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

Bee, Jon


UNDER this head I formerly submitted some papers to the public, through the medium of a popular publication, at that time devoted to useful topics of general interest,[1]  the result of sixteen years close observation, and



somewhat penible inquiry. I have reason to believe they were favourably received, and the suggestions therein contained thought worthy of consideration by those of whom it is an honour to be esteemed. They were chiefly directed towards the repression of crime, to the speedy detection of offenders, on which the first greatly depends, and the concentration of police information; but I have to lament, that these points are still imperfectly understood, and require fresh arguments or reiteration of the old ones: I have also some personal explanations to give, which I hope may induce a more general gratuitous aid of the persons employed and paid, than some folks think themselves bound to afford, or find it convenient to bestow.

Police, or the right government and controul of the worst elements of a population, at once dense and evil disposed, is not a matter likely to attract the regard of people in trade, much less those of retired habits; whilst independent gentlemen living at their ease, those of the professions, and even such as possess true energy of character and the wish to evince themselves good citizens, shrink from the danger of close personal examination, if they do not imagine reputation may be compromised in the attempt to obtain the information necessary to a right understanding of a subject blasted on all hands by vile imputations and mal-practices. Some such feeling may have actuated me, when



having undertaken to submit to public inspection my observations on this topic, I did so anonymously. Personal danger, it is upon record, could not deter me; so I conclude, that I then thought of some connection or other, that actuates me no longer. In one case, I employed the name of another man instead of my own, and wrote down to his capacity, or copied his words to preserve the unity of the deceit; in another I was and the following was my apology for troubling the public at that time, (i. e. 1817) as it shall be at this:--

Previously to entering fully upon the subject [of police] I may, properly enough, state to you, that my familiar acquaintance with the faces of rogues of various hue, and many of their practices, arise from living in so public a situation as this is [nigh St. Paul's], as well as the accidental circumstance of having taken a daring robber fifteen years before [mentioned, at page 82,] besides three minor offenders, latterly. Ever since that time, I have not ceased to give some attention to depredators of all descriptions, I mean their persons and practices, their combinations, and the means employed for their detection; for this good reason, (at first,) that I refused the friends of the culprit alluded to my interference for lessening his punishment (as my neighbour had done) since I found upon inquiry at Bethnal-green, where he belonged, that they were all thieves alike. Whereupon, I heard a distinct threat, so very



intelligible, that for more than three years I found it requisite to walk circumspectly by day, rapid or armed by night. Whenever I perceived any of them about, I screwed myself up to the pitch of a stout repulse, and uncharitably set down in my mind all those for rogues whom I saw in the same company,-and then again, all that I might afterwards see in the company of these latter;

and so onwards I continue to the present day. In those conclusions, however hastily formed, I was subsequently borne out by some very painful results befalling the parties. Vide my first letter.

When the string of villains just alluded to had passed away, my circumspection might have gone to rest; vigilance may go sleep when no longer excited by apprehension. Not so, however, in this case: what had commenced in caution, I might say, now devolved into habitual curiosity, if it were not patriotism or the love of order; and I found several occasions and various, when my advice and manual help became practicably available; whilst a cry of roused my dormant energies, -as that of would those of an old Bridewell-boy, and nearly as often threw me into the head of the chase, by dint of pace or force of stratagem. Atlength, in myfirst letter, I was

free to confess that my taste for this


and stagging, or looking on, underwent partial abatement, by reason of certain odd punctures and hard bruises I received



from three or four of those gentry, not far from my own door, at wane of day.

Such is the fortune of war, and the natural effect of numbers: it was uncommon rough work; but did not prevent my detecting one of the party a week after, who had stolen a pocket-book in the crowd gathered round a conflagration facing the south door of St. Paul's. According to my custom, he was delivered into the custody of a constable, who received the usual panegyrics on his diligence, activity, &c. without blushing. Thus, I may say, I sought for information on these subjects with many advantages, having full as much zeal as the paid people, who are all too well known, most assuredly with perfect independence, sometimes at some expense, and always with commensurate success. At a later period, I managed to be present at conferences they could never hear of, but at polluted second hand. In this manner I could examine motives, and weigh reasons at their source, yet unfathomed by any person competent to the task; ---.

With such facilities, in the course of so many years, as will be seen by numerous passages dispersed over the foregoing pages, and in the former volume, many such adventures befel me, as regards officers as well as offenders; I had an eye constantly on both. I was duly impressed with the common-law doctrine, that to every citizen belongs the right of detecting robbers,-if it be not a duty incumbent



on all men ; and, if put in practice by respectable people in good numbers, by entire neighbourhoods, for example, it would go a great way towards extinguishing thefts in such districts, as the perpetrators, generally few in number, would thus be driven from their haunts in despair of success. I one winter belonged to such a party, at Lower Islington, where our gardens were nightly robbed of wet clothes, &c. and the perpetrators were soon ascertained to consist of two only. On the signal for chase, I ran after and overtook one in front of the Britannia (Brindley's), and the other fell at the starvation-farm-pond. One of our maxims was to look after the watchmen and patrol, and keep them to their duty; and to this end two or three sallied out in turn, whilst the body smoked their pipes awaiting any alarm. The first description of night-guardians are generally liable to suspicion; but of the second, I recollect but one distinct charge of malversation in his office, and that so absurdly peculative, that I contrived to send him before his betters at Hatton-garden, Mr. Laing and Mr. Rogers, with his peepers in mourning, (,) as the most appropriate treatment for extorting douceurs from publicans for keeping alleged late hours. His brother-officer, upon occasion of that appearance, we had already ascertained to be corruptly connected with thieves; he having stashed one robbery for fifty pounds of the booty; and, in another



case, I myself saw him turn up a pickpocket after subtracting some six or eight notes out of the stolen wallet. By the way, the latter occurred by day, in the narrow passage connecting Cloth-fair and Long-lane: the fact was no secret at the time; but, under circumstances, no good could be done with it.

Both those thieves were, subsequently, transported-as I believe, but not until their long, unbroken career had incited others, hitherto innocent, to join the nefarious gang. I had already remarked, on similar transactions, [Letter I.]

It is the dispensing power thus left in the hands of officers which ripens crime and produces the greatest number of capital offences.

Both instances of stashing were well known to all the gang, whereby it literally encouraged crime; as we afterwards ascertained, that three or four unemployed youths of decent parentage, were enticed away by the impunity thus purchased, and long time enjoyed, by their companions. All were ultimately punished, but the process occupied too much time to operate exemplarily on others.

Had the two hacknied thieves whose robberies were so compromised by the unfaithful officer then received the punishment due to their crimes, and that speedily, the new ones could have had no such inducement to become dishonest, they would rather have been scared from their purpose at the outset of their career. In proof of this proposition, I may adduce the



instance of a youth who had made his appearance but once among the Smithfield gang, (of which I now speak,) and who had gone out with an older thief to rob, but both were missed from their usual haunts* some four or five days; at the end of which time, the new-one enters the Green Lettuce with the information, that both had been taken, and he liberated that evening, as one not known to the officers, whilst his better recognized companion was tried and

found guilty, and would be either lagged or scragged, he could not very well say which.

I was present, and marked the effect as most salutary: consternation sat upon every brow, dismay seized the party, and caused a few ejaculations-as, Hereupon they leaving the new-one behind; who, on his part, set up a few good resolutions, and returned to his friends in a reforming mood, that may have lasted him to his parental roof at Manchester, for he was seen no more of us. At which I very much wondered-for these reasons, among others,-new thieves are mostly acceptable to the old ones, as being unknown to the officers, * These were-the Blue Posts, Cloth-fair; the Green Lettuce, Charter-house-lane; and another near Weststreet, in the calf-market: the first two were put down, and two others in that lane suspended for twelve months; but what of all that? they removed to other public-houses near the market.



so that they may be safely employed in carrying stolen things to the fences, in the day, or at any time, without detection. These, the hacknied rogues take out with them;

going out together,

implying to robin the streets; and, in order to do this profitably, the older one instructs as he is called, how to perform this efficiently. Thus, through the crannies of a tap-room I have seen the thief just adverted to, as giving £50 of his booty to get off, and who had the name of Tom,-imparting instructions to another youth,

how to draw a reader.

For this purpose they had an old pocket-book, or reader, now put into one pocket, now into another, and as Tom stood up for the several experiments, he recommended certain motions-sometimes showed how, and at others exclaimed, &c. &c. intermixed with imprecations quite suitable to the occasion.

Half-thieves, those who are uncertain of their own honesty, who nibble occasionally, and will partake of the reg'lars, and the drink that is to be found at flash-houses; who sometimes obtain places of work, relapse a little, get work once more, and still frequent the company of thieves, are looked upon with great suspicion by the thorough-paced rogues; because they are frequently made use of as noses by the officers. These, as well as the new ones who attain not to sufficient expertness, are sometimes betrayed



or relinquished by their pais, while in the midst of a clumsy job, and get nabb'd; this they term being

put in the hole;

it is considered highly disreputable, and is visited as such, when the culprit gets out of his hole, as usually happens for slight offences, or incomplete robberies. Of those materials, the officers who seek for promotion, or reward for their

ingenuity and penetration,

form their noses; those who endeavour to secure their own personal impunity, by talking of the particular misdeeds of others; who join in a robbery, and then betray their com-rogues, or suborn unsuspecting noodles into the perpetration of crimes, as smashing coin, or flimsies, house-breaking, starring the glaze, &c. their friend, the aspirant officer, being at hand,


to pounce upon the offenders. Of course, the nose gets off, or turns approver, vulgo, king's evidence; and he and the very vigilant officer, though but one rogue, constitutethe legal evidence that is to cost

a poor fellow

his life, or, at least, his liberty. Hence I draw the conclusion, that the evidence of an officer or two, should not be taken as confirmatory of king's evidence testimony; especially if these have been previously intimate, or seen together; a fact that might be extracted upon cross-examination, apart from each other, or one being put out of court, while the other is in the witness-box, as is practised in some other folks' cases.

Nosing or splitting, by an accomplice, is the


JEALOUSIES OF OFFICERS-ANTIDOTE FOR. same with the espionage in political affairs, noticed at a former page (190) and is equally dangerous. For

among individual officers, there exist constant jealousies and circumventions, such as those between petty tradesmen of the same vocation ; so that one will endeavour to entrap another officer's nose, in order to spoil his source of information, and always withholds any intelligence that would aid the inquiries of another. Without circumlocution then, (I concluded in my first letter) the nosing must be taken out of the hands of those officers, and that immediately; or, the same end would be answered by ordering, that the clerk to a policeofficer do take down in secret the daily progress of any negotiation carried on with accomplices or spies; any deviation from a full and fair disclosure, or misinformation, to be visited with prompt und unsparing rigour.

In my second letter I suggested, that the remedy for this discrepancy in the operations of the police, would

be found in a superintending power, emanating from the Secretary of State's Office, and holding close communication with it and the magistrates,

In December, 1827, this measure was adopted, so far as superintendence goes; the remainder of the suggestion remaining to be illed up: to render the first part fully efficient, the latter should be controlled by no ordinary hands. The following, taken from a morning paper, is the substance of all that has yet reached us on this head: - An important circular was yesterday transmitted to each of the metropolitan police-offices, by the Marquis of Lansdowne, requiring a daily report to be made out, containing the substance of all informations received of felonies or aggravated misdemeanours, with a description of offenders not taken or escaped; and for property stolen, and any other particulars that may lead to the apprehension of offenders; this report to be signed by one of the magistrates, at eight in the evening, and sent to Mr. Stafford, the editor of the Hue and Cry, to be printed ready for delivery the next morning, to a messenger from each office. The noble secretary hopes that this plan, carried into effect with zeal and activity, will be productive of public benefits, by means of " a full and complete interchange of useful information between the several police-offices.

and the surrender of a small

STRONG PATROL, REAL HUMBUG. portion of the liberty of the subject.

My attention was mainly directed towards the suppression of riotous assemblages, then very frequent; but the same unity of action would also go a great way towards breaking-up those nests of thieves, who assemble towards the wane of day, at some favourite spot or corners of streets, and adjourn thence to public-houses, or to some other such place, but not by sending as it is termed, from any one office, usually composed of three old men in uniform, strolling up and down to frighten them away; for I find that the rogues consider this as mere bug-a-boo, and they remove for a time, or disperse for a few minutes, whilst the patrol move off. As soon as their backs are turned round the next corner, robberies commence immediately, and no one ever yet heard


PREVENTION, ITS POINTS-DESPISED. of these capturing a single thief of any description. It is a real piece of humbug, to talk of the efficacy of a moving well-marked body, that covers no more than three feet square at any time. Whereas, the greatest efficacy would be found in their slily pouncing upon the congregated rogues, and locking some of them up ; if they are a young set, as usually happens, with some two or three who have already suffered imprisonment, and they assemble often, a good stick-flogging for the former would be quite appropriate and happy in its effects, especially when coupled with the summary imprisonment of the ring-leaders.

As at present managed, the police are wholly useless in repressing the nurseries of crime I allude to, where youths out of place, idly inclined, or accidentally, first get acquainted with older persons of depraved character. They are as little efficient in breaking asunder the disgraceful connection, when the parties adjourn from the street or crowded alleys and courts, into public-houses; indeed, their attention has never been directed to the interior of any house whatever, to reform the parties or to prevent the engendering of crime; neither does such a disposition exist any where, the mere thieftaker despising the means of prevention, the philanthropic parish or ward constable, the benevolent headborough, or others serving in their own right, being the only persons who ever cast away a thought upon the subject.


YOUTHFUL OFFENDERS. remember that lad, when he first took up with bad company !

is often remarked, concerning youths tried for early crimes, or brought to the punishment of death; whose wicked courses were first imbibed at the corner of a street, and nursed into crime at the public-house of resort. I leave out of consideration here, the thief who steals through necessity, as also those who, in early life, may be set on by unprincipled relatives, and they again who are first seduced by the charms of portable property, carelessly left within reach. For these nought remains but coercion ; instant detection, and immediate exemplary punishment. Only one opinion regarding the treatment proper to be exercised towards practised thieves prevails; but it would be inhuman to treat first offences, incipient robbery, or thefts of necessaries of life, as you would the arrant knaveries of him who steals to fence, and fences to carouse, and by his carousals incites others to partake in his crime; to drink of his cup, and to go out upon the next occasion, being necessary consequents. In this manner, it will be easy enough to prove the greatest number of thieves are made. I would prevent, in great measure, their so falling by bad example ; and shall presently go on to say how.

But the thieves have only to move out of a district, where they are known to the officers of that district, into one where they are not so known, and they elude pursuit, or avoid detec-



tion, by the most trivial further alteration. This is a miserable state of things, and brings me to the proposed remedy, a superintendent, in whom should concentre all the information of all the offices and officers regarding thieves at large; and whose attention should be directed towards the repression of crime, the correction of young offenders, and dispersion of gangs of old ones.

At present, each individual officer keeps in profound secresy, whatever intelligence may have come to his knowledge singly, or doles out a part to one of his brethren as a bonus; and I have known this spirit carried so far, that one officer has retarded information coming to another, because he wished to have it himself, like the dog in the manger! Is it longer to be endured, that individuals should take upon them to intercept the speedy exercise of justice, upon which so much depends? On the other hand, I must notice that there are some who bring it into disrepute by their officiousness, in taking up trivial matters and occurrences undeserving of attention, or only worthy of rebuke and domestic chastisement.

To correct this singleness of pursuit, and consequent delays, every constable-officer should be compelled to bring in all the information he is possessed of to the superintendent's office. They should be taught to pay instant deference to his paramount authority, in all cases where unity of operation is required; and to a


INFORMATION CONCENTERED-HOW. delegation of that authority whenever he thinks it necessary: this delegation to be marked by insignia,[3]  to be obeyed upon every proper occasion for its being displayed. Numerous other ramifications of his duties present themselves to my mind; it is chiefly pervaded with the necessity of a general repression of crime, by the speedy detection and conviction of offenders in the earlier stages; the concentration of all police-information at that one point; daily communication with subordinate officers and sitting magistrates, and active correspondence with all parts of the kingdom, particularly the favourite ports of self-deportation. Vide Letter 3.

The obvious duties of a superintendent (call him what you like) would include not only the extinction of such errors by a totally contrary practice, but many other facilities for the detection of crime, the earliest information of plots, conspiracies, concerted robberies, commotions,


BURGLARS, SPEEDY DETECTION EFFECTED. the retreats of known offenders, the speedy detection of recent thefts, and various other objects of public good. For, in every class of rogues, the rapidity of pursuit and detection is the cause of great dismay; as its procrastination is of exultation and encouragement to their friends, as I have just shewn, page 283.

Suppose a case: a burglary has been committed during night, with symptoms of violence, crow-bar marks, &c. It follows that this must be an old thief; for young ones are not to be brought to so high a game at first. He must, then, be known to some officers (he ought to be known to the whole): and he must have reconnoitred the premises by day, or tried them at night; at least it generally (always) comes out that the chief of a gang does so. Well, then, in going or coming he ought to have been met and recognized by some one of the police. If the latter notes down this, or any other suspicious circumstance comes to his knowledge, he will most likely seek out the offender by himself, that he himself may enjoy the credit, and the reward of conviction. He does not reflect that others of his brethren may have some other information to supply, which might complete the chain; whereas, the clue is often lost for awhile, and lost and found again; meantime the offender is extending his ravages, increasing in boldness, and affording, by his example, encouragement to the timid, and confirming the half-formed rogue in the like courses. But how much more effec-



tually would the cause of justice be promoted by a concentration of the suspicions attached to the old offender; of his movements and connection about the time of the burglary, of his new boots or other dress, of his re-appearance with an old mistress, or adoption of a new one, with other minor indications of an accession of property, and additional marks of depravity."


[1] Three letters inserted in the New Monthly Magazine, for 1817: thefirst communication in the No. for June, page 399--101; the second in the No. for September, page 101--104; and the third in the No. for October, pages 203-207. From each of these, I mean to make extracts suited to my present purpose.











[3] Say a striped belt, worn across the shoulder under the waistcoat, and, perhaps, worked with G. Rs. I know these regulations approach very near to those of the French police-but what of that? If your rival be pre-eminent in any one desirable quality, that should be no reason for its rejection, but the contrary. Since the foregoing appeared (1817) the instituion of dismounted patrols, in a livery of blue, with red waistcoats, would seem like an approach towards adopting this suggestion; but the reader will perceive that I could not consistently recommend dressing up in uniforms persons whose duty is to come upon the offenders unawares, and not merely to frighten them.