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CRIME & PUNISHMENT

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Crime and punishment Thieves, drunks and prostitutes thrived as much in the past as they do today. Nigel Green lifts the lid on the hidden Victorian underworld of the North East

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uvenile crime, joy-riding, binge drinking, race riots and a booming sex trade are all problems we associate with modern times. Yet despite what our grandparents may have told us, such crimes were just as common in the so-called good old days. After spending two years researching my book, Tough Times and Grisly Crimes; A History of Crime in Northumberland and County Durham, I now know that even during the Victorian era the region was plagued by delinquents, drunken yobs, prostitutes and paedophiles. The evidence is all there in court records, police photographs of criminals, newspaper reports and official papers. The only difference from today, perhaps, is that it could be argued that grinding poverty meant these people had more of an excuse to do what they did. Yet even that does not apply to crimes such as paedophilia which, despite the hysterical headlines of today, are not a modern invention. A pamphlet, produced in 1883 by the Temperance Society, a Christian group opposed to alcohol, exposed the trafficking of children for sex. Entitled The Devil’s Mudbath: The Unholy Slave 36 • ANCESTORS APRIL 2006

Traffic In Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, it told how brothel-keepers selected teenage girls – and even children – to boost their income. “There are painful cases of abduction of servant girls and the seduction of mere children, lured by the traffickers in human flesh. A respectable citizen of Newcastle was recently

Local records

CRIME & PUNISHMENT

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Page 36

Crime and punishment Thieves, drunks and prostitutes thrived as much in the past as they do today. Nigel Green lifts the lid on the hidden Victorian underworld of the North East

J

uvenile crime, joy-riding, binge drinking, race riots and a booming sex trade are all problems we associate with modern times. Yet despite what our grandparents may have told us, such crimes were just as common in the so-called good old days. After spending two years researching my book, Tough Times and Grisly Crimes; A History of Crime in Northumberland and County Durham, I now know that even during the Victorian era the region was plagued by delinquents, drunken yobs, prostitutes and paedophiles. The evidence is all there in court records, police photographs of criminals, newspaper reports and official papers. The only difference from today, perhaps, is that it could be argued that grinding poverty meant these people had more of an excuse to do what they did. Yet even that does not apply to crimes such as paedophilia which, despite the hysterical headlines of today, are not a modern invention. A pamphlet, produced in 1883 by the Temperance Society, a Christian group opposed to alcohol, exposed the trafficking of children for sex. Entitled The Devil’s Mudbath: The Unholy Slave 36 • ANCESTORS APRIL 2006

Traffic In Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, it told how brothel-keepers selected teenage girls – and even children – to boost their income. “There are painful cases of abduction of servant girls and the seduction of mere children, lured by the traffickers in human flesh. A respectable citizen of Newcastle was recently

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A photo of the Castle Garth area of Newcastle taken during Victorian times.

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accosted on his way home by a wretched prostitute in Ellison Terrace and offered an innocent pure lamb from the country. To drop the metaphor, a young virgin was offered to him for violation, to be butchered to death on the shambles of human lust and atrocious sensuality.” The horrendous outcome of this trade was child pregnancies and deaths from syphilis. The pamphlet quoted an example. “Two sisters, aged nine and 12, were certified to be suffering from syphilis and, instead of going to school, were ordered to hospital. “Within a week we heard of cases of two children, aged five and six, treated for the same complaint. Understand us plainly, the disease was not hereditary. It was communicated by vile men. “Last year, nine children belonging to Newcastle, aged from 11 to 13, were violated by one debased, foul wretch in human form. He was sentenced to four years penal servitude.” Yet Victorian courts often showed an almost blasé attitude towards such crimes. On 5 July 1893, James Basham appeared before North Shields Police Court accused of molesting a 14-yearold girl called Margaret Russell. The 73-year-old ran a herbalist shop in Bell Street. One Sunday night the girl had called at his shop to find a friend. James Basham told her the friend was sleeping in a house across the road and suggested, because it was very late, she spend the night in his shop. The girl agreed but, in the early hours, she woke to find Basham “attempting to commit a criminal assault on her”. When she screamed and began crying neighbours called the police. The court heard that James Basham had been “harbouring” young girls in his shop for some time and the police had suspected all was not right. His wife had left him because of his “filthy, dirty habits”. The old man denied the charge, but was jailed for just one month, with the chairman of the magistrates “advising him to have less to do with little girls in future”. Another case involved Peter

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Tarts in trouble Prostitutes often turned to crime to boost their uncertain income

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here were at least 100 brothels in Newcastle during the late 19th century. A man walking along Grainger Street at 11am was accosted by no fewer than 32 prostitutes. Photographs of some of these women, taken in Newcastle Prison, still exist in the archives of Tyne and Wear Archives Services.

Marshall, who appeared at North Shields Police Court on 1 March 1900, accused of indecently assaulting a four-year-old girl. The court heard that the 28-year-old labourer lodged with the girl’s mother in Church Street. A doctor called to examine the girl found she had been “interfered with”. Peter Marshall said he did not know what had happened, but believed he deserved to be punished. He was sentenced to two months in jail. 38 • ANCESTORS APRIL 2006

Magistrates could be equally lenient towards other crimes, as the case of 15year-old Emma Kelly from Newcastle revealed. On 9 February 1897, she appeared before North Shields Police Court charged with stealing an overcoat worth 7s 6d belonging to Alfred Enley, of Ayres Terrace. She had called at his home, telling his wife a pitiful story about how her husband had been injured. She asked to borrow a coat, and Mrs Enley even

gave her five pence for the boat fare. Emma Kelly then pawned the coat in South Shields for 2s 6d. Mrs Enley told the court she had not wanted the girl to be charged. She certainly did not want her to be sent to prison, and would pay any fine. In the end Emma Kelly was bound over for six months for the sum of 20s. She must have been very good at spinning a sob story because the chairman of the bench, Mr A H Hill, even paid for

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1 Margaret Middleton, 25, appeared before Newcastle Police Court on 17 March 1873. The court heard she was a prostitute who had stolen money from a man, presumably a client. She was jailed for 14 days. Her prison records noted she had scars on her face and was heavily-tattooed.

3 Catherine Kelly, 17, was jailed for three months on 17 April 1873. The court heard she was a prostitute whom a policeman had caught, along with three other women, in Maple Street, Newcastle. They were carrying baskets with clothes, blankets and boots stolen from an outhouse at Elswick Hall. The court was told the women searched ash pits and “stole everything they could carry away”.

2 Mary Costella’s profession was listed as prostitute when she appeared before Newcastle Police Court on 24 February 1872. Mary, 27, was jailed for 15 months for stealing money. According to her prison records, she was heavily-tattooed, with hearts and anchors all over her body, including her arms and breasts.

4 Ann McKinley, 38, was jailed for six months for stealing sugar at Newcastle Police Court on 9 September 1872. Her records revealed she had nine previous convictions, including house-breaking, theft and drunkenness She was married and her profession was listed as a prostitute.

her train fare to Newcastle. Just how easy it was for youngsters to fall into a life of crime is illustrated by a report from the Shields Daily News for 20 May 1900, under the headline: “A Mother’s Folly – Teaching A Child To Steal.” It reported the story of 13-year-old George Sayers, of Sidney Street, North Shields, who appeared in court alongside his mother Emma, aged 52. They were accused of stealing

handkerchiefs, rugs, skirts and shirts worth £3 10s from a shop in Saville Street West, where George was employed as an errand boy. The police had been tipped off by a pawnbroker who had become suspicious at the brand new goods the boy was bringing in. The boy burst into tears when he was charged, and his mother told police: “Don’t blame the boy. I told him to take them.” It was the mother’s fifth appearance

in court, and she had already served two months in prison. She was jailed for two months, while her son was sentenced to three strokes of a birch rod “to teach him a lesson”. Yet police records show that, no matter how hard the punishment, there were some criminals who would not change their ways. Francis Dixon, from Newcastle, was a typical example. His criminal record started in 1856 when, at the age of APRIL 2006

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The Wellesley training ship, which was moored off North Shields from 1868 to 1914.

nine, he received six lashes for stealing oranges. The next year, he received 10 lashes for stealing apples. A few months later, he was caught stealing lead, and received 12 lashes, as well as six weeks in prison with hard labour. He never learned the error of his ways. Twenty years later, at the age of

30, he was caught in Newcastle at night with house-breaking implements in his possession and received 10 years’ penal servitude. By the age of 47 he had received 16 prison sentences, totalling 26 years. Unlike many of today’s convicts, he would have served all of that time. Prison may not have been the answer. In a profile of Newcastle Gaol, the Governor Mr Thompson, admitted: “I have rarely known a poor boy or girl committed to this prison who has not become a frequent inmate of these walls.” The prison chaplain, the Reverend Walker Featherstonhaugh, told how three brothers, aged 11 to 19, were “professional and accomplished thieves”, adding: “Their father is a receiver of stolen goods. They become worse every time they come in. The second is now in Morpeth Gaol. The youngest will be the worst of all. In prison, he has learned how to pick locks and other thieves’ arts. The plans for future robberies are

“I have rarely known a poor boy or girl committed to this prison who has not become a frequent inmate... 40 • ANCESTORS APRIL 2006

the chief topic of discourse.” The prison also held girls, and the newspaper report stated: “There is no doubt that demoralisation begins earlier and is more destructive in females. Vice precedes crime and both terminate in misery.” The report claimed the only way to solve the rising problem was to break the vicious circle of children offending and being put in prison with older, hardened criminals. Instead, reform schools should be set up, where “the child’s intellect could be cultivated and his moral faculties drawn out by habitual bodily labour”. A case from later in the 19th century showed a noticeable softening in the attitude towards juvenile criminals. On 29 May 1899, sisters Annie Miller, 15, and Mary Miller, 14, appeared before Newcastle Police Court charged with theft. PC John Kelly told how he saw the girls in the Green Market on Saturday morning excitedly looking through a purse. He suspected it was stolen and decided to follow them into St Andrew’s Street, where they mingled among a crowd of women gathered around a flower stall. The constable watched as the girls repeatedly tried to sneak their hands into various pockets. Finally, the elder

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girl succeeded, whereupon PC Kelly grabbed her hand. The victim told the officer that because she hadn’t lost any money she didn’t want to press charges, but he arrested the girls anyway. As he led them away, the officer spotted Annie trying to drop the purse. When he picked it up he found it contained three pounds – the equivalent of more than £200 in today’s money. The court heard that, on being charged, the sisters admitted having stolen the purse but claimed “a lad had told them to do it”. The magistrates ordered them to be sent to the workhouse for one week. Meanwhile, many boys who were deemed to be at risk of being drawn into a life of crime were sent to live on a 50-gun sailing ship, the Wellesley. The training ship was home to 300 boys aged 12 to 16, many selected by the authorities because they were poor and lived on the fringes of the criminal underworld. The ship was designed to “provide shelter for Tyneside waifs and train young men for service in both Royal and Merchant Navies”. On 11 March 1914 the Wellesley caught fire. The boys helped fight the flames until ordered to abandon ship. An appeal was immediately launched to raise £22,000 – the equivalent of around £700,000 in today’s money – which was used to build a new training

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illiam Pugh was the Victorian equivalent of a modern twocker (the nickname given to youths who take vehicles without the owner’s consent). This 14-year-old joy-rider from North Shields had a habit of stealing horses and carts and prams. Although his crimes were committed in 1897, you could almost imagine this lad dressed in a tracksuit and baseball cap and stood outside the courts today.

school on the site of a First World War submarine base at Blyth. Under-age drinking was an additional problem, as illustrated by a court case from 1873, when Robert Fair, landlord of the Strawberry Gardens pub in Sunderland, appeared in court accused of selling alcohol to three boys. The court heard how Matthew Lord and William Robinson, aged 15, and Michael Devitt, aged just 12, had ordered two bottles of stout and a bottle of lemonade. They then ordered three halves of whisky, followed by two more glasses of whisky and half a glass of rum. They were later found drunk in the park. Robert Fair was fined 20s –

the equivalent of little more than £50 in today’s money. On 13 July 1888, a more disturbing case appeared in Sunderland’s Weekly Echo under the headline “A Revolting Spectacle”. A police officer on patrol near the ferry landing had found a 10year-old girl unconscious and foaming from the mouth. She was Elizabeth Scott, who had been seen in a local pub. While the barman was away, she helped herself to whisky and drank “a good deal”. The girl had then staggered down to the waterfront, where she fell over, smashing some plates she was carrying. The officer told how she APRIL 2006

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CRIME AND PUNISHMENT stank of whisky and had to be taken to hospital, where she was in a critical condition for several days. The scourge of “steaming”, where a crowd barges into a shop causing maximum fear and disturbance before stealing goods, is another crime where the past echoes the present. On 23 August 1873, a train carrying 500 holidaymakers returning to Newcastle after a trip to Edinburgh, stopped at Galashiels for 15 minutes for the engine to take on water. One newspaper reported: “As soon as the train drew up, the excursionists jumped out of the carriages and crowded the refreshment room, where only one young woman was in attendance. “At first, what they took was paid for but, shortly after, a general scramble took place and everything that could be readily-lifted was carried off without acknowledgement, including teapots, bottles and glasses. The tap on the whisky barrel was turned on and each helped himself as opportunity offered. The whole party escaped with their booty and the train started before steps could be taken to arrest them.” Nor are race riots a new phenomenon. Some of the most graphic photographs I found are from the Arab riots, which hit South Shields in 1930. The riots followed months of increasing tension involving Yemeni seamen, who had been brought to the town decades earlier but were no longer needed during the Depression. Rumours circulated that the Arabs used bribery to get jobs on the ships – thus robbing white men of work. At the same time

the Yemenis felt a new rota system discriminated against them. On 2 August a large crowd of Yemeni gathered outside the Shipping Foundation offices in Mill Dam to hear rousing speeches from their leaders. Trouble started around lunchtime, when four white men were hired for the steamer Etherelda and, expecting trouble, police were drafted into the area. There are conflicting reports about what sparked the ensuing chaos but, whoever was to blame, there was soon furious fighting between a group of white sailors and the Yemenis. Police drew their batons and charged – only to be met by a hail of stones and screams of abuse. Then the Arabs drew their knives, stabbing four policemen. Police reinforcements waded in with their batons as the riot spilled over into nearby Holborn, injuring dozens of innocent bystanders. By the time the fighting was brought under control the area was strewn with bricks and dotted with pools of blood. Twenty Yemenis were given prison sentences with hard labour, ranging from three to 16 months. After serving their sentences, they were all to be deported. Finding out the stories behind the old photographs of criminals has been an amazing adventure. I can’t help but look into their faces and wonder whether their descendants are still walking our streets today. Nigel Green has worked for newspapers and television for more than 20 years, specialising in crime reporting.

COMPETITION

WIN Tough Times We have three copies of Nigel Green’s Tough Times to give away as prizes to readers who can name the 14year-old Victorian joy-rider mentioned in the article. Send your answer on a postcard to Tough Times Competition, Ancestors, PO Box 38, Richmond TW9 4AJ, or email ancestors@nationalarchives.gov.uk, remembering to add your name and address. Closing date is 3 April 2006. To order a copy of Tough Times, send a cheque for £12 (includes postage and packing) made payable to Nigel Green Media, along with your name and address, to PO Box 614, Whitley Bay NE26 4WZ. The book can also be ordered by logging on to www.nigelgreenmedia.com.

TAKING IT FURTHER Most of the cases here originally appeared in local newspapers, particularly the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Shields Daily News and the Sunderland Echo. Copies can be found in local studies libraries or at the British Newspaper Library in London (call 020 7412 7353 or visit www.bl.uk/collections/ newspapers.html for details). Newcastle Central Library, call 0191 277 4166 or visit www.newcastle.gov.uk/ libraries1.nsf/a/librarywelcomepage? opendocument. North Shields Library, call 0191 200 5424 or visit www.northtyneside.gov.uk/libraries/ localst/local.htm. This library holds Wellesley Nautical School’s annual reports. Sunderland City Library, call 0191 514 8406 or visit www.sunderland.gov.uk/public/ editable/themes/lifelong-learning/ Localstudies.asp. The Tyne and Wear Archives has a small but very interesting selection of photographs and criminal records of prisoners held in Newcastle Jail in the 1870s. Call 0191 232 6789, or visit www.tyneandweararchives. org.uk for details.

An Illustrated Police News depiction of holidaymakers raiding the refreshment room at Galashiels.

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A website devoted to the North East police can be found at www.nepolicehistory.homestead.com.


Crime And Punishment