The streets of Whitechapel in the 19th century were, to say the least, extremely dangerous. Robberies and assaults were commonplace, even in broad daylight.
Murder itself was quite common, long before the advent of the Jack the Ripper atrocities, in the autumn of 1888, albeit the majority of the homicides in the district were the result of robberies going wrong, or inflamed by the perpetrators, and often the victims, having consumed large amounts of alcohol.
However, there were dangers to pedestrians from unexpected quarters, as is demonstrated by the following case which was heard before local magistrate Mr. Paget at the end of February, 1867, and which was reported by The Illustrated Police News on the following Saturday, 2nd March, 1867:-
ASSAULT BY A WHITECHAPEL SHOEBLACK
BOYS IN LEMAN STREET
Patrick McQuin, a boy who has been for some time a shoe black with a box and brushes in Leman Street, Whitechapel, was brought before the Magistrate Mr. Paget charged with violently assaulting Mr. Abraham Woolf.
The prosecutor is a traveller and jewel manufacturer of 13, Backchurch Lane in Whitechapel.
For some time past, on leaving home in the morning, he has been pestered by the prisoner and other boys with boxes, brushes and blacking to clean his shoes. He had told them repeatedly that he did not want his shoes cleaned, as he had already cleaned them at his home.
He was generally received with derision and laughter, and his foreign accent was mimicked, and the boys at last resorted to threats and abuse.
On Tuesday morning, Mr Woolf was assailed by the prisoner with the usual old cry of, “Clean your boots, Sir. Clean your boots only a penny.”
Mr Woolf told him that he did not want his boots cleaned, on which the prisoner struck him down.
Mr. Woolf was immediately surrounded by other shoeblack boys to the number of six or seven. They hustled him, and the prisoner kicked him on the mouth and cut his lip.
TAKEN TO THE POLICE STATION
The Complainant immediately seized hold of the prisoner and took him to the station house.
Mr. Woolf’s mouth was cut, and blood was issuing from it whilst he was giving his evidence.
Mr. Paget:- “When did this take place?”
Mr. Woolf:- “At ten o’clock this morning. Only an hour and a half ago.”
The prisoner, whose face was cut, scratched and bruised, claimed that Mr. Woolf had beaten him and had scratched his face and his neck.
THE PRISONER WAS LYING
Police Sergeant Fry, 658 A, stated that the scratched were old ones and that they were quite dry. They had evidently been made quite some time ago.
Mr. Paget examined the prisoner’s face and neck and said that Sergeant Fry was quite correct.
He commented on the conduct of the prisoner, and he told him that he had no right to annoy or molest people who did not want their boots cleaned by him. He would, however, he would allow him and the other boys to approach people in a civil manner and ask them if they would like to have their boots cleaned.
SENT TO PRISON
He concluded by telling the defendant that a flagrant, unprovoked and cowardly assault had taken place, and he duly sentenced Patrick McQuin to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.