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The Infamous Charlie Peace (1832 - 1879)

Charles Peace was notorious for his activities as a prolific and clever burglar whilst  being wanted for murder in Sheffield despite his appearance as a well-dressed, violin-playing, respectable man. After being caught by PC Edward Robinson on his beat at Blackheath, Peace was sentenced to death - and then confessed to a second murder - of a police officer - in Manchester 2 years earlier.

Born in Sheffield on 14th May 1832, Peace had reputedly injured his leg whilst serving his apprenticeship at a rolling-mill in Sheffield, but was nevertheless agile and strong for a man of small stature (5' 3-4"). He later wandered from town to town collecting and selling musical instruments and bric-a-brac. He played the violin well enough to perform at local concerts, as well as at public houses

Charlie Peace entertains with his violin ES6

     
 

Charles Peace murders Arthur Dyson (ES7)

In November 1876, after the murder of Arthur Dyson, Peace then went on the run, finally settling in East Terrace, Peckham, where he drove his pony and trap around South East London by day, burgled houses by night, and used the name of Thompson.

 

 

 

 

 

PC Robinson arrests Peace (ES4)

 

The series of daring burglaries caused public fear and consternation, and the police were under pressure to make an arrest. Events came to a head at about 2am on 10th October 1878.

PC Edward Robinson was patrolling Blackheath when he noticed a flickering light in the rooms of 2 St John's Park. He called for assistance, and then, after Peace had jumped out of a window, chased him across the garden. Despite being shot at five times and wounded, PC Robinson gallantly held on to Peace, and, with the assistance of other officers, Peace was finally taken into custody.

 
The prisoner gave his name as John Ward, and was convicted at the Old Bailey on 19th November 1878 of attempting to murder PC Robinson. He was sentenced to penal servitude for life. PC Robinson was given a 25 reward on the recommendation of the jury.

Peace on trial ES5

 
     

Peace escapes from the train ES3

Living in Peckham with Peace (or John Ward or Thompson) had been a "Mrs Thompson", otherwise his widowed girl friend Susan Grey (or Bailey). This was before the age of finger prints. It transpired, possibly from a letter from Newgate prison from "John Ward" requesting a visit from a neighbour, that the church - going respectable Mr Ward was in fact Charles Peace with a 100 reward outstanding for his arrest for murder. "Mrs Thompson" became obliged to admit the real facts of "John Ward's" true identity. Peace was then taken from Pentonville prison to Sheffield where he stood trial for the murder of Arthur Dyson, but not before throwing himself from a train in an unsuccessful bid to escape from his escorting prison officers.

 

   
On 4th February 1879, Peace's trial began at Leeds Assizes, the jury convicted him after deliberating for 12 minutes, and he was sentenced to death. Before his execution on 25th February 1879, however, Peace made a confession to a priest and admitted the shooting of another police officer, PC Nicholas Cock in Manchester, who had also disturbed in the course of attempting a burglary. 18-year old William Habron had been convicted and sentenced to death for this murder. Peace had even attended the trial, but had kept silent, thereby condoning a miscarriage of justice.

PC Robinson was treated as a hero by the residents of Blackheath, who presented him with an inscribed pocket watch, which was later purchased by the Friends of the Metropolitan Police Museum.

Peace is interviewed in his cell ES2

 

A card produced to commemorate Peace's execution kindly supplied by John Hamilton

             Peace on the scaffold ES4

 

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