Gang violence in Dalston as a new year dawns : an echo from 1877

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Joseph Allen was walking out with his ‘sweetheart’ on Kingsland Road in Dalston in early January 1878. It was just after midnight when the couple found their route barred by a large group of youths, about 20 strong. According to Allen’s report the gang of ‘roughs’ were: ‘occupying the breadth of the pavement , and pushing all persons into the road’.

This is quite familiar as the behaviour of youth groups or gangs in the late nineteenth century. In the 1870s and 80s they were usually referred to as ‘roughs’ (although that term was also applied to agitators in political crowds and other unruly elements of society). By the turn of the century the word ‘hooligan’ was used, being coined in the early 1890s, and immortalised by ‘Alf’, from Lambeth, in Clarence Rook’s Hooligan Nights

As the gang of youths reached Allen and his girl they pushed him about as they had done everyone else. When he objected he was surrounded, beaten about the head and knocked to the ground. He was forced to ‘fight his way out’ he later explained, but that was not the end of his troubles.

One of the ‘roughs’, a 22 year-old man named Thomas Robson, ‘rushed upon him and struck him two blows on the lest side of the head above the temple’. As he took his hand away from his wounded head Allen realised he was ‘bleeding freely’. Robson ran away but Allen chased after him and wrested with him. Despite the efforts of his fellows Robson was eventually handed over to a nearby policeman who took him into custody.

In front of the Police Magistrate at Worship Street Robson challenged Allen’s version of events. He suggested instead that Allen had sustained his wounds ‘by falling in a fair fights’ and asked those present to back him up. The magistrate decided to believe the victim in this case, who appeared in court with his head heavily bandaged. Robson was committed to take his trial before a jury.

Tried at the Sessions on 8th January Thomas Robson was convicted of wounding and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. The case has echoes of the Regent’s Park murder of 1888, when Joseph Rumbold was stabbed to death outside the gates of the park in a gang related incident. It is also a timely reminder that youth violence has a very long history in the capital. In the last few days we have heard that four young people were murdered on New Year’s Eve which brought the total of knife killings in London in 2017 to 80, the highest number in a decade.

Sir Craig Mackay, Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police made a statement, saying:

‘We need to find out why some young people think it is acceptable to carry knives, and this is where community organisations and local initiatives, charities, schools and educators, youth workers and families all have an important role to play in changing this mindset’.

I agree with his message but wonder what exactly we have been doing for the past 10, 20, 50 or even 100 years? Youth violence isn’t something we are suddenly going to understand or easily be able to solve. When my wife and I got home from a quiet New Year’s Eve with family we were disturbed by cries for help from two young men in the street. The pair were wrestling in the road and we called 999. Fortunately it was a case alarm; the pair were simply drunk and incapable and not killing each other. We aborted the call and apologised to the operator.

Joseph Allen was lucky, he survived being stabbed in the street. Joseph Rumbold was not so fortunate, dying in his girlfriend’s arms. As for the protagonists, Thomas Robson would have served most of his nine years and found work very hard to come by ever after. The consequences of his brutish behaviour would very likely dog his future. Joseph Rumbold was stabbed to death by George Galletly. He was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey in 1888 but reprieved on account of his age, he was just 18 years old.

Those murdered last Sunday night were 17, 18 and 20 years of age. The killers were probably young men of a similar age, and their lives have also been dramatically changed as a result of what they’ve done.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, January 03, 1878]

A Frenchman’s ‘foolish frolic’ in Wardour Street

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Part of the role of a Police Court magistrate in Victorian London was to determine whether cases that came before them ought to be sent up through the justice system. Much of the ‘crime’ they dealt with was petty, but far from all of it was. The magistrate was often the first stop in a longer process of prosecution; he heard the initial case put by the police (or a private individual) and decided if it required to be heard by a judge and jury.

The magistrate had quite considerable summary powers (the ability to sit in judgement on prisoners alone and without a jury) and these increased after the implementation of the Summary Jurisdiction Act (1855). Nearly all juvenile crime and a growing amount of petty theft, non fatal violence, and a huge variety of disorderly and anti-social behaviour was left to these law men.

Today’s case is an example of a justice having to decide whether he was going to deal with something himself, as a minor offence, or whether he felt it was serious enough to warrant a jury trial at the Middlesex Sessions or the Old Bailey.

Mr Bingham was presiding over a number of cases on a cold Monday morning in November 1851. He might have preferred to have been taking in the sights at the Great Exhibition which was in full swing at the time. Sadly for him, a steady stream of drunks, vagrants, petty thieves and wife-beaters demanded his attention instead.

At least Theodore Guibelei offered some light relief and a touch of continental sparkle to his morning of deliberation. Guibelei (most probably a Frenchman) was initially charged with theft by the policeman that brought him into Mr Bingham’s courtroom.

PC Martin (C68) deposed that he had found his man knocking at doors on Wardour Street in the early hours of Sunday morning. It was about 2am and so this strange behaviour attracted the attention of the beat ‘bobby’. As Guibelei left the doorstep on No. 43 PC Martin stopped him. Clearly unhappy with whatever response the Frenchman have the constable asked him to accompany him back to the door he’d just left.

It was then that PC Martin saw that the house’s door knocker had been wrenched off completely. Assuming that it was an accident or a prank the officer demanded that Guibelei raise the occupants of the house so that he could ‘square the matter’ with them (in other words apologise for the damage and offer to pay to repair it).

When the man refused he was arrested and taken to the nearest police station. On being searched two knockers were discovered, and it was found that the other belonged to a house in Princes Street. As a result Guibelei was charged with theft and damage.

In court the justice had to make a decision. Was the man a thief or some sort of prankster or nuisance? It mattered because if he sent him for trial for theft there was a very real risk that, if convicted, he could go to prison or worse. In court Guibelei had support from a ‘professional person’.

He told Mr Bingham that his friend was no thief and there was no ‘animo furandi’ [no intent to steal] on his part. It was all just a ‘foolish frolic’. And the magistrate chose to believe him. He said he would deal with there and then and fined him £3 plus £1 in damages for each door knocker. The Frenchman paid the money and left a free man.

Perhaps because of the class of the defendant or his representative, or maybe b

 

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, November 25, 1851]

A ‘knocker wrencher’ is nabbed!

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William Kilminster was presented in the dock at Worship Street Police Court in July 1837 charged with ‘wrenching off the brass knob from a door in Shoreditch’.

The court reporter treated the story lightly, as though it were amusing and perhaps this was on account of language he used to describe it, or instead because it revealed the different ways in which working-class and elite behaviours were judged. We should remember that in the 1830s most of those buying a daily or weekly newspaper would have been at least lower middle class or aspirational working class who aped those above them.

Kilminster had been seen at 1 in the morning by a policeman on his beat. The reporter recorded what the policeman had described to the magistrate:

‘he observed the prisoner working away at the knob of one of the doors with all the vigour and dexterity of the lordly personages that have heretofore monopolized this respectable recreation’. 

So was ‘knocker wrenching’ a thing? (His phrase, not mine I hasten to add). Indeed it was as this blog post from earlier this year shows. We find yet more information about this form of anti-social behaviour (or theft, which is what it is) here. It sounds like a Benny Hill sketch waiting to happen!

William Kilminster had been nicked and quickly thrown into prison when he’d first came before a magistrate. Now several of his friends had come to plead for clemency on the grounds that he was ‘an honest hard-working man who had acted under the influence of liquor, and too probably under the pernicious influence laid before him by crayon members of the aristocracy’.

Mr Grove was sympathetic to their appeals and released the ‘inoffensive and quite’ mechanic from gaol on condition that he paid a fine of 5s ‘to Her Majesty’ and a further 2s for the damage he had done to the door. With both monies secured William was free to go, with a small stain on his character and the admonition of the justice ringing in his ears.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Friday, July 21, 1837]

Today is Graduation Day for my History students at the University of Northampton, I’m very proud of all of their achievements but every year there are one of two that stand out. We had several firsts this year and lots of upper seconds. Students get a bad press sometimes but I have to say that anyone gaining a degree from any university in England has earned it and deserves all the credit they get. As do all of those that help and support them, which includes family, friends and their lecturers 🙂