Law and Order in London in the Late 19th Century
The East End of London was well known for its high crime levels. Therewas a very dense population which resulted in high levels of poverty,unemployment and of course crime. People in the East End would oftenturn to crimes such as thieving, prostitution and drunkenness. Peoplewere frequently driven to perpetrate criminal acts by desperation,despondency and the idea that perhaps it was an easier way to live.
Immoral crimes such as rape, sexual abuse towards children and women,abortion and incest were not atypical in the East End of London.Amazingly, incest was not illegal until 1908 and until the 1880’s afather could legally have sex with his thirteen year old daughter.
Domestic violence was not a rarity either. Husbands often violently orsexually abused their wives.
Adults were often cruel to children also, subjecting them to beatingand starvation.
There were substantial inconsistencies in crime and punishment, notjust in the East End, but also all over London. There were three focalthings which influenced the way in which a criminal would be punished– age, gender and wealth. The most relevant to the East End was ageand gender as there were no middle class people living in the East End.
Punishment would depend on the age of the offender as Victorians werekeen to make examples of young offenders who received rigorouspunishments even for petty crimes. For example, the case of WilliamTrimmer, 14 years of age, sentenced to 10 days hard labour and 5 yearsreform for such an insignificant crime – stealing two bottles oflemonade. 10 days hard labour was by itself…
… Police were not treating the people of London equally regardlessof how rich or poor they were. Working class people felt that thePolice were enforcing middle class standards of respectability. TheEast End needed Police attention more than the West End of Londonbecause there were higher levels of crime and potential crime.
The Police seemed to be wining the war against crime in the rest ofLondon. However, the East End of London was becoming uncontrollable.The Police were overwhelmed by the amount of crime in the East End.
The Police was still a relatively new idea and some people stillresented the invasion of their privacy. They were not used to havinguniformed officers telling them what to do. The relationship betweenthe Police and the general public was not a good one, not many peopletrusted the Police.