The arrival of peace with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, followed by the death of Queen Anne and the controversial accession of George I the following year, fuelled a crisis of law and order that had been brewing for half a decade. While wartime employment had to some extent mitigated the socio-economic difficulties caused by poor harvests, demobilisation set in train a new wave of crime and prosecution. Moreover, the disorder occasioned by the defence of religion and opposition to the Hanoverian succession, dating back to the Sacheverell Riots of 1710, allowed socio-economic grievances to be expressed through riot.

The new Hanoverian monarchy and whig government were not slow to respond to the pressures, not least with legislation including the Riot Act in 1715 and the Transportation Act in 1718. In part, these developments led to the creation of a more powerful central authority that found expression in the whig rule of Walpole and the Robinocracy. However, for poor Londoners, this was also a moment when divisions within the elite over church and politics gave them a voice. The corruption laid bare in the South Sea Bubble provided a new language that could be used to critique aggressive prosecution of crime and oppression of the poor. This politics threw into uneasy alliance the poor and the middling sort men who ran the parishes and sat on juries, setting them at odds with parliament and an increasingly powerful whig elite. But while central government grew in relative power, most new social policies were implemented at the local level. The most important poor law initiative of the period – the Workhouse Test Act of 1723 – was drafted as permissive legislation, leaving the initiative to the parishes, while responses to crime were dominated by the increasingly entrepreneurial activities of informers and thief-takers. For the next few decades, as parliament became more active, the character of change in London was markedly piecemeal, and open to challenge. For the city’s poorest inhabitants, the 1710s and 1720s represented a moment of real, if still circumscribed, agency, in which the divided politics of the parish and the elite gave them a voice.

Figure 3.1: Offences prosecuted at the Old Bailey, 1707–1731.

Figure 3.1: Offences prosecuted at the Old Bailey, 1707–1731.

Source: Old Bailey Online, Statistics: Offences by year, 1707–1731

Online dataset: Crime Prosecutions (xlsx)

The challenge to public order

George I’s accession to the throne was accompanied by a wave of crime and protest which threatened to undermine the new regime. In August 1714 the London poor were facing the worst economic conditions since the late 1690s, and crime prosecutions soared. Bad harvests leading to high bread prices had led to a fall in real wages of one-third between 1708 and 1711.1 Just as real wages started to recover came demobilisation,2 followed by the severe frosts of the winter of 1715–16 and the disruptions to trade caused by the Jacobite rebellion and cattle plague, such that ‘the early years of the Hanoverian accession were … hard ones for many London trades’.3 With adversity came increasing theft prosecutions: between 1712 and 1714 the number of indictments tried at the Old Bailey increased by almost half.

It is of course impossible to determine whether crime actually increased in these years, or whether there was simply growing concern about crime which led to a greater propensity to prosecute. It is likely that both factors account for the surge in prosecutions. That disbanded soldiers (or at least male unemployment) contributed to the increase is suggested by the fact that indictments for robbery increased by 73.1 per cent over these years, and the gender balance of those accused switched from a narrow majority of female defendants (51.7 per cent) during wartime to a significant majority of men (62.5 per cent) from 1713 to 1715. Nevertheless, such was the increase in prosecutions, in a context of rising poverty, that the number of women tried from 1713 to 1715 also increased. There was also a significant increase in commitments for petty offences to the Middlesex and Westminster houses of correction, which rose from 1,244 in 1712 to 1,662 in 1717, when over a third of the prisoners in Middlesex were accused of petty theft and a further half of prostitution or loose, idle and disorderly behaviour.

Most worrying for the authorities was the hardened recidivism of many offenders, not least the women. Mary Knight, executed for picking a man’s pocket in January 1716, had been committed to a house of correction and New Prison three times in 1715, and she confessed to the Ordinary of Newgate:4

That she had for these 12 Months past been a very loose Woman, a Night-walker, &c. and, That she had deluded as many Young Men, and others, as she met with in her Way, and could perswade to go along with her: That being sometimes taken by the Watch, she was carry’d to the Bridewell in Clerkenwell, from whence (after some slight Correction) being discharg’d, but not reform’d, she return’d to her former vicious Life.5

Mary Nichols, alias Trolly Lolly, executed in September 1715 following her second conviction in nine months at the Old Bailey for theft, claimed she had been driven to steal by ‘extream poverty’, and confessed to the Ordinary that over two years she had been guilty of ‘several Felonies’.6 Following the end of the war, male recidivism was no less of a problem. John Smith, alias Mackintosh, was executed in September 1715 at the age of twenty-one, following conviction on three burglary charges.7 He had previously served at sea in a ‘Man of War’. He confessed to the Ordinary to having been involved in crime since the age of fifteen, and that he had been branded twice for theft and had also been convicted of participating in the violent attacks carried out by the ‘Mohocks’ in 1712. He escaped from prison twice, once from Bridewell and once from the Gatehouse.8 His whole career seemed to illustrate the intractability of London’s crime problem.

This crime wave, or at the very least prosecution wave, was exacerbated by the widespread popular protest which accompanied the Hanoverian succession. Since the 1690s, if not long before, Londoners had been developing a habit of taking to the streets to voice their grievances on any number of topics, such that by the early 1720s some form of riot occurred on average every other day in London. Encouraged by the ‘rage of party’, during which both whig and tory political leaders encouraged the wider population to take part in an annual round of street theatre, including burning effigies, bonfires, forced illuminations and processions, plebeian Londoners used traditional forms of licensed disorder to voice their own social and political concerns.9

As was evident in the Sacheverell Riots, by 1710 those grievances were increasingly cast in language supportive of the tories and the ‘high church’. Following the accession of George I, Londoners had plenty of reasons to focus their discontent, exacerbated by economic hard times, on the new whig government. Many participated in the repeated tory-sponsored bonfires and processions which formed part of the calendar of political anniversaries throughout the first two years of George I’s reign. On 29 May 1715, the anniversary of the Restoration of Charles II, a group of more than a hundred people marched between Bow Church and Queen Street, shouting ‘no Hanoverian, no Presbyterian; High-Church for ever; High-Church and Ormond; High-Church and Sacheverel; a Second Restoration; no King George, but King James the 3d. High Church and Ormond, and the Race of the Steuarts for ever’.10 Passersby were urged to join the procession, and those who declined were attacked. Few of the protesters were committed Jacobites (though they were not averse to using Jacobite language and symbolism), but most were firmly opposed to the whigs. Not only did the whigs have a history of supporting religious dissent, which many plebeian Londoners opposed, but there were fears that the king would take the country into a new war, leading once again to excise taxes, profiteering and further disruptions to trade.11

The government was clearly unsettled by these disorders, and it was not slow to react. First, it prosecuted those who could be arrested, using prosecuting counsel to ensure convictions. Second, it passed the Riot Act in June 1715. While the Act failed to stop the disorder, by indemnifying those who suppressed riots it made it easier for the government to use the military to disperse crowds. The whig elite, notably the Duke of Newcastle, also responded forcefully by sponsoring ‘loyal societies’, composed of gentlemen and hired thugs, to defend the king, government and church on the streets. Based in taverns and coffee houses known as ‘mughouses’, these societies staged their own counter-demonstrations and bonfires, and armed with oak staves, launched violent attacks on tory crowds.12

The people frequently fought back, most dramatically in the attacks on Read’s mughouse in Salisbury Court, off Fleet Street, on 23 and 24 July 1716. When a loyal society met on the night of the 23rd, a mob gathered and, according to one witness, ‘hiss’d the Gentlemen as they went in and out; whereupon the Witness went out and ask’d them what they hiss’d at, but they threw Stones at him and at the Windows’.13 The loyalists responded by breaking some windows of a rival tavern while denigrating the plebeian character of their opponents, shouting ‘Down with the Butchers, Down with the Barbers … Down with the Pawnbrokers’.14 The following morning the tory crowd returned to Read’s mughouse armed with sticks. After pitched battles, the keeper of the tavern, Robert Read, acquired a gun and fired on the crowd, killing Daniel Vaughan.15 Like many other Bridewell apprentices, Vaughan had a history of participation in Jacobite protests. Provoked, the crowd renewed its attack, forcing the gentlemen into the house where they barricaded themselves on the stairs, leaving the ground floor to the crowd’s mercy. Following the time-honoured custom of ‘pulling down a house’, the crowd proceeded to demolish the interior. Eventually soldiers appeared and about thirty rioters were arrested, five of whom were the first in London to be convicted and hanged under the Riot Act.

In the short term the government and their loyalist supporters were victorious. The death sentences, the intervention of the military and the strength of the loyal societies all contributed to the restoration of order. As a correspondent observed the following month, ‘there is an end of Tory mobbing here for the Whig mob being headed by officers and gentlemen has quite silenced them’.16 But as Nicholas Rogers notes, the executions contributed to ‘the persistent and deep-rooted hostility of Londoners to the new regime’.17 Protests continued, but the focus became more explicitly social and economic. Worried that imported calico cloth would lead to the collapse of their trade, in 1719 and 1720 journeymen weavers waged a successful campaign against its use, culminating in the passage of a statute in 1721.18 In addition to petitioning parliament and disseminating their case in print, groups of weavers roamed London’s streets destroying calico clothing found in shops or worn by women, by slitting dresses with knives or throwing ink or nitric acid. The windows in the houses of those who opposed the weavers were smashed, and at one point they threatened to pull down New Prison, where four of the ‘ringleaders’ were incarcerated.19 While there were attempts to label these protests as Jacobite, Justice John Lade reported that

the Vox Populi or the Rumor of the Mob was not disrespectful, to his Majesty or the Government, but the word was Must the Poor Weavers Starve, shall the Ingy (meaning the East India) callicoes be worn while the Poor Weavers and their Familys perish.20

At least one of the ringleaders, John Humphreys, did have experience in opposing the government.21 On the same day that he was tried for ‘Assaulting divers Women, and tearing their Gowns made of Callicoe’ on 12 June 1719, he was also charged with seditious words, allegedly having said two years previously that ‘King George was not Heir to the Crown, but King James the Third is the true Heir to the Crown’. One witness at the Old Bailey testified that ‘Humphrey’s [sic] was a Ringleader of the Mob at Salisbury-Court [and Read’s mughouse], and that he heard him brag of what he had done.’22 Another commentator suggested that it was no coincidence that the calico riots started on 10 June, the Pretender’s birthday, and that Humphreys was not a weaver.23 As this is the only evidence of Jacobite inclinations among the rioters, it seems likely that the anniversary was coincidental, but perhaps it was highlighted to alarm the authorities.

Riotous protests continued throughout the next decade. In 1720 a group of striking journeymen tailors attempted to pull down a master’s ‘house of call’.24 In the following two years, crowds attacked reformation of manners informers who were making arrests. In 1724, in several riots involving up to sixty participants, the debtors of the New Mint defended their sanctuary by rescuing anyone of their number who was arrested, and subjecting bailiffs to the ‘discipline’ of the Mint, which involved harrowing physical humiliation. William Jones was drinking at an alehouse in Whitechapel, for example, when a group of minters

knock’d him down, and … stript him naked, and wore Sixpenny worth of Rods to the Stumps in whipping of him, and … threw him into a Pit fill’d with Human Excrement, and other Filth, in which they dipt the Rods when they whipt him. There they duck’d him several times, and as they took him out, [William Green] held him up by the Hair, and thrust a Turd into his Mouth.25

These riots are indicative of strong community solidarities among sections of the metropolitan population. The use of the traditional symbolic practices of shaming and ritual celebration underlines the rioters’ claims to popular support and legitimation. The weavers paraded pieces of calico torn from women’s dresses in triumph, wearing them on their hats and using them as flags. However, riots did not command universal support, even among plebeian Londoners.26 As a newspaper reported of the weavers, ‘in some parts they met with opposition, and several of them were severely beaten and wounded’.27 Neither were mobs entirely plebeian. Analysis of their social composition suggests that while rioters were predominantly wage-earning labourers and petty craftsmen and tradesmen (the groups most likely to be accused of crimes or apply for relief), some more respectable tradesmen and gentlemen were also involved. The inclusivity of protest is emphasised by the large number of female rioters, particularly in non-political riots, where they accounted for almost half of the participants.28 In the years following the Hanoverian accession, the habit of taking to the streets to protest became more deeply embedded in popular culture, and the ‘mob’, however composed, became more assertive in defending its perceived rights, not least in response to innovations in social policy.

The law responds

The legal groundwork for the creation of a new relationship between the magistrates, the City of London, the parishes and the people had been laid in the years leading up to the Hanoverian succession, and included the passage of the ‘Act for Fifty New Churches’ in 1710 (discussed below). However, this relationship was consolidated, at least from the point of view of the state, in acts of parliament passed to address the challenges to law and order of the early years of the new reign.

The Riot Act is one of the most iconic pieces of legislation in the canon of British legal history, and yet it was passed through parliament in just three quick weeks in early July 1715. Entitled ‘An Act for Preventing Tumults and Riotous Assemblies and for the More Speedy and Effectual Punishing the Rioters’, it was not primarily a response to the problem of disorder in London.29 Nevertheless, it did seek to reinforce the authority of justices of the peace, creating a new facet to the system of justice-led local governance that had been a characteristic of the developments of the 1690s and 1700s. The Act made it a felony subject to death without benefit of clergy for twelve or more people to assemble ‘riotously and tumultuously’, and continue for more than an hour after a justice had read out a proclamation which ordered the assembled crowd ‘immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations’. It also indemnified justices and the officers and soldiers under their command from being prosecuted if anyone in the crowd ‘happened to be killed, maimed or hurt, in the dispersing, seizing or apprehending’ of the rioters.

Despite its symbolic significance, the Act’s impact was limited. The proclamation was frequently read, but few people were prosecuted under its authority: only thirty-six defendants were tried at the Old Bailey between 1715 and 1731 (almost half in 1715 and 1716). In part this is because crowds, having made their point, learned to leave the scene within the hour as instructed, such as the weavers who ‘soon dispersed’ after the proclamation was read on 13 June 1719.30 Others treated the Act with contempt. After the proclamation was read during a riot precipitated by an attempt to arrest some gamblers in 1722, Edward Galloway ‘lifting up his left hand cry’d a T – d of your Proclamation, I have heard it twice already but don’t value it’.31 And during the celebrations of the election of Sir John Williams as an alderman in 1723, after the ‘Proclamation was read three or four Times’ the mob shouted ‘No King George, No Hannoverian [sic] Proclamation’.32

The second major piece of legislation passed by the new government, the Transportation Act, had a much more substantial impact. Like the Riot Act, this was, according to Beattie, ‘the product of a government under siege, and on the defensive’. Although with a national remit, the Transportation Act ‘was also in no small measure a product of a crisis of crime in the capital’.33 However, it was not only the very visible post-war wave of crime and disorder in the metropolis which provided a stimulus to action but also the fact that for some time criminal recidivism and convict resistance had rendered the existing punishments for felonies ineffective or unworkable. As the preamble to the Act states:

it is found by experience, that the punishments inflicted by the Laws now in force against the offences of robbery, larceny and other felonious taking and stealing of money and goods, have not proved effectual to deter wicked and evil-disposed persons from being guilty of the said crimes.34

Between 1713 and 1717 the judges at the Old Bailey adjusted their penal strategy in an attempt to address this problem. Punishments deemed to be ineffectual, including branding and commitment to hard labour in a house of correction, declined, while the proportion of offenders sentenced to death increased dramatically, from 13.4 per cent of convicts in 1713 to 34.8 per cent in 1717.

However, to avoid a bloodbath, many of the condemned convicts were pardoned on condition of transportation, raising once again the problem of the lack of willing merchants to transport convicts, and the failure of offenders to honour commitments to transport themselves. As the preamble to the Act continued:

many offenders to whom Royal mercy hath been extended, upon condition of transporting themselves to the West-Indies, have often neglected to perform the said condition, but returned to their former wickedness.

Consequently, the option of self-transportation appears to have been abandoned, and the growing number of convicts sentenced to transportation remained in Newgate awaiting ships, resulting in severe overcrowding.35

Figure 3.2: Old Bailey punishment sentences, 1713–1731.

Figure 3.2: Old Bailey punishment sentences, 1713–1731.

Source: Old Bailey Online, Statistics: Punishment sentences by year, 1713-1731

Online dataset: Punishment Statistics 1690-1800 (xlsx)

Convicts also seriously undermined the most recent experiment in punishing felons, commitment to a house of correction at hard labour for up to two years, authorised by an act in 1706.36 Although the disadvantages of this punishment quickly became clear, judges continued to order it, and in 1713 dozens of men and women, convicted primarily of grand larceny, were given this sentence. However, prisoners such as Roderick Awdry repeatedly escaped and returned to a life of crime.37 Other convicts who escaped in the early 1710s and committed further crimes include Jane Wells (alias Elizabeth Wells alias White alias Dyer), James Boswell, Robert Porter (alias Sandey), Ann Watts, Henry Sewell (alias Sweet alias Old Harry) and John Evans.38

The final straw occurred in September 1713 when ‘a notorious Riott and Mutiny by severall of the Convicts comitted from Newgate’ at the Clerkenwell house of correction led to the death of a turnkey, Edward Perry, and the escape of several prisoners.39 The riot started when the convicted felons Richard Keele, Charles Houghton, John Cullum and William Lowther were brought from Newgate to Clerkenwell to commence a twelve-month sentence at hard labour. When the governor of the house of correction, Captain Boreman, attempted to place them in fetters to ensure they would not escape, they rebelled. According to Lowther, ‘he thought it a heavy thing to have Irons put upon him, and be obliged to hard Labour besides’.40 Consequently, the convicts

swearing they would lose their Lives first, fell upon [Boreman] and his Servant, and with Irons beat and bruised them in a barbarous manner; Lowther biting off the tip of one Man’s Nose, wounding him on the Head, and stabbing him twice with a Knife. And having thus used the Keepers, broke into the place where the arms lay, and forced them all out of the Prison; that being done, they swore they would never be iron’d, but die one and all.41

Outside the prison, the convicts, including Roderick Awdry and at least two others, attacked Perry, who later died of his wounds, and in the attempt to quell the mutiny Houghton was shot and killed. In the aftermath Keele and Lowther were found guilty of murdering Perry and hanged in Clerkenwell Green, next to the house of correction, on 23 December. But as a result of this mutiny, 1713 was the last year in which felons convicted at the Old Bailey were sentenced to hard labour at a house of correction.

With all the alternative secondary punishments undermined, the government opted to try and make transportation work. The key change implemented by the Transportation Act was the provision of a subsidy to ensure that all convicts sentenced would actually be transported. In choosing to invest in this punishment, various motives have been ascribed beyond the simple lack of feasible alternatives, including the benefits of providing forced labour for the development of the North American colonies (mentioned in the preamble to the Act). However, according to Roger Ekirch, the ‘most compelling advantage, in the eyes of policymakers, lay in expelling from the British shores significant quantities of threatening offenders whose ways would not be mended by more mild penalties’.42 For the most part, those ‘threatening offenders’ came from London, and it was the Recorder of London, William Thomson, who was principally responsible for the Act’s passage.43

The Transportation Act took effect in the spring of 1718 and led to an immediate and long-lasting shift in sentencing patterns. At the Old Bailey twenty-seven of the fifty-one defendants convicted in April 1718 were sentenced to transportation, and by 1719 almost two-thirds of convicts were given this sentence. Over the entire period from 1719 to 1775, transportation accounted for 66.4 per cent of all sentences.44 Even convicts found guilty of petty larceny, who might previously have been punished in a house of correction, were now often transported.45 Consequently, the proportion of offenders sentenced to death decreased by more than half between 1719 and 1731 (despite continuing concerns about high levels of violent crime), and both branding and whipping fell dramatically.

The plebeian response to transportation is poorly documented. An unknown proportion of those exiled fulfilled the condition of their sentence and remained in America following its expiration, possibly rehabilitated and prosperous in the manner depicted in Daniel Defoe’s novels Moll Flanders and Colonel Jack (both 1722). But many rebelled. There is evidence of at least four mutinies on board transport ships between 1720 and 1728, including one on the ship Alexander in 1722 in which the prisoners ‘mutiny’d in their Passage, and would have kill’d the Master and Ship’s Crew, and tied them back to back, and thrown them into the Sea’.46 On board the ship was William Blewit, future member of Edward Burnworth’s gang of robbers, who turned king’s evidence and claimed he ‘prevented it, and saved the Ship’s Crew and Cargoe’.47 Two years earlier, another criminal with a notorious future, the highway robber James Dalton, was on board the Honour when the prisoners mutinied and escaped from the ship in Vigo, on the Atlantic coast of Spain. Back in England the following year and sentenced to a further sentence of transportation on the Prince Royal, an escape attempt was foiled when a file was discovered in a gingerbread cake in Dalton’s possession.48

However, the most frequent means of resistance was the surprisingly easy expedient of simply returning to England before the expiration of the sentence. Both Blewit and Dalton did this (twice in Dalton’s case), and the number of returnees captured and prosecuted at the Old Bailey (thirty-five between 1720 and 1731, or just under three per year) can bear little relationship to the number of convicts who actually returned. Most of the criminal gangs active in these years included such returnees, who would have found it difficult to return to normal life. Returning from transportation was a felony punishable either by death or fourteen years transportation, and with a £40 reward on offer, they needed assistance to avoid detection. The thief-taker Jonathan Wild used the possibility of arresting such returnees to control them. The Transportation Act thus forced returnees to embed themselves in a criminal subculture.

Criminal legislation formed one strand in a strategy to address the problem of disorder and political disquiet. The reorganisation of London’s parishes was a parallel response, in this case to the increasing numbers of the poor. While City-wide projects such as the London Workhouse had fallen out of favour, parliament was still willing to intervene in the running of London’s system of poor relief. On 21 January 1715/16, parliament noted the ‘Miseries of the Poor in and about the Cities of London and Westminster’ and, bracketing them with other forms of urban detritus, the ‘Heeps of dirt, lee and snow’ that obstructed the streets outside the Royal Exchange and Westminster Hall, ordered the justices of London and Middlesex to take the issue in hand.49 Parliament also ordered a committee to investigate the system of poor and scavenger rates in the capital.50 Confronted with 133 mini parochial bureaucracies of unknown complexity, the committee decided they could do no more than investigate a single parish, and chose as their exemplar St Martin in the Fields on the grounds that it had a reputation as the best managed parish in London. What they discovered was a system grown unmanageable as a result of both earlier reforms and pauper demand. During the preceding three years, St Martin’s had spent around £1,800 per year on the ‘casual poor’, the out of work, or out of luck, accident victims, and the simply miserable; compared to only around £1,250 on parish pensioners, the ‘deserving’ and settled objects of compassion. More difficult still, on interrogating John Eldridge, the clerk of the parish, and asking him to produce the justice’s warrants that authorised each payment, he could not produce a single one.51

And if human tragedy needed to be added to the parish’s overgenerous response to the insistent demands of the poor, the same committee found that parish children were ‘inhumanly suffered to die by the barbarity of … Parish Nurses, who are… hired by the Church wardens to take off a burthen from the parish at the cheapest and easiest rates they can’.52 This conclusion was brought home to a wider London public a couple of years later through the case of Eleanor Gallimore, tried and acquitted on two occasions of starving and murdering the parish children put in her charge by St Andrew Holbourn, the first of several similarly horrific tales which surfaced during the century.53

It was not just in the west end and suburban parishes that the growing demands of the ‘casual’ poor loomed ever larger in the parish accounts. In the small City parish of St Dionis Backchurch, the list of ‘pensioners’ remained largely unchanged, but the casual payments evolved into growing paragraphs of serial hardship: ‘to a distressed Family by Mr Travell 5s …To a Poor Woman 1s: Goody Wills 2/6: To a poor Woman 2s: Daniell 2/6- 8 – To Goody Brett 2/6: Goody Williams 2/6: to a poor Family 10/5’.54 For the parliamentary committee, and for rate-paying Londoners, the system seemed out of control.

Many assumed the solution was already in hand. The passage of the ‘Act for Fifty New Churches’ six years earlier had been intended to reshape the parochial landscape. This Act established a commission with authority to receive the income from a levy on coals imported to London from 1716 onwards, and use the funds to repair and build anew the churches of the capital.55 The commission also addressed the problems of governance caused by the growing population of the suburban parishes by dividing some of London’s largest parishes, making the provision of poor relief more manageable. Between the passage of the Act in 1710 and 1731, the commission was instrumental in the creation of eight new parishes, including St George Hanover Square, created from St Martin in the Fields in 1724, and St George Bloomsbury, carved from St Giles in the Fields in 1731. From the perspective of plebeian London, these developments were unfavourable in two respects. First, by separating off wealthier neighbourhoods from poorer ones (particularly in St Giles in the Fields), the wealthy escaped much of the responsibility for providing for those in need. Second, the new parishes were to be governed by ‘select vestries’, which severely limited popular participation in parish government.

Many of London’s out-parishes, including St Martin in the Fields and St Paul Covent Garden, were already governed by select vestries by the end of the seventeenth century – created either under the authority of the Bishop of London or else by local act of parliament – but this form of vestry was made much more common by the ‘Act for Fifty New Churches’. The commission was expressly ordered to specify ‘a convenient number of sufficient inhabitants in each such new parish … to be the vestrymen’, and to direct each new vestry to constitute itself on the lines of the closed vestry which governed St Martin in the Fields.56 Even when a new parish was carved from one with an open vestry, as happened when St John Clerkenwell was created from St James, the new parish was ordered to create a closed vestry. By mandating ‘select vestries’ for each new parish, the commission effectively normalised this form of parish government, creating self-perpetuating parish oligarchies, overseen by newly powerful justices and served by paid clerks and supernumeraries.57

To some extent the problem was simply one of population. Representations to the Commission for Fifty New Churches claimed that St Giles Cripplegate contained 4,600 houses (or around 27,600 people); St Andrew Holborn, 3,785 houses; St Clement Danes, 1,690; and Shoreditch, 2,278 houses. The commission calculated that twenty-six metropolitan parishes outside the City walls, including Stepney, contained over 80,000 households, or around 513,000 individuals.58 This was almost certainly an overestimate, but the much more reliable Bills of Mortality confirm that at least eighteen of London’s out-parishes had populations in excess of 10,000, making each parish responsible for a population equivalent to one of the five largest cities in England, outside London.59

Populations of this size, containing thousands of householders with the right to attend an open vestry, made the closed variety seem an obvious, if highly divisive solution. Moreover, to service this number of inhabitants the parishes simply could not rely on the good will of annual volunteers and needed dedicated staff.

The creation of new ‘select vestries’ and the gradual bureaucratisation of parochial administration had three important consequences. First, the frequent inclusion of local justices of the peace as regular members of the vestry served to conflate the administration of criminal justice with poor relief, treating the poor and the criminal as one.60 Second, select vestries effectively distanced parish government from not only the poor but also the vast majority of ratepayers, and third, the participation of those who were responsible for overseeing parish decisions, magistrates, in the actual administration of the parish opened up possibilities for corruption. A measure of the opposition to this change was the publication in 1719 of Daniel Defoe’s vitriolic attack, Parochial Tyranny, Or, Select Vestries Become the Plague of the People. In this pamphlet, published on behalf of the out-parishes of London ‘that find themselves Oppress’d by unjust Governours’, Defoe complained that a small coterie of vestrymen, ‘by the assistance and contrivance of corrupt M[agistrate]s, and their cormorant understrappers’ had managed to ‘ingross the Government of the Out-Parishes’, to ‘make the poor their Property’.61 He was particularly critical of the new paid parish officers who were prone to corruption and the justices of the peace who countenanced ‘new Schemes… to bubble the Parish’.62 Over the next decade, the scheme most of the out-parishes of London adopted was the workhouse, and the problems Defoe envisaged duly followed. Opposition to both workhouses and the management of select vestries dominated local politics.

With the exception of the Transportation Act, which reshaped the penal landscape for almost sixty years, the legislation passed in response to the outbreak of crime and protest which greeted the Hanoverian succession was undermined by opposition and had limited impact or unintended adverse consequences. The Riot Act failed to stop the rioting and led to few prosecutions. The creation of select vestries in the new parishes excluded many ratepayers from participation in local government as intended; however, as we will see, by limiting oversight and facilitating the hiring of paid parish officials, it encouraged extensive corruption and mistreatment of the poor, which the opponents of select vestries, in combination with the poor, did their utmost to expose.


The official response to the widespread panic about crime in the post-war years also included the offer of a new series of rewards. A royal proclamation in 1720 stipulated a reward of £100 for the capture and conviction of highway robbers in the London area, in addition to the £40 statutory reward. Although this proclamation appears to have been explicitly designed to encourage thief-takers, the effect was not quite what the government intended. Not only did it make thief-taking considerably more lucrative, it also contributed to criminal activity. Since the threat of prosecution gave thief-takers almost complete power over thieves who (for the moment) they chose not to prosecute, they were able to effectively control entire criminal gangs, while the large rewards motivated them to encourage law-breaking.63 Thief-takers in the 1720s, notably Jonathan Wild, distorted criminal justice so much to their own advantage that the authorities were finally forced to intervene. Wild’s tactics also divided plebeian communities and encouraged London’s criminals to develop new strategies for survival.

Thief-takers had flourished in London from well before the 1720s. Their development was encouraged by the growth of daily newspapers in which victims of crime advertised rewards for the return of stolen goods, and by the passage of statutes in 1702 and 1706 that made it easier to prosecute receiving stolen goods as a felony (making it more difficult for thieves to sell their loot directly to third parties).64 Taking advantage of the on-going activities of the reformation of manners campaign, early thief-takers such as Charles Hitchen pretended to be reformers.65 Hitchen blackmailed brothel keepers with the threat of a prosecution, and pickpockets to force them to bring their stolen goods to him. It is instructive that Hitchen does not appear as a prosecutor in the records of Bridewell or the Old Bailey: his interest was in not prosecuting offenders so that he could exploit them instead. Hitchen purchased the office of under-marshal in the City in 1712, and the following year he hired Jonathan Wild as his assistant.66 The two soon quarrelled, and by 1714 Wild was acting independently as a thief-taker.

Wild’s career and methods are well known.67 From the start, he effectively combined the two sides of thief-takers’ activities, the return of stolen goods to victims and the prosecution of thieves in return for a reward. He was not interested in petty crime, and only appears three times in the records of Bridewell, first early on in his career in October 1714, when he charged two men (or boys) with ‘picking pocketts taken wth seven handkerchiefs upon one of them’.68 Thereafter, he sought to control petty thieves rather than punish them, either so that they could steal goods which could profitably be returned to their owners, or until they could be prosecuted for a more serious crime for a reward. In this respect the Transportation Act helped Wild by establishing the offence of returning from transportation as a felony. Any convict who returned was therefore at the mercy of anyone (such as Wild) who knew of their previous conviction and sentence: if they misbehaved, they could quickly be arrested on a charge which was difficult to deny. Moreover, as convicted felons they could not turn on Wild and testify against him in court. When combined with the increased rewards available from 1720 and aided by his astute use of ‘carefully planted “news reports”’ and lawyers on ‘permanent retainer’, the stage was set for Wild to become the eighteenth century’s most notorious thief-taker.69

Between 1716 and 1724 Wild is reported testifying as a witness in forty cases at the Old Bailey, with his most active years between 1719 and 1723, when he broke up several London gangs.70 The actual number of prosecutions he was responsible for is probably much higher. Together with his assistant Quilt Arnold, he was said to have apprehended 150 people, and Gerald Howson credits him with bringing 101 criminals ‘to justice’.71 We can be even less precise about the number of times he facilitated the return of stolen goods to their owners, but reports of the warehouses he kept full of stolen goods indicate that this was almost certainly a more substantial part of his business. In 1725, for reasons which are still not entirely clear, the authorities turned on him, and he was convicted of receiving money for the return of stolen goods and not apprehending or reporting the thieves. The case against him was managed on the orders of the Secretary of State, Charles Townshend.72 While Wild had been useful to authorities desperate to curb violent crime and gangs, he had established a form of police acting outside the law which had grown intolerable. Once again, an innovative practice, encouraged by the state in response to a pressing social problem, was undermined by the opportunities for corruption which it opened up. Wild was executed on 24 May 1725.

Attitudes towards Wild were ambivalent. According to Howson, ‘On the one hand, from 1719 until about 1724 [the “educated public”] regarded him as the man above all others able and always ready to deal with crime, wherever, and in whatever form it might occur.’73 Juries, and by extension the courts, were remarkably supportive. Eighty-two per cent of the defendants he testified against between 1716 and 1724 at the Old Bailey were convicted, compared to 63 per cent of defendants overall, and all six defendants for whom he testified in favour were acquitted. ‘On the other hand’, Howson continues, the public ‘knew that Wild’s men were all rogues and gaol-birds … and that the results he undeniably got were achieved by means it were better not to examine too closely’.74

Thieves depended upon Wild for both business and protection, but many also loathed him. It was not only Joseph ‘Blueskin’ Blake, who cut Wild’s throat with a penknife outside the Old Bailey courtroom when Wild refused to protect him, who resented his betrayals.75 In February 1723, for example, John Bradshaw made ‘a great noise in the streets last night threatening to kill [Wild] and other people being a very mischievous and disorderly person’.76 Wild’s response was to have Bradshaw committed to Bridewell. The attitudes of the rest of plebeian London are more difficult to fathom, but were frequently negative. Following Wild’s arrest (when he was no longer a threat), he was the target of widespread popular hostility, in part owing to his role in the arrest and conviction of Jack Sheppard and Joseph ‘Blueskin’ Blake. Many commentators noted the crowd’s antagonism towards Wild at his execution, in sharp contrast to the usual behaviour of the Tyburn crowd.77

This opposition was in part personal to Wild and not directed at thief-takers in general, who continued to prosper for decades. While there was some attempt to regulate the provision of rewards for conviction, the government continued to pay out large sums in rewards (£1,300 in December 1730 alone). More than a dozen thief-takers appear to have been working between 1730 and 1733, many of whom were constables. Yet their exploitation of the system continued: Beattie notes that ‘the perjury and corruption that had fuelled many of Wild’s prosecutions were clearly evident in the late 1720s and the early years of the next decade’, and a major scandal concerning ‘thief-making’ erupted in 1754.78

Nonetheless, the activities of Wild and his successors appear to have had some important long-term repercussions. Most importantly, they stimulated thieves and others accused of crime to develop new means of defending themselves. Owing in part to the danger of wrongful convictions arising from corrupt prosecutions initiated by thief-takers, in the 1730s defendants accused of felony were allowed to employ counsel at the Old Bailey for the first time, an option they enthusiastically took up in the following decade. But faced with Wild’s formidable success, it is likely that defendants in the 1720s were already obtaining legal advice from wherever they could find it. There are suggestions that some prisoners at this time were hiring ‘Newgate solicitors’ in order to pressure prosecutors to drop charges before trial.79 Catherine Hayes, accused of the brutal murder of her husband, reportedly consulted a solicitor before pleading not guilty at her trial in 1726.80

Informal legal advice was also available inside Newgate prison. When in long-term incarceration there in the early 1730s, Roger Johnson, one of Wild’s former accomplices, assisted the prisoners in preparing for their trials:81

he tried the Thieves (as they call it) before they were carried down to the Sessions House to be tried, that is, he sate as Judge. The Prisoner told him the Truth of the Fact, and what he imagin’d would be swore against him, Roger then told him what to say, what Evasions and doubles to make, and told him whether he would come off or not.82

Faced with zealous prosecutors and constables responding to heightened pressures to deal with a perceived crime wave, and with exploitation by thief-takers and frequent betrayals by accomplices seeking pardons, London’s thieves fought back with all means available. In the process, their attitudes towards the law hardened.

A culture of defiance

Taking advantage of the dramatic expansion of both print and public interest in crime in the 1720s, many thieves embraced their criminal identity and tried to exploit it for their own advantage. With newspaper proprietors, pamphleteers and clergymen (especially the Ordinary of Newgate prison) desperate for copy, ‘many malefactors … seemed willing enough to take an active part in their own self-mythologization’.83 Because crime had become a reference point for many topics of public concern, there was no shortage of legitimising notions in the literature of crime, which thieves, particularly highway robbers, could draw upon to present themselves as ‘social critics’.84 Not least, they could draw parallels with the political corruption of the whig oligarchy. The collapse of the South Sea Bubble in the autumn of 1720 may have had little economic impact on plebeian Londoners, but the evidence of sharp practices was there for all to see, as was the 1725 trial and conviction of the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Parker, Earl of Macclesfield, for taking £100,000 worth of bribes.85

The parallels which could be drawn between elite greed, the two-faced activities of thief-takers and the comparatively minor thefts committed by highwaymen, street robbers and pickpockets were missed by few. Not only could it be argued that the crimes of those brought before the Old Bailey were far less egregious than those of their governors, but at least they were willing to stand up and be held accountable for them. Moreover they could claim they robbed from exploitative lawyers and quack doctors, or, more generally, from those who could afford it, and, like Robin Hood, gave to the poor.86 As Richard Steele commented when he read Alexander Smith’s collection of the Lives of the Most Noted Highwaymen (first published in 1714), he had ‘more respect for [these “great Men”] than for greater Criminals’.87 The 1726 edition of Smith’s collection included a quote from Samuel Garth’s 1699 description of the Old Bailey as a court where ‘little Villains must submit to Fate / While Great Ones do enjoy the World in State’.88 While John Gay made the most of these comparisons in his Beggars’ Opera in 1728, they were frequently drawn by others throughout the decade, not least by the more astute criminals.

These justifications may not have accurately described the motivations for crime, but they certainly helped explain even the most serious crimes after the event. While few publications failed to condemn crime, a space had been opened up for a language of mitigation, particularly in the Ordinary’s Accounts. James Wright, a member of the Hawkins gang who was convicted of highway robbery in 1721 when William Hawkins turned evidence against him, told the Ordinary ‘he generally aim’d at robbing Coaches, or those whose Equipage and Appearance show’d them best able to sustain a Loss: That he never would rob a poor Man, but pittied him, as much as himself’.89 James Shaw, who according to Howson led a gang with at least thirteen known members and ‘murdered several of the people he robbed’, justified his choice of victims by the fact that, as he told the Ordinary, ‘as it is more sinful to rob a poor Man or the Church of God, so it was less sinful to rob those who would have spent the Money taken in Gaiety and Luxury, or those who perhaps had unjustly acquired it by Gaming’, drawing a parallel with contemporary efforts to suppress gaming houses.90 The well-publicised collapse of the Bubble provided further arguments. Describing why he turned to robbing, John Hawkins (brother of William) told the Ordinary, ‘he left the uncertain Way of dealing at Sea, to deal (he said) in the South Sea and the Bubbles from which he had recourse to bubbling in another Way, as some others besides have done91 Thanks to news coverage and the publication of several pamphlets, these justifications were widely disseminated.

While the Hawkins gang achieved significant notoriety, not least through their own publications,92 the crimes and particularly the prison escapes of Jack Sheppard raised criminal celebrity to an entirely new level.93 Although Sheppard was more ‘used as a mouthpiece to denounce the hypocrisy and corruption of a society of which he was merely the mirror image’ and did not make such claims himself, he did actively promote his public image as an anti-authority figure through his provocative comments to the Ordinary and in the pamphlet he wrote (with Defoe’s assistance) just before his execution.94 He told the Ordinary that it was ‘no Crime in him to steal from those in better Circumstances than himself’.95 Reluctant to follow the expected practice of showing repentance for his crimes, Sheppard instead voiced the ambition of taking revenge on those who had turned against him, saying ‘he would increase the Number, as well as heighten the Quality of his Crimes’.96 Arguing that criminals should support each other, he attacked both thief-takers, who ‘deserve the Gallows as richly as any of the Thieves’, and thieves who impeached their accomplices, and ‘said that if all were but such Tight-Cocks as himself, the Reputation of British Thievery might be carried to a far greater height’.97

As a consequence of his incredible escapes from Newgate prison, Londoners became fascinated by Sheppard’s story, and a veritable legion of hack writers produced biographies, ballads and newspaper reports. As Defoe wrote,

His Escape and his being so suddenly Re-taken made such a Noise in the Town, that it was thought all the common People would have gone Mad about him; there being not a Porter to be had for Love nor Money, nor getting into an Ale-house, for Butchers, Shoemakers and Barbers, all engag’d in Controversies, and Wagers, about Sheppard.98

He was reputedly visited in prison by crowds of elite men and women, and plebeian Londoners appear to have willed him on to succeed in his escapes. While there were struggles over the control of his corpse, however, there was no attempt to prevent his execution, suggesting that the crowd recognised the inevitability of his punishment.99

Other criminals, however, were encouraged by his story to commit their own acts of resistance. Defoe reported that ‘The Felons on the Common Side of Newgate … animated by Sheppard’s Example, the Night before they were to be Shipt for Transportation … cut several Iron Bars asunder, and some of them had saw’d off their fetters’ in an attempt to escape. If they had had two hours more, Defoe wrote, ‘near One Hundred Villians [sic] had been let loose into the World’.100 Over the ensuing years several others successfully escaped, either en masse (Richard Scurrierwith several others’ in 1725), by following Sheppard’s example and going through the roof (Roger Johnson, and accused murderer Henry Fisher in 1727) or by dressing in women’s clothes (John Sherwin, accused of a libel and ‘abusing the Bench of Justices at Hick’s Hall’ in 1731).101

Lewis Houssart, condemned for the murder of his wife, shared a cell with Sheppard shortly before both were executed, and also seems to have been inspired by his defiant attitude.102 As the Ordinary reported,

After he was Convicted of the Murther … his every Word and Look were full of Bitterness and venom against the Court and his Accusers … he was not sorry that he had Arraigned the Justice of the English Nation, in the Face of the Court that Tried him, but sorry he had not done it more largely; … But the Person with whom he seem’d the most pleas’d was John Sheppard; and while they were in the Condemn’d-Hold, they were sometimes very Merry and Jocose together.103

Refusing to meet conventional expectations that he should confess his crimes, Houssart denied murdering his wife when on the scaffold.

Whether or not highway robbers and footpads were motivated by their role as ‘social critics’ (and evidence of this is scarce), in their behaviour and publicity-seeking many thieves not only defied the law, as is evident in their repeated crimes, but also actively rejected the authority of the courts, notably by refusing to plead and thereby subjecting themselves to peine forte et dure. A historical remnant of the medieval transition from trial by ordeal to trial by jury, this form of torture had not been carried out at the Old Bailey since the 1680s, but from 1716 several defendants refused to plead and put themselves at risk of experiencing this horrific practice. Mary Andrews, for example, charged with highway robbery in 1721, ‘was so obstinate as to suffer three Whipcords to be broke in tying her Thumbs, as the Law requires in such Cases’, before she relented and entered her plea.104 In the same year two highwaymen, William Spiggot and Nathaniel Hawes, and in 1726 Edward Burnworth, went so far as to endure the pain of being forced to lie flat, naked and spread-eagled on the floor in Newgate prison and endure weights of up to 400 pounds placed on their chests before they finally agreed to plead.105

Those who refused to plead advanced several justifications, including demanding that possessions confiscated at the time of their arrest be returned (which was not legally possible). But as Andrea McKenzie has argued, ‘the most likely motivations … seem to have been the desire to preserve one’s reputation or to express one’s rejection of the tribunal, or both’. Not only was enduring the press and their willingness to die an ‘implicit challenge to the legitimacy of the court’, but it allowed these men, who were clearly playing to an audience both inside and outside the courtroom, to demonstrate their ‘manly courage’ and defiance of authority.106 Hawes said his refusal ‘was as became a Man of Courage and bold Spirit, and if the Court was so Uncivil as to deny him his own Cloths, he had no business to oblige the Court, in Pleading’, claiming that the Old Bailey ‘used to be a Court of Justice, but was now a Place of Injustice’.107 He said in court that ‘as he liv’d like a Man, he was resolv’d to die so’ and acknowledged to the Ordinary that his primary motive for enduring the press was not to seek the return of his ‘good Suit of Cloaths’, but ‘to evince his Boldness, and to gain Applause among the Gentlemen of the Highway, as he said, for being so brave a fellow’.108 Burnworth was determined to remain longer under the press than Spiggot. He did so, lasting over an hour.109

Some defendants mocked the authority of the court during their trials. James Carrick, described as a member of ‘the most villainous set about London’, was finally tried in 1722 for robbing William Young, MP, as he travelled in a chair in Covent Garden between 1 and 2 in the morning on 1 July.110 The Proceedings report that he made a ‘frivolous defence’ at his trial, but they do not explain what it consisted of.111 As reported in the more complete Select Trials, an edition of trial accounts based on original shorthand notes from the trials but published twenty years later, he aggressively cross-examined Young in a way which only further implicated him in the crime:

CARRICK: Pray Sir, which Side of the Chair was I on when you say I robb’d you?
MR. YOUNG: On the left Side.
CARRICK: Now that’s a lie, for I was on the right side – I shall catch you again presently … What sort of a Wig?
MR. YOUNG: A light Tye-Wig.
CARRICK: That’s another damn’d Lie of yours…112

While we do not know if anyone in the courtroom was impressed by this effrontery, we do know that, unsurprisingly, he was convicted and his defiance was omitted from the Proceedings.

Others steadfastly maintained their innocence even after conviction. John Hawkins ‘defended himself and [George] Simpson to an extraordinary degree’ at his trial, but was nevertheless convicted and sentenced to death in May 1722.113 Hawkins then ‘put on a Deportment suprizingly odd and bold, arraigning the Court and the Jury alternately, and discovering (as he fancy’d) several irregular Proceedings at his Trial’.114 According to the Select Trials:

The Verdict being recorded, Hawkins exprest himself to this Purpose. I am altogether innocent of this Robbery; though I don’t blame my Country-men for their Verdict, for their intentions were honourable, but they were over rul’d by a partial Judge.115

Similarly unreported in the Proceedings was James Dalton’s behaviour following his conviction on a misdemeanour charge of attempted robbery in January 1730.116 According to the Universal Spectator, ‘he behaved himself with a great deal of Insolence while the Court were passing Sentence on him, and threatened to do Murder before long … When that Part of his Sentence was pronounced of his Fine [40 marks, or about £26], he reply’d, Give me a Receipt for it, and I’ll pay you now.’117

Awaiting execution, the condemned frequently resisted the ministrations of the Ordinary and played instead to the audience of fellow prisoners.118 Martin Bellamy, one-time associate of James Dalton, and Benjamin Branch were described by the Ordinary as ‘the most obstinate and obdurate Criminals I ever saw’.119 Although the Ordinary claimed Bellamy eventually repented, the London Journal reported a rather different account of his behaviour the Sunday before his execution, when ‘he publickly cursed the Ordinary and the whole Congregation, upon the Minister’s taking a Text from St Matthew’s Gospel against Thieves; and he continued so outrageous that there was no Sermon, the Ordinary not being able to proceed’.120

Although many convicts, like Bellamy, ultimately died penitent, for others the gallows provided an opportunity for a final act of defiance. The 1720s appears to have witnessed an escalation of the practice of common criminals dying ‘game’, by affecting a ‘cheerful unconcern with [their] fate’.121 Many of the condemned demonstrated their indifference to hanging by, at various times, wearing gay clothes, adopting a confident (rather than repentant) tone and demeanour, tossing their shoes into the crowd (so it could not be said that they ‘died with their shoes on’) and leaping off the scaffold rather than waiting for the hangman to act. By refusing to implicate their comrades, asserting their innocence and expressing their confidence of salvation, they rejected the gallows script in which they were expected to acknowledge their sins and place themselves at God’s mercy.122 Such behaviour was commemorated in Jonathan Swift’s satirical poem, Clever Tom Clinch Going to be Hanged (1727), in which Tom told the execution crowd:

Take Courage, dear Comrades, and be not afraid,
Nor slip this Occasion to follow your Trade.
My Conscience is clear, and my Spirits are calm,
And thus I go off without Pray’r Book or Psalm.

The poem concludes, ‘Then follow the Practice of Clever Tom Clinch / Who hung like a Hero, and never would flinch’.123

McKenzie suggests that dying like a hero was ‘an ideal to which many real-life criminals aspired’, and some convicts put on quite a show.124 When the Minter Charles Towers, furious that he had been convicted of going in disguise when rescuing a fellow debtor, was on the scaffold, for example, he ‘pull’d out a Paper’ and demanded that it be read. While acknowledging that as a sinner he deserved death, he denied he had been in disguise or that he had committed any thefts, and ‘inveigh’d against the Bailiffs’.125 Others demonstrated contempt by their actions. At James Carrick’s execution, he ‘laughed and smiled upon all whom he there knew; gave himself genteel Airs in fixing the Rope aright about his Neck, and … had continually some pretty Gesture or other when the People were silent and expecting of something from him’.126 Stephen Barnham, convicted of highway robbery in 1728 and previously an associate of ‘Blueskin’ Blake, had already shown defiance in the courtroom when he and his accomplices seemed not to ‘have the least Regret, but on the contrary, they all four laugh’d, and with the utmost Contempt despised the Witnesses who swore against them … they stood at the Bar careless, negligent and confident’.127 At Tyburn he ‘laugh’d twice after he was ty’d up to the gallows’ and took the Ordinary’s prayer book and ‘threw it up against the gallows with all the Passion and Folly imaginable’.128

Contemporaries worried that the bold behaviour of the condemned encouraged imitators. Bernard Mandeville wrote that during the procession to Tyburn, ‘young Villains, that are proud of being so (if they knew any of the Malefactors) tear the Cloaths off their Backs … [and] shake hands with [them] … not to lose, before so much company, the Reputation there is in having had such a valuable Acquaintance’.129 Similarly, Defoe commented:

One thing that increases the number of our Town Thieves, is to see the Criminals go to Execution as neat and trim, as if they were going to a Wedding. G-d D-mn, says one Rogue to another, Jack Such-a-one made a clever Figure when he went to Tyburn the other Day, and died bravely, hard, like a Cock.130

The ‘game’ criminal encouraged other acts of defiance. The crowd’s behaviour in seeking to seize the corpses of those executed, to prevent them from being taken away for dissection by the surgeons, suggests that they had developed a certain solidarity with the condemned.131 As Mandeville commented, ‘They have suffer’d the Law (cries the Rabble) and shall have no other Barbarities put upon them: We know what you are, and will not leave them before we see them buried.’132

These acts of defiance by thieves and their supporters at each stage of the judicial process failed to prevent executions, but together they reflect the evolution of a new culture, motivated in part by particular notions of social justice, which was sharply at odds with respectable London. More effective in eliciting support and sympathy, precisely because it appealed to a more respectable audience, was the development of the myth of the ‘gentleman highwayman’ – a robber whose elite aspirations and polite treatment of his victims made him appear less threatening than the violent street robber.133 The term ‘street robber’ itself was only coined early in the decade, to denote (and condemn) a particularly violent form of theft, in contrast to older characterisations of highwaymen. In July 1722, citing robberies committed by James Carrick, the Daily Journal expressed concern about a gang of ‘fifteen persons whose sole business is to rob about the streets of London’.134 Owing to the danger of being apprehended, such robberies involved a higher degree of violence than those committed on country roads. According to a contemporary account of the Burnworth gang of ‘Street Robbers’,

this new Society of Robbers, more than any that ever went before them, at least in England, have been mark’d by this infamous Character, that they are Murtherers as well as Thieves, and that they have been more bent upon blood, than even the Gangs of Rogues among us have usually been.135

With the street robber receiving such bad press, some thieves began to cultivate an alternative persona, building on characteristics of the traditional highwayman. Nathaniel Hawes told the Ordinary that shortly after he arrived in London, he fell into ‘expensive Company’ and began wearing ‘lac’d ruffles’.136 Although he had to steal to support this lifestyle, he claimed he acted politely in his robberies, returning goods to the victims when they appeared to need them more than him: a ring with sentimental value to one victim and money to another when he discovered he only had 18 pence.

The image of the genteel and polite robber, which did not necessarily reflect actual conduct, was disseminated to the public not only through stories told to the Ordinary but also in separate tracts and biographies. In his Full, True and Impartial Account of all the Robberies Committed by William Hawkins, Hawkins exonerated his executed brother John by claiming he ‘never did a barbarous Action, I mean in Relation to Bloodshed, which he always scorn’d’ and was ‘always too generous to destroy Papers and notes’, when they were included in goods that they stole. Instead, they ‘sent them back Gratis to the Owners, without any Reward’, in implicit contrast to the normal practices of Jonathan Wild. And when ‘mean rascally schemes of robbing Foot-Passengers’ were proposed to the gang, they were dismissed as ‘very base things … we were too brave to attempt any Thing on Foot’.137 Similarly, gang member turned informer Ralph Wilson denied claims that the gang raped the women they robbed, and wrote that while he was in prison ‘several Gentlemen who have been robb’d by us… who have been to see me, remember me for the great Civility I showed above my Companions’.138

All this did not prevent John Hawkins from being executed, though unusually the jury did have to ‘withdraw several times to consult of their verdict’ before convicting him of the capital offence of highway robbery.139 However, there is some evidence that the general public warmed to the portrayal of Hawkins and his partner Simpson as gentlemen. The Weekly Journal: or, British Gazeteer described the pair as ‘persons of a genteel and extraordinary behaviour, of good countenance and address, which renders them the objects of much pity and concern. A great concourse of people therefore daily resort to Newgate to see them.’140 While highwaymen secure in their cells were safe to visit, even those still at large were sometimes treated with pity, and even respect. John Turner, tried four times for robbery between 1723 and 1727, adopted the title of ‘Civil John’, justified by his alleged polite treatment of his victims.141 That there was at least some foundation to these claims is evident in the testimony of his last victim, Thomas Air, at Turner’s 1727 trial: ‘after I delivered [my purse], he asked my pardon, and said he could not help it’.142 The Ordinary certainly appears to have been impressed by Turner:

He appear’d to be a young Man of a civil complaisant Temper, whence it was, that his Acquaintance commonly call’d him, Civil John; others say, that he got this Appellation from the Gentlemen whom he robb’d, because of the civil Usage he gave them …143

In 1728 the gentlemanly pretensions of highwaymen were given a significant boost with the staging and publication of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, with its substantial references to plebeian London. Not only were many of its tunes derived from contemporary popular ballads, but the principal characters were clearly modelled on the thief-taker Jonathan Wild (Peachum, the villain) and criminal celebrities such as Jack Sheppard and James Carrick (Macheath). Yet unlike Sheppard and Carrick, Macheath is given gentlemanly status with the title ‘Captain’, and Mrs Peachum says ‘there is not a finer gentleman upon the road than the Captain’. At the end the ‘Beggar’ observes that ‘it is difficult to determine whether (in the fashionable vices) the fine gentlemen imitate the gentlemen of the road, or the gentlemen of the road the fine gentlemen’.144 Its immense popularity (The Beggar’s Opera was the most frequently produced play in the century) led commentators, including Daniel Defoe, to worry that it encouraged crime.145 Certainly James Dalton suggests as much when in the Narrative of his crimes he reports that the gang went to see it and thought ‘the whole seem’d to be an Encouragement of their Profession’.146

In the context of the increasingly genteel pretensions of highwaymen, however, a more important impact of the play may have been to make victims of such robberies more tolerant. The gentlewoman Gertrude Savile, who went to see it on the first night in January 1728 (and several more times), wrote in her diary that ‘the top charicters [sic] were highwaymen and common whores and very exactly drawn and yet manag’d to be inofencive and very witty’. Overall, she found it ‘wonderfully entertaining and instructive, tho’ the subject was so low’.147 The light-hearted and sympathetic treatment of highwaymen in the play further distinguished them from the stereotypically violent conduct of street robbers. As a commentator, possibly Defoe, wrote in 1731, while victims of the latter are ‘knock’d down and robb’d, nay, sometimes murther’d at their own Doors’,

the English Highway-men generally rob with more Civility and good Manners than is practis’d abroad, and with something of generosity; not murdering those they attack, and frequently bidding the Ladies not to be frighted, and telling them they will do them no harm.148

The defiant culture of London’s thieves in the 1720s thus had two main, if contradictory, consequences. On the one hand, the recidivism and rejection of authority evident in their crimes, courtroom behaviour and performance on the gallows encouraged the development of an oppositional plebeian culture and hardened elite perceptions of the threats posed by crime, contributing to more frequent prosecutions of ordinary thieves, and, in the 1730s, an increase in the powers given to the night watch. On the other hand, taking advantage of the opportunities accorded by the growth in printed literature about crime and the cultural resources of the traditions of courteous behaviour and social justice found among rural highwaymen, some robbers used print to reinvent themselves as a far less threatening form of criminal, the gentlemanly highwayman. Consequently, as would become more evident in later decades in cases such as that of highwayman James Maclaine, some victims became reluctant to prosecute, undermining the authorities’ more punitive approach to crime and thereby exacerbating the challenge to law and order.

The debtors strike back

Just as criminal justice was challenged in the 1720s, so too was the administration of London’s debtors’ prisons. Prior to the passage of legislation in that decade, incarceration for small debt was a common misfortune suffered by many plebeian Londoners. Apprehended by often corrupt bailiffs (whose real interest was in extorting money from those whom they arrested in their ‘sponging houses’), at the behest of real or fictional creditors, poor Londoners could find themselves left to rot on the ‘common side’ of any number of London’s prisons, including Newgate. It has been estimated that debtors ‘comprised more than half the prison population in the country’ in the early eighteenth century, and that ‘most were working poor, either artisans or shopkeepers’. In London, the most important prisons for debtors were the Fleet, King’s Bench and the Marshalsea, with the Marshalsea holding an average of over 300 prisoners at any one time during the century.149 Prisoners were divided by wealth between the relatively comfortable ‘master’s side’ (where those who could afford it could live in their own apartments) and the frequently squalid ‘common side’, waiting for either a stroke of luck, or more realistically, the passage of one of the periodic acts ‘for the relief of insolvent debtors’, to open the prison gates. Six thousand debtors were released following the passage of one such act in 1712.150 In between the passage of these acts, common side prisoners had to live in appalling conditions. In the Marshalsea in 1729, a single room, just sixteen feet by fourteen, housed thirty-two men: ‘half are hung up in Hammocks’, and all were obliged ‘to ease Nature within the Room, the stench of which is noisome beyond Expression’.151 Not entitled to any relief from county funds, prisoners were dependent for food on the ‘groats’ they could secure from their creditors, or the proceeds of begging at the prison gates.152 In 1729 a parliamentary committee found that most of the 330 prisoners on the common side in the Marshalsea were ‘in the utmost necessity’ and that ‘great Numbers … appeared to have perished for Want’.153

Abuse of the prisoners was facilitated by the fact that the keepers’ powers over them were only to a limited extent constrained by law, but paradoxically in practice the system of prison governance empowered the prisoners to run these institutions largely on their own terms. Debtors’ prisons form an extreme example of the eighteenth century’s unreformed system of prison governance, in which the position of keeper was purchased and the prison was run for profit. To save costs, keepers were usually unwilling to hire the officers needed to run the prison and instead depended on the prisoners themselves, while at the same time providing a minimum standard of care. As Roger Brown describes the power dynamic in the Fleet, ‘The warden needed the prisoners’ consent to govern his prison with the minimum of resources, while the prisoners needed his favour in order that their traditional privileges [such as access to alcohol] could be continued.’ In this prison the over 300 prisoners were supervised by a skeleton staff consisting of the warden and his deputy, a night warden, and two or three turnkeys. At night, the prisoners were simply locked in and left to their own devices.154 The fact that prisoners for debt remained incarcerated for periods of years, rather than weeks as was more commonly the case with those charged with crime, and that they were sometimes able to transfer between prisons, meant that they could form close alliances with their fellow prisoners and develop more effective methods of resistance. We have already seen how the debtors of the New Mint defended their privileges through collective protest. The Fleet and King’s Bench prisons were largely governed by a ‘prisoners committee’, with the latter’s committee having printed a list of thirty-seven rules governing prisoner conduct. This system of self-governance had its own hierarchy, with common side prisoners excluded from decision-making, and prisoners subjected to punishments for breaking the rules.155 It was supplemented by judicial oversight of the prisons, including the appointment of a prison ‘visitor’ at King’s Bench prison, allowing prisoners to voice their complaints.156 At crucial moments, in alliance with supporters outside the prison, this culture of both self-government and complaint allowed the prisoners to organise resistance to exploitation by the keepers.

In 1729 mistreatment of prisoners by the keepers of the Marshalsea and Fleet led to a parliamentary investigation. Occurring at a time when the whole interlocking system of local government, poor relief and criminal justice seemed, like the whig oligarchy itself, to be riven by corruption, these scandals touched a raw nerve. While MPs played a significant role in the investigations which eventually forced the keepers of these two prisons from office, it was the prisoners themselves who first brought the issue to public attention. In March 1728, when William Acton became Deputy Keeper of the Marshalsea, determined to make a profit on the £400 investment the position cost him, the death rate began to rise. In the first instance, some eight months after Acton took over, the prisoners on the common side simply ‘rose up’ against his regime. A prisoner named Anderson ‘cry’d out One & all! and immediately they fell upon [Acton]’, who eventually escaped with ‘the Loss of a Little Blood and a torn Shirt’ and what appears to be a renewed dedication to punishing his prisoners.157 Acton had fetters, iron skull caps and stinking isolation cells, all the gruesome equipment of early modern incarceration, at his disposal. But the prisoners did not give up. In 1729, prompted by a parliamentary inquiry, the complaints of ‘Several Persons now under Confinement’ in King’s Bench, the compters, Ludgate and the Marshalsea were published, including the testimony of one prisoner:

great Numbers of them [are] in Rags, and almost naked, starving for want of Bread … [they are] Shadows, pale, and faint, without any the least Subsistence, and in all appearance, perishing for want of Relief, and daily seeing the dead Bodies of others carried out …158

The parliamentary inquiry was established under the leadership of General James Oglethorpe, MP, philanthropist and founder of Georgia, to investigate conditions in the country’s prisons. However, mired in the party politics, his inquiry initially failed to dislodge Acton. Although Acton was arrested and tried for the murder of four prisoners, including Thomas Bliss, who had died following a brutal round of what can only be described as torture, he was eventually acquitted of all charges at the Surrey Assizes in August 1729, following the intervention of powerful political figures. It took a further death and trial for murder to finally drive Acton from his position in September 1729, some eighteen months after his arrival.159

The committee also investigated the Fleet prison following the death of Robert Castell in squalid conditions. A debtor and friend of Oglethorpe, Castell had been transferred to the common side for failure to pay his fees, and his death formed the original catalyst for the inquiry. This investigation empowered the prisoners and their supporters to attempt to use the law against those who ran the prison. The leader of the prisoners, Roger Johnson, former accomplice of Jonathan Wild, accused the warden of the Fleet, Thomas Bambridge, of murder.160 Both Bambridge and the former warden, John Huggins, were tried at the Old Bailey for the murder of different victims in May 1729, though the Proceedings failed to report the testimony in either trial. One prisoner, Elizabeth Barkley, also prosecuted Bambridge for the felonious theft of her household goods in December 1729. Although he was acquitted in both cases, and also in a suit of appeal for murder brought by Castell’s widow, Bambridge was stripped of his post by Act of parliament.161 Huggins, meanwhile, languished in Newgate while council wrangled over the text of a special verdict.

Although the failure of these prosecutions suggests the limits of prisoner resistance, both Acton and Bambridge did lose their posts and new rules were drawn up to regulate prison keepers’ conduct and prohibit the sale of prison offices. When combined with elite support in the form of a parliamentary investigation, prisoner resistance had made a difference. Moreover, the very public nature of these scandals empowered other prisoners to complain. News of the committee’s investigation prompted those in London’s other prisons to ‘draw up depositions against their keepers regarding impositions and extortions’.162 In 1730, Newgate prisoners regained some control over the internal management of the prison when the powers of the ‘partners’, an elite group of four trusted prisoners who had been given a major role in running the prison and who subjected their fellow prisoners to theft and brutality, were reined in.163 In 1733, a common side prisoner in the Fleet, Simon Wood, published a short pamphlet ‘to represent to the Legislature, the Hardships of the distressed People’ in the prison.164

In the longer term, owing to the passage of legislation which meant debtors could no longer be imprisoned before trial for debts below 40 shillings, the debtors’ prison ceased to loom so large in the catalogue of misfortunes that might befall a plebeian Londoner. However, this pattern of abuse, public exposure, resistance and reform would be repeated over the course of the century. And as new forms of institutional care emerged, most notably the parish workhouse, this same pattern would become a dynamic process of inmate-led change.

Reforming divided communities

In addition to seeking a reformation of the prisons, reformers also sought to revitalise the reformation of manners movement in the 1720s, a less welcome development for most plebeian Londoners. The leadership of this movement in this period shifted from the original voluntary societies, which had been weakened by controversy over the involvement of dissenters and possibly also by simple generational change, to justices of the peace, who were newly empowered by statutes and subject to pressures both from central government and London householders seeking to clean up their neighbourhoods. Consequently, the targets of reform shifted, with disorderly houses now the chief focus. Such efforts divided communities, and once again the reformers encountered forceful resistance from men and women of all social classes.

Initially, the onslaught on streetwalkers continued. The number of offenders reported as prosecuted in the societies’ annual reports peaked in 1717 at almost 3,000, almost two-thirds of whom were women accused of ‘lewd and disorderly’ conduct. In parallel, commitments to the Westminster and Middlesex houses of correction also peaked in 1715–17.

As with previous waves of prosecutions of prostitutes, this one did not go unchallenged. In February 1717, a reforming constable named Somes (possibly Daniel Soames, future assistant to Jonathan Wild) was arrested for having taken up ‘some ill persons’ at night in Fleet Street and taken them to Bridewell the previous May. Another constable by the name of Ingram, ‘not satisfied with the legal authority which they shewed him’ to justify the commitments, arrested Somes, leading him in turn to bring an action for false imprisonment before the Lord Chief Justice. The reformers won the case, with the Chief Justice expressing concern about ‘the ill consequence that might attend discouraging so laudable a society’, and Ingram was ordered to pay £20 damages.165 But litigation against the reformers, often brought by plebeian Londoners, continued. In the same year, Charles Hitchen, City marshal, complained that peace officers were discouraged from making arrests owing to the frequent lawsuits brought against them by ‘disorderly persons’.166

Eight years later a large number of similar commitments were challenged in Westminster, in a case which illustrates why justices of the peace sought to gain greater control over reformation of manners activities. In May 1725 Westminster justices John Troughton and Henry Harpur issued a warrant ‘To all Constables & other his Majesties Officers for the said County and Liberty whome these may concerne’,

Whereas Complaint upon Oath hath been made unto us … that Mary Ealey als Shase doth keep an Ill Governed & & Disorderly house Call’d Robinson’s Coffee house at Charing Cross in the Parish of St. Martins in the feilds in ye County Aforsd & Doth Entertain Loose Idle Disorderly persons and women of Ill fame who Comitt Great Disorders in the sd. house to ye Disturbance of the Neighbourhood. These are therefore in his Majties. Name to will & require You on Sight hereof to make Deligint Search in the Sd: house & all other houses or parts that You Shall Suspect Such Disorderly persons As well men as Women to be harbour’d or Entertained in or persons Strouling in the Streets At an Unseasonable hour & Given no Good Acct. of themselves …167

Figure 3.3: Societies for the Reformation of Manners prosecutions, 1713–1731.

Figure 3.3: Societies for the Reformation of Manners prosecutions, 1713–1731.

Source: Robert Shoemaker, ‘Reforming the city: the reformation of manners campaign in London, 1690-1738’, in L. Davison et al., eds., Stilling the Grumbling Hive: The Response to Social and Economic Problems in England, 1689–1750 (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1992), p. 105.

Online dataset: SRM Prosecutions 1693-1738 (xlsx)

Over the following six months, on the basis of this ‘general warrant’, a subsequent investigation determined that a single constable, John Cameron, was responsible for ‘not less than 169 Persons comitted by him to Bridewell & tenn to the Gatehouse and he has returned five & forty Recognizances to answer to this present Sessions’.168

It is not clear who objected, but a complaint to the Westminster justices about the allegedly illegal use by a constable of this single warrant to arrest so many persons for a wide range of offences prompted an investigation, after which the justices resolved ‘that the granting the warrant mention’d in the Report in the General manner it appears to be framed and the not making it Returnable or calling for a Return thereof in due time, but suffering the same to be so many months in the hands of the Constable was irregular & illegal’.169 While the legality of this ruling is questionable, the justices’ expressed concern that the activities of rogue constables threatened to undermine their authority is notable.170 As the justices concluded, the constables’ actions had contributed to ‘the great Reproach & Dishonour of the Commission of the Peace for this City & Liberty’.171

Consequently, in the 1720s a group of prominent Middlesex and Westminster justices sought to take control of the reformation of manners campaign. However, in throwing their weight behind the campaign the justices also changed its direction and narrowed its focus, prompting a new wave of opposition. The justices were not acting entirely on their own initiative; in concentrating on disorderly houses, they were responding to pressures from both above and below. As the focus of metropolitan concerns about crime shifted from the City of London to the rapidly growing parishes of Westminster and urban Middlesex, and the whig government sought to demonstrate it was in control, secretaries of state entered into more frequent correspondence with leading justices such as Nathaniel Blackerby, demanding concerted action against violent crime and its perceived causes.172 But the justices also came under strong pressure from local inhabitants concerned to restore order in their neighbourhoods. Such pressure came particularly from householders in the inner west end parishes of St Giles in the Fields, St Paul Covent Garden and St Martin in the Fields, parishes located between the City of London and the new aristocratic developments in Westminster, and whose shifting social composition undermined the position of more prosperous long-term residents.173 In 1716, for example, ‘the Humble Peticon [sic] of the landlords and inhabitants of Little Wilde Streete in the Parish of St Giles in the Fields’ named five women who kept coffee houses ‘whereto dayly and nightly resort many lewd women and other ill disposed people to the great terror and disturbance of your petitioners’, thereby threatening to destroy the economy of this small street. Five houses were already empty, ‘and the whole street [is] likely to be in a little time totally deserted’.174

These communities were divided between householders seeking to maintain a high standard of order and those who stood to benefit from ‘disorderly’ activities. Consequently, while the pressure to suppress vice was strong, there was also substantial opposition to such enforcement campaigns, not only from the ‘disorderly’, but also from those constables and justices who wished to maintain good relations with the members of their communities who tolerated (or made a living from) vice. Those responsible for law enforcement could be found on both sides, as can be seen in the extraordinary careers of two active informers, Phillip Cholmondley, a stationer, and Edward Vaughan, a basketmaker, both of St Martin in the Fields.175 As a constable’s assistant, Cholmondley had witnessed the murder of the reforming constable John Dent in 1709.176 Over several years he and Vaughan participated in numerous prosecutions of artisans and shopkeepers for working on the Sabbath, as well as arrests of disorderly women.

In early 1719 both testified at King’s Bench against two women from St Martin in the Fields who were accused of keeping disorderly houses. The extensive aliases of these women, Mary Evans wife of John alias Mary Carew alias Geary, and Elizabeth Whaley, alias Bource alias Connell, suggest a long career of evading the law. According to Vaughan, Evans’s house ‘was often complained of by the neighbourhood and reputed to be a common house of bawdry’. A neighbour, William Stagg, a victualler, testified that

murder has been frequently cryed out and many other disturbances and noises permitted to be carried on … together with abundance of swearing, curseing and bawdy discourse to the great terror and disturbance of this defendant and the neighbourhood in so much that this deponent is afraid he and his neighbours houses may be set on fire.

Yet when attempts were made to arrest the women, the two constables and their assistants encountered violent resistance. According to Vaughan, ‘they have been frequently insulted by the defendant [Evans] and the ill company in her house so much that they have been in danger of their lives’. Cholmondley testified that ‘the company in the said house [have] drawn their swords on the constables and their assistants for which reason they have oftentimes been obliged to leave disorderly persons in the said defendants’ house … [who have] often times beat out the said constables and their assistants’.177

Two years later it became clear that Cholmondley and Vaughan also provoked opposition from some justices of the peace. In August 1721, three reforming justices, John Mercer, Richard Gifford and John Gonson, sent for the two informers and told them they were concerned that ‘clandestine practices’ among constables and beadles were undermining attempts to suppress vice. Consequently, in company with a third constable the justices trusted, Cholmondley and Vaughan helped arrest several disorderly women on the streets late that evening. But the next day, when attempting to bring their prisoners before the three justices at the court house, they were confronted by a ‘great mobb … which could not but exceed a hundred people [which] seized Cholmondley and Mr Vaughan and said they must go before Justice Ellis’.178 After insulting them in front of the mob, Justice John Ellis went to the courthouse and in front of the other justices told

Cholmondley he was a rascal and that he knew Cholmondley very well … [and] did not doubt but he should have Cholmondley’s eares nail’d to the pillory. And Justice Ellis turning to the three Justices said that Justice Milner and he had always strived to keep these fellows out of the parish.179

Then, in open court and in front of the accused women, Ellis instructed the constables that whenever they saw Cholmondley and Vaughan ‘in St Giles Parish that they should carry them to New Prison’. Clearly concerned to keep a substantial proportion of the local population on his side, Ellis depicted the two informers as unwelcome interferers in local affairs, even though they lived in a neighbouring parish and were acting under the authority of three justices.180

This concern to prevent justices from interfering in each other’s affairs, which had official recognition in orders from the Middlesex bench directing justices not to act outside their divisions, also caught out the prominent reforming justices Thomas Boteler and Nathaniel Blackerby.181 In September 1720 both were summoned to appear before their fellow justices at the Middlesex sessions and ‘shew cause why’ they granted warrants against several persons who lived outside their divisions, contrary to the law, with Boteler threatened with a ‘representation … to … the Lord Chancellor’ if his answer was unsatisfactory.182 Both justices had summoned offenders (their offences are unknown) from outside Westminster to appear at meetings of justices which took place in Westminster parish vestries. In Blackerby’s case the warrants were granted against offenders living in Hammersmith, requiring them to appear at St Margaret’s vestry. While both Blackerby and Boteler, as well as Cholmondley and Vaughan, survived these challenges and went on to further reforming activity, through these incidents they were made fully aware of the need to tread carefully.

In addition to prosecuting vice, reforming justices, together with the powerful select vestries of Westminster, sought to expand their power over constables and the night watch, which in Westminster remained in the hands of the Court of Burgesses, whose powers were essentially those of a manorial court. At this time watchmen were still drawn from local residents, or else were men hired to substitute for local ratepayers who did not want to serve. On 13 January 1720, the Middlesex bench petitioned parliament, claiming that ‘severall Persons of Quality and others have been lately & in an unusual manner attackt in their Coaches and Chairs & some of them Robbed in the High Streets’, and arguing that the current system of a nightly watch, as organised by the Court of Burgesses, was both expensive and ineffective.183 An attempt to bring the watch under the direct control of the magistrates through a parliamentary act failed, but the struggle for power between the parish vestries and justices of the peace on the one hand and Court of Burgesses on the other would continue throughout the decade. It forms the backdrop to many reformation of manners activities during the 1720s and 1730s and the opposition they incurred, starting with the campaign against gaming houses between 1718 and 1722.184

Since 1690, if not before, proclamations against vice had routinely included gaming in their lists of sinful activities, but it was only in 1718 that explicit attention was called to the evils of gaming houses. It is not clear where the impetus for this change came from, though gaming houses were known to be frequented by highwaymen, and there seems to have been some concern, as Whitelocke Bulstrode, chairman of the Middlesex justices, said to the grand jury in April 1718, about the effects of gambling on ‘young gentlemen of fortune’, whose losses ‘ruin many worthy families’.185 While, unusually, the impact of vice on the rich was singled out, Bulstrode expanded his comments six months later when he noted that gambling also caused ‘ordinary Men, such as Day-Labourers, Apprentices, Servants, and Handy-Craft Tradesmen’ to ‘give themselves up to all Manner of Wickedness; and neglecting their Work, leave their Wives and Children a Burden to the Parish’.186

Justices played the leading role in this campaign. In October, Bulstrode noted that several ‘common’ gaming houses ‘in the upper part of Westminster’ had already been prosecuted. In fact, in July sixty-seven indictments were prosecuted at the Westminster sessions for keeping unlawful games such as ‘ninepinns’ and ‘shovel board’.187 These prosecutions appear to have had little impact, for two years later, prompted by a letter from the Lords Justices, the Westminster bench recommended that justices hold weekly petty sessions to put the laws in execution against the keepers of gaming houses and those who attended them.188 The first meeting was to be held in Covent Garden, since ‘there are more such public common gaming houses in the parish of St Paul Covent-Garden, and places adjacent, than in any other parts of this city and liberty’.189

In choosing to prosecute a vice in which many people had substantial financial interests, these justices bit off more than they could chew. Opposition came from several quarters: the Court of Burgesses (who benefited financially from the fines they imposed on gaming houses), other justices (it was alleged some even owned gaming houses) and of course the owners and clientele of the houses themselves and their friends. The Burgesses’ officers undermined the justices’ campaign at almost every turn. Constables refused to serve warrants, the grand jury at the Westminster sessions was packed with members who continually rejected the indictments (finding them ‘ignoramus’) and news of impending raids was leaked to gamblers in advance, even though the justices met secretly.190

The gamblers resorted to force. As the justices complained to the Lords, it was impossible to enter the houses since,

the Keepers of Such Gameing Houses have Strong Hatches to their Street doors and also to the doors of their Inner Rooms with Sharp Iron Spikes over the said Hatches, which Hatches are kept fast locked & are guarded by Soldiers who refuse to let the said Justices of Peace or any Constable enter the said Gameing Houses or Inner Roomes.191

The justices continued to meet on a regular basis to plan their raids, and tensions mounted, culminating in a raid on Vandernan’s gaming house in Playhouse Passage, off Drury Lane, on 21 December 1721. Among those joining the raid as constables’ assistants were none other than Edward Vaughan and Phillip Cholmondley.192 Having managed to secure entry to the house as one of the patrons left, the constables and their assistants entered a room where around twenty gamblers were playing at hazard, an early and complex form of craps. Immediately the gamblers extinguished the candles and drew their swords, and the constables were forced to retreat. As a contemporary pamphlet sympathetic to the reformers explained,

This passage being full of gaming houses, and other houses that are frequented by disorderly people … the mob assembled immediately; and being very numerous and outragious, the word was given, among the mob that were assembled out of doors, to murder the constables and their assistants.193

Divested of rhetoric, this text reveals that gamblers had substantial popular support, not least from the approximately 600 employees of gaming houses who worked in the area.194 The Riot Act was read, but the gamblers shouted ‘A T–d of your Proclamation’ and ‘you’re a pack of informing dogs’.195 Soldiers were called, but they were pelted with brickbats and pisspots. Thus provoked, one of the soldiers fired his musket, and Henry Bowes, a former tailor and now boxkeeper of the house, was killed.

In the aftermath, the gamblers and their associates went on the offensive and, in the words of the reformers, ‘attempted to throw the riot on the constables’.196 In fact, it was their unpopular assistants, Cholmondley and Vaughan, who were indicted for the murder of Bowes at the Old Bailey in January 1722, for aiding and assisting John Hemlichen, the soldier who fired the shot.197 At their trial, the prosecutors used language more commonly used by the reformers, describing the constables and assistants who attempted to enter Vandernan’s house as a violent ‘mob’. Vaughan was accused of telling the soldier to fire, saying ‘I’ll indemnify you’. The case for the defence, however, was bolstered by the presence of ‘Several Justices of the Peace then on the Bench, [who] gave the prisoners a very good character.’198

Needless to say, the two were acquitted, and the following month the reformers got their revenge when three of the gamblers were tried and convicted at the Old Bailey on a misdemeanour charge of ‘Riotously assaulting several Constables, in the execution of their Office’. They were sentenced to large fines and a period of imprisonment, and required to find security for their good behaviour.199 Following this bruising but ultimately successful encounter, the reformers managed to prosecute large numbers of gamblers, with 104 prosecutions reported in the societies’ account for 1722.

As was so often the case, however, the reformers won the battle, while ultimately losing the war. Although both Cholmondley and Vaughan appear in the records in 1722 and 1723 testifying against profane swearing and Sabbath breakers, these are their last appearances. There is no evidence that they continued to inform against prostitutes and gamblers.200 More generally, the number of gaming houses prosecuted by the societies declined to forty-two in 1723 and twenty-three in 1724. Yet gaming houses continued to prosper, and the justices persevered. In 1723 a group of twenty-six Westminster and Middlesex justices, led by Sir John Gonson, ‘entered into a society to suppress gaming houses … [and] called themselves a convention’.201 Yet when in 1725 Justice Samuel Ryder began his charge to the Westminster Grand Jury with an account of the offences ‘abounding in this liberty’, the first offence he mentioned was ‘the keeping of gaming houses’.202 In December of that year, the Middlesex justices complained that improperly selected grand juries had once again ‘screened’ those who kept ‘common gaming houses, or disorderly publick houses’ from prosecution.203

The opposition to the campaign against gaming houses was mixed. Many of the gamblers were described as ‘well dressed’, and both they and their hosts obviously needed considerable resources to gamble for the high stakes reported.204 But as the riot at Vandernan’s gaming house demonstrates, the keepers and their clients had considerable support from some of their less wealthy neighbours, and these groups combined to frustrate the reformers.

Efforts to suppress ‘disorderly houses’ were renewed at the end of the decade, when there were fresh concerns about rising crime, evident in increases in Old Bailey trials and commitments to Bridewell. In 1728, prompted by a letter from Secretary of State Townshend, the Middlesex justices resolved to ‘to meet and hold Petty Sessions twice a week at least … to discover and Suppress all Such Persons who keep Night-Houses, Gaming-Houses, or other disorderly Houses, wherein Robbers or other Felons are harbour’d or incourag’d’.205 A new cycle of enforcement began, now with a wider focus on ‘disorderly houses’, the inadequacies of the night watch and the sale of gin, which would in turn generate new forms of opposition.

The pressure for reform once again also came from local inhabitants in the west end.206 In June 1730 the Westminster justices received a petition from eighteen shopkeepers, tradesmen and other inhabitants of St Martin in the Fields complaining that persons of the most ‘notorious characters and infamously wicked lives and conversations’ had taken up residence in the parish, in several streets and courts particularly in the neighbourhood of Drury Lane, which were ’infested with such vile people that there are frequent out crys in the night fighting robberies and all sorts of debauchery committed by them all night long’.207

In response to this and similar petitions, the Middlesex and Westminster sessions once again appointed committees of justices to investigate the problem and oversee the work of constables in apprehending offenders. By April 1731 the Westminster justices reported that their committee had met forty-two times, extending their inquiry to five neighbouring parishes. They had bound over forty-eight persons for keeping disorderly houses, committed sixteen to prison and indicted twenty-four, and as a result twenty-six houses, including two of the most notorious ones, were ‘suppressed and the persons that kept them gone away’. In addition, the justices had granted forty-two search warrants for apprehending rogues, vagabonds, sturdy beggars, and idle and disorderly persons, and apprehended 127 men and women, either in disorderly houses or on the streets, committing them to the house of correction. By these measures, they observed, ‘we hope we have in great measure lessened the disorders compained of … tho we have not as yet been able wholly to suppress them’.208

Indeed, even with the justices’ support, the constables continued to find the going difficult. The committee reported that fourteen persons had been committed to prison or bound over for assaulting and insulting the constables in the execution of their office. Constables were also, according to the report of an earlier committee, subjected to ‘causeless and vexatious anonymous suits and indictments brought against them … and thereby … put to great expence and charges which … discouraged and deterred them from doing their duty’.209 Such lawsuits, brought by those whom they prosecuted, were not, however, necessarily vexatious; they occasionally raised genuine legal issues. In a case brought before King’s Bench in 1730, for example, Mary Freeman alias Talbott, assisted reportedly by five counsel, used a writ of habeas corpus to challenge her commitment by members of the committee to the Westminster house of correction ‘to hard Labour till the first Day of the then next Quarter Sessions’, on the grounds that she should not have been committed for a fixed time period, but until such time as a justice deemed her ready for discharge.210 The reformers won this case, with all four King’s Bench judges ruling in their favour.

Other opposition was more intractable. In their 1731 report, the Westminster justices singled out two particularly recalcitrant offenders, sisters Mary Harvey alias Mackeige and Isabella Eaton als Gwyn.211 They were tried for theft several times between 1727 and 1732, often in the context of prostitution, and Harvey was prosecuted for keeping a disorderly house. As Heather Shore has demonstrated, these women were remarkably successful, both on the streets and in the courtroom, at resisting the reformers’ efforts to close down Harvey’s house and punish them. They resisted arrest and escaped from prison several times, and when tried in the courts they were only rarely convicted. With the assistance of counsel, they also initiated counter prosecutions against their accusers, including an indictment against the informing constables and thief-takers, brothers Michael and Thomas Willis, for highway robbery.212 This accusation arose out of a disturbance which occurred when they attempted to arrest Eaton for keeping a disorderly house and encountered violent resistance. The case was tried at the Old Bailey in August 1730.213 Although, following testimony from several reforming justices, the two constables were, as the Evening Post put it, ‘honourably acquitted’, Shore argues that this trial, as well as a failed perjury prosecution against Eaton and Harvey and a conviction of Thomas Willis for assaulting a gentleman in December 1731, sufficiently ‘tarnished their reputations’ that the Willis’s reforming careers were over.214 Neither Michael nor Thomas appears again in the records as an informer or constable, though Michael, and another brother, Robert, did manage to convict Eaton and Elizabeth Walker of conspiring to charge them with robbery in 1736.215

While Shore acknowledges that Harvey and Eaton were unusual in their success in resisting the reformers, she argues that the significant support both women received from friends and acquaintances (when they resisted arrest, escaped from prison and launched counter prosecutions) are indicative of ‘plebeian communities attempting to assert their place in the [wider] local community’.216 Like earlier reformation of manners activities, the disorderly house campaign divided neighbourhoods, pitting supporters of one definition of local ‘order’ against those whose livelihoods were embedded in alehouses and the activities (both licit and illicit) which took place there. Acts of resistance both grew out of, and contributed to, the culture of criminal defiance in the metropolis. They also substantially undermined the reformation of manners campaign.

Figure 3.5 [William Hogarth, A Harlot's Progress, Plate 3 (1732). BM 1868,0822.1521]( © Trustees of the British Museum.

Figure 3.5 William Hogarth, A Harlot’s Progress, Plate 3 (1732). BM 1868,0822.1521. © Trustees of the British Museum.

While the disorderly house campaign, in spite of resistance from people like Eaton and Harvey, succeeded in prosecuting large numbers of offenders, the reputation of the reformers was undermined by the constant accusations of misbehaviour that dogged their activities. As one commentator, possibly Daniel Defoe, observed in 1731, while the reformers had initially carried out ‘great work’, over time

less capable, and perhaps less sincere people, took the work, as it were out of their hands, to the great scandal of the thing itself, and by their corruption, partiality and at last, open connivances, they opened the doors to vice, which the first zealous reformers had so happily shut.

‘Reforming Constables’, watchmen and magistrates were all accused of ‘Connivance, and more especially … notorious Bribery and Corruption’.217 Even the magistrates were open to suspicion. William Hogarth immortalised the disorderly house raids in Plate 4 of his Harlot’s Progress (1732), in which Sir John Gonson is shown entering the prostitute Moll Hackabout’s room with a puzzled, almost leering expression on his face. As a result of the opposition they encountered, the reformers were in a sense brought down to the level of their opponents. Shore suggests that in their desperate attempts to convict Mary Harvey, the Westminster justices resorted to methods of ‘dubious legality’ such as initiating malicious prosecutions. This is one reason why so many of the charges against her resulted in acquittals.218

By 1731, the cumulative result of a series of initiatives which achieved limited results at sometimes high cost, the reformation of manners campaign was on the wane. The number of prosecutions reported in their annual accounts fell dramatically after 1725, possibly as a result of the Westminster justices’ ruling on ‘general warrants’, with prosecutions for the period 1726–31 averaging only 42 per cent of the average for the previous five years. In the first detailed report published after 1725, for 1730, prosecutions of lewd and disorderly conduct had fallen by 87.1 per cent and swearing and cursing by 79.6 per cent. Evidence that this decline in prosecutions was not just a result of less efficient reporting can be found in the fact that cases of vice in the Lord Mayor’s waiting and charge books averaged only four per year between 1728 and 1733, compared to an average of over seventy-six per year between 1690 and 1705.219 Owing to widespread opposition, the reformers had once again been forced to scale back their activities.

Workhouses and the poor

While the reformation of manners campaign addressed one form of disorder after another, the increasingly sophisticated and bureaucratic parishes, under the leadership of newly empowered justices of the peace, sought to address what many saw as the underlying causes of disorder. With advice from the SPCK, the parishes began to create workhouses for the poor designed to discipline them in both body and mind. Whereas the City-wide London Workhouse established in 1698 had foundered on the sea of City politics, the smaller institutions created by parishes in the 1720s rapidly became the second most common form of public building in London, outdone only by parish churches. From the perspective of the poor, the creation of a network of residential parish workhouses in the 1720s represents the single most significant development in the form and nature of poor relief between the creation of a working system of settlement in the 1690s and the passage of the New Poor Law 140 years later. During the early years of development, the poor would do much to shape these new institutions.

From a standing start in 1719 (when Enfield established the first parish workhouse in greater London), the parishes of the metropolis created at least thirty-eight substantial institutions in the next dozen years, housing upwards of 5,000 paupers.220 By 1730 there were five workhouses in Westminster, at least twenty in Middlesex and a further thirteen in the City of London itself.221 Some of these were little more than parish houses in which high-dependency paupers were cared for by nurses and housekeepers, designed to save the cost of maintaining sick paupers in the hospitals of the capital. In many respects, these smaller houses formed a natural extension of the system of contracted residential nursing of the sort Jeremy Boulton has described for the period before 1720, and they form part of a substantial continuum in parish care.222 However, others were massive institutions of stone-built bureaucracy that aspired to control every waking moment of the lives of all the dependent poor. The Westminster workhouses in particular housed hundreds of inmates of all sorts, subdivided into specialist wards.

Presented as a means of educating the poor to their religious duty of social subservience, enforcing a powerful work discipline, and as a disincentive that would prevent the workshy from applying for relief, workhouses seemed a panacea to many social problems. In 1720 the SPCK offered a premium to any town or parish setting up either a workhouse or working charity school and also began to put together an innovative pamphlet, An Account of Several Workhouses, that served to both publicise the idea and provide a template for new institutions.223 But in the meantime the Society also ensured the take up of the new institutions by seeing to the drafting and probably the passage of the ‘Workhouse Test Act’ in March 1723.224

The Workhouse Test Act was in many respects unremarkable, neither exciting active comment at the time nor receiving a great deal of notice from the founders of later parish workhouses. It was a hodge-podge of poor relief clauses with little obvious direction and few new ideas. Nevertheless, it did give legislative expression to a new kind of workhouse and allowed parishes to ‘test’ whether a pauper was ‘deserving’ by presenting them with an ‘offer of the house’. Anyone who refused to enter could be denied relief regardless of their need, a justice’s order or settlement status. By authorising a ‘workhouse test’, the Act aimed to reconfigure the relationship between the parish, the bench and the poor – giving the parish the upper hand. As with the creation of closed vestries that included justices among their number, the Workhouse Test Act sought to realign the interests of the parish and the bench against a wider population of paupers. And in some respects it succeeded, at least in the short term. In most parishes where a new workhouse was opened, the number of dependent paupers fell by 50 per cent, before gradually rising again to pre-house levels over the following years.225 But workhouses also required a huge level of expenditure both to build and to run. Ultimately, both workhouses and their inmates would be transformed in unintended ways. The parish poor were turned from partially dependent paupers, able to combine a pension or casual relief with begging, family support or perhaps medical care in the capital’s charitable hospitals, into wholly dependent ‘inmates’. At the same time, the houses themselves evolved to provide the substantial medical care demanded by the poor.

The parish workhouse opened by the new select vestry of St George Hanover Square in 1726 reflects the aspirations of the parishes which pursued this strategy. The house was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, and John Chamberlayne described it as being

contrived to lodge and diet above 250 men, women and children, 2 in a bed. There are in each wing 4 rooms on a floor provided with 3 lights so as to draw fresh air whenever it is wanted. Each room has a fire place and can receive 6 beds, which by curtains may be all private as occasion requires …226

The designers of parish workhouses attempted to create a total institution. Work, leisure, food and clothes would be both specific to the house and wholly contained within it, as publicised in SPCK pamphlets and endlessly rehearsed in vestry minutes. In the dull fabric of the workhouse uniform, the adequate if unvaried diet of the house, the timed labour of the inmates and the division of the house into wards and sections, with their matrons and nurses, the environment of the house was intended to create a regular way of life, both devout and virtuous, industrious and contented. At the heart of these designs was a desire to instil in the poor an unthinking desire to labour, a ‘habit of industry’.

The response of the poor themselves to this innovation was immediate. In the short term their only recourse was to refuse the house, and most simply abandoned parish relief. At St Margaret Westminster, the vestry set aside three days in November 1726 to gather in the parish poor. There were 108 names on the parish books, but of these only 41 accepted an offer of the house, and the rest, 67 in total, were struck from the parish books.227 In late April of the following spring, St Sepulchre ’s workhouse was ready for its poor, and 26 children were brought before the workhouse committee. However, only 9 of them, children in the care of the parish nurse who had no choice, accepted a place in the workhouse.228 Inevitably, as parish paupers had real and tangible needs, the numbers of paupers dependent on the parish soon returned to their pre-workhouse levels, now often as workhouse inmates. However, in many parishes casual relief and pensions in exceptional circumstances would creep back in to the system in response to the claims of the poor.

Overall, the creation of these institutions had two immediate and substantial effects. First, it changed the social meaning of relief, pushing the settled poor into the same type of institution as the disorderly. In Defoe’s emotive words, the workhouse served to

mix the Good and Bad; and too often make Reprobates of all alike. … if an honest Gentleman or Trader should leave a Wife or Children unprovided for, what a shocking thing it is to think they must be mixed with Vagrants, Beggars, Thieves, Night walkers? To receive their Insults, to hear their Blasphemous and Obscene Discourse, to be suffocated with the Nastiness, and eat up with their Vermin.229

As importantly, the workhouses created a further layer of parish bureaucracy that demanded oversight.230 Each of the larger parishes needed its workhouse master and its beadles, its clerks and rate-collectors, comprising a whole new cadre of salaried civil servants to keep the books and wink at the peculation and petty politics of the select vestries. They needed people who were willing and able to act on behalf of their social superiors in enforcing social policy and precept.

In the first decade of the workhouse movement, the person to whom the parishes of London overwhelmingly turned to lead this new bureaucracy was Matthew Marriott. Heavily promoted by the SPCK, he came to effectively monopolise the management of London’s workhouses. By 1726 he can be identified as running at least five of London’s largest houses: St Giles in the Fields, St George Hanover Square, St James and St Margaret Westminster and St Martin in the Fields.231 Marriott’s normal procedure was to contract for the care of the poor to be housed and employed in a building paid for by the parish. Unlike the specimen contract published in the Account, Marriott normally specified that poor relief should be denied to any applicant who refused the offer of a place in the workhouse, ensuring the application of a ‘workhouse test’. Once the contract was signed, Marriott would then install an assistant, frequently drawn from his own family, to take care of day-to-day management, and he would also contract for the supply of furniture, clothing and foodstuffs. By taking on the whole operation, Marriott was able to make money on both the goods brought in to the house and the direct costs billed to the parish.

By employing Marriott, the select vestries distanced themselves from the delivery of poor relief – leaving both the standards of care and management to what rapidly became a de facto city-wide organisation. In the process, they created a new point of tension both with local ratepayers, who were now excluded from benefiting from parish expenditure, and with the poor, whose expectations of care and respect were dashed.

There is no evidence that Marriott was actively corrupt, or that he was less than a conscientious administrator. However, owing to concerns about both costs and the treatment of the poor, his moment as the single most important figure in the lives of thousands of London paupers lasted only a couple of years. Already in 1726 the SPCK complained about the excessive charges Marriott was levying for training provincial workhouse masters, and from that date the Society increasingly distanced itself from his activities. During 1727 he lost his contracts for the management of the four large workhouses he was then managing in Westminster. This turnaround in Marriott’s fortunes resulted from a campaign directed specifically at him, and more generally at the workhouses of London, mounted by a powerful amalgam of the poor, local tradesmen and at least one justice. Starting with debates in vestries focused on the substantial costs he charged and his cruelty to the parish poor, this campaign mirrored the more public inquiry into the conditions in the debtors’ prisons pursued in the same years. It finally surfaced more publicly with the anonymous publication of a ballad and associated broadside, called The Workhouse Cruelty, in 1731.232

Sung to the tune of ‘Death and the Lady’, the ballad gave what purported to be a ‘full and true’ account of Mrs Mary Whistle, who had recently died in the workhouse belonging to St Giles in the Fields. The ballad told of the cruel treatment of Mary Whistle by Matthew Marriott and his sister Mrs Underhood – master and mistress of the workhouse.

To such a highth of wickedness we’re come
Murders and Rapes are things that common done
Such cruel crimes scorn’d by a Turk or Jew
Yet in this Christian Land we daily do.
One Mrs. Mary Whistle as we hear,
Who was a housekeeper for many a year,
In St Giles in the Fields many does know,
But by misfortune was reduced so low,
That to the parish for relief she went
And to the Parish Workhouse she was sent.
Tho’ she to work before had ne’er been taught,
Yet there to card or spin she must be brought.

And so the ballad went on, describing the coarse fare available in the workhouse, and the hard treatment of the master and mistress and how, in order to discipline Mary to work – to ‘work or starve’ – she was confined to the ‘dark hole’ for eleven weeks where she lay:

Half starved, eat up with vermin (as they say)
Holes in her legs her arms her hips and thighs,
The vermin eat and in her head likewise.

And so she died there – an object lesson in a new reality for the poor.

The ballad and broadside represent the culmination of a wider campaign against both Marriott and the model of workhouse organisation and parish care his approach entailed.

The massive St Giles workhouse had been built in 1725. On completion it was immediately passed into Marriott’s hands. The house held some 300 people in a complex set of buildings made up of twenty-three wards, which aspired to serve as workhouse, hospital and burial ground. Despite its size, it was entirely typical of the new London workhouses.

As a result of the publication of a promotional pamphlet in 1725, the survival of one of the most extensive sets of rules and regulations for any workhouse in this period, and workhouse registers and minutes, we know a large amount about the poor of the parish and the conditions aspired to in the workhouse.233 Immediately prior to its establishment, there had been some 841 paupers on the books, made up mainly of the halt, the lame, the elderly, the orphaned and those overburdened with children. In July 1728 the workhouse had a population of 238 inmates in its twenty-three wards, served by fourteen nurses and eight assistants. Some 600 paupers had been forced off the parish books with the opening of the house. The pamphlet set out every aspect of the workhouse regime, including the number of horn books, primers, spelling books, psalters and testaments (twelve each) used to teach the workhouse children to read and write, the diet and the clothing the inmates received, and the number of beds (157) and quality of the sheeting (coarse) provided. It indicates when people were supposed to get up, and how long they were meant to spend getting dressed, brushing their hair and seeing to their toilet.

However, what looks well organised and rational in the plain prose of an eighteenth-century pamphlet is exposed as something entirely different in the series of scandals and the responses they evoked, recorded in the companion broadside to the Workhouse Cruelty ballad. Published in conjunction with the ballad, the broadside is also entitled The Workhouse Cruelty, but with the subtitle: Workhouses Turn’d Goals and Goalers [sic] Executioners, and it records, in addition to the case of Mary Whistle, a series of deaths in the workhouse with details of the characters of the victims.234

In concert with writers like Defoe, the Workhouse Cruelty emphasised the impact of workhouse care on decayed householders:

Here we’ll suppose a poor housekeeper, he shall be obliged to pay to the poor, secondly he shall pay overates two or three in a year: thirdly, after this he shall pay towards the building of a workhouse; fourthly, thro’ long mischance he shall fall to decay, and be brought to so low an ebb of fortune as to be obliged to ask relief; fifthly, instead of any comfortable relief he shall be then put into a workhouse, with little or no difference made between the whore, the thief, the pickpocket, the chimney sweeper, the japaner, the link boy and this, poor honest housekeeper.

In instance after instance, the respectability of such paupers – their distance from chimney sweeps and japanners – is emphasised, echoing the conflict between householders and those who made their living through vice. Sarah Jones ‘once kept a good house in the parish of St Giles in the Fields’, while an anonymous fellow pauper was robbed by the workhouse master of ‘her money, upwards of three pounds, and good cloaths, all which they took from her’; and finally, Mary Whistle herself, ‘having been a good sufficient housekeeper did refuse to work, as being unaccustomed to it’. In the words of the ballad:

Oh! What a dismal thing it is to tell,
When persons in their younger days live so well
Paying all taxes and to church and poor
They are respected while they’ve wealth in store.
But if by sad misfortune ever they,
Should happen to fall into decay,
Small is their comfort, great will be their grief.
Since with such cruelty they give relief.

Beyond the emphasis on the respectable nature of some of the paupers of St Giles, the author also raises the broader issue of the workhouse as a place which punishes those brought to poverty through mischance:

The tragical scene … is one of the most cruel, dark and barbarous (in its nature) that ever mankind heard of … unless speedy stop be put to the base, vile and wicked treatment of those knaves in power, called Governors of Workhouses, I mean such as M[arrio]th, the sufferings of these unhappy wretches who are obliged to go into them, will in all likelihood be as great, if not greater than those of unfortunate debtors.235

The horror of the workhouse to the mind of this author, and by extension to many poor Londoners, lay not simply in the cruelty which led to inmates’ deaths but in its undifferentiated use for both decayed householders and the undeserving poor, which in turn implied a moral equivalence between the pauper and the pickpocket. Having established a secure system of identifying who belonged to the parish over the preceding three decades, the creation of workhouses broke down the subtle distinctions between less fortunate parishioners. The new parish employees and contractors could never be expected to understand and police the boundary between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, making a mockery of an older form of mutual social obligation.

What the Workhouse Cruelty reflects is the culture of the small householder, artisan and widow, of the everyday parishioner of St Giles in the Fields, and by extension numerous Londoners. Both ballad and broadside were published by ‘The Christian Love-Poor’ from a shop near St Giles’ church, a group about which no further details can be found. However, what emerges is a world-view that made fine distinctions between moral culpability and virtuous poverty. What one sees in these broadsides is a self-conscious householder culture – within which the workhouse and parish community had very specific meanings.

Nevertheless, these householders came together with paupers and beggars to battle against this parochial innovation, exploiting the triangular relationship between the poor, the parish and magistrates established in the preceding decades. The Workhouse Cruelty forms the culmination of a series of complaints, dating from at least 1728, through which the poor, both in direct appeals to justices and in print, largely succeeded in changing the character of workhouse relief.

As a result of accusations such as the ones in the ballad and broadside, parish officers became increasingly vulnerable to pauper complaints. In part, this process entailed making common cause with a justice, in this instance John Milner, who had been instrumental along with Justice John Ellis in excluding the reforming constables, Phillip Cholmondley and Edward Vaughan, from the parish several years earlier.236 The Workhouse Cruelty appealed to Milner by name, and while he had been instrumental in establishing the house, he used his influence with the parish vestry to ensure the complaints were addressed.237

The first substantial complaint had been aired in 1729:

That Mr Bull the apothecary at the workhouse had caused the arm & breast bone of a poor woman who dyed there to be cut off & carried away to a person who finishes skeletons, which being discovered had created great noise & disturbance …238

The vestry resolved both to immediately dismiss the apothecary and to offer a reward, upon conviction, to any person who reported similar offences.239 In the broadside a similar case was aired:

About that time nurse R[i]d[in]g understanding that a child was to have been made an anatomy of, after their common custom (for many are carried in sacks by night) Nurse R[i]d[in]g … said she’d acquaint Justice Milner with it, upon which she was sent for by M[arrio]th, who kicked her for it, and ordered the doors to be shut, and threatened her with the hold, but finding she had friends M[arrio]th gave her a crown to hold her tongue.240

On her death, Mary Whistle was subject to a careful autopsy overseen by two doctors, two surgeons and an apothecary, which was almost certainly a result of the publication of the Workhouse Cruelty. The report was both carefully preserved (it is now in the Sloane manuscripts at the British Library ) and published in the Daily Post.241 But the outcome was probably a disappointment to the ‘Christian Love-Poor’, as it determined that Whistle had died of natural causes, ‘little watery tumours’ on the brain. The ‘dark hole’ in the workhouse was also inspected, and found to be ‘a clean place being free from damps or any offensive smell’.242

Nevertheless, these complaints, in combination with longer-term popular opposition, fundamentally changed the direction of workhouses in London. Marriott, whom the pamphlets roundly blamed for the abominations in St Giles, was driven from the management of all the large workhouses of Westminster and metropolitan London between 1727 and 1731. By 1729, when the first anatomy case was presented to the vestry of St Giles, he only managed this single London workhouse.243 The anatomy cases and most especially the Workhouse Cruelty appear to mark the final push by a broad spectrum of plebeian London to rid the capital of this troublesome bureaucrat. He was excluded from St Giles within weeks of the autopsy (despite its conclusions), and died a few months later.

During the same few years, 1727 to 1731, in response to the large number of sick and pregnant paupers who appeared helpless at their doors, workhouses in the capital began to change their focus towards the provision of medical care. At St Giles the immediate upshot of the anatomy case of 1729 was a resolution of the vestry: ‘That for the future the apothecary belonging to the workhouse do attend such out-patients belonging to this parish as the upper churchwarden … shall direct.’244

This effectively undermined the policy of applying a ‘workhouse test’ and recreated a restricted form of outdoor relief. More widely, as Kevin Siena has demonstrated, the larger houses of London refocused their efforts away from the imposition of labour discipline to the provision of medical care and accommodation for the elderly, orphaned and infirm. As Marriott was expelled from the workhouses, new provisions were established. Within months of St George Hanover Square dispensing with Marriott’s services in 1727, a new infirmary was under construction. Similarly, at St Margaret Westminster, his departure was quickly followed by the conversion of six rooms into ‘a ward … particularly assigned for the reception of the sick’.245 A year later, six more rooms were added to the sick ward. At St Leonard Shoreditch, Marriott’s dismissal was rapidly followed by the rebuilding of large parts of the house.246

At St Martin’s, one of the largest of London’s workhouses, and the largest institution Marriott ran, the impact of his departure is less certain. In the years following 1727, he was replaced on an almost annual basis by a series of masters in much the same mould. But like the others, St Martin’s was eventually forced to reconfigure its workhouse to provide more comprehensive medical care. In 1736, new wards were created ‘for the sick, another for the smallpox and another for the lying in women’.247 As for St Giles itself, even though it was being touted as an exemplar of workhouse management through 1731, like the rest it was forced to reconfigure its provision towards medical care and emergencies. By the end of the century, the parish officials were describing their workhouse as ‘an Asylum for the aged, for orphans in an infant state, for idiots and the lame, blind, sick, or otherwise infirm and diseased’; for everyone except the able bodied.248

By 1731, clamorous paupers, with the assistance of a wider community and the connivance of at least one justice, had forced the parishes of London to substantially modify one model of workhouse organisation in favour of something that more fully reflected their needs.


In response to the substantial law and order problems which accompanied the Hanoverian accession, the new government responded aggressively, not only with the traditional method of adding additional capital crimes to the bloody code, and through encouragement of reformation of manners activities, but also with expensive innovations, signalling a new willingness of the state to devote financial resources to implement social policies. Two innovations in particular had a major impact of the lives of the poor and the deviant for more than a century. Now funded by the state, transportation became the dominant form of punishment for convicted felons until the early nineteenth century, when it was overtaken by imprisonment, but it continued in use until 1857. And, although the legislation was only permissive, the parish workhouse quickly became a regular feature of the London landscape for the poor. While policies changed, workhouses did not fully disappear until 1948. Less long lasting, but still influential for decades, was the royal proclamation of a £100 reward for the apprehension of highway robbers, which led to a significant increase in thief-taking. Despite the spectacular collapse of Jonathan Wild ’s network of thieves, thief-takers continued to flourish in London into the second half of the eighteenth century when they were gradually incorporated into official policing.

Not only did these innovations have a long-term impact on social policy, but they reshaped the personnel and power structures of local government. Justices of the peace acquired additional powers of law and order, both with the Riot Act and through their presence on parish vestries. Encouraged by the government, justices also took control of the reformation of manners. With new institutions to manage, parish vestries, increasingly restricted to elite residents, became not only more powerful but also more bureaucratic. However, the individuals who gained the most from these reforms were the private individuals who were hired by the state or individual parishes, or funded through the reward system – transportation contractors, workhouse managers and thief-takers – and who discovered numerous ways of profiting, often corruptly, at the expense of the poor, ratepayers and the state.

Yet plebeian Londoners, some of whom became thief-takers, were not simply the victims of change imposed from above. Often in alliance with their relatively wealthy neighbours, they actively shaped these innovations or set constraints on what could be achieved. As in the 1690s, reformation of manners prosecutions were continually sabotaged by popular resistance (not all of it plebeian in origin), and by 1731 the campaign was a pale reflection of its former self. Only the emerging crusade against gin seemed to offer supporters a potential lifeline. But even this would prove illusory following the failure of the 1736 Gin Act.

Resistance to the bloody code and the prosecution of felonies by thief-takers was less frequently successful. Nevertheless, London’s thieves developed a defiant and confrontational culture in the 1720s which called the effectiveness of the law into question. Taking advantage of not only the huge public demand for stories about crime but also the prevailing critique of corruption in high places, some criminals successfully promoted themselves as celebrities, undermining the official crusade against highway robbers and blurring the line between settled communities and an anti-authoritarian criminal subculture.

Paupers, meanwhile, were obliged to respond to the harsh new world of the workhouse and the ‘test’, either by going without relief, or, with parish ratepayers, by calling attention to inhumane treatment within the houses. Through complaints to justices and in ballads and broadsides, they managed to discredit the most important workhouse contractor of the period, Matthew Marriott, effectively driving him out of London. As a consequence, new rules governing standards of provision in workhouses were adopted. Perhaps more importantly, with their constant demands for medical treatment, the poor forced a reformulation of workhouse provision. Together with the cost of outdoor relief, which re-emerged in spite of the ‘workhouse test’, this pressure meant that the creation of workhouses drove up, rather than down, the cost of looking after the poor.

However, these conflicts did not simply take the form of disputes between plebeian London and their social superiors. As we have seen, London’s neighbourhood communities were often divided, particularly over responses to vice and the provision of poor relief. While many, often more respectable, residents living near ‘disorderly houses’ were keen to have such houses suppressed and order restored to their neighbourhoods, many others, dependent on the local economy of drink, prostitution and gambling, sought to protect them. And at times the aspect of workhouse provision which most seemed to alienate Londoners was not so much the mistreatment of inhabitants as the fact that respectable inhabitants who had fallen on to hard times were lumped together with whores and chimney sweeps in the same institution (and quite possibly the same beds). While non-elite London could effectively unite in its opposition to aspects of the new social policies, it remained divided on many other issues.


  1. W. G. Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970), pp. 19, 30; E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541–1871: A Reconstruction (London: Edward Arnold, 1981), p. 643; John Broad, ‘Cattle plague in eighteenth-century England’, Agricultural History Review, 31:2 (1983), 104–15.

  2. At least 67,000 soldiers were discharged between 1711 and 1715, and with only two weeks’ subsistence money in their pockets. Many went to London seeking work. H. C. B. Rogers, The British Army of the Eighteenth Century (London: Allen and Unwin, 1977), pp. 19–20; John Beattie, ‘The pattern of crime in England 1660–1800’, Past & Present, 62 (1974), 47–8.

  3. Nicholas Rogers, ‘Popular protest in Early Hanoverian London’, Past & Present, 79 (1978), 92–3.

  4. LL, Victoria Philpott, ‘Mary Knight, c. 1685–1716’.

  5. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 27 January 1716 (OA171601271601270002).

  6. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 21 September 1715 (OA171509211509210006). LL, Edward Duncan, ‘Mary Nichols, alias Trolly Lolly, c. 1685–1715’.

  7. LL, set: ‘John Smith’.

  8. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 21 September 1715 (OA171509211509210004).

  9. Robert Shoemaker, ‘The London “mob” in the early eighteenth century’, Journal of British Studies, 26:3 (1987), 273–304; Rogers, ‘Popular protest’, 100.

  10. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 13 July 1715 (t17150713-14).

  11. Rogers, ‘Popular protest’, 91–4.

  12. James L. Fitts, ‘Newcastle’s mob’, Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, 5:1 (1973), 41–9.

  13. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 10 October 1716 (t17161010-1).

  14. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 6 September 1716 (t17160906-1).

  15. LL, Dianne Payne, ‘Daniel Vaughan, c. 1692–1716’.

  16. Quoted in Fitts, ‘Newcastle’s mob’, 49.

  17. Rogers, ‘Popular protest’, 82.

  18. 7 Geo. I c. 7, ‘An Act to Preserve and Encourage the Woollen and Silk Manufacturers of this Kingdom’.

  19. Alfred Plummer, The London Weavers’ Company (London: Routledge, 1972), pp. 292–314; TNA, State Papers Domestic, ‘George I’, SP 35/16/114.

  20. TNA, State Papers Domestic, ‘George I’, SP 35/16/116.

  21. LL, set, ‘John Humphreys’.

  22. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 8 July 1719 (t17190708-56).

  23. A Further Examination of the Weavers Pretences (1719), p. 4.

  24. Shoemaker, ’London “mob”’, 279–80.

  25. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 15 January 1725 (t17250115-67).

  26. Shoemaker, ’London “mob”’, 299–301.

  27. Weekly Journal, or Saturday’s Post, 12 September 1719 (Burney).

  28. Rogers, ‘Popular protest’, 84–7; Shoemaker, ‘London “mob”’, 283–6.

  29. 1 George I st. 2, c. 5; see Adrian Randall, Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England (Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 24–8.

  30. TNA, State Papers Domestic, ‘George I’, SP 35/16/122.

  31. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 28 February 1728 (t17220228-65).

  32. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 4 December 1723 (t17231204-52).

  33. John Beattie, Policing and Punishment in London, 1660–1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 431.

  34. 4 George I c. 11.

  35. Beattie, Policing and Punishment, p. 427.

  36. 5 Anne, c. 6, ii.

  37. LL, Molly Fisher, ‘Roderick Awdry, c. 1698–1714’.

  38. LL, sets, ‘Jane Wells’; ’James Boswell’; ‘Robert Porter’; ‘Ann Watts’; ‘John Smith’; ‘Henry Sewell’; ‘John Evans’.

  39. LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, January 1716 (LMSMPS501500009).

  40. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 23 December 1713 (OA171312231312230003).

  41. A Compleat Collection of Remarkable Tryals of the Most Notorious Malefactors, 4 vols. ([1718]–21), III, p. 142. The edition of the Old Bailey Proceedings which contains this trial does not survive.

  42. A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718–1775 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. 19.

  43. Beattie, Policing and Punishment, ch. 9.

  44. Old Bailey Statistics: Punishments, 1719 to 1775. To this should be added another 5 to 10 per cent of convicts who were initially sentenced to death and then pardoned on condition of transportation. In the City of London, ‘roughly… half the men … and about 70 per cent of the women’ property offenders sentenced to death between 1714 and 1750 were pardoned on condition of transportation: Beattie, Policing and Punishment, p. 457.

  45. Beattie, Policing and Punishment, p. 446.

  46. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 16 January 1723 (t17230116-23).

  47. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 16 January 1723 (t17230116-23). See also LL, Mary Clayton, ‘William Blewit d. 1726’ and Mary Clayton, ‘Edward Burnworth alias Frazier, d. 1726’.

  48. Philip Rawlings, ‘Dalton, James (bap. 1700?, d. 1730), street robber’, ODNB; Gerald Howson, Thief-Taker General: The Rise and Fall of Jonathan Wild (London: Hutchinson, 1970), p. 139; LL, set, ‘James Dalton’.

  49. PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 21 January 1715/16.

  50. PP, ‘The report of the committee to inspect the poor’s rates and the scavenger’s rates within the cities of London and Westminster, and weekly bills of mortality’, March 1715, Numb. 201, p. 417.

  51. PP, ‘Report of the committee to inspect the poor’s rates’, March 1715, Numb. 201, p. 420.

  52. PP, ‘Report of the committee to inspect the poor’s rates’, March 1715, Numb. 201, p. 420; Jeremy Boulton, ‘Welfare systems and the parish nurse in early modern London, 1650–1725’, Family & Community History, 10:2 (2007), 127–51.

  53. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 27 February 1718 (t17180227-41); LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 10 September 1718 (t17180910-76); and set, ‘Eleanor Gallimore’.

  54. LL, St Dionis Backchurch Parish: Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor Account Books, 1689–1720 (GLDBAC300000555).

  55. 9 Anne c. 17; 3 George II c. 19.

  56. Quoted in Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, English Local Government, Vol. I: The Parish and the County (London: Frank Cass, 1906; repr. 1963), p. 199.

  57. M. H. Port, ed., The Commissions for Building Fifty New Churches, The Minute Books, 1711–1727: A Calendar (London Record Society, vol. 22, 1986), pp. xxix–xxxi. See also, M. Dorothy George, London Life in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1925; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2nd edn, 1966), Appendix 3a. The most authoritative discussion of the evolution of the ‘closed vestry’, particularly in London, is Webb and Webb, Parish and the County, pp. 194–9.

  58. Port, Commissions for Building Fifty New Churches, p. xiii.

  59. In 1700, Norwich had a population of c. 30,000, Bristol, 21,000, Newcastle, 16,000, Exeter, 14,000 and York, 12,000. See Peter Borsay, ed., The Eighteenth-Century Town: A Reader in English Urban History, 1688–1820 (London: Longman, 1990), p. 42, Table 1.

  60. The St Margaret Westminster petty sessions met in the parish vestry, and its minutes include discussions of poor relief business at virtually every meeting: WAC, St Margaret Westminster, ‘Petty sessions minutes’, E2554, 1719–23.

  61. Andrew Moreton [Daniel Defoe], Parochial Tyranny: Or, The House-Keeper’s Complaint Against the insupportable Exactions, and Partial Assessments of Select Vestries, &c. (1719, 2nd edn, 1727), title page, pp. 2, 3.

  62. [Defoe], Parochial Tyranny, p. 5.

  63. Beattie, Policing and Punishment, pp. 378–9.

  64. Beattie, Policing and Punishment, pp. 250–1. See also Howson, Thief-Taker General, ch. 4.

  65. LL, set, ‘Charles Hitchen’.

  66. Beattie, Policing and Punishment, pp. 253–5; Rictor Norton, Mother Clap’s Molly House: The Gay Subculture in England, 1700–1830 (London: GMP, 1992), pp. 131–7; Howson, Thief-Taker General, ch. 6. See also, LL, set, ‘Jonathan Wild’.

  67. See especially Howson, Thief-Taker General, and Andrea McKenzie, ‘Wild, Jonathan (bap. 1683, d. 1725), thief-taker’, ODNB.

  68. LL, Bridewell Royal Hospital: Minutes of the Court of Governors, 26 June 1713–2 August 1722 (BBBRMG202040110). The other two times were in 1723, once when he and Quilt Arnold charged three men with picking pockets, and once when he charged a man with threatening to kill him: LL, Bridewell Royal Hospital: Minutes of the Court of Governors, 26 December 1722–15 December 1737 (BBBRMG202050043) and LL, Bridewell Royal Hospital: Minutes of the Court of Governors, 26 December 1722–15 December 1737 (BBBRMG202050036).

  69. Howson, Thief-Taker General, pp. 115–17.

  70. Howson, Thief-Taker General, chs. 16–17.

  71. LL, Mary Clayton, ‘Quilt Arnold, 1687 – c. 1726’; Howson, Thief-Taker General, Appendix 2.

  72. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 13 May 1725 (t17250513-55); Beattie, Policing and Punishment, p. 389.

  73. Howson, Thief-Taker General, pp. 124–5.

  74. Howson, Thief-Taker General, p. 126.

  75. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 14 October 1724 (t17241014-43). See also, LL, set ‘Joseph Blake’.

  76. LL, Bridewell Royal Hospital: Minutes of the Court of Governors, 26 December 1722 – 15 December 1737 (BBBRMG202050036).

  77. [Daniel Defoe], The True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild: Not Made Up of Fiction and Fable, but Taken from his own Mouth (1725), p. 39.

  78. Beattie, Policing and Punishment, pp. 402, 404; Ruth Paley, ‘Thief-takers in London in the age of the McDaniel Gang, c. 1745–1754’, in D. Hay and F. Snyder, eds., Policing and Prosecution in Britain 1750–1850 (Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 301–42.

  79. Directions for Prosecuting Thieves without the Help of those False Guides, the Newgate Sollicitors (1728), pp. 10, 14. Similar complaints that solicitors were helping the accused avoid conviction were made in 1699 and 1747: The Great Grievance of Traders and Shopkeepers, by the Notorious Practice of Stealing their Goods out of their Shops and Warehouses (1699); Thomas DeVeil, Observations on the Practice of a Justice of the Peace (1747), p. vii.

  80. A Narrative of the Barbarous and Unheard of Murder of Mr John Hayes (1726), p. 25.

  81. LL, set, ‘Roger Johnson’.

  82. A Full and Particular Account of the Life and Notorious Transactions of Roger Johnson (1740), p. 25.

  83. Andrea McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs: Execution in England, 1675–1775 (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), pp. 106–7.

  84. Andrea McKenzie, ‘The real Macheath: social satire, appropriation, and eighteenth-century criminal biography’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 69:4 (2006), 581–605.

  85. Julian Hoppit, ‘The myths of the South Sea Bubble’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Series, 12 (2002), 145–56.

  86. Gillian Spraggs, Outlaws and Highwaymen: The Cult of the Robber in England from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century (London: Pimlico, 2001); McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs, ch. 4.

  87. Richard Steele, The Englishman: Being the Sequel of the Guardian (1714), p. 381.

  88. [Alexander Smith], Memoirs of the Life and Times of the Famous Jonathan Wild (1726), title page (repr. New York: Garland Publishing, 1973); Andrea McKenzie, ‘“This death some strong and stout hearted man doth choose”: the practice of peine forte et dure in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England’, Law and History Review, 23:2 (2005), 299.

  89. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 22 December 1721 (OA172112222112220002). See also, LL, set, ‘James Wright’, and set, ’William Hawkins’.

  90. Howson, Thief-Taker General, pp. 172, 183, 313; LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 8 February 1722 (OA172202082202080004). See also LL, set, ‘James Shaw’.

  91. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 21 May 1722 (OA172205212205210003). See also LL, set, ‘John Hawkins’.

  92. William Hawkins, A True and Impartial Account of all the Robberies Committed by William Hawkins (1722); Ralph Wilson, A Full and Impartial Account of all the Robberies Committed by John Hawkins, George Sympson (lately Executed for Robbing the Bristol Mails) and their Companions (4th edn, 1722).

  93. LL, set, ‘Jack Sheppard’.

  94. McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs, p. 102; A Narrative of All the Robberies, Escapes, etc. of John Sheppard… The whole Published at the particular Request of the Prisoner (1724). See also Hal Gladfelder, Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England: Beyond the Law (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), pp. 90, 121–2.

  95. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 4 September 1724 (OA172409042409040005).

  96. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 4 September 1724 (OA172409042409040004).

  97. A Narrative of All the Robberies, Escapes, etc. of John Sheppard, p. 15; The History of the Remarkable Life of John Sheppard (1724), p. 34.

  98. Remarkable Life of John Sheppard, p. 27.

  99. McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs, p. 101. For his execution, see Christopher Hibbert, The Road to Tyburn: The Story of Jack Sheppard and the Eighteenth-Century London Underworld (London: World Pub. Co., 1957), ch. 14.

  100. Remarkable Life of John Sheppard, p. 40.

  101. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 8 December 1725 (t17251208-12); LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 16 October 1728 (t17281016-75); W. H. Sheehan, ‘Finding solace in eighteenth-century Newgate’, in J. S. Cockburn, ed., Crime in England 1550–1800 (London: Taylor & Francis, 1977), p. 241; LMA, City of London: Repertories of the Court of Aldermen, COL/CA/01/01/131, 6 Nov. 1722 – 28 Oct. 1723, f. 295; LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 8 December 1731 (t17311208-58).

  102. LL, set, ‘Lewis Houssart’.

  103. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 7 December 1724 (OA172412072412070004).

  104. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 25 May 1721 (t17210525-66).

  105. LL, set, ‘William Spiggot’; LL, Emily Spencer, ‘Nathaniel Hawes’; LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 8 February 1721 (OA172102082102080004).

  106. McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs, pp. 241–9. See also McKenzie, ‘The practice of peine forte et dure’.

  107. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 22 December 1721 (OA172112222112220005).

  108. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 6 December 1721 (t17211206-45); LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 22 December 1721 (OA172112222112220005).

  109. Howson, Thief-Taker General, p. 291.

  110. Select Trials at the Sessions-House in the Old Bailey, 4 vols. (1742), I, p. 204; Howson, Thief-Taker General, p. 172.

  111. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 4 July 1722 (t17220704-51).

  112. Select Trials, I, p. 198.

  113. Tyburn’s Worthies, or the Robberies and Enterprizes of John Hawkins and George Simpson ([1722]), p. 23. See also LL, set, ‘John Hawkins’.

  114. Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 21 May 1721 (OA172205212205210003)

  115. Select Trials, I, pp. 167–8.

  116. LL, set, ‘James Dalton’.

  117. Universal Spectator and Weekly Journal, 24 January 1730 (Burney).

  118. McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs, ch. 5.

  119. Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 27 March 1728 (OA172803272803270001). See also LL, set, ‘Martin Bellamy’.

  120. London Journal, 23 March 1728 (Burney).

  121. McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs, p. 205.

  122. McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs, ch. 7, quote from p. 206.

  123. Jonathan Swift, ‘Clever Tom Clinch Going to be Hanged’, in The Works of Jonathan Swift, Vol. II: Poetical Works (Dublin, 1772), p. 223.

  124. McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs, p. 192.

  125. Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 4 January 1725 (OA172501042501040006). See also LL, set, ‘Charles Towers’.

  126. Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 18 July 1722 (OA172207182207180006). See also LL, set, ‘James Carrick’.

  127. Old Bailey Proceedings, 16 October 1728 (t17281016-15). See also, LL, set, ‘Stephen Barnham’.

  128. Fog’s Weekly Journal, 16 Nov. 1728 (Burney).

  129. Bernard Mandeville, An Enquiry into the Causes of the Frequent Executions at Tyburn [1725], pp. 23–4, 35.

  130. [Daniel Defoe], Street Robberies, Consider’d: The Reason of their being so Frequent ([1728]), p. 52.

  131. Peter Linebaugh, ‘The Tyburn riot against the surgeons’, in Douglas Hay et al., eds., Albion’s Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Allen Lane, 1975), pp. 65–118.

  132. Mandeville, Enquiry into the Causes, p. 26.

  133. Robert Shoemaker, ‘The street robber and the gentleman highwayman: changing representations and perceptions of robbery in London, 1690–1800’, Cultural and Social History, 3 (2006), 381–405.

  134. Daily Journal, 3–4 July 1722 (Burney).

  135. A Brief Historical Account of the Lives of the Six Notorious Street-Robbers, Executed at Kingston (1726), p. 4.

  136. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 22 December 1721 (OA172112222112220005); LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 12 October 1720 (t17201012-30). See also LL, Emily Spencer, ‘Nathaniel Hawes, c. 1701–1721’.

  137. Hawkins, True and Impartial Account, pp. 3, 7, 23.

  138. LL, set, ‘Ralph Wilson’; Wilson, Full and Impartial Account, p. 28.

  139. Tyburn’s Worthies, p. 23.

  140. Weekly Journal: or, British Gazeteer, 5 May 1722 (Burney).

  141. LL, set, ‘John Turner’.

  142. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 17 October 1727 (t17271017-22).

  143. LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 20 November 1727 (OA172711202711200002).

  144. John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera (1728), act I, scene iv; act III, scene xvi.

  145. Daniel Defoe, Augusta Triumphans: Or, the Way to Make London the Most Flourishing City in the Universe (1728), p. 48.

  146. A Genuine Narrative of all the Street Robberies Committed since October last, by James Dalton (1728), p. 25; LL, set, ‘James Dalton’.

  147. Alan Savile, ed., Secret Comment: The Diaries of Gertrude Savile 1721–1757 (Thoroton Society Record Series, vol. 41, 1995), p. 100.

  148. An Effectual Scheme for the Immediate Preventing of Street-Robberies (1731), pp. 10, 30.

  149. Paul Haagen, ‘Eighteenth-century English society and the debt law’, in Stanley Cohen and Andrew Scull, eds., Social Control and the State (Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1983), pp. 223–4; Joanna Innes, Inferior Politics: Social Problems and Social Policies in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 29, 227–78; Jerry White, ‘Pain and degradation in Georgian London: life in the Marshalsea prison’, History Workshop Journal, 68 (2009), 69–98; Roger Lee Brown, A History of the Fleet Prison, London, Studies in British History, 42 (Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996), p. 154.

  150. Haagen, ‘Eighteenth-century society’, p. 223.

  151. PP, ‘A report from the committee appointed to enquire into the state of the goals [sic] of this kingdom; relating to the Marshalsea prison’ (London, 1729), p. 4.

  152. Brown, History of the Fleet, pp. 198–9, 201.

  153. PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 14 May 1729, pp. 377–8 (Parliamentary Papers, Proquest, 1 Jan. 1714).

  154. Brown, History of the Fleet, pp. 132–3.

  155. Brown, History of the Fleet, p. 223. For self-governance and the ‘debtor ethos’ in the King’s Bench prison, see Innes, Inferior Politics, pp. 234–5, 259–66.

  156. Innes, Inferior Politics, pp. 253–5.

  157. John Gringer, ed., Handel’s Trumpeter: The Diary of John Grano (Bucina: The Historic Brass Society Series, no. 3; Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 1998), pp. 140–1, 18 Nov. 1728.

  158. The Miseries of Goals, and the Cruelty of Goalers. Being a Narrative of Several Persons now under Confinement (1729), p. 54.

  159. White, ‘Pain and degradation in Georgian London’, 89–90, 92.

  160. Howson, Thief-Taker General, pp. 289–90.

  161. A. A. Hanham, ‘Bambridge, Thomas (d. 1741)’, ODNB (2004).

  162. St James Evening Chronicle, 29 March 1729, cited by Brown, History of the Fleet, pp. 67–8.

  163. Sheehan, ‘Finding solace’, p. 234.

  164. Simon Wood, Remarks on the Fleet Prison: or, Lumber-House for Men and Women (1733) .

  165. John Strype, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster (1720), II, Book V, ch. III, p. 32.

  166. Charles Hitchen, A True Discovery of the Conduct of Receivers and Thief-Takers (1718), p. 17. See also LL, set, ‘Charles Hitchen’.

  167. LL, Westminster Sessions: Sessions Papers, October 1725 (LMWJPS653740009).

  168. LL, Westminster Sessions: Sessions Papers, October 1725 (LMWJPS653740010). See also LL, set, ’John Cameron’.

  169. LL, Westminster Sessions: Sessions Papers, October 1725 (LMWJPS653740011).

  170. Robert Shoemaker, Prosecution and Punishment: Petty Crime and the Law in London and Rural Middlesex, c. 1660–1725 (Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 263–5.

  171. LL, Westminster Sessions: Sessions Papers, October 1725 (LMWJPS653740010).

  172. Beattie, Policing and Punishment, pp. 390–1.

  173. Shoemaker, Prosecution and Punishment, pp. 292–9.

  174. LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, December 1716 (LMSMPS501580039).

  175. LL, set, ‘Phillip Cholmondley’; and, set, ‘Edward Vaughan’.

  176. For Dent’s murder, see section ‘The reformation of manners renewed’ in Chapter 2. See also LL, set, ‘John Dent’.

  177. TNA, ‘Crown side affidavits’, Trinity 5 George I, KB 1/1/3/2. In February 1718, the constable of St Martin’s was ordered to ‘suppress Mrs Gerys Alias Evens her licence being that she keeps a disorderly house’: LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, February 1718 (LMSMPS501680075).

  178. LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, August 1721 (LMSMPS501960006).

  179. LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, August 1721 (LMSMPS501960007).

  180. In other contexts, both Ellis and Justice John Milner (who was chair of the Middlesex justices in 1722) supported initiatives against vice. Shoemaker, Prosecution and Punishment, p. 259.

  181. Shoemaker, Prosecution and Punishment, pp. 257–8.

  182. LL, Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court, 10 June 1713 – 17 October 1721 (LMSMGO400000227).

  183. LL, Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court, 10 June 1713 – 17 October 1721 (LMSMGO400000191).

  184. Elaine A. Reynolds, Before the Bobbies: The Night Watch and Police Reform in Metropolitan London, 1720–1830 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998), pp. 10–15.

  185. This was a result of some spectacular losses incurred by young heirs: Nicholas Tosney, ‘Gaming in England, c. 1540–1760’ (PhD dissertation, University of York, 2008), pp. 121–2.

  186. Georges Lamoine (ed.), Charges to the Grand Jury, 1689–1803, Camden Fourth Series, vol. 43 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1992), pp. 107, 124.

  187. LMA, Middlesex Sessions: ‘Sessions rolls’, MJ/SR/2312 (July 1718).

  188. LL, Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court, 10 June 1713 – 17 October 1721 (LMSMGO400000228).

  189. LMA, Westminster Sessions: ‘Orders of the court’, WJ/O/C/001, April 1720 – April 1728, ff. 4–4d (5 Oct. 1720).

  190. Shoemaker, Prosecution and Punishment, pp. 147, 265–6.

  191. LL, Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court, 10 June 1713 – 17 October 1721 (LMSMGO400000228).

  192. LL, sets, ‘Edward Vaughan’; and ‘Phillip Cholmondley’.

  193. An Account of the Endeavours That Have Been Used to Suppress Gaming-houses, and of the Discouragements That Have Been Met with (1722), p. 22.

  194. Tosney, ‘Gaming in England’, p. 120.

  195. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 28 February 1722 (t17220228-65).

  196. Account of the Endeavours, p. 26.

  197. Probably because he was indemnified under the Riot Act, Hemlichen was not charged with the murder.

  198. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 12 January 1722 (t17220112-43).

  199. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 28 February 1722 (t17220228-65).

  200. WAC, St Margaret Westminster, ‘Petty sessions records’, SMW/E/99, 26 June 1723.

  201. LMA, Westminster Sessions: ‘Orders of the court’, WJ/O/C/001, April 1720 – April 1728, f. 127d.

  202. Lamoine (ed.), Charges to the Grand Jury, p. 183.

  203. LL, Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court, 22 February 1725 – 19 January 1734 (LMSMGO556000082).

  204. Account of the Endeavours, p. 22.

  205. LL, Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court, 22 February 1725 – 19 January 1734 (LMSMGO556000316).

  206. LMA, Westminster Sessions: ‘Orders of the court’, WJ/O/C/002, June 1730, ff. 85–86d.

  207. LL, Westminster Sessions: Sessions Papers, 10 February 1731 – 8 July 1731 (LMWJPS653920032).

  208. LL, Westminster Sessions: Sessions Papers, 10 February 1731 – 8 July 1731 (LMWJPS653920035).

  209. LMA, Westminster Sessions: ‘Orders of the court’, WJ/O/C/002, July 1730, ff. 87–87d.

  210. Heather Shore, ‘“The reckoning”: disorderly women, informing constables and the Westminster justices, 1727–33’, Social History, 34:4 (2009), 421; LL, Westminster Sessions: Sessions Papers, 10 February 1731 – 8 July 1731 (LMWJPS653920034).

  211. LL, Heather Shore, ‘Mary Harvey, fl. 1727–1733’; set, ‘Isabella Eaton’.

  212. Thomas Willis was involved in the prosecution of sodomites and sabbath violators between 1725 and 1729; see LL, set, ‘Thomas Willis’. Howson claimed he was also involved in the arrest of Jonathan Wild: Howson, Thief-Taker General, p. 233. See also LL, set, ‘Michael Willis’.

  213. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 28 August 1730 (t17300828-76).

  214. Evening Post, 29 August 1730 (Burney); Shore, ’“The reckoning”’, 416, 419–24.

  215. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 10 December 1735 (t17351210-74).

  216. Shore, ’“The reckoning”’, 425–6.

  217. An Effectual Scheme for the Immediate Preventing of Street-Robberies, pp. 24, 14.

  218. Shore, ’“The reckoning”’, 424.

  219. Faramerz Dabhoiwala, ‘Prostitution and police in London, c. 1660–1760’ (D.Phil. dissertation, Oxford University, 1995),), p. 117.

  220. The population figure is approximate, and based on the recorded population of eighteen of the thirty-eight houses in London and Middlesex included in the 1776 parliamentary report. PP, House of Commons Sessional Papers, ‘Abstract of the returns made … by the overseers of poor’, 1776.

  221. Timothy Hitchcock, ‘The English workhouse: a study in institutional poor relief in selected counties, 1696–1750’ (D.Phil. dissertation, Oxford University, 1985), Appendix, pp. 258–81.

  222. Boulton, ‘Welfare systems and the parish nurse’.

  223. Cambridge University Library (CUL), SPCK Archive, ‘Standing Committee minute book, 1718–20’, iii, p. 159; An Account of Several Workhouses (1725).

  224. 9 George I c. 7.

  225. Hitchcock, ‘English workhouse’, pp. 211–13.

  226. CUL, SPCK Archive, ‘Special letters book’, 18 May 1725 – 23 April 1726, pp. 55–6.

  227. WAC, St Margaret Westminster, ‘Workhouse committee minutes’, SMW/E/101/2632, 10, 14 and 16 November, 1726.

  228. LMA, St Sepulchre, Holborn, ‘City of London, Workhouse committee book’, 1727–9, P69/SEP/B/071/MS03137/001, p. 12.

  229. Defoe, Parochial Tyranny (2nd edn, 1727), pp. 33–4.

  230. For the sophistication of the parish administration of St Martin in the Fields, see Jeremy Boulton, ‘Going on the parish: the parish pension and its meaning in the London suburbs, 1640–1724’, in Tim Hitchcock, Peter King and Pamela Sharpe, eds., Chronicling Poverty: The Voices and Strategies of the English Poor, 1640–1840 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997), pp. 19–46; and Jeremy Boulton, ‘The most visible poor in England? Constructing pauper biographies in early-modern Westminster’, Westminster Historical Review, 1 (1997), 13–21.

  231. In total he can be identified as having sub-contracted at least seventeen different workhouses nationally, though he was entirely based in London from 1720 onwards. Hitchcock, ‘English workhouse’, pp. 182–3.

  232. The Workhouse Cruelty: Workhouses Turn’d Goals; and Goalers [sic] Executioners … in the Parish of St. Giles’s in the Fields (n.d., [1731]); The Workhouse Cruelty; Being a Full and True Account of One Mrs. M. W., … in the Parish of St. Giles’s in the Field (n.d., [1731]).

  233. Rules and Orders to Be Observed by the Officers and Servants in St. Giles’s Work-house, and by the Poor Therein (1726); The Case of the Parish of St Giles in the Fields, As to their Poor, and a Work-House Designed to be built for Employing them (n.d., 1725). A later Irish edition of the Rules is available on Open Access.

  234. Workhouse Cruelty: Workhouses Turn’d Goals.

  235. Workhouse Cruelty: Workhouses Turn’d Goals.

  236. LL, sets, ‘Phillip Cholmondley’ and ‘Edward Vaughan’.

  237. See also ‘Reforming divided communities’, this chapter.

  238. Workhouse Cruelty: Workhouses Turn’d Goals.

  239. Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre (CLSAC), P/GF/M/1/2, ‘St Giles in the Fields, vestry minutes, 1673–1771’, 6 Nov. 1729, f. 531.

  240. Workhouse Cruelty: Workhouses Turn’d Goals.

  241. BL, Sloane Ms. 4078, f. 159; Daily Post (London, England), Saturday, 18 September 1731 (Burney).

  242. BL, Sloane Ms. 4078, f. 159.

  243. Hitchcock, ‘English workhouse’, pp. 282–3.

  244. CLSAC, ‘St Giles in the Fields, vestry minutes, 1673–1771’, 6 Nov. 1729, f. 531.

  245. Kevin P. Siena, Venereal Disease, Hospitals, and the Urban Poor: London’s ‘Foul Wards’, 1600–1800 (University of Rochester Press, 2004), p. 140.

  246. Hackney Archives Department, ‘St Leonard Shoreditch, minute book of the select vestry and parish meetings’, P/L/1, 5 Sept. 1727 – 5 Sept. 1771, 7 Aug. 1728, p. 13.

  247. WAC, St Martin in the Fields, ‘Vestry minutes’, STM/F/1/2006, 23 August 1736, p. 454.

  248. Hints and Cautions for the information of the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the Parishes of St Giles in the Fields and St George Bloomsbury (1797), p. 6.