Who and what are 'The Borough Boys'?
Who is Samson Shepherd?
This is the commissioned artwork by Simon Marchini that forms part of the cover for my 'Borough Boys' series of novels. This is the man I wanted, just as I wanted him to look! Copyright Simon Marchini (c) 2013
Constable Samson Shepherd will become the central character of my present series of stories, and in my first novel he makes his initial impact on Policing in the Borough of Leicester.
Samson was brought up in Sutton Bonington, just over the Leicestershire border inside Nottinghamsire, where he lived with his parents and siblings.
His father, a heavy drinking and violent agricultural labourer, has caused Samson to learn to fight, and Samson has become a seasoned pugilist, primarily to protect himself, his mother and his siblings.
A keen artist and fisherman, he moved to Leicester, to join the Borough Police. This was as a result of the death in service of his uncle George, one of the original fifty constables in the Force, during Chartist riots in 1842.
Samson is tall, red headed (don't call him ginger), strongly built, with a sharp brain, and hard hands. A twice broken nose gives him a noticeable appearance, young and soft, but with something more hardened suggested.
Keen to learn, quick to observe, and with an impressive memory, he is destined to become one of Leicester Police's finest.
Teamed up with his mentor, John Beddows, a rugged copper, previously reduced in rank for a fondness of 'the drink', they are to make a formidable pairing. Beddows is a street hardened cop with loads of experience, and knows all the ropes.
They will learn from each other and grow into a notable crime fighting team!
Also, meet the real coppers of 1850's Leicester, Robert Charters, Francis 'Tanky' Smith, 'Black Tommy' Haynes and co, who add colour to my stories.
Who is John Beddows?
John Beddows is one of the original fifty officers employed by Leicester Borough Police in 1836.
Promoted to a Sergeant for his exemplary courage and knowledge, he was previously 'busted' to Constable second class due to his thirst for Ale, as was so common a curse in this period of Leicester's history.
Now a hard but fair detective sergeant he is Sam Shepherd's mentor, and he takes Sam under his wing, demonstrating the skills Sam would need to not only thrive, but to survive, in a pretty lawless and violent emerging Industrial Town.
Stocky, craggy, battle-scarred and hard, he is a fearsome adversary, and backs down to nobody.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Leicester, the area that I am going to portray in many these stories is now long buried under the façade of a modern industrial City.
If you look at a modern street map or plan of Leicester, search for Abbey Street (See map above).
Abbey Street was in many respects, the centre of the Rookeries, and divided the Irish immigrants from the remainder of the area’s inhabitants.
Mansfield Street still exists, which runs between Churchgate and Abbey Street.
Part of Sandacre Street still exists, and that runs between Mansfield Street and what is now Gravel Street, and the location of the current St. Margaret’s Bus Station.
The original Sandacre Street dog-legged and was thus, longer than it is today, the road turning right towards Abbey Street, before meeting up again on the old Gravel Lane.
Cock Muck Hill would have stood underneath the Factory and Office blocks (Mansfield House) between Mansfield Street and Belgrave Gate, across to the end at Abbey Street. Baker Street ran parallel to Abbey Street and would have sat under what was the old Odeon Cinema site.
Bateman’s Row and Bateman’s Yard and ‘The Rats Castle’ would have stood near to the corner of what is now to the left of Sandacre Street at its junction with what is now Gravel Street, on the opposite side of Sandacre Street to the old bus depot.
Green Street and Lower Green Street, the heart of the Irish population, would have stood beneath what is now the multi-story car-park leading up to the old ‘Abbey Motor Hotel’, within the confines of Orchard Street and Garden Street, which still exist today. About 900 Irish immigrants lived in this small area in 1851!
Sadly, none of the old housing that formed The Rookeries can be seen today. Ned Newitt, in his book ‘The Slums of Leicester’, paints probably the best picture of old Leicester, and has images of some of the slums that made up these streets.
It is important to remember that these were the smallest, cheapest, poorest houses that one could imagine. Often no more than two rooms, about 6’ to 10’ square, built around tiny yards, with their privies and dirt, full of all the least able in society.
To get to the yards, the alleyways formed a network or maze, running in and out and joining each other up as a dark and foreboding route in and out of the hovels.
The airiness and space of modern Leicester hides its dark and dismal past.
The map below shows the location that starts the first novel 'Jack Ketch's puppets' from 'The Borough Boys' series, for those of you who don't know Leicester.