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‘The Real Fagin? The Life and Crimes of William Sheen’

Dr Heather Shore

Dr Heather Shore, Reader in History, Leeds Beckett University

This paper explored the life of a Victorian criminal named William Sheen. In 1837, the year in which Charles Dickens started his serialisation of Oliver Twist, William Sheen was prosecuted for keeping a brothel in Wentworth Street, Spitalfields. Not only were several young girls rescued from the house, but a local policeman described how, ‘a number of juvenile thieves who infested many of the streets of the metropolis were harboured at the house of Sheen, and that the produce of their plunder passed through his hands’ (Morning Chronicle, 2nd June, 1837).

This talk revealed Sheen’s criminal career and that of his extended family. As well as considering how the life of Sheen may have influenced the young Charles Dickens, the paper also considered the impact of Sheen’s activities on his neighbours and community in the mean streets of Victorian east London.

This event was part of the 'Leeds Cultural Conversations' series, presented by Leeds Beckett University and Leeds City Council. 'Leeds Cultural Conversations' are a series of monthly talks programmes by the Centre for Culture & the Arts at Leeds Beckett University.

More information on this series.