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persons, and so took up every woman they met, till they had collected five or six and twenty, all of whom they thrust into St. Martin's roundhouse, where they kept them all night, with doors and windows closed. The poor creatures, who could not stir or breathe, screamed as long as they had any breath left, begging at least for water.. but in vain. In the morning four were found stifled to death, two died soon after, and a dozen more are in a shocking way. Several of them were beggars, who from having no lodging were necessarily found in the street, and others honest, labouring women. One of the dead was a poor washerwoman, big with child, who was retiring home late from washing. One of the constables is taken, and others absconded; but I question if any of them will suffer death, though the greatest criminals in this town are the officers of justice; there is no tyranny they do not exercise, no villany of which they do not partake." The magistrates were in many cases not only notoriously ignorant and inefficient, but also what was termed 'trading justices,' men of whom Fielding said that 'they were never indifferent in a cause but when they could get nothing on either side.' The daring and the number of robbers increased till London hardly resembled a civilised town. Thieves and robbers,' said Smollett, speaking of 1730, were now become more desperate and savage than they had ever appeared since mankind were civilised.' The Mayor and aldermen of London in 1744 drew up an address to the King, in which they stated that divers confederacies of great numbers of evil-disposed persons, armed with bludgeons, pistols, cutlasses, and other dangerous weapons, infest not only the private lanes and passages, but likewise the public streets and places of usual concourse, and commit most daring outrages upon the persons of your Majesty's good subjects whose affairs oblige them to pass through the streets, by robbing and wounding them, and these

'To Sir H. Mann, July, 1742.

2 See his picture of Justice Thrasher, in Amelia, and his sketch of Justice Squeezum, in The Coffeehouse Politician. See, too, Lawrence's

Life of Fielding, pp. 236-239, and
Harris's Life of Hardwicke, i. 390-


Hist. of England.


acts are frequently perpetrated at such times as were heretofore deemed hours of security.' The same complaints were echoed in the same year in the 'Proposals of the Justices of the Peace for Suppressing Street Robberies,' and the magistrates who drew them up specially noticed, and ascribed to the use of spirituous liquors the cruelties which are now exercised on the persons robbed, which before the excessive use of these liquors were unknown in this nation." They recommended an extension of the system of rewards, the suppression or restriction of gaminghouses, public gardens, fairs, and gin-shops, and also measures for systematically drafting into the army and navy suspected and dangerous persons against whom no positive crime could be proved.

The evil, however, appears to have continued. One is forced to travel,' wrote Horace Walpole in 1751, 'even at noon as if one were going to battle.'3 The punishments were atrocious and atrociously executed, but they fell chiefly on the more insignificant and inexperienced offenders. On a single morning no less than seventeen persons were executed in London.1 One gang of robbers in 1753 kept the whole city in alarm from the number and skill of their robberies and the savage wounds they inflicted on their victims. A recompense of 100%. was offered for the apprehension of each of them, but its chief effect was to encourage men who deliberately decoyed poor and unwary wretches into robbery in order that by informing against them they might obtain the reward. The more experienced robbers for a time completely overawed the authorities. 'Officers of justice,' wrote Fielding, have owned to me that they have passed by such, with warrants in their pockets against them without daring to apprehend them; and, indeed, they could not be blamed for not exposing themselves to sure destruction; for it is a melancholy truth that at this very day a rogue no sooner

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gives the alarm within certain purlieus than twenty or thirty armed villains are found ready to come to his assistance." When the eighteenth century had far advanced, robbers for whose apprehension large rewards were offered, have been known to ride publicly and unmolested, before dusk, in the streets of London, surrounded by their armed adherents, through the midst of a half-terrified, half-curious crowd.2

This state of things was very alarming, and the evil was apparently growing, though some real measures had been taken to improve the security of London. One very important step in this direction was accomplished under George I. The districts of Whitefriars and the Savoy had for centuries the privilege of sheltering debtors against their creditors, and they had become the citadels of the worst characters in the community, who defied the officers of justice and were a perpetual danger to the surrounding districts. In 1697 a law had been passed annulling their franchises; but similar privileges, though not legally recognised, were claimed for the Mint in Southwark, and for many years were successfully maintained. Multitudes of debtors, and with them great numbers of more serious criminals, fled to this quarter. The attempts of the officers to arrest them were resisted by open violence. Every kind of crime was concocted with impunity and every conspirator knew where to look for daring and perfectly unscrupulous agents. It was not until 1723 that the Government ventured to grapple firml with this great evil. An Act making it felony to obstruct th execution of a writ, and enabling the Sheriff of Surrey to rais a posse comitatus for taking by force debtors from the Min finally removed this plague-spot from the metropolis, and pu an end for ever in England to that right of sanctuary whic had for many generations been one of the most serious c structions to the empire of the law.3


Causes of the Increase of Rob

? See an extraordinary instance of this in Andrews' Eighteenth Century,

p. 235.

3 Macpherson's Annals of C merce, iii. 127-128.

Another and stili more important step was the measure which was carried in 1736 for the proper lighting of the streets. Up to this date London was probably in this respect behind every other great city in Europe. The lighting was done by contract, and the contractors, by a singular arrangement, agreed to pay the City 600l. a-year for their monopoly. In return for this they were empowered to levy a rate of 68. a-year from all housekeepers who paid poor rate, and from all who had houses of over 10l. per annum, unless they hung out a lantern or candle before their doors, in which case they were exempt from paying for the public lamps. The contractors were bound to place a light before every tenth house, but only from Michaelmas to Lady Day, and then only until midnight, and only on what were termed 'dark nights.' The 'light nights' were ten every month from the sixth after the new moon till the third after the full moon. The system was introduced at the end of the reign of Charles II., and was then a great improvement, but it left the streets of London absolutely unlighted for far more than half the hours of darkness. Under such conditions the suppression of crime was impossible, and few measures enacted during the eighteenth century contributed more to the safety of the metropolis than that which was passed in 1736 enabling the Lord Mayor and Aldermen to erect glass lamps in sufficient numbers throughout London, to keep them lighted from the setting to the rising of the sun, and to levy a conjiderable and general rate for their maintenance. More than 5,000 lamps are said in a few years to have been erected, and was calculated that, while under the old system London was nly lit by public lamps for about 750 hours in the year, under e new system it was lighted for about 5,000.1

Yet, in spite of this great change, street robberies continued some years to increase, and the inefficiency of the watchmen, d the great multiplication of the criminal classes under the luence of gin, were constant subjects of complaint. The great velist Fielding, when driven by narrowed circumstances to

'Maitland's Hist. of London, i. 565–567.

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accept the office of Bow Street magistrate, did much both to call attention to and to remedy the evil. Under the direction of the Duke of Newcastle, he and his brother, who succeeded him in his post, instituted a new police, consisting of picked men who had been constables, and who were placed under the direct control of the Bow Street magistrates. A very remarkable success rewarded their labours. The gang which had so long terrified London was broken up; nearly all its members were executed, and the change effected was so great that Browne, writing in 1757, was able to say that the reigning evil of street robberies has been almost wholly suppressed.'1 At the same time a serious attempt was made, at once to remove the seeds and sources of crime, and to provide a large reserve for the navy, by collecting many hundreds of the destitute boys who swarmed in the streets, clothing them by public subscription, and drafting them into ships of war, where they were educated as sailors. The policeforce soon became again very inefficient, but the condition of London does not appear to have been at any subsequent period as bad as in the first half of the eighteenth century, though the country highways were still infested with robbers. The early Hanoverian period has, indeed, probably contributed as much as any other portion of English history to the romance of crime. The famous burglar, John Sheppard, after two marvellous escapes from Newgate, which made him the idol of the populace, was at last hung in 1724. The famous thief-taker, Jonathan Wild. after a long career of crime, being at last convicted of returning stolen goods to the rightful owner without prosecuting the thieves, which had lately been made a capital offence, was er ecuted in the following year, and was soon after made the subject of a romance by Fielding. The famous highwayman, Dies Turpin, was executed in 1739. Another well-known highway man named M'Lean is said to have been the son of an Iris Dean and brother of a Calvinist minister in great esteem

1 Browne's Estimate, i. p. 219.

2 Sir John Fielding on the police of 1753.

The goods were stolen, and soon as a reward was offered restore

by a confederate.

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