In the late autumn of 1762, Robert Munro was admitted to St George’s Hospital, ‘very Melancholy & dejected’. He was disappointed in his search for work, owed money to a great many and had recently undergone an unsuccessful salivation to cure his venereal disease at the Lock Hospital. His head throbbed with pain. But in his despair, the event that finally drove him over the edge was the casual cruelty of his fellow patients, who ‘told him Fielding was after him’. Munro asked a hospital porter, Roderick McKinnon, if he had spotted Justice John Fielding on the wards, and in response McKinnon advised him that he ‘had better think of his maker’. In the early hours of the next morning, Robert Munro took a razor and cut his own throat. He died six hours later. The subsequent coroners’ inquest found that he had, ‘Cut his throat being a Lunatick’.1 However, in the hard decades of the 1760s and 1770s, many Londoners must have felt the rising despair that moved Munro’s hand.
The second half of the eighteenth century saw a dramatic decline in real wages for working Londoners (Figure 5.1). From a high point in 1744, wages for bricklayers and carpenters, for example, fell 38 per cent by the end of the century. Much of this decline was concentrated in the period between 1761 and 1774, during which real wages fell by 24 per cent for these same occupations.2 In part, this was the result of harvest failure and rising food costs, and it was national in scope. The years 1767 and1768 and the winter of 1775/6 all witnessed extreme weather events that affected the harvest and the cost of living.3 However, these climatic phenomena were essentially temporary in character, and the fall in real wages was exacerbated in London by a growing labour supply fed by in-migration, particularly following demobilisation at the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, and the fact London employers sought to lower their costs in order to respond to new competition from manufacturers operating in the North and overseas. With employers reducing their wages and introducing new working practices, plebeian Londoners found themselves squeezed between lower incomes and periodic sharp increases in the cost of living.
The years between 1763 and 1776 also witnessed the evolution of a more aggressive policy of policing and punishment. John Fielding consolidated his influence over the administration of justice in Middlesex and Westminster, while his ‘Runners’ extended their detective work, perfecting the art of rounding up the ‘usual suspects’, and working hard to ensure that once identified and arrested they were duly convicted at the Old Bailey. While Fielding concentrated on pursuing felony crime, constables and the watch launched new campaigns to clear the streets of that vast category of minor offenders that could be deemed to fall within the scope of the vagrancy laws. In parallel, and despite the failure of his early charitable ventures, Jonas Hanway, in pursuit of his goal of reforming poor relief, pursued a new strategy of assembling evidence and creating statistics that could be used to force the parishes to break up families and institutionalise more paupers, ensuring that the system of relief and care that had evolved over the preceding two hundred years was brought into contempt. At the same time, the gruesome deaths of a series of vulnerable parish apprentices reinforced the perception that the system was broken and needed to be reformed.
Plebeian Londoners were not, however, passive objects of change. Through violence and tactic, playing the system and occasionally employing professionals to play it for them, Londoners honed strategies developed in the previous decades, with some long-lasting consequences. They pursued increasingly well-trodden paths through a complex legal system and forced the parishes to relieve them in times of need. Strikes and riot and a new politics of ‘liberty’ provided another set of options, as did shopping for justice from among the growing number of ‘trading’ magistrates, and employing counsel to ensure the system worked in a defendant’s favour. Others intimidated witnesses from testifying in court and subverted punishments. For paupers, the petition and the pleading letter, the appeal to a magistrate and the artful presentation of distress to parish officers and associational charities became an increasingly important set of skills in making the system work in their favour. As settlement regulations became more bureaucratic, and legal disputes more onerous for the parishes, the balance of authority between the beggar’s plea and the parish officers’ parsimony gradually shifted, with rising costs the inevitable result.
These thirteen years saw the governors of London – the secretaries of state, Lord Mayors and magistrates – become ever more ambitious in their struggle to control three-quarters of a million souls, while plebeian Londoners themselves became ever more resourceful. The fuel that would explode in the 1780s was piled high in the 1760s and 1770s.
The Treaty of Paris was signed in February 1763, bringing to an end the Seven Years War. With the peace came the seemingly inevitable increase in prosecutions at the Old Bailey. The number of offences tried started to increase in April 1763 and continued to rise through most of the following year. In previous post-war ‘crime waves’, prosecutions fell relatively quickly after a demobilisation-induced peak, but in this instance, and with the exception of a slight decrease in the mid-1760s, they continued high and rising for the next decade, reaching a new peak in 1773, the busiest year to date at the Old Bailey, up 136 per cent since 1762.
This unusual pattern of prosecutions cannot be entirely attributed to the hardship of these years – the proportion of trials for theft increased only marginally. Instead, this increase was driven by more intense policing of felony crime by John Fielding and his Bow Street Runners, and of minor offences by constables and the night watch. The latter led to a dramatic rise in commitments to Bridewell, where the numbers in 1772 and 1775–6 were almost twice as high as they had been in the early 1760s. The majority resulted from police-initiated arrests for vagrancy and related offences.4
One stimulus for this increasing level of policing may have been the continuing visibility of celebrity criminals, who seemed to flout the law with impunity. In the early 1770s both William Cox, executed for theft in 1773 at the age of nineteen after a criminal career lasting over five years, and John Rann, a highwayman executed the following year at the age of twenty-four, attracted the attention of the public and the authorities.5 With their widely reported previous acquittals, they appeared to be able to avoid conviction with ease. It was reported that they had each been tried at the Old Bailey over a dozen times. Although Cox appears in only eight trials and Rann in four in the Proceedings, the names of both men can be found on many more gaol calendars, suggesting that other charges against them had been dropped before trial. With the exception of the trials leading to their executions, all but one case resulted in an acquittal, owing to the failure of the prosecutors to appear (sometimes out of mercy), a lack of sufficient evidence against them or their own stratagems (it was claimed that Cox had ‘often been obliged to fee council to bring him off’).6
Source: Old Bailey Online, Statistics: Offences by year, 1763–1776; Faramerz Dabhoiwala, ‘Summary Justice in Early Modern London’, English Historical Review, cxxi:492 (2006), pp. 808-822.
Online dataset: Crime Prosecutions (xlsx)
More active policing, together with growing concerns about recidivism, signalled a significant change in attitudes towards crime. Before the 1760s, as evidenced by the popularity of publications such as the Ordinary’s Accounts, many people believed that crime was the result of sins which all men and women were in danger of committing. But in the decades after the publication of Henry Fielding’s Enquiry, this approach was gradually replaced by a more censorious view of criminals as a distinct and threatening under-class needing ever more aggressive control. As Simon Devereaux argues:
there were clear signs from the late 1760s onwards, that the notion of an inveterate criminality, one that could not be checked or reduced by deterrent punishments of the worst offenders, was acquiring a more decidedly central place in the discursive continuum of explanations for English criminality.7
Symptomatic of this change was the decline and disappearance of the Ordinary’s Accounts, as readers lost interest in the details of men who no longer seemed to be like them. Only six editions were published after 1767, the last one in October 1772.8
A parallel decline in the publication of standalone biographies underlines this point. While both Cox and Rann were the subjects of multiple biographies, these were less sympathetic than similar publications about highwaymen such as James Maclaine produced in the 1750s. Although both Cox and Rann, like Maclaine before them, aspired to present themselves as ‘genteel’, in their cases the claim was met with widespread scepticism. Their behaviour was described as ‘artful’, ‘audacious’ and the result of ‘mistaken vanity’.9 It was no doubt his lack of polish and obvious lower-class demeanour that ensured that when Rann attempted to blag his way into elite company at the Bagnigge Wells spa, he was challenged and forced to leave.
As importantly, Cox and Rann were described as belonging to a distinct criminal fraternity. Cox grew up ‘trained in the ways of thieving’, and his mother was described as ‘the only honest person in the family’. He allegedly drank toasts to ‘all thieves’, and the fact that he once shared his booty with a companion who had not participated in the crime was used to demonstrate that ‘There is Honour among Thieves’.10 Rann’s lower-class origins and style of speech were highlighted in the account of his final trial in the Proceedings, when, unusually, the publisher reported his defence statement ‘verbatim et literatim’:
I knows no more of it than a child does unborn, nor I never seed Mr. Bell before he came to Sir John’s, which Mr. Bell must be certain of, for to think for me, for to come to him in the middle of the day, for to rob him, which I was never guilty of; I know no more of the affair what these gentlemen, that belongs to Sir John [Fielding], that wants to do things to swear my life away, for I don’t know what.11
In contrast to earlier popular criminal figures, Rann was also depicted as having entered into ‘solemn engagements to be true and stedfast’ with other thieves. His moniker, ‘Sixteen-String Jack’, was awarded by his fellow criminals, rather than the press, after his habit of wearing breeches with eight silver-tipped strings on each knee. And while, like previous criminal celebrities, Cox and Rann received many visitors in prison, these were depicted in print as being decidedly lower class, including several prostitutes. 12 By the 1770s, respectable London had come to view criminal celebrities with increasing disdain, as part of a criminal underworld in need of urgent attention.
These changing perceptions of celebrity criminals, together with the real threats posed by violence and theft, shaped elite responses and helped drive the development of policing and punishment discussed in the remainder of this chapter. However, just as importantly, the evolution of policing was a response to the demand-driven rising cost of poor relief, and, more directly, to explicit and dramatic challenges to public order and authority in the form of labour disputes, rioting and political agitation.
Though the public disorder witnessed on London’s streets between 1763 and 1771 would soon be eclipsed by the Gordon Riots of 1780, it was nevertheless on an unprecedented scale. Against a background of demobilisation, declining real wages and a series of trade-specific crises, London experienced protests by workmen in defence of pay and working conditions in at least twenty separate trades. These industrial disputes combined with political protests in support of the radical critic of the government John Wilkes to create a uniquely threatening mix. While there exists a rich literature on these events, historians have largely failed to appreciate the interconnections between the industrial and political protests, or to explore their significance in terms of the evolution of the relationship between the ‘mob’ and those who aspired to govern them.13
Throughout the 1760s there were demonstrations in all parts of the metropolis, often involving thousands of participants, and the protesters were at once well-organised, threatening and occasionally violent, leading at times to panic among London’s ruling elite. The 1765 weavers’ riots led Horace Walpole to fear a ‘rebellion’ was in prospect, owing to the ‘general spirit of mutiny and dissatisfaction in the lower people’.14 Three years later, in May 1768, a month which witnessed at least eleven industrial disputes and the largest of the Wilkite demonstrations, Benjamin Franklin observed:
this capital … is now a daily scene of lawless riot and confusion. Mobs patrolling the streets at noonday, some knocking all down that will not roar for Wilkes and Liberty; courts of justice afraid to give judgement against him; coal-heavers and porters pulling down the houses of coal merchants that refuse to give them more wages; sawyers destroying saw-mills; sailors unrigging all the outward bound ships, and suffering none to sail till merchants agree to raise their pay; watermen destroying private boats and threatening bridges; soldiers firing among the mobs and killing men, women and children.15
The coalheavers were particularly violent, attacking the exploitative ‘undertakers’ who organised the trade. Their all-night armed attack on the house of one undertaker, John Green, on 20 April 1768 (the same night Wilkes was temporarily discharged from King’s Bench prison) led to several deaths, a murder trial and seven executions. According to George Club:
by nine [pm] there was a vast crowd of people before his [Green’s] house; there were stones and brickbats throwed at his house … I heard the people many times swear they would have his heart and liver, and cut him in pieces and hang him on his sign-post.16
In defending his house (one man attempted to break down the front door with an axe), Green shot and killed two men. The coalheavers retaliated by throwing stones and shooting into both the front and rear of the house. In the aftermath, Green reported there were ‘about 260 shot in the front, that is bullet marks’, and ‘a wheelbarrow full of stones of a heap now that were throwed into my room’.17
In the case of the journeymen silkweavers, violence was accompanied by conspiracy and secrecy. Because their protests had been explicitly criminalised by the passage of the Spitalfields Act in 1765, making participation in their ‘combinations’ a capital offence, the weavers were driven underground, meeting in clubs with names such as the ‘Independent Sloop’ and ‘Bold Defiance’.18 By the latter half of the 1760s, the silkweavers were actively enforcing their edicts, setting wages and working practices on both other journeymen and masters with clandestine violence. Disguising themselves and forcing their way into masters’ houses in the middle of the night, armed with swords and pistols, and destroying both work in progress and the looms on which the work was set out, they earned themselves the name of ‘cutters’.19
Supporters of John Wilkes were less likely to use weapons, but their language and actions were just as threatening and violent. During a demonstration at King’s Bench prison on 10 May 1768 in which soldiers fired a volley into a stone-throwing crowd, the mob cried out:
Wilkes and Liberty. No Wilkes, no King. Damn the King, Damn the Government, Damn the Justice … This is the most glorious opportunity for a Revolution that ever offered.20
Later that day, at the Mansion House in the City, a crowd of a hundred or more ‘were very riotous in flinging stones and d – ning my Lord Mayor, wishing they had him out, saying they would kill him’.21
Despite some historians’ claims to the contrary, the political and labour disputes of these years were significantly connected, and not simply by a coincidence of chronology.22 The protests shared both personnel and purpose. In George Rudé ‘s assessment, the Wilkite crowds ’while by no means drawn exclusively from the wage-earners, were, like the industrial protests, overwhelmingly composed of “the lower orders of people”’.23 Wilkes, by claiming he was fighting for their liberties, both attracted the support of ordinary Londoners and gave them a language of protest which they used in ways he never intended. Plebeian Londoners were able to follow Wilkes’s example in challenging the government by attaching their economic and labour issues to his cause.
On an evening in August 1769, when John Fitzharris was drinking in the Well and Bucket tavern near Old Street with two weavers, they talked about ‘several things’, including ‘Wilkes and trade’.24 There is considerable evidence that the weavers, the most active rioters, were sympathetic to Wilkes. During the Middlesex election in March 1768, weavers from Spitalfields demonstrated their support for him in Piccadilly, and the following month, when Wilkes’s carriage, which was supposed to take him to King’s Bench prison, was diverted by the crowd, they took it to Spitalfields, where most of the weavers lived.25 According to Middlesex Justice Ralph Hodgson, coalheavers also caught ‘the infection, [and] began to join the senseless roar of Wilkes and Liberty’. During the attack on John Green’s house, they called out ‘Wilkes and coal-heavers for ever’.26 Even criminals showed their support for Wilkes. Prisoners illuminated their cell windows to celebrate Wilkes’s release from King’s Bench prison, while the condemned wore Wilkite cockades on their way to their executions at Tyburn.27
There is also evidence that groups of workers in the different trades coordinated their efforts. In May 1765 the Sheriffs of London reported that journeymen weavers had threatened ‘to collect at a general rendezvous in Moorfields … with as many others as they can collect of Shoemakers, Dyers, Taylors etc.’ unless the government prevented the importation of French silks. When asked why other trades were also involved, the weavers explained, ‘because if the weavers are oppressed, other trades are consequently so’.28 Three years later striking sailors issued a proclamation calling on ‘all watermen, lightermen, ballast men, ballast heavers, coalheavers, etc. to leave their duty and not to go to work till our wages be settled’, claiming ‘fifteen or twenty-thousand Spitalfields weavers’ were ready to join them; on one occasion sailors and coalheavers patrolled the riverside, forcing a general work stoppage.29 And in April 1773, handbills were distributed among several different bodies of workers, including weavers, coalheavers, watermen, porters and carmen, inviting them to march together to Westminster to ‘show the king our distress’. A few days later, an anonymous letter warned justices of the peace and other figures of authority that workmen in all trades had been invited to assemble in Moorfields.30 While on a few occasions different groups of workers clashed, most notably in violent confrontations between the coalheavers and strike-breaking coastal sailors, London’s wage-earners showed an unprecedented degree of solidarity during these disputes. Even the confrontation which led to the murder of the sailor John Beattie (or Beatty) by coalheavers began with groups of sailors and coalheavers shaking hands, as they ‘reasoned the affair before they began’ to fight.31
Faced with these unprecedented threats to public order, those responsible for maintaining the peace mounted a vigorous response. There were some attempts by justices at mediation and accommodation, but the authorities’ use of the army and capital punishment against the most violent protesters is notable and had long-term consequences. Soldiers had been used before to put down outbreaks of disorder, but the extent of the army’s involvement in dispersing rioters and arresting offenders in the 1760s was unprecedented. By the middle of May 1768, seven regiments were camped in and around London.32 Soldiers could not be summoned, or ordered to fire, without the consent of a justice of the peace, but the justices were given strong encouragement to use the army. As demonstrations in support of Wilkes intensified in April, Lord Barrington, Secretary of War, wrote to Daniel Ponton, chairman of the Surrey justices, advising him of the military forces available and encouraging him to use them: ‘I hope you will not delay a Moment calling for their Aid, and making Use of them effectually where there is Occasion’. Ponton was assured that a military force could never ‘be employed to a more constitutional Purpose, than in the Support of the Authority and Dignity of Magistracy’.33
This was an unfortunate comment in light of what followed on 10 May in front of King’s Bench prison. Thousands had gathered in support of Wilkes, who was due to be released, and papers expressing Wilkite sentiments were plastered to the walls of the prison. When magistrates ordered these to be removed, the crowd began to throw stones. In response Justice Samuel Gillam ordered the soldiers to fire on the crowd, killing between five and twelve people in what became known as the ‘St George’s Fields Massacre’.34 The crowd responded by attacking two justices’ houses in Southwark. That evening there were also riots outside the Mansion House in the City, while weavers, coalheavers and sawyers marched through other parts of London. Despite the fact that most of those shot by the soldiers were innocent bystanders and had nothing to do with the stone throwers, Gillam was acquitted of murder, and none of the soldiers was held to account for the deaths.35
In August of the following year, there was further military violence when a group of foot guards raided a secret meeting of the cutters at the Dolphin public house and two weavers were killed. Two months later troops killed another five.36 In 1770, the Wilkite John Horne-Tooke complained about the stationing of soldiers in response to the activities of the cutters:
It is pretended that the civil power is too weak to keep the peace in the neighbourhood of Spitalfields: a barrack has been therefore built, and soldiers have regularly mounted guard there for a long time past; they have likewise been employed as constables to apprehend offenders.37
This murderously heavy-handed policing was accompanied by attempts to secure exemplary punishments for the rioters in court. Ministers were keen to convict as many of the leading participants as possible and ensured that the prosecution counsel they employed were provided with extensive briefs.38 Of the twenty-seven defendants tried at the Old Bailey as a result of Wilkite and labour conflicts, seventeen were convicted and sentenced to death. Only three were pardoned, and unusually, in an attempt to intimidate the local population, nine of the fourteen executions were staged in the east end neighbourhoods where the defendants lived.
The seven coalheavers executed for shooting at John Green, for example, were hanged near his house by Sun-Tavern Fields in Shadwell, just north of the riverside where they worked. Widespread resentment about their punishment meant that a detachment of the guard and 300 soldiers were sent to maintain order.39 There is no evidence of any misbehaviour on this occasion, but the execution of two cutters, John Doyle and John Valloine, in Bethnal Green on 6 December 1769 was much more problematic.40 Recognising the distress and disorder staging the executions in the weavers’ neighbourhood would cause, the Wilkite sheriffs of London, James Townshend and John Sawbridge, appealed unsuccessfully to the king to change the place of execution.41 The sheriffs were right to be apprehensive. According to Lloyd’s Evening Post, when the condemned
came to the place of execution, the mob grew extremely outrageous, which obliged the proper Officers to order the offenders to be turned off immediately; this so irritated the multitude, that they threw stones, brickbats, etc. at the Sheriffs, and, after the men had hung about half an hour, [the crowd] pulled up the gallows, and carried it to the house of a Gentleman near Spitalfields Church, whose windows they broke, and tore part of his furniture to pieces.42
The ‘Gentleman’, was Lewis Chauvet, a master weaver who was rumoured to have offered a substantial reward for information about the cutters and had provided lodging for the officers of the soldiers quartered in Spitalfields.43 According to Captain Thomas Taylor, there were ‘four or five thousand’ men outside Chauvet’s house, and ‘They were hallooing out, Pull the house down – Hang him. … They said, the Sheriffs hanged the men up like dogs, they would not let them have time to say their prayers’.44 The riot ended only after reinforcements were sent from the Tower. Both Doyle and Valloine had maintained their innocence to the end, and Valloine’s scaffold speech, reproduced verbatim in several papers, contained a powerful condemnation of the men who connived at his death: ‘Let my Blood lay to that wicked Man who has purchast it with Gold and them notorious Wretches who swore it falsely away’.45
On the same day that Doyle and Valloine were executed, the December sessions of the Old Bailey began, and three more weavers were convicted and sentenced to hang: William Horsford , William Eastman and John Carmichael.46 This time they were executed at Tyburn, but as with Doyle and Valloine, Horsford maintained his innocence to the last.47 The strong sense of injustice and betrayal caused by these executions persisted in Bethnal Green and Spitalfields for years.
At the centre of the judicial response to the disorder was John Fielding. When it came to riots and industrial protest, Fielding’s natural instinct was to mediate, as he had done previously with strikes by tailors and cabinetmakers, and would do again with other trades.48 However, he was forced to change his approach following a mass lobby in Westminster in May 1765, in which several members of parliament were jostled and the Duke of Bedford’s coach was wrecked. Later that day Bedford’s house was besieged and nearly destroyed. Fielding was summoned to the House of Lords, ordered to kneel and reprimanded for not responding to the riot more forcefully. The House resolved that ‘Sir John Fielding is particularly blameable; having (as he himself acknowledged) thought that this was not such a Mob as by their Insolencies authorized him to read the Proclamation’.49 From this point onwards, Fielding and his runners were actively involved in suppressing industrial and political disorder and arresting leading figures.
He was particularly determined to prosecute the cutters. John Carmichael , for example, was accused of participating in an attack on Robert Cromwell’s house in Moorfields on 25 September 1769.50 He was arrested in Coventry in early October, returned to London and brought before Fielding. Over the course of the next month, Fielding examined him no less than ‘six times’, but was forced to discharge him because he could find no one willing to break the wall of silence that had descended on Spitalfields.51 It was only when Carmichael was rearrested on a separate charge that Fielding was able to locate witnesses willing to testify to his role in the original attack. He also personally participated in the violent raid on a secret meeting of the cutters at the Dolphin tavern.
Fielding was assisted by other justices, notably David Wilmot (attached to the Whitechapel Rotation Office). However, the justices’ headlong pursuit of the leaders of the weavers and coalheavers was in sharp contrast to the long-standing tradition of justices of the peace, particularly trading justices, seeking to mediate disputes, and it undermined the relationship between the bench and the local community. Some justices made a different choice. In 1769 Ralph Hodgson, an experienced justice who had been active for more than a decade, set up an alternative employment office to help the coalheavers escape their dependence on the undertakers.52 But this strategy was also problematic. The office he established operated as a closed shop, and the coalheavers subjected fellow workers who refused to join to ritual punishments. And when, following a strike, rival undertakers such as John Green set up alternative ‘houses of call’ offering higher wages, Hodgson was drawn into the violent protests that followed. When he marched at the head of a St Patrick’s Day procession of coalheavers (many of whom were Irish) wearing a shamrock, and then failed to prevent the violent attack on Green’s house that followed, members of the coal trade lost their patience and ‘a great number of the Inhabitants of Shadwell and the parts adjacent[,] men of property and respectable characters’ petitioned the Middlesex bench to investigate.53 A committee of justices found that Hodgson had acted illegally in setting up the employment office and had responded to the riots with ‘Inactivity & supineness’.54 The committee resolved that Hodgson should be removed from the commission of the peace.55
Hodgson responded to these charges in a pamphlet setting out an alternative conception of justice, drawn up to contrast with the views of Fielding and Wilmot. Hodgson claimed he was trying to help the coalheavers combat the ‘oppression and extortions’ they suffered from the ‘avarice of a set or combination of men, known by the designation of coal-undertakers’ and explained that the undertakers had provoked the rioting by their unreasonable behaviour. And while he acknowledged that there had been ‘illegal excesses’, he expressed his ‘constant desire of keeping peace, by lenient, healing expedients’. Thus, when one of the principal rioters in the attack on Green’s house, David Grammer, was brought before him, the magistrate ‘insisted on the Prisoner being discharged on Asking pardon and acknowledging he was drunk’.56 Hodgson contrasted his approach to that of an undertaker, who had wished to see ‘nineteen of [the coalheavers] hung up before his door’.57
The Middlesex justices were divided about how to respond. A petition to the Lord High Chancellor to remove Hodgson from the commission passed, but only after eight justices, including John Hawkins, chairman of the sessions, abstained. He ‘did not vote in this Business’ – a fact pointedly recorded in the Orders of the Court.58 Noticeable by their apparent absence from the meeting were both John Fielding and David Wilmot, who, while no doubt opposed to Hodgson, must have believed that pursuing Hodgson would damage their reputations and paint the law as partial and unfair. Their refusal to condemn Hodgson’s behaviour was probably part of an attempt to maintain the respect of these communities in spite of their role in the prosecutions of rioters. It reflects the continuing importance of community justice as a form of managed social relations as practised by Hodgson, and evident in the growing popularity of trading justices in this period. Nonetheless, in December 1768 Hodgson was removed from the commission.
Not for the first time, judicial attitudes fractured, and plebeian attitudes towards the law shifted. As they always had done, journeymen continued to seek magisterial assistance in negotiating and enforcing wage agreements, and some justices, including Fielding, played their part.59 However, no doubt influenced by the Wilkites’ successful use of the law, those accused of crimes more frequently obtained professional legal advice in defence of life and freedom.60 Like other defendants prosecuted by Fielding, a high proportion of the weavers (eleven of seventeen) and all sixteen coalheavers tried at the Old Bailey for riot, murder and related offences between 1765 and 1771 employed legal counsel in their defence, no doubt paid for with the support of their clubs. While the widespread use of prosecution counsel in these trials ensured a relatively normal conviction rate (eight of the eleven weavers, and nine of the sixteen coalheavers), this extensive use of counsel reflects the defendants’ desire to use all the tools available within the legal system.
Others came to treat justice with contempt. With several of those convicted claiming to their last breath that they were innocent, many weavers and coalheavers sought to avoid the courts altogether by preventing witnesses against them from coming forward. Intimidation was common, which meant that several trials of the cutters could only be held many months after the crimes they were accused of committing. They also exacted revenge on those who testified. Following the acquittal of John Green for murdering one of the men who attacked his house in 1768, the coalheavers ‘grew if possible more outrageous, threatening to murder and pull down the house of every inhabitant who appeared at the Old Bailey’ in his defence.61 Officers and justices who were responsible for arresting the coalheavers and weavers were also attacked. In April 1768 a ‘large body of coalheavers’ armed with cutlasses attempted to pull down the house (which was also a tavern) belonging to James Marsden, a headborough who had arrested Thomas Farmer, one of the coalheavers accused of murdering a strike-breaking sailor. They broke into the house and demolished partitions, shelves, windows and boxes. Some of the men ‘were heard to swear they would murder Marsden, and cut his heart out, and broil it’.62 Mobs in support of Wilkes also attacked houses and symbols of justice. Following the St George’s Fields ‘massacre’, while the justices were attempting to disperse the mob outside King’s Bench prison hundreds of people marched to London Bridge and attacked the houses of two justices, including that of Edward Russell, which was also a distillery. In a series of events that foreshadowed the Gordon Riots of a decade later, they broke into the house and opened the casks of spirituous liquors, letting them run as they used their hats to collect the drink. Later, drunk beyond control, they threatened to set fire to the house and murder Russell’s family.63
In Spitalfields and Bethnal Green, the community rejection of official justice was almost total, as can be seen in the case of Daniel Clarke, a master weaver and pattern drawer whose testimony was blamed for the executions of Eastman and Horsford.64 As a result of repeated harassment, Clarke was advised by justices to carry pistols in his pockets, but he did not have them when he was attacked by a crowd on a snowy day in April 1771. Calling him a ‘blood-selling rascal’ and ‘saying they had got Clarke who Swore agt. the Cutters’, he was stripped to his waist and whipped, and then chased by a stone-throwing mob to a nearby pond.65 A crowd of two or three thousand proceeded to duck him while pelting him with earth and brickbats.66 While ducking was a traditional form of popular justice, being attacked by brickbats was not, and the assault proved fatal.
At this point the community closed ranks and shut out the law. Some of the crowd had tried to save Clarke, but once this became a murder case distrust of the judicial system and fears of retaliation silenced potential witnesses. Immediately following the riot, Justice Wilmot advertised a reward for information, but although he reported to the government that he had sat every day at the rotation office, ‘no person has given us any information’. Informers, he claimed, refused to come forward, fearing ‘the revenge of a bandita … as most certainly they would’.67 Eventually two men, Henry Stroud and Robert Campbell , and one woman, Anstis Horsford, the widow of William Horsford, were tried for the murder, but it is remarkable how many witnesses who testified at this Old Bailey trial failed to name any of the participants, and two female witnesses had to be told by the court that they might give ‘evidence without being frightened’.68 Nonetheless, the man who arrested Campbell, a constable employed in the Whitechapel Rotation Office, was only identified in the Proceedings as ‘the Man’, despite the fact his identity must have been known in the courtroom.69
Stroud and Campbell were convicted, hanged in Bethnal Green in chains and their bodies taken for dissection. Anticipating disorder, the execution was attended by the sheriffs and a large number of constables, with a body of soldiers on standby. The sheriffs, worried that the presence of the military might incite the crowd, ensured that the soldiers remained a quarter of a mile from the hanging, standing guard outside Justice Wilmot’s house. Like some of the hanged cutters, Stroud maintained his innocence to his death and was widely believed. Several newspapers published a letter he wrote the night before his execution in which he claimed that he was only convicted on the perjured testimony of a man who had ‘swore, if I would not give him a pot of beer, or a shilling, he would take my life away’. Some of the papers added, ‘it is now generally believed that Stroud was innocent’.70 With the decline of the ‘sacramental’ view of execution as a necessary purging of man’s sinfulness (regardless of whether one was guilty as charged), these assertions of innocence became increasingly subversive.71 Once again, a large body of Londoners was left nursing a grievance against criminal justice, a fact which would have significant consequences for attitudes towards the law over the next two decades.
In 1773 the weavers achieved their goal of obtaining a parliamentary Act regulating their wages.72 The bill was passed only as a result of heavy extra-parliamentary pressure, which included not only the cutters’ attacks and mass lobbies of parliament but also the distribution of an anonymous letter to figures of authority. In it they were warned not to obstruct ‘the poor people [who] go in large bodies’. Workmen in all trades had been invited to assemble in Moorfields, where they thought they would have the protection of the City magistrates, but, in an opaque warning to the Middlesex bench, the letter went on to chastise the ‘ill-timed zeal of neighbourhood justices’.73 The fact that the Middlesex magistrates lobbied for the bill’s passage is indicative of the effectiveness of this pressure.74 The other political and industrial grievances of these years remained unresolved. Nevertheless, out of this crucible of conflict the crowd had learned its own lessons. Even though some executions could not be prevented, working Londoners had grown more powerful in the confident knowledge that they could challenge the forces of criminal justice.
If plebeian Londoners learned the hard lessons of how to confront the law in these years, they were also becoming ever more adept at manipulating the increasingly bureaucratic and complex system of poor relief. As one author complained in 1771:
The churchwarden or overseer is perpetually harassed, either for some weekly allowance in money, or for admission to the workhouse, by poor people who will take no denial; and who, if refused, may have their complaints heard before a magistrate, and the overseer or churchwarden is summoned to attend. If the necessity of the complainant appears to the Justice, and it always does, if their tale is believed, they are relieved in their own way.75
Both in London and in the nation as a whole, the third quarter of the eighteenth century witnessed a substantial increase in expenditure on poor relief. At mid-century the average annual expenditure for London and Middlesex was £81,030.76 By 1776, this had risen 65 per cent to £125,206, against a background inflation rate of only 1.5 per cent per annum. Much of this increase was concentrated in the 1760s and early 1770s.77 Even in a small, wealthy City parish such as St Dionis Backchurch, with a falling population and few social problems, the poor law accounts gyrated upwards, rising from £324 in 1763 to £419 in 1776 after reaching a peak expenditure of £529 in 1773.78 In the larger and more diverse parish of St Clement Danes, the cost of relieving the poor rose from £2,916 in 1763 to £5,343 16s. in 1776.79
In some measure these growing costs reflected simple need. The decline in real wages in these decades left many struggling to maintain an independent life.80 At workhouses such as that belonging to St Martin in the Fields, the number of admissions grew in response. In the 1750s the house was admitting between 700 and 800 a year. By the mid-1770s, following some rebuilding, this had risen, albeit temporarily, to an average of well over 1,000.81 But the growing costs, particularly for smaller parishes, also reflect both the administrative burden created by the increasingly bureaucratic character of the system of settlement and the ability of paupers to effectively manipulate that system. Although a relatively rare procedure, even removing a family across the short distance between two City parishes could entail crippling expense. In the autumn of 1775, for instance, on the orders of the then Lord Mayor, John Wilkes, and George Hayley, Thomas and Ann Bloodworth and their four children were removed just a few hundred yards from St Michael Cornhill, near the Royal Exchange, to the much smaller parish of St John the Evangelist, just east of St Paul’s.82 Following a petition and appeal by the churchwardens and overseers of St Michael’s, this case cost both parishes dear.83 The total cost to St John the Evangelist was £14 19s. 6d., making up a full third of the parish’s expenditure on poor relief that year. But even for the larger parish of St Michael Cornhill, the cost of this single removal and appeal amounted to £15 4s., some 3 per cent of that year’s budget.84 The possibility that a removal order and a dispute might follow a refusal of relief effectively empowered paupers in relation to parish officers.
Source: Parliamentary Papers and parish accounts.
Online dataset: Poor Relief Expenditure 1690-1800 (xlsx)
At the same time as costs were spiralling, the parishes faced an additional challenge. The system of parochial care itself was brought into disrepute in the eyes of both paupers and the wider community by a series of deaths of paupers in care, publicised through the concerted black propaganda of ‘reformers’ such as Jonas Hanway.
confessed that her … Mother had Cruelly used and Starved two of her apprentices to Death vizt. Ann and Mary Nailor and that she Cut the Body of the former in Pieces and carried it to the Gulley hole [gutter] in Chick-Lane; … one hand which She Burnt for fear of a discovery it having a Stump Finger, and that she kept the Body in a Box in the House upwards of two Months.86
The two sisters had been apprenticed by the parish of Tottenham High Cross, and the tale of beatings and starvation that emerged at the trial was harrowing. However, the failure of either Tottenham High Cross or St George Hanover Square (where the Metyards kept house) to maintain any oversight of conditions also emerged clearly. Jeremiah Brown, the milkman who served the house, reported the situation to the parish overseer.87 Having done so, he expected something to be done, but he ‘never heard that any step was taken’. He later recalled that the’Child was like an Otomy and appeared as if she had Actually been Starved‘.88 Following their convictions for murder, both the mother and daughter were hanged at Tyburn on Monday 19 July, their bodies handed over to the surgeons for dissection. Unusually, the Tyburn crowd was hostile: ’the mob were so rude as to throw Stones, &c as the Bodies were hanging’.89
Within eighteen months a new scandal emerged. In November 1763 a prospective buyer was looking over a house in Stonecutters Street, which ran between Fleet Market and Shoe Lane, just north of St Bride’s Churchyard in the City, and found the emaciated bodies of three nearly naked women on the ground floor, and two more women and a girl almost starved but still alive in the garret. Two of the bodies were of women who had worked as casual porters in Fleet Market just a few yards down the road, but the figure that exercised public opinion was sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Surman, and once again, the failure of parish government was held to blame for her condition. Lloyd’s Evening Post devoted a long paragraph to her tragic biography. Her parents had died when she was six years old. After that she lived with a neighbour, a Mrs Jones, who herself died a few years later, leaving Elizabeth destitute. She then undertook what work she could get, eventually finding a place with a washing woman in Spitalfields Market, where she stayed for six years, before falling ill and losing her place. At this point she appealed to her parish of settlement, St Stephen Coleman Street, without knowing what she needed to say.
She then went to the Churchwarden of the parish where her father had been housekeeper many years, to desire relief, but he refus’d, without so much as expostulating with her about her legal settlement, or informing her, that she had gained a settlement by servitude. She being very ill and weak, lay all night at the Churchwarden’s door, but it had no effect upon him; and this girl was obliged to lie about in the streets …90
A parish had once again failed a vulnerable teenager.
However, the most infamous case of the century came to light in 1767 and involved the death of Mary Clifford at the hands of Elizabeth Brownrigg, her husband James and son John.91 Like Ann Nailor before her, Mary Clifford was a parish apprentice who was starved and beaten by a mistress more interested in strict obedience and cheap labour than child welfare. And like the Metyards, this abuse was a family affair of long standing, with both parish and Foundling Hospital apprentices being placed with the family as trusted partners in charge of a large and superficially well-regulated household. Unlike the Metyards, only one of the perpetrators was actually hanged, the mother, Elizabeth Brownrigg, while James and John Brownrigg were acquitted. There is a substantial modern literature on this case that emphasises its use to discipline middle-class domestic arrangements and reinforce an evolving heterosexuality.92 However, to eighteenth-century eyes, it once again reflected the failure of both the parish and the parish community to care effectively for the next generation.
At heart these were simple crimes of personal cruelty; however, they were also tragedies compounded by economic pressure and neglect. Families like the Metyards and the Brownriggs took on pauper apprentices in the expectation of at least saving the cost of a servant, and ideally of turning a profit on their labour. And parish officers, eager to restrain costs, asked fewer questions as the pressure on their budgets mounted. But these high-profile scandals undermined the relationships between the parishes, the poor and a wider public.
‘Brownrigg-like cruelty’ soon became proverbial in the mouths of Londoners, and even as Elizabeth Brownrigg waited to hang, London’s poor incorporated her story in to their begging (and thieving) strategies.93 Four days before Brownrigg’s execution the Public Advertiser reported how a young girl played on the case. She was about eleven years old and was
sitting at a Door, and bemoaning herself after a very piteous Manner; … [a gentleman], making Enquiry after the Reason of it, she replied, that she had broke a Bottle, which her Mistress had given her to fetch some Oil in, and that she dare not go home, she should be so cruelly beat, for that the Person she lived with was not a Degree better than the Woman in Newgate (meaning Brownrigg). The Gentleman gave her Sixpence … but having watched which Way her Benefactor took, she was again at his Heels presently, and still incessantly crying. The Gentleman turning about, seeing the same Girl, asked her what she cried for then; she told him that she should certainly be murdered by her Mistress for staying so long, unless he would be so good to go with her … [She said she] was a poor helpless Foundling, who had been apprenticed by the Parish, and that she was beat most unmercifully many Times every Day, without any Provocation, and half starved into the Bargain. The Gentleman, actuated by Compassion, went along with her.
Predictably, he was led to a ruinous building off Tottenham Court Road where two of the girl’s accomplices expertly fleeced him of his remaining valuables.94
In parallel with concerns about the fate of parish apprentices was a growing anxiety about newborn children. This was founded on the insistent critique of plebeian parenthood promoted in print by supporters of the Foundling Hospital over the preceding twenty years. However, this argument, larded with ever more detailed statistics, reached a new crescendo of condemnation in the decade following the disaster of the General Reception. Based on statistics gathered by Jonas Hanway and focusing on the care of newborns and infants by parish nurses and in workhouses, Hanway and his supporters held up parishes as well as the poor to detailed censure. Most famously, Hannah Poole, who ran a large nursing home providing full-time care for pregnant women, children and adult paupers in St Clement Danes, was traduced in print as an angel of death available for hire at 2 shillings per week, per child.95
In Hanway’s estimate:
She is certainly not qualifyed for a nurse, to keep children alive, though she seems to understand the art of lulling infants to their everlasting rest … This woman began to prepare shrowds on the 19th of March 1765, and her last burial was on the 25th of Jan. 1766.96
Hanway claimed that Poole had the care of twenty-three children in the year ending January 1766, of whom eighteen died in her care, while a further five were discharged to their parents, meaning that not a single infant survived her ministrations for a whole year. In part this onslaught was a rhetorical device aimed to retrieve the Foundling Hospital’s financial position following the collapse of the General Reception, by encouraging parliament to employ it to nurse parish children. But it effectively coloured parish poor relief in the dark hues of murder.
It is impossible to verify Hanway’s statistics as the relevant registers for St Clement Danes for 1765 have not survived, but the equivalent figures for two years later suggest that he substantially misrepresented Poole’s record. Among the paupers housed at parish expense with Hannah Poole that year were twenty-six children aged 15 or under. Most were long-term residents of the house. Thomas Taylor had lived with Hannah Poole for eight years, since 1760, and was 15 years old.97 John Smith and William Jones were also 15, and were apprenticed from the house after around a year’s residence.98 Of the other children in the house, ten were between the ages of 7 and 15; and a further thirteen were under the age of 3. None of the older children are recorded as having died during the course of the year. Of the infants and toddlers, three did die; two of whom had been born in the house to mothers lying in at parish expense. A ‘B’ by their names in the registers reflects their status as bastards.99 The third death was of an illegitimate child who came into Poole’s care at 18 months, abandoned by its parents. A fourth illegitimate child born in the house, Charlotte Sirr , died soon after being transferred to a country nurse.100 In this single year of 1767, there were also at least three births in Hannah Poole’s establishment. But more significantly, the bastardy examinations for the parish for the 1760s mention only one parish nurse as providing facilities for women lying in at parish expense, and that nurse was Hannah Poole. In other words, Hannah Poole was providing care for a uniquely vulnerable group of babies, illegitimate children born to pauper mothers, and her success in doing so was at least similar to that achieved by other institutions catering for similar children, such as the Foundling Hospital.
Typical of the mothers and children Nurse Poole accommodated was Margaret Bedward and her child Thomas, who was born in Hannah Poole’s house on 17 March 1765, meaning that Thomas formed one of the babies that made up Hanway’s damning statistics.101 Margaret Bedward was a pauper who had been passed three years earlier from St Andrew Wardrobe in the City, and who at that time had two older illegitimate children, Mary and John.102 Thomas was her third illegitimate child, and she stayed with him and cared for him throughout his very short life, meaning that Thomas’s mother, rather than Nurse Poole, was responsible for his immediate care. Thomas died within a month of birth, but Margaret’s other children continued in parish care and Mary, her older daughter, in particular seems to have thrived in the process – or at least when she was later apprenticed to a Margarett Le Batt, she had the support of her mother and the self-confidence to use the criminal justice system to pursue a charge of assault against her mistress.103 Both Mary and her mother appeared at quarter sessions to lodge a complaint and succeeded in overturning her apprenticeship.
Hannah Poole’s nursing home cared for a much more diverse crew of paupers than newborn babies and children. Surviving coroners’ inquests concerning two adult deaths at Mrs Poole’s give details of the internal management of her house. These suggest that it was a reasonably well-run and humane establishment. One death was the result of a suicide by a middle-aged man, Richard Raine, and the other the result of a drunken brawl in the street outside, instigated by Margaret Burgis, who was recovering from a fever at the time. She was nevertheless free to go out when she wanted – and to get drunk, presumably at parish expense.104
Despite his problematic evidence, Hanway’s public ridicule brought the parishes into disrepute, reinforcing the perception that neither the churchwardens and overseers nor working Londoners could be trusted to care for the next generation. In a popular play published in 1768, The Bastard Child, or a Feast for the Church-Wardens, the ‘dramatis personae’ include ‘Old nurse Careless’, who could be relied upon ‘for the daily allowance of one poor quart of juniper water’ to kill off any parish child within three days; while the churchwardens, ‘Greedy’ and ‘Tearfowl’, working in cahoots with ‘Justice Hog’ and the constable, ‘Daniel Lovefee’, were all depicted as working the system for personal profit.105
However, Hanway’s efforts had more serious repercussions. They resulted in the passage of two Acts of parliament which would help reshape the character of London poor relief. His first legislative intervention was An Act for Keeping Distinct and Regular Accounts of the Poor under a Certain Age, which came in to force in early June 1762.106 It specified that the parishes within the Bills of Mortality should collect detailed monthly returns on the fate of all parish children under the age of four and report them to the Worshipfull Society of Parish Clerks. The explicit intention was to highlight the failings of parochial relief and more particularly the care provided in the capital’s workhouses. In some respects the Act reflects the wider experience of the new associational charities, which were dependent on their ability to present a compelling, humanitarian case for whichever particular object of charity they hoped to relieve, by discrediting other types of care.107 The innovation here was that Hanway’s 1762 Act used the authority of parliament to collect and publish information about social problems as a device to generate concern, which could in turn be used to drive the evolution of a wider social policy. Compliance was patchy, but sufficient returns were generated to allow Hanway to begin to build a larger case directed at both ensuring parish children were boarded in the countryside – far from the doleful influence of their family and ‘friends’ – and that parishes were held to stricter account in relation to the apprenticeship of older children.
Hanway’s second Act was passed in 1768.108 This extended the requirement for parishes to maintain a precise register of parish children and apprentices. More significantly, it required that all children below the age of four years should be nursed in the country at least three miles from London and Westminster (five miles in certain circumstances). The length of time a London parish child could be apprenticed was also lowered to a maximum of seven years or until the age of twenty-one for both boys and girls. The Act also stipulated that the minimum fee given with a parish apprentice should be £4 2s. and that this fee should be paid in two instalments – the second half three years into the apprenticeship. Finally, the Act established committees of ‘Guardians of the Poor’, drawn either from the nobility or the highest-ranking members of the parish community, to oversee and inspect the workings of poor relief. To Hanway’s disappointment, the ninety-seven parishes within the City of London were excluded from the provisions of the Act, as were four further urban parishes from Middlesex and Surrey. But the vast majority of the large urban parishes that circled the old City, including Hanway’s favourite example of dysfunctional parish government, St Clement Danes, were brought within the new regulatory framework.
Hanway’s two Acts drew significant attention to the issue of infant mortality in the parishes of London and the plight of parish apprentices, and led to some improvements in the conditions experienced by some parish children. The registers produced as a result of the two Acts formed the basis for an optimistic analysis produced ten years after the second Act came into force. In a parliamentary report authored by Owen Bereton, the returns were surveyed and 9,727 children under the age of six were recorded as having been given up to parochial care in fifteen large urban parishes, of whom only 2,042, or 21 per cent, were dead at the end of the period.109 Bereton concluded that the registration Acts had ‘produced very salutary effects’, though not in the way Hanway had originally envisaged, as few of the new committees of ‘Guardians of the Poor’ had ever met, and those that had were ‘very little attended to’. Many of the same ‘black spots’ for infant and child mortality remained. Despite falling into line by building a workhouse and sending its children to nurse in the country, St Clement Danes continued to suffer a higher than average child mortality rate with 113 deaths among the 257 children under the age of six placed in the care of the parish.
In many respects, Hanway’s Acts set the tone for parliamentary inquiries in subsequent decades. The emphasis on clear and well laid out statistics can be seen in the extensive parliamentary reports on poor relief published in 1776 and 1786, which were in turn followed by a series of exhaustive inquiries by both private individuals such as Frederick Morton Eden in the 1790s, and several long-standing parliamentary commissions in the first decades of the nineteenth century.110 And as James Stephen Taylor has observed, Hanway’s aspirations were ‘remarkably like’ those of ‘the Poor Law Commissioners’ 1834 Report’.111 However, while Hanway could influence legislators, he could not control how the poor, or even the parishes, responded to his demands.
Just as the Foundling Hospital encouraged child abandonment, Hanway’s ‘reforms’ had unintended consequences, and these were exploited by the poor. The parishes, faced with growing demands for relief and ever more bureaucratic requirements to keep records and abide by precise legal diktats, looked for alternatives. They adopted new practices which significantly transformed key aspects of the support provided to paupers. In response the poor learned further lessons in the art of how to use the letter of the law for their own ends.
One parochial strategy that became popular from at least the early 1770s was to seek informal and hence inexpensive agreements with other parishes in respect of providing for individual paupers, as an alternative to removing them under the laws of settlement. These ‘friendly’ passes or orders were essentially extra-legal agreements between two or more parishes whereby the receiving parish agreed to accept paupers believed to be settled there without contest, initally bypassing the justices and collectively saving all the participants the cost of a legal removal. These agreements eventually grew into substantial consortia of parishes covering large parts of London.112 The informal character of these passes means that very few have been preserved in parish archives, and it is possible that they substantially predate the mid eighteenth century. However, by at least 1772 they were common enough to justify the creation of blank forms for the purpose. Typical of these passes was that printed for St Botolph Bishopsgate. One completed form was addressed to the churchwardens or overseers of the parish of St Dionis Backchurch :
Gentlemen, Upon examination it appears that Elisth Crocker belongs to your Parish by her Husband Benjn. Crocker Serving his time to Mr Wm. Wright a glaiser in Philpot Lane Fenchurch Street. Please to accept the same without a pass, and the Favour shall be returned by, Gentlemen, Your very humble Servant, Wm Woodcock Church-Warden of St. Botolph Bishopsgate.113
By their nature ‘friendly passes’ left few traces in the archive. Not being legal documents, they had little administrative value, but their existence reflects a new activism on the part of the parishes in the face of an ever more demanding legal system.114 More importantly, they also effectively gave paupers a veto over the process. An appeal to a justice against a ‘friendly pass’ could cost both parishes dear.
Other parish responses to the growing demands of the poor were less benign. Contract workhouses, often located on the edge of the metropolis, had been in operation from the 1720s, taking on paupers from urban parishes for a weekly or yearly fee. From the 1760s these institutions became both more commonplace, and more specialised. The small parishes of the City were particularly dependent upon them, with most using them to warehouse high-dependency paupers, or as a form of punishment for the recalcitrant and the merely awkward. But it was not just small City parishes that used these private institutions to discipline the unruly poor. St Botolph Aldgate, which straddled the City’s border with Middlesex, despite running two parish workhouses containing upwards of 450 paupers, chose to house its disorderly poor and the insane at two different large pauper farms on the outskirts of the metropolis.115 As a result of growing demand for these services, Hoxton, Bethnal Green and Mile End, all just outside the three-mile limit specified by Hanway’s second registration Act, became veritable pauper suburbs.116
However, the complex interrelationship between the new legislation and the operation of parochial relief is perhaps best captured in the evolution of poor relief in St Clement Danes. Unlike other large Westminster parishes, St Clement’s did not establish a workhouse until 1773 – relying instead on outdoor relief and a string of parish nurses (including Hannah Poole). This was largely the result of the settled opposition of the wider community. Attempts had been made to establish a workhouse in the 1730s and early 1740s, but these were unsuccessful. In both June 1754 and August 1759, the issue was once again canvassed, leading to fierce debate and a series of public votes by householders in a general vestry that, unusually, both gave authority to a wide swathe of the population and provided a mechanism for recording the outcome.117
Eventually the minister, churchwardens and overseers, and a select band of parishioners went over the heads of the population and applied to parliament for a private Act authorising both the reform of the nightly watch and the creation of a parish workhouse. From 1764 a group of up to twenty-four substantial inhabitants were incorporated as Directors or Governors of the Nightly Watch and Beadles, while the vestry, churchwardens and overseers of the poor were given authority to build and manage a workhouse, inflict corporal punishment on the inmates (unusually), and arrest and train children under ten years old found begging in the streets.118 Regardless of the Act, opposition continued, and it was not until a further Act was passed in 1771, explicitly authorising the parish to buy land for a workhouse and enforce a rate in support of it, that work was begun.119 The parish workhouse was eventually opened in 1773 with accommodation for some 350 paupers.120
As in other parishes, in the short term the impact was simply to increase expenditure on the poor – with total costs rising by some 20 per cent in the year after the house opened. However, the creation of a workhouse also led to the dismantling of the local system of nursing homes and a more thorough implementation of the policy of sending children under the age of four to the country. From at least 1773, most infants from St Clements were dispatched to one of several nurses at Low Layton, five miles from the parish, just beyond Hackney Wick and around two hours walk away. As a result, parish children under four were put largely beyond the possibility of ‘Sunday visiting’. As Jonas Hanway noted:
If you send your Infant-Poor to be nursed in Places remote from the Metropolis, you will not only avoid the Perplexity occasioned by the Visits of such Parents, as can do their children no good, but this measure will … [ensure] the most Abandoned, or the real Distressed will chuse to part with their Children for the few Years which may be necessary.121
The parish then further undermined any remaining local connections to family or friends through a new system of apprenticeship. St Clement Danes was one of the earliest parishes to explore the possibility of large-scale industrial apprenticeships to the new factories of the North. Following an infancy far from friends and family, raised by a wet nurse in the country, a child born in the parish by the mid-1770s was likely to spend the next five or six years living in the parish workhouse, before being shipped, at around the age of apprenticeship (eleven or twelve) from one kind of institution to another – this time a factory hundreds of miles away. Most parish children in St Clement’s spent their adolescence at John Birch’s cotton mill, in Cartmel, Lancashire.122
Despite the fact the poor were subjected to new forms of control and exploitation, as London’s landscape of parish relief and charity grew ever more complex and as the legal ramifications of settlement gradually came to be normalised within the cultures of relief, the poor were able to identify cracks in the system which provided new opportunities. Some learned the art of petitioning and letter writing – of both throwing oneself on the mercy of the charities and of threatening the parish with untold expense if immediate relief was not provided. Others, perhaps from a middle-class or elite background, advertised for charity in the columns of the press, while some became more adept at combining one form of relief and authority with another.123 A few attempted to navigate the choppy waters of the law, either by appealing to a local magistrate for an order of relief or, more problematically, by seeking removal under the vagrancy laws, which established a prima facie settlement that could not be challenged by a direct appeal. And finally, the mothers of illegitimate children used the interests of the parish to force the fathers of their children to provide the resources they needed. The bureaucracy of belonging that lay at the heart of the system of parish relief and settlement was turned to account by the needy and the desperate.
Perhaps the most significant driving force in the creation of a new literate culture of plaint and petition were the associational charities. Many, including the Foundling Hospital after the end of the General Reception, required that applicants produce a formal petition in order to gain admission for themselves or their child. The hospital also required a detailed petition before a child could be reclaimed. Illiteracy remained a problem for some, but by the 1760s most plebeian Londoners were able to deploy written language as part of their engagement with authority, and if not, it was usually possible to hire someone who could act as a scribe.124 And they did not simply petition single organisations. The policies of the associational charities forced supplicants to find a way to write persuasively about their predicament, and to use this and other tactics to navigate between different institutions.
A measure of the scale of the effort devoted to these activities can be found in the extensive records of the Foundling Hospital. In one ten- month period between March 1763 and January 1764, the hospital received 160 petitions from parents and friends hoping to reclaim a child. The vast majority (103) of the children were, of course, dead, but the process of petitioning demonstrates how paupers learned to work with the authorities in new ways. Entirely typical was the petition received from Mary Marshall née Hobs. In order to reclaim the child Mary had given up to the hospital at the height of the General Reception, she needed to both write a petition and procure a certificate authenticating her story from the General Lying-In Hospital where the child had been born. Remarkably, six-year-old ‘Thorncroft, 10269’ was still alive and after the petition was ‘Read at the Gen[era]l Comm[itt]ee [on] 30th May 1764’, she was delivered to her parents, despite their inability to afford the steep charges the hospital normally made in such cases.125
For those living outside their parish of settlement, writing to one’s parish was also increasingly commonplace. The earliest recognisable ‘pauper letters’ requesting relief date from the 1730s, but there was little incentive to preserve these documents and few survive before the first decades of the nineteenth century.126 Nevertheless, the full mix of tactics that characterise nineteenth-century pauper letters can be found in the few that survive from mid-century, including those preserved among the records of St Dionis Backchurch.127 Letters written between the late 1750s and the early 1770s by Catherine Jones, a disabled pensioner whose undisputed settlement lay in the parish of St Dionis Backchurch, for example, demonstrate, despite her limited literacy skills, a comprehensive understanding of how her requests for relief would be read by the parish officers.128 Jones appealed to her rights as an ex-householder. She played on the sympathy of the churchwardens, and most effectively, she used the threat of the cost of her return to St Dionis, from her present home some 200 miles away in Shrewsbury and Wrexham, to move their hands.
An early letter reflects the pattern:
onerd sir I … am very soray to be so trubelsum to you, but I canot help it for I am in gret want of relief from my parch … Heir everything is at gret prise but watter. Their is none knows what paines I do baer in my limes and I can not stire sum time for the ruptor, but I do keep my contyenas [countenance] as well as I can or eles I should be sent to my parch before now. And if … I must go the ofissers of this parch … they will hunt me from heer as the did from Wrechame. Then I must come to london. But I do raether have to gunyes [two guineas] heir. No more from a poor poper Catherine Jones.129
In later correspondence, Jones informed the churchwardens that both her arms were bad and that she needed constant personal care, and threatened to put the parish to ‘six pound Carish, in bringing of me up’ to London, praying repeatedly for more and regular relief.130 These letters were remarkably successful: through these years, Catherine typically received between £2 2s. and £4 4s. per year.131 Eventually she was brought back to London and supported in a contract workhouse for a number of years before once again entering into negotiations with the parish. This time she asked the parish to facilitate her return to Wrexham:
Catherine Jones applied for leave to return home to Wrexham in Denbighshire upon condition of paying her two guineas in hand and two guineas per annum, which was agreed, to also give her a pair of shoes.132
Maintaining Catherine Jones at a pauper farm in Hoxton cost the parish approximately £5 8s. per year, so sending her back to Wrexham where she had friends was a pragmatic response which suited both parties.
Most pauper letter writers mixed claims to a right to relief based on their settlement and a sense of belonging to the parish with appeals to simple humanity. A somewhat more dangerous tactic was to play magistrates and other figures of authority against the parish officers. This was the route pursued by Paul Patrick Kearney.133
Born and raised in Ireland, but with a secure settlement in St Dionis Backchurch at the heart of the City, Kearney, unlike Catherine Jones (whom he would have known), was well educated and highly literate. After a long career in commerce, but which also included an appearance at the Old Bailey (he was convicted of forgery) and correspondence with a secretary of state, Kearney fell into severe need in 1761.134 By the winter of 1764, barefoot and ragged, he formally applied for relief from the parish but was summarily turned down.135 Kearney’s next step was open to any pauper. He appealed to the Lord Mayor, William Bridgen, sitting as a magistrate in the Mansion House Justice Room. At Kearney’s request William Kippax, the parish overseer, was summoned to appear to explain why relief had been refused. According to Kearney’s account, ‘Mr Kippax … vindictively attempted to shew cause to his Lordship why … [he] should not be relieved [and] told his Lordship several untruths’. In response, Kearney ‘justly and truly contradicted’ the claims and demanded that Kippax swear an oath. At this point Kippax refused to cooperate and was given short shrift by the Lord Mayor, who declared, the ‘parish can get no credit by giving this [man] such treatment … and ordered [Kearney] to be … relieved’. ‘Kippax then and there promised his Lordship to relieve [Kearney, and gave him] a note in his … own handwriting directed to one Richard Birch in Rose Lane’ in Spitalfields, gaining him admittance to the workhouse.
Kearney, however, was worried that by being sent outside the City, beyond the jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor, he would be disadvantaged. In his words, the note he received:
instead of being an order for [his] relief was a warrant of commitment of [his] body to imprisonment, labour or work in an infected filthy dungeon called a workhouse kept by … Richard Birch, containing near one hundred poor victims to parish cruelty, but not capacious enough healthily to hold forty …
Kearney was forced to accept accommodation in Rose Lane, but he very quickly set about manoeuvring the parish into supporting him elsewhere. This took him just three weeks, after which he was initially supported outside the workhouse with both money and clothing, until on 7 August he gained admission, at parish expense, to Guy’s Hospital. Here, in Kearney’s words, he was put ‘under the care of an eminent physician surgeon and apothecary who did all they could to cure him’. He was eventually discharged in early December and over the next three years received substantial relief from the parish. In 1766 alone he was given a new great coat, a pair of breeches and a new pair of shoes, which with accommodation and medical care cost £10 4s. 4d.136 After a further encounter with the Lord Mayor in 1767 – this time instigated by the parish – Kearney eventually turned his back on London and for the next few years ‘languished a long time at Bath and elsewhere’ and ‘went to Ireland’, only to return in early 1771, when he once again went to the Mansion House in order to force the hand of the parish.
Kearney’s final negotiation came in the following year, and it took almost exactly the same form as Catherine Jones’s. Kearney wrote to the churchwardens of St Dionis Backchurch in March 1771. He explained that he had secured a position with a Captain Scot and offered the parish a deal: ‘that I never would demand, ask or claim any relief of St Dionis’s parish if you would furnish me now with about forty shillings to get my things to fit me for that place’. He signed his note, ‘Your afflicted and abused neighbour, P. Kearney’. Pragmatism once again trumped all other considerations, and the parish paid up.
Very few paupers had the skills and sheer brio Kearney deployed in his negotiations with St Dionis Backchurch. Moreover, his strategy was in some ways less effective than Catherine Jones’s more humble, if quietly threatening, appeals. While Jones secured a promise of lifelong support at the rate of £2 per year, Kearney apparently exchanged his parish rights for a single one-off payment of the same amount.137 But more common than either tactic was an attempt to collaborate with the overseer against better-off parishioners or, better still, the wealthy inhabitants of some other parish.
The relationship between the mothers of illegitimate children and parish officers was always fraught. Mothers faced punishment if they failed to name the father, and the known instances of overseers colluding in the abduction and murder by neglect of bastard children taken by force from their mothers and delivered up to the Foundling Hospital speak of an unequal landscape of power and motive. However, two fundamental assumptions of poor law practice ensured that the mothers of illegitimate children could negotiate with the parish from a position of relative strength. In the words of Richard Burn, it was clear both that:
A bastard child is ‘prima facie’ settled where born: and this was the ancient genuine settlement.
if the mother and the child have different settlements … the bastard child … shall go with the mother for nurture until the age of seven years … as a necessary appendage of the mother, and inseparable from her.138
Despite the attempts of ‘reformers’ such as Jonas Hanway to denigrate plebeian parenthood, the Old Poor Law put an uncompromising obligation on ratepayers and parish officers to provide care for illegitimate children and by extension their mothers. This obligation, in its turn, frequently ensured that parish officers and pauper mothers shared a common interest in securing support from feckless fathers.
The process of forcing the father of a bastard child to support it, and indemnify the parish for any expenses incurred, was complex and bureaucratic. Richard Burn devoted some thirty-six pages to the topic in the 1772 edition of his Justice of the Peace.139 Following a voluntary examination of the mother on oath before two magistrates, declaring that the father had ‘carnal knowledge’ of the examinee leading to pregnancy, a warrant was issued for apprehending the father, who could then be forced to provide a bond to the parish, under threat of immediate punishment in the house of correction, normally to guarantee support for the child to the sum of £100 by the 1770s.140 To provide a bond of this sort, the father would normally have to rely on employers and relatives as sureties, and the bond remained in force until the child reached the age of fourteen, was apprenticed or died. The father would also be obliged to comply with a ‘filiation’ and maintenance order, normally at a rate of 2s. 6d. a week. From the mother and child’s perspective, the process ensured that the settlement of both would be securely determined and that they would have access to parish relief, even if the substance of that relief was supplied by the child’s father.
As had long been true, for many young women the first step in securing relief of this sort was to establish the child’s settlement by giving birth in the parish workhouse. Between 1770 and 1775, at least 67 women entered the the workhouse belonging to St Martin in the Fields while actually in labour, and a further 205 in the later stages of pregnancy. Many more came in with a bastard child in tow. The experience of someone like the seventeen-year-old prostitute Mary Brown, who gained admission to the St Clement Danes workhouse in 1786 having simply turned up at the workhouse door deep in labour, reflects the strategies available to young women and the willingness of many to make full use of them.141
Despite the often unfavourable innovations introduced by ‘reformers’ such as Jonas Hanway and the parishes, paupers possessed the skills to release real resources. Crafting a powerful petition, combining approaches to more than one institution, working with the overseers against an ex-lover or knowing which magistrate to approach on what business were all valuable means of extracting support. But while workhouses, weekly pensions and the provision of clothes and medical care form the meat and gristle of eighteenth-century poor relief, and were provided increasingly frequently in response to the demands of the poor, it is important to remember that parishes also controlled access to more substantial resources, such as the almshouses that pauper residents could aspire to occupying in old age. When Westminster Abbey decided to tear down its almshouses in Dean’s Court in 1779, it was obliged to pay compensation of £5 5s. per year to each resident in exchange for their agreement to vacate the houses.142
In attempting to reduce the growing cost of poor relief, and building on the development of a comprehensive system of vagrant contracting in 1757, the men who governed the City and Middlesex adopted an additional strategy: they stepped up efforts to punish the casual and informal components of the London poor, expelling thousands to their parishes of settlement outside the metropolis. Women and men deemed disorderly, whose begging was too aggressive, who worked as prostitutes or who were deemed unwilling to work for a living, were arrested and prosecuted for vagrancy, including all the ill-defined ‘crimes’ of ‘wandering and begging’ and of being ‘loose, idle and disorderly’. In what might be described as an official reformation of manners campaign, and echoing the increasingly systematic prosecution and removal of vagrants in the 1750s, officers in both Middlesex and the City renewed and expanded their efforts to clear the streets of vagrants, especially in the tense years between 1768 and 1773.143 Large numbers were arrested, committed to houses of correction and in many cases removed, but many of those prosecuted were able to undermine the authorities’ efforts, and ironically, some managed to use the system to secure a legal settlement.
Starting in 1765 in Middlesex, and 1767 in the City, the money spent on vagrant removals, and by extension the numbers of vagrants apprehended and passed, increased significantly, so that by 1768 the cost of policing vagrancy in Middlesex had doubled since 1764, and City expenditure had risen eight times (Figure 6.3).
Source: LMA, City of London: ‘City’s cash accounts’, 1699–1801, COL/CHD/CT/01/023-068. NB: Includes the cost of apprehending and passing vagrants, as well as rewards and miscellaneous costs.
Online dataset: City of London Vagrant Expenditure 1738-1792 (xlsx)
Expenses declined between 1768 and 1770–1, before dramatically increasing, especially in the City. In 1773 expenditure amounted to £827 14s. 5d., ten times higher than the average of the previous four years and almost twice as much as in Middlesex. Many of those apprehended in the City were committed to Bridewell, where commitments soared to 1,755 in 1773, the highest level in almost 150 years.144 They remained high, at over 800 per year, until 1777 (Figure 6.1).
Not everyone committed to houses of correction was accused of vagrancy, but most were tarred with one or more of the long list of offences that made up this rag-tag category of crime. Records of less than 10 per cent of those committed to Bridewell survive, but of the 224 men and women committed from July 1772 to January 1774 for whom we have information, 37.9 per cent were described as rogues, vagrants and beggars, 11.6 per cent as loose, idle and disorderly persons, and 21.9 per cent as prostitutes.145 (Of the remainder, the largest category by far was petty theft at 24.6 per cent.) Edward Hamleeter, for example, was arrested for being a ‘Rogue and Vagabond and an Idle and disorderly Person having no Visible way of living and not giving a good Account of himself and found Asking Alms in the Parish of St. Michael le Querne’, and Mary Myler and three other women were accused by one of the constables of Farringdon Ward Without ‘for being Rogues and Vagabonds wandring Abroad lodging in the open Air in the Parish of St. Brides and not giving a good Account of themselves’, all in December 1772.146 Only summary statistics survive of commitments to the Middlesex house of correction, but they show that a substantial proportion of the more than fifteen hundred prisoners committed annually between October 1769 and September 1772 were accused of vagrancy-related offences. Of the 4,987 prisoners, 21.8 per cent were accused of being ‘disorderly’. Between 1772 and 1774, an average of 531 vagrants a year were sent to the county’s houses of correction.147
We do not know precisely how many of those arrested for vagrancy were removed to their parish of settlement, as opposed to, or in addition to, being committed to a house of correction (many of the arrested were actually apprehended in their own parish of settlement). Nevertheless, the number of those passed was certainly substantial: in 1775 the Middlesex clerk of the peace estimated that an average of ‘near Twelve hundred’ vagrants a year were passed at county expense.148
The rewards offered to constables for the arrest of vagrants encouraged some to be particularly active. The City’s cash accounts reveal that two men received the bulk of the payments in the late 1760s and 1770s: John Sharp was paid £204 6s. 3d. for apprehending vagrants and filling out passes in 1768, and £216. 4s. for passing and clothing vagrants in 1773, while James Morgan received a total of almost £793 for apprehending vagrants, filling in passes and taking examinations between 1774 and 1776.149 Also active was William Payne, who cut his teeth as an informer and parish officer in the 1757–63 reformation of manners campaign and in 1771 was appointed deputy constable of Farringdon Ward Without.150 Five years later he was given a reward of 20 guineas ‘for faithful discharge of his duty’, shortly after two other men earned similar gratuities for ‘being very active in bringing to justice several notorious rogues and offenders’.151
The loose definition of vagrancy led many officers to arrest vulnerable individuals on little more than a whim. When Susannah Everitt was committed to Bridewell in May 1773, she was accused of ‘Wandring abroad Lodging in the Open Air and not giving a good Account of herself and for Asking Alms in this City’.152 But when the men who arrested her failed to appear against her, she told the court:
she got her living by sticking Pins for Pinmakers that she was going on a Sunday Evening with her Child in her Arms to See her Sister who lived at Westminster and having put down her Child at the Corner of a Passage to make Water she was taken into Custody carried before the Lord Mayor and Committed to this House for no other offence as she knew of.
She was discharged, and the men who arrested her were reprimanded for failing to appear and testify against her. Four other men were similarly censured for not giving ‘evidence against sundry persons taken up by them and Committed by the Lord Mayor as Vagrants’.153
Those apprehended for vagrancy had some opportunities to evade removal. In Middlesex, the system of vagrant removal was subcontracted to James Sturges Adams, and later his son, Henry Adams, but despite their extensive experience many of those removed did not end up back in their parish of settlement. In 1774 John Lay, ‘a Cripple [taken] in the act of begging’ in the parish of St George Hanover Square, was ordered to be removed north to Hertfordshire on his way to York, but about a week later he was seen about the streets of neighbouring London parishes. He told the parish beadle, ‘there was a boy come with a Cart to Bridewell and took him the sd. Lay a little way and then told him he might go where he like’.154
Even those who were properly removed frequently made their way back to the parish where they were arrested. Elizabeth Holland’s settlement was in Bethnal Green, but in 1773–4 she was arrested three times for vagrancy in Westminster and passed to Bethnal Green.155 On each occasion, however, she was back in Westminster within days, because, she said, the overseers of the poor in her parish ‘would not do any thing for her’.156
Lay and Holland were not alone in subverting attempts to remove them back to their parish of settlement, or, if they were apprehended in their own parish, to force them to change their behaviour. Several similar examples of recidivism can be identified in the records of Bridewell. Some names, such as Anne Sparkes , occur repeatedly.157 A prostitute, Sparkes was arrested on 19 December 1771, 6 August 1772, 17 February 1773 and 9 June 1774. Others, such as Mary Gardiner and Michael Burke, can be found listed in the records both of the Middlesex house of correction at Clerkenwell and of Bridewell in the City.158 In 1775 the Middlesex justices resolved to keep records of the vagrants they passed so that ‘if such persons should return and be found committing the like offence’, they could be more severely punished – though there is no evidence that they ever did so.159
There were other ways of undermining the system. By employing a false or counterfeit pass, beggars were able to move about unimpeded, and without fear of arrest.160 Since most passes were pre-printed and certified with the signature of a magistrate from a distant neighbourhood, such frauds were difficult to detect. Of the six women charged with this offence that can be identified in this period, three were discharged without punishment.161 However, even legitimately removed paupers could force the hands of parish officers. While it is impossible to demonstrate that individuals ‘chose’ to be arrested and removed as a vagrant, the process created a prima facie claim to a settlement that was almost impossible for the parishes to challenge. Implicit in the laws themselves, and legally explicit following two test cases heard at King’s Bench in 1777, a vagrancy removal order could not be subject to an appeal, even if the examination upon which it was based proved to be inaccurate. Because an appeal of this sort would shift responsibility for the vagrant from the supposed parish of settlement to the parish of arrest, it was thought unreasonable. Instead, the named parish of settlement had to either accept the vagrant as a settled pauper or seek to remove them at parish expense under the poor law.162
While some may have actively manipulated the system, others challenged the legal basis under which they were apprehended and punished. Acquiring the financial resources needed to mount a legal challenge was beyond the capacity of most of those accused of vagrancy, but enough accused prostitutes were able to hire lawyers and challenge their prosecutions that the very basis of policing prostitution came under threat. As Faramerz Dabhoiwala argues, ‘by the middle of the eighteenth century the idea had become firmly established that street-walking by prostitutes was not itself punishable’; proof of specific misconduct was necessary.163 In April 1770 John Fielding blamed the large number of prostitutes in Westminster on
the great Difficulty, as the Law now stands, to punish those Offenders, they being, as common Prostitutes, scarce, if at all, within the Description of any Statute now in being: And he added, that this subjects Watchmen, Roundhouse-keeprs, Constables, and even the Magistrates themselves, to Prosecutions from low Attorneys.164
Fielding experienced these difficulties first-hand later the same year. Two women, Frances York and Jane Fielding, used a lawyer named Bearcroft, supported by a Mr Wallace and Mr Dunning, to bring a case to King’s Bench. The case, brought in the same legal term in which the Wilkite printer John Almon appealed his conviction for libel, directly challenged the commitment of the two women to the Westminster house of correction at Tothill Fields for ‘being loose idle and disorderly persons, of evil fame, and common nightwalkers’ in Covent Garden. They had been convicted on the oath of the Bow Street Runner William Haliburton, on a warrant signed by John Fielding. The women made three objections. Most worryingly for the authorities, they claimed the terms ‘loose idle and disorderly … are too loose and inadequate’. Perhaps to avoid looking too closely at the broader issues involved, Chief Justice Mansfield quashed their conviction on a narrow and technical ground that in signing the warrant Fielding had failed to identify himself as a justice of the peace with the authority to make such commitments.165 However, this did not prevent the issue of principle being raised in the press. Robert Holloway, a staunch critic of Fielding and the rotation offices, set himself up as an ‘advocate for … oppressed women’ following the commitment of fifty women to Clerkenwell house of correction in a short period in 1773.166 Attacking the justices responsible (from the Litchfield rotation office), he questioned the moral and legal basis of the commitments:
how could you, in the face of day, commit such an atrocious outrage against natural liberty, and without compunction cast your fellow-creatures into the very bowels of wretchedness? What! Send fifty poor women to a loathsome prison, without regard to age, condition, or situation, on a presumption, or mere suspicion, that they might commit an offence, which if committed, is not cognizable by law?167
Holloway also reported his extensive correspondence with ‘Arabella’, a woman in the Clerkenwell house of correction who had allegedly been seduced by a justice, and who claimed that prostitutes were committed there only if they were unable to pay tribute to justices of the peace.168
As a result of these and other challenges, and perhaps also owing to an increase in prostitution resulting from falling real wages, by the mid-1770s it had becoming increasingly difficult to suppress street prostitution and related offences in London.169 While hundreds of men and women continued to be punished and removed as vagrants every year, some of the more savvy, sometimes assisted by sympathetic officers, lawyers and others, had found effective ways to subvert the process.
Frustrated in his efforts both to prosecute prostitutes and to control industrial and political unrest, John Fielding focused most of his efforts in the 1760s and 1770s on the policing and prosecution of felony. Knighted in 1761, Fielding’s practices and outspoken opinions were undoubtedly innovative, but they attracted praise and ridicule in almost equal measure, and prompted other justices and litigants to adopt different strategies. Ambivalence towards Fielding’s approach to the law was reflected in his appearance before a parliamentary committee in 1770. Formed to ‘enquire into the several Burglaries and Robberies that of late have been committed in and about the Cities of London and Westminster’, the committee summoned only three witnesses. For his part, Fielding ‘presented statistics to show the extent and growth of property crime in recent years, commented on the causes of such increases, and noted some of the difficulties magistrates faced in carrying out their functions’. His suggestions for remedying the problems, however, fell on deaf ears. His by now careworn proposal to place the night watch under the control of a committee of magistrates was ignored by MPs, and his complaint ‘That Ballad-singers are a greater nuisance than Beggars, because they give Opportunity to Pickpockets, by collecting People together: That the Songs they sing are generally immoral and obscene’ was literally laughed at.170 When a new committee returned to the issue of the watch two years later, Fielding was not even called to testify, and a set of reforms for Westminster was adopted that left control firmly in the hands of the parish vestries.171
Fielding was left to concentrate on the detection of felons and on ensuring their convictions through the preparation of detailed case materials. Following his ‘General Preventative Plan’ of 1772, he extended his efforts to collect information about crimes and suspects to the entire country. As John Styles notes, Fielding ‘saw a vast pool of fugitives from justice waiting to be trawled’ and believed that if information was collected efficiently, they could be located and prosecuted.172 Under his direction and using methods he had established in the 1750s, the Bow Street Runners continued to pursue suspects, both in London and the provinces. According to John Beatti e, as a result of the regular reports of their activities in the newspapers and the Old Bailey Proceedings, the Runners gradually came to be ‘regarded as perhaps more respectable than they had been earlier’. But their reliance on lists of suspects and anonymous paid informers continued to generate popular opposition.173 Passers-by were frequently stopped in the streets simply for being ‘suspicious characters’, and once arrested they could find themselves roughly searched on the basis of dubious legal authority in the increasingly notorious Brown Bear pub, across the street from Fielding’s office. Some offenders were framed: Beattie notes that the Runners ‘almost certainly helped to convict men innocent of the charges they faced by rigging identity parades and encouraging hesitant prosecutors’. Nonetheless, the Runners were increasingly trusted by Old Bailey jurors. In cases where they testified, defendants were more likely to be found guilty.174
An early arrest of the highwayman John Rann illustrates some of the Runners’ methods.175 Following a series of robberies on the road to Hampstead on the night of Saturday 13 November 1773, Fielding dispatched two of his more experienced Runners, John Clarke and Richard Bond, in search of the culprits. As Clarke testified,
we went on the road that night, but finding nobody…, we went and searched disorderly houses; at the Three Tuns near Knave’s Acre, we found the four prisoners, and another man whose name is Scott. On searching Monro I found some shot in his pocket.176
Without any particularly damning evidence, or obvious reason to suspect them, the five men were arrested as ‘disorderly’ under the vagrancy laws and taken before Fielding the next morning. There, threatened with the possibility of being charged with a capital offence, one of the five turned king’s evidence and testified against the others. It was only the inability of the victim to provide a positive identification that prevented the remaining four from being convicted and possibly sentenced to death.
The Runners inspired fear and loathing among plebeian Londoners. When John Davis, who claimed he had gone to a house to collect some money for mending a step in March 1774, heard that ‘Sir John Fielding’s men’ had come to the house, he ran ‘down stairs’ in panic, later explaining to the court that ‘I did not care to be in their mess; I should not like to meet them any where, much less in a house’.177 His fear is understandable: the house in question was full of coiners, and Davis was arrested and convicted along with six others. Not surprisingly the Runners always worked in pairs or larger groups, both to avoid attack and to ensure that any evidence given in court could be confirmed by a witness who could be trusted to tell a consistent story.178
Fielding also attracted criticism in the public press. Robert Hollowa y, his embittered critic, highlighted the Runners’ tendency to make arrests on inadequate evidence in his 1773 polemic, The Rat-Trap . When a crime was reported to a rotation office, he claimed, ‘the lucky incident gives opportunity for our cautious magistrates to suspect whom they please … what is infinitely more oppressive, this hideous power is delegated to every runner and thief-taker in the office’. As a result, four out of ten suspects were ‘wrongly committed, of course unlawfully; and most of these commitments under the pernicious pretext of suspicion’.179 More damagingly, Holloway claimed that some of these innocent men were actually convicted and executed, citing the cases of Thomas Grear and Thomas Younger. In September 1773 the Morning Chronicle reported that these two men, executed on 11 August, were in fact innocent, following the information on oath of a man named Lane, a ‘very old offender’, that he and his accomplices had committed the horrific burglary of which Grear and Younger were convicted (both female victims were woken and threatened by a ‘gang’ of armed robbers).180 Claiming that such executions of the innocent were not unusual, the paper concluded that this was a case ‘so defenceless, bloody and cruel, that we can call it no other than an absolute murder’.181
In addition, in a series of anonymous articles on ‘The Police’ in the Oxford Magazine between 1769 and 1772 written by a supporter of John Wilkes, Fielding was criticised for focusing only on the most serious offences, while ignoring the vice and petty misdemeanours which encouraged crime: ‘Sir John Fielding’s is a transporting and hanging system of Police’.182 Pulling no punches, the author identified the area around Fielding’s Bow Street office as one of the worst in London:
Covent Garden, the applauded seat of justice, where his worship is so hurried with informations, pursuits, commitments, compromises and discharges, … is the most abominable, the most detestable sink of iniquity, that ever disgraced any reputable city.183
Four years later, in A Letter to Sir John Fielding (criticising his request to David Garrick to stop staging the Beggar’s Opera because it allegedly encouraged crime), William Augustus Miles made the same complaint. He told Fielding he was ‘up to your very chin … in all manner of vice … It is generally imagined, Sir, that a reformation in your neighbourhood would be the means of lessening the number of public executions, and, in my opinion, you ought to have begun with Bow Street.’184
In his testimony to the 1770 parliamentary committee, Fielding had acknowledged the proliferation of brothels and prostitutes in Covent Garden as a problem, but he blamed the failure to suppress them on deficiencies in the law and resistance from those prosecuted. However, the author of ‘The Police’ attributed Fielding’s failure to act to baser motives, alleging that both Fielding and his patrons in government profited from vice: ‘the civil magistrate is pensioned by bawds, pimps, whores, vintners, and gamblers’.185 It was also alleged that he allowed disorderly houses to remain open so that his Runners could use them as sources of information about the perpetrators of more serious crimes.186 More damning still was the implication that he allowed petty offenders to become increasingly delinquent until their crimes were serious enough for the Runners to obtain rewards for their convictions. This was the explanation given by one of his biographers for why John Rann was allowed to commit so many crimes before he was eventually arrested: he was ‘the constant prey of a set of miscreants’ (the Runners) and ‘had been a long time marked down by them for Blood Money’.187
These criticisms effectively bracketed the Bow Street Runners with the independent thief-takers who continued to practise in other parts of the city. In 1772 Holloway observed, ‘The world, in general, conceive no very favourable opinion of the morals or humanity of a thief-taker, and from this notion the rotation-office in Bow-street is held some little distance from a tabernacle of righteousness’.188 These accusations left Fielding and his Runners open to challenge, and some of the defendants he prosecuted at the Old Bailey used this tactic to attempt to undermine the cases against them. Direct accusations of corruption proved largely unsuccessful in court, but arguments that Fielding and his officers had used improper means to obtain evidence were given more credence.189 Samuel Stevens was charged with receiving a stolen ‘swish whip’ in 1767. In his defence, he testified that the Runners told him:
you may as well tell where it is, you have put it out of the way. They … took me to a public-house, and wanted to get something out of me. They are some of Sir John Fielding’s people, and live by what they can make that way.190
He was acquitted, as was Christopher Broaders, who had been taken to the Brown Bear the previous year by the Runner John Heley. At Broaders’s trial, Heley testified that ‘he told him, I must search him; at first he refused it; we were forced to tie him to search him’.191
In spite of the criticisms levelled against him, Fielding’s focus on convicting serious offenders, rather than on preventing crime through the prosecution of minor offences, intensified in the 1770s when he stopped signing large numbers of recognizances for petty crimes.192 In the 1750s he and his brother Henry had pioneered the use of extensive pre-trial hearings and re-examinations of suspected felons at Bow Street as a means of sifting out weak cases and building up those which had the potential to result in a conviction. These procedures were further elaborated in the 1760s when John Fielding began to advertise re-examinations of suspects, held each Wednesday, as a means of encouraging additional witnesses to come forward. In 1772 he built a courtroom at Bow Street incorporating substantial galleries designed to attract both the public and the press. The claim that ‘above a thousand people had assembled at Bow Street’ to see John Rann examined in 1774 was no doubt an exaggeration, but it reflects the publicity these hearings achieved.193
These practices, as Beattie has argued, created ‘a new stage in pre-trial procedure’, bypassing the 300-year-old Marian bail statute and creating a magistrate-led investigatory hearing firmly within Fielding’s control. In the process he subverted the role of the jury in the subsequent Old Bailey trial. This innovation raised the hackles of some contemporary commentators, who objected that jurors could be swayed by the press reports, that defendants were forced to reveal their defence strategies in advance of their trials and that prosecutors were able to fine-tune their testimonies to ensure a conviction.194 In 1773 William Augustus Miles questioned Fielding’s ’impartiality, and the propriety of erecting a tribunal in your own house’. He suggested that by devoting his efforts to seeking convictions, rather than justice, Fielding had ‘degraded’ his office ‘into that of a petty-fogger’ and had become an ‘inquisitor general’ who treated the ‘miserable objects’ who appeared before him as ‘the sport of your unfeeling auditors and an abandoned rabble’.195
Many victims and prosecutors, however, responded to the perceived success of this new orchestration of justice by bringing their complaints to Bow Street, ensuring that Fielding became ‘the most active magistrate in Middlesex’. Between 1767 and 1773, his office accounted for half of all commitments to trial at the Old Bailey.196 No doubt buoyed by his popularity among the victims of crime, Fielding continued these practices until his death in September 1780, though his successors were forced to abandon them shortly thereafter.
Some of Fielding’s procedures, particularly having justices attend his ‘office’ by rotation, keeping it open for long hours and using regular ‘runners’ to make arrests, were imitated by justices in other parts of the metropolis. Saunders Welch, a protégé of Henry Fielding and rival of John, established a short-lived office in Litchfield Street, just west of Bow Street, in the late 1750s. And in 1763, at the urging of John Fielding and in response to a petition from fifty-seven Middlesex justices, the Middlesex bench established offices for justices in Clerkenwell, Shoreditch, Whitechapel and Shadwell.197 Known as ‘public offices’ or ‘rotation offices’, these had no government funding and were entirely dependent on the fees charged for executing judicial business. Instead of hiring men to serve as ‘runners’ to carry out detective work and apprehend suspects, they relied on unpaid thief-takers, who depended on rewards for their income (they were nevertheless called ‘runners’).198
However, this model of justice did not appeal to everyone. In spite of attempts by some justices to channel all judicial business to the rotation offices, others refused to cooperate.199 Charles Palmer, an enthusiastic supporter, complained in a series of private letters that several of his colleagues defied the resolutions in order to continue profiting from judicial business: ‘where a shilling is to be got Law and Gospel is forgot’.200 But these justices in their turn argued that the plaintiffs who brought their complaints to them preferred to conduct their business in a more private manner, beyond the public gaze, because this privacy allowed the justices to tailor their judgements to the specific circumstances of each case. Ironically, in this case it was the rotation offices, with their reliance on thief-takers, that rapidly attracted a reputation for corruption.201 Even the Middlesex bench came to recognise that there were serious problems. Prompted by the misbehaviour of Justice John Gretton, who attended a ‘public office’ on Cambridge Street, the justices reported to the Lord High Chancellor in 1778 concerning
sundry Instances of Oppression illegal practice and other misbehaviour in certain of the acting Magistrates keeping Public Offices in those parts of the County that are adjacent to London and therefore the most populous … the said Magistrates with the assistance of their Clerks and a number of infamous persons called Runners … had a considerable time past been raising a Revenue to themselves to the great Disgrace of Justice.202
In the course of their petition to have Gretton removed from the commission, the justices outlined several instances where they claimed Gretton had extracted fines from people for ‘Breach[es] of and Disobedience to Statutes that never were enacted and Laws that do not exist’.
At stake were not only actual corruption and competition over the profits of judicial office but also fundamentally contrasting notions of justice, and of the relationship between magistrates and plebeian London. On the one side was Fielding’s ‘transporting and hanging’ system of police, and the rotation office justices and runners who followed in his footsteps. On the other were those justices, long known as ‘trading justices’, who in response to demands from plebeian Londoners chose to follow traditional justicing methods and, like Ralph Hodgson in his relations with the coalheavers, to cater for the needs of their poorer neighbours.203 These justices, often men of lower status than the gentlemen who traditionally served, adopted a flexible and local approach to the administration of justice, welcoming complaints from the poor and resolving them informally wherever possible. As one observer complained in 1758, Middlesex justices ‘are no sooner appointed than some of them open shops, contiguous to their trade and employments, for the distribution of justice’.204 With so many justices acting in such a small geographical area, complainants were able to choose justices who offered the cheapest and most flexible services, avoiding rotation office justice in favour of that offered by magistrates sympathetic to their circumstances and complaints. While these justices were often accused of encouraging disputes (to create business) and corruption, recent research suggests that few acted illegally and that in fact ‘what contemporaries found troubling in the trading justices was their devotion to judicial business’. In any case, their understanding of justice was markedly different from Fielding’s.205
Even some of the actions of the disgraced John Gretton can be seen as responses to the demands of the often poor plaintiffs who appeared before him. When he issued an apparently illegal summons (because there was no statutory basis for the offence) to Elizabeth Jones ‘for unlawfully refusing to give the complainant a Character’, the victim was her servant, Ann Drury, whose future employment depended on the character Gretton sought to force from the reluctant hand of Jones.206 While their detractors saw in the dramatically increasing activity of trading justices from the mid-1760s little more than venality and corruption, it should be viewed instead as a reflection of a growing demand for personalised judicial services from a population alienated from the new variety of justice being dispensed at the rotation offices and Bow Street.207 Norma Landau has demonstrated that the recognizance, a simple legal instrument which bound over the accused to appear at sessions to answer charges, was used by the trading justices to settle disputes informally, and thus the number of recognizances issued represents a crude measure of the volume of such judicial activity.208 In this context, the fact that the total number of recognizances issued by Middlesex justices began growing rapidly in the early 1760s is significant. By 1775 this number had increased by more than half since 1760 and stood at over 2,000 per year, a pattern of growth that continued almost without interruption until the passage of the Middlesex Justices Act in 1792.209 As Fielding and his imitators adopted an increasingly strident approach to punishing crime, many Londoners, and particularly the poor, opted for a different form of justice, thereby encouraging the growth of trading justices. This was particularly true in the east end, an area where both rotation offices and trading justices prospered and the competition for judicial business (as we have seen in the case of labour disputes) was intense.210
For those apprehended by the Bow Street Runners and subjected to Fielding’s public examinations, however, going to another justice was not an option. Since almost half of all Old Bailey trials in this period resulted from Bow Street commitments, and since convictions were much more likely when the Runners testified, those targeted by them increasingly resorted to desperate measures to avoid arrest.211 In response to the Runners’ new tactic of using ‘Post Chaises … to apprehend Highwaymen & footpads’, for instance, it was claimed that ‘the robbers fearful of being apprehended by such Thief takers have lately made it a Practise first to fire into the Carriages they intend to stop, tending … to Introduce Murder to Robbery’.212
However, for men and women caught up in Fielding’s systematic methods of prosecution, the only effective theatre of resistance was at the Old Bailey. As we have seen, some defendants attempted to discredit their accusers by accusing them of mercenary motives and corruption, or by playing on procedural irregularities. In addition, and continuing a now well-established trend, the early 1770s saw a significant number of defendants employing legal counsel. In response to Fielding’s aggressive examinations at Bow Street, many suspects began to have legal representation at their pre-trial hearings, where lawyers ‘ask[ed] questions and in other ways [became] involved on behalf of defendants’.213 Unsurprisingly, many of these same defendants were subsequently represented by counsel at their formal trials. While the published Proceedings did not routinely report the presence of counsel until the next decade, and virtually never explicitly named them in this period, the proportion of trials where there is clear reference to the presence of defence counsel was 5.3 per cent between 1770 and 1776; the real figure was undoubtedly considerably higher.214 Among defendants, legal representation was becoming an expectation. When defending herself in court against an accusation of shoplifting in 1777, Sarah Armstrong, a washerwoman, plaintively asked the court, ‘As I have no counsel, will your lordship please to hear what I have to say?’215 In response to new policing strategies, plebeian Londoners encouraged the growth of two alternative forms of justice: the primarily discretionary private decision-making of trading justices, and the public, adversarial contests at the Old Bailey.
If one response to the crime wave following the Seven Years War was to introduce new methods of policing, we might expect these to be accompanied by new penal strategies. However, the only substantial developments, in fact, were an increase in the use of the traditional punishment of whipping, and a gradual and incremental drift away from transportation and towards greater use of imprisonment. In 1765 the proportion of convicts sentenced to transportation reached one of its highest levels in the century, 73.1 percent of all sentences, but this gradually declined over the next decade, with the exception of a short-lived peak in 1771. By 1775 transportation accounted for little more than half, 55.1 per cent, of all sentences.216
Even before transportation was interrupted by the outbreak of war with the colonies, judges were losing faith in it, at least in part owing to the contempt with which some convicts treated the sentence. In 1766 Elizabeth Martin explained her motives for ‘stealing a silver spoon’ to a servant in Newgate: ‘I’ll tell you the reason of it; I have a husband that is to be transported from Maidstone, and I want to know how I can go along with him.’217 Her first attempt to secure a sentence of transportation failed, resulting instead in whipping and a rebuke from the Recorder of London. Undeterred, however, she appeared at the following sessions under a different name, Elizabeth Strut, and was convicted of stealing a pair of linen sheets.218 This time she had her wish and was duly sentenced to transportation. Strut, of course, was atypical; most convicts had no desire to be sent to America, but the punishment no longer induced fear. According to Robert Stephens, the turnkey of Maidstone gaol, when John Smith stood trial in the summer of 1773 and was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation, he told him ‘he did not care, America should not hold him fourteen years, nor two neither’.219 He was true to his word, and within eighteen months Smith was back in London and on trial for returning from transportation.
Source: Old Bailey Online: Statistics: Punishments by year, 1763–1776, counting by defendant.
Online dataset: Punishment Statistics 1690-1800 (xlsx)
The number of convicts who were tried at the Old Bailey for returning from transportation in the years 1763–76, forty-seven, may not seem large, but they formed the tip of an iceberg of returnees and, at 3.4 defendants per year, amounted to almost double the annual average (1.8) for the period 1748–62. Ekirch has argued that ‘a great majority of fugitives succeeded in escaping detection’, and there is some evidence that, as the number and speed of ships crossing the Atlantic increased, so did the problem of returned convicts. In 1773 John Hewitt observed that ‘there are more returned transports at this time in the Kingdom than known before’.220 Some convicts even returned twice, taking advantage of the fact that most of those sentenced to death for returning were subsequently pardoned on condition of an even longer period of transportation. William Hughes, for instance, was transported for seven years for stealing a silk handkerchief in 1771, but then arrested in London a year later.221 Convicted of returning, he was once again transported, on this occasion for fourteen years, but he made his way back to London within two. By this time the authorities had lost patience and he was executed.
Others found that transportation could be avoided altogether. Six of those tried for ‘returning’ in these years had never actually made it to America, having escaped before leaving the country. Others exploited the apparent ease of obtaining pardons for their original offences or for the crime of returning from transportation.222 John Fielding complained to the secretary of state that ‘free pardons for offenders under sentence of transportation’ and ‘the mercy lately shown to several notorious offenders convicted of returning from transportation’ had ‘to his certain knowledge [led to] some very daring robbers [having] been let loose to the terror of society’. Fielding went on to claim that these pardons resulted from ‘strong application[s] (deceitfully obtained)’.223 John Hawkins, chairman of the Middlesex sessions from 1765 to 1781, made a similar complaint two years later. The Middlesex justices, Hawkins told the secretary, were ‘frequently defied by those whom they commit for Offences’, who told them ‘You may do your worst for I know how to get a pardon’.224 Hawkins claimed that it was widely recognised that ‘your Lordship’s Office has been the fountain and well Spring of forgiveness; this the Newgate Solicitors and other agents for convicts have found out’.
One of the cases Hawkins cited to substantiate his assertion concerned Thomas Erskine, convicted of fraud at the Middlesex sessions and sentenced to transportation in 1772.225 When he returned, he was ‘pardoned upon condition of transporting himself’ again, but, Hawkins wrote, ‘as I and everyone else expected’ he returned a second time.226 Following his arrest in March 1774, Erskine’s trial was postponed twice owing to the absence of a key witness, and when he was finally tried for returning from transportation in July 1774, he was acquitted and walked free. It is very likely that the growing reluctance to sentence convicts to transportation in the 1770s resulted from a recognition of convicts’ ability to subvert the punishment, even before the North American colonists rendered the system unworkable in 1776. From 1769 the authorities began to look for new destinations for transported convicts, in order to make it more difficult for them to return home.227
The judges may also have been influenced by the arguments of penal reformers for the use of imprisonment as an alternative punishment, for reforming convicts. In the 1760s and 1770s, Jonas Hanway and others began advocating the use of solitary confinement, hard labour and religious instruction to reform criminals, in part reflecting beliefs and practices that had become commonplace in contemporary discussions of the role of workhouses in reforming the idle poor, and houses of correction in punishing minor offenders. Also influenced by evangelical beliefs and the work of Cesare Beccaria, several commentators appealed to the possibility of inculcating labour discipline among more serious offenders, and engendering ‘a true sense [of their] duty to God and Society’.228
These ambitions could not be realised in existing prisons, and yet for the most part the prison rebuilding that marked these years was more concerned with keeping prisoners alive and secure than in reforming them. Problems of poor sanitation had been highlighted by the outbreak of ‘gaol fever’ in Newgate prison in April 1750, while regular escapes by prisoners repeatedly raised the problem of security. More fundamentally, prison culture clearly stood in the way of any programme of reform. Ultimately, the conditions and behaviour of prisoners had more influence than the reformers over the character of the rebuilding programme.
In the first instance, concerns about the health of prisoners provided the driving force behind the City’s efforts to rebuild Newgate prison. These began almost immediately after 1750, but made little progress until prompted by a new outbreak in 1763, which killed between fourteen and twenty-two people (reports differ). The distemper was ‘all over the Gaol’, and in April 1764 the City petitioned parliament for funding.229 In 1767 it obtained £50,000, and in 1769 work began. Plans for the new prison included an infirmary, reflecting the role of health concerns even before the passage of the Health of Prisoners Act of 1774.230
However, with its massive hundred-metre-long windowless external façade composed of large rusticated stones, the design of the new prison suggests security and the prevention of escapes was also a driving force behind the design of the new building. There had been attempted escapes from the old prison in 1762 and 1763 (when groups of prisoners sawed through their irons),231 and November 1769, when Thomas Dunk, charged with multiple highway robberies, ‘formed a design to break the goal open, and set the prisoners at liberty; which they partly executed, and would in a very short time have compleated, were it not for the great attention, and watchful care of the master of the prison’.232 The prisoners had made a copy of a key to an unused room, and then, using a ‘small crow or tool of iron’ brought into the prison by Dunk’s mother, ‘filed and cut almost every bar in the window’.233
In Middlesex, where the justices downplayed health issues, security was an even greater concern. The lesser-known Gatehouse prison in Westminster, which held state prisoners, felons and petty offenders, had even more commitments ‘than to Newgate’ and was the subject of several complaints in this period.234 Its dilapidated state in 1763 allowed Edmond Collins and William Matthison to escape by breaking ‘through the Stone wall of the said Prison under the Gateway’, and in April 1770 John Fielding told a House of Commons Committee that the prison was ‘too small for the Number, and too weak for the safe Custody of Prisoners’.235 It was pulled down in 1776, and the prisoners transferred to the Westminster house of correction in Tothill Fields.
Outside Westminster, Middlesex prisoners were committed to two adjoining prisons in Clerkenwell: New Prison and the county house of correction. By this period both included a substantial number of felons awaiting trial, accounting for 55 per cent of the commitments to New Prison and 36 per cent of those to the house of correction, and these prisoners were considered particularly likely to escape.236 Both buildings dated back to the previous century, and in 1772 the Middlesex justices resolved that:
The two gaols of New Prison and the House of Correction at Clerkenwell are greatly out of repair and in so weak and insecure a state as not to be sufficient for the safe custody of felons and others necessarily from time to time confined therein.237
Continuing a pattern dating from at least the 1750s, there were a number of escapes and attempted escapes from both prisons. In 1766 Martha Pitt smuggled in ‘one Iron Chissell one large Gimblet one Flint & Steel one Iron Tobacco Box with Tinder & six Matches (being Instrumts. proper to facilitate the Escape of Prisoners)’ to Edward Hempston, then held in the house of correction on suspicion of felony.238 Hempston’s escape attempt appears to have failed, but in 1775 Thomas Green alias Smart, a bucklemaker accused of coining, used ‘two spring saws, and a woman’s dress’, smuggled in by his wife, to saw through his irons and leave the jail in disguise.239 That same year seven prisoners, including serial escapee Michael Swift, escaped by ‘breaking through a brick wall into the Governor’s garden’.240
In May 1772, ambitious plans for new buildings covering a much larger site were drawn up. Although they incorporated a reforming agenda in the guise of facilities for ‘every fitting kind of hard labour’, the justices eventually rejected these in favour of a less ambitious plan designed to address security issues alone.241 A new committee of justices was appointed to oversee these repairs and ensure they were ‘sufficient for the safe Custody of the Felons’, with the proviso that ‘no additional building be made or more ground covered than at present’.242 The justices tackled New Prison first, as the prison most in need of repair, and, in order to increase security, the committee almost immediately exceeded its brief by proposing (and securing permission) to enlarge the building. The ‘felons room’ was placed two stories higher and extended by ten feet, and the keeper’s apartment was extended by twenty feet, in order to ‘more Effectually tend to the safe Custody of the prisoners confined therein’. In addition, fetters were purchased for ‘the security of such felons as are committed to New Prison there being none at that Gaol belonging to the County’.243
These changes were completed by September 1775, when the justices were advised to ‘commit in future all persons charged with felony or suspicion thereof’ to New Prison, so that ‘the House of Correction may be solely appropriated to the punishment of the Idle and disorderly’. The committee was ‘the more earnest in this recommendation’,
as it will be a means of preventing the greater Offenders having intercourse with those committed for lesser crimes and thence avoid that contamination of manners and morals which is but too frequent in those Goals in which the Prisoners are promiscuously confined.244
The desire to prevent prisoners from associating with those who might corrupt them is another theme running through the prison reforms of this period, as attempts were made to make prison culture less subversive. In part, this issue was elided with health concerns about ‘contagion’, but it also related to the security problem because when prisoners congregated they planned illegitimate activities. To address this issue, the anonymous author of the letters on ‘The Police’ in the Oxford Magazine recommended in 1770 that the rebuilt Newgate prison should include ‘a reasonable number of separate cells for criminals, that the evil consequences to society of their associating together, and living merrily in Newgate, as some of the hardened wretches have termed it, may be prevented’.245 Some advocates of solitary confinement focused on its supposed spiritual benefits, but the reformer John Howard echoed the opinion of this correspondent in also citing the importance of preventing escapes: ‘The separation I am pleading for, especially at night, would prevent escapes, or make them very difficult: for that is the time in which they are generally planned, and effected’.246
However, the open nature of the unreformed prisons facilitated the evolution of a culture that went well beyond the plotting of escapes or further crimes; it provided a context for mutual support. At its most extreme, in the debtors prisons, inmates banded together to challenge the very legality of their incarceration.247 In other prisons, they devised and shared survival strategies and tactics for courtroom defence. During the visits to London’s prisons which resulted in his 1776 book, State of the Gaols in London, Westminster, and Borough of Southwark, William Smith noted the ‘mixture of generosity and some traces of goodness in some of the most wretched of the human species’, evident in the fact that felons shared their food with one another. While Smith was impressed with this form of prisoner association, he also worried about the consequences of prisoners congregating, as ‘by such means they form into companies, and become more formidable to society… under no pretence whatever should any two or more felons be suffered to associate, even for one minute’.248
With the exception of the condemned cells in Newgate used for those awaiting execution, there were no solitary cells in London until the opening of a new Middlesex house of correction, Cold Bath Fields, in 1794. But in the early 1770s some efforts were made to separate prisoners by type of offence and sex, as is evident in the attempt to exclude felons from the Clerkenwell house of correction. Although the rebuilt Newgate prison would not include individual cells (except as replacements for the existing condemned cells), there were separate quadrangles for debtors, male felons and female felons. Southwark house of correction, rebuilt in 1773, had separate wards for men, women and apprentices.249 Prisoners awaiting trial at the Old Bailey were kept separate from the public by the construction in 1774 of ‘a Screen upon the Circular Wall of the [rebuilt] Sessions House intended to prevent Communication between the Publick and the Prisoners’.250
As a result of financial concerns, but also owing to more pressing worries about escapes, London’s governors largely failed to implement, or even fully discuss, a substantial programme of prison reform in this period. Instead, they beefed up security in new or rebuilt prisons and adopted relatively simple systems of segregating prisoners. Perhaps in consequence, and despite a gradual shift in sentencing practices, the Old Bailey judges remained reluctant to sentence convicts to incarceration. Imprisonment continued to be rarely imposed; as a proportion of all sentences it only increased from 0.6 per cent in 1763 to 3.7 per cent in 1773–5, before the suspension of transportation forced a radical shift in sentencing strategies. Judges were still unwilling to use this punishment on its own, or for the most serious offences. Imprisonment was typically only imposed in combination with a fine or branding, and the offences involved (grand larceny, 16.85%; fraud, 15.7%; coining, 12.4%; and manslaughter, 11.2%) were not the most threatening. With hindsight these sentencing patterns appear to herald an important shift in penal strategy, but advocates of reformatory imprisonment had as yet had little impact. A traditionally restive prison culture made existing prisons problematic places for punishment and demanded more immediate fixes to security problems. Through escapes and the threatening ‘contagion’ of a shared prison culture, the prisoners helped ensure that reform was delayed.
In the spring of 1776, two of the men hanged at Tyburn were Thomas Henman and Benjamin Harley.251 Both were coalheavers from Deptford, who had lived in lodgings on Church Street and supplemented their meagre earnings by hurrying smuggled goods on their way. There is no evidence that either participated in the industrial unrest or riots of the preceding decade, and their employers provided character witnesses at their trial. However, in May 1776 they were found guilty of the brutal murder of a customs officer, Joseph Pierce, who had been beaten to death by a gang of men including Edward or Gypsy George Lovell, and two brothers, Benjamin and Robert Harley, in company with Henman.252 One of the gang, Samuel Whiting, turned king’s evidence and ensured that first Henman and Benjamin Harley, and later Gypsy George and Robert Harley, were convicted and sentenced to hang and to be dissected. Much of the trial evidence concerned the discussions between prisoners in Newgate and the Clerkenwell house of correction, in which one or other of the main witnesses were shown to have retracted and changed their stories. Whiting had once allegedly declared that Henman and Benjamin Harley were as ’innocent as these iron bars’ of Newgate. Nonetheless, they would hang. But just like some convicted thieves and cutters, and the alleged murderers of Daniel Clarke, the two men maintained their innocence to their dying breath.253
Despite the confusion of evidence and retractions, the governors of London were confident enough in their authority and fearful enough of the threat posed by smugglers to execute these men, and then to go one step further. The lifeless body of one of them was first handed over to William Hunter and his students at the Royal College of Surgeons, before being passed on to the Royal Academy of the Arts, just around the corner from Bow Street. Here, Agostino Carlini turned judicial murder into art. As the body was seized in rigor mortis, Carlini, with Hunter’s assistance, stripped the skin from the flesh and posed the lifeless corpse as a gruesome caricature of a famous statue, before casting the figure in plaster of Paris. The pose Carlini chose was one many eighteenth-century connoisseurs were familiar with from Rome and the Grand Tour, and which they knew as the ‘dying gladiator’ – a slave, killed for entertainment.
Sitting at the centre of a worldwide empire, with the first third of the rebuilt Newgate prison ready to receive its cargo of malefactors, an emerging salaried police force managed by ambitious justices, and their parish workhouses and established bureaucracy of migration and labour control, London’s governors had a lot to be confident about. However, the forces that would forge a different trajectory were already in place, in the form of escapes from prison and in plebeian Londoners’ willingness to use large-scale collective action to pursue better conditions and an ill-defined ‘liberty’. They could be found in the strategies that leveraged increasing resources from reluctant parishes and in the self-confidence and anger of defendants willing to shop around for justice, to strategise and employ counsel in their defence or simply to intimidate witnesses. In these conflicts can be seen the beginnings of a crisis that would both bring down Newgate and force the pace of change in unanticipated directions. As implied by Samuel Whiting, the iron bars of Newgate prison may well have been ‘innocent’, but they could not entirely hold in check the aspirations and power of plebeian Londoners.
Leonard Schwarz, ‘The standard of living in the long run: London, 1700–1860’, Economic History Review, 2nd Series, 38:1 (1985), 40. See also E. A. Wrigley and R. S. Schofield, The Population History of England, 1541–1871: A Reconstruction (London: Edward Arnold, 1981), p. 643; Brian R. Mitchell, British Historical Statistics (Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 754–6.↩
J. H. Brazell, London Weather (London: HMSO, 1968), p. 9. See also ‘Historical weather events’, 7 Jan. 2014.↩
Based on all commitments listed in the Bridewell Court of Governors Minute Books from July 1772] to January 1774 (224 prisoners): LL, Bridewell Royal Hospital: Minutes of the Court of Governors, 9 July 1772 – 6 January 1774 (BBBRMG202080389 to 1774. These minute books list only those prisoners who happened to be in the prison on the days when the governors had their meetings.↩
LL, Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts, 14 October 1772 (OA177210147210140001); Andrea McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs: Execution in England 1675–1775 (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007), p. 265; Andrea McKenzie, ‘From true confessions to true reporting? The decline and fall of the Ordinary’s Account’, London Journal, 30:1 (2005), 55–70.↩
The Genuine Life of William Cox, who is Now Under Sentence of Death, in Newgate (5th edn, 1773), title page; The Only Authentic Life and Trial of William Cox ([1773?]), p. 31; A Genuine Account of the Life of John Rann, Alias Sixteen-String Jack ([1774?]), p. 3.↩
John Villette, The Annals of Newgate; or Malefactors Register, 4 vols. (1776), IV, pp. 379, 384; Genuine Account of … William Cox, p. 24; An Account of John Rann, Commonly Called Sixteen-String Jack ([1774?]), p. 23.↩
The key secondary works on the protests associated with Wilkes are George Rudé, Wilkes and Liberty: A Social Study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962); John Brewer, Party Ideology and Popular Politics at the Accession of George III (Cambridge University Press, 1981), ch. 9; Arthur Cash, John Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty (London and New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006). For the labour unrest, see C. R. Dobson, Masters and Journeymen: A Prehistory of Industrial Relations, 1717–1800 (London: Croom Helm, 1980); Walter J. Shelton, English Hunger and Industrial Disorders: A Study of Social Conflict during the First Decade of George III’s Reign (University of Toronto Press, 1973). Good surveys are provided by John Stevenson, Popular Disturbances in England: 1700–1832 (Harlow: Longman, 1992); Adrian Randall, Riotous Assemblies: Popular Protest in Hanoverian England (Oxford University Press, 2006).↩
The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, ed. W. S. Lewis, 48 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1937–83), XXXVIII, p. 560, Walpole to Earl of Hertford, 20 May 1765.↩
TNA, Treasury Solicitors Papers, TS11/818, King vs Doyle and Valline, King vs Horsford; Catherine Swindlehurst, ‘Trade expansion, social conflict and popular politics in the Spitalfields silkweaving community, c. 1670–1770’ (PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, 1999), pp. 269–304 passim.↩
BL, ‘Correspondence and papers of John Wilkes’, Add. Ms. 30884, f. 73 (August 1768).↩
Cash, John Wilkes, p. 266; Worcester Journal, 9 June 1768, cited in John Brewer, ‘The Wilkites and the law, 1763–74: a study of radical notions of governance’, in John Brewer and John Styles, eds., An Ungovernable People: The English and their Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (London: Hutchinson, 1980), p. 170.↩
BL, ‘Collections, historical, antiquarian, etc., made by Thomas Astle’, Add. Ms. 34712, f. 109, Saunders Welch, JP, to Lord Halifax (1765).↩
William Petty, 1st Marquis of Lansdowne, 2nd Earl of Shelburne papers, vol. 133, ff. 363–74, cited by Shelton, English Hunger and Industrial Disorders, pp. 188, 190; Richard Sheldon, ‘The London sailors’ strike of 1768’, in Andrew Charlesworth et al., eds., An Atlas of Industrial Protest in Britain 1750–1990 (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1996), p. 15.↩
TNA, State Papers Domestic: Letters and Papers, SP37/10, ff. 63, 68, 73, 97, 108 (13–23 April 1773), quote from f. 108.↩
LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 6 July 1768 (t17680706-57). For this dispute, see Shelton, English Hunger and Industrial Disorders, pp. 176–7.↩
John Wilkes subsequently obtained a copy of this letter and sent it to a newspaper: St James’s Chronicle, 8–10 December 1768, issue 1214 (Burney).↩
LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 6 July 1768 (t17680706-58); Cash, John Wilkes, pp. 223–4, 227.↩
Genuine Copies of all the Letters which Passed Between the Right Honourable The Lord Chancellor, and the Sheriffs of London and Middlesex … Relative to the Execution of Doyle and Valine (1770), p. 38.↩
These survive in Treasury papers for the years 1768–9 and include briefs against six Wilkites, twelve cutters and seventeen coalheavers, mostly for capital offences. TNA, Treasury Papers, ‘King vs. Greenwood and Hipgrave’ (August 1768), T1/468, ff. 261–73; Treasury Solicitors Papers, ‘Re: Prosecutions of the Spitalfields weavers re attacks on Spitalfields silk manufacturers’ (1768–9), TS11/818.↩
Public Advertiser, 26 July 1768, p. 2 (Burney).↩
Lloyd’s Evening Post, 4–6 Dec. 1769 (Burney).↩
London Chronicle, 5–7 December 1769 (Burney).↩
Lloyd’s Evening Post, 18–20 December 1769 (Burney).↩
PP, Journals of the House of Lords, 22 May 1765, p. 214.↩
Norma Landau, ‘The trading justice’s trade’, in Norma Landau, ed., Law, Crime and Society, 1660–1830 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 55–6, who states that the petitioners were members of the coal trade. See also Shelton, English Hunger and Industrial Disorders, pp. 172–5.↩
Dobson, Masters and Journeymen, chs. 6 and 9, passim.↩
TNA, ‘King vs. Murphy’ (1768), TS11/818, f. 10.↩
TNA, ‘King vs. Byrne and Dignam’ (1769), TS11/818. These two coalheavers were tried and convicted for participation in this riot at the Middlesex sessions.↩
TNA, SP37/8, ff. 110, 114 (1771).↩
Westminster Journal and London Political Miscellany, 13–20 July 1771; Middlesex Journal, 11–13 July 1771 (Burney).↩
TNA, SP37/10, f. 108 (23 April 1768).↩
R. Leslie-Melville, The Life and Work of Sir John Fielding (London: Lincoln Williams Ltd, 1935), pp. 181–4. We are grateful to Joanna Innes for this point.↩
PP, ‘Report from the Select Committee on the poor laws’, 1818, with an appendix, p. 9.↩
PP, ‘Abstracts of the returns made by the overseers of the poor’, 1777. This figure includes Middlesex and Westminster, and excludes the City. For England as a whole, the equivalent figure had grown by 122 per cent, reaching £1,529,780 in 1776. Inflation as measured by a retail price index, i.e. the cost of living, rather than wages, rose by 40 per cent in these years (safalra.com/other/historical-uk-inflation-price-conversion/, 15 Feb. 2014).↩
These figures are drawn from parish records. National returns for 1776 for this parish record a higher expenditure of £476.↩
Parliamentary returns record a slightly lower figure of £4,972 for this year.↩
The number of admittances reflects a complex amalgam of demand and supply, and does not reflect the number of people in the house at any one time. The admissions for the period were 1772: 1,212; 1773: 1,368; 1774: 1,021; 1775: 1,026 and 1776: 1,069.↩
PP, ‘Report from the committee appointed to inspect and consider the returns made by the overseers of the poor, in pursuance of Act of last session’, 1777, p. 399.↩
Public Advertiser, July 20, 1762, issue 8645 (Burney).↩
Lloyd’s Evening Post, 21–23 November 1763, issue 993 (Burney).↩
See in particular, Patty Seleski: ‘A mistress, a mother and a murderess too: Elizabeth Brownrigg and the social construction of the eighteenth-century mistress’, in Katherine Kittredge, ed., Lewd and Notorious: Female Transgression in the Eighteenth Century (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003), pp. 210–34; and Kristina Straub, ‘The tortured apprentice: sexual monstrosity and the suffering of poor children in the Brownrigg murder case’, in Laura J. Rosenthal and Mita Choudhury, eds., Monstrous Dreams of Reason: Body, Self, and Other in the Enlightenment (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2002), pp. 66–81.↩
For use of this phrase see Middlesex Journal or Chronicle of Liberty, February 22–24, 1770 (Burney).↩
Public Advertiser, September 10, 1767, issue 10251 (Burney).↩
LL, set, ‘Hannah Poole’. Although largely concerned with the early eighteenth century, the best account of the role of the parish nurse is Jeremy Boulton, ‘Welfare systems and the parish nurse in early modern London, 1650–1725’, Family & Community History, 10:2 (2007), 127–51.↩
See Dianne Payne, ‘Rhetoric, reality and the Marine Society’, London Journal, 30:2 (2005), 66–84; Sarah Lloyd, Charity and Poverty in England, c. 1680–1820: Wild and Visionary Schemes (Manchester University Press, 2009), ch. 5.↩
PP, ‘Report of the committee on the state of the parish poor children’, 1 May 1778, p. 7.↩
For a discussion of these returns as they relate to London in particular, see David Green, Pauper Capital: London and the Poor Law, 1790–1860 (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010), chs. 1 and 2.↩
Green, Pauper Capital, p. 46. The relatively few appeals between parishes evident in county records suggest that these kinds of informal agreements could have been in operation from as early as the 1720s.↩
LL, St Dionis Backchurch Parish: Miscellaneous Parish and Bridewell Papers, 3 December 1701 – 27 August 1817 (GLDBPM306050119). The earliest example of a ‘friendly pass’ that we can identify is on a printed form and dated 21 September 1772. LMA, St Peter Cornhill, ‘Removal orders, pass warrants and settlement examinations’, P69/PET1/B/029/MS04198.↩
This informal system also probably helps to explain the relatively low legal costs for London parishes recorded in the mid-1780s, when only 1.5 per cent of parish expenditure was spent on the administration of legal settlement. These figures are most easily consulted using the 1804 cumulative returns. See PP, ‘Abstract of the answers and returns … relative to the expence and maintenance of the poor in England’, 10 July 1804.↩
LMA, St Boltoph Aldgate, ‘Vestry minute books for the Middlesex part of the parish’, P69/BOT2/B/003/MS02642-43, cited by Pam Cross, ‘The operation of the workhouse in the parish of St Botolph Aldgate, c. 1734–1834’ (BA dissertation, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, 1990), p. 40.↩
Hanway, Earnest Appeal, p. 3; 11 Geo. III c. 22, ‘An Act to amend and render more effectual several acts made relating to … places within the City and liberty of Westminster and parts adjacent’; PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 32, 8 March 1770.↩
PP, House of Commons Sessional Papers, ‘Abstract of the returns made by the overseers of the poor’, 1776, p. 105.↩
The parish first started advertising its apprentices in 1785: Katrina Honeyman, Child Workers in England, 1780–1820: Parish Apprentices and the Making of the Early Industrial Labour Force (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 36, 59.↩
See Thomas Sokoll, ed., Essex Pauper Letters, 1731–1837 (Oxford University Press, 2001); Donna T. Andrew, ‘“To the charitable and humane”: appeals for assistance in the eighteenth-century London press’, in Hugh Cunningham and Joanna Innes, eds., Charity, Philanthropy and Reform from the 1690s to 1850 (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1998), pp. 87–107.↩
Historians have become increasingly sceptical about measuring literacy rates and have instead focused on the varied practices of using pen and print. See Susan Whyman, The Pen and the People: English Letter Writers, 1660–1800 (Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 104–11.↩
LMA, Foundling Hospital, ‘Register of children claimed, 28 March 1764 – 23 Jan. 1765’, A/FH/A/11/001/001.↩
LL, St Dionis Backchurch: Letters to Parish Officials Seeking Pauper Relief, 1758–9 (GLDBPR308000006) and (GLDBPR308000007). Note: the transcription of this difficult-to-read, phonetically spelled letter is inaccurate on the London Lives website, but the original document can also be viewed. The quotation has been corrected in the text cited here.↩
LL, St Dionis Backchurch: Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor Account Books, 1758–62, p. 122 (GLDBAC300070234) and 1729–62, p. 265 (GLDBAC300060536). The transcription of the relevant entry on page 265 is wrong; the original image says Jones was given £4. 4. 0.↩
For a comprehensive treatment of Kearney’s career, see Tim Hitchcock, Down and Out in Eighteenth-Century London (London: Hambledon and London, 2004), pp. 125–31.↩
Unless otherwise noted, material on Kearney is drawn from the LMA, ‘Papers relating to an application for parish poor relief by Paul Patrick Kearney, 1771’, P69/DIO/B/082/MS11280C; and LMA, St Dionis Backchurch, ‘Miscellaneous parish papers, vouchers, 1766–72’, P69/DIO/B/099 (old ref: Ms 11280 box 6).↩
Of course, it is unlikely this agreement would have stood the test of legal challenge, so Kearney was not giving anything up.↩
LL, St Clement Danes Parish: Pauper Settlement, Vagrancy and Bastardy Exams, 27 October 1772 – 17 May 1776 (WCCDEP358070248); St Clement Danes Parish: List of Securities for the Maintenance of Bastard Children, 14 April 1755 – 15 June 1779 (WCCDRR368000054).↩
Westminster Abbey Muniment Room, 13 May 1799, Ms. 660000.↩
Although prosecutions strongly imply this change in policy, no trace of a specific order to launch such a campaign has been identified.↩
Faramerz Dabhoiwala, ‘Summary justice in early-modern London’, English Historical Review, 121:492 (2006), 808–18. The figures Dabhoiwala reports for 1772 and 1773 are wrong, as is clear from the Minutes of the Court of Governors, which indicate higher figures (LL, Bridewell Royal Hospital: Minutes of the Court of Governors, 7 January 1762 – 15 March 1781 (BBBRMG20208), 9 July 1772, and following). The alternative figures he reports from the Annual Register for 1773 and 1774 are correct (Annual Register, 16 [Dec. 1773], p. 94; 17 [Dec. 1774], p. 108).↩
Each commitment to Bridewell was numbered in sequence from the start of the year, but the complaint and process that led to the commitment was only recorded when the Court of Governors was actually in session, and the Court met infrequently in this period. Since most prisoners were discharged before the Court met, we know the numbers committed, but the reason for the commitment in only a fraction of cases.↩
PP, ‘Report from the committee appointed to make enquiries relating to the employment, relief and maintenance of the poor, fourth schedule’, 21 May 1776, p. 67.↩
LMA, City of London: ‘City’s cash accounts’, COL/CHD/CT/01/050, f. 126; COL/CHD/CT/01/051, ff. 91–2; COL/CHD/CT/01/052, f. 203; COL/CHD/CT/01/053, ff. 107, 231.↩
LMA, ‘Journals of Common Council’, COL/CC/01/01/064, 15 February 1776, ff. 294–5; 14 March 1776, f. 298.↩
LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, October 1774 (LMSMPS506450198 and LMSMPS506450199). See also the case, in the same document, of Edward Maclauchlin.↩
LL, sets, ‘Mary Gardiner’ and ‘Michael Burke’. The uncertainties of record linkage make it difficult to be certain that in all these and similar cases the same names refer to the same individual, but it is very likely that this is true in at least some of these cases.↩
Audrey Eccles, Vagrancy in Law and Practice under the Old Poor Law (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2012), p. 56; and Decisions of the Court of King’s Bench, upon the Laws Relating to the Poor, 2 vols. (1793), II, pp. 788–91, Rex vs. Ringwould and St Lawrence Jewry vs. Edgeware. It is important to note that this judicial policy also allowed the counties to effectively wash their hands of any financial responsibility for vagrants once they had been delivered to the parish of supposed settlement.↩
PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 32, 10 April 1770, p. 882.↩
Morning Chronicle, 4 January 1773, issue 1129 (Burney).↩
In 1772, another woman hired an attorney to bring a charge of false imprisonment against a justice ‘for committing her to Clerkenwell bridewell to peal hemp for the space of twelve days without any lawful cause or reason whatever’, but the case collapsed when the woman appeared in court drunk. TNA, King’s Bench, ‘Crown side records: affidavits’, KB 1/19/2/1, bundle for Michaelmas 1772, #43, cited by Joanna Innes, ‘Statute law and summary justice in early modern England’ (unpublished paper, May 1986), p. 32. For the policing of prostitution in the City in the late eighteenth century, see Drew Gray, Crime, Prosecution and Social Relations: The Summary Courts of the City of London in the Late Eighteenth Century (Houndmills: Palgrave, 2009), pp. 126–35.↩
Elaine Reynolds, ‘Sir John Fielding, Sir Charles Whitworth, and the Westminster Night Watch Act, 1770–1775’, in Louis A. Knafla, ed., Policing and War in Europe (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002), pp. 1–19, quote from p. 4; 14 Geo. III c. 90, ‘An Act for the better regulation of the nightly watch and beadles within the City and liberty of Westminster, and parts adjacent’.↩
John Styles, ‘Sir John Fielding and the problem of criminal investigation in eighteenth-century England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 33 (1983), 127–49, quote from 148; John Beattie, The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750–1840 (Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 85.↩
Morning Chronicle, 6 September 1773 (Burney).↩
See, for instance, the case of William Halliburton (LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 11 December 1765 (t17651211-6)).↩
The Tower Division office resolved ‘not to transact any of the Business relating to the Office of a Justice of the Peace in or for the above Division at any of their Houses or any Office of a Justice of Peace or other Place than the place now agreed upon except Parochial Business and on emergent Occasions’. LL, Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court, 24 February 1763 – 13 January 1774 (LMSMGO556050014).↩
LMA, ‘Rotation Committee papers’, 28 June 1763.↩
BL, Add. Ms. 33053, f. 223 (1758).↩
Norma Landau, The Justices of the Peace, 1679–1760 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 184–6, 190.↩
These statistics dramatically underestimate the true number of trials where defence counsel were present: Robert Shoemaker, ‘Representing the adversary criminal trial: lawyers in the Old Bailey Proceedings, 1770–1800’, in David Lemmings, ed., Crime, Courtrooms and the Public Sphere in Britain, 1700–1850 (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 77–8.↩
LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 14 May 1777 (t17770514-4). For other examples, see Stephen Landsman, ‘The rise of the contentious spirit: adversary procedure in eighteenth-century England’, Cornell Law Review, 75 (1989–90), 648, n. 268.↩
An even more dramatic decline occurred in neighbouring Surrey: John Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England, 1660–1800 (Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 546.↩
A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, 1718–1775 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), p. 214; Hewitt quoted by Douglas Hay, ‘War, dearth and theft in the eighteenth century: the record of the English courts’, Past & Present, 95 (1982), 143.↩
According to John Howard, of thirty-one people found guilty at the Old Bailey of returning from transportation between 1749 and 1771, 29 per cent were either pardoned or died in gaol: An Account of the Principal Lazarettos in Europe (Warrington, 1789), p. 255.↩
Jonas Hanway, The Defects of Police the Cause of Immorality (1775), p. 214; Beattie, Crime and the Courts, pp. 548–59, 568–72.↩
Simon Devereaux, ‘Convicts and the state: the administration of criminal justice in Great Britain during the reign of George III’ (PhD dissertation, University of Toronto, 1997), pp. 131–3; 14 Geo. III c. 59, ‘An Act for preserving the health of prisoners in gaol’.↩
LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, April 1765 (LMSMPS505470111). For Samuel Johnson’s diatribe against the Gatehouse prison, see Ben Weinreb et al., The London Encyclopedia (London: Pan Macmillan, 2010), p. 321.↩
LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, May 1763 (LMSMPS505220041); PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 32, 10 April 1770, p. 880.↩
LMA, Middlesex Sessions: ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing the house of correction, Clerkenwell, and the New Prison, Clerkenwell’, MA/G/GEN/0001, vol. 1, p. 1 (22 April 1773).↩
LL, set, ‘Thomas Green’; Old Bailey Proceedings, 6 December 1775 (t17751206-74). He was recaptured and tried on the coining charges at the Old Bailey almost a year later. LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 16 October 1776 (t17761016-40).↩
LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing’, pp. 2–7 (28 April to 27 May 1773), pp. 38–9 (8 Dec. 1774).↩
LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing’, p. 73 (13 Sept. 1775).↩
H. D. Kalman, ‘Newgate Prison’, Architectural History, 12 (1969), 52; C. W. Chalklin, ‘The reconstruction of London’s prisons 1770–99: an aspect of the growth of Georgian London’, London Journal, 9:1 (1983), 27–8.↩
LMA, City of London: Sessions, ‘Committee for carrying into execution so much of the Act of parliament lately passed as relates to the rebuilding of the gaol of Newgate’, COL/CC/NGC/04/01/001, 20 April 1774, f. 140.↩