22 August 2012

Police Mugshots of 1930s Criminals

All of these men were caught by the long arm of the British law by police in the 1930s. Amazingly, this collection was recently discovered in a junk shop in the northeast of England.  Later they were donated to the Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums and have been recently released on its Flickr Photostream. The clarity of many of them is, to not put too fine a point on it, arresting.

What immediately grabbed my attention is that only two of this motley crew is more than five feet and eight inches in height. Many of them barely struggle to get more than two or three inches above the five foot mark.  This certainly reflects the general lack of nutrition that the British working classes suffered in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Some of these men will no doubt have fought in the First World War.  It is true that many recruiting offices despaired at the puny size of many thousands of recruits who were deemed unsuitable even for general duties such was their lack of strength and stature. These men are of that generation and this collection of mugshots is all the more fascinating as they come from a time when this sort of extreme close-up was not the photographic norm, except of course when it involved the boys in blue (aka the police).

Not all of the men featured seem to have been career criminals as such though some erred towards the not quite strictly legal and a number to the downright illegal. Yet they all have a trade, from the generic labourer to the slightly less salubrious hawker.  The devil is in the detail: aliases are indicating, including the Sunderland Kid and Doggy O’Malley. We have John Gallagher, the one eyed labourer, James Casey the bewildered looking tattooed gardener James Epstein, the squinting billiard marker among them.

One can only wonder at what provoked the men to commit their crimes. Taking in to the approximate age of the photographs, all taken in the Tyne and Wear area, (perhaps the town of Newcastle upon Tyne), we know that it was during the depression of the 1930s and furthermore a particularly hard hit area of the United Kingdom. Although poverty might not be a good excuse for stealing (especially when offered as a reason to a copper), it must be said that the condition raises temptation when it is presented. Some of these men look shell-shocked, others nonchalant.

Above is the complete slide show of over thirty criminal mugshots. All pictures are reproduced here through a Creative Commons license. Many thanks to the Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums for making them available online.