London: A Pilgrimage

Jerrold, Blanchard


Under Lock and Key.

Under Lock and Key.



Newgate's sombre walls suggest sad thoughts on the black spots which blur our civilization. Those who will not work, and have not the means of living honestly, are the pests of every society. The vagrants, the tramps, the beggars, the cheats, the finished rogues, are a formidable race among a population of more than millions, closely massed. They are the despair of social reformers--for he who has once taken a liking to the bread of idleness is beyond redemption as a citizen. He will shift his ground, change his cheat, do anything save work. A couch under a hedge, a turnip stolen from a field, a feast of blackberries-anything to save the sweat of his ignoble brow. London has always been infested with the vagabond class. Johnson wrote,

London! the needy villain's general home, The common sewer of Paris and Rome.

But we supply our own needy villains in these days. London draws the idle and vicious from all parts of the country. They are humble imitators of Mr. Micawber, who thought that something turn up in a cathedral city. They are lineal descendants of the rogues who surrounded Queen Elizabeth's coach near ; and the crop, it is to be feared, has

and cannot honestly live without work, are of all classes; and we have traced their serpent trail through every scene we have come upon in the course of our wanderings. The lists of the refuges, the prisons, the workhouses, show the reverse of that bright medal whereon are struck the names

of the brave men who have handled an office broom in the beginning, and ended the possessors of enormous wealth, and the objects of the general respect. In the list opposite the Peabodys are the names of men who began with wealth and ended in disgrace and rags--the Sir John Dean Pauls, the Redpaths, and the Roupells.

If in the densely packed haunts of poverty and crime--in the hideous tenements stacked far and wide round such institutions as the Bluegate Fields Ragged Schools in Shadwell--there are hundreds who have never had the chance to escape to comfort and virtuous courses, there are-and they are the main body of the army--the victims of Drink, illustrators of every horror, form of suffering, and description of crime to which the special curse of our land leads the poor. At the corner of every tumble-down street is the flaring public-house lamp-hateful as the fabled jewel in the loathsome toad's head.

I should, however, recommend those gentlemen who are anxious to get at a true idea of the causes of crime, of the influences which foster it, of the natures pronest to it, and of the surest means of reducing its extension and its gravity, to put themselves in the hands of an intelligent, a reflective, and courageous professional student of the criminal classes, like Sergeant Meiklejohn of the detective service. In his company they will see the policeman's bull's-eye turned on extraordinary faces and figures, such as we marked in a card-playing scene, while they will listen to very instructive stories of the devious ways by which men and women reach Newgate.

Such education on the spot would be worth more to our legislators, hereditary and elected, than any number of attendances at Congresses, Charity Organization Associations, committees, and lectures. I remember


accompanying Lord Caernarvon to a meeting of ticket-of-leave men which we had convened up a court by Smithfield, and that we learned more about them that night than a year of blue-book and treatise reading could have given us.

He has never been anything else but a thief. He was born a thief, and always will be a thief!

said a guide through the low neighborhood of to me night as we stepped out of a thieves' kitchen. He pointed to rather a handsome lad of , with a piercing, restless eye, and remarkable for the rapid movements of his limbs. He was --compared with the rest of the company-well dressed. I observed this.


said the policeman,

he must have done a good bit of work lately; so had those flash pickpockets we met at the Music-Hall just now.

We paused before a crowd grouped round a baked-potato vendor.


said my knowing companion,

are only poor--not thieves.

God help them, and keep them clear of Newgate's lock and key!

But the outer world has very little knowledge of the difficulty. It recurs every hour of every day. What can come of these frequenters of the penny gaffs of ; these Shadwell loungers, offspring of drunken and shameless mothers; these dancers at the Ratcliff hops; these loungers along the , all cheapening food for the dismal Sunday they will be compelled to spend in their cellars and attics? The common lodging-houses are, as we see by the familiarity of the police with the landlords and inmates, under severe control; but who is to curb the flow of the conversation when groups of young thieves find themselves upon the same benches before the kitchen fire with poor artificial-flower makers?

Once they come here,

said of our police guides,

the best of

them are lost. They can't help it. Some will struggle for a long time; but unless they are fortunate enough to get away, they are done for. You see, they come into the kitchen early to cook their supper, and thus they fall in with all sorts except those who could do them any good. That's how it begins with many of them. The rest are born in it.


And God knows,

said another guide,

how hard some of 'emdecent creatures who have got into trouble--fight to leave it all. But, you see, there's no place for them as cheap as this.

The bull's-eye rambled along the lines of a series of partitions, each containing a bed and a chair.