A den of dangerous anarchists in North London


In  November 1895 two women living in and around Harringay Park received disturbing letters in the post.  The letters contained threats and were written in black and red ink, with ‘rude drawings of skulls and cross bones’, reminiscent of some of the missives sent to the police during the Whitechapel (or ‘Jack the Ripper’) murder case a few years earlier.

The first person affected was a Mrs E. Brooks, of Green Lanes. She received two letters, the first of which read:

“We find you are no longer wanted in the world. We are going to blow you up, house and all. You may not believe it. You may laugh at it. But sure as there is a God, your end will come. We shall not name the day when we shall carry out the deed; and all the detectives in London will not stop us. You can laugh, but beware”.

The letter was signed “the Captain” and written on paper with the heading, ‘the Anarchists Secret Society’.

Mrs Brooks received a second letter, this time from the ‘Anarchists Society’, written in red ink, which warned that ‘we have resolved to blow you up with dynamite  next Saturday‘.

Needless to say poor Mrs Brooks was unnerved by the threats so contacted the police. Detective sergeant Alexander, of Y Division, investigated and found that another woman had had a similar communication.

Mrs Amy Fisk’s letter purported to come from the ‘Red Cross Society’ and said:

‘We have been watching your house , 93, Umfreville-road, Harringay, for some weeks past; in fact, since your husband’s death… some months ago. And we have had a meeting at our den in in France, and, as your husband was a member of our Society at Holloway, when he, in a fit of temper, murdered one of our band, we have made up out mind to avenge him by taking your life’.

Eventually the letter writer was traced and found to be a young lad, aged 16, who lived in the same street as Mrs Fisk. On 18 November William Ross, a ‘well-dressed boy’ appeared in the North London Police Court, accompanied by his father. The two women he was accused of threatening were also present and when they realised who the letter writer was, they both declared that they were not inclined to wish him any harm.

It seems that the boy had threatened Mrs Brooks because she ran a sweet shop and William owed her money. She had said she would be obliged to inform his parents if he didn’t pay up. She ‘was not alarmed’ by the letters but did want the ‘annoyance’ to stop.

The boy was defended in court by a lawyer who accepted that his actions were wrong but said they were ‘a boyish freak’. DS Alexander said that William had ‘partially admitted the allegation, but added that he did not do it single-handily’. He didn’t think that he had done anything wrong.

Mr Fenwick, the magistrate, thought otherwise. This was a serious affair and the lad would stand trial for it, regardless of the fact that his father was a ‘most respectable man’ who had lived in Umfreville Road for 25 years. He committed him to trial but accepted bail to keep him out of prison in the meantime.

The 1890s were rife with stories of anarchist cells and bomb-throwing terrorists and this must have fired young Bill’s imagination. The Pall Mall Gazette commented that:

‘It is sad that this finished stylist should be wasting his time in being committed to trail when the British public is clamouring for high-class fiction’.

A decade later two great thrillers were published which drew on some of the themes highlighted by fears of anarchists and others: G. K. Chesterton’s The Man who was Thursday (1908) and Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907). Both are worth the time and trouble to rediscover.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, November 19, 1895; The Pall Mall Gazette, Tuesday, November 19, 1895}

‘An extraordinary story’ of a missing boy in North London


Mrs Ada Wigg was clearly at her wits end when she presented herself at the North London Police Court in early September 1898. She said she needed the magistrate’s helping in finding her missing son, Frank. The Wiggs lived in Shrubland Grove, Dalston and on Saturday 3 September she had despatched Frank (who was aged 11 and a half) to Sailsbury Square in the City on business.

The boy came home in a hansom cab paid for by a ‘gentleman’ he had met. This man had apparently bought the young boy dinner, given him a shilling and told him that if he came again he would  ‘keep him and make a gentleman of him’.

For a young lad from East London (even one from a family that sounds like they were doing ok) this might have sounded very tempting, to his mother it must have been horrifying. Ada told her son that he was forbidden from ever seeing the man again and hoped that was that. Unfortunately on Sunday Frank went off to church as usual at 10.30 in the morning, but hadn’t been seen since. Mrs Wigg went to the police and they followed up enquiries around the boy’s known haunts, even sending a telegraph to Lichfield where they had friends, but to no avail.

It is hard to look back in time with any degree of certainty but it looks from here as if young Frank was being groomed. Mr D’Eyncourt thought it an ‘extraordinary story’ and hoped that by reporting in the newspapers the boy might be noticed and found. His mother gave a description that was carefully recorded by the court reporter. Frank was:

‘Tall, fair and good looking, with blue eyes. He was wearing a light Harrow suit and patent shoes, and carried a silver lever watch and chain’.

Mrs Wigg had not seen the gentleman concerned but the boy had told he was aged ‘about 50, tall and grey’.

Two days later The Standard carried  brief follow up to the story. The reporter at North London said a telegram had been received at the court which read:

“Frank Gent Wigg found safe at Clapham. Grateful thanks to Magistrate, Police and Press”, Mrs A Wigg.

So the publicity worked on this occasion and whatever the mysterious gentleman had in store for Frank – even if it was simply a benign desire to give him a leg up in life – was averted.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, September 06, 1898; The Standard, Thursday, September 08, 1898]

A gun-toting burglar in the Hornsey Road


The Hornsey Road, c.1900

At about 3 o’clock in the morning of the 31 October 1898 two men clambered over the back wall of a property in Hornsey Road and attempted to break in through a window. The property was a pawnbrokers belonging to Mr Lawrence situated at number 368 (near Tollington Park and what is now the Arsenal stadium). The pair had a ladder but their actions woke Mr Lawrence’s housekeeper who raised the alarm.

The would-be burglars (James Long and William Marlow) turned tail and ran. Two police officers were close by having hurried to the scene and both gave chase, blowing their whistles. This summoned more officers to the pursuit but Marlow managed to slip away through the park.

Long was not so lucky. As he sprinted into Palmerston Road he ran ‘full tilt against Constable Baxter, who seized him, and asked him where he was going’. The former ticket-of-leave man was not beaten yet however. Reaching behind his back he pulled a revolver and thrust it against the policeman’s stomach.

PC Baxter might have been forgiven for letting go of his captive but instead he ‘knocked his arm up, and after a struggle’ wrestled the firearm from him. The newly arrested Long was then marched to the station.

Marlow was soon picked up at 479 Hornsey Road by detectives acting on information and the pair were presented at the North London Police Court. The court heard that two women that lived at the Hornsey Road address and who cohabited with the men, gave evidence that the pair had gone out at eight that night and Marlow turned on his mate in the dock, accusing him of ‘putting him away’.He told the police inspector ‘if it wasn’t for the fact that I was living in the same house as Long, you wouldn’t have suspected me!’

Inspector Mountfield said that both men had been identified by the officers who were involved in the chase. A local milkman appeared to confirm that he had found two dark lanterns and a pair of ‘burglar’s jemmies’ abandoned in a garden in Victor Road. Inspector Mountfield added the forensic information that the jemmies had traces of yellow paint that matched that on Mr Lawrence’s window frames.

Long denied he had taken place in the burglary and also tried to deny threatening PC Baxter with a revolver. No one was fooled by the pair’s bluster and both men were sent to trail at Old Bailey. On the 21st November that year both men appeared at the Central Criminal Court where they were convicted of burglary. Both confessed to a number of other offences and Long was additionally charged with ‘shooting with intent to do grievous bodily harm’. He was sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude, Marlow was sent away for five.

[from The Standard, Monday, November 14, 1898]

‘a terrible tale of drunkenness and cruelty’

In May 1890 Allen McLucas appeared at the North London Police Court charged with threatening to murder his sister-in-law, Sarah Ann. McLucas was described as a 47 year-old traveller living in South Hornsey. Sarah Ann deposed that the prisoner had visited her and when she answered the door he had rushed at her, grabbing her around the throat and ‘put a razor to it, saying he intended that for her’. Fortunately she managed to wriggle free and escaped in to the back garden and was helped over a wall by her neighbours.

When he was arrested he was found to have a revolver in his pocket.


At the hearing McLucas’ wife told the court ‘a terrible tale of his drunkenness and cruelty’. McLucas admitted to deserting from the 11th Hussars some 12 years earlier and she claimed she had done everything possible to shield him from prosecution for that act. However in return she had suffered greatly; ‘Many times I have had to run for my life’, she said, and ‘only on the 1st of this month I got out of the bedroom window in [her] nightdress’ and sought shelter with her neighbours.

Allen McLucas pleaded for forgiveness and even promised to return to his regiment and face the consequences. His wife was prepared to forgive him but was not prepared to take him back without ‘protection’ from the court. The magistrate offered him freedom if he could find sureties willing to answer for his behaviour for the next six months. He couldn’t and so he was taken away, to be remanded in prison for his wife and her sister’s safety.

It is sometimes assumed that domestic violence was rife in nineteenth-century London and that this was a working-class problem. Men got drunk and beat their wives; the police ignored it and only occasionally did the state do anything about it. In reality the police courts are full of domestic violence cases, which suggests that women were prepared to use them – even if it may have been a last resort. The law was not entirely impotent and some justices took a very dim view of male violence, particularly when directed at the ‘weaker’ sex.

Hopefully Sarah Ann managed to make a new life away from her abusive spouse but that in itself was hard in the period before a benefit system. Far too many Victorian wives (of all classes it has to be said) simply put up with it; those that fought back, or ran away, risked a much worse fate as the depressingly large number of domestic murders attests.

[from Daily News , Tuesday, May 13, 1890]