Tag Archives: Regency crime

Just How Romantic Were Highwaymen?

I have a vested interest in that question because two of my ancestors were hanged at Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire for highway robbery in the first half of the 18th century – fortunately for me, they had married and left children by then. Not so fortunate for their families. So, were these two handsome masked men on flashy black stallions, setting ladies’ hearts a flutter as they relieved the gentlemen of their coin? I very much doubt it – from what I can establish of these two, and their circumstances, they were probably an unpleasant pair of muggers out for what they could get and unscrupulous about how they got it.

But the highwayman was a popular figure (at least, if you weren’t one of his victims). The crowd loved a villain, especially one who robbed those better off than themselves, carried out daring raids and escapes and, when almost inevitably brought to justice, “died game” on the gallows. Reality was less romantic – even the famous Dick Turpin, shown here on Black Bess, was a violent thug who tortured victims and inn keepers. The dashing Frenchman, Claude du Vall was hanged at Tyburn January 1670 despite (according to legend) gallantly sparing the possessions of any pretty lady who was prepared to dance with him. Presumably the plain ones just got robbed. The Victorians loved him and he was immortalized in a painting by Frith.

So, what was the risk of encountering a highwayman? Up until the third quarter of the 18th century the danger was significant. Roads were bad, so travel was slow and out-running a mounted attack virtually impossible. There was no effective policing of highways and the response of the law was to react to incidents, not to prevent them. The London Gazette in 1684 carried an advertisement offering a reward after the Northampton stage was, ‘set upon by four Theeves, plain in habit but well-horsed,’ and in one week in 1720 every stagecoach into London from Surrey was robbed by highwaymen.

However, as I discovered when I was researching  Stagecoach Travel, although rapid improvements to roads in the later 18th century meant that there were far more vehicles moving over them it also meant that the coaches – increasingly better designed – became faster. Stage and mail coaches were now major businesses with a lot to lose and the guards were better armed and trained. The authorities put mounted patrols on the roads and eventually made the whole business too risky to be worthwhile.It took a while, though – the last incident of highway robbery on Knightsbridge, the road between Hyde Park Corner tollgate and the village of Kensington, was in 1799.

Today as you travel along that route, perhaps on the top of a London bus, look north as you pass the Royal Albert Hall, built on the site of Gore House. Opposite Gore House was the infamous Halfway House Inn (below). There the spies for the highwaymen of Hounslow Heath would congregate to see who was travelling and pass the word on to alert the highwaymen about fine carriages or vulnerable riders.  The wall behind the inn is the boundary of Hyde Park.

Highwaymen did persist longer in Ireland where the roads were less good and the slower coaches made easier pickings. In 1808 a coach lined with copper and advertised as bulletproof was tried on the Dublin to Cork road, an indication that highwaymen were not afraid to shoot into the body of the vehicle at the passengers as well as threaten the guard and coachman.

The highwayman and his less glamorous compatriots were sufficiently significant in Georgian society to have left their mark on the slang of the time as I discovered when I was researching Regency Slang Revealed: Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.   The mounted highwayman was “on the High Toby” the footpads were on the “Low Pad” or “Low Toby”. I found eleven general terms for a highwayman – a Gentleman’s Master being one that perhaps gives a clue as to why they were popular with the common people. A Bully Ruffian was a very violent highwayman whereas a Royal Scamp preyed on the rich in a most gentlemanly fashion. It seems that equipment was important – a Rum Padder was particularly well-armed and well-mounted and a Chosen Pell was a highwayman operating inside a town, riding a horse with leather covers on its feet to muffle the sound of hoof-beats.

A highwayman’s mistress was his Bloss or Blowen and she may have waited for him at inns like the Halfway House when he went “on the pad” advised by his Carriers or Cruisers – the informants. They would all have hoped for a Catching Harvest – a time when the roads were thronged with travellers going to some event or another. Fairs, boxing matches and races gave particularly good pickings.

Just remember, when you are held up by a highwayman – mention the Music. That’s the universal password that will see you safe.

I’ll leave you with a watercolour portrait that I own. I have no idea of date, artist or subject, but he haunts me. I just have the feeling that he’s a highwayman, no longer in his prime. Should he mount up and take to the High Toby tonight? Or would that be one time too many…

 

 

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Filed under Crime, Gentlemen, Street life, Transport and travel, Travel

To Go On the Buz Gloak or We’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two

The Sami people of Arctic Scandinavia (shown here in a print of c1800) have one thousand words for their reindeer and more than one hundred and eighty for snow and ice, figures that emphasize how important those things are in their lives.

When I was researching for Regency Slang Revealed I found twenty seven words or phrases relating to the crime of pickpocking which suggests that while it might not have filled the thoughts of people in 1800 to quite the same extent, it was a significant crime and one that was encountered on a regular basis.

To go pick-pocketing, or to practice the Figging Law (the art of picking pockets) was to go on the Buz Gloak, to File the Cly or to Dive, Draw, Foist or Shake. There were categories of pickpocket. A Knuckles was a superior practitioner and a Rum Diver was particularly dexterous while a Fork used his middle and forefingers  to delve into pockets. A pick pocket who was constantly at work was said to keep his Fives A-Going.

Pickpockets generally were Buzmen, Cly Fakers, Divers, Dummee Hunters, Files or Foists. Very often they worked in groups – Bulk and File – or had associates who would run off with the stolen goods the moment they were taken – the Adam Tylers. A female pickpocket might well wear a Round-about, a large circular pocket worn under her skirts in which to stash her ill-gotten gains.

Prostitutes often acted as decoys for pickpockets and a man whose mind was anywhere but on the contents of his pockets might well find them empty after an encounter in a back alleyway. But even the most virtuous were in danger – Autem Divers operated in churches, picking the pockets of worshippers whose concentration was on higher things. An Anabaptist, however, was not a follower of that religious sect but a pick pocket who had been caught and suffered summary punishment with a ducking in the nearest pond or under the pump. In a detail from an Alken print of a race meeting (at the head of this post) the man in a blue coat is picking the pocket of another who is totally distracted by a game of dice.

Stealing handkerchiefs (Clouts or Wipers) was a particular specialty. Unlike the paper tissues of today, costing virtually nothing and instantly discarded, a handkerchief in the Georgian period was a large piece of fabric, often good linen (a Kent), fine cotton lawn (a Lawn) or silk (a Sleek Wipe, India Wipe or Fogle), and worth money. Stealing them was to go on the Clouting Lay and a Fogle, Napkin Hunter or Wipe Drawer was the specialist in this form of crime.

Gentlemen often kept their handkerchiefs in a pocket in the tails of their coats which preserved the line of the body of the coat but made the handkerchief vulnerable. Sometimes they were deliberately displayed coming out of the back pocket to perhaps show off a fine Belcher (spotted silk handkerchief) – and that was asking for trouble. The two lads in the print by Alken seem to be stealing just such a handkerchief, one distracting the mark by begging, the other taking the handkerchief.

In no time at all a stolen handkerchief would be in the hands of of a Ferret (pawnbroker) or for sale in a Bow-Wow, a secondhand clothes shop.

Theft of an article worth more than one shilling was a crime punishable by death until 1823, although juries frequently assessed stolen goods at under that value in order to save the accused from the gallows. Stealing handkerchiefs was probably a profitable form of larceny that kept the Buzmen just on the right side of that line, although they could well face transportation and/or a vicious flogging. One pickpocket who did not do too badly, despite being caught, was George Barrington, known as ‘the pickpocket of gentleman and the gentleman of pickpockets.’  He was transported to Botany Bay  in 1791. By 1796 he was the Superintendent of Convicts, and later, High Constable.

The final print, of the famous street entertainer Black Billy performing in front of the statue of Charles I, shows another handkerchief being stolen on the extreme right of the picture. The pickpocket is a most respectable-looking youth – it seems you couldn’t trust anyone!

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From Palace to Prison – a Short History of Bridewell

prospect-of-bridewell

How does somewhere turn, in the space of thirty years, from a royal palace where the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was lavishly entertained to a place whose name became generic for prisons for the punishment of vagrants and fallen women?

Bridewell Palace was built for Henry VIII between 1515 and 1520. Its southern façade faced the Thames, its eastern face was on the banks of the River Fleet and it was named for the nearby holy well of St Bride and it was a typical rambling, brick-built Tudor palace around three courtyards. It was the location where Hans Holbein’s famous painting The Ambassadors was set, the venue for masques and celebrations when Charles V visited and the home of Henry’s illegitimate son Henry Blount, Duke of Richmond and Somerset.

Its days as a palace were short-lived after it served as the venue for conferences with the Papal Legate over the royal divorce and Henry’s last meeting with Catherine of Aragon in November 1529. By 1531 it was leased to the French Ambassador and it was there in 1533 that Holbein’s The Ambassadors was painted.

In 1553 Edward VI gave Bridewell away, granting it to the City of London as a home for destitute children and vagrants and as a prison for punishing disorderly and loose women and petty offenders with short periods of incarceration and regular whippings. Queen Mary confirmed Edward’s gift – perhaps not wanting to take back the place of such ill-memories of her mother.

The model of prison, hospital and workrooms proved successful enough for many others to be opened across the country, all called Bridewells. The whippings took place in  public twice a week, there was a ducking stool on the banks of the Thames in 1628 and there were also stocks. The regime appears to have been one of “short, sharp shock”, although it seems doubtful that it was very successful in reducing vagrancy, petty crime and immoral behaviour with no support for its inhabitants once they were released. More fortunate were orphans of City Freemen who were accommodated here for an education before being apprenticed to a trade.

The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed much of the old palace and it was rebuilt in 1667. Judging by the print at the top of this post from a drawing by Jan Kip made in the early 18th century, some of the old Tudor palace survived. It can be seen surrounding the courtyard in the foreground with the 17th century and later additions behind. This version of Kip’s drawing was published in 1720 by John Strype and shows the view from the east – in other words, the artist is hovering above the Fleet River and looking west. The two courtyards of the rebuilt Bridewell can be clearly seen in this detail from John Rocque’s map of 1747 (below) turned to be in the same orientation.

bridewell-roque

Despite the floggings the Bridewell was more liberal than other prisons of the time – it had a doctor in 1700, seventy five years before they were appointed to prisons elsewhere, and in 1788 prisoners were not only given straw for their beds but actual beds to put it in – other gaols had neither beds nor straw. Women were not whipped after 1791. The air quality must have improved somewhat after the Fleet was covered in 1764 with the creation of New Bridge Street down to Blackfriars Bridge (1760-69).

The beds filled with straw can be seen in this print of The Pass-Room at Bridewell, 1808 from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London. Here single women with babies were locked up as punishment for their ‘loose behaviour’. The notice on the wall warns that “Those who dirts Their Bed will be Punished.”

bridewell

Building work and improvements carried on until 1833 when all the Bridewells passed from local control to become part of the government’s prison system. In 1855 the prisoners were transferred to Holloway prison and the buildings were demolished in 1863/4. The only remaining fragment is the façade and gateway of 1802 which is now 14, New Bridge Street.

The outline of the site remains in the block bounded by New Bridge Street to the east, Tudor Street to the south, and Bridewell Place which wraps around the west and north sides. Tudor Street can be seen on the Rocque map and led towards one of the notorious and lawless Alsatias from which many of the inmates of Bridewell probably came.

As with Bedlam, the public could gain admittance to view the unfortunate inmates. Priscilla Wakefield, author of Perambulations in London (1814) wrote, ‘Many of the prisoners who we were permitted to see, were women, young, beautiful and depraved.’ Like much of Wakefield’s moralising writing this fills me with the desire to give her the life-chances those ‘depraved’ young women had and see how she got on!

The print below is from Ackermann’s Repository of May 1812 and shows the view looking south down New Bridge Street from what is now Ludgate Circus where Fleet Street dips down to the Fleet Valley and then rises eastwards up Ludgate Hill to St Paul’s Cathedral. Bridewell is concealed behind the furthest range of brown buildings on the right of the print.

new-bridge-street

This area is included in Walk 8 of my Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walk 9 of Walks Through Regency London.

 

 

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Filed under Architecture, Buildings, Crime, Rivers

A Stroll In St James’s Park

DSCN2018 soldierThe sun is shining – just the afternoon for a stroll in St James’s Park. The other day I started off at St James’s Palace where the scarlet-coated guardsmen were fending off the advances of crowds of camera-wielding tourists and then walked down narrow Marlborough Road between the Palace and Marlborough House. This access to the park did not exist until the 1850s and effectively cuts off Marlborough House and the Queen’s Chapel on one side from the Palace on the other.

The Queen’s Chapel, although a Chapel Royal is not The Chapel Royal which is within the Palace and which is where Prince George was christened recently. The Queen’s Chapel was designed by Inigo Jones in the 1620s for Queen Henrietta Maria, the Roman Catholic wife of Charles I, although since the 1690s it has been used as a Protestant place of worship.DSCN2019

Crossing the Mall, with its view of BuckinghamPalace to the right, I dodged the Royal Parks gardeners getting ready for the post-picnic lunch clear-up in the Park and entered through the gorgeous wrought iron gates.

St James’s Park is the oldest royal park and dates back to Tudor times. Elizabeth I hunted deer here but by the time of James I there was a physic garden, a menagerie (including crocodiles) and an aviary, which is recalled in the name of Birdcage Walk on the northern edge of the park.

Charles II had considerable work done to create the central canal by joining up several ponds and marshy areas, planting trees and stocking it with deer. It is from this date that the pall mall alley was laid out. The Russian ambassador presented Charles with a pair of pelicans in 1664 and there are still pelicans amongst the exotic birds on the lake today. Occasionally one creates havoc by pouncing on a passing pigeon and swallowing it whole.

At the eastern end of the park was SpringGardens, a pleasure garden dating from the 17th century. All that remains of it now are two stubs of roads cut across by the Mall and with Admiralty Arch sitting in the middle. By Jane Austen’s day they were notable for various indoor places of entertainment, art galleries and so on. The Picture of London (1807) recommends Wigley’s Royal Promenade rooms here. They were open 10am to 10pm, admission one shilling. The visitor could ‘meet’ two invisible girls who spoke or sang on demand, or listen to a performance on the panharmonium, a mechanical orchestra.DSCN0397

The Society of Painters In Water Colours exhibited at Spring Gardens. On 24 May 1813 Jane wrote of a visit with her brother Henry and reported that she was well-pleased with what she saw, especially, ‘with a small portrait of Mrs Bingley…exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her.’ Deirdre le Faye identifies this picture as the charming Portrait of a Lady by J F-M Huet-Villiers.

However pleasant it was in broad daylight, Miss Austen would have been cautious about walking in the park after dusk without a male escort for it was a notorious haunt of prostitutes of both sexes. Even though the park was locked at night it was thought that almost 7,000 keys were in  private possession, so it might just as well have been open. James Boswell records various encounters with prostitutes there but it was also a dangerous place for a man by himself, for gangs of blackmailers operated under cover of its shrubberies. One man, his breeches undone, would leap out at the victim, crying that he had been attacked, while his confederates threatened to fetch the watch and swear they had witnessed an indecent assault. At a time when homosexual acts were criminalised and could lead to the gallows, many men paid up rather than risk not being believed.

The Globe newspaper for January 7th 1809 reports, We were in hopes that the conviction of Cannon and his companion Wilkinson, for extorting money from Mr Butterworth the silversmith, in St James’s Park, would have put a stop to the depredations of those execrable wretches who are making a miserable existence by the diabolical practices of threatening respectable persons with a most detestable crime. But they regret to have to report yet another instance had just come to light.

In August 1814 the park was the site of a series of extravagant celebrations: first for the centenary of Hanoverian rule, then the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile and finally the peace celebrations following Napoleon’s exile to Elba. The architect Nash designed an exotic seven-storey pagoda, which unfortunately caught fire during a firework display. Ironically this was organised by Congreve, the inventor of the military rockets which went on to cause almost as much alarm and confusion amongst British troops as amongst the enemy at the Battle of Quatre Bras the following year. There was also a bridge, which lasted rather longer, until 1825, although in a half-burnt condition and made perilous by the remains of the hooks that had held the Catherine wheels.St J Park0001

Festivities were also held on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which had a miniature navy afloat on it, and at the temple of Concord in Green Park, both events open freely to the public. The organisers at St James’s Park, however, decided to charge half a guinea and erected barriers and toll gates. Despite the charge the event was hugely popular and the gates had to be closed. Despite the crowds none of the public were killed during the fire, although two unfortunate workmen died.

After the event the park was left in a dreadful state and it was not until 1827 that the government found the money to renovate it. Nash was chosen for the job and he remodelled the canal into a sinuous lake, added a duck island, a new bridge, widened the Mall and replanted the trees, shrubberies and flowerbeds.

The park now is much as Nash left it, although the bridge is a replacement and the view includes the London Eye. FroStrand0002m the modern bridge there is an excellent view of DSCN0389-001Buckingham Palace. Jane Austen knew it as the Queen’s House and it only took on its present appearance when George IV began its enlargement to fit his concept of a fitting palace. The black and white print of skaters shows the Queen’s House with the park before Nash’s remodelling.

Often I will walk from the bridge to Horse Guards Parade, this time I went down to Bird Cage Walk and along to Westminster Abbey to catch a bus up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square – I’ll be talking about exploring London by bus in my next post.

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Filed under Accidents & emergencies, London Parks