Wednesday 21 September 2011

Bashing the Police

If you think of Victorian London as essentially a quiet, orderly, trouble-free place, you might want to think again. Here's two reports from the same day in 1871:-

MURDEROUS ASSAULT ON THE POLICE  —James Buckley and John Gilbert, apparently about 18 years of age, were charged with an assault upon the police. —James Adkins, 122 S, saw the two prisoners in Albany-street. about half-past four in the afternoon, pulling two girls about indecently. He cautioned them and told them to go away. They refused to do so, and Gilbert struck him in the face. The constable took him into custody, and was immediately attacked by both the prisoners and 20 or 30 "roughs," who quickly gathered round and attempted to assist the delinquents to escape. A lady who feared that the policeman would be murdered ran in search of another police-constable, and found Thomas Gore, 161 S, who went to the assistance of the last witness. After receiving very severe injuries he, however, was unable to secure the men until a third constable, 43 S reserve, and two powerful men—Mr. H. Tilley, a corn merchant, of Slough, and Mr. B. Collett, a pianoforte-maker, of Tottenham-court-road—rendered efficient service by keeping off the crowd and helping to overpower the prisoners. Mr. Tilley saw one of the prisoners wrest the truncheon from the hand of one of the constables, who were both covered with blood, and, stepping back, throw the staff at the officer with such force that it would probably have killed him had the prisoner not missed his aim. Some of the crowd having knocked off the policemen's helmets, beat their heads against the wall.—Mr. D'Eyncourt sentenced the prisoners each to be kept to hard labour for six months for assaulting Adkins, and for three months for the assault on Gore.

MURDEROUS ASSAULTS ON THE POLICE. — Robert Jones, 21, a labourer, was charged with being drunk and riotous and assaulting Charles Coverley, Reuben Stage, and Richard Warn, constables of the B division in the execution of their duty. The prisoner's conduct, which was of a violent and brutal nature, was aggravated by a mob of 500 people, who placed every impediment in the way of the officers, and sought to release the prisoner by the use of sticks and stones. Prisoner went into the Markham Arms, King's-road, Chelsea, and demanded a pot of ale, but being refused challenged all present to fight. He was ejected, when, standing on the pavement, he attacked all who passed him. Coverley, 128 B, remonstrated with him, when he struck him on the chest, knocked him down, and kicked him. He declared that he would be taken to the station dead rather than alive, used the most horrid language, kicked; in all directions, and when Stagg, 379 B, arrived he bit him through the arm. The mob closed round the constables, threw granite cubes, and used sticks freely, and the respectable civilians present were afraid to assist the police on that account. Warn, 46 B, then joined his brother constables, but was bitten and kicked, and it required seven or eight men to convey the prisoner to the station.
    Janes Groom was then charged with attempting to rescue and assaulting Coverley, 128 B.—It was clearly shown that while carrying the other prisoner this man struck and kicked Coverley, and begged of the violent crowd to prevent the prisoner being taken to the station-house.— Groom denied being the man, and the other prisoner pleaded drunkenness, and that he had been much knocked about.—Mr. Woolrych said that was the result of his own fiendish violence. The police must be protected from the attacks of such mad, drunken ruffians. He sentenced Jones to 16 weeks' hard labour for the three assaults and ordered Groom to pay a penalty of 30s , or one month.

Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, April 16 1871


  1. Very cool, thank you.

    I've lately been amazed by the level of violence in NYC during the same period. There were the draft riots, clashes between rival police forces, etc. That's led me to wonder if London had anything comparable to NY's street violence, or if it was just an American thing, but judging from these accounts, London had it share of insurrection.

    In researching NY I've found lots of specific gangs mentioned, like the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits. If you're aware of any sources that describe the gangs of London, I'd be really interested.

  2. I think violence in the West End was more unusual, but more common in the East End or south London. Certainly brawls, stabbings and shootings (there was no gun legislation) were happening - to what extent compared to today, I'm not sure. The murder rate was certainly lower than now - one or two dozen a year in the whole capital.

    There was a moral panic about 'hooligan gangs' in the 1890s - one of the first instances, I think, of teen/youth gangs being given press coverage - ages of 'roughs' had not been so much a focus before compulsory education, but now there seemed more of a contrast between the school-age child, and the young man. See and the page I link to there See also

    The key fictions for teen gangs are probably The Hooligan Nights (on my site; also my Kindle store) and Mord Em'ly on girl gangs (also on my site). I don't know of a book on London boy gangs, but there was one on girl gangs recently - sorry, don't know the title. There is also 'The Gangs of Manchester' by Andrew Davies, which is quite comprehensive, albeit a little repetitive after a while.

  3. Thanks for the leads. I'm working on "Mord Em'ly" now and loving it.