The original Hooligans

Ever wondered what the origins of the word Hooligan are? If you have, please join us for another short excursion into Victorian London - with its south-eastern part once again looming very large in the story. The word itself first appeared in print in police-court reports in 1894, referring to the name of a gang of youths in Lambeth — given variously as the Hooligan Boys, the O'Hooligan Boys and occasionally the O'Hoolihans - who were gaining a reputation for robbery, violence and other forms of anti-social nuisance.

The ante was upped in August 1898, when one of the chaps murdered a man called Henry Mappin, leading to the popularisation of the word, and the idea, in the press. The Daily Graphic wrote of "The avalanche of brutality which, under the name of 'Hooliganism' ... has cast such a dire slur on the social records of South London." The Hooligans were now a thing.

But the definitive account of the gentlemen in question (probably looking very much like those in the above photo) and their various nefarious activities was not written until 1899, when Clarence Rook published The Hooligan Nights. Rook, who took the trouble to do a fair bit of investigative work on the ground, confirmed the location of all the drama as Lambeth, and the Irish connection. He also bequeathed to history a terrific pen-portrait of one Patrick Hooligan who, after a lifetime of violence and robbery '...had a difference with a constable, put his light out, and threw the body into a dust-cart. He was lagged, and given a lifer. But he had not been in gaol long before he had to go into hospital, where he died.'

Mr. Rook's fascinating and very amusing book is well worth a read. A free online copy can be found here:


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