A Wild Animal In Petticoats

Although the majority of the residents who resided in the East End of London in the 19th century, were sober, law-abiding citizens, it cannot be denied that the area did have more than its fair share of ne’er-do-wells whose behaviour was, to say the least, reprehensible,

Dorset Street, where the Jack the Ripper murder of Mary Kelly took place on 9th November 1888, was widely regarded as being one of the worst streets in the Victorian East End, and references to it crop up time and time again in the crime reports of the age.

A view along Dorset Street.
Dorset Street, Spitalfields


The following story appeared in The Belfast News on Tuesday, 25th September 1860:-

“In London, last Friday, Catherine Simpson, aged 35 and married, was indicted for wounding Hannah Atkins with intent to disfigure her.

The charge against the prisoner was of the most revolting description, and the details given by the witnesses created a considerable sensation in court.


The prosecutrix, who was said to be a very decent woman, lived in Dorset Street, Spitalfields, said that, on the morning of the 21st of August, she was at the street door shaking the mat, when the prisoner came up and began to abuse her for having, as she alleged, been seen speaking to her husband, though the prosecutrix told her it was not true, and a young woman, who was with the prosecutrix at the time the alleged conversation took place, told her the same.

The prisoner continued her abusive conversation, then spat in the face of the prosecutrix, upon which she slapped her face.


The prisoner then followed the prosecutrix into the passage, and, seizing her by both her arms, forced them back, and fixing her eyes intently upon her face, bent forward, and, seizing the nose of the prosecutrix in her teeth, bit it off right up to the bone, and the piece was picked up by the daughter of the prosecutrix.

The police constable, who took the prisoner into custody, said that she was quite sober.

The prisoner did not attempt to make any defence, and the jury found her guilty.


In answer to the Court, Police Constable 221-H said that the prisoner was a most violent woman, and she had bitten her husband several times.

He had received a letter from her husband.

The Common Serjeant asked to see it.

Constable: “I have given it to the jury.”

Common Serjeant: “When?”

Constable: “Just before the case.”

Court:  “You have been guilty of a gross breach of duty, and contempt of court, for which you are liable to be committed. Nobody should dare to speak a juryman. They have to judge prisoner’s actions with a mind free from bias; and how could they do that if they were interfered with?

The juryman to whom the letter had been handed, said that it had not made any difference in his judgment.

The Common Serjeant said that he did not expect that it had, but the conduct of the constable was highly reprehensible.


The letter which was handed up to him contained a series of charges against the prisoner.

From further inquiries made by the Court, it appeared that some years ago the prisoner had been imprisoned for biting an inspector’s finger.

She had bitten another man in the eye.

She had also bitten off a portion of one of her husband’s ears, and once so damaged his nose with her teeth that 17 stitches had to be put in it.


The Common Serjeant said that her conduct was more like that of a wild animal than of a woman, and he sentenced her to 18 months’ imprisonment.”