The Liverpool Underworld

BookThe Liverpool Underworld

The Liverpool Underworld

Crime in the City, 1750-1900


November 4th, 2011



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In the nineteenth century Liverpool gained an unenviable reputation as the most crime-ridden place in the country. Dock theft, alcohol-related crime, prostitution, sectarian violence, a high level of female offending and armies of juvenile thieves made Liverpool a distinct criminal landscape, ‘the black spot on the Mersey’. Using contemporary newspapers and journals (both local and national), autobiographies and first-hand accounts gleaned from parliamentary and prison reports, Michael Macilwee explores the social background, conditions and events that helped create and sustain the variety and high level of criminality in Liverpool. The book provides accounts, statistics and analysis of criminal practices ranging from poaching to pocket-picking to prostitution. It also makes space for the voices of the long-forgotten Liverpool poor and members of the so-called ‘criminal classes’, exhuming fascinating first-person accounts of motives, fears and aspirations long buried in archives. Macilwee also considers the ways in which various institutions, including the police, courts, prisons, churches and philanthropic organizations, attempted to bring order to the streets and improve the behaviour of the Liverpool public. Finally, the book suggests that we are still struggling with the legacy of Victorian social problems and their possible solutions, particularly in relation to debates about alcohol, prostitution and the usefulness of prison as a punishment.

A rattling good read.
Clive Emsley, Open University

A well-written and fascinating book on the history of crime in Liverpool.

This is a fascinating read, and well researched from archival and secondary sources. Whatever the current concerns about modern violence, it was assuredly much worse back then. Summing Up: Highly recommended. * * * All levels/libraries.

Choice, v.49, no.11, p.2136

Author Information

Dr Michael Macilwee is Information Officer at Liverpool John Moores University and best-selling author of 'The Gangs of Liverpool' (Milo Press).

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
List of Tables
List of Abbreviations
'Ghastly Statistics': a Word of Warning
1. The Black Spot on the Mersey
2. Policing
3. Prison and Punishment
4. Children and Women in the Justice System 5 'The Scum ofIreland'
6. Protest, Riot and Disorder 7 The Lowest Circle of Hell 8 The Demon Drink
9. Violence
10. Maritime Crime
11. Street Robbery
12. Burglary and Property Theft 13 Poaching Wars
14. Scams
15. Victorian Family Values
16. 'The Devil's Children'
17. Gangs and Anti-Social Behaviour
18. Prostitution
19. Sport and Gambling