HC Deb 25 June 1858 vol 151 cc418-21

said, that two or three years ago he had called the attention of the House to the scenes that took place in Rag Fair on Sunday, and narrated what he had seen himself. He should not have brought forward the subject again had not his attention been directed to it by the report of some proceeding at the Mansion House Police Court, which appeared in the papers of the 15th of June. It was stated:— Thomas Beale was charged with having committed a robbery on Sunday, at half-past eleven o'clock, in the Clothes Exchange, Petticoat Lane, in the neighbourhood of which 14,000 or 15,000 people congregate every Sunday, some to buy and sell, and others—the great majority—to plunder. The latter statement must be taken with some qualification. Thieves do not steal from thieves; it could only be a minority who went there to plunder. The report continued:— It was stated by the police that it was quite impossible for the officers to do anything at all amongst such a mass of people, and that any persons who were so silly as to carry property about them in the immediate neighbourhood must be content to part with it, and would be lucky if they got away without being roughly handled and kicked. At the conclusion of the case the Lord Mayor was reported to have said:— There is proof of the existence of another desperate evil. That somebody is culpable for the continuance of so outrageous a violation of the law as the permission of such a state of things, on the borders of the City of London, there can be no doubt. I have said so frequently since the commencement of my mayoralty, but there appears to be no symptom of improvement. On the contrary, the mischief seems to be on the increase. I commit this prisoner for trial at the Central Criminal Court, where I trust some allusion will be made to the state of the vicinity of Petticoat Lane by some high authority, from whose interposition some effective regulation may spring. He had no desire to re-open the general question of Sunday trading, or to interfere with the comfort or convenience of the working classes. He regretted the defective ar- rangements which rendered necessary Sunday marketing. This, however, was not a question of Sunday marketing. Perishable articles of food were the only things not sold there; it was a mere question of police. If an enthusiast who felt called on to preach in the open air on Sunday gathered half a dozen people round him, be was taken before a magistrate for obstructing the thoroughfare; or if some wretched orange woman, tired with her load, stopped to rest her basket on the flags she was at once ordered by the police to move on; yet Petticoat Lane and Harrow Lane, on Sundays, between eleven and one, were obstructed to such an extent as to render it dangerous for persons possessing property to go there, and that by the worst class in London. He thought this was a sufficient justification for the question of which he had given notice—namely, whether the Secretary of State for the Home Department intends to take any steps for the suppression of the Sunday Fair in Houndsditch?


said, that owing to his absence from the House he had not heard all that had fallen from the hon. Gentleman, but what he had heard he could confirm. As soon as his attention in his official capacity as Lord Mayor had been called to the subject he had taken the earliest opportunity of attending the fair on Sunday, and without personal examination he could not have believed in the existence of the abominations which took place in that locality on that day. He bad been completely astonished to find that it was the constant practice every Sunday, between eleven o'clock and half-past one, for 10,000 or 12,000 persons to assemble in that locality, among whom no novice could pass through without having his pocket picked or being in some way insulted. During the last week he had committed three men to Newgate to take their trials for stealing watches in Petticoat Lane, and he had communicated with Sir Richard Mayne upon the subject with the view of seeing whether the evil could not be abated. But the House was probably not aware that Petticoat Lane was peculiarly situated. It was a very long street, one-half of which was in Middlesex, and the other half in London, and thus any of the people that assembled there could pass from the City to the county or from the county to the City, as the case might be, by crossing from one side of the street to the other, so that unless the police on both sides agreed upon one plan of action the nuisance could not be effectually dealt with. Booths of all descriptions were erected, and a complete fair was held in that locality regularly every Sunday, and attended by between 12,000 and 15,000 persons. He had no wish to interfere with anything that added to the comfort of the lower classes; but he was anxious to see some plan devised for remedying this evil, which was injurious even to the people living in this particular neighbourhood. He had heard that many of the owners of stalls in Petticoat Lane themselves desired that some enactment might be passed which would prevent their keeping the Sunday in a way that they disliked. Some time ago, when there was a great uproar respecting the Sunday Trading Bill introduced by Lord Ebury, he had it from good authority that persons came regularly from Petticoat Lane to Hyde Park on Sundays to advocate the cause, not of the public, but of the dealers in the former locality; and he believed it could also be proved that many of the owners of booths in Petticoat Lane had hired men for a few shillings a head to go to Hyde Park every Sunday and create a disturbance, because they were afraid their own craft was in danger. Sir R. Mayne had informed him that he did not see his way sufficiently clear to carry out the desired object in this matter. They were all aware that the law was in a peculiar state as regarded Sunday trading. An information had been laid the other day against a man who was proved to have opened a photographic establishment every Sunday; but as portrait taking was not his usual calling, but was only pursued by him on Sunday, the man being a tailor all the other days in the week, a difficulty arose in the course of the proceedings against him. Then there was a large class of cigar sellers, who kept their shops open all Sunday in defiance of the law, and who, as their profits were large, did not mind paying a fine of 5s. if they were summoned before a magistrate. But Petticoat Lane—and he had rather an interest in that locality—[Laughter]—was not the only place in London in which a fair of this kind was held on Sunday. He could assure the House that he had not intended to provoke a smile. He wished to treat the subject with the seriousness it deserved. He might mention that similar fairs were held every Sunday in the New Cut, Lambeth; in Somer's Town; in Mon- mouth Street, St. Giles's; in Clare Market, in Ratcliff Highway, and various other neighbourhoods. These scenes were an abomination which the Legislature ought to suppress, as they worked the greatest mischief to the humbler classes.