The million-peopled city
Description of the adjacent notorious " Thieves' Houses."
" Great excitement has lately prevailed on my district, in consequence of the houses, Nos. 2 and 3, West-street, being open for the inspection of the curious, previous to their demolition to make way for the new street about to be made in continuation of . Many thousands of individuals visited and inspected these houses during the month of August, among whom were his [late] , and several other persons of high rank and station in society. A general surprise was expressed that such places could so long have existed in the very centre of the metropolis, and within so short a distance of one of its leading public thoroughfares, and been notoriously used for the worst of purposes.
" They are said to have been built in the years , by a man named or , chief of a tribe of Gipsies, under pretence of being a tavern called , but for the more direct purpose of concealing stolen property, and harbouring thieves. The dilapidated buildings behind were used as stables, where the fleetest horses were kept in constant readiness for pursuit or speedy flight. From all accounts it appears that these houses have ever been the resort of the most notorious and abandoned individuals of the metropolis. The names of their inhabitants stand conspicuous in the annals of crime, for among others are , , , and Dick Turpin.
"Many are the strange incidents said to have taken place within these walls, and though there are many exaggerated statements made, there is no doubt, from their situation,- being by the side of , the rapid current of which could at once sweep into the Thames what might be thrown in-their dark closets, trap-doors, sliding panels, and means of escape, they were among the most secure erections
|for robbery and murder. In the shop No. 3, there were 2 traps in the floor, one for the concealment of property, the other for a means of escape in case the felon should be pursued. His method of escape was by lifting a covering of wood about 3 feet square, when he immediately was in the cellar beneath; and by putting a plank kept in constant readiness, across , and drawing it over after him, he was at once in B, cut off from pursuit.|
" The cellar was a most filthy dismal place. Its light emanated from a small window or hole immediately above the Fleet Ditch. In one corner was a cell or den, made by parting off a portion of the cellar with brickwork, well besmeared with soot and dirt to prevent detection. It measured about 4 feet by 8. Here a chimney-sweep, who escaped from the prison of Newgate a few years since, was concealed for a considerable period, and fed through an aperture made by removing a brick near the rafters. Although repeatedly searched for he remained safe till informed of by one of his associates.
" In a corner on the opposite side were the brickwork remains of a small blast furnace, which was used some years since by a gang of coiners. A private still was long worked successfully in this dismal place, till at length it was dis- covered.
" The most extraordinary and ingenious part of the pre- mises I consider to be the means of escape. If a prisoner once got within their walls, it was almost an impossibility for his pursuers to take him, in consequence of the various outlets and communications. There was scarcely a chance for the most active officer to take a thief, if he only got a few yards in advance of him. He had 4 ways of escape. The staircase was very peculiar, scarcely to be described, for though the pursuer and the pursued might only be a few feet distant, the one would escape to the roof of the house,
|while the other would be descending steps, and in a moment or two would find himself in the room he had just left, by another door. This was managed by a pivoted panel being turned between the two. A large room on the first-floor back is said to be the place where the abandoned inmates held their nightly orgies, and planned their future robberies. From the upper room there were means of escape by an aperture being made in the wall leading to the house No. 2, containing no less than 24 rooms, with 4 distinct staircases. Here, also, level with the floor, was a shoot, or spout which remained covered, except when required, about 2 feet in breadth, and 3 feet in length, by which goods could be conveyed to the cellar in an instant.|
" In short, a more suitable place for theft and murder could scarcely be made, as the premises from bottom to top evidently showed.
" Immediately behind the premises just described stood a dilapidated building, lately used as ' penny lodgings,' where men and women slept promiscuously. Scenes commonly occurred here, and in the court adjoining, far too gross and revolting to be described. What has been actually seen by one of the general superintendents of the Mission in the middle of the day in the public street, before this house, is so bad as actually not to be credited, except it were thus confirmed.
"In these lodgings your missionary found the associate of Good, who was executed for the murder of , about 2 years since. Indeed they were a receptacle for the most abandoned, so that every session some of their inhabitants were before the justice.