Thomas Limpus

Thomas Limpus was born into modest circumstances on 23 July 1760, to parents who frequently relied on the parish to make ends meet. He shared his fourteenth Christmas with a rag-tag collection of twenty-five boys and men from eight years old to eighty in a mixed men’s ward at St Martin in the Fields workhouse.1 For those few weeks he was a member of the ‘workhouse family’ and celebrated the most important ritual of the year with its members. But this was only the first of the many temporary and artificial communities he was obliged to join as a result of his encounters with the institutions of poor relief and justice over the next twenty-five years. In 1777, at seventeen years old, he stole a handkerchief and was sentenced to three years hard labour on the hulks; he was also forced to share his food, labour and life with a newly formed group of long-term prisoners.

Within months of his release, now aged twenty, he was once again caught stealing a handkerchief and was held for three months in Tothill Fields Bridewell with a constantly changing population of disorderly vagrants and prostitutes noted for spending their days gambling and retailing dirty jokes. And following an appearance before the Westminster sessions charged with ‘Petit Larceny’, he spent most of the next year in New Prison.2 In each institution he was forced to engage with a new group of people and new figures of authority, and to develop along with his fellow prisoners strategies for survival in that temporary home. At the same time, and along with his many contemporaries, his recidivism and later direct challenges to the working of those institutions helped to illustrate the failure of the prisons and hulks to eradicate the problems of crime and disorder.3

By early September of 1782, Limpus was once again at liberty on the streets of Westminster and was once more caught stealing a handkerchief. This time, however, his sentence was transportation. Since exile to America was no longer possible following the American Revolution, he was sent to ‘Africa, for the term of seven years’. He was shipped to Gorée on the west coast, only to be told by the captain of the garrison when he arrived that as his own troops were starving, Limpus and his fellow prisoners could not remain.4 They were told they were ‘free men’, and would have to ‘do the best [they] … could’.5 Limpus managed to return to London within a few months, a breathing demonstration of the failure of the policy of transporting criminals to Africa. Tried for ‘returning from transportation’, he was sentenced to hang, along with fifty-seven other men and women – the largest number ever sentenced to death at the Old Bailey in a single session. Having delivered this terrible sentence, the judge berated Limpus and his contemporaries standing at the bar for having ‘lost their terror’ of the court and its punishments, and having become bold ‘in defiance of the laws’.6 The judge was right.

Having pronounced these death sentences, the judge had to turn to a group of eighteen convicts who had, like Limpus, ‘returned from transportation’ and, despite the fact this was a capital offence, offer them the same punishment a second time. At a time of social crisis, it would not have been politic to add to the increasing toll of executions. So a group of criminal mutineers captured following a convict uprising on a transport ship, the Swift, condemned for their ‘violent combination of numbers’, were pardoned and given their lives.7 Just three months later, with Limpus’s own death sentence commuted to transportation for life, he himself mutinied in company with many of those same eighteen men. Together they took over the Mercury and temporarily brought Britain’s century-long policy of sending its criminals to indentured servitude to an end.

Figure 1.1 [Samuel Scott, A Crowd, n.d. c. 1760. T08478]( © Trustees of the Tate Gallery.

Figure 1.1 Samuel Scott, A Crowd, n.d. c. 1760. T08478. © Trustees of the Tate Gallery.

Following almost three years in a convict hulk and a foiled escape attempt on Guy Fawkes Day in 1784, in 1787 the criminal justice system finally won its unequal battle with Thomas Limpus by sending him to the far side of the world to a new-style penal colony.8 But this was not before he and his fellow convicts, through their persistent acts of resistance, both individual and collective, had helped to transform the penal system. Thomas Limpus was one of the at least 283 men and women from London (over a third of the total) shipped to distant exile in Australia on the First Fleet.9

Plebeian London

This book is about Thomas Limpus and Mary Cut-and-Come-Again.10 It is about Mary Dyson, Sarah Cowden and Paul Patrick Kearney; Mary Whistle and Henry Bates – all paupers or criminals, or both.11 It is about the hundreds of thousands of Londoners who, although they were obliged to negotiate from positions of weakness with overseers and constables, magistrates and judges, helped shape social policy over the course of the eighteenth century. It is about how working Londoners, acting often autonomously but sometimes in alliance with those in power, contributed to the evolution of criminal justice and social welfare by playing the system and frequently confounding it. Both through the subtle pressure of supplicants, inmates and prisoners (whose very survival depended on collaborating with the institutions of the state), and through direct challenges in court or prison, in parishes, on shipboard and on the streets, Thomas Limpus and his fellow accused criminals and paupers, acting both together and alone, determined which policies and institutions would survive (and in what form) and which would collapse in chaos.

The men and women who form the subjects of this book, plebeian Londoners, were a complex group, but they shared a common relationship to authority. These Londoners were at the sharp end of the administration of criminal justice and poor relief – they were the men and women tried at the Old Bailey, committed to houses of correction and punished as vagrants. And they were the most vulnerable of Londoners, forced by their poverty to apply for parish relief. Their common characteristic was that they were confronted by the need to negotiate from a position of relative weakness.

Despite this shared relationship to authority, plebeian Londoners cannot be reduced to a set of identifiable socioeconomic characteristics. We are hampered in our analysis of this issue by the fact that the language of social description in the eighteenth century was imprecise, while the characteristics of wealth and status that marked social divisions were themselves fluid. As a result we have no convenient shorthand for describing those at the lower end of the social scale. This was not a class society in a Marxist or nineteenth-century sense, and despite significant inequalities of wealth, status and power, there are few clear lines to be drawn between social groups. Thus, to use convenient shorthand terms such as ‘lower class’ or ‘middle class’, which eighteenth-century historians (including ourselves) often do, effectively imposes crude categorisations on a much more complex reality. Even ‘the poor’ is a notoriously elastic concept which can be defined narrowly to include only those in receipt of relief or charity (paupers), or much more broadly as all those whose economic circumstances were sufficiently precarious that they were in real danger of being forced to rely on relief, owing to old age or misfortune, at some point during their lives. Even relatively prosperous working Londoners could fall into poverty, just as they might at any time be accused of a crime. For the purpose of this book, we have equated ‘the poor’ not only with those in receipt of poor relief (historians put this figure at over 10 per cent of the national population at any one time in the second half of the century), but also the up to 60 per cent who experienced significant poverty at some point during their lives, a figure which is broadly comparable to Leonard Schwarz’s estimate that half of the adult male population in London at the end of the century worked in unskilled or semi-skilled trades.12 These are the men and women who were likely to possess that relationship to authority which we have characterised as ‘plebeian’.

But even taking into account this unifying characteristic, plebeian Londoners were a very mixed group. We can see this first and foremost in many of the lives discussed in this book. While some, like Thomas Limpus, inherited relative social insecurity from their parents, others, like Paul Patrick Kearney or Mary Whistle, were formerly successful businessmen and respectable householders who encountered adversity and were reduced to begging or reliance on a workhouse. Consequently, if we attempt a sociological analysis of plebeian London, the results are complicated. Owing to the limitations of the surviving sources, we can discern very little about the status, occupations and levels of income and property ownership of those who were charged with crimes, or even of those in receipt of poor relief. The type of information most often provided is occupation, yet even this is rare. The most detailed source analysed in this book, the Old Bailey Proceedings, provides occupational labels for only 10.4 per cent of the defendants brought to trial between 1690 and 1800.13 As with most occupational evidence, we lack sufficient information to fully assess the meanings of the terms used – whether, for example, someone labelled a ‘carpenter’ was a master, journeyman or apprentice. Nevertheless, judging by what we know of the status and income of the occupations most frequently listed, those charged with crime were predominantly at the bottom of the social scale, although this was not invariably the case. Among the 7,064 defendants accorded an occupation in the Proceedings, over a thousand different occupational labels can be found. However, the four most common were servants (32.3 per cent of defendants labelled), labourers (4.3 per cent), porters (3.8 per cent) and soldiers (3.4 per cent). An additional 6.9 per cent were labelled as apprentices and journeymen, in a variety of mostly artisanal trades such as carpenter, tailor, shoemaker and weaver. In so far as it is possible to generalise from this disparate evidence, the vast majority of Old Bailey defendants came from what historians might call the lower, or lower-middle, classes. In contrast, only a small minority of defendants came from more elite backgrounds: 2.7 per cent of defendants were labelled as gentlemen, ‘esquire’ or ‘Mr’, 0.3 per cent as captain and 0.2 per cent as merchants. Although these elite defendants are not our central focus (they were more likely to be accused of murder than theft) and they maintained their distance from their fellow defendants, even in Newgate Prison (where they paid for separate apartments), for the most part all those tried at the Old Bailey shared similar experiences of arrest, prison and trial – of being at the sharp end of a relationship with judicial authority. This helps explain why Lord George Gordon made common cause with his fellow prisoners when he was incarcerated in Newgate in the 1780s, by providing some with financial support.14

While we lack equivalent evidence of occupational background for those who were in receipt of poor relief, such people were, at the time of asking for support, manifestly at the bottom end of the social scale, sharing that characteristic with a significant proportion, but not all, of those tried at the Old Bailey. We do not know how much overlap there was between the individuals who committed (or were simply charged with) crimes and those who were in receipt of poor relief. A systematic analysis comparing lists of names of accused criminals and paupers has not yet been completed, but preliminary analysis (using the the London Lives website) reveals few direct matches; most concern individuals who had been tried at the Old Bailey and either had recently been, or were subsequently, subjected to a settlement examination, reflecting the precarious position of individuals with these experiences. There is probably a specific reason why more matches were not found: those in receipt of financial support had much less impetus to resort to crime. However, there is also a more important explanation: while there is much we do not know about the relationship between poverty and crime, it has become increasingly clear that only a fraction of those in economic need actually resorted to theft to support themselves, and that poverty was only one of many possible motivations for committing crime.15 For reasons of both opportunity and temperament, Londoners responded to poverty in different ways. At the same time, there is significant evidence that accused criminals and the poor were often part of the same communities, and even the same families. The London Lives website has revealed several married couples in which the wife was in receipt of parochial relief while the husband was tried for criminal activity. For example, when John Askew’s wife was giving birth in a workhouse in 1782 and she sent him a message that she needed for support ‘a few shillings more than the workhouse would allow her’, he went out and stole a pair of linen sheets worth seven shillings. Given that both the poor and accused criminals came from a wide range of generally deprived economic circumstances, it is likely that there was considerable overlap in terms of their social composition and even family backgrounds.16

If plebeian Londoners shared a complex social identity, their methods of engaging with authority were similarly multifaceted, depending on shifting alliances among those directly challenging authority or, when possible, with those able to exercise some institutional power. A grocer or weaver, or even a butcher, might join the gangs of young men, such as the ‘butcher boys’, who made up a distinctive part of the mob. A widow and decayed householder, standing on her legal settlement and respectable demeanour when seeking relief from the overseer, might present herself as a repentant prostitute to the Magdalen Hospital. Each role, from lowly labourer to censorious good wife, brought with it a script and cultural baggage that Londoners took up and put off as the situation demanded; each identity implying different communities of interest, both with men and women in similar circumstances, and in temporary alliances with parish and judicial officials. In the process, relationships could appear inconsistent and contradictory: ratepayers combined with respectable paupers in opposition to the vestry when their expectations of a parish pension in old age were threatened, while simultaneously supporting the reformation of manners societies when confronted by the ungodly and the disorderly. The poor shared an interest with trading justices in seeing justice done often and cheaply, putting them in opposition to the bench (the collectivity of justices) and parish officers, but they could equally find themselves in a justice’s parlour accused of crime. Each new challenge brought into being a new alliance created in defence or pursuit of shared interests.

Plebeian Londoners were not averse to using the law; 10.3 per cent of the prosecutors at the Old Bailey for whom we have information were in low-status occupations, and the poor also used summary justice.17 Indeed, their prosecutions were often malicious, taking advantage of the possibility of using the law as an aggressive weapon.18 Some plebeian Londoners even more actively collaborated with the system by participating in the administration of justice and poor relief on the ground – either by acting as informers and thief-takers, or by taking up official positions including constables and night watchmen, prison turnkeys, and masters and mistresses of workhouses. The subjects of this book thus did not engage in a single clear dialogue or dialectic with the rich and powerful (who were in any case a similarly complex and diverse collection of groups). Instead, they entered a series of sometimes confusing and contradictory alliances in pursuit of their interests. Nonetheless, the sum total of their actions repeatedly forced the authorities to rethink their social policies and respond to these pressures from below.

The problem

The very existence of the growing metropolis of London, with its multiple roles as a political, imperial, industrial, cultural and economic capital, has often been used as part of a wider explanation of the course of British social and economic history.19 However, most historians have shied away from exploring the forces that shaped London itself. By focusing on two interrelated aspects of the history of what would soon be Western Europe’s first million-person city – crime and poverty, and their institutional doppelgängers of criminal justice and poor relief – this book attempts to explain how the demands and actions of plebeian Londoners helped create the most complex and expensive system of police and justice, relief and charity Britain had ever seen.

In a little over a hundred years, between the 1690s and the 1790s, a centuries-old system of discretionary justice characterised by citizen arrests and householder policing, by exemplary hangings and pardoned convicts, was transformed. It was replaced by one in which policing and prosecution were reshaped as an increasingly bureaucratic and rules-based system, administered by a cadre of salaried officers and professional lawyers and justices. The process of arrest and prosecution first evolved from a system dependent on public participation and unpaid parish officers serving by rotation into one peppered with substitute paid officers working alongside freelance thief-takers in search of rewards; it then gradually became a more bureaucratic system of regular officers working directly under judicial control.20 During the same period, the adversarial trial and an increasingly rigorous notion of procedure came to characterise criminal justice.21 Prosecution and defence counsel, the right to silence and an assumption of innocence each took root in judicial soil. Concurrently, punishments for the most serious crimes were transformed from the simple and inexpensive expedient of hanging a proportion of those convicted to include heavy reliance on transportation and imprisonment.22 And yet these were not necessarily the outcomes favoured by the elites. Many in parliament simply wanted to hang more people rather than spend scarce resources on policing and punishment. Few besides victims of crime and secretaries of state welcomed the thief-takers, while the newly regularised night watch and Bow Street Runners were created out of the fear of crime and concern that criminal justice was losing its on-going battle with a rising tide of disorder.23

In the same years poor relief was also transformed. By the beginning of the nineteenth century Londoners were spending over half a million pounds a year on parochial poor relief, or approximately nine shillings, seven pence per head of the population. A hundred years earlier they had spent less than one shilling, six pence per head.24 Even accounting for a century of inflation, costs more than tripled.25 The same period also witnessed the evolution of a new parish-based bureaucracy of belonging and removal, extensive institutional care for most paupers in workhouses and an increasingly integrated system of medical provision.26 Moreover, a plethora of new associational charities spread a carpet of alternative forms of relief and succour across the landscape, creating a uniquely rich and complex poor relief environment.27 And yet, even more than with the reconfiguration of criminal justice, no one sought this particular outcome. There were no calls to increase the local poor rates or to provide more extensive provision for the less well off. Many argued about how the system might be changed, or ideally eliminated, and new charitable provisions used the plight of narrowly defined groups of the poor (such as foundlings and young girls) to justify their activities. But most eighteenth-century commentators believed the system of parish relief and charities was already overgenerous and that the general run of the poor were essentially and irredeemably feckless and ‘undeserving’.

To read the newspapers and pamphlets, the preambles of innumerable acts of parliament, and vestry minutes, one would expect punishment to have become more brutal and poor relief expenditure and care to have become ever less comprehensive. Even those among the elite who wished to reform social policies from humanitarian or religious motives did so in response to perceptions that crime and the cost of poor relief were rising, and they sought to place significant constraints on the support they hoped to make available. Of course, like Thomas Limpus and his plebeian contemporaries, elite commentators and projectors did not form a single coherent class, nor did they adopt a single identity and perspective. While each new scheme and act, the brainchild of an elite projector, sought to redefine the relationship between authority and disorder, it also privileged one part of elite society over another. While the watch acts of Westminster empowered select vestries and justices to impose a new order on the streets, they also sidelined Westminster’s traditional governors sitting in the Court of Burgesses. And although the rise of defence counsel was authorised by judges, and driven forward by the actions of defendants, it ended up marginalising the role of jurors and those same judges. Nevertheless, the evolution of these newly regularised systems of policing and justice, and this uniquely expensive and complex system of charity and relief, occurred despite the powerfully expressed, if occasionally contradictory, opinions of the elite. While elites were the actors who ultimately implemented change, they did so within constraints shaped by forces beyond their control.

This book seeks to explain why and how elite expectations were so often confounded. It does so by re-examining changes in social policy in light of the behaviour of the criminal and the pauper – from the perspective of plebeian Londoners. It argues that the changing character of policing, justice and poor relief was in large measure the result of the collective behaviour of the individual men and women who had most invested in the system – the defendants and supplicants whose lives depended upon their ability to use these systems effectively. Of course, plebeian Londoners did not define the ideal form of a workhouse or articulate the supposed benefits of the reformed prison; however, they helped force the pace of change and define the limits of the possible, continually seeking new ways to turn frequently oppressive policies to their advantage.

This is not the conventional way these topics have been presented. In recent decades historians have written extensively on crime and poverty, but have focused their attention primarily on elite responses to perceived social problems. With few exceptions, they have also tended to write about poor relief and criminal justice in isolation, building complex histories but not relating one to the other, despite the fact that poverty and crime were clearly interrelated social phenomena. Writing within the whig tradition, an older generation of historians gave the credit for reforming criminal justice to men such as Henry Fielding and John Howard, and writers such as Cesare Beccaria and Jonas Hanway, abetted by an increasingly active parliament.28 Although in the 1960s and 1970s a sociological and Marxist-inspired ‘history from below’ pursued quantitative analyses of patterns of crime and compiled a richly detailed history of popular protest and other ‘social crimes’, by the 1980s most historians had switched their attention back to criminal justice.29 They came to the conclusion that the ‘dark figure’ of unrecorded crime made it impossible to study crime rates per se, while disillusionment with Marxism led to the virtual abandonment of studies of crime as a form of social protest.30 Research came to focus on the roles of the politicians, judges, justices of the peace and jurors who were seen as shaping judicial, policing and penal policies (though as the work of Douglas Hay suggests, this was a topic where a Marxist perspective was still productive).31

Leading this new engagement with criminal justice, in work published over the last thirty years, John Beattie focused our attention on the influence of City merchants and tradesmen on the development of both local and national policy (including the transformation of the night watch and the passage of the 1718 Transportation Act) and most recently on the role of the magistrates Henry Fielding and John Fielding in spearheading reforms such as the introduction of the Bow Street Runners. While Beattie and the generation of scholars (notably Simon Devereaux) who have followed in his footsteps have consistently argued that the fear of crime motivated changes in criminal justice, they do not accord the men and women identified as the criminals any substantive role.32 Similarly, legal historians, particularly John Langbein, have sought an explanation for the rise of counsel and the development of the adversarial trial almost exclusively in the decisions of judges and the histrionics of lawyers such as William Garrow, to the exclusion of any consideration of the defendants whose trials and legal fees justified and paid for the presence of lawyers.33 Recent attempts to widen these explanations to include broader cultural developments – increasing intolerance of violence and new ideas about privacy and morality – have similarly located the origins of change with the middling sort and elites rather than in the behaviour of criminals. David Lemmings has recently argued that ‘increasing middling consciousness of respectability and sensitivity to the perceived failings of the common people’ resulted in a pattern of declining popular participation and agency within ‘cultures of governance’ over the course of the century.34

The beginning of an alternative approach can be found in the work of Peter King. In Remaking Justice from the Margins, he describes a system shaped primarily by relatively minor functionaries – jurors, clerks, lawyers and justices of the peace – taking advantage of the discretionary nature of criminal justice to invent important new policies, such as the differential treatment of young and female offenders and the increasing use of magistrates’ courts.35 But even here, the marginal figures given pride of place are from a secure middling sort and exclude the men and women labelled as criminals and forced to play the lead in the theatre of justice.

More promisingly, Heather Shore and Mary Clayton have documented the remarkably successful legal tactics of two thieves and prostitutes, Mary Harvey and Charlotte Walker; and Andrea McKenzie has studied the popular culture that surrounded the ‘game’ highwayman.36 With respect to punishment, accounts of the experiences of poor men and women imprisoned for debt, or hanged by the state, can be found in the work of Joanna Innes and Vic Gatrell.37 However, in general, historians of crime and criminal justice have claimed their own ‘right to silence’ in respect of the role and agency of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who were forced to negotiate their futures with magistrates and the courts.

The history of poverty and poor relief in the long eighteenth century has been much less fully studied than crime and criminal justice, but it, too, has only partially engaged with the experience of the people most directly affected or explored their roles in the evolution of policy. An older historiography grounded in a Fabian tradition, and exemplified by the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, explored poor relief as part of a wider story of the evolution of state administration and was designed to frame contemporary (early twentieth-century) debate around social welfare and public administration.38 More recently, in the work of Paul Slack, Steve Hindle, Mary Fissell and Joanna Innes, this strand of historical analysis has come to focus on the micro politics of the institutions of redistribution (parishes, hospitals and charities) and to use the evidence produced by them to model social, gender and class relations more generally.39 The institutional focus of this work has, however, tended to exclude any substantial perspective from below.

In parallel, economic historians and demographers have used many of the sources of the history of poor relief (patterns of expenditure, evidence of hardship) as central components in a wider understanding of the evolution of social and economic relations. This work has formed part of the project of modelling the demographic and economic changes that characterised the ‘first industrial nation’. Most importantly, the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure has created a substantial statistical model of both demographic and economic change that has in turn been used to create a social science of family formation, and by extension of poverty as a life-cycle condition. This literature grinds the evidence of human experience down to its smallest compass in order to construct a compelling model of lives characterised by life-cycle rituals and the most basic of life’s experiences: birth, marriage, death, illness and deprivation. In the work of E. A. Wrigley and Roger Schofield, and more broadly in that of a generation of Cambridge-trained social historians, a statistical framework for a material history of poverty has been created.40 Most recently, in the work of Leonard Schwarz, Jeremy Boulton, Alysa Levene and Alannah Tomkins, this focus on the material and life-cycle components of poor relief and poverty has taken centre stage.41 As a result we are possessed of an increasingly sophisticated overview of the statistics of poverty and the administrative characteristics of the system. Nevertheless, in this literature paupers themselves remain largely passive objects of policy, rather than active participants in its creation.

There are, however, substantial recent attempts to give the poor a voice. To a large extent this has taken the form of work on the ‘narratives’ of the poor. James Stephen Taylor, Pamela Sharpe, Thomas Sokoll, Peter King, Alysa Levene and Steven King have each sought to give new meaning to the pauper letters, petitions, working-class autobiographies and neglected life writing that, by the nineteenth century, make up a significant component of the archive.42 These historians have focused on the social exchange represented by the provision of support by parishes and charities, variously described as the result of pauper ‘strategies’, ‘negotiations’ and ‘makeshifts’, and on the ways in which these apparently less powerful actors were able to move within the system.43 This work, however, has largely limited itself to either describing behaviour and negotiation within a shared, if changing, culture of obligation, or else charting the effectiveness of the actions of paupers in gaining more relief.44 At its most ambitious, in the work of historians such as Peter Jones, Samantha Shave and David Green for the early nineteenth century, these pauper scripts are seen to reflect a wider moral economy, or to evidence substantive pauper resistance.45 Yet even where they are tied to a clear political culture, little or no attempt has been made to explain how the actions of the poor contributed to the evolution of the wider system.

While not seeking to conflate the often distinct roles of criminals and paupers, this study goes beyond these literatures to posit a new model of pauper and criminal agency, and to emphasise its distinctive effect in shaping the evolution of policy. In many respects it builds on the work of Kevin Siena, who has explored how the demands of the sick poor contributed to the evolution of workhouse medicine, and Peter Linebaugh, whose study of the workplace struggles of the London hanged focused attention on the actions of some of the most important players in this drama.46 It is also substantially influenced by the work of Catharina Lis and Hugo Soly, Arlette Farge and Seth Rockman in their studies of other times and places.47 Unlike previous work, our approach focuses directly on the roles of the poor and the criminal in helping to shape the changing character of the institutions and policies with which they were forced to engage.


The case for the influence of plebeian Londoners is predicated on the belief that they possessed real and effective agency; that their behaviour was capable not just of stimulating a response but of contributing more directly to the evolution of both institutions and policies. In recent decades the role of agency in the lives of the poor has grown increasingly significant for our understandings of the history of early modern and nineteenth-century Britain.48 While the label of ‘pauper agency’ has been used by several historians, no one has identified the causal line of influence that links intentions to historical change. By evidencing a more substantial role for pauper and criminal agency in determining the evolving structures of eighteenth-century society, this volume seeks to outline such a causal link.

‘Agency’ is a slippery and uncertain term, and the form of agency identified in this book is in many ways limited. We do not claim any real self-consciousness on the part of the poor and the criminal beyond a gnawing need to achieve a particular outcome in a narrowly confined negotiation with power. In many respects the ‘agency’ identified here takes the form of a veto on innovation. Some policies – such as prescriptions against begging – were rendered simply unenforceable. But there is also a substantive creative energy of directed demand at play. Setting one parish against another in relation to pauper settlement, appearing ill and about to give birth at a workhouse door, using lawyers to counteract informers, hiring defence counsel in Old Bailey trials; all forced open narrow cracks in apparently working hegemonic systems and stimulated change. The accusations directed at the Bow Street Runners of acting as self-interested ‘thief-takers’ forced them to justify their roles in new ways and become more professional; while the powerful demands of the sick and elderly obliged parish overseers to abandon their optimistic expectations of recouping the cost of relief from the labour of the poor, and to rebuild their workhouses with extensive medical provision. Endless pamphlet writers, projectors and parliamentarians proposed reforms to criminal justice and poor relief, creating a landscape of ideas and exercising their own form of agency, but it was the poor and the criminal who primarily determined which reforms appeared feasible, and more importantly which initiatives took root and survived.

It is also important to recognise that the engagement of paupers and criminals with the systems of relief and justice necessarily took on a character determined by the motivations that underpinned them. The prospect of almost immediate death, or the pang and pains of serious hunger and illness, can both encourage profound conservatism and drive desperate risk taking. The objectives of the poor tended to be short term in character. In the words of a modern account of poverty: ‘when the present is at stake, the future can be sacrificed’.49 As a result the tactics of the poor and criminal were necessarily focused on incremental changes in pursuit of short-term advantage, and on the conservative maintenance of well-understood relationships and rights. However, in many ways this incremental character made the agency of plebeian Londoners more effective, since it is easier for an overseer or a judge to make an exception in one instance than it is to respond to a wider challenge to the system’s legitimacy.

Finally, the metropolitan character of the subjects of this book – their co-location in a complex administrative environment – is central to the particular flavour of agency suggested here. Peter King has described the relationships of power that underpinned the exercise of justice in rural Britain as a set of triangular negotiations between the poor, landed society and the middling sort; by allying with one group against the other, the poor acquired a degree of power.50 In London, because of the many overlapping and confused jurisdictional boundaries, the poor and the criminal were able to exercise still greater authority. The capital was replete with poorly policed neighbourhoods that straddled the boundary between the old City and the surrounding county of Middlesex. Moorfields, Rag Fair and Lincoln’s Inn Fields all sat on this boundary, creating spaces of refuge in which to hide from authority. As importantly, the sheer number of magistrates – the trading justices of contemporary ridicule – gave the poor some choice over whose justice they wanted enforced. The patchwork of courts, rotation offices and magistrates’ parlours ensured that the law never acted with one mind. When frustrated by the behaviour of an officer or magistrate, the poor and the criminal were often able to secure support from one of their colleagues. Paupers could appeal to the Lord Mayor or county justices for redress against their parish of settlement, forcing many overseers to abandon any attempt to enforce the poor law due to its cost in favour of informal and negotiated arrangements involving the paupers concerned and the officers of other parishes.51

This complexity grew as the century progressed. The rise of associational charities gave the more settled poor alternatives to an appeal to the overseer; and the growing role of legal settlement after 1692 created a new currency of belonging to the parish. Increasing literacy rates and the wide dissemination of print allowed some plebeian Londoners, notably highwaymen, the chance to sell their stories to a broad audience.52 Appeals by politicians to ‘public opinion’, even if these were not meant to reach below the middle class, provided the ‘mob’ with occasions to voice their own grievances, as they did dramatically in 1768 and 1780.53

One way of characterising this particular flavour of ‘agency’ is to set it within Michel de Certeau’s distinction between ‘tactics’ and ‘strategies’; between the everyday behaviour that everyone uses to make the world bend to their desires (tactics); and the systems and institutions that define the context in which an individual practises everyday life (strategies).54 ‘Tactics’ are what every member of society necessarily uses to engage with social structures – whether walking the street or paying taxes. However, because the poor and the criminal are at the sharp end of explicit and well-articulated strategies, the impact of their tactics is heightened. Just as the strategic imposition of a new tax on a particular industry makes the ‘tactics’ of that industry’s producers and consumers – their willingness to pay it – instrumental in determining the tax’s success, so social policy is successful only if the poor and the criminal engage with it in the ways intended. As a result, the very poverty and apparent powerlessness of the poor and the criminal – their identification as ‘problems’ – both ensure that they become the object of ‘strategies’ and in turn give greater significance to their ‘tactics’. Additionally, the highly pressured circumstances they confront – hunger and possible execution – make them doubly motivated to develop a profound knowledge of the narrow social systems with which they were forced to engage. Our approach is not intended to deny the importance of decisions made by policy-makers, or the roles of economic and ecological forces that frame individual lives in unexpected ways, but to draw attention to the complex relationship that existed between plebian tactics and elite strategies.

De Certeau’s formulation of the structural relationship between tactics and strategies remains largely descriptive in character. This volume seeks to go one step further by arguing that the agency of the poor and the criminal lies in their ability to change the character of the systems they are forced to work within. Essentially, we argue that the tactics of the criminal and the poor are in direct, imaginative and constructive dialogue with the institutions and individuals which administer criminal justice and poor relief and, moreover, that the origins of many changes in these structures can be usefully located in the everyday actions of those same groups. In other words, a motive force for reform and change is the imaginative exploitation of the systems of ‘police’. The poor and the criminal use tactics to deflect and modify the strategies created by their social superiors, and, in order to make these systems work effectively, the managers of criminal justice and poor relief necessarily respond by reformulating both how the systems work on a day-to-day basis, and eventually by changing statutes and regulations. Needless to say, the shape of these changes, whether they take the form of a workhouse or a punishment like transportation, are shaped by ideologies and political and economic forces beyond collective or individual plebeian control, but through their tactics the poor and the criminal both constrain the choices available and influence how new practices are implemented – how ‘strategies’ evolve. Thus while the poor, for example, did not determine the shape of the modern prison, as spelled out in the 1779 Penitentiary Act, the Act was in part a direct response to repeated plebeian escapes from gaols and the hulks.55

It is important to be clear about how this formulation of pauper and criminal agency adds to or disrupts other approaches. It is in many ways different to Michel Foucault’s conception of the roles of both ‘micro-technologies’ and discourses in shaping change.56 By locating a force for change in the imaginative engagement of the pauper and criminal, this work is intended to reinsert the individual as an actor capable of writing his or her own lines. We believe that Foucault’s emphasis on the overarching role of (elite) languages not only underestimates the importance of the semi-autonomous culture of the poor but also underplays the ability of individuals, driven by need and personal fear, to move beyond the confines of a dominant culture. At the same time, we explicitly sidestep the project of locating historical change in the development of self-conscious collective political action. In contrast to Edward Thompson and the British Marxist tradition, this volume attempts to re-emphasise the on-going importance of everyday need and desperation, and the roles of men and women of all ages and multiple backgrounds, acting independently of any systematic politics. The cultures of the poor, their ‘tactics’, are in our analysis not seen as inevitable precursors of political consciousness. The forms of resistance and subversion documented here undoubtedly form a constituent element of Thompson’s ‘class struggle without class’, and they prefigure the rise of a new popular politics from the late eighteenth century, but they are distinct phenomena.57 The contingent, temporary and overlapping alliances navigated by someone such as Thomas Limpus create a uniquely eighteenth-century context in which opposition was expressed to an evolving system of governance. While aspects of this structural dynamic of change are more or less present in all societies, they are more effective in generating change in complex, generally urban, environments of the sort exemplified by eighteenth-century London.58

This emphasis on effective agency located in direct relations between plebeians and the administration of criminal justice and poor relief also distances our analysis from the approach taken by James C. Scott and his identification of the ‘weapons of the weak’ and ‘hidden transcripts’.59 While agreeing with Scott about the powerfully disruptive character of subaltern behaviour and cultures, and the ability of subaltern groups to creatively frustrate systems of authority, we seek to go further. In pauper letters, or the refusals of the royal pardon in the 1780s, we identify a creative and imaginative agency of shared intent, composed of individual actions motivated by individual circumstances, but exercised collectively, and often publicly, as a result of common experiences and shared understandings. That London provides a complex landscape of competing authorities in which agency can be exercised also sets this work apart from that focused on rural and peasant communities.60

To define this particular form of ‘agency’ as simply as possible: we suggest that basic human need and fear, whether in the form of hunger, disease or the prospect of death on the scaffold, motivate the poor and the accused criminal to explore, within their cultural context, the structures of society as thoroughly as possible (more thoroughly than any other group).61 In Peter Mandler’s words, ‘for the poor’ rich social knowledge is ‘essential to survival’.62 While a single person, often in alliance with more powerful actors such as overseers or lawyers, may take the imaginative leap that identifies the tensions within a system and discerns the best way to manipulate that system for short term gain, our claim is that this knowledge rapidly spreads, creating shared and copied tactics that exert collective pressure on the system. If a hundred people are put on trial and have before them the example of a successful device by which to secure a favourable outcome, their use of that device is both consistent and self-reinforcing. It is the shared character of these tactics, despite the frequent absence of an explicit collective voice, that turns individual actions (the negotiations and makeshifts of the historical literature) into a collective, at times even strategic, engagement with the social system. While plebeian Londoners, with their long traditions of taking to the streets to celebrate and protest, were experienced at acting in groups to secure their aims, most of the behaviour we document took the form of individual lobbying and acts of resistance.63 From this perspective changes in social policy are a response to a many-headed and querulous demand for resources or change which, in aggregate, amounts to a significant form of collective action.


Capturing the individual and collective behaviour of people whose lives are recorded almost exclusively in some of the most intractable of bureaucratic sources compiled by those in power – in account books, removal orders, gaol delivery lists and trial accounts – is difficult.64 Confronted with an eighteenth-century archive of a parish or a court, it is almost impossible to read the text it contains without subtly privileging the perspective of the clerk and the elite men whose explicit purposes the archive served. Parish records are generally about controlling expenditure, rather than about revealing the experience of poverty.65 And the archives of criminal justice are necessarily focused on an individual violation of the law, the process of evidencing that event and managing a bureaucracy of prosecution and punishment, rather than on revealing the life of the criminal, or indeed the victim.66 The shared plebeian experience of negotiating these systems was not directly recorded, and not the point. And while evidence of long lives lived in the shadow of the parish and magistrate has survived, it is spread almost randomly across hundreds of thousands of pages.

To construct a history from below, the first and most necessary task is therefore to dismember the archives themselves, and reconstruct them with plebeian lives in mind. For this book this dismemberment was achieved through the large-scale digitisation of the records of London crime and poverty. By transcribing in full the printed Proceedings of the Old Bailey (which document the vast majority of felony trials held in London) and a large selection of manuscript materials from the archives of parishes, quarter sessions and the Old Bailey, and combining these in an online resource, London Lives, new possibilities for documenting individual lives and the collective experience of groups of plebeian men and women were created. In order for evidence pertaining to individual lives to be assembled, the London Lives website includes a feature which allows all relevant documents for single individuals to be identified and brought together in ‘sets’. The resulting collection of documented lives, or more accurately (since comprehensive demographic and other data is not available) fragments of lives, approaching 3,000 at the time of writing, provides a key resource for this book.67 Overlaying these ‘lives’ are collections of individual instances of ‘roles’ defined by particular events, such as having received parish relief, having been incarcerated in Bridewell or having hired William Garrow as defence counsel. As a result new collective patterns of behaviour, examples of recidivism and links between different bodies of records have been identified.68

We have also worked with archives in more conventional ways, since the digitised records, while substantial, are not complete. They do not include those of any voluntary societies (with the exception of a sample of the records of the Marine Society) and contain only a small proportion of the parochial records, although the three detailed parish archives we have digitised were chosen as representative of contrasting social environments and different parts of London. While St Botolph Aldgate, straddling the eastern border of the City, was a large and relatively poor parish inhabited by artisans and labourers, St Clement Danes in the west end contained a mixture of social classes. In contrast to both, St Dionis Backchurch, located in the heart of the City of London, was a small and wealthy parish with less than a thousand inhabitants. The records of these parishes have been supplemented with the workhouse and settlement records of one of London’s largest parishes, St Martin’s in the Fields – digitised as a part of Leonard Schwarz and Jeremy Boulton’s ‘Pauper Lives’ project.69 Another important gap in the existing digitised archives is in the records of quarter sessions. While we have digitised all surviving manuscript sessions papers for Middlesex, Westminster and the City, the actual records of prosecutions of petty crime – the indictments, recognizances and commitments to houses of correction contained in the sessions rolls – are outside the scope of this project (though the records of the City house of correction – Bridewell – are included).70 Finally, the records of the governors of the City of London – the Repertories of the Court of Aldermen, Journals of the Court of Common Council and the notebooks kept by the Lord Mayor when acting as a justice of the peace – remain undigitised.71

While the vast extent of the surviving archives of London’s complex web of governance means that no one can look at everything, we have not omitted consulting key documents from these and other undigitised archives, particularly in the London Metropolitan Archives, National Archives and British Library. We have also made extensive use of newly searchable digital resources created by others, including eighteenth-century printed books, newspapers and the Parliamentary Papers. By combining these resources with the results of the new methodologies made possible through the digitisation undertaken for this book, we have been able to construct a richly, if not comprehensively, evidenced interpretation of eighteenth-century London. While evidence of plebeian agency often remains difficult to identify (it must often be carefully discerned from between the lines of records created by their social superiors), we believe we have effectively privileged a plebeian perspective.

As well as using the innovative methodology of dismembering and reordering the archive, this book is also intended as an experiment in presenting historical evidence to the reader in a new form. As explained in the preface, it was conceived and written in the hope that it would be read online and onscreen with the archive of lives and documents that underpins its conclusions directly (and freely) available to the reader. This is intended to make real the traditional purpose of a footnote – to allow the relevance of a specific piece of evidence to be confirmed, and the research journey of the authors to be made explicit. At its most ambitious, this book and its associated web resources represents an attempt to create a vertically integrated research project and publication that allows the sources of social history to be ordered around individual criminals and paupers, and then presented in a form that can be instantly accessed and evaluated. It is an attempt to escape the intellectual dominance of the archives and published book, the very structures of which imply a single (elite) reading, and to replace it with a history that both focuses on plebeian Londoners and at the same time decentres the authority of the authors as the only arbiters of the evidence. It is our strong hope that, having clicked through from the text of this book to the underlying electronic resources, readers will be encouraged to conduct their own research. With such further investigation, and the on-going march of digitisation and technological innovation, we are more conscious than most that our conclusions can only be provisional and suggestive.


  1. He was in ward 14, which was run by four older female inmates and housed both long-stay older men (most of whom were probably disabled in some way) and younger boys and men who stayed for only a few weeks, and like Limpus were soon ‘discharged’. LL, St Martin in the Fields Workhouse Registers, 25 November 1774 – 19 January 1775 (smdswhr_505_50557). See International Genealogical Index (IGI) (, 31 Dec. 2013) for his christening on 6 August 1760, in St Martin in the Fields. His parents were Henry and Mary Limpus. See also LL, set, ’Thomas Limpus’. We are grateful to Jeremy Boulton for providing us with the results of his unpublished research on Limpus.

  2. LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, October 1781 (LMSMPS507450053).

  3. Limpus was not, at least initially, a violent or difficult prisoner. In 1782 he served on the jury of a coroner’s inquest that dutifully and conveniently found that a fellow prisoner, William Cadman, had died following a ‘Visitation of God in a natural way’. LL, Middlesex Coroners’ Inquests, 1 May 1781 – 31 December 1799 (LMCOIC651010028).

  4. Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 224.

  5. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 10 September 1783 (t17830910-41).

  6. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 10 September 1783 (s17830910-1).

  7. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 10 September 1783 (t17830910-28).

  8. After a period of penal servitude on Norfolk Island, he earned a conditional pardon and appears to have lived the rest of his life there: Christopher, A Merciless Place, pp. 263, 334, 357.

  9. Emma Christopher, ‘Steal a handkerchief, see the world: the trans-oceanic voyaging of Thomas Limpus’, in Ann Curthoys and Marilyn Lake, eds., Connected Worlds: History in Trans-national Perspective (Canberra: ANU E Press, 2006), p. 79; Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p. 221. See also Christopher, A Merciless Place.

  10. LL, set, ‘Thomas Limpus’; and LL, set, ‘Mary Cut and Come-again’.

  11. LL, set, ‘Mary Dyson’; LL, set, ‘Sarah Cowden’; LL, set, ‘Paul Patrick Kearney’; for Mary Whistle see the section ‘Workhouses and the poor’ in Chapter 3; and LL, set, ‘Henry Bates’.

  12. Lynn Hollen Lees, The Solidarities of Strangers: The English Poor Laws and the People, 1700–1948 (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 45; Joanna Innes, ‘The “mixed economy of welfare” in early modern England: assessments of the options from Hale to Malthus (c. 1683–1803)’, in Martin Daunton, ed., Charity, Self-Interest and Welfare in the English Past (London: UCL Press, 1996), p. 165; Leonard Schwarz, ‘Income distribution and social structure in London in the late eighteenth century’, Economic History Revew, 32:2 (1979), 258. Dependency rates in London were marginally lower than the national average, with higher numbers of casual poor: David Green, Pauper Capital: London and the Poor Law, 1790–1870 (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 28–34.

  13. The original parchment indictments in the gaol delivery rolls do systematically contain occupation or status labels, since they were legally required, but the information provided is unhelpful owing to the common use of the vague terms ‘yeoman’ and ‘labourer’ to refer to individuals who possessed a wide range of specific occupations; although a status label was required, it did not have to be accurate. See J. S. Cockburn, ‘Early-modern Assize records as historical evidence’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 5:4 (1975), 222–5.

  14. We have been unable to remove the small number of elite defendants from the statistics from the Proceedings provided in this book, but the numbers are too small to make a material difference. For Gordon’s support of his fellow prisoners, see Douglas Hay, ‘The laws of God and the laws of man: Lord George Gordon and the death penalty’, in J. Rule and R. Malcolmson, eds., Protest and Survival: The Historical Experience (London: The Merlin Press, 1993), pp. 60–111.

  15. This conclusion is supported by the most recent examination of the statistical correlations between numbers of prosecutions and levels of economic deprivation, as measured by the price of grain and periods of war and peace. See Peter King, Crime, Justice and Discretion in England, 1740–1820 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 145–61.

  16. Since the original publication of this volume, a PhD has examined the relationship between poverty and crime. See Lucy Huggins, ‘Crime and economies of makeshift: experiences of poverty in the Old Bailey, 1750-1799’ (University of Sheffield PhD, 2019).

  17. These victim occupations include labourers, journeymen, servants, porters, carpenters, shoemakers, soldiers, weavers and even laundresses and washerwomen. For summary justice, see Peter King, ‘The summary courts and social relations in eighteenth-century England’, Past and Present, 183 (2004), 140–7; Drew Gray, Crime, Prosecution and Social Relations: The Summary Courts of the City of London in the Late Eighteenth Century (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2009), pp. 29–31, 168–9.

  18. Douglas Hay, ‘Prosecution and power: malicious prosecution in the English courts, 1750–1850’, in Douglas Hay and Francis Snyder, eds., Policing and Prosecution in Britain 1750–1850 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 343–96.

  19. For the classic statement of this perspective, see E. A. Wrigley, ‘A simple model of London’s importance in changing English society and economy, 1650–1750’, Past & Present, 37 (1967), 44–70.

  20. Most authoritatively, see John Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England, 1660–1800 (Princeton University Press, 1986); and John Beattie, Policing and Punishment in London, 1660–1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror (Oxford University Press, 2001).

  21. John H. Langbein, The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial (Oxford University Press, 2003); John Beattie, ‘Scales of justice: defense counsel and the English criminal trial in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’, Law and History Review, 9:2 (1991), 221–67.

  22. For London’s pivotal role in this transition, see John Beattie, ‘London crime and the making of the “Bloody Code”, 1689–1718’, in Lee Davison et al., eds., Stilling the Grumbling Hive: The Response to Social and Economic Problems in England 1689–1750 (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1992), pp. 49–76.

  23. John Beattie, The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750–1840 (Oxford University Press, 2012); Elaine A. Reynolds, Before the Bobbies: The Night Watch and Police Reform in Metropolitan London, 1720–1830 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998).

  24. Based on the 1803 returns for London and Middlesex: £525,261, against a population of 1,096,784 recorded in the 1801 census; and national returns from the Board of Trade for 1696 of £400,000 per annum, with a national population of 5.2 million. The national figure has been adopted for the 1700 comparator. Paul Slack, The English Poor Law, 1531–1782 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990), p. 30, Table 1.

  25. Using the Retail Price Index, the 1s. 7d. expenditure in 1700 was worth 2s. 11d in 1800; in relation to average earnings, this figure was 3s. 0d. See ‘Purchasing power of British pounds from 1270 to present’ (, 8 April 2020).

  26. See David Green, Pauper Capital: London and the Poor Law, 1790–1870 (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010); Steve Hindle, On the Parish?: The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England c. 1550–1750 (Oxford University Press, 2004); Lees, Solidarities of Strangers; Paul Slack, From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999).

  27. Donna T. Andrew, Philanthropy and Police: London Charity in the Eighteenth Century (Princeton University Press, 1989); Sarah Lloyd, Charity and Poverty in England, c.1680–1820: Wild and Visionary Schemes (Manchester University Press, 2009).

  28. For example, see Leon Radzinowicz and Roger G. Hood, A History of English Criminal Law and its Administration from 1750, Vol. IV (London: Stevens & Sons, 1968); and Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, English Prisons under Local Government (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1922; repr. 1963).

  29. Beattie, Crime and the Courts; J. S. Cockburn, A History of English Assizes, 1558–1714 (Cambridge University Press, 1972); Douglas Hay et al., Albion’s Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Allen Lane, 1975); Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (London: Allen Lane, 1991); George Rudé, Paris and London in the Eighteenth Century: Studies in Popular Protest (New York and London: Viking Press, 1971); E. P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act (London: Allen Lane, 1975). Much of this literature on ‘social crime’ focused on rural society and fell into relative decline following the revival of urban history in the 1990s. See Andrew Charlesworth, ‘An agenda for historical studies of rural protest in Britain, 1750–1850’, Rural History, 2 (1991), 231–40.

  30. There has been a recent revival in work in this area. See, for example, Katrina Navickas, Loyalism and Radicalism in Lancashire, 1798–1815 (Oxford University Press, 1999).

  31. See, for instance, Peter King, Crime and Law in England, 1750–1840: Remaking Justice from the Margins (Cambridge University Press, 2006); and Douglas Hay and Paul Craven, eds., Masters, Servants and Magistrates in Britain and the Empire, 1562–1955 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

  32. Beattie, Crime and the Courts; Beattie, Policing and Punishment; Beattie, The First English Detectives; Simon Devereaux, ‘Recasting the theatre of execution: the abolition of the Tyburn ritual’, Past & Present, 202 (2009), 127–74.

  33. Langbein, Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial; Beattie, ‘Scales of justice’; John Hostettler and Richard Braby, Sir William Garrow: His Life, Times, and Fight for Justice (Hook, Hampshire: Waterside Press, 2010).

  34. It should be noted that this argument is based on national evidence, with limited attention paid to London: David Lemmings, Law and Government in England during the Long Eighteenth Century: From Consent to Command (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), p. 180. See also Randall McGowen, ‘The Bank of England and the policing of forgery 1797–1821’, Past & Present, 186 (2005), 81–116; Greg T. Smith, ‘Violent crime and the public weal in England, 1700–1900’, in R. McMahon, ed., Crime, Law and Popular Culture in Europe 1500–1900 (Abingdon: Willan Publishing, 2008); Faramerz Dabhoiwala, The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution (London: Allen Lane, 2012).

  35. King, Crime and Law.

  36. Mary Clayton, ‘The life and crimes of Charlotte Walker, prostitute and pickpocket’, London Journal, 33:1 (2008), 3–19; Andrea McKenzie, ‘From true confessions to true reporting? The decline and fall of the Ordinary’s Account’, London Journal, 30:1 (2005), 55–70; Heather Shore, ‘“The reckoning”: disorderly women, informing constables and the Westminster justices, 1727–33’, Social History, 34:4 (2009), 409–27.

  37. Joanna Innes, Inferior Politics: Social Problems and Social Policies in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2009); V. A. C. Gatrell, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People, 1770–1868 (Oxford University Press, 1994).

  38. Most importantly, see Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, English Poor Law History, Part I: The Old Poor Law, English Local Government (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1927, repr. 1963).

  39. Hindle, On the Parish?; Slack, From Reformation to Improvement; Mary Fissell, Patients, Power, and the Poor in Eighteenth-Century Bristol (Cambridge University Press, 1991); Innes, Inferior Politics.

  40. E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541–1871: A Reconstruction (London: Edward Arnold, 1981); E. A. Wrigley, Poverty, Progress, and Population (Cambridge University Press, 2004); Martin Daunton, Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700–1850 (Oxford University Press, 1995).

  41. Jeremy Boulton and John Black, ‘Paupers and their experience of a Georgian workhouse: St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster, 1725–1830’, in J. Hamlett, L. Hoskins and R. Preston, eds., Residential Institutions in Britain, 1725–1950: Inmates and Environments (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013); Leonard Schwarz, London in the Age of Industrialisation: Entrepreneurs, Labour Force and Living Conditions, 1700–1850 (Cambridge University Press, 1992); Alysa Levene, The Childhood of the Poor: Welfare in Eighteenth-Century London (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Alannah Tomkins, The Experience of Urban Poverty, 1723–82: Parish, Charity and Credit (Manchester University Press, 2006).

  42. James Stephen Taylor, Poverty, Migration, and Settlement in the Industrial Revolution: Sojourners’ Narratives (Palo Alto, Calif.: Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, 1989); Thomas Sokoll, ed., Essex Pauper Letters, 1731–1837 (Oxford University Press, 2001); Pamela Sharpe, ‘“The bowels of compation”: a labouring family and the law, c.1790–1834’, in Tim Hitchcock, Peter King and Pamela Sharpe, eds., Chronicling Poverty: The Voices and Strategies of the English Poor, 1640–1840 (Houndsditch: Macmillan, 1997); Alysa Levene (general ed.), Narratives of the Poor in Eighteenth-Century Britain, 4 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2006).

  43. Steven King and Alannah Tomkins, eds., The Poor in England, 1700–1850: An Economy of Makeshifts (Manchester University Press, 2003); Hindle, On the Parish?.

  44. Hindle, On the Parish?, ch. 7.

  45. Green, Pauper Capital; Peter D. Jones, ‘“I cannot keep my place without being deascent”: pauper letters, parish clothing and pragmatism in the south of England, 1750–1830’, Rural History, 20:1 (2009), 31–49; S. A. Shave, ‘The dependent poor? (Re)constructing the lives of individuals “on the parish” in rural Dorset, 1800–1832’, Rural History, 20:1 (2009), 67–97.

  46. Kevin P. Siena, Venereal Disease, Hospitals, and the Urban Poor: London’s ‘Foul Wards’, 1600–1800 (University of Rochester Press, 2004); Linebaugh, The London Hanged.

  47. Catharina Lis and Hugo Soly, Disordered Lives: Eighteenth-Century Families and Their Unruly Relatives (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996); Arlette Farge and Jacques Revel, The Vanishing Children of Paris: Rumor and Politics before the French Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993); Arlette Farge, Fragile Lives: Violence, Power and Solidarity in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993); Seth Rockman, Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).

  48. See for example, Henry French and Jonathan Barry, eds., Identity and Agency in England, 1500–1800 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Lynn MacKay, Respectability and the London Poor, 1780–1870: The Value of Virtue (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013).

  49. Quoted as universal and proverbial wisdom in Deepa Narayan and Patti Petesch, Voices of the Poor from Many Lands: A Compilation (Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 184.

  50. King, Crime and Law.

  51. Jeremy Boulton, ‘Double deterrence: settlement and practice in London’s West End, 1725–1824’, in Anne Winter and Stephen King, eds., Migration, Settlement and Belonging in Europe, 1500–1930s: Comparative Perspectives (New York: Berghahn, 2013), pp. 54–80.

  52. Although historians have disagreed about how to measure literacy, nationally and by mid-century approximately 60 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women could sign their names. These figures were substantially higher in London, where even the poor were largely literate. Of 200 men and women examined following an application for relief to St Clement Danes, 1752–4, almost half, sixty-seven men and thirty women could sign their names: LL, St Clement Danes Parish: Pauper Settlement, Vagrancy and Bastardy Exams, 25 March 1752 – 27 December 1753 (WCCDEP35811). See also John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (London: HarperCollins, 1997), pp. 167–8; Jerry White, London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing (London: Bodley Head, 2012), p. 253. On highwaymen, see Robert Shoemaker, ‘The street robber and the gentleman highwayman: changing representations and perceptions of robbery in London, 1690–1800’, Cultural and Social History, 3:4 (2006), 381–405.

  53. Nicholas Rogers, Crowds, Culture, and Politics in Georgian Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).

  54. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). One could almost as easily start from Anthony Giddens’s concept of ‘structuration’, sociological ‘choice theory’, or Gramsci’s notion of ‘cultural hegemony’.

  55. Simon Devereaux, ‘The making of the Penitentiary Act, 1775–1779’, Historical Journal, 42:2 (1999), 405–33.

  56. Particularly relevant here is Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1979).

  57. E. P. Thompson, ‘Eighteenth-century English society: class struggle without class?’, Social History, 3:2 (1978), 133–65.

  58. Of the wider British Marxist school of historical writing, this work is most indebted to Raphael Samuel and his powerful empathetic engagement with individual economic and social strategies. See, for instance, Raphael Samuel, ‘Comers and goers’, in H. J. Dyos and Michael Wolff, eds., The Victorian City: Images and Reality, Vol. I (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), pp. 123–60.

  59. James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985); James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008).

  60. Scott has been particularly influential in relation to works on rural social relations. See K. D. M. Snell, Parish and Belonging: Community, Identity and Welfare in England and Wales, 1700–1950 (Cambridge University Press, 2009); Barry Reay, Microhistories: Demography, Society, and Culture in Rural England, 1800–1930 (Cambridge University Press, 2002).

  61. For a related argument, see John Bohstedt, The Politics of Provisions: Food Riots, Moral Economy, and Market Transition in England, c. 1550–1850 (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010).

  62. Peter Mandler, ed., The Uses of Charity: The Poor on Relief in the Nineteenth-Century Metropolis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990), p. 1.

  63. Rudé, Paris and London; Robert Shoemaker, The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Hambledon and London, 2004).

  64. Eric Ketelaar, ‘Archival temples, archival prisons: modes of power and protection’, Archival Science, 2 (2002), 221–38.

  65. Tim Hitchcock, ‘Digital searching and the re-formulation of historical knowledge’, in M. Greengrass and L. Hughes, eds., The Virtual Representation of the Past (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2008), pp. 81–90.

  66. One major exception to this statement is the Ordinary’s Accounts, which purport to tell the lives of the convicts who were executed at Tyburn. These biographies, however, were significantly shaped by the agendas of the Ordinaries (chaplains of Newgate prison) who wrote them. See Andrea McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs: Execution in England, 1675–1775 (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007) and Linebaugh, London Hanged.

  67. Sets have been created by a wide range of users, but all the sets referred to in this book were either created by the authors or checked by them for accuracy. To search for sets, simply choose ‘set search’ on the left-hand menu of the keyword search page.

  68. For more information about London Lives, see the site’s ‘About this project’ page.

  69. See We are grateful to the project directors for making their data available for our research.

  70. In addition, the Middlesex and Westminster sessions papers contain some calendars of the inmates in houses of correction.

  71. A substantial subsection of the notebooks are available as Greg T. Smith, ed., Summary Justice in the City: A Selection of Cases Heard at the Guildhall Justice Room, 1753–1781 (London Record Society, 48, 2013).