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An Eastender Speaks Out Against the Riots

August 9, 2011
by the gentle author

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Monday a deputation from the parish of Bethnal Green waited upon Mr Peel to request that some measures might be devised to suppress the dreadful riots and outrages that take place every night in the parish, by a lawless gang of thieves, consisting of five or six hundred. The gang rendezvous in a brick-field at the top of Spicer St, Spitalfields, and out-posts are stationed to give an alarm, should any of the civil power approach, and their cry is “Warhawk,” as a signal for retreat.

On the brick kilns in this field they cook whatever meat and potatoes they plunder from the various shops in the neighbourhood, in the open day and in the face of the shopkeeper. Their outrages have been of the daring kind, there are now no less than five individuals lying in the London Infirmary, without hopes of recovery, that have fallen into the hands of the gang. Within the last fortnight upwards of fifty persons have been robbed, and cruelly beaten, and one of the gang was seen one day last week to produce amongst some of his associates, nearly half-a-hat-full of watches.

Mr Peel gave immediate orders for a detachment of Horse Patrol to be stationed day and night in the neighbourhood, and on Friday morning a party of forty men, to be under the jurisdiction of the Magistrates of Worship St Police Office, were mounted, they are a party of able-bodied men who have held situations in the army, accoutred with cutlasses, pistols, and blunderbusses. They will be in constant communication with forty of the dismounted patrol. The dismounted are divided into parties, and are stationed at the following posts, viz – Cambridge Heath Gate, Mile End Gate, Whitechapel Church, London Apprentice Gate, and near the Regent’s Canal in the Mile End Rd. Both parties are to remain on duty till five o’clock in the morning.

On Friday, being market day at Smithfield, the gang were on the look out for beasts, and we hear that, as early as six in the morning, two bullocks were taken from a drove. On Wednesday, a bullock was rescued from them in the Kingsland Rd, and after being secured in Clement’s barn till the gang had been dispersed, it was conveyed home to its owner, Mr Alexander, in Whitechapel market.

It was reported, that Mr Sykes, the proprietor of the ham and beef shop in Winchester St, Hare St fields, had died on Friday in the London Hospital, of the dreadful injuries he received from the gang, but we are happy to say he is still alive. It seems that Mr Sykes had only set up in business a few days, when about eight o’clock in the evening, about twenty fellows came round his shop, armed with sticks, he suspected they intended an attack, and for security got behind the counter, when the whole gang came in, and seizing a buttock of beef and a ham, ran out of the shop. He endeavoured to prevent them by putting out his arm, when one of them, with a hatchet or hammer, stuck him a tremendous blow which broke it in a dreadful manner, it has been since amputated, and he now lies in a very bad state. The gang then went into a baker’s shop and helped themselves to bread, and afterwards adjourned to the brick-field, and ate the provisions in a very short time.

It would be too tedious to state the numerous outrages that have been committed, but there is reason now to hope, that the establishment of the horse patrol, and the conviction on Thursday of three of them, at the Old Bailey, for attacking and robbing Mr Fuller, will be the means of routing them altogether.

September 24th 1826

14 Responses leave one →
  1. August 9, 2011

    Cyclical history. Things do not change much, do they?
    Thinking of all of you in the UK affected by the riots. Keep safe.

  2. August 9, 2011

    My god, do we never learn?

  3. Rebekah permalink
    August 9, 2011

    Thank you Gentle Author for the place in history of earlier London riots, all things pass.
    As a proud Hackney resident I feel shamed by the behavior of the rioting youth. I so admire the brave woman making a stand against these despicable gangs, as we all should and will. In the coming year 2012 we will have the opportunity to show the world what a wonderful multi-cultural place Hackney and London are. We will overcome this dreadful event with kind thoughts and good deeds.

  4. August 9, 2011

    As my husband says, ‘the gangs in those days were probably genuinely starving and hanged.’ Feel so sad for London today.

  5. Annie permalink
    August 9, 2011

    Very interesing, we think these things are new problems but it’s happened before.
    I was reading a book called Gangs of Birmingham earlier this year and was amazed at the lawlessness that was going on in the 1800’s

  6. Ana permalink
    August 9, 2011

    Some of these gangs are looking for an easy way to loot. They’re targeting small businesses. A really low blow.
    If the police cannot control these riots, then hopefully the military will be brought in. As for those thugs who have used their mobile phones to communicate via text, it may be easy for them to be located and prosecuted.
    There is no excuse to loot shops.

  7. August 9, 2011

    OMG….Some things never change!

  8. Thea permalink
    August 9, 2011

    Ive just been reading about the Gordon Riots that happened in London in 1780, there are many similaritys, the gangs were hyped up by Gordon, there were riots all around london, it was very organised but got completely out of control, they burnt down civilian houses and businesses, broke into Newgate prison and released all the prisoners and just wreaked havok and devastation in the city for 6 days. In the end a lot of boys were caught and hung. I do wonder what happened to Gordon and wonder if there is a ‘Gordon’ behind todays riots?

  9. Joyce permalink
    August 9, 2011

    While all this has been going on I just happened to be researching some Old Bailey court reports . . . back in the early 1800s even the smallest crimes were punished with hard labour, theft was frequently punishable by death . . . even when violence was not involved!
    On 14th September 1826, 2 of a gang who attacked and robbed a Mr Fuller received the death penalty . . .

  10. Miss Kent permalink
    August 9, 2011

    re. the first video (riots on Bethnal Green Road) – while I did not think much of the way that the G20 protests were handled a few years back, I have nothing but respect for the few policemen and policewomen who did their best to maintain order and stand up against the rioters shown in the video clip despite being greatly outnumbered by them.

    Thank you.

  11. jeannette permalink
    August 11, 2011

    this very famous piece was written after the rodney king riots in LA in 1992.

    my theory: that your riots followed the pattern of the rodney king riots. afro-caribbean people protested real police brutality, riots began, and the racially-inspired looting of the brown people (south asian/turkish/islamic storekeepers) by the black people began. white skinheads joined in the looting even where no afro-caribbean police brutality was occurring, and the conflict was essentially one of black people protesting the much-resented economic toehold that the brown people have gotten in british society.

    then cameron and johnson and the broom brigades started issuing their barely-coded racist backlash statements, more ominous than the riots themselves.

    meanwhile, the bbc reports your police have equipment over 17 years old — too heavy to run in, and so hot police are dehydrated after a few hours’ work in which they are compelled to carry and drink liters of water. also, that they’re clueless when it comes to working with “gangs”. i doubt very seriously “gangs” had anything to do with any of this.

    as an american, i am sorry this mayhem has come to you. it is the mark of a truly polyglot and armed society and i hope you all deal with it better than we have.

  12. jeannette permalink
    August 13, 2011

    sorry to spam you on this, but i’ve been talking about this elsewhere and reprint a comment there here:

    I’ve been thinking about this, and it reminds me of how in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the nascent skinhead culture, which fetishized Afro-Caribbean music, often settled on Asian immigrants as the targets of its anger. There were West Indian skinheads, too, and gangs of black and white youths would occasionally join up to hassle South Asian shopkeepers and immigrants. There are a number of deeply unpleasant ska songs by West Indian immigrants to Britain that celebrate this alliance, with titles like “Skinhead a Bash Them.”

  13. jeannette permalink
    August 13, 2011

    “Skinhead a Bash Them” is quite a bouncy tune, actually. Here a venerable Afro-Caribbean musician discusses his skinhead days.

  14. Ree permalink
    September 5, 2011

    The veneer of “society” is often rather thin…

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