Victorian Mugshots: Meet William Smith, Murderer

4D274A5100000578-5834259-image-m-55_1528798307102We have been looking at vintage mugshots recently discovered in the archives of the West Midlands Police Department, including the oldest mugshot in British history.  Today’s Victorian featured felon is William Smith, who is depicted in one of the oldest existing mugshots of a murderer.

Smith was charged with killing his wife in August 1866.

His charge sheet simply reads: “Murder of wife in Hurst Street.”

5 thoughts on “Victorian Mugshots: Meet William Smith, Murderer”

  1. A snapshot in time. He had just snuffed out the life of someone who trusted him, a moment before his own was snuffed out at the end of a rope.

    It is interesting to see how formal clothing was, even for the lower classes. No graphic tees in those days.

      Hurst Street is where they built Back-to-Backs – brick houses with a shared paved dreary courtyard in industrial areas of London. It was also the location of Jewish and various other slums, Unitarian chapel, factories, and the age-old euphemism “high density housing for the working classes.” Very Dickens.

      In the words of English poet Robert Southey, pretending to be a Spanish nobleman in 1802, “Every man whom I meet stinks of train-oil and emery. Some I have seen with red eyes and green hair; the eyes effected by the fires to which they are exposed, and the hair turned green by the brass works. You would not, however, discover any other resemblance to a triton in them for water is an element with the use of which, except to supply steam engines, they seem to be unacquainted.

      The noise of Birmingham is beyond description; the hammers seem never to be at rest. The filth is sickening: filthy as some of our own towns may be, their dirt is inoffensive; it lies in idle heaps, which annoy none but those who walk within the little reach of their effluvia. But here it is active and moving, a living principle of mischief, which fills the whole atmosphere and penetrates every where, spotting and staining every thing, and getting into the pores and nostrils. I feel as if my throat wanted sweeping like an English chimney.
      Think not, however, that I am insensible to the wonders of the place:- in no other age or country was there ever so astonishing a display of human ingenuity: but watch-chains, necklaces, and bracelets, buttons, buckles, and snuff-boxes, are dearly purchased at the expense of health and morality; and if it be considered how large a proportion of that ingenuity be employed in making what is hurtful as well as what is useless, it must be confessed that human reason has more cause at present for humiliation than for triumph at Birmingham.”

      Here is another description:

      “Nonetheless, there was still housing in what is now the City Centre, and generally of a very low standard. A series of articles, Scenes in Slumland were published before 1901 in the Birmingham Daily Gazette by their correspondent, J Cuming Walters. Walters described the appalling conditions in which thousands of people lived and exposed the deputy chairman and five of the City’s aldermen as slum landlords.
      The air is heavy with a sooty smoke and with acid vapours, and here it is that the poor live – and wither away and die. How do they live? Look at the houses, the alleys, the courts, the ill-lit, ill-paved, walled-in squares, with last night’s rain still trickling down from the roofs and making pools in the ill-sluiced yards.
      Look at the begrimed windows, the broken glass, the apertures stopped with yellow paper or filthy rags; glance in at the rooms where large families eat and sleep every day and every night, amid rags and vermin, within dank and mildewed walls from which the blistered paper is drooping, or the bit of discoloration called ‘paint’ is peeling away.
      Here you can veritably taste the pestilential air, stagnant and mephitic, which finds no outlet in the prison-like houses of the courts; and yet here, where there is breathing space for so few, the many are herded together, and overcrowding is the rule, not the exception. The poor have nowhere else to go.”

  2. Criminals of Victorian Britain must have been presented a higher social strata, judging by the frame used in the mug shot.

  3. The hat is the tip-off. Anyone wearing a hat like that is clearly a murderer.

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