The boy Jones Who Broke into Buckingham Palace

Edward Jones was nicknamed “the boy Jones” by newspapers and became notorious for breaking into Buckingham Palace multiple times between 1838 and 1841. His first break-in occurred in 1838 when he entered disguised as a chimney sweep having gained admission by squeezing through a hole in the March Arch at the principal entrance of the palace, after avoiding the sentry. However, the boy’s time in the palace didn’t last long because he was soon spied in Marble Hall.

Buckingham palace in 1837. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A porter saw him, raised the alarm, and a chase ensued. Police then captured Jones in St. James’s Street with Queen Victoria’s underwear stuffed down his trousers. At the station, police also discovered he was wearing two pair of trousers and had taken two inkstands and a wafer stand. Items were also discovered to have been moved from one apartment to another at the palace. These moved items included a regimental sword, linen, and several pair of trousers.* The sword belonged to Honorable Charles Augustus Murray, who was attached to the Queen’s Household, and when he went to his bedroom, he found more handiwork by the boy Jones. Apparently, the boy also attempted to escape up the chimney as Murray’s bedding was covered in soot.

On 14 December Jones was taken before Queen Square Police Court. He was reported to be a sharp, shrewd, and intelligent boy who had frequently mentioned to his employer, a Mr. Griffiths, that he wanted to gain entrance into Buckingham Palace. In addition, one of the first newspaper articles referencing his life of crime at Buckingham Palace was the London Evening Standard. The paper remarked:

“Edward Jones, otherwise Edward Cotton, the boy who was discovered in Buckingham Palace, is stated in the calendar as being 12 years of age,** and is charged with stealing a sword, the property of the Hon. Charles Augustus Murray, and three pair of trousers, value 42s. the property of Frederick Blume.

The Chairman said the calendar did not contain any charge which called for particular observation. He wished, however, to make one remark on the case of the boy Jones, alias Cotton, who was indicted for stealing certain articles in Buckingham Palace, and that remark was, that the fact of robbery being committed in a royal palace did not at all differ from or alter the offence of robbery in a private dwelling-house, and the Court therefore trusted when the trial came on that no unnecessary questions would be put to witnesses.”[1]

Although the Chairman may have thought that Jones’ offense was no different from him robbing a residence, when the case went to trial at the Westminster Sessions, the result was probably not what he expected. The boy Jones was ably defended by a Mr. Prendergast, who treated the whole affair as a joke. The jury agreed and Jones was acquitted “on the ground that his entering into the palace was but a freak of youthful folly and not for any felonious purpose.”[2]

Despite a finding of “not guilty” Jones decided to visit the palace again. It happened two years later, on Monday, 30 November 1840, nine days after Queen Victoria gave birth to her first child, Princess Victoria:

“[H]e scaled the wall of Buckingham palace, about half-way up Constitution Hill; he then proceeded to the Palace, and gained an entry through one of the windows. He had not, however, been long there when he considered it unsafe for him to stay, as so many people were moving about; and he left by the same manner as he entered.”[3]

Queen Victoria with her new baby, titled “Royal Mother.” Courtesy of British Museum.

Using the same entry method as he did on Monday, he reappeared Tuesday, 1 December, arriving there about nine o’clock in the evening. This time he stayed until he was discovered on Thursday morning, shortly after midnight, by a Mrs. Lilley (likely Mary Dixon Lilley as she served as an assistant to the doctor and was present at the birth all of Queen Victoria’s children and then served as a monthly nurse after each birth). Some papers erroneously reported that it was the governess, Baroness Louise Lehzen, who found the boy Jones, but she and the new baby were sleeping above the floor where Jones was discovered.

Lilley was in the Queen’s sitting room, a room usually used by the Queen to meet with her ministers, when she heard a noise. She described it as the type of noise one might make when trying to be stealthy. Initially, she thought she was hearing things and disregarded it but then she heard it again and knew it was not her imagination. One paper provided more details:

“He was heard … by Mrs. Lilly, and on her receiving no answer to her question, ‘Who is there?’ she very prudently locked the door and summoned a page, who detected [him under the sofa] and secured the little rogue. Neither the Queen nor the Prince heard anything of the occurrence, and both sleep undisturbed until morning.”[4]  

Mary Dixon Lilley. Courtesy of https://www.myoldarndtlilley.com/

As to Jones’ escapades while in the palace, it was reported:

“Upon the prisoner being asked whether he had not met some of the attendants in the course of his progress along the corridor and staircases, he replied, ‘Yes,’ but that when he saw any one coming in his direction, he hid himself behind the pillars, or behind any piece of furniture which happened to be near. Many circumstances have transpired to show that he was in the Palace the whole of Wednesday, such as finger-marks being observed in the (we use the technical words) ‘stock for soup.’ The greatest mystery attending the affair, however, is how he could have found his way without being observed, to the room adjoining that in which her Majesty slept.”[5]  

Further details of his ramblings while in the palace were provided and follow:

“[H]e also states … that he concealed himself under one of the servants’ beds during the whole of Wednesday, and goes on to add that he helped himself to soup and other eatables, from a room which he calls the ‘cook’s kitchen;’ that he sat upon the throne, saw the Queen, and heard the Princess Royal (to use his own word, ‘squall’) cry.”[6]

After the boy Jones was caught many people did not believe that he could have gained entrance into the Palace again and done it so easily. For the unbelievers, the Leicester Herald reported:

“It would appear that there is now no doubt but that the account given by Jones (difficult as it is to believe anything he says) as to his having effected his entrance into the Palace by scaling the garden wall from Constitution-hill, and then passing through one of the French windows which opens on to the lawn is correct. It is said that some of the windows were broken, and that other marks of suspicious nature were observable near the spot. Having once gained the inside of the building, the lad, from his recollection of the various staircases and passages, would find, perhaps, but little difficulty in reaching the apartment in which he was afterwards arrested.”[7]

There was also conjecture as to whether the safety of the Queen was threatened by Jones’ intrusion. Some people were highly concerned for her safety and believed that he must be insane. The Queen was reportedly not worried because when she learned about Jones being in the palace, she did not “betray any symptom of alarm, nor was in the least discomposed.”[8] There was also a comment that here was probably no reason to be concerned:

“[I]t was not probable that it was his intention to do any personal injury to her Majesty, for had such been his purpose, abundant opportunities of carrying it into effect presented themselves during his concealment in the chamber where he was secured.”[9]

Despite the belief that Jones may not have intended harm, a realization now gripped those at Buckingham Palace. No one could understand how Jones so handily avoided the household staff and domestics or how he was able to remain undetected for so long inside the Palace. Everyone realized something had to be done to ensure that it didn’t happen again and the Leeds Intelligencer noted:

“The place where the boy effected his entrance will (says our correspondent) be now well secured, and every precaution taken for the greater security of the Royal persons. This matter, however (says the writer), is not so easy as might be supposed, owning to the number of dark passages, recesses, and staircases, with which the basement abounds, and an additional source of danger is found in the extraordinary number of plasterers, carpenters, tin smiths, plumbers, &c., who are constantly employed and rambling over every part of the Palace. Some of these are employed by the Lord Chamberlain, some by the Board of Works, and thus there is no one superintendent to whom they are all personally known.”[10]

Jones’ second break in into the palace was no small matter. Concern was high regarding his ability to enter the palace so freely. His intrusion also resulted in the Lord Chamberlain, the Lord Stewart, and other officers in the Queen’s household conducting an inquiry into the circumstances, which included a thorough examination of all the domestics working at the palace.

The boy Jones was also being charged with intent to commit a felony. Newspapers reported that Mr. Maule, Solicitor to the Treasury, had received instructions for an indictment against Jones at the next Westminster Session. Several “respectable persons” also visited Jones’ father, who lived in Derby Street, but they apparently learned nothing from him when he was questioned:

“His reply to all inquiries was, ‘I am requested by a high authority not to answer any questions.’”[11]

Yet, when Jones’ father was taken before the Council, he had much more to say. He stated that he worked as a tailor on Derby Street and Cannon Row. He also testified that he thought his son was not of sound mind. The Blackburn Standard reported:

“[The father] worked with him [his son] in his business of a tailor up to the time he was first discovered in the Palace; since then he had been in the employ of Mr. Kendall, chymist, in the Broadway, Westminster, which situation he left a short time since, and on Monday last prisoner told him that he had obtained another place, and was going to it that evening.”[12]

A physician of the A division named Dr. Fisher and a surgeon named Davies also testified. When they examined Jones both doctors noted that his head had a “most peculiar formation” based on phrenology but neither gave any opinion as to whether they thought Jones sane or not.

After hearing all the testimony, the Council decided even though Jones had no weapons when he was arrested, a summary punishment was in order. They accordingly committed Jones to the House of Correction, Tothill Street for three months and cited him to be a “rogue and vagabond.” It was also reported:

“It is supposed that during the prisoner’s confinement the law officers of the Crown will be consulted as to the propriety of pressing an indictment against him for secreting himself in the Palace for the purpose of committing a felony, or having some other felonious intention.”[13]

Boys exercising at Tothill Fields Prison. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

On 2 March 1841 Jones was liberated from Tothill Fields. He had been visited the day before his release and asked if he was willing to become a sailor and go on board a ship. He did not object, but an agreement could not be reached with him so his father was called and he was placed into his custody “with strict directions that he should take every possible care of him, and watch his actions; at the same time the offer to send the boy aboard was renewed.”[14]  

His parents were not averse to their son being a sailor but asked that they be given a week to prepare him for the idea. For about two weeks everything went well. Every Sunday he went the Methodist church two or three times and talked about joining a teetotaler society, but on Monday, 14 March 1841, he suddenly disappeared. His parents did not know his whereabouts until they were summoned to appear at Bow Street on Tuesday.

It seems that he had decided a third visit to the palace was in order, but this visit would not last long. Part of the reason he was so quickly caught was because after his second intrusion, two extra policemen were appointed to alternatively watch all the staircase approaches and interiors of the palace.

“It appears … that shortly after one o’clock on Tuesday morning, the sergeant of police on duty in the palace imagined, as he was going along the grand hall, that he saw someone peeping through the glass doors, and which turned out so; for on his approaching, Jones ran against him; and, of course, was immediately secured, and at once sent off in custody to the station-house. It was afterwards discovered that the boy had visited her Majesty’s larder, as, at the time he was disturbed, he was feasting himself, with cold meat and potatoes, which he had conveyed up stairs in a white handkerchief. When asked how he had obtained an entrance, his reply was, the same way as before, and that he could, at any time he pleased, obtain an entrance into the Palace.”[15]

Satirical vignette on “the boy Jones.” Courtesy of British Museum.

Jones’ parents were of course unhappy about finding their son at Bow Street and once again charged with breaking into Buckingham Palace:

“The … father says, although the son has often caused him uneasiness, he never knew him guilty of any dishonest action, but that his curiosity on many occasions has been most remarkable; and the urchin himself still persists in declaring this his only object in going to the Palace was to hear the conversation of her Majesty and Prince Albert, in order to ‘write a book,’ which, he says, must be read with great interest. His countenance is exceedingly sullen, and he is very diminutive for his age, which is 17 years. His father asked him several times how he had obtained admission. The only reply he was ever able to obtain was, ‘Oh, by the door or window.’”[16]

Jones was committed once again to the House of Correction at Tothill Street. He was sentenced to three months with hard labor. In addition:

“This third entrance into the Palace naturally caused great excitement, and formed an all-engrossing subject of conversation for a long time afterwards. The public demanded the most rigid and searching enquiry to be made into the circumstances, to prevent other ‘Boy Joneses’ imitating the ‘rouge and vagabond’ in Tothill Fields, and the result was the appointment of three additional sentries to the Palace.”[17]

After his release, Jones was offered £4 a week to appear at a music hall but refused. He was soon thereafter discovered loitering around Buckingham Palace. The next time he was heard of he had joined the Navy and was still being called “boy Jones” by those who knew his story. One of the last mentions by newspapers was when he was rescued after going overboard in 1844 between Tunis and Algiers. He then went on to become an alcoholic and burglar before moving to Perth, where he regained some respectability when he became the town crier.

Sometime in the 1880s, Jones changed his name to Thomas Jones hoping to escape all the notoriety associated with his early life and his break-ins into Buckingham Palace. He died on Boxing Day in 1893 in Bairnsdale, Australia, after he fell off a parapet on a bridge while drunk. He landed on his head. He was buried in an unmarked grave and in 2005 a memorial plaque honoring him was erected in Australia. Unfortunately, it wrongly states that he entered Windsor Castle instead of Buckingham Palace.

Memorial plaque to Jones. Courtesy of Wikipedia.


*The moving of the items was considered to be felony.
**He was small for his age and was fourteen at the time.

References:

  • [1] London Evening Standard, “Westminster Session – This Day,” December 27, 1838, p. 2.
  • [2] West Kent Guardian, January 5, 1839, p. 3.
  • [3] C. Dickens, All the Year Round v. 34; v. 54 (London: Charles Dickens, 1884), p. 234.
  • [4] Leeds Intelligencer, “Foreign and Domestic,” December 12, 1840, p. 4.
  • [5] London Evening Standard, “The Late Intrusion into Buckingham Palace,” December 5, 1840, p. 3.
  • [6] Sligo Journal, “The Mysterious Occurrence at Buckingham Palace,” December 11, 1840, p. 3.
  • [7] Leicester Herald, “The Late Intrusion into Buckingham Palace,” December 12, 1840, p. 5.
  • [8] London Evening Standard, p. 3.
  • [9] Leicester Herald, p. 5.
  • [10] Leeds Intelligencer, p. 4.
  • [11] London Evening Standard, p. 3.
  • [12] Blackburn Standard, “Apprehension of a Stranger in Her Majesty’s Dressing-Room,” December 9, 1840, p. 2.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express, “Third Entrance of the Boy Jones at Buckingham Palace,” March 20, 1841, p. 3.
  • [15] Ibid.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] C. Dickens, p. 237.

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