Police Work In The East End

A recurring feature concerning East End life and criminality in the 19th century that featured over and over again in the Victorian newspapers, was just what a difficult, not to say dangerous, area it was to police. There were constant newspaper reports on the difficulties faced by the ordinary constables whose daily job it was to attempt to keep law and order in the districts of Whitechapel and Spitalfields.

This article will take a look at an illustration has been featured in many books and documentaries on the Jack the Ripper crimes, despite the fact that it actually appeared in 1895; and, when it is used in history projects, it is rarely accompanied by the article that it was intended to illustrate.

FROM THE GRAPHIC

The actual article appeared in The Graphic¬†on the 29th December 1895, and the illustration was captioned, “Taking One Consideration With Another. A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happy One.”

A policeman struggles with a riotous crowd outside Commercial Street Police Station.
“A Policeman’s Lot Is Not A Happy One.” From The Graphic 28th December 1895′

WHAT THE ILLUSTRATION SHOWS

It shows an officer involved in a scuffle with some local ruffians, in a skirmish that is taking place directly outside Commercial Street Police Station, which can be seen in the background.

The large lights in the foreground are the lights of the Commercial Tavern, on Commercial Street, which, like the police station still stands today.

The article is an interesting one because it purports to feature an interview with a local beat constable who speaks of the challenges that he and his colleagues faced in policing the area that was under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police’s “H Division”, a section of which were based at Commercial Street Police Station.

Reading the article, you begin to gain an understanding of the sheer bravery demonstrated by the ordinary officers on the beat.

I would like to say a big thank you to Rob Clack for drawing my attention to the article.

The full article read:-

POLICE WORK IN THE EAST END

A BAD PART OF TOWN

“Yes it’s a bad part just here sir,” said P. C. ¬†H 615, “and I’ve been in some rather troublesome scrimmages at this corner.

Down there, in Pearl Street, you know. some of the worst characters live, convicted thieves mostly, and suchlike.

They’re a hard lot.

Not so very long ago I got pretty well kicked about the legs – and it might have been worse.

It was this way.

There was a fight going on; they’re always fighting, you know, sir, and this one was between two brothers; there was a big crowd, and getting bigger every moment, so I stepped across and stopped the fighting.

THEY TURNED ON ME

The two of ’em turned on me, with the usual language – very strong it is in Whitechapel and Spitalfields – but we don’t take much count of that.

We put up with abuse up to a certain point; but we can’t stand hustling.

I GRABBED THE BROTHER

So I grabbed the brother who was kicking out at my shins. I got a good hold of his neck with my right hand, and I didn’t intend to let go of it, you may be sure.

I thought that as I was alone among a rare lot of ’em, men and women, pushing and crowding and cursing, and the nearest ones beginning to get me wedged in. I had better blow my whistle; and no sooner did the other brother see both my hands busy than he came straight for me with a knife.

I let go my right hand and got at my truncheon, and fetched him one with it on his head.

The other one that I’d had hold of stooped down and was off in between the crowd in a moment.

REINFORCEMENTS ARRIVE

The police station being quite near, help soon came in the form of a number of the men off duty having dinner, who rushed out without waiting to put on their coats or helmets.

I kept hold of the man whose head I had knocked, and run him into the public-house, and we got him across the way afterwards.

USED TO ROWS IN THE EAST END

There was a regular block in the street; but people are used to rows in the East End.”

“No, I didn’t get much hurt; I lost my helmet and my lantern, and got my shins kicked about – but then we’re used to that.”

The exterior of Commercial Street Police Station.
Commercial Street Police Station Today.

REAL RESPECT

And so the article ended.

It is, however, almost impossible not to read it and come away feeling an immense amount of respect for the ordinary officer of H- division to which the police officer who was interviewed belonged.