Robberies In Spitalfields

At the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, Spitalfields was a dangerous place to be for those who were not acquainted with the area.

But, judging by the following story, which appeared in The Launceston Weekly News, and Cornwall and Devon Advertiser, on Saturday the 29th January 1859, it had long been an area that the unwary should avoid:-


At Worship Street Police Court on Friday, William Collins, a powerful fellow of 24, was charged with the following robbery:-

The first examination was on the previous week, when Harris, of the H division, deposed to taking the prisoner on the preceding night from a description of him that had been given him, and that the witness was followed by Deeble, 95 H, who said:-

“I was in Brick-lane, Spitalfields, last night, when I saw the prisoner, who was in the company of a woman, run up to a lady, and violently snatch her mantle off her shoulders. She screamed and fainted, and, she would have dropped on the stones without help, I caught and supported her, and while I was doing so the prisoner got away.”

A view along Brick lane.
Brick Lane, Whitechapel, 1900.


The prisoner said, “It is all false, I was not there,” but he was remanded till yesterday, when a tall, ladylike person, accompanied by a female friend, attended.

She said:- “I am a married woman, and my husband, who is an officer in the Indian army, is now absent upon duty. On the evening of yesterday week, while in the company of a lady friend of mine, I stopped for a moment to inquire my way to the Commercial Road, where I am now residing with a relative, when I suddenly felt my throat grasped violently from behind, and my mantle, which was worth £5, was forcibly torn from my shoulders, together with a brooch which was very dear to me, and I have not seen either of them since.


Mr. Hammill:- “Can you swear to the prisoner?”

Witness:- “Well, I cannot positively swear to him, he was the greater part of the time behind me, but I saw him afterwards, while running away, and I believe he is the same man; indeed, I feel quite sure he is.”

Mr. Hammill (to Deeble):- “You say that you saw the thief running away, and did not attempt to take him because of the lady’s illness?”

Deeble:- “Yes, sir, and the lady had likewise a gold watch and chain, which would have gone also if I had left her; but if it had all been different I could not have secured him.”

Mr. Hammill:- “Why?”


Deeble:- “Because, sir, the street he darted into is so filled with thieves of the most desperate character that it would be almost certain death to any single officer who pursued one of the gang into it; there are also several streets branching out of Commercial Street into Brick Lane of precisely the same character.”

Mr. Haramill:- “Very well, then; I shall send the case to the sessions, but this matter is so serious that it must be inquired into.”

Prisoner:- “Why, it’s quite false, your ship.  I am innocent, and I never saw the lady. Why didn’t the officer, who says he saw me, take me at the time?”

Mr. Hammill:- “For very good reason – the reason he has assigned, I suppose.”


Mr. Hammill, addressing Inspector Constable, of the H division, said:-

“There appears to be a great many very bad robberies lately in the neighbourhood of Commercial Street and Brick Lane, Spitalfields, and it seems to me to require a considerable force there to keep the public protected. I feel it my duty to call your attention to this, as one of the officers of your division tells me that that locality is so infested with desperate thieves that a constable dares not pursue one, in consequence of the intricacy of the adjoining streets.”


Inspector:- “Yes, it certainly is a very bad place, sir, although an extra force is kept on there. I will represent the matter, with your worship’s observations, to the superintendent of the district.

Mr. Hammill:- “I hope you will, for the Police Commissioners ought to be made acquainted with such facts as have transpired before me in this case.”

The prisoner was then committed for trial, swearing and threatening vindictively.


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