Parts of the Victorian East End of London, were extremely rough enclaves in which crime was commonplace, and gangs brought daily terror to the lives of law-abiding citizens.
Even without the Jack the Ripper murders, a trawl through the newspaper accounts of violent crimes and murders reveals that lawlessness prevailed in a large number of East End neighbourhoods, and homicides were almost a weekly occurrence across the district.
One such crime, that took place in Kingsland, a settlement alongside the Kingsland Road, now absorbed into the district of Dalston, caused a great deal of press interest throughout August, 1890.
A former soldier by the name of Walter Hargan shot dead two members of a gang of roughs, who had been causing a disturbance in a pub in which he had been drinking, when they proceeded to follow him down the road when he had left the pub.
Over the next month, until his trial at the Old Bailey, the press reported daily on updates to what was dubbed the “Kingsland Murder” or the “Kingsland Tragedy”, and the accounts make for gripping reading, including as they do, witness intimidation, false testimony and oridinary people who found themselves caught up in extraordinary events.
DOUBLE MURDER AT KINGSLAND.
The Morning Post, broke the story of the murders Thursday, 31st July, 1890:-
A double murder was committed in Kingsland last evening under startling circumstances.
The murderer is a discharged soldier, named Hargan, and his victims are Walter Wheeler, aged about 35, carman, residing at 85, Hertford-road, Kingsland, and William Lambert, aged about 60, carman, residing at 25, Felton-street, Hoxton.
The tragedy is said to be the outcome of a quarrel which took place in the Waggon and Horses Tavern, Hertford-road, Kingsland; but the evidence of the witnesses on this point being contradictory, it must be given with all reserve.
A PECULIAR AND EXTRAORDINARY CRIME
There is no doubt, however, as to the circumstances of the crime, which appear to be of a peculiar and extraordinary nature.
Wheeler and Lambert were standing, in company with a man named Martin, residing at 24, Lenthall-road, Richmond-road, Kingsland, at the corner of Downham-road and Hertford-road, immediately in front of a baker’s shop, when Hargan passed up Downham-road towards Kingsland-road.
Some remarks, it is stated, were passed regarding Hargan, who, turning sharply round towards the trio at a distance of three or four yards, pointed a revolver at them and fired a shot in quick succession at each.
Martin escaped uninjured, but Lambert and Wheeler fell.
A LARGE MOB ASSEMBLED
The neighbourhood being a populous one, a large and enraged mob speedily collected, but the murderer stood his ground, handling meanwhile the revolver, a six-chambered Colt.
WHAT THE SWEEP SAW
The scene which occurred is described by a sweep, named Newman, living opposite the scene of the murder.
He states – “I was standing outside my shop about a quarter to five, and saw a man pass. He was a smart, military-looking man, and a stranger to me.
A man, named Martin, said, ‘That man has got a pistol.” I said. “What’s he want a pistol for?”
Wheeler and Lambert, whom I know well, were walking behind him, and someone shouted, “Hi.”
I don’t think it was addressed to the murderer.
He, however, turned round, being only about four yards away, and fired three shots in quick succession.
Lambert fell first, and Wheeler fell immediately afterwards.
The murderer walked away along the Downham-road towards Islington.
I followed him at about a dozen yards, and he kept turning round and threatening to shoot me. He pointed the revolver at me about 14 times.
A big crowd collected, and they wanted to lynch him.
When we got to the corner of Southgate-road, we called on him to stop.
He pointed the revolver at us again and threatened to shoot us.
A man named Knifton raised his umbrella and diverted Hargan’s attention, when I took the opportunity to seize him from behind. Knifton and others seized him. He struggled violently, so we knocked him down.
The crowd made a rush for him, and would have killed him.
When Knifton had got him in front, I took the revolver out of his right hand while I held his left.
About six of us held him down and were going to tie him up, when some man offered to take him to the station in his cart.
We put him in the cart and sat on him.
It was about eight minutes before the police came up, and during this time the crowd kicked him and threw all manner of things at him.
The two bodies lay on the pavement for about three-quarters of an hour.”
WILLIAM KNIFTEN CORROBORATED THE STORY
Mr. William Knifton, an inspector for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, corroborates this story.
AT THE POLICE STATION
At the Dalston-lane Police Station, whither a howling mob had followed, Hargan gave his right name, and put in his discharge from the Surrey Regiment, in which he had served until recently.
He declined to explain the motive for the crime, and was reticent regarding himself. He gave an address locally. He is about 30 years of age, and of smart military appearance. He appeared to be perfectly sober.
DR. LIVINGSTONE CALLED
Dr. Livingstone, of Downham-road, who was called, pronounced both men dead, and their bodies were removed to the mortuary.
The shot in one case had entered behind the ear, and in the other had penetrated the forehead. The shot fired ar Martin lodged in the wall.
Hargan will be brought up at the North London Police Court this morning.”
THE INQUEST VERDICT
The inquest into the deaths of the two victims was held on the afternoon of Saturday, 2nd August, 1890, and The Western Times reported the verdict on Monday, 4th August, 1890:-
“At Kingsland on Saturday afternoon Dr. MacDonald held an inquest on the bodies of William Lambert and Walter Wheeler, who died from the effects of pistol shots fired at them by a man named Walter Alfred Hargan, who is now under remand at the North London Police Court.
The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Hargen.”
HARGAN IN COURT
The Yorkshire Post, on Thursday, 14th August, 1890, reported on Walter Hargan’s appearance at the North London Police Court, which had taken place the previous day:-
“At the North London Police Court yesterday, Walter Alfred Hargan, aged 27, was charged with the wilful murder of William Lambert and Walter Wheeler, by shooting them, at Kingsland.
Evidence was given that the deceased were at the Waggon and Horses public-house and were annoying the landlady, and that the prisoner, who was in the private bar, came out and threatened the deceased with a revolver.
The neighbourhood was a very rough one, and both the landlord and landlady had been frequently threatened and assaulted.
One witness stated that, when deceased threatened the landlady, the prisoner’s face seemed to blanch with excitement, and, as he stood between the landlady and the men, he drew a revolver and flourished it, as much as to say “Beware!”
Subsequently, when the prisoner was walking down the road, he was followed by Lambert and Wheeler, and, turning round suddenly, he fired at them and they fell.
Prisoner further was further remanded.”
THE KINGSLAND MURDER
A week later, Hargan made another court appearance, at which he was committed for trial.
The Manchester Courier reported on what transpired in its edition of Wednesday, 20th August, 1890:-
“Walter Alfred was charged the North London Police-court, yesterday afternoon, on remand, with killing William Lambert and John Wheeler, by shooting them in the street in Kingsland.
The prisoner was at the Waggon and Horses, where the deceased were creating a disturbance, and the landlady having refused to serve them, they followed the prisoner into the private bar and caught hold of him.
When the prisoner left the house, the two men went after him.
George Turner, fishmonger, said the deceased seemed to be drunk. While they were following the prisoner, Frederick Ramsey, of Hertford-road, saw the prisoner turn round and say to the deceased, “Do you follow me?”
They were about 12 yards distant when he drew a revolver and deliberately aimed at them. Both men fell.
Witness knew Wheeler and Lambert as bad characters.
Mrs. Peck, the landlady of the Waggon and Horses, stated that she had been threatened since the affair by the companions of the deceased.
Police-constable Oakley said Wheeler was a very rough character.
Mr. Young, for the defence, advised the prisoner to say nothing. He submitted that the case was one of justifiable homicide, and that the prisoner had tried to get away from the deceased.
He fired in the first instance to frighten them.
Mr. Bros said should commit the prisoner for wilful murder.”
SEQUEL TO THE KINGSLAND MURDERS
However, in the district where the murders had occurred, attempts were being made to intimidate several of the witnesses, as was reported by The Dundee Evening Telegraph, on Monday, 25th August, 1890:-
“James Newman, chimney sweep, of Hertford Road, Kingsland, one the witnesses in the double murder case at Kingsland, was summoned for an assault upon Mrs Harriet Peck, wife of the landlord of the Waggon and Horses public-house, Hertford Road, in whose house the deceased and Hargan, accused of their murder, were just prior to the tragedy.
Mrs Peck now said that, on the afternoon the 31st July, the defendant and about 70 other rough fellows came into her husband’s house and used very bad language, at the same time accusing her of having instigated the murders.
They told her that she would also swing at the Old Bailey along with her “fancy man.”
Walter Graves, the barman, seeing that the mob was angry, advised her to leave the bar.
Just as she was going, Newman took up the large brass muller which was used for heating water and threw it at her. This struck her in the back, and immediately there followed two quart pots, thrown by she knew not whom, each of which hit her on the head, and one cut her left ear open.
The result of all this was that she had been confined to her bed for fourteen days.
Dr Charles Jackman gave evidence to the injuries, and said erysipelas had since set in.
In reply to the Magistrate, Mrs Peck said she was positive that she saw the muller leave Newman’s hands.
The defendant denied the assault, and called half dozen witnesses, apparently of his own class, who swore that they were the house at the time, and saw neither the muller nor the pot thrown.
Mr Montagu Williams said he believed that a most ruffianly assault had been committed, and he sent the defendant to prison for one month’s hard labour.”
The jailing of the sweep apparently did little to deter the behaviour of his family and friends, as is evidenced by the following report, which appeared in The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, on Wednesday, 3rd September, 1890:-
“Mr. C. V. Young made application Mr. Maraham, at the North London Police-court, yesterday, for two summonses for assault arising out the Kingsland murder.
“Life in Hertford-road, where the murders were committed,” said Mr. Young, “has become intolerable, more especially to Mr. and Mrs. Peck, the landlord and landlady of the Waggon and Horses, public -house”; and, on behalf of Mrs. Peck, he asked for two summonses.
It appeared that, since what was known as the Kingsland tragedy, Mrs. Peck’s life was rendered perfectly miserable.
She was brutally assaulted two weeks ago, and one of her assailants was now undergoing a month’s hard labour; but this, instead of acting as a warning, appeared rather to have inflamed people.
Every time Mrs. Pech went out, she was molested.
On Monday night, she was going out with a friend, when Mrs. Newman (wife of the imprisoned chimney sweep – witness in the murder case), and a man named Gibson attacked her.
She was one mass of bruises as a result of the assault.
She escaped from Newman and Gibson and ran back into her house, and had to be quickly dragged over the counter to avoid further violence.
The people of this part of Hertford-road were very rough, and Mr. and Mrs. Peck felt they really must have protection or something more serious would happen.
The magistrate granted the summonses, returnable the same time as others granted.”
THE KINGSLAND TRAGEDY
The Morning Post, on Saturday, 13th September, 1890, reported on the previous day’s trial at the Central Criminal Court – The Old Bailey – at which the judge had handed out what many considered to be an unjustifiably harsh sentence to the accused:-
“Walter Alfred Hargan, 27, described as a clerk, was indicted at the Central Criminal Court yesterday, before Mr. Justice Charles, for the wilful murder of William Lambert, and also for the wilful murder of John Wheeler.
Mr. Horace Avory and Mr. Muir prosecuted, and the prisoner was defended by Mr. Geoghegan and Mr. Lever.
The prisoner pleaded not guilty to both indictments.
Mr. Avory, in opening the case to the jury, said that it was one which had excited some public attention and considerable local excitement, leading to witnesses to some extent taking sides in the matter, and also, he regretted to say, leading to the witnesses committing assaults upon one another. One of them was undergoing a term of imprisonment for an assault.
The prisoner, from the evidence, appeared to have served some time in the army, and to have gone with his regiment to India.
In November, 1889, he purchased his discharge, having risen to the rank of colour-sergeant.
In July, the prisoner returned from New York, and went to reside in the Southgate-road, where he remained until the day of the murder.
He was a customer at a public-house called the Waggon and Horses, kept by a Mr. Thomas Peck, and the deceased men were also customers there.
Lambert was a carman, living with his wife in Hoxton.
Upon the day of the murder, Wheeler, Lambert, and a man named Gray were in the Waggon and Horses. They were behaving in a disorderly manner, and ultimately they were ejected. During the disturbance Mrs. Peck, the landlady, had been heard to say to the men, “I have somebody to protect me,” and the prisoner appeared behind the bar and flourished a revolver, which he afterwards replaced in his pocket, making no remark.
Afterwards, the three men followed the prisoner into the road, and, at the corner of the Hertford-road, outside a baker’s shop, the prisoner turned round and advanced a few paces towards the men. He produced a revolver and fired three times in succession. The first shot killed Lambert on the spot, and the second or third the man Wheeler.
On the way to the police station, the prisoner was attacked by an infuriated mob, and sustained serious injuries at their hands.
Mr. Justice Charles, in summing up, said that prima facie the case was murder, but if the prisoner could satisfy the jury that he only acted in self-defence, then the crime might be reduced to manslaughter.
The jury, after a quarter of an hour’s deliberation, found the prisoner guilty of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to 20 years’ penal servitude.”
However, following a huge public outcry over the severity of the sentence, the Home Secretary intervened and commuted the sentence to one of twelve months hard labour.
Having served his revised sentence, he walked free from The Sussex County Gaol, at Lewes, on Monday, 7th September, 1890.