Gang warfare in Blackfriars


The problem of gang crime and youth violence frequently dominates the modern news agenda, especially in London where there have been around 18 reported homicides related to gangs  since 2005. In 1888 gang rivalries led to the murder of a youth at York Gate in Regent’s Park and the trial of several young men at Old Bailey.

Most of this violence was not fatal but just everyday; fights, beatings, threats and bullying among working-class lads (and girls) was endemic in the late nineteenth century. Just occasionally it made  the papers and in the 1890s the ‘hooligan panic’ engendered widespread soul searching about the state of the nation.

In early September 1888, as London was gripped by the unfolding nightmare that was the ‘Ripper’ murders, a gang fight in Blackfriars brought at least one youngster before the alderman magistrate at Mansion House Police Court.

Alfred Robinson was charged with ‘being disorderly and fighting’. He and upwards of 80 lads had been warring at the junction of Tudor Street and Bridge Street. Now that area is almost entirely commercial but in the 19th century City Tudor Street and its environs was a patchwork of small courts and alleys close to the river.

A police sergeant testified that he had found 70-80 boys fighting with sticks in the evening of Friday 31 August. Alfred was armed with a fearsome sounding weapon – like something out of  ‘Gangs of New York‘. It was a stick with a 15″ blade attached, likely to do someone real harm if he had connected with it.

Alfred said it wasn’t his, he had just been shown it by another boy and was, in fact, trying to persuade his friend to remove the knife from it. His father appeared in court to speak up for him. Alfred was a ‘very good boy, and only left off work at eight in the evening’.

Seemingly none of the other boys came to help him or were arrested. This suggests to me that the police were only interested in fights that involved lethal weapons; sticks were ok, knives were an escalation (and this is probably what Alfred was trying to explain to his mate).

Mr. Cowan, the magistrate accepted that Alfred did not mean harm to anyone else but simply possession of the weapon ‘might have incited him to do some mischief’ so he bound him over on his father’s surety of £20 and the pair left court. I suspect his father had a fair few choice words to say to ‘Alf’ when they got home.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, September 03, 1888]

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