Anti-social street crime in Victorian Haggerston


John Goodwyn and James Riley were walking on the Lee Road, Haggerston in North East London. Now an up and coming trendy part of the capital, in the 1860s this was a poorer part of town. As the two men approached the Kingsland Road bridge at around half-past midnight they saw a young man ahead of them.

The youth was Henry Shead, a 19 year old moulder who lived in Dunster Street nearby. Shead looked like trouble to the two friends so they sought to avoid him. But the youth was spoiling for a fight and as they tried to evade him he blocked their path and mouthed a lot of obscenities.

Goodwyn and Riley attempted to walk on by but Shead seemed to want to ‘pick a quarrel’ and removed his coat and put up his fists to fight. When the men hurried past him he whistled and ‘up to a dozen young roughs’ appeared from out of the shadows.

Having surrounded the two gentlemen Shead now attacked, hitting out at them. Both men were badly beaten and struggled to escape, calling out for a policeman. The local beat bobby, PC 194N, soon arrived and the ‘roughs’ scattered.

The policeman chased after them and caught Shead and took him into custody. The next day he was brought before the Worship Street Police Court in Shoteditch charged with assault. The lad claimed he had been drunk (as if this was an excuse) but the policeman denied this was true.

Riley and Goodwyn bore the signs of their injuries; one sporting a blackened eye and both ‘much knocked about’. The magistrate commented that attacks ‘of a concerted nature by a gang of young roughs, at a deserted place, and after dark, were now of so common occurrence that it was necessary to make a stop to them’. So he fined Shead 40s or ordered him to go to prison for a month. Shead paid the hefty fine and was released.

Gang crime such as this increasingly exercised the authorities in the late 1800s, culminating in the ‘hooligan’ crisis of the 1890s. It was often reported by the papers as examples of youth out of control, much as anti-social behaviour remains a staple of local press reports today.

[from The Morning Post, Wednesday, November 04, 1868]

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