It may be very hard to imagine the plight of minors a century or so ago when we live in an age when child care and juvenile wellbeing has become a prime focus of most civilized nations around the world. There are still countries which have been criticized and often penalized for bringing severe charges upon minors for committing crimes of all sorts.
However, Edwardian and Victorian England was shockingly harsh on crimes, and charges on minors were more common than one might imagine. Victorian England was uncompromising in its fight against crime, and the law didn’t define the boundaries between the criminals in terms of their ages. Often minors as young as 13 and 14 would be jailed in the same prisons where hardcore adult criminals were imprisoned. The reformation schools of the latter half of the 19th century didn’t prove to be a particularly great improvement upon the prevailing system. However, now minors were no longer being abused or brutalized in the prisons by the criminals, or worse, hanged, by the authorities for petty crimes.
Following are some of the mugshots taken from the Archives of the North Shields Police Court. The first example is of Alfred Yarrow, who wasn’t a habitual thief of any sort. Alfred stole from his mother, a crime that will simply pass today as a simple attempt on seeking attention. In one of the reports regarding an arrest of two minors the recorded details of the crimes suggest that North Shields had, sometime in 1916, charged two young boys David Lloyd age 15, and George Burn 14, with stealing. The boys had reportedly stolen a box and a few brushes worth only 3s from a wash house located on Prudhoe Street owned by a Peter Johnson. The report, written by the investigating officer, Chief Constable Huish, stated that authorities desired to get the ‘lads remanded for another week’. Eventually, the two boys from Hull were remanded in custody as requested by North Shields Police Courts.
Other cases of arrested minors shown below include: Edward Roberts, charged with the stealing for a gas meter, Frederick Mudd for stealing money, George Thompson, who stole from chandler’s store, George Wilson stole from his father, Gilbert Wheatley was charged for loitering with an intent to commit a felony, John T. Keating stole sash weights, Joseph Tombling and Margaret Ann O’Brien were arrested for obtaining cash by false pretenses.
We stumbled upon an archive of the bleak assembly of photographs above at Tyne & Wear Archives of the North Shields Police Court. Amongst this archive is a set of mugshots of boys and girls holding the cards and records showing that children of yesteryear received sentences now deemed fit for adult criminals only.
The fact that, until 1970, when the Age of Majority (the legal definition of adulthood) in the UK was changed from 21 to 18, is was considered appropriate to incarcerate children as young as 12 alongside hardened criminals only serves to underline the progress society has made in the recent times.
The historic documents suggest that most of the crimes that these minors were convicted of were of a petty nature, such as stealing bread, or goods from a market.
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However, when these minors were presented to the court, ‘blind justice’ literally lost its sight and dealt with these minors in the same manner as it would any criminal of mature age. Most of these children were jailed alongside those convicted of brutal crimes or were sentenced to extremely hard labor.