsense talked about a wave of crime among the young. In most cases they only need a good talking to by someone who knows how to talk to them, and we would hear no more of it. (In 1938, he had said that he was 'staggered' by the number of juvenile offenders, and at the caseload of the probation officer who appeared before him.)

James Maydon Langley MBE MC (1916-83)
'Jimmy' attended Uppingham School and Cambridge (but Trinity Hall rather than his father's college). A lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards, he was left wounded at Dunkirk in 1940 (a German surgeon amputated his arm), and subsequently escaped; he was recruited for MI6 and then took joint command of MI9, dealing with the escape, evasion, liberation and repatriation of prisoners of war.  Demobbed in 1946 (as a lietenant colonel), he worked for Fisons, and from 1967 ran a popular bookshop at Alderton in Suffolk (where the family had settled before the war) with his wife Peggy van Lier [right] who had been a member of the Belgian 'Comet Line'.  He wrote
Fight Another Day (1974), and with Michael Richard Daniell Foot MI9: Escape or Invasion 1939-1945 (1979). Benedict Cumberbatch played him in the 2004 BBC series 'Dunkirk'.

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