043: Eddie Manning “the dope king” of 1920s London

Eddie Manning
Eddie Manning

The Times reported on 1 May 1922 that Eddie Manning “a coloured man, described by a Scotland Yard officer as an important drug trafficker in the West-End, [was] sentenced at Marylebone on Saturday to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour”. On 22 July 1922 the News of the World said he was “a drug vice chief”. In 1954 ex-superintendent Robert Fabian in his London After Dark memoirs said “The first drug trafficker I ever met was Eddie the Villain” – Fabian was on his first week of duty as a police constable, and a veteran policeman told him “he’s the worst man in London”. Arthur Tietjen’s Soho: London Vicious Circle (London: Allan Wingate, 1956) referred to Eddie Manning as “a dope pedlar and white slaver”. Manning, born in Jamaica in 1889 or 1890, is reported in London newspapers from 1920 and those reports, with books by Fabian, Tietjen, Andrew Rose’s Scandal at the Savoy (London: Bloomsbury, 1991) and Cocaine: An Unauthorised Biography (London: Virgin Publishing, 2001) by Dominic Streatfeild (sic), have Manning as a drug dealer.

Marek Kohn wrote in his Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1992) that when Fabian joined the police in May 1921 Manning was still in prison following a shooting incident in London in 1920. Kohn described the shooting as “a cameo of Edgar Manning in action. A triple kneecapping, in broad daylight, in the heart of the West End: it was stupid, carried out without regard to the consequences”. The small-time crook was drawn back into the courts time and again, and “the Manning demon grew” (p 152). A handful of deaths through drugs were linked to Manning, and his home was searched. That six months sentence imposed under the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 was the maximum permitted. The crime was possession, not trafficking but the latter word stuck.

The Dangerous Drugs Act was amended to have a maximum sentence of ten years,  and so in April 1923 Manning was sentenced to three years for possession: although the Old Bailey jury heard stories of trafficking, living off prostitution, and a death through heroin. The Metropolitan Police file on Manning survives at the National Archives in Kew (MEPO 3/424 and CRIM 4/1424) and a modern reader might consider the possibility that drug equipment found at Manning’s home had been taken there by the police, anxious to snare their victim; and wonder at the disparity between newspaper reports and the facts as recorded by the police. There is correspondence with Jamaica as there was a belief that Manning was an American and could therefore be expelled from Britain, and a letter from Manning.

Investigating reports of Manning’s career it was instructive to see that both The Times and the down-market News of the World reported him in similar ways, with one exception: his colour was not mentioned in the former when he was found not guilty of receiving stolen goods in late 1927. He was found guilty of stealing a car and other property in late 1929 and sentenced to three years (the News of the World referred to “coloured man’s amazing past”). Manning died in Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight on 8 February 1931 and the death certificate states he had been a “journalist”.

The mis-reporting in the 1920s press was widespread and led to books of the 1990s, and after, naming Manning the drug dealer when setting the scene for crime and cocaine in London sixty years before. He was a petty criminal, an associate of marginal men and women, and a victim of demonisation.

Black Jamaican males and hard drugs have an association in British newspapers and the popular imagination from the 1990s. If Manning is our guide, it is likely that historians in the future will be misguided, too.

The subject should be investigated, especially as Brilliant Chang, a Londoner of Chinese birth, “is reputed to have made £1,000,000 out of dope” noted Fabian, whose photograph of Manning is subtitled “the dope king of his time”. Kohn traces something of Chang’s international career (Dope Girls, p 169-170).


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