Crime in 1920’s Dundee

Dundee is no stranger to a brawl – a reputation that has preceded the city for generations.  Petty crime in Dundee, Scotland in the 1920’s was unsurprisingly, not much different to as it is now. The men, and, perhaps more importantly, the women, have proven to be a fearsome populace, and continue to fight and support their city and their ideals to this day.  Some of the older generation may say “they never did anything like that in my day”, when they hear about some drunken escapade involving a fight or a lone space-hopper…but don’t let them fool you, because we’ve dug up some of the records from the 1920’s, and it makes for very interesting reading indeed. Trust us when we say this is a mere snippet of the wealth of information in the city archives, available to anyone who wishes to know more.  For now, however, let this whet your appetite.

Buckle your seatbelts, wrinklies – your secrets are out!

One of our favourites, which is still a pastime of some of our drunks today, was the crime of public pissing.  Yes, that’s how it’s recorded.  “Pissing.”  Apparently, we loved a good outdoor pee back in the day, especially when drunk.  Various records allude to the following:

“…drunkenness…committing a nuisance, mainly by pissing.”

“…worse for liquor, pissing in close at foot of tenement stairs.”

“…pissing on footway in full view of pedestrians in Brown Street.”

“…pissing in pend in view of people passing from Seagate to Murraygate.”

“…worse of liquor, pissing on footway in view of passersby in Meadow Entry.”

“…pissing in close at 27 Westport.”

“…saw pissing on footway in full view of passersby while drunk.”

“…committing a nuisance at 174 Overgate…being drunk and urinating in front of passers-by”

“…worse for liquor, pissing on footway at door of Gas Treasurer’s Office.”

We could go on, but we think you get the idea. Unsurprisingly, alcohol related assaults were many, but there were many instances of wife-beating too, which contradicts what we know about the strong, independent Dundee woman.  Never to be outdone, however, women still managed to rack up a few assault charges of their own.

Robert Bremner (64), Machine fitter – assault of wife by striking with several blows on the body with his fists, and seizing hold of 2nd witness by the neck and dragging her about in the house occupied by the accused.

Josephine Lamb or Ross (56) – assaulting Elizabeth Wood by striking her one blow on the left cheek with her fist at the door of the house at…Overgate at 11:15am.

James Doyle (40) – remanded in custody and bail set at 20/ for assaulting his wife and five children, aged from 12 to 7…seizing her by the neck and bumping her head twice against the wall, seizxing her by the left arm, dragging her out of bed on to the floor, kicking her several times on the right side with his booted foot, seizing her by the shoulder and pushing her down a flight of steps in the house at…Lochee, at 8:45am.

Hugh Boyle (42) and William Simpson (32) – breach of peace in Lochee at 10pm while at the centre of a large crowd engaging in a stand up fight, both equally willing – 7 shillings or 5 days in jail each – both paid.

Charles Fitchett (26), Labourer – assaulting wife by throwing a piece of bread at her head which would have struck her if she had not ducked, he then seized her legs pulling her to the floor and dragging her around the floor for some time – 5 days in jail.

Henry Ferrie (45), Labourer – assaulted wife by striking her several times on the face with his fists and drawing blood – assaulted his daughter by striking on her back with his fists – 3 witnesses – 38th appearance in court – trial continues to 24th December 1928 – admonished.

Peter Robertson (43) – assaulted wife by grabbing her coat and pushing her down on the bed then striking her several blows to the body with his fists at…Church Street – 4 witnesses – probation granted.

Robert Robertson (51) – assaulted son by blow of an axe which would have taken affect if witness had not prevented by seizing his arm and holding it on the stairs leading to the house at…Hunter Street at 10.50pm – 4 witnesses – 20 days in jail.

Isiah Mitchell (24), Labourer – striking his wife on the face with his hand…assaulting a witness by striking with his fist at the same address and at the same time – assaulting witness by knocking down and seizing throat, restricting breathing and striking on face with fists at the same time and address – 5th appearance in court – 30 shillings or 15 days in jail – paid 1 shilling and spent 8 days in jail.

James Guthrie (20), Labourer – indecently assaulting Isabella Thomson (16) by seizing her by the right shoulder and placing his hand under her clothes and struggling with her causing her to fall to the ground, placing his hand over her mouth to prevent her shouting for help and attempting to pull down her knickers and forcing her legs apart causing the elastic on her stockings to break on footpath between Clepington Road and Harefield Road known as King’s Cross Road at 12.05am – 5 witnesses – 20 shillings or 10 days in jail – 1 shilling paid and 8 days in jail.

Jessie Cassells, a 54 year old spinner from Polepark was given a 10/ fine or 7 days in jail for striking 62 year old Michael Gallacher, a local peddler, on the left ear with an “earthenware jar, to the effusion of blood at her home in Polepark Road”.

Even in the poorhouse, there was no reprieve.  George Burke (25), a labourer of no fixed abode was charged with assaulting 21 year old William Buchanan (21) by “striking him two blows on the face with his fist, knocking him down, seizing him by the lapel of his jacket and striking him a blow on the nose with his fist, causing his nose to bleed in the Day Hall in connection with the Dundee Combination, Eastern Poorhouse, Mains Loan, of which Charles Gow is Governor, about 1:30pm, Wednesday 21st December…”

Not only were we partial to a wee fight after a few too many, we liked a good old-fashioned breach of the peace, too.  49 year old Margaret Gould was charged with shouting and swearing at two women on the footway in Hunter Street.  Cautioned by the attending office, Margaret refused to stop, and said she “did not give a c**t for the jail”.  She was fined 21/ or was given the option to spend 14 days in jail.

Arthur Nicoll (39), a builder from Letham was charged with breach of the peace and resisting arrest after a large crowd had gathered round him in the town centre as he shouted, swore and challenged people around him to fight.  A caution did not deter him, and when he was eventually arrested, he refused to walk.  The attending officers “had great difficulty in taking him to the Police Office.”

64 year old John Clark was charged with a breach of the peace in Dundee’s Westport.  His charge reads “…in centre of large crowd, cursing and screaming and challenging others to fight…Cautioned by continued…much the worse for liquor.”

Some other charges include:

Georgina Gibson or Jones (48), no job or abode – drunk in Howff at 2.50pm on 18th December 1928 – 1 witness – 48th appearance in court – fine imposed but not paid – jailed for 5 days.

John Robbins (43), no job or abode – drunk in Lower Pleasance at 11am on 18th December 1928 – 1 witness – 64th appearance in court – 20 days in jail.

Jessie Melville or Forbes (48) and Jane Gerrie (43) – theft of three pairs of stockings at…Princes Street – admonished.

Betsy Dewar or MacDonald, (30), charged with “…contravention of the Howff Burying Ground Byelaws, dated 5th September 1912, by lounging or lying upon a monument in Howff Burying Ground, Meadowside, about 2:25pm on Friday 15th July.  Her co-accused included James Coventry, John Ellis, and Peter Shields.  In this instance, a verbal warning was enough.

Lucy McLean or Tanner, (34) pled guilty to a contravention of Article 1 of The Dog (Wearing of Collars) Order, 1911.  The dog was found in the Hilltown by Police, who described the dog as “suffering to be at large, an unmuzzled, ferocious dog.”  She was fined 10/6.

Alexandria Campbell (26) of Aberdeen was accused of deserting her child in Dundee and was let off with a warning.  No more information was available as to the exact specifics of this case.

Many Dundee folk were caught fiddling their gas meters, or allowing their chimneys to become blocked to the point they caught fire (in contempt of the General Police and Improvement (Scotland) Act 1928).  Some shopkeepers were charged with possession of unstamped, incorrect or unjust weights, and a bunch of schoolboys were admonished for “maliciously uprooting and destroying ten growing turnips in a field on the farm at Lawton, situated on the South side of Byron Street, Lochee…”

So, as you can see, we’re just as feisty and rowdy back then as we are now…the only difference is that you have to go digging for dirt like this from the past.  These days, social media and technological advances mean that there’s no safe places left to hide…so your skeletons don’t stay buried for long.

– DD Tours operates walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.



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