Home Library Library Displays The Life of Arthur Harding Criminal Apprenticeship

Criminal Apprenticeship

Like a lot of kids his age, Arthur was attracted to excitement and would always choose the thrills of the underworld over the tedium of a steady job, often making a nuisance of himself outside Clark’s Coffee Shop. He first got arrested aged 14 and later got caught again when he was 15 for helping the leader of the gang, ‘One-Eyed’ Charlie, steal a bail of rags. Arthur was sentenced to 12 months hard labour at Wormwood Scrubs on the 4 March 1902.

The excercise yard at Wormwood Scrubs Prison

Arthur was remanded without bail for one month at Holloway Prison where a plank of wood became his bed. This created a sense that a deep injustice had been done, further shown through the refusal of the magistrate to grant bail and later at his trial in the refusal of the police to allow his parents in to stand as witnesses, despite the legal obligation to do so.

Excercise yard at Wormwood Scrubs (right)

Only a few months after his release, he was out acting like a ‘street Arab’ once again, and together with his friend Peaky, pinched a watch from another boy their age. The result was another sentence, this time for 20 months in April 1903. Three of these were in the Scrubs, and the remaining were in the new Borstal system for young offenders in a place near Rochester.

Whilst Arthur was away, a married couple had violently kicked in the door to the family room (now in Gibraltar Gardens), dragged his mother from her bed and brutally kicked and beaten her, possibly in retaliation after a drunken fight in one of the gas lit local pubs. Arthur’s mother by this time was heavily into the drink and after such a life as hers, Arthur didn’t blame her one bit. This story enraged Arthur to the extent that he beat up the married couple and their son. His reputation for violence never abated from then on.

Arthur trained himself in the law in 1905, often presenting the case for his own defense. He achieved twenty seven acquittals between 1901 and 1922 and in 1906 successfully took a policeman to court. Find out more

Prison had made Arthur ‘fitter, stronger and taller’ and given him a solid training in criminal activities. He read a lot in prison as well, books such as Les Miserables and Oliver Twist. Arthur had now lived in poverty, slept rough, been to jail and as a fit, healthy and strong 18 year old, was ready to become a fully fledged character of the underworld. 

Continue to 'A Life of Crime: Making a Living'>>

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