The ‘Cleansing’ of Bull Lane, 1878

From the Freeman’s Journal, 1 March 1879:

During the past few months, quietly and unknown to the general public, a work has been in progress in Dublin calculated to materially benefit the city.  By a judicious use of the authority vested in them and a rigid exercise of their legal powers, the police have succeeded in thoroughly cleansing that den of infamy, a disgrace known as Bull-Lane. 

The existence of this moral plague spot has been for very many years a shame to civilisation and a disgrace to Dublin.  The alarming increase in the number of robberies, thefts and minor offences committed by the male and female denizens of Bull-Lane, and in addition the number of violations of the law concealed by them, impressed the police authorities with the absolute necessity of thoroughly clearing the place of its criminal inhabitants, and after two months’ hard work they have succeeded in doing so, and at the present moment any one may walk from end to end of Bull-Lane without in any way being molested or insulted.  It would rather remind one at the present time of a street in the city of the dead, for all the houses of ill-fame, which numbered nearly twenty, have been closed up and are now untenanted.  

This moral campaign has been carried on under the direction of Superintendent Devin, and has been conducted on the simple principle of, to speak plainly, making the place too hot to hold its animal population.  Two policeman, relieved at stated periods, were placed on duty at the end of the lane, and a close watch kept on everyone entering and leaving it.  By this process the police were enabled to detect an immense number of breaches of the Licensing Acts, for the illicit drink trade was carried on here with greater briskness.  Each week convictions were obtained against the proprietors and frequenters of the houses of infamy, and they were sent to prison for terms extending from a week to two months.  Meanwhile every stranger who attempted to go up or down the lane was stopped and questioned by the police, informed of the nature of the locality, and warned that if he had money or valuables of any kind on his person he ran a considerable risk of being robbed.  Almost in every case this had the effect of turning such persons back and of preventing others from going near the place.  

The result was that the unfortunate girls who dwelt in the lane were compelled to fly from it, and each day saw several of them, together with such wretched property as they possessed, take to flight.  It is pleasing to state that very many went to charitable institutions in the city to atone their former errors by repentance and amendment.  One of the most important features in the entire work has been the breaking up of the community of idle ruffians called ‘bullies’ of whom there were no less than seventy-six in the lane, living by robbery and the proceeds of infamy of the unfortunate women.  Some idea of the magnitude of the work effected may be formed when we state that the police counted 207 unfortunates living in the locality, and as many were in various parts of the city at the time the census was made, the number may fairly be increased by 150.   Thus is Dublin rid, let us hope for ever, of an abode of crime unsurpassed by any similar spot in the cities of the kingdom.’

A rather uncharitable and sanctimonious article as regards the ‘unfortunate girls’ referred to!

What the Freeman doesn’t mention, is the location of Bull-Lane very close to the back of the Four Courts. You can see it marked with an arrow between Greek Street and Fishers Lane on the map below.

The lane and its buildings are long-gone but this satellite image makes it easy to work out what has replaced them.

Yes, Hughes Pub, where barristers love to drink, stands just at that point where Bull Lane opened onto Pill Lane (now Chancery Street).

Of course, a street like Bull-Lane could not exist without customers. Brothel quarters tended to be located near prospective clients. Presumably quite a few persons with business in the courts were happy to avail of the services offered by its ‘houses of infamy’?

If Jack the Ripper had visited Dublin in the 1870s, Bull-Lane might have been his Whitechapel, and indeed the above cleansing was preceded by a number of tragic murders. I hope to cover these, and some of the other stories of Bull-Lane, in later posts.

In the meantime – who would have thought the term ‘bully’ had origins so close to home!

Image Credit: (top) (middle)

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

2 thoughts on “The ‘Cleansing’ of Bull Lane, 1878”

Leave a Reply