SUCH was the outrageous attack on a young nanny in which she was brutally robbed in front of terrified children that every nook and cranny in the court room had been taken well before the proceedings got under way.

It was early evening on January 2, 1886, and Lavinia Bawden was making her way home from the Prince of Wales Royal Theatre in Southampton with her employer's two children when she allowed the 10-year-old girl to make a purchase from a shop.

But putting the change into her purse, she thought she was being watched and deliberately paused outside another business.

So did her stalker.

With her fears intensifying as she walked along The Avenue in darkness, she grabbed the opportunity to slip the money into the six-year-old boy's pocket. They had not ventured much further when she suddenly felt a firm hand grasp her shoulder.

The young woman was then flung onto the ground and as a knee was thrust on her chest, her mouth was clamped with a hand to stop her screaming. The other then rifled her pockets but realising to his annoyance they only contained a handkerchief, he threw it aside and ran off.

Within seconds an off duty army officer rushed to her assistance.

"I was coming down The Avenue and when I arrived at the branch road leading to Middle Street, I heard a tremendous scream," Major Poore reported. "As it was repeated, I ran back and saw a young woman who had risen from the ground. A little boy was still on the ground."

The police were called and so detailed was the description of her assailant he was seen peering into a shop in York Buildings the same evening. Pc Pack gave chase but lost him. However, the following morning, he traced him to a common lodging house in Simnel Street.

The suspect, who identified himself as 31-year-old stonemason William Falla, was initially questioned about a package he had left at the Bricklayer's Arms in East Street where he had previously stayed.

"All right, it's mine" he admitted. "It contains new underclothes I brought from London with me."

Not satisfied with his explanation, the officer took Falla to the Bargate police station where he was confronted by the nanny who immediately recognised him. "I'm sure he's the man."

But Falla insisted: "Never seen her before. I didn't come down here until late on Saturday night so I couldn't have done it."

Superintendent Breary told Falla he would be given every opportunity to prove his innocence. In reality, the officer was certain he was guilty and went to the town's main station where a clerk confirmed his suspicions he had come to Southampton on January 1 and sought a refund on a London-Guernsey third class ticket because he had changed his mind about going to the Channel Islands.

William Wallis, who worked at the South Western Railway's steampacket department, said he had referred him to the traffic superintendent and he had returned to his office twice the following day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Breary also followed up Falla's admission he had stayed in the pub and a potman remembered he had booked in on New Years Day.

Committed for trial, he appeared before Mr Justice Fitzjames Stephen at the Hampshire Winter Assizes on February 17 when he produced an incoherent handwritten defence denying he was in Southampton at the time of the robbery and the nanny's story was "improperly untrue."

Jurors were not fooled and without leaving their seats convicted him.

The prosecution then called Francis D'Arcy, a warder at Chatham Jail, who confirmed Falla had served 10 years penal servitude for burglary and horse stealing in Guernsey.

There was gasp from the jurors and bystanders when it was then revealed he had been only been released from prison only hours before arriving in Southampton and pouncing on the nanny.

"You have been convicted under the worst possible character and under circumstances of great aggravation," the judge admonished him, passing another sentence of 10 years penal servitude.