Poverty makes for the most desperate of criminals. Their crimes are born of necessity—to feed, to cloth, to nurture—which can make them careless in their actions. Financiers, on the other hand, can sit and carefully discuss their plans to rob and steal with lawyers and bankers over four hour lunches in luxurious surroundings—picking their teeth, savoring wine. They are usually never careless—they have lawyers see to that—and are hardly ever caught. The poor, meanwhile, are far easier to catch.
The women criminals of North Shields in Edwardian England were usually nabbed for “Larceny”—a catchall common law crime that involved “the unlawful taking of the personal property of another person or business.” This covered deeds as diverse as taking clothes from a washing line, stealing food from a table, or pinching personal belongings—jewels, money, etc. Most of the women who were brought into the police station in North Shields were charged with larceny—though some who were habitual were charged as “Thief.”
In certain instances, larceny could also cover keeping a bawdy house, being drunk and disorderly or having no fixed abode.
Most of the mugshots featured below are of women who have committed a crime out of desperation. Others, are habitual. All have the weary look born of grinding poverty and unrelenting misfortune. Their ages range from teens to late thirties. The photographs were taken at the North Shields Police Station between 1902-1905 and are kept by the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums—you can find more here.
Reg. No. 52, Susan Joice, Larceny, N. Shields 18-8-1903.
The Shields Daily News for 19 August 1903 reports:
“Yesterday at North Shields, Susan Joyce (16), residing at 17 Front Street, Milburn Place, was charged with stealing on the 15th inst, from a gas meter at a house, 18 Front Street, the sum of 6s 5d, the moneys of the Tynemouth Gas Company. Sarah Nicholson, the occupant of the above house stated that she noticed that the lock had been broken off the meter and the money extracted. Ellen Watson, sister of the accused stated that the later went to her house with her apron full of copper. Altogether there was 5s 6d. She afterwards handed the money over to the police. Detective Thornton spoke to arresting the defendant and when charged she admitted taking the money out of the meter. The Bench imposed a fine of 5s and 10s costs”.
Reg. No. 54, Annie Anderson, Larceny, N. Shields 25-8-03.
The newspaper report of 1 September featured in the comments suggests that Annie Anderson may have been involved in prostitution. This is made more explicit in a report of a later arrest in the Shields Daily Gazette for 21 July 1904, ‘disorderly house’ being a euphemism for brothel.
“At North Shields Annie Anderson (34) was charged with keeping a disorderly house in Liddell Street on July 1st. Sergt. G. Scougal proved the case. Chief Constable Huish said that the prisoner was convicted for a similar offence on March 28th of this year, and committed for one month. Immediately she came out of prison she went back to the room and continued to carry on the house in the same manner as before. The complaints received by the police about it were serious. Defendant, who pleaded not guilty, was committed for three months with hard labour”.
Reg. No. 57, Mabel Smith, Larceny, N. Shields 28-9-03.
More mugshots of Edwardian bad girls, after the jump…