The 19th-century East End of London could be a harsh and unforgiving district. Not only were the living conditions tough, but crime – often of a violent nature – was commonplace.
It could be a terrible place for children to grow up in, and often children faced even greater hardships than their parents, in many cases those hardships coming about as a result of neglect or worse from their parents.
On Tuesday the 4th of April 1837, the following heart-rending story about child cruelty appeared in the True Sun newspaper:-
CRUELTY TO A BOY
Yesterday, Robert Plummer, a vendor of pamphlets, was placed at the bar before Mr. Broughton and a county magistrate, charged with having cruelly ill-used his son-in-law, George Bailey, a lad, aged twelve.
Serjeant Teakle, H 8, deposed that information was brought to him on Monday night by some women, that the lad was wandering about the streets, having been driven from home by his father-in-law, who lived at No. 1, James-street, Bethnal Green.
THE BOY IN THE CELLAR
About four months ago he (witness) was called upon by a female of the name of Taylor, who showed him the boy in the cellar of the prisoner’s house.
The door of it was locked, and it was through a grating they had a view of him.
Mr. Broughton:- “Was the cellar dark and damp?”
Witness:- “lt was so damp and dark as not to be fit for a human being to live in, and he said that he had been kept in there for five days and nights.”
This was about half-past seven o’clock.
Witness went to the station. house, and about nine o’clock he returned to the prisoner’s house, when the lad was in bed. He stated to the prisoner that, if he ever heard again of cruelty towards the child, he would take him before a magistrate.
THE BOY’S EVIDENCE
The boy, on being sworn, said that when he was locked in the cellar four months ago, it was because he was home later than his father-in-law, and had spent a shilling.
Last Friday week his father-in-law turned him out at about one in the morning.
He was supported by the neighbours.
His father-in-law beat him repeatedly. He has no brother or sister, but his mother has had three children since she was married to his father-in-law.
MARGARET TAYLOR’S EVIDENCE
Margaret Taylor, a married woman, and shopKeeper lived two doors from the prisoner. She saw the lad four months ago in the cellar. He was eating potato peelings. It was on a Sunday afternoon, and he said that he had been there since Thursday.
She gave him some tea and bread and butter, and called Serjeant Teakle to see him.
She has repeatedly heard the prisoner beat the boy.
One day he was striking him when his aunt stated that he was charged with robbery in having taken some money from a shop for which the prisoner worked, whereas the truth was, that the lad gave the money to his mother, who had bought some bread with it, and his mother was afraid to tell the prisoner.
He was a most desperate character, and, whenever the neighbours interfered, he threatened to serve them in the same way he did the boy.
Witness believes that their circumstances are not good.
NEVER PLACED IN THE CELLAR
The prisoner denied that the lad was ever placed in the cellar, and said that he was a thief and an incorrigible liar.
Some months ago he robbed him of fifteen shillings.
Boy:- “Why, he was never owed so much by his customers.”
The prisoner called a witness, but who only gave evidence to what had been stated to him by the prisoner.
SEEN WANDERING THE STREETS
K 3, sergeant of police, who was accidentally in the office, swore that two years ago he used to meet the boy often out at night wandering about the streets.
The boy said that he was afraid to go home, for if he did his fattier would murder him. He remonstrated with his mother, who said that she could do nothing.
THE BOY WOULD STARVE
Martha Stagg said that if it were not for the neighbours the boy would starve.
He was obliged to sleep of a night anywhere he could find a place to lay his head in.
THE PRISONER LOCKED UP
Other witnesses were sworn, who gave similar evidence, when Mr Broughton said that he would take the child away from its parent, and the prisoner must be brought another day, on which he should direct the attendance of the parish officers of Bethnal-green.
In the meantime, the prisoner was held to bail in his own recognizance to keep the peace towards the lad for six months.
The prisoner, who possessed the most sullen and repulsive features, was then locked up.