Grisly discoveries in South Shields prompted infanticide fears

The cobbled streets of West Holborn, an area in which another body was discovered during Victorian times.
The cobbled streets of West Holborn, an area in which another body was discovered during Victorian times.

Yesterday, local historian Dorothy Ramser revealed how 19th century England was in the grip of a shocking crime-wave, with the victims being countless babies.

And shockingly, some of these acts of infanticide actually happened here in the North East – and even closer to home.

Salmon's Quay in the 1890s.

Salmon's Quay in the 1890s.

Dorothy takes up the story: “In 1865, a man named Thomas Robinson, while at the Old Ferryboat Landing, in Shadwell Street, South Shields, found the dead body of a newly born male child at the edge of the river.

“He immediately informed the police, and the body was taken to the police station.

“The child was thought to have been in the water only a short period of time.

“It was believed the baby had been strangled before being thrown into the water.

West Holborn, from Corstophine Town.

West Holborn, from Corstophine Town.

“Then in 1867, once more in South Shields, it was reported that the body of a newly-born female child was found by a woman, wrapped in a piece of cloth, on Swan’s Hill, West Holborn.

“The neck of the baby was discoloured. The police were making inquiries to trace the mother.”

Two years later, in 1869, a short newspaper article appeared, in which it was reported that a parcel, found on a heap of stones in North Shields, was found to contain a full-grown male child with a piece of cord tied tightly round its neck – which left no doubt that the baby had been strangled.

“The Shields Gazette and Daily Telegraph, published on Saturday, May 29, 1869, had the following headline,” reveals Dorothy.

“It read: ‘Suspected Child Murder at Seaham Harbour’.

“The story reported how a full grown male infant was found about eight o’clock on Thursday morning in an ash pit, behind the premises of 13 and 14 William Street.

“Mrs Allan, one of the tenants went to empty some ashes into the pit and saw a strange bundle.

“She became alarmed and called on the husband of a neighbour who informed Sgt. Revely.

“The police officer took the bundle to the police station and when it was opened was found to contain a new-born dead infant.

“It was tied in a coloured cotton handkerchief with its face pressed on its chest. The coroner asked for a post-mortem to be made.”

Similar calls would be made up and down the country, as the murders continued unabated.

The London Telegraph of 1877 reported that: “If we are to believe what medical men tell us, hundreds of helpless children are murdered each year.

“Just enough food is given to them, just enough attention is paid them, to ensure their lingering on for such time as shall give the death the appearance of natural causes.

“It is the duty of those who suspect anything of the kind to be going on to denounce the crime at once.

“Our first duty is to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and from this sacred charge no false sympathy must ever be allowed to move us”.

* Watch out for more of Dorothy’s grisly but equally fascinating account on Thursday.