3 June 1901
TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES
It is to be hoped that the public attention drawn to Dorset Street, Spitalfields, by the murder there will help on some needed reforms. To all save those of us who have had an opportunity of studying this street and the courts around it at first hand it seems impossible that such a breeding spot of crime should be allowed to continue. Although quite a short thoroughfare, it can boast of more deeds of violence than any other district in London. Its population largely consists of thieves and their associates. Policeman go down it in pairs. The mere knocking senseless and rifling the pockets of some half drunken visitor in the open doorway is quite frequent. One alley is known among some of the older residents as "Blood Alley," on account of the amount of human blood that has been shed there. There are few houses in Dorset street which have not seen at least one murder, and one house is often declared to have had a murder in every room. How true that is I cannot say, but I do know that the same house has had a history which for sheer horror surpasses almost everything in the criminal annals of this country.
The lodging houses of Dorset street are bad, but they are not the worst part of the street.
Doubtless the owners of some of them do their best to preserve a show of orderliness. It is
unnecessary to dwell on the evils fostered by the many double bedded cubicles open to all
who can pay the few pence necessary. Many lads, old enough to be free from school, break
away from home and live in these lodging houses. Thrown in association with criminals, they
quickly become initiated in crime. Nominally they earn their living by chance work in the
streets. Too often they are taught the craft of the petty thief. For some time one young
man, a sort of captain among them, had quite a gang of organized pilferers drifting between
Dorset street and Notting hill. He at last disappeared, but similar gangs still exist, and
boys drawn from working class homes are drawn into them and are made life criminals.
Women who find themselves homeless in London, often innocent and the victims of misfortune, get driven in such lodging houses as these, for there is practically nowhere else for them to go. The result is obvious. The "furnished rooms" which flourish around Dorset street are still more harmful than the lodging houses.
That such a place, within a mile of the Mansion house, should be suffered to continue is no credit to London. Yet what is to be done? Doles are about as effective a cure for the ills of this black spot as cold cream would be a remedy for cancer. If private philanthropy could have made an end of Dorset street it would have gone long ago. But property such as it is very profitable. In spit of long continued efforts it has been impossible to discover the names of the freeholders of the land, or steps could be taken to rouse them to activity. What reforms are to come must come from the various public authorities. May I suggest some obviously needed improvements?
First, much might be done to save the younger children of Dorset street if the London School Board took special measures to enforce their attendance at school. Compulsory education is practically a dead letter there. The children wander with their parents from one lodging house to another, and so slip through the educational net. The driving of these children to school would admittedly be very difficult, and would require school attendance officers.
More police are necessary. The police in this district have a rough time, and I understand that they show a larger proportion of wounds, disablements, and deaths from violence than any other metropolitan section. Their duties are rendered more severe by the fact that they are miserably undermanned.
Some slight effort might be made by the local authorities to enforce the laws against open immorality.
But the only adequate cure for Dorset street is to sweep it away. Doubtless it is convenient for the police to have such a criminal centre, where they can continually lay hands on wanted men. But Dorset street makes crime as well as shelters it, and its continued presence as now is a real danger to all London.
Fred. A. McKenzie.
602 Birkbeck Bank Chambers, Chancery Lane, W.C.