Meet the Gang
‘They were given up to every form of misconduct, morally and socially; they preyed upon society and degraded the very instincts of society. They were the Cornermen.’
- 1874 Liverpool news report
‘...they would turn to violence as a first resort, not a last.’
- Martin Rigby, Liverpool Echo
The Cornermen weren’t really an organised gang. And they were barely adults. They were more like the ‘feral youths’ the tabloids referred to during the English summer riots of 2012. ‘Cornermen’ was more a general term given to any group of young, unemployed, drunk, violent males begging or fighting on the corners of streets.
They could often be found round Tithebarn, a maze of slums. The police rarely moved them on.
Their weapons were improvised from their meagre possessions. So the nails that held the soles of their shoes could be altered to administer bloody kickings. The leather belt and buckles that held up their trousers were turned into a swinging, ripping club, like a simpler version of the cat o’nine tails whip. And when delivered with enough skill and force, the wound inflicted closely resembled that of a knife wound.
With such crude means, it was rare for them to go one to one with their victims. They usually attacked in a pack. As others worked the streets and docks during the day, they got drunk. But come dusk, these streets became their hunting grounds.
Robert was in his mid twenties. Some sources say he was a warehouse porter, others, that he was a shop worker. All are agreed that while he lived in a poor district, he was a respectable, regularly employed and happily married man.
Samuel, 29, was the elder brother of Robert. Like his brother, he was a law abiding, solid working class character. His job, as a carter (literally, transporting goods in a cart) means he was as fit and strong as his brother. Both brothers’ jobs mean they can handle themselves.
There are fewer details about the lives of the rabble of petty criminals and thugs that were arrested for what became known as the Tithebarn Street Outrage. Considering two were executed, their ages should be noted.
By dint of his age, 20, many presumed McGrave the leader. He was the first to be arrested and was the first to try and blame the other two in the gang, Mullen and Campbell.
Michael was just 17, even though in such slum conditions boys became men a lot quicker, he was essentially a teenager. He had a younger brother, Thomas, aged 15. The two would try to escape for a new life in the Americas.
The most ‘respectable’ of the gang, Campbell, 19, came from a decent enough family that they would try to use the judicial process to his benefit.