A Criminal’s Career

On Thursday 22nd of August, 1901, 21-year-old Charles Stuart, whose occupation was given as “cabinet maker,” appeared before Mr Loveland-Loveland, K.C. at the Clerkenwell Police Court, charged with pick-pocketing.

According to The Lancashire Evening Post, in its edition of Friday 23rd August, 1901, Stuart:-

“…Pleaded guilty to to having stolen a purse and the sum of 3 shillings and 6 pence from the person of Mary Anne Brittain, who, with a great crowd of people, had been attracted to a fire in Redman’s Road, Commercial Street East on the evening of August the 8th.

Stuart was caught in the act and was given into the custody of Police Constable Gooding. He then struck the officer so violently on the right jaw as to knock him off his feet. Warder Cook proved several previous convictions against the prisoner for various offences.”


Since the case against him was, to say the least, conclusive, Stuart was left with little choice but to plead guilty and his defence then attempted to minimise the length and severity of his punishment by sending a letter to Mr Loveland-Loveland which, purportedly, had been written by the defendant, and which, given his claim to have been brought up surrounded by vice and villainy with few civilising influences to keep him on a righteous path, was surprisingly literate!


One of the interesting points about the letter from a Jack the Ripper perspective, is that he claimed to have spent his formative years being raised in Dorset Street, Spitalfields – and thus, if his letter of mitigation is to be believed, he provides us with a glimpse into the everyday life of Dorset Street in the closing years of the 19th century.

A sketch showing Dorset Street.
Dorset Street, Spitalfeilds. From Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 2nd June 1901. Copyright The British Library Board.


The Dundee Evening Telegraph, on Saturday August 24th, 1901, reproduced the letter in full:-

“Charles Stuart, who was sentenced at the Clerkenwell Sessions to 18 months’ hard labour and two years’ police supervision for the theft of a purse, handed to Mr Loveland-Loveland, K.C., the following extraordinary document:-

“My Lord, I shall be very grateful to your Lordship if you would kindly spare me a few moments of your valuable time to glance your eyes over this poor bit of pleading of mine.


“At the tender age of six my mother and father, who could never agree together, mutually came to the conclusion that it would be better for them to part.

My father went, taking me with him, to a lodging house in Dorset Street, Spitalfields – a street described by Mr M’Kenzie in an article which appeared in a daily paper a few weeks back as ‘the worst street in London, being the resort of thieves, murderers, and burglars, where the criminals of tomorrow are trained today, where children, six and eight years of age, gamble in the gutters, and where babes in arms learn to sip gin at their mothers breasts.’

Such was the street, my Lord, in which I was fated to pass my childhood days, amongst all the evil and corruption of that unholy neighbourhood, where neither the fear of God, nor of the law, is felt.

My life, from the age of six years to thirteen, was surrounded by all the evil that years of wickedness and vice could bring to bear on a mind and character like mine, naturally weak and ill-fitted to bear the temptations to which it was hourly subjected.

A view along Dorset Street.
Dorset Street, Spitalfields


At the age of thirteen I was sent to the training-ship Shaftesbury, where I spent three of the happiest years of my life.

On the expiration of my time I came home on my father’s advice, also on the doctor’s, on account of being subject to walking in my sleep and nearly losing my life once by walking overboard in the English Channel.


I arrived home about April 1897 on a Saturday.

My parents and my two sisters were just sitting down to tea, and everything seemed to speak of peace and happiness.

But how deceiving are appearances at times!

Instead of everything being as it seemed, my father was up to his eyes in debt, being in the clutch of moneylenders.

The crash did not come at once.

I obtained employment with the excellent character from the ship.


Now commenced the breaking-up of the family home. My father went back to Dorset Street to live. I went along with him, and my mother and sisters took a little room and furnished it with what bits of things the creditors had left them.

As a matter of course, I was recognised and snapped up at once by my old companions, most of whom I soon found had had a taste of prison.

A sketch of Dorset Street.
An Illustration Of Dorset Street . Copyright, The British Library Board.


I had no inclination whatsoever to join my old associates in wrong-doing, being as happy at my work as could be expected under the circumstances. But, all good intentions were destined to have a fall, and to bring me to what I am, and that through no fault of my own.


On Sunday afternoon all the men were congregated outside one of the lodging-houses, gambling.

Me and another little chap, neither of us having on anything save our trousers and shirts, were eagerly watching the game when down came some policemen.

My friend and I were locked up, and on Monday morning the Magistrate remanded us for a week.


So I lost my employment, and being flattered by my elders about having been in, “stir,” as they called prison, I began to lose my head, and thought what a grand thing it was to do as you like, to have no master, and to get money without actually working for it.

Although I have eight previous convictions, I have never made a practice of stealing for my living. It is only when out of work that I strayed, and my sins have found me out.

If, my Lord, you only faintly knew the life of temptation, misery, and wretchedness I have passed through since I was six – having no home to go to, no kind mother at hand to speak loving and gentle words to me, and so by her winning looks and pleading voice counteract the evil which we all have, some in less degree than others.


When I had finished work for the night there was no bright fire and kindly looks to draw my mind from evil ways, but on the contrary, a dirty lodging-house kitchen, old men and women smoking dirty, black pipes, with its usual accompaniment – the curse of humanity – drink, and their language more foul than their pipes.


I have made a resolution, my Lord, never to return to a dishonest life, and I should take it as a great kindness if your Lordship would put me under police supervision for a few years, which I am sure would deter me from breaking my resolution.

Yours (signed)

Charles Stuart, alias Richard Davison.””