The East End of London has had its fair share of characters over the years. Some are famous in good ways; others are more infamous. Ikey Solomon, a well-known figure in the Houndsditch area in Victorian times, certainly qualifies on the infamous scale.
Infamous Ikey Solomon
Some people even think that Dickens modelled the character of Fagin in Oliver Twist on this well-known criminal. This may or may not be true, but he was also part of an unlikely love story.
Early days in Houndsditch
Ikey Solomon was born in Houndsditch in the late 1700s. He came from a Jewish family who already had criminal connections. His father, Henry Solomon, was a fence. Henry probably introduced his son to the criminal side of life. Ikey spent some time in Brighton, running a shop, and then moved back to the East End where he opened a jeweller’s shop close to Petticoat Lane. He married his wife, Ann, in 1807 in London’s Great Synagogue.
Solomon basically ran a pawn shop. This was not an unrespectable trade; however, he used the shop as a front for his fencing business. Criminals would bring things that they had stolen to him, and he would buy them and then sell them on. In the early 1800s, he was one of the best known fences in the East End, if not in all of London. As well as fencing stolen goods, Solomon was not above a bit of direct theft.
This caused him some problems in 1810 when he, and an accomplice, were caught stealing a pocket-book and some money. They almost got away with it, as they gave chasing police a run for their money. Solomon’s accomplice almost got rid of the evidence by eating the bank notes; unfortunately, Solomon could not do the same with the pocket book, and they were caught red-handed.
Solomon’s Old Bailey trial and imprisonment
Both men were tried at the Old Bailey in 1810 and found guilty of stealing. At the time, this was a felony offence that came with strict punishment options. The judge sentenced him to be transported to the penal colony in Australia for the rest of his life. At this stage, Solomon did not quite get to Australia, however. He was held in the prison ship, Zetland, for four years and then suddenly appeared back in the East End again. It is thought that he was either released by mistake or managed to escape.
Ikey Solomon’s escape from Newgate
By 1820, Solomon was working as a pawn broker and fence again. It took the police until 1827 to catch him in the act and arrest him on charges of theft and receiving stolen goods. He was taken to London’s infamous Newgate prison to wait for his trial.
This arrest is the one that probably made Solomon a well-known personality. Pamphlet publishers, who manufactured popular lurid news sheets, released three editions all about Solomon and his antics. The publishers weren’t much interested in factual reporting and tended to exaggerate their news, making Solomon a bit of an anti-hero in London.
Meanwhile, Solomon pulled a legal stunt that meant he had to be taken from Newgate to a court. His guards hired a hackney coach to take him back to prison, not knowing that Solomon’s father-in-law was driving the coach. After a short trip through Petticoat Lane, some of Solomon’s friends hijacked the coach, took on the guards and Solomon escaped once again.
Life outside England
At this stage, Solomon probably thought he’d run out of luck and left England, leaving his wife and family behind. He ended up safely in New York, but his wife became the focus of police attention. She was a fence, like her husband, and was arrested and sentenced to be transported to Australia in 1827. She was allowed to take her younger children with her; her older children left the country voluntarily to be with the rest of the family.
Meanwhile, Solomon read newspaper reports of her sentence and decided to go to Australia to be with her. However, he was quickly recognised by many of his old criminal friends who had also been transported, and news soon spread that he had been found. It took a year for an arrest warrant to arrive from London, and he was sent back home to be tried.
His 1830 trial at the Old Bailey was popular news. This is the point in his life where people think that Dickens became aware of his exploits, as Fagin’s trial in Oliver Twist resembles this one. Ironically, after sailing back to England for the trial, Solomon was sentenced to be transported again and was shipped back to Australia. This time, there wasn’t a happy reunion with his wife, and they split up fairly acrimoniously. Solomon died in Australia in 1850.