Compared to other East End dockland areas, the Isle of Dogs had less crime to speak of. That’s not to say there was none, but the conservative and close-knit nature of its people – along with its geographical isolation – to a large extent dictated the flavour and seriousness of the crimes.
Violent crime was rare, and associated mostly with sailors and other guests of the pubs they visited. I was a youth on the Island in the heydays of the Mile End Mob and the Inter City Firm, and the Island didn’t even manage to have a proper gang (mind you, some Islanders did join the aforementioned and other notorious firms). Although I was young, I don’t recall there really being any serious crime or ‘aggro” on the Island, something that I should probably be grateful for.
For sex and drugs and rock n roll, the Island was the wrong place. It was well known among sailors from all corners of the world that they were better off heading north to Limehouse, Poplar or Cable St if they fancied blowing their money on illicit activities or substances.
Theft and gambling, on the other hand, those were Island specialisms. Whatever could be lifted from the docks, from warehouses, from lorries – and anything not screwed down – was considered fair game for the ‘tea leaves’. As reported by Charles Booth in 1897:
The chief vices of the island are gambling and betting and thieving. There are more juvenile thieves to be found there than in any other part of the K division. Lots of things to thieve. Old iron, goods from leaky sacks, there is a market for everything. Once anything is found lying about and portable, not a boy would not try to remove it.
Betting is largely indulged in. Bookmaker caught last week in West Ferry Rd betting in the middle of the street. On him they found £40 in gold and £10 in silver, all taken from the natives.
The earliest crime reports talked of cattle and sheep rustling in the 1700s. In the late 20th century, ‘Police 5’ on Friday night television was like today’s teleshopping channels – a place to see what we might be buying off the back of a lorry in the next few days. And in the 21st century? Well….we have bankers.
But, we begin in the 1720s, coincidentally the decade of the South Sea Bubble, one of the biggest stock trade “fiddles” of all time, and the decade that Robert Walpole became Britain’s first Prime Minister.
1728, Animal Theft
An Old Bailey court report from 1728 (www.oldbaileyonline.org) included this typical Island crime of the time:
John Hill, Jun. still made himself an Evidence, and depos’d, That he being concerned with the prisoners, they went on the 6th of Feb. last, into a place, call’d the East Marshes, in the Isle of Dogs , and that there they took a Sheep, and he helped the prisoners to kill it, and that the prisoners said, If he would not go with them to steal Sheep, they would betray him for Crimes he had committed aforetime, of the like Nature. Henry Jackson had several Captains of Ships to appear for his Character, saying, He had lived in Repute, been Master of a Vessel, and ever behaved himself very honestly. This with the Evidence not being clear against them, they were both acquitted.
John Mather who did live at the Ferry-house at the Isle of dogs was indicted for receiving two hempen sacks, value 4 s. and eight bushels of malt, value 27 s. the property of Jonathan Saunders, a corn-lighter man.
Heady stuff, but hardly surprising. At that time, the Island was 95% marshland, with a few small population areas around the edge (including the Ferry House area and Coldharbour) and Chapel House. Most lucrative was theft from ships – the main reason for the creation of the docks with their high walls and secure warehouses.
1800, Grand Larceny
But, during the construction of the West India Docks, the wonderfully named Conde-Grot Mondeno was accused of “stealing, on the 8th of February , two deal planks, value 5s. the property of William Bough and John Holmes”. In his defence, he said:
I am not guilty; I bought them of an unknown person, who came to me and asked me three shillings for these two planks; I do not recollect the day, but it was about seven o’clock in the evening of the day that I was stopped; I had very lately come from a foreign country, and I do not know any body here.
After questioning back and forth, Conde-Grot was found not guilty. Surely the judge found it suspect that one of the first things an immigrant would do on arrival in England was to buy two planks from a stranger in the street. But then again, I am sure similar, ridiculous assertions were being made two centuries later. Copper: “What are you doing driving that Ford Capri, you’re only 14?” Us: “Some big boy sold it to us. Nah, we don’t know who he was…”.
WILLIAM RAWEY was indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 8th of October , three pounds and a half of raw sugar, value 1s. 6d. the property of Alexander Donaldson , George Glenning , William Morgan , and Alexander Macbean .
Examined by Mr. Gleed. I am foreman at the warehouse, No. 8, in the West-dock: On the 11th of October last, the prisoner was employed as a lumper , on board the ship Alexander ; she was lying right abreast ofthe warehouse; I went on board, about four o’clock in the afternoon, in consequence ofsuspicion; I saw the prisoner on board; I began to search some of the labourers, and while I was searching one of them, I observed the prisoner at the bar run forward on the forecastle, and throw from his person a bag, which I afterwards found to contain sugar; he threw it under the heel of the ship’s bowsprit; I took it up; it contained about three pounds and a half of raw sugar; I delivered the prisoner and the bag at the Shadwell Police-office.
GUILTY , aged 60.
Confined six months in the House of Correction , and publicly whipped, at the Wet Docks, in the Isle of Dogs .
1824, Grand Larceny
In 1824, two lads paid a very high price for stealing some rope:
MICHAEL DENSON and THOMAS KIRKHAM were indicted for stealing, on the 24th of December , 50 lbs. of rope, value 5 s. , the goods of Robert Kennedy .JAMES BUCKEY . I am a Surveyor of the Thames Police. On the 24th of December, I was on duty, with another officer, near the West India Dock-bridge, and about a quarter to eight o’clock in the evening, I saw the prisoners coming over the bridge in company; I stopped Denson, and found 28 lbs. of rope round his body, under his smock-frock. He said he picked it up on the bank of the City Canal, by the Isle of Dogs, in company with Kirkham. In a private pocket, down the seam in the leg of his trowsers. I found a knife, which had been cutting tarred rope. I asked why he concealed the rope – he said he thought it the best way of carrying it. I went and found the brig Pilgrim adrift, in the City Canal, with her head-rope cut at the water’s edge; I cut a piece off the end – it corresponded with what he had.TROMAS CLARK. I was with Buckey, whose account is correct. I examined Kirkham, and found 22 lbs. of rope round his body, under his smock frock – it tallies with what the other prisoner had, and in his jacket pocket, I found a knife.ROBERT KENNEDY . I am master of the Pilgrim. I fastened her all right, and found her adrift in the morning. This rope is mine, I have no doubt.DENSON – GUILTY . Aged 18.KIRKHAM – GUILTY . Aged 15.Transported for Seven Years .
1862, Manslaughter on West Ferry Rd
In 1862, a pub fight got tragically out of hand. The Ironmongers Arms was approximately half way between the Magnet and the Vulcan, on the other side of West Ferry Rd. All three pub premises, and land in the surrounding area, were property of the Ironmongers Company.
HENRY SMITH (32), JOHN KELLY (26), and ISAAC CHAPMAN COOK (23) , Feloniously killing and slaying William Moyce; they were also charged on the Coroner’s inquisition with the like offence.
JOHN HENRY WESTZELL. I am a publican, of the Iron-road, Mill wall—on 29th July, Moyce came there, and afterwards the prisoner Cook came with one or two more, who are not here, and afterwards Smith came; they were all drinking but not together—I saw none of them intoxicated—I saw Smith sit down; Moyce was then standing by the bar—Cook was then there, and Moyce spoke to Cook, and accused Smith of using bad language—he said, “You have been using bad language in the house, and I will strike you”—he struck him twice, and Smith got up and tried to remonstrate—he said that he did not make use of bad language in his house—Moyce said, “Yes, you did,” and struck him again while he was getting up from the seat—I came round the counter to prevent a quarrel, and got hold of Moyce, who was the nearest—I told him that a man in his sphere of life ought to be ashamed to begin fighting—I passed him over to the potman to hold while I went to the other party; I said the same to him, and tried to keep them apart—Smith said that he did not wish to fight, but he was certainly not a chopping block to be hit at—Moyce then got out of the potman’s hands, and ran out of doors saying, “Come out, and I will fight you in the field”—he had an inclination to go out, but I kept him there—Smith followed, and Cook said, “If you do not fight him, I will”—Smith made no answer, but he and two more left the premises together—I went outside; there were a great many bystanders—Kelly was not in the house at all.
SAMUEL DAVIS . I am potman at the Ironmongers Arms—on the day of this row, I was in front of the bar, between 6 and 7 o’clock—Moyce had been there for some time previous to Smith coming in, and when he saw Smith he said, “You made use of bad language yesterday in my absence; I shall strike you for it”—Smith said that Moyce had made a mistake—the deceased said that he would hit Smith once, twice, and thrice—Smith did nothing but sit there, aud Moyce struck him twice while he was sitting down, and once as he was getting up—my master went between them and pushed back Moyce, and I caught him by the arm, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Now, old fellow, you shall not fight; you shall fight none”—he pulled his arm away from me, went out at the door hastily, and told Smith to follow him out and fight him in the field—I said, “Sit down, Smith, do not have any fighting”—he said, “I do not want to fight; I am not able or willing”—Cook went out outside the door, and a man named Wilding, spoke to Smith and said, “Come out and fight Moyce”—smith said, “I do not want to fight”—Cook said, “If you do not, I will fight him for you”—they went out, and when I went over I saw them fighting in a field; three or four rounds were fought while I was there—the deceased was one of the men fighting—I saw him fall three times; he was picked up—Smith was fighting him, and Cook acted as Smith’s second—three rounds were fought while I was there, and Moyce fell every time—they were fighting when I went back to my master’s house.
THOMAS MARSHALL . I live at Millwall—I was there when Moyce was killed—I did not see any fighting; I only saw one man protecting himself—I saw Smith protecting himself several times from Moyce—he said that he did not wish to fight, and begged to be taken out of the field—I am deaf, but I heard that.
JAMES BRIDGE . I am a labourer of 11, Island-row, Isle of Dogs—I saw Smith, Moyce, Weldon, and Cook, making into the field—I did not notice anybody else with them—Kelly went to Moyce and begged him to go home, as he was not capableof fighting, and what a disgrace it would be to him—before I got to the field, I saw Moyce go to the palings; Kelly pulled him off the pallings twice, and requested him to go home—he refused, and said that if he did not let him tight, he would strike him—Kelly let him go, and he went over the palings, and there was Weldon and a sailor boy sparring, to urge Moyce into the field—I went round the palings and saw Moyce and Smith fighting—I saw Smith on Weldon’s knee, and saw Kelly pick up Moyce and beg him to go home, but he would not—he said he would have his fight out, and away he went to fight again—I saw nothing further; but walked round the field, and saw no more contest at all.
PETER MORRISS . I live at St. Catherine’s-terrace, Millwall—I was standing about forty yards from the Ironmonger’s Arms, and saw a large con-course of people come out—I followed them, and there was a party in the field who climbed over some palings; the deceased came up to the palings to climb over, and James Kelly pulled him down and insisted on his going home with him—he got out of his arms and climbed up again, and Kelly palled him. down a second time, and told him it was a shame for him to go into the field to fight, in the state he was in—Moyce attempted to get up a third time, and Kelly pulled him down—he said, “If you do no let me go, I will strike your face,” so he let him go over the pailings—he fought a round or two, and Kelly said, “Let us get over and try to get him home”—I said I cannot climb over those palings without tearing my clothes, and I will not go—I did not see who acted as seconds—I was forty yards off, and could only see them through the palings; but I saw Cook and Wheldon and two naval reserve men; they were all acting as seconds for Smith, and Kelly was on the other side, with the deceased, when I went in.
NOT GUILTY .
1892, Manslaughter on Glengall Rd.
WILLIAM GEMPESTEIN , for the wilful murder of Frederick Charles Swain.
CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR . I am a fireman on board the steamship John Bright—I am now staying at 412, Penny Fields—on 8th December last our vessel was lying in the Inner Millwall Dock—on that night I was in company with three firemen, named Frederick Charles Swain, John Cooper, and John Bahrs, who is also called Johnson—we were all employed on the John Bright—that same night there was lying in the dock a German vessel, called the Liebenstein—that night I and Swain, Cooper, and Bahrs went to the George public-house, and off and on we remained there till closing-time—we were in the public-bar.
I heard some German singing going on in another part of the house—at closing time we left, and walked in the direction of the docks, down the Glengal Road; we walked on the right-hand side, two and two, I and Cooper first, Bahrs and Swain following two or three yards behind—as we were walking down, the prisoner struck Cooper; two other men were with the prisoner; I now know they were Krause and Striblow—they came together off the road to us—they were saying something in German which I could not understand—Cooper was knocked down—the Germans went away towards the dock, hardly at a walk—Cooper got up and we walked on together—when we got near the policeman’s box and the dock gates we saw the Germans standing up there, waiting about.
The three came up together, and they struck Cooper again; I don’t know who struck him the second time; he got knocked down again, and when on the ground Krause kicked him—I went into the prisoner like to stop him, to push him away—I made a rush at him to charge him for knocking Cooper about—I got a few blows at a doorway, and he got the same from me—I saw something bright in his hand, and I felt a cut in my left hand; it was bleeding—I saw that after it was finished—Swain and Bahrs were coming up to us when they saw the men getting on to us, and the prisoner then left me and went off for them—he was the only person there then—he was the only man I was striking—I don’t remember where Krause and Striblow were; they had not gone away, they were all close by, but in what position I can’t tell—the prisoner went up to Swain, and I heard Swain call out, “I am stabbed”—the prisoner then made a rush to pick up his cap; he stooped down to pick something up, and then ran away—at the time the prisoner went towards Swain, Bahrs was near him—I did not hear him call out;
I did not see anything happen to him; he was still standing up, and Swain also—I did not see either of them fall—the prisoner ran over the bridge right past the policeman’s box; they all ran together—the policeman at the dock gates pursued them, and within a short time he brought the prisoner back, and he was taken to the station—Swain was then lying on the ground; I could not say when he fell—he was not speaking or making any sign of being alive—Bahrs was in the police-box lying down; I did not see him fall—I remained on the same spot all the time—Bahrs was calling out as if he had been hurt—then I and Cooper, the prisoners, and some policemen all went to the station together—I think there were three policemen there then—the prisoners were charged at the station—I don’t remember whether they made any answer—I afterwards saw the dead body of Swain in the mortuary.
Cross-examined. Our ship had come into dock about seven that night—this was our first night ashore—we had come from the Persian Gulf—we went into the George about half-past nine—some of us went out to get shaved, and then went back, and left about closing time—we were in the public bar—no word passed between the Germans and us there—we came out first, and the Germans followed; there were four English and three Germans—I did not see Striblow do anything—Krause kicked Cooper and then went away from us—I don’t know where he went—when Cooper was knocked down I don’t know whether he said anything; I caught hold of him to prevent him making a noise, to prevent him following the Germans and fighting with them—I saw two dock constables where the Germans were, Howard and Smith—I and Cooper waited till Swain and Bahrs came up—I don’t remember one of us saying, “There are the three men; they have been getting on us, let us fight them”; I never said so—I did not hear the words, “There are those cursed Germans, let us have a row with them”—the Germans did not retreat across the bridge and we follow them—all I did from first to last was to give the prisoner some blows.
GEORGE HOWARD (Millwall Docks Constable 31). At half-past twelve on the early morning of 9th December I was at the dock gates, and I heard some quarrelling going on between some German and English sailors near the bottom of the Glengal Road, near the George public-house—after the quarrel three of the Germans came up the road and passed by the gate going towards the bridge; in a few minutes they returned and met the Englishmen at the gate—the four Englishmen came up to the gate nearly together, there may have been a few yards dividing them—when the Germans and Englishmen met they renewed the quarrel again, with words and blows, and it did not last a minute before the man called out he was stabbed—I did not see any blows dealt; not thinking anything was going to occur I was not looking; I had two gates to attend to, and I cannot tell what happened; my attention was attracted by hearing the cry, “I am stabbed!”—I went towards him, and he was turning towards me, and as soon as I saw the blood on his neck I ran to the man nearest to him (the prisoner) and followed him over the bridge to the gate, and caught him there and brought him back; Swain was lying on the ground apparently dead; I believe I said, “See what you have done,” and he said, “Not me”—Bahrs was lying on the ground when I returned; he was bleeding from his arm, which ho was holding—I took the prisoner by the arm, and went to Cubitt Town Police-station—another constable took Krause—Striblow had not been brought back then—at the station all three men were charged together; no interpreter was there at the time—I do not think the prisoner made any answer—I left him there in custody; I was not at the station afterwards when the interpreter was there.
WILLIAM CULLING (Inspector K). I followed the prisoner into the Isle of Dogs Police-station—I charged him; no interpreter was present, and the prisoner said nothing in answer to the charge—Constable Wynne brought two caps to the station, and at the time he did so the prisoner had a cap in his hand—when Wynne held the caps up the prisoner said, pointing to one of them, “Mein cap, mein cap”—it was given to him—I have searched at the scene of this affray in order to discover a knife, we have not found anything—a diver has been employed in the dock, but has not found anything.
JAMES HAWKINS (Re-examined). On this morning I told the three men they were charged with being concerned together in feloniously killing William Swaine by stabbing him in the neck in Glengall Road, and they were further charged with feloniously cutting and wounding John Bahrs by stabbing him in the arm with a knife; the prisoner was also charged with cutting and wounding Taylor, and all the men were charged with assaulting Cooper by knocking him down and kicking him at the same time and place—those charges having been interpreted they all seemed anxious to address me, and started off together to do so—I told them they could make any statement they wished before the Magistrate; from their demeanour I had an idea they thought I was trying the case, and I told them I was simply charging them—the prisoner said, “We walked; some five or six persons accosted us, and knocked us about, and said, ‘You b——y Dutchmen!’ we crossed the road to where the policeman was standing, and one of our assailants pulled off his coat, challenged us to fight him, and struck me a blow on the chest; we ran away, me and my mates, a policeman blowing his whistle, and he got hold of us.”
FREDERICK VOGT . I am captain of the Liebenstein—the prisoner has been one of my crew since I joined the ship on 6th October—no has borne the character of a peaceable and quiet man since then.
GUILTY of manslaughter — Eighteen Years’ Penal Servitude.
1912, Coining Offences
GODSELL, George (60, horsekeeper) , unlawfully uttering a counterfeit coin toLeonard Rickard on March 5.
LEONARD RICKARD , barman, “Newcastle Arms,” Cubitt Town [later renamed Waterman’s Arms]. On March 5, at 7.10 a.m., prisoner came in and ordered three-ha’porth of rum and a penny screw of shag; he put down a 2s. piece; I was doubtful about it and told him to wait. Having tested the coin and found it was bad I sent for the police and prisoner was arrested.
Prisoner. I don’t remember anything about it. I was in drink at the time.
Witness. He was not in drink.
Police-constable ALFRED TYSON, 282 K. I was called in by last Stress. I asked prisoner if fie knew why he was being detained and he said “Yes.” I was handed by Rickard this counterfeit florin. Upon searching prisoner I found on him 1 1/2 d. in bronze; no counterfei coin.
SIDNEY WILLIAM SMITH , Assistant Assayer, H.M. Mint. The florin (produced) is counterfeit.
Judge Lumley Smith pointed out that there was no evidence that prisoner knew that the coin he tendered was false.
Verdict, Not guilty.
Prisoner was further indicted for uttering a counterfeit coin to Frank Whinnington on March 5, and on the same day uttering a counterfeit coin to Leonard Rickard; uttering on December 16 to Henry Hewitt a counterfeit florin.
FRANK WHINNINGTON , barman, “Pier” tavern, Manchester Road, Cubitt Town. On March 5, about 6.45 a.m., prisoner came in and asked for three-ha’porth of rum and a penny screw of shag; he put down a 2s. piece and I gave him 1s. 9 1/2 d. change. An hour after he had left I examined the florin and found it was bad. Later on I picked out prisoner from a number of men. My place is about six minutes’ walk from the “Newcastle Arms.”
LEONARD RICKARDS repeated the evidence he gave upon the former indictment. (This witness’s evidence was admitted upon this indictment as showing guilty knowledge.)
HENRY HEWITT , landlord of the “Robert Burns,” Westferry Road, Millwall. On December 16, about 7 a.m., prisoner came in and asked for two of rum; he put down a florin; I gave him the change, and he left hurriedly. The coin was bad. On March 5 I picked out prisoner from a number of men.
Police-constable ALBERT TOOLES, 371 K. On December 16 I was on duty at the Isleof Dogs Police Station, about 7.30 a.m., when Hewitt came and handed me this florin.
SIDNEY WILLIAM SMITH . The three florins (produced) are counterfeit. The two uttered on March 5 are of the same mould.
Prisoner (not on oath) declared that on December 15 he slept at a lodging-house at Walworth and did not leave there till 8.50 a.m. on the 16th.
Prisoner had been previously convicted of a coinage offence, but for the past ten years there was nothing against him.
Sentence: Six months’ hard labour.
Isle of Dogs Police Station Charge Book
As was the case in all other police stations, the Isle of Dogs station maintained a:
Register of Refused Charges, and of Persons brought in Custody to the above Police Station and liberated by the Officer on duty without being taken before a Magistrate.
A typical 1909 entry included the notes:
- On 14th Feb 1909, Robert Hillgruber (age 11) of Mellish St, James Eastick (age 12) of Janet St and Frederick Jinks (age 11) of Alpha Rd were accused of causing wilful damage.
- On 25th Mar 1909. Henry Hunt of Cahir St and John Putnam of West Ferry Rd were accused of stealing oranges from a barrow belonging to Henry Bates of Stebondale St.
- On 13th May 1909, William Holman of Galbraith St was accused of stealing 9 yards of dress material from Caroline Holman at the same address. A family row perhaps?
- On 19th Aug 1909, Lilian James (age 10) of West Ferry Rd was accused of stealing iron to the value of 3d from Joseph Westwood Co. Ltd.
- On an illegible date, Charles Williams (age 13) of West Ferry Rd was brought to the police station with the complaint that he was “beyond control of parents”.
Later incidents or occurrences (i.e. including reports of such things as fires or accidents) were all captured in the Island Police Station Occurrence Reports, 1968-1971. A typical page is as follows.
If anybody reading this wants to own up to booting a dent in the Panda Car door in 1968…..? I am childishly amused at PC Gibson’s statement, and imagine him looking like Bernard Breslaw:
The vehicle was alright when I left it there at 2 am.