The Muswell Hill Burglary

James Monro took over from Sir Charles Warren as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, following the latter’s resignation from office in November, 1888.

He brought a new style of command to the force, and seems to have enjoyed a better press than his predecessor had been subjected to.

In early 1889, a burglary and attempted murder took place at Muswell Hill, in north London, and the newspapers were full of praise for Monro at the way in which the perpetrators of this particular crime had been brought to justice by the police.

The following account of the Muswell Hill Burglary, which opened with a great deal of praise for the new Commissioner, appeared in The penny Illustrated Paper, on Saturday the 19th of January, 1889:-


“The new Chief Commissioner of  the Metropolitan Police, has displayed a “grip” and mastery at Great Scotland-yard which cannot fail to give satisfaction alike to the Government that appointed him and to the general public.

A most capable administrator, Mr. Monro sagaciously grants power as well as responsibility to each local Inspector and Superintendent, hence the celerity, no doubt, with which excellent district officers have arrested the prisoners supposed to have been concerned in the atrocious burglary outrage at Muswell Hill.


The murderous attack in Muswell Hill, and the prevalence of burglary with violence, have led the public to demand that all criminals who perpetrate such savage deeds should be flogged within an inch of their lives.

We trust the Home Secretary will give the necessary instructions to the governors of prisons.

The deplorable murders and attempted murders with which the New Year has gloomily begun, yield fresh proofs that there are still human wild beasts in our midst to shame our boasted Civilisation.

These wild beasts must be cowed and caged; and we believe Mr. Monro is the man to grapple with them.

A portrait of James Monro, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
Mr. James Monro. From The Penny Illustrated Paper, January 19th, 1889. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Norton Lees, a large private house, standing in its own grounds at Muswell Hill, was, as all London knows, on Tuesday night, January 8th, the scene of a daring burglary and attempted murder.

At about eight o’clock Mr. Henry Wright Atkin, who occupies the house with his family, was leaving, in company with his son, Sanyer Atkin, for the purpose of attending a lecture, when his son, happening to look up at the front of the house, was surprised to see that the window of the room immediately above the hall door was open.

He called his father’s attention to the fact, and at that moment two men came to the window, and one of them fired a revolver.

George Atkin, another son, who had been engaged at the back of the house, hearing the report of the pistol, ran to the front.

By this time the two men had left the room, and were in the front garden.

George Atkin, who had a chisel in his hand, at once comprehending the situation, struck one of the burglars a heavy blow with it.


A third man, seeing there was some danger of a capture, then sprang up from among the laurels in the garden and fired at George Atkin with a revolver, the bullet burying itself in his chest.

Not satisfied with this, the burglar fired a second shot at him, this time striking him, in the abdomen.

The three men then took to their heels, but they were followed by Sanyer Atkin, who got near enough to strike them with a malacca cane he was carrying.

One of the men then turned and presented a revolver, but it was apparently not loaded, for Mr. Atkin says it simply made a clicking noise.

He still followed them, but they managed to get clear away.

Illustrations showing the burglary and shooting at Muswell Hill.
From The Penny Illustrated Paper, 19th January, 1889. Copyright, The British Library Board.


In a few minutes inspectors Farratt and Johnstone were on the spot, accompanied by Dr. Forshall, divisional surgeon.

On their arrival it should be stated they found two constables in the garden, who had been fetched to the spot by a postman.

The first attention of the officers was naturally to Mr. George Atkin, who was found in such a dangerous condition that other doctors were sent for, and a special messenger was sent to fetch Sir William MacCormac from his residence in Cavendish-square.

Sir William pronounced the unfortunate gentleman to be in such a dangerous condition that it would not be safe to probe for the bullets.


A ladder and a rope (a piece of thick rope about 12 yards in length, which were used by the burglars to reach the window by which they entered Norton Lees) were obtained by the burglars from some new buildings being erected by the Imperial Property Company in Muswell-hill-road, at a distance of about fifty yards from Norton Lees.


Three men were subsequently arrested, and they appeared at Highgate Police-Court on the Friday after the burglary.

They were smartly arrested the previous night in a public house in Boundary-street, Shoreditch, by Detective-Sergeant Sewell, Detective Benjamin Fordham, and Detective Gilbert Snell, and Inspector Miller conducted the case against them.

They were described on the charge sheet as follows:-

Charles Burdett, fifty-three, fish-curer, of 4, Jacob-street, Boundary-street, Shoreditch; James Clarke, thirty-three, bootmaker, having no fixed abode; George Smith, alias Peters, fifty -five, wood-chopper, of 9, Park-street, Bethnal-green.

They were charged with being concerned, with another man not in custody, with breaking and entering Norton Lees, Muswell-hill-road, and stealing a purse, a four-shilling piece, and other articles of the value of £2, the property of Henry Wright Atkin.

They were further charged with shooting George Duckworth Atkin with intent to murder, at the same time and place.

More illustrations showing the Muswell Hill burglary.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 19th of January, 1889.


Mr. Atkin, snr.., was present, and  he told the Bench that his son, George, was in an exceedingly critical state, and Mr. Bodkin relieved him from giving evidence that morning that he might return to his son.

A minute account of the affray with the burglars was given by his son, Mr. Sanyer Atkin.


Miss Beatrice Atkin, sister of the last witness, said she missed her watch, purse, button-hook, and a few other things from her room. The purse was of peculiar make, and Miss Atkin said it was like one produced in court – a purse frame, the body of which had been burnt, discovered with a button-hook at Clarke’s house.

Miss Atkin also left a four-shilling piece in her purse; and a four-shilling-piece, mounted as a brooch, was found on Clarke.


Another man was last Saturday cleverly arrested at Southampton by Inspector Peel, and conveyed to London. He is stated to be a ticket-of-leave man. He denied all knowledge of the Muswell-hill outrage.

On arriving in London, he was conveyed to the King’s-cross road Police-Station; and there, from further information received, it was thought advisable to formally charge him. After this, he was handed over to the custody of Detective-Inspector William Muller, of the Y division, and taken by him and Detective-Sergeant William Nash to Highgate Police-Station.

His name was stated to be Lyster; and when arrested, it was evident, the police say, that he was making for the Continent.

On being examined by the police-surgeon in London, Lyster was found to have numerous scratches on the back of his hands, similar to the man Clarke.

He was on Monday placed in the dock at Highgate, along with Charles Burdett, James Clarke, and George Smith, alias Peters. He was described in the charge-sheet as an “upholsterer,” aged forty. Lyster is a tall, thin, but very muscular man, of fair complexion. He wore a rather heavy brown moustache, and was dressed in a dark cloth suit and a black overcoat, with a velvet collar, of fashionable cut.


Miss Beatrice Atkin was on Monday recalled by the worthy Magistrates, and, in reply to Mr. Pollard, she said, besides the articles mentioned in her evidence on Friday, a red coral necklace belonging to her sister was stolen.

It was mace of beads of different sizes, there being a dark one in the centre, and the others graduated in size till they reached the clasp. The three coral beads now produced by the police were similar to those composing the necklace. They were of different sizes and of the same colour, but she could not swear that they had been taken from the stolen necklace.


The first witness called on Monday by Mr Pollard was an interesting one.  Mrs. Rissop, wife of Frank Rissop, of 1, Huntington-street; Kingsland-road, deposed:-

“I know both the prisoners, Lyster and Clarke, the latter only by the name of “Jim.”

About ten weeks ago Lyster came to my house about taking some furnished rooms. He engaged one room at 5s. a week, paying the rent in advance, and took possession the same night, bringing his wife and child with him.

When they had been there for about three weeks his wife became ill, and went to University College Hospital as an in-patient, her husband stating that she would have to undergo an operation.

Two days after “Jim” came to stay with Lyster.

Neither of the men appeared to have any work to do. They generally went out together in the middle of the day, and sometimes they were in and out of an evening.

On Friday, the 4th of January, Mrs. Lyster was discharged from the hospital, and came back to reside with her husband.

Lyster then took another room (the back parlour) for himself and wife, and “Jim” continued to occupy the Lysters’ room.”

On the day of the burglary, Mrs. Rissop said, Lyster and “Jim” left the house together about one o’clock in the day, and were away all day. “At about ten o’clock the same night I heard someone come in with the latchkey. Only one other lodger in the house had had a latchkey, and on this day he had given it up because he could not open the door with it. Consequently Lyster’s key was the only one in use that day, and I knew that it was in “Jim’s” possession.

When the door was opened I fancied I heard the tread of two men, but of that I could not be positive.

The next afternoon both men went out, Lyster with his vile and “Jim” by himself.

The latter never returned, and I saw nothing more of him until I was called to the Police Station, where he was detained in custody.

At about ten o’clock on Thursday morning Lyster sent for a cab, and seemed to be in a great hurry to get away. He had a large portmanteau and a box packed and brought to the door, with a quantity of other luggage, and while this was being put into the cab his wife was putting on her clothes to accompany him.”


Charles M’Cartney, cabdriver at Highgate Railway Station, deposed that on the night of the burglary, between eight and nine o’clock, a man with a lot of mud on his trousers and boots, and wearing a black overcoat with a velvet collar, ran into the station; and he said he picked Lyster out at the police station as resembling the man he saw at Highgate Railway Station.


The next to give evidence was Dr. Oliver, the Police Surgeon with H Division, who deposed:-

“I examined Clarke at the station and found on his right shoulder a bruise one and a half inches long long and one and a half inches wide. There was also a long scratch on his face, and scratches and small wounds on his hands and other portions of his body. They were all injuries such as would be caused through running through a hedge, with the exception of the bruises on the back. They were all of recent date.

This morning I examined the prisoner Lyster, and on his hands and wrists I found a considerable number of scratches and little wounds. They were similar to those found on
Clarke, and apparently had been inflicted by bush-thorns. They were, all but one, of about the same age as those on Clarke.

The prisoners were then remanded.


The following bulletin was issued from Norton Lees at 9.45 p. m. on Monday:- Mr. Atkin’s condition generally has improved. The absence of any unfavourable symptoms continues.”