Today, I’m delighted to be hosting a guest post from Angela Buckley as part of her blog tour to promote her wonderful new book, The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada. It’s selling like hot-cakes! 

Caminada’s groundbreaking detective work led to the unravelling of classic crime cases such as the Hackney Carriage Murder in 1889, secret government missions and a deadly confrontation with his arch-rival, a ruthless and violent thief. Angela has very kindly written a post about Victorian Manchester, which was Caminada’s home beat as a policeman and detective:

If you’re interested in visiting nineteenth century Manchester, then my advice would be: DON’T GO! It is one of the most dangerous places in Victorian England and you’ll be lucky if you only lose your money and valuables. Worst-case scenario is that you won’t make it out alive. However, if you really have to go, it’s important to have your wits about you and to be aware of what you might face when you get there.

Deansgate, Manchester

 Official police returns in 1866 reported that there were some 13,000 arrests in Manchester, with theft and pickpocketing being the most common crimes. Other offences included assault, breach of the peace, drunkenness, robbery and prostitution. By 1870 the number of arrests had doubled and the city’s crime rate was almost two crimes per capita – four times higher than in London during the same period. Only five per cent of those crimes resulted in conviction. 

In 1843, Thomas Carlyle described Manchester as ‘wonderful, fearful and unimaginable’. The Industrial Revolution and the construction of the world’s first railway line were swiftly followed by prolific construction: magnificent hotels, luxurious shops and imposing offices but beware, for behind those dazzling façades lie some of the worst rookeries in the country. It is likely that you will be tempted to start your tour in the main thoroughfare of Deansgate, near the fashionable boutiques of St Ann’s Square and King Street. Do not stray from the central area, as lurking behind ‘Devil’s Gate’ is a dark labyrinth of impenetrable alleyways and closed courts, teeming with shady characters and ruthless criminals. 

A street criminal

Even during the daytime you will encounter gangs of thieves, convincing con artists and nimble pickpockets. ‘Sharps’ and ‘magsmen’ are waiting on every corner to swindle innocent passersby, especially those who are well heeled. Fake sailors, out-of-work colliers and crippled ex-soldiers will call out to you for a few pennies to ease their distress. Do not engage with them – walk straight on – for they will empty your pockets in a flash. If you are a woman, try to turn a blind eye to the pathetic bundles of rags who will whimper for money to feed their pitiful children. Know that they ‘hire’ these infants for the purpose and they are often drugged. If you are a man, be particularly wary of the young woman who shouts for your help. In great distress and with tears in her eyes, she will beckon you into a dark alleyway. If you follow her, you will likely be robbed and beaten, possibly even garrotted by her violent companions.

A female criminal

These words of warning are not intended to deter you from your journey. Manchester in the nineteenth century is an exciting place, with cutting-edge technology, thriving businesses and impressive buildings. There is much to see – visit the newly built Town Hall in all its splendour, sample the street food in the Italian district or take in a show at one of the renowned theatres of the city. But if you go, heed this advice:

1. Always take a walking stick or an umbrella to defend yourself, in the case of unwanted attention.
2. Do not carry valuables or large amounts of money anywhere on your person. Do not leave them in your hotel either – they are safest in the bank.
3. Hop on a passing omnibus or hail a hansom cab, if you need to get yourself out of a sticky situation.
4. Try to pick up some of the street language – Mancunians are very friendly and love to chat – just be very careful whom you engage in conversation.
5. Turn to the police for help and if you are there during the last three decades of the century, ask for Detective Caminada – he will know what to do.

A big thank you to Angela for writing such a fascinating post. Victorian cities like Manchester were definitely not for the fainthearted!

Angela’s book The Real Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Story of Jerome Caminada is published by Pen and Sword Books and is available now. To find out more, see her blog: http://victoriansupersleuth.com


Typical photographs of Victorian street scenes feature a multitude of horse-drawn vehicles all mixed in together, but the preferred public transport of the middle classes to commute to work or to go shopping was the omnibus (or ‘bus for short). This was cheaper than travelling by cab. In Saunterings In and About London (1853), Max Schlesinger observed that “among the middle classes of London, the omnibus stands immediately after air, tea and flannel in the list of necessaries of life”.

‘An Omnibus Driver’ from Living London (1901)

So what were these omnibuses like? Inside, there was straw on the floor to keep the passengers’ feet warm and dry. By the end of the day, this was both wet and dirty; this straw also harboured fleas when it was dry, and the ague when it was wet. The seats were covered in blue velvet; this might sound luxurious but it was definitely not. The omnibuses were notoriously stuffy and poorly ventilated inside, with no air except when the door was opened. 

‘Any Gentleman Oblige a Lady?’ from Cassell’s Household Guide (1885)

If you were to take a journey on a Victorian omnibus, you would quickly find yourself tightly wedged in beside the other passengers and there would be a painful jolt every time it stopped. When people got on or off, you would run the risk of your toes being crushed or having sticks or parasols poked into your chest or neck. The proximity of other passengers made omnibuses a magnet for pickpockets and there was also the serious hazard of catching a deadly infectious disease.  

‘An Omnibus Conductor’ from Living London (1901)

For these reasons, men preferred to sit on the knifeboard of the omnibus, located on the roof. There were tiny ledges on which to step to reach the ‘knifeboard’, a raised partition along the middle with seats on each side. It was rare for women to venture up there as it was so difficult to get on and off wearing a cumbersome skirt or crinoline.

‘London Bridge Station Yard’ from Living London (1901)

The knifeboard design was replaced by the ‘garden seat’ omnibus in the 1880s, which had a curved staircase at the rear leading to the top deck. This was more practical for both sexes as it had a central gangway, benches facing the way the passengers were going, and ‘decency’ or ‘modesty’ boards on the top deck. These gave some protection to the passengers, and prevented people passing from seeing the ladies’ ankles!