Gang violence in the West End


In the 1890s London’s papers were full of the ‘hooligan menace’; stories of the unruly and violent behaviour of street gangs dominated the news-feed about crime. The hooligan even generated the fictitious autobiography of ‘Alf’ from Lambeth (penned by Clarence Rook and still available today). But badly behaved teenagers were nothing new, the press had been reporting stories of ‘roughs’ and the various ‘tribes’ of London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Salford for some time.

In August 1867 a young man named John Pickman appeared at Marlborough Street Police Court charged with assaulting a French chemist in the West End of London. M. Le Maout had just locked up his shop on Princes Street, Leicester Square to go and post a letter when he was attacked by a group of lads.

One, whom he recognized as the prisoner in the dock, spat into his hand and threw the spittle at his face. He was then hit by all three of them , and a blow by Pickman knocked out one of his teeth. He chased after them as they ran away and managed to catch up with Pickman and hand him over to a policeman.

A plain clothes police constable, PC Shrives from C Division, had seen a group of youths ‘jostling persons about’ and had also witnessed the  attack on the Frenchman and the subsequent arrest. One is bound to wonder why he didn’t think it necessary to intervene? Perhaps it all happened too fast or he saw a uniformed officer was close by. The uniform didn’t give evidence however.

Pickman denied the charge and said he’d never seen Le Maout. He called a witness, Harry Staples, to back him up but the chemist quickly identified him as one of the other two boys that had assaulted him. The magistrate had Staples join Pickman in custody and Le Maout testified that Staples had stick him on the neck and Pickman in the face.

The Police magistrate told the court that Pickman ‘appeared to belong to a gang of young ruffians going about molesting everybody’. He sent him to prison for two months, at hard labour, and with the addition that on his release he find securities of £5 against his future good behaviour for six months. The other lad’s case was adjourned so that he could produce a witness (perhaps this would be the missing member of the trio, who might not thank his mate for dragging him into court!)


[from Daily News, Monday, August 12, 1867]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s