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Crime In Dorset Street

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Crime In Dorset Street

Post by Karen on Wed 8 Dec 2010 - 20:56



To watch the habitual criminal in all stages of his career, from the raw product - the child taking its first steps in petty thieving - to the finished article, the man who has been dulled, brutalised, and rendered hopeless by one or two terms of penal servitude, one need not go outside a single street in Spitalfields. Dorset-street, the thoroughfare in question, is not a very long road. It contains only fifty-four separate dwelling houses, and if the courts immediately off it are included (Little Paternoster-row, New Court, and Miller's Court) the total will come to about a hundred, with a population of about two thousand. You could easily pitch a cricket ball from one end of the street to the other. Yet this little district has an average of quite one attempt at murder a week, and the stories of the notorious crimes committed in it would fill a volume. The magistrates at Worship-street have repeatedly called attention to its condition, but their call has fallen on deaf ears. The blood of many murdered victims has stained the rotten floors of the tenements and the dark soil of the pavement in vain, for Dorset-street goes on unmoved. One passage alone, Little Paternoster-row, has been the scene of so many deeds of violence that it has got the name of Blood-alley, and in at least one of the houses in Dorset-street there has within recent years been a murder or suicide in almost every room. It is difficult to write of Dorset-street without seeming to exaggerate its horrors; yet those who know it best are the first to admit that exaggeration is practically impossible.

At first glance the two most characteristic features of Dorset-street are the adult loafers always hanging around the corners of the street, and the number of ragged, bare-footed children playing about the roadway. These loafers may be honest men from the common lodging-houses, who are perforce idle; but more usually they are representatives of the most repulsive class of Dorset-street inhabitants, the bullies who live off the hundreds of unfortunate women in the neighbourhood. These bullies - compared with whom active burglars may be considered respectable - are the lowest grade of all, lower even than the women on whom they live. They are afraid to steal, except when an unusually easy victim falls within their reach, for stealing means the possibility of prison. Their most active work is blackening the eyes and kicking the bodies of their women folk, their most daring feat is to run through pockets and strip the clothes off a drugged and insensible man. Each night as the women go out on their unholy work the men shadow them. If the women tire, the men bully them on to find more victims; if they try to get away, the men pull them back. The managers of free shelters will tell you of women stopped on the doorways of the refuges and ordered back to their traffic by the bullies.


Why do the women submit? you ask. How do those ugly-faced, foul-mouthed, filthily-dressed men obtain such ascendancy over them? Why do they suffer the brutes (I crave pardon of the world of dumb animals for applying its name to them!) to beat and kick and rob them when by complaining to the nearest policemen, they could obtain relief? These are questions I cannot answer. Others may explain the philosophy of their conduct, I can only give the facts. Here, as in every other criminal quarter, the worse the men are, the closer the women cling to them; the more the women are beaten, the better they seem to like it. Woe to the philanthropic stranger who interferes when a bully is kicking his paramour. The woman will resent the interference even more than the man. "You leave me and my man alone," she will cry. "It's a pity if we can't do as we want without the likes of you shovin' your nose in what don't concern you."

But the condition of the children is much more pathetic. For the children of Dorset-street, the Elementary Education Act is almost a dead letter. You can see them all day and every day playing about the streets and in the passages by the dozen. If you come along unobserved you may notice a little party of them sitting on the pavement and playing "banker" or "beggar-my-neighbour" with farthings and cherrystones or matches. If you win their confidence, and they do not suspect you of being a preaching man, they will relate with glee their wonderful exploits in Spitalfields Market just by. They do great things in the Market. They form parties of four or six and set out on marauding expeditions. Two, hardly perhaps able to toddle, watch that no one is looking, two cover the advance of the others, while the two experts creep up to the stall, snatch whatever is handy and bolt. Or those a little older will make a raid on a neighbouring shop, creeping in on hands and knees, attaching anything handy, and then sneaking out again unseen. You will find great grown boys and girls in Dorset-street who hardly know their letters, but who are perfect in all the devices of sneak-thieving.
The children take naturally to petty thieving, but some of them are systematically trained by expert adults. For instance, a little time back a teacher found that one of her girls was playing with some things which she could not have honestly acquired. The teacher cross-examined the child, to know how she had procured them. At first the girl refused to say, but afterwards she confessed that she had stolen them. The child told her teacher that an old man taught her and some other girls how to pick pockets, that he used to set them practicing on his pockets, and gave them regular lessons in the art of getting their fingers into all kinds of receptacles. Now this child was only eight years old, and was unable to read; otherwise one might have thought her tale a revised version of Dickens's Fagin.
Careful inquiry has not enabled me to lay my hands on this trainer of child thieves, though those who know the place best have no doubt but that there are one or two such men about. But their was a notorious character known to all the underworld, whose occupation was training and organising boy criminals. "Hoppy," as he was called, was quite a young man and was given his nick-name on account of his lameness, which prevented him from doing very much direct work personally. When he was 16 he had several lads, living in Dorset-street lodging houses under him, and they formed a band, with "Hoppy" as Captain. He formed the intelligence department, and organised the coups which his subordinates executed. He managed things so skilfully that he seems to have avoided arrest for a long time. At one time there were as many as 13 lads under him. But finally the band got broken up, and about a year ago "Hoppy" seems to have disappeared from public life. Rumour says that he is "doing time" (Anglice, serving a term of imprisonment), but it is not considered polite to ask too many questions on such a delicate matter in Dorset-street.

"Yorkey," was another notorious Dorset-street character. "Yorkey's" line was the "religious lay," and in his time he has probably succeeded in deceiving nearly every philanthropic organisation in East London. The Salvation Army gloried in him as a great convert, the Church thought that he was indeed a brand plucked from the burning, mission after mission rejoiced for a time (not for long) in what seemed a truly remarkable case. "Yorkey" was so expert that he deceived the most practised missioners. He claimed to be an ex-prizefighter, and could relate a most thrilling story of his past life of vice and crime. He would come to meetings, and profess conviction and conversion. He fell into none of the pitfalls of the inartistic bungler. He would never ask for money, at least at first, and would put on a show of great unwillingness to take any aid. He might ask a lady of the mission to give him shelter at her place, but only because, "I am afraid of my old pals, lady. I can't help liking them still, though I am changed, and I fear that if I go back among them they will draw me back to my old life. Alas! "Yorkey" was a great hypocrite. So far from being an ex-prizefighter, his business was secretly peddling "special' medicines for men.
The Dorset-street dwelling-places are almost entirely made up of common lodging-houses and furnished rooms. Several of the common lodging-house keepers do their best to manage their houses respectably. But there are one or two of the common lodging-houses which require the careful attention of the higher authorities. One of these permits boys, comparatively young boys, to lodge in it. These boys have left their homes, thrown off all parental restraint, and are simply running wild on the streets. Even if all of them gain an honest living now, it takes no foresight to see that they are not likely to long continue to do so. Another lodging-house is the regular home of a number of smartly-dressed young men, who go out day by day in buses, in crowds, in shops, and who return rich with spoils. Now, even allowing that these men merely use the house as their home, it is not desirable in the public interest that any one house should be the habitual resort of many thieves. Probably, however, the publication of this article will result in some of them considering that other districts in London will better suit their health for a time.
But it is not in the lodging-houses that we see the worst side of Dorset-street; for that we must go to the furnished rooms. No one denies that most of the furnished rooms in Dorset-street and in the courts around are used for immoral purposes. Even landladies admit that. I was talking, a day or two back, with the landlady of several Dorset-street houses. She explained to me that she was going to be stricter now; her deputy had been very lax in allowing undesirable people in, so she had dismissed that deputy and got a better in. "Dismissed" was a very nice way of putting it. The "deputy" really left because the police required him; but I was not supposed to know that.
"The stye makes the pig." Lord Shaftesbury told us. Look at some of the houses here, and you will see that the "good Earl" spoke truly. Notice this house, with its filthy staircases, its horrible walls, its broken, gaping doors, its rooms that seem as though they had accumulated all the filth of Christendom. No one who looks over the rooms of this house can wonder that the most violent crimes are common in it, that a Jack-the-Ripper murder took place in one room, that a recent murder in another room, that a woman threw herself out of the window of a third room, and so on and so forth. Yet this house, to which attention had naturally been directed more than once, is still suffered by the local authorities to remain in its present state. I can only repeat my question - Why?
In the next article I will deal with Dorset-street from the point of the people living in it, and will discuss some of the possible improvements that might be made there. M.

Source: The Echo, Monday March 20, 1899

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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In Response

Post by Karen on Thu 9 Dec 2010 - 6:02

Those of our readers who have followed our Special Commissioner in his portrayal of life in Underground London, will agree with us that there is one matter above all others upon which public effort may, and should, be instantly concentrated. The evils described are hideous, damnable. Their causes lie deep down in the economic and ethical foundations of society. For the most part public and private effort can at present deal only partially and tentatively with the mass of gross and lawless misery lying at our doors. But in one direction reform is not only practicable, it is easy. That reform is the provision of house-room for reputable women at the common lodging-house rate. "It is the simple truth," our Commissioner wrote yesterday, "that at the present moment there is not a single house in London where a poor woman able to pay 5d. or 6d. a night can get a quiet and respectable home." One need not be acquainted in detail and at first hand with the foul conditions described by him in order to realise what lies behind this statement of fact. It means, it must mean, that in such places as the Dorset-street area, the woman's struggle to preserve self-respect, chastity, or even a moderate level of decency, is too great for average human nature to support. And the pity of it is, as our Commissioner remarks, that the only thing needed to remove a great part of the evil is a little business enterprise. That, and nothing more. Numerous agencies, philanthropic and other, provide for men of the same class. The Rowton Houses have proved that lodging-houses on a strict commercial basis can be kept decent, and made to pay. No similar system for women has been attempted; the assumption being that the obstacles are insuperable. From that view we entirely dissent. There are difficulties inseparable from women's houses which are absent in the case of men. Some appear to us wholly insignificant. They would, of course, demand the attention of trained and capable women managers. But one question is asked so frequently that we are driven to regard it as the real core of the problem. How could you exclude women of disreputable character? Obviously you would not, at all times, be able to do so. Vigilance and intelligence must do what they can. But the need of London women is too clamant to allow considerations of that nature to paralyse all effort. Matters now are unutterably bad. They can be bettered. Not by any conceivable course of action can they be made worse. When we remember the devouring vice and brutality daily destroying the womanhood of this vast city of the poor, all difficulties appear of no account.

Source: The Echo, Saturday March 25, 1899, Page 2

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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