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


As a big fan of BBC’s Ripper Street, I love seeing all the wonderful Victorian details and the programme’s portrayal of how Victorian crime detection actually worked. But have you ever wondered what would have happened next to the people they arrest? Chances are they would have ended up in Holloway Prison while awaiting trial.

By the late nineteenth century, Holloway Prison was a ‘trial’ prison for men suspected of having committed a criminal offence. It also held convicted female prisoners and women awaiting trial. As a result, the male and female sections of the prison were very different. For the men, there was no hard labour and they wore their own clothes, not prison uniforms.

If they were wealthy, these men could even take advantage of the ‘superior accommodation’ highlighted by Living London (1901): ‘A certain number of cells are fitted up, not luxuriously, but with bedstead, and table, and chest of drawers, for which the occupant is charged a shilling or two per week.’

They could also enjoy better food: ‘While the poorer prisoners must be satisfied with the prison diet, those who can pay – and so the world wags always! – may “supply themselves”. There are eating houses just outside the gates ready to contract on the official scale for breakfast, dinner, and tea, or the prisoners depend on their friends to bring in their meals. A large amount of work is thrown upon the prison officials in this matter of food. It is brought in tins, and basins, and bundles, tied up in towels or red handkerchiefs – great slices of meat, cold vegetables, cold bacon, eggs, and loaves of every variety, and the utmost care must be observed to give each his own proper allowance. The regulations, too, allow a small quantity of stimulant, a pint of beer, or half-a-pint of wine, and here, again, there is endless troubles among the bottles, and tankards, and cans.’

Each week, there was a similar pattern of activities in Holloway with certain hours set aside for interviews with legal advisors: ‘Lawyer and client sit alone in the room specially provided, quite private as regards sound, but with a glazed side so that the warder on duty may keep his eye on all that does on. Solicitors seldom work without fees, and the penniless prisoner – once more it is money that rules – must work unaided by advice. He may have as much paper as he pleases, and can draw up any number of statements.’

It was the session days when trials were heard in court which were the busiest in Holloway:

‘… the great vans are loaded for the journey down to the courts, and escort duty falls heavily upon the officers. …there is much business in connection with papers, and especially the personal property of the accused, which must go down for immediate restoration on acquittal. No one can be detained after a favourable verdict is given, and all effects – money, watches, jewellery, and so forth – must be handed then and there to the discharged prisoner as he leaves the dock a free man.’

Perhaps most striking of all, Living London highlighted the fact that three days a week, there was a great gathering of detective officers at Holloway. I can just imagine a real-life version of Detective Reid arriving at the prison:

‘…they come from all the London divisions, and their business is to run down the men they know, often enough a man “much wanted” who has long evaded pursuit, but having been caught for some minor offence is now “remanded for inquiry”…Our police use both the Bertillon system of identification by measurements and that by “fingerprints” but they cling still to the older aids of memory and instinct.’

There was an hour every morning for exercise in the yards and the men were a real motley crue:

‘Here is a “swell” in frock coat and tall hat; he is of good presence, with a pleasant face, and is charged with being the moving spirit of a Long Firm fraud. Behind him walks a London pickpocket – small, active, with a fox-like face and the loping gait that carries him fast beyond pursuit; followed by costers and riverside characters, seafaring men – a Lascar, perhaps, or a heathen Chinee – the butcher, still in his blue blouse, the artisan in green baize apron, just as he was taken from his bench after he had done the deed.’

Naturally, ‘police days’ were dreaded by the inmates and the detectives regularly found their ‘most wanted’.


If you were to visit Victorian England, especially one of the large towns, it wouldn’t be long before you saw a police officer clad in blue (nicknamed ‘bluebottles’). They had the unenviable job of trying to keep order on the streets – a job which was tough, dangerous and definitely not for the fainthearted. As a fan of Ripper Street, the BBC1 TV series, it’s been fascinating to find out more about the methods used by Victorian detectives in gathering evidence, finding witnesses and tracking criminals.

That’s why I was so interested in an article I recently found in the periodical Living London (1901) about New Scotland Yard. In it, mention is made of the Yard’s Black Museum which was ‘more than a collection of grim and ghastly curiosities [or] the relics of celebrated crimes’. It was described as a place where ‘the detective police officer, anxious to improve himself professionally, will find much useful information’. This was because he could study the methods of criminals through the implements and tools which formed the exhibits:

‘Here are the “jemmy”, the screw-jack, the rope ladder (Peace’s), light and easy of carriage under an overcoat, the neat dark lantern made out of a tin matchbox, the melting pot and ladle of the coiners, with mould and other apparatus used by them; together with relics that reveal the more elaborate processes of the banknote forgers, such as copper plates, burins, lithographic stones, and so on.’

I can just imagine the real-life versions of Inspector Reid, Sergeant Drake and Detective Sergeant Flight visiting the museum in the early stages of their careers (the Black Museum was opened in 1875). They might have seen the ingenious burglar’s folding ladder:

Burglar’s folding ladder. From ‘Living London’ (1901)

Or the burglar’s pockets for holding his tools:

Burglar’s pockets for holding the tools shown below them. From ‘Living London’ (1901)

Or the knuckleduster:

Or the coiner’s moulds and tools:

Coiner’s implements including rack for holding coins during plating process, melting pot, ladle, polishing brush, etc. From ‘Living London’ (1901)
Coiner’s moulds showing spring to hold them together. From ‘Living London’ (1901).

Finally, as the Black Museum was open to the public, they may also have seen other visitors. Here’s a view of a couple examining the display cases, with a police officer on hand to tell a few stories, no doubt. There is a row of death masks at the back. One of the ropes on display was used by cook Marguerite Dixblanc to drag the corpse of her murdered mistress into the scullery.