Living Picture of London, for 1828 and Stranger's Guide Through the Streets of the Metropolis

Bee, Jon

1828

PICKING OF POCKETS.

 

This way of obtaining the property of others is certainly the most genteel, profitable, and alluring of any, because it requires some degree of ingenuity to exercise it properly, and a great deal of address and firmness to get off without detection. Professors of the art, are admired for their dexterity by every one but the immediate losers, and people in general laugh at the droll way in which the sufferers relate how they were relates,

" is the worst the can come to. Lucky dog that I was in adopting so safe, so genteel, and such a productive part of the calling! Whatever may be said of it, now I have given over the pursuit, I must say I have done a violence to my taste, as an amusement, however good the relinquishment may be as to morals. If the opportunity were to arrive of choosing again, I scarcely know which line of conduct I should take: but, having so taken it, I am determined to be sincere, and I mean to be a little more particular in the details of this my favourite pursuit than upon other topics, although these are all collected out of the mouths of each of the first in his profession, living or dead, at home and ."

Notwithstanding police-officers constantly patrol the streets, or ought to do so, yet they suffer well-known thieves to mix in the crowds that assemble around print-shops, and other showy exhibitions of goods. If a horse tumbles, or a woman faints, away they run, to increase the crowd and the confusion; they create a bustle, and try over the pockets of unsuspecting persons; till, at length, having marked out one, the accomplice shoves him hard up against other persons, (usually some of the gang,) who naturally repress the intrusion. Thus wedged in, they next hit him on the head with a stick, when he, to save his hat, or to resent the insult, lifts up his arms; a third or a fourth, still farther behind, gives one more shove, rams his flat hand hard against the belly of the person marked out to be , and pulls out his watch. If it be his pocket-book they are , they lift up the skirts of his coat, to come at his inside pocket, but, should it lie on his breast, then the rogue, who is next to the victim, seizes his collar behind, and drags until the buttons give way or there is space enough between the coat and the body for the accomplice to thrust in his arm.

So situated, it is clear that every other pocket must be liable to a visit, the breeches not excepted. As he in the rear is generally a man, or a boy, he thrusts in underneath the arms of the accomplices, who make room

54

for him on purpose, and he is thus enabled to pick two or three pockets at leisure, especially in large crowds; such as a or my . Upon the last-mentioned occasion, the chief place for the is , though the whole range from to affords a fine harvest, from the moment takes water to his return home, and particularly those two operations. On that day the gangs assemble regularly, and enter the city at various points. For many years the practice has been to station two women of good stout growth near the place of operation, who receive the few stray articles that may be picked up before the grand rush is made, when they join in, and increase the confusion. Some ten or twelve men, mostly carrying sticks, are attached to these women, and act in concert on one side of the hill, while a gang similarly composed take the other side, and numerous smaller detachments, and single independeht rogues, are strewed about in all directions.

As the procession advances, the main object is, of course, to create a bustle, and, if possible, a bit of a fight. They, therefore, enclose between them a few people of respectable appearance, and press them forward rudely; those in front resent this, pretending to be offended, and thrust back those next to them; the sticks upon the heads, and the

55

accomplice, embracing his fellow, reaches round at the fob or pockets of the victim, whose hands are employed in protecting his head or hat.

The trunk-maker's corner was for many years the spot for making a good stand, and the articles stolen used to walk up the to , to , to , to , according as the resort might be. But things of this nature change in a course of years, for the very circumstance of this present exposure must, of necessity, compel alteration, to prevent detection. Yet again, on consideration, this is not so certain, since, upon some occasions, there are not a greater set of fools in the world than your hackneyed thieves: they have been known to throw themselves in the way of certain detection, or to stand, like the silly penguin, to be knocked down, when, at the same time, a good run for it would have preserved them in safety.

Should a street thief take to his heels, and be easily distinguished from his followers, it is not always advisable to him; unless, indeed, you are fond of a bit of a , or admire being in trouble, as is exemplified in 's adventure, alluded to in , for June, , page 309, signed

A Constant Reader,

and detailed more at large in a succeeding chapter of this volume. What is more, they can mostly fight a bit, and some are armed with knives, which they do not hesitate to use in a scuffle.

and silly persons, who are the chief objects with the pickpockets, are not better known by their first appearance than from the ill-advised custom of of stragglers, and standing gaping at the of the streets, as if in doubt which road to take. This being a sure indication that he is at a loss, and of course confused, such a person is, perhaps, accosted, and misdirected into some street or lane more adapted to the robbers' purpose; and being there met again, or overtake, by one, two, or three others, he is either , or his , or, if it be night, with a bludgeon. Therefore, it is recommendable that no one should ask his way in the streets, but in decent shops, or, at most, of persons carrying small parcels, which indicate they are shopmen or porters: thieves do not go about encumbered in that manner, at least not hitherto, but they might possibly. adopt it hereafter, from this hint, as the best method of . Never ask your road of a gentleman in appearance: if he be a real one, he either will not condescend to answer, or, more probably, does not know any more than yourself; and for a better reason-that thieves frequently go well-dressed, especially pickpockets; good being considered a necessary qualification for his calling, without which the could not possibly mix in genteel company, nor approach such in the streets.

When the unwary stranger is seeking out the

57

MISDIRECTION, HOW INCURRED. way he should go, he looks about, inquisitively, for the names of the streets, and which, perhaps, have been told to him in the low cockney slummery manner, that agrees in nothing with the inscription itself. This incertitude of the to his place of destination is occasioned by the course of instruction he has received as to the means of finding it as much as to the manner; for example, our stranger being in would fain inquire his way to , let us suppose. He has taken the precaution to ask at , we allow, or the joke would be none, and there receives for answer, from a sort of man, that which is all , but, at the same time, very puzzling, for he is thus put upon gaping about at the corners of streets for all those , or asking over again: whereas, he ought to have been told to Some thorough-bred cockneys laugh outright at any one who should inquire for so obvious a point as ; and I recollect, when a youth, receiving the pity of two or three shopmen in for not knowing : and, instantly, to the justice of this sage remark the others cordially assented. But

58

the day of retribution is passed, both as regards and : is , curtailed, and the shop that sheltered the three razed to the ground, to make room for the carriage-way of Regentstreet.

As to the mere Mechanical part of walking the streets, whether the reader adopt a stick or umbrella, , 'raining or shining, lame or lazy, or that he trust to , I will not descant, the subject being a point below my aim; as is the long-contended dispute of thick and thin clothing, attendant rheums, gout, and phthisis; but I may, without compromising the dignity of my task, observe, that a circuitous walk of some dozen or two yards, is a labour well bestowed of an evening, if thereby evades dirty, trouble-some, offensive by-lanes and alleys. 's remark on this head being quite in point, the reader had better read him

Who would of

Watling-street

the dangers share, When the broad pavement of

Cheapside

is near? Or, who that rugged street would traverse o'er, That stretches, O

Fleet ditch

! from thy black shore To the

Tower

's moated walls? Here steams ascend That, in mixed fumes, the wrinkled nose offend.

If, however, the taste lies in exploring the secluded dingy paths of wretchedness, he cannot hope to enjoy the treat in the just cited; being covered by , , and

59

greatly improved , though increased nothing , during the lapse of a century.

The close observer may always discover in the dress of the genteel pickpocket some want of unity, or shabby article, as a rusty hat, or the boot-tops in bad order, or a dirty shirt and cravat, He may come at the same conclusion by noticing an article of the fellow's dress, which has been made at the top of the mode, some long while before the other parts of his clothes, together with similar attempts to appear the would-be gentleman of . Mr. Pullen was, however, an exception to this general rule: the neatness and uniformity of his rigging, from top to toe, his cleanliness, the mild smirk of his red face, and at length, his age, contributed to render him as truly respectable looking a pickpocket as we shall ever find again. A curious proof how far this feeling regarding was carried will be learnt from the following anecdote.

found occasion to go into a public house at some part of town distant from his usual haunts. He was here in close conversation with two strange gentlemen, when the master of the house touted his customer, beckoned him out, and gave him . replied . To this objected, ordered him to without , and proceeded to acts of violence; the two strangers interfered,

60

protected as they called him, disbelieving the landlord's information, which they attributed either to a hoax or to malice, and all three went off in triumph to another house. What is more, they handed him along, arm-in-arm, between them, and he could scarcely get liberty to speak a word to a nice, crummy young woman, who seemed surprised and interested at his situation. he said; but the two boobies would not of him, and did but just loosen their hold for the purpose. The interview was abridged by their intrusion; and, with the use of a little force, the fair frail one was permitted to pursue her way.

But what a melo-drama! not long after, being in a public house, one of the strangers lost his pocket-book, as he said, and the other a small packet of less value. They suspected their new acquaintance, and he was searched by consent, but nothing was found upon him, though the packet was discovered under a chair, at a distant part of the room. As none of the parties had gone out, they were the more puzzled, the more they thought how it could have been lost. The fact is, briefly, that just spoken of carried it off; the loser having been mistaken in saying he had felt it since he entered the room ;-this ought to be a warning to people, how cautious they

61

should be in stating too hastily, on the impression of the moment.

Here was a very and job done, and all safe and right; and is that sort of practice which, for distinction's sake, is termed simply; though hustling, and knocking down, or tripping up are the same thing, but practised with more violence. We will, therefore, describe all those methods as carried on against single persons.

The pickpocket, who does the thing

neatly,

as the phrase is, goes alone; or, at most, two go together. His intention is not to use violence, and he even avoids being at work, for which reason the law has made it felony to execute his task so adroitly as not to be discovered ; notwithstanding which law, he always endeavours to incur the highest crime, while the judge as invariably apportions to him the lesser punishment.

For the accomplishment of his purpose, he walks the crowded streets, and tries the pockets of various passers by; till, at length, he finds the situation of the ,-which has been the favourite aim ever since the extensive circulation of Bank-notes. If it occupies the outer coat-pocket, the task is easy: he dips his hand into the pocket, spreading his fingers to keep open the top, and with the forefinger and thumb draws it forth. Sometimes, out it comes easily, which will be the case if

62

not near so large as the pocket; but should it stick, or hang by something else, the rogue , but pulls away by main force.

During the first part of the operation, and previously, he has walked a step or two cheekby-jowl with the person to be robbed; he looks about, smiling, to take off the attention of those who may be near behind, as if they were acquaintance, and the thing a mere matter of course and familiarity. A thin worn-out greatcoat, flowing open, is an excellent screen to hide the operations that may be carrying on within its folds; and shabby pick- pockets cannot be better known, generally speaking, than by this sort of half-genteel, worn-out frock coat, that twines and twists about the legs of every man they meet, and thus imparts the dirt with which it may be charged. But fashions change, even whilst we write: the dandy-cut coat will soon vanish. A lower order of pickpockets, hustlers, and street-pads, have long been known by the blue-coat and trousers with gilt buttons, that were so general among them, it seemed the livery of their Blue is a favourite colour with vulgar fellows of every grade; but became general with this class upon the robbery of a warehouse, at the corner of , , several years ago, when the whole stock was stolen, and got into the hands (clutches) of a game tailor. Another denotation

63

of pickpockets is that they wear no gloves, possession of one being the highest aim they take in this supernecessary article of dress.

If the article to be is heavy, and its weight might be instantly missed by the bearer, the thief presses equally hard upon the edge of the pocket, or stoops a little to take hold of the bottom, gives a jirk, steps upon the heel, or jostles against the person ; then seems to beg pardon, and runs. For the inside skirt coat-pocket, he lifts up the skirt or tail, and out comes the pocket-book. Should a button impede the way out, a little knife fastened to the hand, soon removes that obstacle. Therefore, mark, reader ! whenever you are jostled against, or your heel is trodden upon, you may that person, and consider him who is nearest to you on the other side as having already robbed you.

Two are much safer to get off than one, as the second keeps a good look-out, or walking behind, covers the operation from being touted, and he it is that goes off with the prize, having received it from him who first took it. This one, being next to the victim, if seized, as is most likely, kicks up a row, and uses the most disgusting language; or, in quite other tones, offers to pursue him who has gone off; but, in fact, in pursuing, throws obstacles in the way of others; for, should he come up with, and overtake him in the hands of justice, they together fight away, if possible, to effect an escape;

64

sometimes dropping the thing stolen; at other times it gets handed to a confederate, who perhaps has the audacity to claim the property as his own.

Many women are as expert as men, and these always have one or two of them at hand, upon great occasions, as I said before. They are furnished with a species of pocket, which completely encircles their bodies, coming down half way to the knees; if the wearer be somewhat stout and bulky, it is clear she can conceal a good deal. Besides, if she be searched upon suspicion, the articles will traverse from before to behind, and back again, with a very small quantity of dextrousness; and she would thus elude discovery by any scrutiny of her person. The same sort of pocket is used in ,-which see.

Women who at night are invariably pickpockets; and I see no reason to set down those who by day entice the men into their dens, as any thing better. An intolerable nuisance long prevailed of harlots sitting by day at their windows, and inviting the unwary to their salacious embraces. Punishment now awaits the practice, and we rejoice to say it has been abated. Modest females, their parents and guardians, will hence perceive the extreme danger of indulging the whim of staring at impudent men passengers, who do not hesitate to speak occasionally to females they never saw before. Such as stand at the

65

corners of lanes and courts, inviting men to stop, are clumsy hands, but contrive to pick up a good harvest occasionally: they rob indiscriminately every article of dress, knocking off the silly (perhaps drunken) man's hat in the street, with which the accomplice runs away; at other times they will take off his cravat, while bestowing upon him their salacious caresses. A brooch, or shirt-pin, is constantly made good prize of, but should the deluded man enter one of those pestiferous abodes, which are so numerous in this metropolis, the loss of all he has is inevitable.

It is recommended over again not to suffer yourself to be stopped in the streets, even by a woman, though that should be by day. They have great nimbleness of fingers, and convey away your property while talking you into a silly passion for their persons.

Although it seems brutish to rebuke a woman who should press against you in a crowd, in a church, at an auction, or in the streets, yet this should be done. At the 's meeting-house, for example, the women attend as well as the men pickpockets; they are found amongst the crowd of a procession to , at every lord mayor's show, and in fact at every collection of people. Such women amuse you with asking silly questions; perhaps, she will complain to you of some man who is pressing her behind, while one of her accomplices rifles your pockets in the mean time, from

66

behind another accomplice, who keeps his arms up so as to prevent yours from defending your property. Perhaps she seizes your arm, as if for protection, but in fact, to keep you from using it. Aye, she seizes both arms if that be deemed necessary, with the strength of manhood.

One very trick for a woman to perform is to turn round quick upon the gentleman to be robbed, and running hard against him, endeavour to touch him in the wind, pretending herself to be very much hurt. Her accomplices are behind, and improve upon the by embracing the victim ; and the hindermost is generally the thief, who hands off the property. It must be present to every one's mind, that when a person is hit upon the belly, or pit of the stomach--and those women are taught how to place their blows-he will naturally bend from the effects of the blow: at that moment it is he loses his watch, a is made into his breeches-pocket, and both are drawn; and if the lady's hurt is very bad, (that is, well ,) his pocket-book goes to wreck also.

This same trick of turning round is also practised by two or three men; and a method was for one of them to stoop suddenly down, whereby the person to be robbed comes wholly, or in part, to the ground; then, during the struggle to recover himself, or the efforts of the accomplice to him insidiously, the job is usually effected undetected.

Ladies who press to the windows of drapers' shops are fine game. When they wore pockets with hoops, scarcely any operation in all the light fingered trade was easier than the dive, or putting in one's hand; afterwards on the disuse of the hoop, the thing was performed by a short fellow, or boy, getting between the legs of the accomplice (a tall one) and spreading the petticoats, cut off the pockets, with a knife attached to the hand.

The practice of pockets is much lessened of late years,why, I know not for certain; but apprehend the fear of incurring the penalty of 's act, by cutting too deep, may have had its effect; and since there are several methods of achieving the same thing, there could be no possible reason why the safest should not be adopted. Any other course of proceeding would be foolish, to say no worse of it. A high-tempered small blade, set in a ring for the middle finger, or the thumb, was a much more ingenious contrivance than the common penknife, or the sliding blade; because the right hand could be employed in cutting, and the money at one and the same time, whilst the left might be engaged, no less usefully, in bothering his . Lower down, I have introduced the case of my friend Mr. Maunder, who was cut with some such instrument severely. This latter manoeuvre is nothing more than placing the flat hand (back or palm) over the mouth (or ) of a victim who is likely to ;

68

at the same time taking care that it should seem to him the effect of accident, not capable of being reckoned uncivil, if the business should come to a . In all mobs where there is not sufficient noise to drown the voice, this bothering the is invariably had recourse to; the fellow might otherwise call out "pickpockets," or some such , when he felt the things going from his person, an event always to be deprecated.

One observation, on the foregoing exposition of , may not be inaptly made here. Notwithstanding the generally received notion that pickpockets are an innocent race of mortals, who merely purloin a little of your pelf, yet nothing can be more contrary to the real fact. No means of escape would be left untried, in case of detection, even although that should cost the life of an individual or two. They are invariably taught boxing, , women as well as men; I mean so far as how to place a blow or two with the effect. Indeed, picking of pockets frequently assumes the character of footpad robbery, having all its characteristic features, of force, and violence of conduct, on the part of the perpetrators. Since this was written the Judges have condemned the offenders, capitally, as noticed at page 52. This brings me to speak of that next species of robbery, by those who are appropriately termed , called

 
 
Footnotes:

[] LORD MAYOR'S PROCESSION; THIEVES' PROCEEDINGS. STOP THIEF!

[] ASKING THE WAY, DANGEROUS.

[] GAY'S TRIVIA ON STREET WALKING.

[] NOSING A PICKPOCKET.

[] OLD PULLEN'S ADVENTURE.

[] SINGLE HANDED PICKPOCKET.

[] LIVERY OF STREET THIEVES.

[] MODE OF DRAWING BY TWO,

[] WOMEN EXPERT PICKPOCKETS; STOP SILLY MEN, AND CAJOLE.

[] WOMEN USE FORCE: PROCESS OF ROBBERY.

[] STREET FOOTPAD CONDEMNED.