A gang of notorious bike thieves in the dock at Southwark

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Every small boy used to want a bike for Christmas, maybe they still do (but I suspect its the latest iPhone, video game, or tablet that top the lists in modern homes). I was an avid bike rider as a child and well into by teens and beyond. I covered hundreds of miles across London in the 1970s and early 80s, thinking nothing of cycling from Finchley to Chelsea and back (to visit the National Army Museum). Even braving the traffic at Hyde Park Corner or on the Finchley Road held no fears for me – but then, some teenagers don’t seem to experience that sort of fear, and I didn’t.

Frederick Redding (17), Thomas Colman (15), William Fudge (15), John Haslop (15) and George Pearce (14) also appear to have enjoyed cycling. Unfortunately they didn’t have bikes of their own, probably because as working-class lads growing up in Southwark they simply couldn’t afford one.

They didn’t let this stop them though.

William Grimes was another local lad and he had hired a tricycle for the day from George Raymond. Raymond operated a cycle loan outlet in Rodney Road, off the New Kent Road and Grimes borrowed the bike from him in April 1883. As he was cycling (or ‘working the machine’ as the paper described it) on London Road he was suddenly mobbed by a group of lads. They pushed him off roughly, seized the bike and ran away. Grimes tried to chase after them but some of the boys threatened him and he retreated home to tell his father what had happened.

Mr Grimes reported the theft to the police and an investigation was launched. Using the descriptions the lad had given police constable Henry Allen (88M) was able to track down the culprits and on Thursday 12 April they were crowded into the Southwark Police Court to hear the case brought against them.

Redding and Colman admitted ‘having a ride on the machine’ but not stealing it; the other lads said much the same. All of them said that they had found the bike and had then had it taken off of them by other, more aggressive lads.

The magistrates asked where the tricycle was now and the PC told him that he had so far been unable to trace it. If the police was as effective at finding stolen bikes in the 1880s as they are now then poor Mr Raymond could kiss his machine goodbye. The police asked for a week’s adjournment so they could pursue their inquiries but were happy for the boys to be released on the promise they would return to hear the outcome of the investigations. Their mothers then took them away, presumably to face the wrath (and the belts or slippers) of their fathers.

[from The Standard, Friday, April 13, 1883]

Daring burglars nabbed by a DC near the Duke of Wellington’s London home.

Picadilly 1897

Piccadilly, near Green Park, in 1897

In the early hours of the morning of the 27 April 1889 Detective constable William Wyers (294 C) had stationed himself in a secluded spot at the corner of Piccadilly and St George’s Place; from here he could watch Piccadilly and the homes of the wealthy that lived there.

In the Victorian period the crime that most exercised the queen’s subjects, after murder of course, was burglary. The papers were filled with reports of burgled premises and with advertisements for preventing intruders from entering your home. This was also the period that saw the birth of home contents insurance as homeowners sought to protect themselves from the supposed legions of ‘Bill Sikes’ and his ilk.

As DC Wyers watched he saw three men approaching a house at number 146 Piccadilly, adjacent in fact to where the Ritz Hotel is today.* He saw one of the men enter the gates of 146 and climb the steps to the front door. The man tried the door and seemed to fiddle with (perhaps to see it was unlocked). Finding it secure he retreated, climbed over the railings and lit a match, and waited a moment or two. From a distance Wyers couldn’t be completely sure what he was up to.

The ‘burglar’ then went back to the other men and slowly, and in single file, they each approached the property. The man (who was later established to be Arthur Thiviot, a stoker living on the Charing Cross Road) went back over the railings followed by one of his mates (William Booty, a porter ‘of no fixed abode’). While they did this the last man (John Pegg, a Soho printer) stayed back to keep watch.

None of them had noticed the detective constable however. DC Wyers took advantage of a passing hansom cab and jumped on to the back spring, hitching a ride towards them. He alighted opposite Apsley House, the London home of the Duke of Wellington. This now placed him behind the men and he crept on all fours to avoid being seen by the lookout Pegg.

Unfortunately for Wyers he wasn’t as careful as he might have been. Pegg saw him and whistled to alert the others. They ran for it, rushing across Piccadilly and into Hamilton Place, with the policeman in hot pursuit. Wyers caught Thiviot and Booty and cornered them in a doorway. Pegg was known to the police so the DC called him by name and ‘ordered him to stop’, which he did.

He asked Thiviot what he was up and what he had in his pockets. The alleged burglar told him he had nothing on him, and if he was a suspect then the copper better take him back to the station. Wyers thrust his hand into Thiviot’s pocket and produced  dark lantern, a common tool of the burglar.

‘Halloa, what are you doing with this?’ asked Wyers.

‘Oh, its all right Mr Wyers’, replied the stoker, demonstrating that the detective was also well known to the criminal fraternity, ‘I have just left my club. The stairs are very dark where I live , and I brought this lantern to show a light up there’.

It was a fairly pathetic excuse given the circumstances, but I suppose he had to offer something.

Myers grabbed Thiviot and told the others to follow him to the station, warning them that he knew where they lived should they chose to abscond. Thiviot also urged them not to abandon him. As soon as they met with two beat ‘bobbies’ on Piccadilly however, Wyers handed them over and all three were accompanied to the police station.

There all three were searched; Booty and Pegg were clean but Thiviot was found to have ‘a lock picker, a knife and a pair of scissors’ on him. DC Wyers then returned to 146 Piccadilly with Inspector Barrie and they discovered more evidence: a jemmy and marks on the door that suggested Thiviot had tried to force it earlier. They moved on to search Thiviot’s lodgings in Charing Cross Road where they also found a set of keys, ‘and a surgical lance’ (why this was mentioned is unclear, except perhaps to show that he must have stolen it at some point,  why would he have it otherwise?)

In court on the following Monday the Marlborough Street Police magistrate the three were remanded on a  charge of loitering with intent to burgle the home of Mrs Rose Joyce, 146 Piccadilly, London.

The three men went on trial at the Old Bailey in May 1889, but not for the attempted burglary in Piccadilly. Instead they were tried for burgling a warehouse in Charing Cross and the items found on Thiviot (the lantern for example) and the jemmy or chisel found at the scene of the attempted crime in Piccadilly, proved vital in convicting him. All three were found guilty and then admitted a string of previous convictions.

As a result Cheviot was sentenced to penal servitude for six years, the other two for five. The court also aware William Wyers the sum of £2 ‘for the ability he displayed in watching and apprehending the prisoners on another charge, which was not proceeded with’, this being the attempted burglary of Mrs Joyce’s home.

[from The Standard, Monday, April 29, 1889]

*The famous London landmark was not there in 1889 however, as it did not open until 1906.