British Transport Police have released dozens of mugshots of early 20th Century transport criminals, including a sorry array of opportunist thieves, disgraced military perverts and crooked railway staff.
Taken between the late Victorian period and 1920, the images are an enlightening snapshot of the hugely varied criminal classes that operated on Britain’s rapidly expanding railway network.
From John Moir, the lowly one-eyed goods checker fined for stealing tea, to career criminal Robert Lewis who was jailed with hard labour for the theft of parcels, the mugshots reveal the railways to be a place where all manner of crime flourished.
The majority of criminals appear to have been operating classic distraction robberies; using the chaos of a bustling railway station to swipe expensive luggage while the owner worried about mundane travel necessities like purchasing tickets and asking guards for directions.
Some, however, appear to have been members of organised gangs who targeted goods or postal trains for their expensive cargo, or low-paid railway employees who wrongly assumed that their privileged position put them beyond suspicion when the occasional item went missing.
The later certainly seems to have been the case with North British Railway employee Thomas Drummond, who was photographed wearing his elegant uniform before being jailed for 20 days over the theft of 12 bottles of whisky.
Other thieves include Mitchell Steadman-Turner, who was sentenced to six months in prison after stealing a Japanese basket from Waverley Station in Edinburgh in 1920, and the smartly dressed, fashionably bearded James Whilton – alias Charles Wharton – who stole a bag from London’s Paddington Station in 1887.
Servicemen, it appears, were not immune to the temptations of vice of railways either, with two of the mugshots showing men in military uniform.
Private Gordon Marr of the 16 Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment was sentenced to 10 days in prison for theft of a box of fish in 1918, while disgraced RAF Lieutenant Jack Graham-Parker was convicted of indecent exposure at a railway station over a three-day spell in March 1920.
Women are also seen among the mugshots, with Cumbria’s notorious travelling railway thief Margaret Leck seen wearing an extravagantly collared coat in a police photograph taken on Christmas Eve 1904. She had been arrested over the theft of a trunk in Edinburgh.
Although the typical punishment for those arrested appears to have been a small fine or few days in prison, it seems some judges considered seemingly minor transport crimes to be far more serious than charges of organised theft.
Poor old Edward Meitchie, for example, was sentenced to a full three months with hard labour in prison for the relatively minor offence of loitering at Derby Station in 1922.