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The Mugshots of the Children of Edwardian England present a grim picture of Justice System that treated Minors as habitual criminals

Ian Harvey

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 well-being 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.

Alfred Yarrow, arrested for stealing from his mother Photo Credit

Alfred Yarrow, arrested for stealing from his mother Photo Credit

 

Benjamin McMurdo, arrested for shop breaking Photo Credit

Benjamin McMurdo, arrested for shop breaking Photo Credit

 

Charles Johnson, arrested for stealing sash weights Photo Credit

Charles Johnson, arrested for stealing sash weights Photo Credit

 

David Lloyd arrested for stealing brushes and a box Photo Credit

David Lloyd arrested for stealing brushes and a box Photo Credit

 

Edward Roberts, arrested for stealing from a gas meter Photo Credit

Edward Roberts, arrested for stealing from a gas meter Photo Credit

 

Frederick Mudd, arrested for stealing money Photo Credit

Frederick Mudd, arrested for stealing money Photo Credit

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.

George Burn, arrested for stealing brushes and a box Photo Credit

George Burn, arrested for stealing brushes and a box Photo Credit

 

George Thompson, arrested for stealing from a ship chandler’s store Photo Credit

George Thompson, arrested for stealing from a ship chandler’s store Photo Credit

 

George Wilson arrested for stealing from his father Photo Credit

George Wilson arrested for stealing from his father Photo Credit

 

Gilbert Wheatley, arrested for loitering with intent to commit a felony Photo Credit

Gilbert Wheatley, arrested for loitering with intent to commit a felony Photo Credit

 

John Dowson, arrested for stealing from a gas meter Photo Credit

John Dowson, arrested for stealing from a gas meter Photo Credit

 

John Fatherley, arrested for stealing from a ship chandler’s store Photo Credit

John Fatherley, arrested for stealing from a ship chandler’s store Photo Credit

 

John T. Keating arrested for stealing sash weights Photo Credit

John T. Keating arrested for stealing sash weights Photo Credit

 

John W. Atkinson Arrested for Break & Enter Photo Credit

John W. Atkinson Arrested for Break & Enter Photo Credit

 

Joseph Tombling, arrested for obtaining money by false pretences Photo Credit

Joseph Tombling, arrested for obtaining money by false pretenses Photo Credit

 

Margaret Ann O’Brien arrested for obtaining money by false pretenses Photo Credit

Margaret Ann O’Brien arrested for obtaining money by false pretenses Photo Credit

 

Margaret Leadbitter, arrested for stealing money from other children Photo Credit

Margaret Leadbitter, arrested for stealing money from other children Photo Credit

 

Oscar Carlson Arrested for Larceny Photo Credit

Oscar Carlson, arrested for larceny Photo Credit

 

Susan Joice, arrested for stealing money from a gas meter Photo Credit

Susan Joice, arrested for stealing money from a gas meter Photo Credit

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.

Thomas Kane, arrested for stealing a pony, harness, and cart Photo Credit

Thomas Kane, arrested for stealing a pony, harness, and cart Photo Credit

 

Thomas Wallace, arrested for indecent exposure Photo Credit

Thomas Wallace, arrested for indecent exposure Photo Credit

 

William Balmer arrested for shop breaking Photo Credit

William Balmer arrested for shop breaking Photo Credit

 

William Morrissey alias Smith, arrested for sleeping rough Photo Credit

William Morrissey (alias Smith), arrested for sleeping rough Photo Credit

 

William Wadham arrested for sleeping rough Photo Credit

William Wadham arrested for sleeping rough Photo Credit

 

Dora Agnes Sanderson, a domestic servant, arrested for theft Photo Credit

Dora Agnes Sanderson, a domestic servant, arrested for theft Photo Credit

 

Percy John Proctor, a draper’s assistant, arrested for false pretences Photo Credit

Percy John Proctor, a draper’s assistant, arrested for false pretenses Photo Credit

 

Thomas H. Watson, arrested while preparing to commit a crime Photo Credit

Thomas H. Watson, arrested while preparing to commit a crime Photo Credit

 

William Wade alias Nursay, arrested for stealing money Photo Credit

William Wade (alias Nursay), arrested for stealing money Photo Credit

 

William Wilson arrested for stealing fish Photo Credit

William Wilson, arrested for stealing fish Photo Credit

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.