Watch Stealing In The East End

The Jack the Ripper murders aside, the 19th century East End was home to a seemingly huge criminal class, members of which were frequently turning up in the courts – and thereafter in the newspapers – of the age.

The following two cases were reported by The Herts Guardian on Saturday the 17th of September, 1864:-


At Worship-street, James Ware, a tall, sinewy man, was charged, before Mr. Cooke, with stealing a silver watch and a portion of gold chain from the person of Mr. Frederick Presland, watchmaker, of 80, High-street, Whitechapel.

Mr. Presland said:-

“On the evening of Monday last, I was passing along the street near my own residence, when I felt a slight touch on my shoulder, and conceiving it to be given by some familiar friend, turned round.

The prisoner was then face to face with me, and instantly grasping my watch chain with such violence that it broke, he ran off down George-yard (a most notorious locality), taking with him the watch and part of the chain.

I gave information to the police, and subsequently recognised the prisoner from several other men at the station-house.”

A sketch of Whitechapel High Street.
Whitechapel High Street In November, 1888.


Constable Kenwood, 194-H deposed:-

“From the description given by the prosecutor, I went to the first floor of a house, No. 35, Devonshire-street, Mile-end. I knocked at the door of the front room, and was answered by a woman.

On finding that she would not open it, I forced an entrance.

The prisoner was standing there in his shirt only. He was taken into custody upon suspicion of stealing the property mentioned. It was not found.


Sergeant Dunaway,  H division deposed:-

“I accompanied the last witness.

After placing the handcuffs on the prisoner, I searched the bed and found this “Jemmy” (a formidable weapon, apparently long in use, as the strap handle was mended in numerous places).

I said to him, “This is a nice companion to have in your bed.”

He replied, “Yes, and it’s a good job that there’s more than one of you, or it would be in use now,” or words to that effect; also that he had tried to escape up the chimney.


Constable Floyd, 126 H, testified:-

“I was at the Middlesex Sessions five years since, when the prisoner was sentenced to six years penal servitude for felony. He is out on a ticket of leave.

Prisoner:-  “I am not guilty of this offence.”

Mr. Cooke:- “You stand fully committed for trial at the Middlesex Sessions.”


The depositions were then completed.

The prisoner is known as a most daring, desperate, and successful thief; he has boasted of having had twenty-five watches by snatching, in the space of two months.

John Keefe, no home, and John M’Minus, a cooper, were charged with stealing a watch from the person of Mr. John Wilkins, baker at Sydenham.


In this instance, the prosecutor had ventured into Petticoat-lane, and was almost immediately relieved of his watch, although the time was midday.

The prisoners were known as notorious thieves. The property could not be found.