Albert Heidman – better known under the sobriquet of “Shiner Bob” – was, to quote the Daily News “a well-known character” around Spitalfields in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
AN INFAMOUS LOCAL CHARACTER
The Derby Daily Telegraph described him as “the terror of Spitalfields.” The keepers, deputy keepers and residents at the common lodging houses of the district were terrified of him. Indeed, according to one newspaper, there was not a man in Spitalfields who wasn’t.
Even the police were afraid of him, which, given the fact that he was frequently arrested for violent assault and felony, meant that they were forever trying to overcome their fear in order to take him into custody.
According to The Express newspaper, “Shiner Bob” was, quite simply, “the worst man in London.”
THE WORST IN LONDON
But how did Albert Heidman come by such a dramatic epithet?
Well, to be honest, it is difficult to ascertain why he should have been viewed as any worse than all the other villains, ne’er do wells and street thugs that plagued the East End in the latter years of the Victorian era, and on into the Edwardian age.
In fact, combing through the newspaper accounts of the police court proceedings from the period, Heidman is almost conspicuous by his absence, and there were several other persistent offenders whose prolific law-breaking and anti-social antics could have seen them designated the worst man or woman in London, way ahead of Albert Heidman.
HIS 1899 COURT APPEARANCE
One of the earliest newspaper mentions of him was in December 1899 when, then aged 29, he was charged at Worship Police Court with “feloniously wounding George Squibb.
But since, at the same court, George Squibb was also charged with “feloniously wounding Albert Heidman”, it would appear that the two were as bad as each other, albeit Heidman seems to have come off the worse from their encounter, as he did not actually appear in court as he was in the infirmary recovering from the injuries he had sustained during their altercation.
IN HIS OWN WORDS
Recalling the case in an interview that he gave to the Express in January 1904, Heidman explained:-
“On December 23rd, 1899, I got into a bit of a row in Dorset Street. I had a fight with a man. He stabbed me in the shoulder blade, and I lost the use of my right arm. With that, I cut the man open with a glass.
I spent four months at the infirmary.
We were both discharged because we refused to prosecute each other.”
On this occasion, it was Squibb – who appeared in court with his head in bandages – whose reputation the police chose to single out, with an officer telling the magistrate that he [Squibb] was “a well-known violent character.”
IN THE PAPERS IN 1904
Heidman next turned up in the newspapers in January 1904, and it would appear to be this case that sealed his reputation as “the worst man in London.”
The Northampton Chronicle and Echo, on Thursday, 21st January, reported that:-
“Flower and Dean-street, Spitalfields, has a most unenviable reputation, and is prolific in “cases”’ for the neighbouring police court, Worship Street.
A charge of manslaughter of an unusual character, originating in that delectable thoroughfare, was brought before Mr. Cluer on Wednesday.
The prisoner was Albert Heidman, otherwise known as “Shiner Bob,” who was accused of shaking a man named James Jones to death in a common lodging-house, on Saturday night.
Inspector Divall said that the prisoner was alleged to have pushed Jones away from the fire, and to have given him so severe a shaking that he died from its effects.
Further action could not be taken against Heidman until the inquest into James Jones’s death had established an exact cause of death, and so Heidman, who was stated to have been many times charged with violent assault and felony, denied touching the man, and he was remanded to await the outcome of the inquest.
Wynne Edwin Baxter, the district’s Coroner presided over that inquest on Thursday the 21st of January, and The Dundee Evening Telegraph published a summary of the proceedings in its next day’s edition under the headline:-
“SHINER BOB” AND HIS LADY
The article read:-
“The inquest on the body of James Jones (45), a hawker living in Flower and Dean Street, Spitalfields, was held yesterday.
Albert Heidman, otherwise known as “Shiner Bob,” has been charged with manslaughter in connection with the death, and was present in the custody of warders.
Before Jones died he told his wife that “Shiner Bob” had given him the finishing stroke.”
SEIZED BY THE SHOULDER
Other witnesses described an incident at the lodging-house, where “Shiner Bob” seized the deceased by the shoulder, shook him violently, and struck him.
Mrs Jones cried out, “Don’t hit him, he’s very bad” (he had been ill), and “Shiner Bob” apologised.
HIS WIFE WAS WORSE
One witness said that ”Shiner Bob’s” wife “threw her weight about awful.”
Mrs Bob waltzed in and hit the man on the head with a saucepan, and her husband was going to throw a pail of hot water over someone.
THEY MADE HER LIFE A MISERY
Mary Ann Neville, the manageress of the lodging house, said it was difficult to deal with Shiner Bob and his wife. They made her life a misery.
When Shiner Bob was in gaol, his wife had another husband just as bad as he was.
They walked into her place with impunity, and her deputy dared not turn them out. Even the police were afraid of “Bob.” There was not a man in Spitalfields who was not.
At this point Heidman interrupted the proceedings, shouting out:- “What! Afraid of a one-armed man?”
The Coroner:- “I think your character is pretty well known to the police. I hear that you frequently visit His Majesty’s homes.” (Laughter.)
DEATH FROM NATURAL CAUSES
Dr. David Hume deposed to having made a post-mortem examination. Death was due to phthisis.
The Coroner asked, “Do you think what took place Saturday night accelerated the death?”
“I do not,” replied the doctor.
A verdict of death from natural causes was duly recorded.
The jury’s verdict meant that there was no case for Heidman to answer, and, at his next court appearance, the magistrate dismissed the charge against him.