Forest Gate, and Victorian Penny Dreadfuls (1)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017


The Illustrated Police News was a strange, weekly, newspaper, which lasted from 1867 until 1938, and for a while was described as "the worst newspaper in England". It was nothing to do with the police, officially, instead, it almost epitomised the Victorian "Penny Dreadful", providing lurid copy to a readership with a thirst for scandal and the salacious. 

Despite its title, it never produced a photograph, but relied entirely on graphic and sensational sketches for its illustrations. Equally, regardless of its claim to cover crime and punishment, it was more interested in quoting lurid witness statements at trials and from police interviews, than informing readers of the outcomes of those trials.

Forest Gate crime featured over 100 times during its 70 years of publication, and in 10 cases the crime was spicy enough to merit an illustration.

Divided, chronologically, over two articles, we look at those cases, reproduce the illustrations and provide quotes from the supporting commentary. By modern standards, far from being "Racy" much of the coverage seems rather quaint - perhaps an illustration of how "tame" Victorian tastes for gore were, compared to those of the modern era.

But first, a rather lengthy description of the IPN from the people who should know more than anyone else - the publishers of the British Newspaper Archive. We are grateful to them for the entire contents of this article.

Details of how to access and subscribe to the archive can be found in the footnote to this article.

British Newspaper Archive description

The British Newspaper Archive is packed with weird and wonderful stories of every description. However, of all the historic titles in this collection, no publication reported the bizarre and shocking in quite the same way as the Illustrated Police News.

A typical front page of the
 Illustrated Police News

The Illustrated Police News was one of Britain’s very first tabloids and one of the first periodicals to tap into the British public’s morbid appetite for crime and sensation. The paper was founded in 1843 and was partly inspired by the success of The Illustrated London News.  It was originally priced at one penny and did remarkably well with a weekly circulation of around 175,000 copies, most sold in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
Gruesome and grisly news stories from around the UK

The Illustrated Police News reporters would scour through vast quantities of newsprint from across the Empire, Europe and the United States in order to bring their readers news of the latest assaults, outrages, tragedies and murders. All of which were delightfully described in lurid detail with vivid illustrations to match.
It was considered a workingman’s newspaper and was frequently condemned for appealing to lowbrow tastes yet it was not the stories printed that attracted the most criticism, it was the lewd and graphic illustrations of blood spurting from wounds, women’s faces twisted in terror as they were attacked by cruel husbands and hosts of scantily clad sleepwalkers who always happened to be attractive young ladies.
In fact, an 1886 article found in our (The British Newspaper Archive) collection of historic newspapers reveals that The Illustrated Police News was once voted the ‘worst newspaper in England’ by readers of the Pall Mall Gazette.
 The proprietor, George Purkis claimed to have half a dozen accomplished artists on his permanent staff in London and somewhere between 70 and 100 free-lance artists spread out across the country who provided “the best portraits published by any journal, not excluding The Illustrated London News and The Graphic“.
Accuracy was of high importance and Purkis described how artists would be deployed to the scene of “terrible murder or extraordinary incident” the second news reached the London office.
Purkis appeared unfazed at being voted the worst newspaper in England and “received the verdict of the jury with great good temper, not to say complacency” and answered the complaints made against him.

Chief amongst these was that The Illustrated Police News was “a bad paper, which encourages the commission of crime, and generally tends to the demoralization of the people into whose hands it falls.”
"I acknowledge it to be a sensational newspaper," said Mr Purkis, but he insisted that: "barring the sensational illustrations, there is nothing in the paper to which objection can reasonably be taken."
He argued that rather than glorifying crime, his paper prevented it by warning of its horrors and terrible consequences. He even argues his paper may act "as an encouragement to a good life" and explained how criminals would go to great lengths to prevent their likeness appearing in its pages.
“I know what people say,” concluded Mr. Purkis, ‘but as I replied to a friend who asked me why I did not produce some other paper than the Police News, ‘We can’t all have Timeses and Telegraphs, and if we can’t have the Telegraph or the Times, we must put up with the Police News.'”
 Purkis died of tuberculosis in 1892 but The IPN continued reporting on the strange and grotesque until 1938.

Forest Gate reports 


1. Burglar caught in Forest Gate - 9 September 1882

Henry James Brady was charged with:
Burglariously breaking and entering Lawn House, Sidney Road, Forest Gate and stealing a copper coal scuttle and scoop and a tea caddy and canister.
The occupant was disturbed during the night and called the police who: 
Not knowing how many other persons were behind the door, put his left hand through the partly opened door and with his truncheon struck the man on the head, when he fell to the ground. ... The prisoners hands were tied with a rope.


The illustration from 9 September 1882 edition
Brady was taken to the police station and charged, but having got some tasty morsels of scene of crime activity, the Illustrated Police News lost interest and did not report the outcome of the incident.

2. Attempted murder of a sweetheart - 26 January 1884

On Tuesday night at Forest Lane, Forest Gate a young (21 years) fellow named Reginald Slaughter, living at Channelsea Road Stratford fire two shots out of a five-chambered revolver at a young lady named (Kitty) Pole (20 years) and then a chamber at himself.
The parties, it seems, had been keeping company for about three months, but have had significant quarrels now and again and it is stated that Slaughter had threatened Miss Pole.
The incident took place at 9.30 pm in Albert Square, Forest Lane.
After Slaughter had fired the first two shots, The Illustrated Police News reported: 
(Miss Pole) was not struck, but fell into a fit of hysterics ... Slaughter pointed the revolver at himself, but the bullet went into the air, and just as he was about to fire again, a gentleman named Newton .... (of) Maryland Point ... snatched the revolver from his hand. Slaughter fell on the pavement, insensible.


Illustration from 26 January 1884
Illustrated Police News
The police were called, Slaughter was arrested and taken to West Ham police station.

In giving evidence to the police, Kitty Pole's mother, Catherine, told them:
(Slaughter) has been keeping company with my daughter. He has deceived her so often, and told her such a load of falsehoods, that on my advice she refused to go out with him.
She said that at one time she had told Slaughter "I have an umbrella in my hand, if you molest my daughter, I'll lay this about your head".

The arresting officer, PC Lampard said "I found a photograph of (Kitty Pole) on Slaughter, on which was written 'This young woman is mine. R.S. I am her lover.'".

The divisional police surgeon said when called to examine Slaughter at the police station:
I found him lying apparently insensible, in the reserve room. His appearance was that of a person in a genuine fit. In fact he was shamming. I threatened that I would use the galvanic battery (electric shock treatment) and he got up. He was perfectly sober.
Reginald Slaughter (a failed case of nominative determinism?) was charged with attempted murder and attempted suicide. Once more, having provided some salacious copy, The Illustrated Police News lost interest in the case, and did not report the outcome of the trial.

3. Awful calamity at Forest Gate - fire at a school - 11 January 1890

This was the Illustrated Police News' account of the fire at the Industrial school in Forest Lane, which we have previously covered here and here.
The written account of the fire is quite graphic, and like a modern day tabloid report of a catastrophe, focuses on dramatic witness statements, mainly from the children and staff of the school.


Illustration from 11 January 1890
 Illustrated Police News
The front page illustration, above, was suitably action-packed, and doubtless proved a good selling point for that week's edition of the paper.

Unlike other cases reported by the newspaper, it was actually followed up, two weeks later, with coverage of the inquest and the verdict. This, again, provided the paper with plenty of opportunity for colourful reporting.

4. Fearful domestic tragedy at Upton Park - alleged murder of two children and an attempted suicide - 30 April 1904

This case had everything as far as salacious reporting was concerned, and the illustration of the case covered the whole of the front page of the newspaper.

The story was, indeed a tragedy and concerned William Folkard of 214 Queen's Road, who was accused of murdering two of his four children: Grace, aged eight years and Thomas, aged seven months.

The family occupied the top two floors of the house (of three).
In the front room of the first floor slept Folkard and his wife, the back room was used as the kitchen, while the children's bedroom was the attic.
 Twelve months ago Folkard had the misfortune to lose two of his children, one dying two days after the other. Since then he has been afflicted by bouts of depression and has had, it is said, frequent drinking bouts.


Illustration from 30 April 1904
 Illustrated Police News
Folkard had been absent from his home a week before the killings - hop-picking, he said. When he returned, he cut the throats of the two children and then attempted to cut his own. He was found alive and taken to West Ham hospital.

The police found a note on his body:
Will and Freddy (his two surviving children) will be able to keep their mother in ten years' time. Girls are not much good, but Grace has been a good girls. Tommy is so young (the latter two being those he murdered).
Again, like other IPN dramatic case, having reported the gore, the paper did not follow the case up with details of the trial and its outcome.


Footnote

Access to the entire contents of the Independent Police News can be gained via the British Newspaper Archive website, see here


It is a subscription service, but invaluable to anyone with a serious interest in researching almost any aspect of modern British history. It is continuously expanding its coverage, but currently covers over 760 publications and has 20 million accessible pages - which can be searched via a very powerful search engine. 

A special bit of pleading to them , in exchange for this plug: Please digitise the entire back catalogue of the Stratford Express, ASAP!

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