On the night of October 16th, 1906, Inspector Francis McKay, based at Great Marlborough Street Police Station, arrested a German tailor by the name of Ferdinand Altfuldisch, in Greek Stret, Soho, and charged him with disorderly conduct.
Altfuldisch, later claimed that he had been maltreated by the police whilst in custody, and duly brought a charge against Inspector McKay accusing him of having assaulted him.
At the time, a Parliamentary Commission was meeting to look into the conduct of Metropolitan Police officers, and, as a result of the complaint made by Altfuldisch, McKay was called to appear before the commission, where he made an accusation that would send a ripple of indignation coursing through the residents of Greek Street.
THE DANGERS OF SOHO
The Exmouth Journal, reported on his appearance in its edition of Saturday, 20th October, 1906:-
“Greek Street, Soho, is the worst street in the West End of London. There gathers there nightly a crowd of people who are nothing more nor less than a pest. I will go so far as to say that some of the vilest reptiles in London are to be found there.” Such was the candid statement made by Inspector McKay before the Police Commission on Wednesday at the Westminster Guildhall.
The inspector was giving evidence regarding a complaint made by the German tailor Ferdinand Altfuldisch, lately living in Great Marlborough Street, who said that after he had been arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct in Greek Street, Soho, was treated with great violence by the inspector, and that at the police station he was roughly handled.
The inspector explained that he arrested Altfuldisch in Greek Street because he refused to move on when requested, and he incited the crowd to resist the attempts of the police to clear the street of the crowd that had assembled.
Altfuldisch was surrounded by a crowd of undesirable persons who were looking to him as their leader. The inspector then gave expression to the strong view which is printed above.
A TROUBLESOME DISTRICT
The inspector, questioned by the chairman, Sir D. Brynmor Jones. M.P., said his subdivision extended from High-street, Bloomsbury to Park Lane.
That part of the division lying west of Regent Street gave him no trouble, but it was very different in the case of the other part of the division where about 95 per cent, of the population were foreigners.
Rival gangs of foreigners often met in the street and quarrelled.
The Florists’ Society, at whose meeting Altfuldisch had been present, was a genuine organisation, and its members included respectable working men, but undesirables mixed with them, hoping thus to gain an air of respectability.
He had arrested undesirables with the cards of this society in their pockets.
TROUBLE EVERY NIGHT
Mr. Rufus Isaacs: Did you expect any trouble in Greek-street that night?
Witness: I do every night. and Saturday nights especially. One of the greatest difficulties the police had to contend with, added the inspector, was the fact that people in and about Greek Street spoke in a variety of foreign languages, while, owing to their excitability, it was necessary, when action was called for, for the police to act quickly.
The police always felt there was a risk of the of the knife.
Mr. Isaacs: Have you yourself known cases where policemen have been stabbed in the street?
Witness: Yes. cases have occurred.”
A PROTEST FROM GREEK STREET
Pall Mall Gazette, on Monday, 22nd October, 1906, reported on the indignation felt by the residents of Greek Street, wo were nightily offended that the police officer’s aaccusations had led the press at large to dub theirs as “the worst street in London”:-
“Greek-street, Soho, resents the remark of a police-witness before the Royal Commission that it is “the worst street in London,” or “the vilest street in the West End.”
A number of its tradesmen are up in arms, and proudly point out that the Rector of St. Anne’s, Soho, who has lived at the top of Greek Street for fifteen years, is prepared to go before the Commission and refute the policeman’s allegation.
They might also appeal, while they are about it, to the testimony given by the Rev. Silvester Horne a year or two ago, to the effect that Whitfield-street, off Tottenham Court-road, holds the bad eminence now attributed to Greek-street.
Superlatives are always rash, that police witness should have remembered. Greek Street, however, would probably not be appeased even if it were called only the second worst.
No doubt it claims not to be bad or vile at all.
Perhaps the truth is that Greek Street is a model thoroughfare, unfortunate enough to have less ideal streets near it, the inhabitants of which have an annoying habit at times of adjourning to the good street for their little demonstrations.”
THE WORST STREET IN LONDON?
The Illustrated London News, on Saturday, 27th October, 1906, also question the validity of the inspector’s statement:-
I smiled when I read Inspector M’Kay’s damnation of poor old Greek Street. If this is London’s worst, London must be not such a bad place after all. How many time have I sauntered, hands in pockets, along those dingy pavements after nightfall! Often there is no policeman in sight not even to separate the little crowd that gathers round the usual street musicians.
Of course, like all the rest Soho, Greek Street has its gambling clubs, third or fourth floor refuges with outlets on the roof, difficult enough to enter, but dull enough when one gets there. One has more fun for one’s money on the Stock Exchange.
PLENTY OF UNDESIRABLES
There are other clubs, too, and “undesirables” enough. Hut in the cafes and the clubs two-thirds of the frequenters are simply German waiters in or out of a job, hankering after anything to break the drudgery of exile.
Let us, for instance, look inside the café half-way up. Men are playing cards, we see: is this haunt of iniquity? Upon the walls are placards with the legend, “Bannister’s Ginger-Beer.” If this is vice, at least it is not fed on drink.
And when we come to study the players, we find them equally innocuous.
In spite of all that some halfpenny papers say, a German is not necessarily a foe to the British Empire nor a criminal.
The chief resort of the undesirables was, indeed, once in Greek Street, but now it is a hundred yards away, in a café that everyone who knows the quarter must have visited.
I shall not describe its appearance, because this would at once be recognised. Which would be a pity, both for the proprietor and the police – the former because he does his best under most difficult circumstances, the latter because they find this place a likely cage where they may easily lay hands on persons wanted for unconsidered trifles.”