Poverty often drives individuals to commit desperate acts out of necessity, like obtaining food, clothing, and sustenance. In their desperation, they may act recklessly.
During the Edwardian era in North Shields, England, women were frequently apprehended for “Larceny.”
This encompassed a wide array of offenses under common law, defined as the “unlawful taking of personal property from an individual or business.”
Such acts included thefts as varied as pilfering clothes from a washing line, taking food from a table, or stealing personal items like jewelry and money.
The majority of women brought into the North Shields Police Station faced larceny charges, although habitual offenders were labeled as “Thieves.”
In some instances, larceny charges also extended to activities such as managing disorderly establishments, public intoxication, or lacking a fixed address.
The collection of mugshots featured here captures women who committed crimes out of desperation or as a result of recurring unlawful behavior.
All bear the marks of weariness caused by the relentless struggle of poverty and ongoing misfortune. Their ages range from teenage years to their late thirties.
These photographs were taken between 1902 and 1905 at the North Shields Police Station and are now preserved in the archives of the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.
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”.
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”.
The Shields Daily News for 11 November 1903 reports:
“Elizabeth Hall (29), Miller’s Bank and Catherine O’Brien (30), no fixed abode, drunk and disorderly in Howdon Road; the former was committed to prison for one month and the latter fined 5s and costs”.
The Shields Daily Gazette for 12 January 1904 reports:
“Charlotte Branney (18), who hails from Murton Colliery, was formerly in domestic service with Ed. McHugh, eating-house keeper, New Quay, North Shields.
On August 26th she obtained a day’s leave and, after she was gone, a jacket was missed from a stand in the hall.
Next day she left altogether and so did a skirt from the bedroom. Charlotte was apprehended at Seaham Harbour and brought back to explain.
This she did by pleading guilty to stealing the skirt but, as to the jacket, she said she only borrowed that for the afternoon.
Being afraid of detection on her return she threw it over a fence near her mistresses’s house and it was gone the next morning.
Chief Contsable Huish said she was “wanted” at Newcastle on another charge and she was now sentences to 14 days in the second division”.
The Shields Daily Gazette for 1 March 1904 reports:
“Susannah Adamson (25) who resides in Magnesia Bank, accompanied a labourer named Alexander Angus into the Gardeners’ Arms, in Rudyard Street, on Saturday.
While there she relieved him of a purse and 25s. Angus did not know of his loss until the woman had left the bar and when he discovered it he immediately followed her, took possession of his purse, opened it and found it contained 1½ d.
Detective Scougal arrested in her own house later in the night, and the woman told him that she had never seen either Angus or his money.
Before the North Shields magistrates Adamson made a most vigorous defence, protesting that she never stole any of the man’s money.
Before this case she had made ten appearances before the magistrates and she was now committed to prison for a month”.
(Photo credit: Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums).