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Researching ‘the terrors of their neighbourhood’: Street robbery in Chisenhale Street

2013 February 22

Keiran Southern, Department of English and Cultural History, Liverpool John Moores University

In our sessions on Victorian street robbery, we examined a case involving a ‘garotter’, 19 year old Martin Corrigan. In 1869 Corrigan was tried at Liverpool Assizes, held in St George’s Hall, for robbing Patrick Spelman, a porter in the city’s St John’s market, on Chisenhale Street bridge. This bridge had a fearsome reputation for violent street crime in the mid-nineteenth century, so I decided to do more research on the reputations of both the area and the offender, Corrigan.

Figure One: Chisenhale Street bridge (circa 1932)

Chisenhale Street is situated within the area recognized by nineteenth-century Liverpudlians as the ‘North End slum’. Also described as Scotland Road, the area was characterized by poverty and swelled in the mid-nineteenth century following the influx of Irish immigrants who had escaped the potato famine. Despite having lived in the area my entire life, I was unaware of its history and, particularly, its criminal reputation. In fact, I didn’t even realize there was a bridge on Chisenhale Street despite crossing it several times a week. Originally it was used to cross the Leeds/Liverpool canal, however the canal was shortened in the 1960s and the bridge became redundant. Now it is inconspicuous and forms the back wall to somebody’s garden, a metaphor for the urban encroachment on the city’s past as booming port city. Since I looked into the history of the bridge, I have a new-found interest in the area. The bridge provided a walkway between the city docks and the 250 pubs that lined Scotland Road in the Victorian period, so it was a convenient space for garotters to commit street robberies. Many of the offences that took place here were committed on sailors who had arrived in the docks, unaware of the risks involved in passing Corrigan and his associates on Chisenhale Street, as they made their way to a night out in Scotland Road.

Chisenhale Street bridge [Taken on Thursday 14th February, 2013 by author]

Using the British Library online newspaper database, I examined editions of the Liverpool Mercury to see how many times Corrigan appeared in court and for what types of offences. Like myself, Martin Corrigan was from Irish descent. Anti-Irish sentiment was rife in the nineteenth century when Irish Catholics were stereotyped as violent or rough, terms often used by the press to describe Corrigan. His first crime appeared to be on September 20, 1864. Aged just thirteen or fourteen (the paper wasn’t sure), he was accused of assaulting a labourer, Michael McGarrity. It was a violent attack in which the victim received a ‘severe wound above the left eye’ (Liverpool Mercury, 20 September, 1864), and Corrigan was sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment for ‘throwing stones’ (Liverpool Mercury, 21 September, 1864). Records of him exist right up until 1871 when he was charged with the violent robbery of Hiram Berry. He was accused of similar offences in 1869 and 1870 and the majority of his offences took place on Chisenhale Street, arguably his ‘territory’, a space where he could perform his identity as a ‘hard man’ before his peers. Justice Keogh remarked that, the prisoners were the terror of the neighbourhood where they lived (Liverpool Mercury, 7 February, 1870). His offences point to a repeat offender whose recorded misdemeanours were just the tip of the iceberg. It is important to bear in mind that the only crime we know about is that which is reported or found by the police. Perhaps the reason such high numbers of the cases in the courts involved Irish men was because a prejudiced police force focused their attention on the Irish community and their neighbourhoods, such as Chisenhale Street and Scotland Road.

Bibliography

Liverpool Mercury, 20th September, 1864

Liverpool Mercury, 21st September, 1864

Liverpool Mercury, 7th February, 1870

J.E. Archer, The Monster Evil: Policing and Violence in Victorian Liverpool (Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2011)

F. Neal, ‘A Criminal Profile of the Liverpool Irish,’ Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 140 (1991), pp. 161-99.

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