Robberies In Mile End

In April, 1889, The East London Observer, began reporting on the scandal of a particular gang of thieves and pickpockets that had been active on and around Mile End Road, and whose members, so it appeared, were able to operate without any fear of being apprehended by the police.

The original article resulted in general indignation in the district, and correspondents began writing to the newspaper to express their outrage that the police seemed powerless to stop the scourge, with some of them even going so far as to suggest that the reason for the gang’s ability to evade capture might well have been that the police in the area were, in fact, in league with the various members of the gang.

What was more than evident from the letters that were written to the newspaper, however, was the fact that the gang were posing a problem to the everyday lives of the ordinary residents of the district, and several people wrote in to give details of their own “encounters” with the gang that was infesting their locality.

On Saturday 4th May, 1889, The East London Observer, published the following update on the Mile End gang problem:-


Since the publication of the several cases of robberies by the members of the gang of thieves who infest Mile End was published last week, a considerable amount of indignation, which has apparently been long pent up, has at last found vent, and people are wanting to know on every hand where the police are.

If only some of the members of the force could but see the effusions of some of our correspondents, even they, used as they are to abuse, would blush for shame.


There are some who have not hesitated to suggest that the police are in league with the gang; others, that the police force told off to guard East London is miserably insufficient, and some of them – more moderate – who urge that the police should be specially instructed to watch the courts and side streets which abound in the Mile End and Whitechapel Roads, and from which, it is asserted, the members of the gang are wont to pounce, upon their victims.

The Punch Cartoon Blind Mans Buff showing a blind-folded police officer being taunted by criminals.
Blind Mans Buff – A Punch Cartoon From 1888.


So recently as last Monday afternoon, at about half-past twelve o’clock, Mr. Ayton, sen., of Whitechapel, was walking along the main road, when, immediately opposite the King’s Arms-court, his watch was pulled out of his pocket by one of the gang, while another followed up the attempt of the first by wrenching it from the chain, and escaping with it.

Mr. T. Struthers, the rate collector of Whitechapel, when opposite St. Mary’s Station, Whitechapel, in broad daylight some months ago, was seriously assaulted and robbed by other members of the gang.

Some little time before that, another Whitechapel man, Mr. Crook, draper, of the Mount, was attacked in Brady-street, Whitechapel, and in addition to being robbed, one of his fingers was seriously injured by the gang wrenching a valuable diamond ring from it.


On the occasion of the Lord Mayor’s visit to the Great Assembly Hall, a well-known lady, who was standing outside, detected one of the gang rifling her pockets, but he managed to escape after she had raised an alarm.

A jeweller, carrying on business in Burdett Road, was recently standing looking at a shop window in the Mile End-road, near to the Paragon Music Hall, when he was robbed of a valuable gold ring, and a purse containing a quantity of gold.

A photograph showing Mile End Road.
Miles End Road In The 19th Century.


Mr. C. Kerbey, newsagent, of Whitechapel Road, after closing his shop one night, was followed by four men as far as Beaumont Square, when he was seized by them on both sides, and thrown violently to the ground. He offered a stout resistance, and his cries for help resulting in the appearance of some people, his assailants made off without their anticipated booty, but leaving Mr. Kerbey in a condition which resulted in a prolonged illness.

In the Mile End-road, too, a Jewish correspondent was knocked down, robbed, and left in a condition of absolute helplessness by the gang.


The little dilapidated court opposite the London Hospital is often occupied by the members of the gang, who suddenly pounce upon unsuspecting passers-by, and another correspondent was twice robbed near the same place by members of the gang secreted there.”


However, the East London Observer’s campaign to alert the locals to the presence of the insidious threat from the gang was considered by some to be an affront to the people of Mile End, and at least one local resident went so far as to accuse the paper of making the whole story up.

His letter was published in The Tower Hamlets Independent And East End Local on Saturday, 4th May, 1889:-


The straits to which editors are often reduced at holiday times for interesting matter with which to gratify the tastes, whatever they may happen to be, of their readers is generally well known to the public, but it would perhaps be hard to find a more amusing or absurd method than that adopted by your contemporary, which last week startled Mile End with a graphic description of how they are watched, waited on, and robbed by a gang alliteratively termed the Mile End “Moochers.”

From conversation among residents of Mile End, I have learnt how the article in question has been received – with a ridicule all the harder to bear on account of the aggravating slur cast upon their district.

This is not the first time the journal in question has perpetrated the same kind of huge literary joke. Indeed, it has become noted for these sensational reports. The sooner therefore it ceases this kind of smartness the better.

East London needs defence from unfounded charges made outside our limits, and it is too much to bear that from amongst ourselves such false reports should emanate.


Accounts could be written of “moochers” is Limehouse, Whitechapel, and St. George’s. Every neighbourhood has its gang of thieves.

Then the stories of victims. Some are months old, while others are so palpably absurd as to cause fresh wonderment in the mind of the reader.

The statement that”twelve,” not 11 r or 13  – not 12, a round dozen – purses were found under an old whelk stall is very funny, and a stroke of genius in its way.


Well, I have been a resident in Mile End for many years, and I have never come across the “moochers.” But, perhaps, I have been exceptionally lucky.

The introduction of the “ex-detective” is singularly happy. Such a person is a very convenient character for fiction. His name would be of interest as shewing how sharp were the police force of the last regime, compared with the present.

All I can say is that such reports should not find their way into a journal that is supposed to have the best interests of East London at heart.

I am Sir,

Yours etc.