In October 1890, a nursemaid named Eliza Stopher was brought before the Brighton Borough bench. Her crime? According to a report published in the Brighton Gazette, she was pushing a pram on the pavement in East Street. What’s more, when she was asked to take it off the pavement, she refused with some defiance. A police inspector who happened to be passing moved the perambulator into the street himself, but Miss Stopher, who was employed by a family living in Marine Parade, merely wheeled it back on to the pavement a little further down the road. Her punishment was a five-shilling fine or seven days’ imprisonment.
What’s interesting about this story, apart from the shocking realisation that a young woman could find herself in jail for pushing a pram on the pavement, is that it was subtitled ‘Another Prosecution’. Prams on pavements were obviously an issue towards the end of the 19th century.
The problem was discussed at some length in an article published in The Nursing Record on 11 May 1893: ‘Magistrates have over and over again pointed out to careless drivers that the road is as much for the passenger on foot as the one on wheels,’ it declared. ‘And it is so with the pavement, which belongs as much to the nurse and children out for a walk, as to the fashionable woman out for shopping, the busy businessman, or the idle stroller. If the baby cannot walk, it is a very trifling matter that his carriage takes up the width of two children side by side.’
The writer goes on to say, however, that, ‘it is an act of thoughtless impertinence for two nursemaids to proceed side by side down a busy pavement, and especially so when they pause to look in at shop windows, and continue their onward course with their heads turned sideways to gaze on some article of finery, instead of looking in front to see where they are going.’ Clearly there was sympathy for the women, but it only went so far.
Fast-forward thirty years and, it seems, the problem had not gone away. On 9 August 1924, the Brighton & Hove Herald reported the case of three young women brought to court for blocking the pavement with their prams. ‘Prams as Obstructions. A Warning to Mothers who Gossip’ thundered the headline.
This time it was not nursemaids, then, but mothers who were in the dock; the Chief Constable had decided to make an example of them because of the many complaints he had received. ‘The public must understand,’ the article states, ‘that a perambulator has no legal right at all to be on the pavement. It is a vehicle, and has no more right…than a motor-car or a horse and trap.’
The case, which was also reported in The Times, was adjourned for a month and it was agreed that, if no further offences were committed during that time, the magistrates would drop the matter. They ‘wished to appeal to people who have to take their children with them when they go shopping or walking, to try to get into single file, and not to group together and chatter as they go along.’
And to think the double-buggy hadn’t yet been invented!
Kate Elms, Brighton History Centre