During the 1760s and early 1770s, plebeian Londoners nursed an accumulating sense of grievance. Innovations in policing and prosecution placed those suspected of crimes at a growing disadvantage, while new poor relief policies created an ever widening chasm between parish worthies and the dependent poor. Yet through both legal and illegal means, individually and collectively, plebeian Londoners had developed and refined effective tactics for challenging authority. In this febrile context, war with America broke out in 1775, a war whose far-reaching consequences would include not only an ideological crisis over the state of English liberties but also a fundamental renegotiation of social policy in the metropolis. The interruption of criminal transportation caused unprecedented chaos in the penal system and the creation of Britain’s first mass prison population. The hardships suffered by prisoners held for years in buildings designed for short-term incarceration, or in rotting hulks on a stinking Thames, laid the foundations for keenly felt grievances. Thousands of Londoners experienced, for the first time, the pressured boredom of long days spent in powerless proximity with people just like themselves: marked, like the vast majority of criminals, by their youth, poverty and ill-luck. In the process, and despite relatively favourable climatic and economic conditions (except following demobilisation in 1783), new patterns of resistance developed.
This chapter describes these new communities of resistance, solidified through long-term imprisonment and shared suffering following 1776; communities created at a time of intense political debate. It argues that it was the new-lived, and by 1780 widely shared, experience of mass imprisonment that transformed the Gordon Riots from an anti-Catholic protest into an organised proto-revolutionary series of attacks on the prisons of London. The origins of the reconfigured system of criminal justice and poor relief that followed can be found most fully in the experience of plebeian men and women forced into desperate dialogue with judges and turnkeys, overseers and churchwardens.
The suspension of transportation, caused by the outbreak of war with America in 1775, followed the growth of elite dissatisfaction with transportation over the previous decade. It nonetheless created an unprecedented penal crisis. A criminal justice system that for sixty years had shipped hundreds of London felons to North America each year was suddenly confronted by the need to guard and care for a population of convicts that grew month by month, with each meeting of the courts. And while some of the prisons which held them had been rebuilt or remodelled, all prisons remained inadequate to the task of securely holding large bodies of prisoners. The scale of the problem can be seen in the fact that in the previous decade, transportation had accounted for two-thirds of all sentences at the Old Bailey, amounting to an average of 263 convicts a year.1 The prisons quickly became overcrowded with convicts awaiting transportation, and new (it was hoped, temporary) arrangements had to be made. In justifying this to Edmund Burke in March 1776, the penal reformer William Eden said, ‘The fact is, our prisons are full, and we have no way at present to dispose of the convicts.’2 This overcrowding prompted the passage of the ‘Hulks Act’ in 1776, which authorised alternative punishments for those sentenced to transportation and currently languishing in prison.3 Male convicts were to be put to hard labour ‘improving the navigation of the Thames’, while female convicts, and men incapable of performing such physical work, were to be committed to houses of correction. The place where the men ordered to work on the Thames were to be incarcerated was not specified, but Duncan Campbell, the man awarded this contract (who had formerly contracted to transport convicts to America) decided to house them in disused ships, which became known as the hulks. The first two ships, the Justicia and the Censor, took on their first prisoners in August 1776. They too soon became crowded: Campbell reported in April 1778 that there were 370 men on board these vessels; the following year this had increased to 510, divided almost equally between them.4
Conditions on the hulks were intentionally poor. Despite the fact the prisoners were put to gruelling labour shifting gravel and soil on the banks of the Thames, the Act specified that the convicts were to be ‘fed and sustained with bread and any coarse or inferior food, and water or small beer’, and nothing else.5 When combined with the crowded conditions, the fact that some of the prisoners were already infected with gaol fever when they arrived, and the absence of a surgeon or apothecary on board ship, this poor nutrition led to frequent illness and death. In the first twenty months, over a quarter of the prisoners died (176 of 632); and 138 more perished in the following year.6 This high mortality attracted widespread criticism. When the prison reformer John Howard visited the convicts on the Justicia in October 1776, ‘he took two walks round them, and looked in the face of every individual person, and saw by their sickly looks, that some mismanagement was among them’. He inspected the food and reported that ‘all the biscuits were mouldy and green on both sides’, and noted that the convicts had no bedding. The resulting ‘depression of the spirits’ among the prisoners was frequently remarked upon by visitors to the ships, and Dodo Ecken, an assistant surgeon, reported ‘that he had known eight or ten of the convicts die merely of lowness of spirits’.7
Conditions improved in subsequent years, partly owing to pressure from the prisoners, who were able to communicate their grievances to visiting magistrates and doctors. Their escapes and mutinies also played a part. Campbell reported that following a mutiny of the prisoners in 1778 he increased the allowance of bread and other foodstuffs for the prisoners such that, he claimed, ‘the provisions allowed to the convicts were… better than laboring men usually had’.8 In order to address the problem of morale, pardons were offered to well-behaved prisoners, and in 1779 sick prisoners were removed to a separate hospital ship. But the hulks remained crowded, mortality rates remained high and the prisoners remained rebellious.
Stewart Erskine, the captain of the hulks, claimed that prisoners from the country were more likely to be ‘very much dejected’ than the London felons, and this makes sense. Prisoners from London had more friends, both on the hulks and outside, and were probably more able to organise resistance.9 When on board prisoners were confined below deck in large undivided spaces, while the small number of guards stayed above, giving prisoners plenty of opportunities to plot escapes.10 Left to their own devices, and experiencing horrific conditions, this is just what they did. There were four mass escapes in the first few months of the hulks, at least one more in 1777, and a mutiny in September 1778 called the ‘insurrection’ by contemporaries. Perhaps consciously following in the tradition of riverside labour unrest last seen ten years earlier, about 150 prisoners working on the shore of the Thames armed themselves and attempted to force their way past the guards to escape. In the ensuing battle two were killed and seven or eight more were wounded.11 While none got away, Treasury papers indicate that between 1778 and 1780 forty prisoners did manage to escape.12 Although many were not recaptured, between 1776 and 1780 seventeen escapees were put on trial at the Old Bailey, including one, John White alias Stephen Broadstreet , who escaped twice, in 1777 and 1780, and who would later be active in the Gordon Riots. In their defence, the prisoners justified their actions by the terrible conditions on board.13 Thomas Farmer , who escaped on 7 November 1776, pleaded with the court to sentence him to service in the navy rather than return him to the hulks, since he was ‘afraid I shall be cruelly used on board this ship again’.14 More explicitly, Michael Swift , convicted of shooting at boatswain Charles West during the ‘insurrection’, justified his actions by telling the court that ‘The usage of the place is enough to make any man try to escape; they not only starve them, but murther them’.15
The interconnections between the escapees testify to the development of a culture of resistance on the hulks. Charles Drake, described in the Public Advertiser as an American by birth, who had a long criminal record and had escaped from one of the hulks in December 1777, shared experiences with, and probably knew, three other escapees.16 When he was first convicted of the theft of a silver watch in April 1776, he, along with several other prisoners convicted of grand larceny, was sent back to Newgate to remain until the May sessions, while the government worked out what to do with prisoners who would previously have been sentenced to transportation. One of the prisoners who shared that experience, and who was also sentenced to branding in May, was Thomas Farmer, who, following another conviction which resulted in his commitment to the hulks, escaped in November of the same year.17 Michael Swift, who was sentenced along with Drake to the hulks in January 1777, was also a past and future escapee.18 He had escaped from Clerkenwell house of correction in October 1776, and would later escape from the hulks in June 1778. Soon recaptured, his rebellious mood was no doubt contagious; four months later, as noted, he was a participant in the ‘insurrection’.
Note: This database and graph do not include reports of ‘several persons’ escaped from Newgate prison in 1778; ‘divers prisoners’ from New Prison twice in 1781; and ‘several’ escapees from Newgate prison in 1782. No systematic record of escapes survives, and these figures, derived from a wide range of sources, should be considered as indicating a minimum.
Online dataset: Escapes 1776-1786 (xlsx)
While the hulks would continue to be used into the nineteenth century to meet the continuing need for extra prison accommodation for those awaiting transportation, this convict resistance was one of the reasons, in addition to disease, why the authorities rapidly lost faith in them as anything other than an unsatisfactory stopgap and sought to limit their use.19 In 1779 the Penitentiary Act restricted the power to sentence offenders to the hulks to judges at the Old Bailey and the assize courts. The Middlesex justices, who had sentenced 86 prisoners to the hulks between July 1776 and February 1779, mostly for petty larceny, lost this option.20 Felons also became less likely to be committed there, as the average population of the hulks, which peaked at 508 in 1779, declined steadily to only 199 in 1783.21 The last convict sentenced directly to the hulks at the Old Bailey in the 1780s was Charles Manning, convicted of highway robbery in April 1784.22 The House of Commons committee which met in the spring of 1779 to consider the fate of convicts previously transported noted recent improvements to the hulks, but recommended the resumption of transportation for the most serious offenders as soon as it became feasible, and imprisonment at hard labour for ‘the class of convicts heretofore liable to transportation’ who were not strong enough for ‘any severer punishment’. Having marked the many deficiencies of the hulks, the committee recommended that these convicts should instead be kept in ‘solitary confinement … [with] well-regulated labour, and instruction’; essentially in a new form of prison – a penitentiary.23
Even when the hulks were still an acceptable penal option, not all convicts could be accommodated on them. In addition to female convicts and the men deemed incapable of hard physical work, both of whom were sentenced to houses of correction, many other men were incarcerated in London’s prisons simply because the hulks did not have space for them. The same House of Commons committee reported that in April 1779 243 convicts were incarcerated in the city’s prisons, including 84 in Newgate, 114 in the Clerkenwell house of correction and 10 in New Prison. When Richard Akerman, keeper of Newgate, was asked ‘how it came to pass that many who were sentenced to the hulks remained in Newgate’, he answered, ‘there was no room on board the vessels to receive them’.24
When these prisoners were added to those awaiting trial and convicts sentenced to terms of imprisonment, the resulting overcrowding led to conditions not dissimilar to those found on the hulks. Never before had London’s prisons been forced to accommodate so many long-term prisoners, placing new demands on their keepers. In October 1777 Thomas Gibbs, surgeon and apothecary to both New Prison and the house of correction at Clerkenwell, petitioned the Middlesex justices, asking for an increase in his salary owing to the higher level of medical care required in both prisons. Referring to the prisoners who ‘have been sentenced to imprisonment in the said jails’, he claimed that many came in ‘diseased and frequently continue so from their poverty and long confinement not to mention the many infected prisoners who from time to time are sent to remain in these jails from Newgate’.25 In Newgate itself, Akerman found the same ‘dejection of spirits among the prisoners’ which others had found on the hulks, and he reported that ‘many had died broken-hearted’.26
There were, however, two important differences between the hulks and the prisons. First, those on the hulks had to subsist on the food provided, while those in the prisons relied primarily on food and drink brought in by friends and family, supplemented by prison charities. Duncan Campbell reported that initially he had allowed friends to bring provisions to the convicts on the hulks, but he was forced to forbid the practice ‘as they conveyed saws and other instruments for their escape’.27 Thus, the second difference was that the prisoners incarcerated on land were able to receive frequent visitors, a practice made possible by the relatively lax visiting rules in the still unreformed prisons. Not only might tools be smuggled in to assist with a break-out, but visitors also brought ideas and messages. In Newgate, as Akerman reported, ‘all the male prisoners, accused of felonies and misdemeanours, associated together in the day times’ (as did female prisoners, but in a separate yard).28 London prisoners, particularly the convicts incarcerated for years as the war dragged on, had plenty of time, opportunity and grievances about prison conditions to encourage them to conspire in pursuit of escapes and insurrections. As a result the numbers of prison escapes rose to a new level.
Between 1776 and the Gordon Riots in June 1780, with their wholesale release of up to 1,600 prisoners, there were group escapes from the Clerkenwell house of correction (7 prisoners, including Michael Swift in October 1776), and New Prison (despite the fact it had been significantly rebuilt only a few years earlier), where ‘several persons’ escaped ‘by cutting their way through the walls’ of the prison in July 1778.29 There were also individual escapes from Wood Street Compter, the house of correction at Clerkenwell, and New Prison. Edward Hall, keeper of the house of correction, made the connection explicit between the presence of convicted felons in his prison and these escapes, telling a committee of justices ‘he is thence more liable to escapes’.30 While the new buildings of Newgate prison proved almost invulnerable, it witnessed a substantial riot in August 1777, when a group of prisoners led by Patrick Madan caused considerable damage: ‘all the windows were broke, and iron casements thrown into the yard, together with innumerable brickbats which had been broke from the inside of their wards; and one of the other wards began to be demolished, in which business they continued all night’.31 The prisoners were encouraged by ‘the famous Miss West’, who repeatedly shouted ‘Go it lads, go it, dash away, don’t spare them! Liberty! Liberty! Liberty!’. Once order was restored, the prisoners justified their actions by saying ‘the length of their imprisonment, some of them being for seven years, and others five years, together with their poverty, had made them desperate’.32
A simple physical marker of the newly rebellious mood of the prison population can be found in the existence of ‘convict love tokens’. These were fashioned from coins, pounded flat and carved with a simple message, usually recording the date a prisoner was convicted and their name, and a plea that they should be remembered by loved ones. One of the earliest known examples of these mementos is dated 1776 and commemorates John Jones, ‘doubel ironed for attempting to break out of Newgate’ (figure 7.3).33 Over the course of the next decade, these tokens became a physical reminder of the chasm that imprisonment, and later transportation to New South Wales, created between those convicted of crime and the communities which supported them. That they were made by hammering smooth a coin decorated with the face of the king and all the symbols of state power simply added significance to these love tokens as a marker of popular hostility.34
The overcrowding and security challenges posed by the presence of so many convicts after the suspension of transportation prompted the authorities to make changes to the Clerkenwell house of correction and New Prison.35 In 1777 iron spikes were ordered to be fitted to the walls of the house of correction, to render it ‘more secure against the attempts of the convicts therein confined’, and the following year it was recommended that all the walls of the wards in New Prison be ‘secured with iron hoops and sheathed with oak… in order to prevent the possibility of an escape in the future’.36 Other improvements addressed the unsanitary conditions which the overcrowding exacerbated: ‘air holes lights or windows’ were cut in the walls of the women’s gallery of the house of correction to improve circulation and a bathing tub was provided for the female prisoners. In New Prison a separate ward was created to accommodate sick prisoners.37
Nevertheless, conditions remained dire, and it is likely that the convicts who served long terms, often at hard labour, both on the hulks and in the prisons, accumulated deep feelings of resentment which were communicated to their families and friends and no doubt remained even after they were discharged. This resentment flared into active and violent resistance to the institutions of policing and punishment in June 1780.
The Gordon Riots erupted on a hot Friday, 2 June 1780, and within a week at least 285 men and women were dead, and a further 173 seriously injured.38 Some estimates put the dead and wounded as high as 700.39 The damage wreaked on the fabric of the city in a full week of rioting is estimated to have run to £200,000, with thirty-two private homes destroyed as well as numerous businesses and public buildings.40 Although several detailed narratives are available, the events of that week have not been effectively integrated into a larger analysis of the evolution of plebeian resistance to criminal justice.41
Undoubtedly the immediate trigger for the riots was the parliamentary agitation associated with Lord George Gordon, who, as leader of the Protestant Association, sought the repeal of the Catholic Relief Act of 1778.42 This Act ameliorated the laws restricting the legal position of Catholics in England, and although it had faced little active opposition in parliament when it was initially passed, it rapidly became the focus of an extensive extra-parliamentary campaign to have it repealed. An effective measure of the kind of respectable support the Protestant Association attracted is the high-profile participation of men such as William Payne, the ‘Protestant Carpenter’ and an active figure in the reformation of manners campaign of 1757–63.43 Payne expressed strongly anti-Catholic views throughout his life, in conjunction with an equally strong commitment to a rigid social order, based on the preservation of a coherent Protestant community. According to Gordon, it was Payne who insisted on marching en masse to present the petition for repeal to parliament, who led the City of London division and who was identified as inciting the mob outside parliament itself.44 That Gordon could garner some 100,000 signatures to his ‘monster petition’, and marshal between 40,000 and 60,000 people to attend, in military formation, his public meeting on St George’s Fields, reflects the extent to which he had touched a significant nerve among a wider populace, made up of many of the same men who served as overseers and constables, vestrymen and clerks, and the householders who had contested the powers of the select vestries. But the events that followed the delivery of that monster petition helped to expose the divisions between Payne’s world of parish feasts, seasonal charity and moral policing and that of an emerging self-consciousness among criminals and the poor.
The afternoon of Friday 2 June was given over to a heated debate in parliament, with Lord Gordon attempting to use the milling crowds of excitable Associationers outside to drive through the repeal of the Act. But as parliament prevaricated and delayed, finally adjourning its decision to the following Tuesday, and as a hot day turned into a torrid evening, events rapidly moved beyond the control of Gordon and his associates. By evening, Lords Hillsborough, Stormont and Townsend found themselves attacked by a crowd that was rapidly becoming a mob; their wigs pulled from their heads, ‘hair flowing on their shoulders’, they were forced to flee down side streets in hackney coaches and sedan chairs.45 The wheels were taken off the carriage belonging to the Bishop of Lincoln, Lord Mansfield was forced to run from his coach as the mob smashed its windows, and the Archbishop of York was cornered in Parliament Street and forced to chant ‘No Popery!’ in ‘a pitiable and enfeebled voice’.46 Gordon attempted to calm the crowds, but it was only at eleven in the evening that a troop of guards was able to free the politicians who remained in parliament.
That evening the rioting began in earnest, with the firing of the Catholic chapel belonging to the Sardinian ambassador in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and later the chapel attached to the Bavarian embassy in Warwick Street. Thirteen arrests were made that night by troops arriving late on the scene, following ‘much scuffling’ in which several people were slightly wounded by the bayonets wielded by the soldiers.47 However, while the anti-Catholic objectives of these early riotous events are self-evident, the beginnings of a new focus on attacking the institutions of criminal justice can be found. Outside the Sardinian Chapel, Sampson Rainsforth,48 a man closely associated with Bow Street and its policing of Westminster, and who had testified against some of the arrested rioters, was spotted, and the mob yelled ‘Damn him! He … is the late High Constable [of Westminster]; knock him on his head’.49 In that moment, the riots began to turn from a Protestant outcry voiced by respectable householders into an assault on the judicial system. ‘Anti-popery’ was a shibboleth that could unite Londoners of all social classes, drawing on 250 years of shared politics.50 Policing and criminal justice, in contrast, divided communities along very different lines.
The composition of the crowds that filled London’s streets over the ensuing week and the motives of the rioters have been hotly contested ever since. George Rudé, on the basis of a detailed analysis of those prosecuted following the riots, agreed with Charles Dickens, who in Barnaby Rudge characterised the rioters as for the most part ‘sober workmen’ and apprentices.51 If we take the example of William Winterbotham, one of the few people who admitted to participating in the riots of his own volition, this description seems apt. A seventeen-year old apprentice silversmith from Aldgate, given to both ‘evil ways’ and ‘much false zeal’, Winterbotham admitted he had ‘entered warmly into the … senseless cry of “No Popery”’.52 However, the list of people eventually tried as a result of the riots also includes the ragged edge of London society: beggars and prostitutes, casual labourers, and Black refugees from the American Revolution.53 Overall, it is clear that individual riots drew their personnel from all the varied communities of London. For the most part, people rioted on their doorsteps. Their motivations were similarly mixed, local and constantly changing. Certainly anti-Catholicism remained important, and attacks on Catholic houses and institutions can be found throughout – though as Rudé has demonstrated these were focused on rich Catholics to the exclusion of the poor majority of Irish Catholic immigrants.54 But there were also many, to follow James Gillray ’s assessment made during the riots and published on 9 June, who had ulterior motives:
Tho’ He says he’s a Protestant Look at the Print
The Face and the Bludgeon will give you a hint.
Religion he cries in hopes to deceive.
While his practice is only to burn and to thieve.55
A constant and insistent strand discernible throughout the course of the riots was a powerful hostility towards criminal justice and its institutions, and not simply those which contained prisoners arrested in the riots. Two days of relative calm followed the events of Friday the 2nd, but the riots caught flame on Monday, when Sampson Rainsforth’s house in Clare Street was attacked and pulled down, causing £624 worth of damage. On Tuesday Justice William Hyde ‘s house in St Martin’s Street was attacked, with the eventual cost of the night’s mayhem amounting to £2,062. Hyde was a prominent justice and had read the Riot Act in Palace Yard the preceding Friday. This anti-criminal justice focus rose to a new pitch of concerted activity with attacks on the house of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield, in Bloomsbury Square, where over £5,700 worth of damage was caused in a few short hours, before taking in the administrative epicentre of new policing, John Fielding’s house in Bow Street.56 In addition to causing over £1,000 worth of damage to the fabric of the house, the rioters were also careful to destroy Fielding’s registers of known and suspected offenders.57 By contrast, at £472, the cost of the damage inflicted on the Bavarian Chapel in Golden Square ran to less than half of that inflicted on Bow Street.58 Rioters seeking revenge also totally destroyed the Bethnal Green house of Justice David Wilmot, who had been active in prosecuting the ’cutters’ during the weavers’ disputes a decade earlier. The next day John Gamble was heard bragging that the rioters had, ‘done Davy … they had done the Doctor on the green’.59
Attempts to rescue rioters previously arrested were a traditional component of many eighteenth-century riots, as were attacks on the houses of those who attempted to suppress disorder, but by Tuesday only three rioters remained in custody – all in Newgate – and John Fielding, who was ill, was not directly involved in suppressing the riots. The crowd was wreaking revenge on a system of justice whose policies of arrest and prosecution amounted to a ‘transporting and hanging system of police’. Despite the fact that Bow Street had held some of the arrested prisoners, the destruction of Fielding’s records and the attacks on the houses of other justices and Lord Mansfield cannot be seen as simple acts of rescue, but instead took on the character of revenge. The high level of destruction (not looting) inflicted on them – amounting to over £10,000 in total – reflects a distinctive and different pattern of behaviour from that found in typical London riots.60
It was only on Tuesday, five days into the riots, that we come to the famous set piece at their heart, with the attack on Newgate prison itself. According to one witness, the mob was led by James Jackson, a sailor recently returned from sea:
It sometimes seems as if half of London was either in the crowd before Newgate or looking down on the scene from the windows above. However, what is beyond doubt is the destructive fury unleashed. The fabric of the newly completed prison was almost entirely destroyed, and 117 prisoners, from petty thieves to murderers, were set loose on the streets.62 In the words of the clerk of the works:
the new Gaol of Newgate and … the chapel and keeper’s house etc thereto belonging … were totally destroyed and several of the external parts considerably damaged by fire, the loss sustained by this means … could not be made good for a less sum than £30,000.
The prison would not be fully operational again until July 1784, more than four years later.63
Fanny Burney, watching from the roof tops on Tuesday evening, identified four separate major conflagrations, all associated with criminal justice: ‘Our square was light as day by the bonfire from the contents of Justice Hyde ’s house …; on the other side we saw flames ascending from Newgate, a fire in Covent Garden which proved to be Justice Fielding’s house, and another in Bloomsbury Square which was at Lord Mansfield’s.’64 And this was just the start. The attack on Newgate was quickly followed by attacks on King’s Bench and Fleet prisons, New Prison and the house of correction at Clerkenwell. ‘The cause’, in the words of Thomas Haycock, sentenced to hang for his role in the destruction of Justice Hyde’s house and Newgate prison, was not religion, or even the courts, but to ensure that ‘there should not be a prison standing … in London’.65
One after another the prisons fell, or their keepers meekly opened their gates in hopes of preserving their private carceral fiefdoms. Contemporaries began to fear that it was not simply the prisons that were under assault but also the law itself. The barristers and students of the Inns of Court certainly felt themselves likely objects of attack. John Grimston reported to his friends in Yorkshire what he purported to be the common knowledge that ‘there was a plan laid to burn all the Law Societies’. And indeed, the residents of the Inns were issued government arms with which to protect themselves, and the Temple and Barnard’s Inn were actually assaulted.66 Tellingly, the destructive force of the riots was also remarkably selective. In contrast to the extensive destruction visited on Bow Street and Newgate, the Sessions House at the Old Bailey (next door to Newgate, and home of the jury trial), while attacked, was relatively little damaged, with only some of the furnishings destroyed. Repairs cost just under £170, and ironically the building was sufficiently intact to host the trials of the first rioters on 28 June.67 On the day Newgate was attacked, at least one rioter also tried to rally the crowd for an attack on the nearby Bridewell (one of the oldest and most traditional of London’s prisons), calling, ‘Now my lads, for Bridewell’, but no one chose to follow him.68
We should not understate the profound significance of these assaults on the prisons, or the extent to which they heralded a desperate, if inchoate, revolutionary moment. The Bank of England came under sustained attack in the twenty-four hours following the burning of Newgate, and was only preserved from sacking by brute military force. Lord Gordon attempted and failed to convince the mob outside the Bank to desist – a clear measure of the profound distance between the crowds of the previous Friday and those assembled before the Bank. More tellingly, John Wilkes, hero of the mob in the 1760s but now ex-Lord Mayor of London, resorted to arms. Acting in his capacity as a Buckinghamshire militiaman, in combination with the 534 soldiers stationed at the Bank under the command of Lt Col. Thomas Twisleton, he ‘Fired 6 or 7 times on the rioters at the end of the Bank … Killed two rioters directly opposite to the great gate of the Bank; several others in Pig Street and Cheapside.’69 The battle of Fleet Street alone resulted in sixty dead or wounded rioters shot at close range – though the actual number may have been much higher, as contemporaries believed that many of the dead were unceremoniously pitched into the Thames to save them from being identified.70 A simple measure of the sense of crisis induced by the rioters, and the extent to which their objectives extended beyond the religious policies of the state, is contained in the list of buildings which desperately sought military defenders over these days. Besides the prisons and the Bank of England, they included the South Sea Company, East India Company, Excise Office and Customs House, Navy Pay Office, Victualing Office, Freemasons’ Hall, and Coutts’, Thelusson’s and Drummond’s Banks.71 These institutions represented a broad range of power and authority. It is worth noting that not a single workhouse, hospital or parish church was attacked.
The riots were finally suppressed through concerted military action on Thursday 8 June. By this time three interwoven changes had occurred. First, the refusal of the Lord Mayor and many of the justices of peace of London and Middlesex to sanction the direct use of military force against the rioters, arising from their traditional conception of law and order as best achieved through negotiation and mediation (and previously seen in their unwillingness to have executions policed by the military), forced the government to step in. This fundamentally changed the relationship between civilian government and the military. On Wednesday the 8th, the Privy Council passed a general order sanctioning the use of military force without the prior consent of a local justice, and vested the management of the military response to the riots in the hands of Lord Amherst as commander-in-chief. In the process the Council effectively undermined the role of justices of the peace, who even following the passage of the Riot Act had been a civilian check on the use of troops against rioters.72
Second, the parish worthies who had signed the petition, who saw in a common defence of a confessional Protestant community a defence of their own liberties, were made to look at their fellow Londoners and found in the rioters harbingers of disorder and chaos, rather than co-religionists and loyal subjects. During the riots themselves, and in the months and years that followed, inhabitants’ associations and parish patrols were organised to police the streets and to ensure that the parish community was protected against its own less respectable members.73 By 27 June, William Payne, who began the month leading the crowd outside parliament, was writing to the Lord Mayor setting out plans for the recapture of the prisoners released on the storming of Newgate.74
And finally, the riots both reflected and contributed to a transformation in the attitudes of the poor. Changes to the systems of police and punishment were a motive force behind the unprecedented scale of the riots. The anger that was unleashed was then exacerbated by the response of the judicial authorities to the events of that June, ensuring that the same motives and agenda that stirred the rioters would continue to influence plebeian actions and attitudes.
Now back in control, the authorities were quick to exact retribution. Of the 450 rioters who were arrested, 160 would eventually appear at trial.75 Of these men and women, mainly social outcasts offered up by their own communities as exemplary culprits, 62 received sentences of death, of whom 26 were eventually hanged. In the long weeks of July and early August, the neighbourhoods that had seen the riots’ most destructive violence played host to executions designed both to allow plebeian Londoners to witness the retribution meted out by their social superiors and to ensure that not so many bodies swung from any single gibbet that public tolerance was stretched beyond endurance.76 Policed by the new parish associations (the uniformed military assiduously kept out of sight, if not out of reach), these executions drew crowds of up to 12,000 people, and were marked by a quiet solemnity.
In the same months London took on the feel of a military encampment. While troops stayed away from the executions, they were stationed at the prisons and courts, and the parks were filled with over 10,000 soldiers. The overt military presence was gradually withdrawn and preference was given to parish associations and local militia, who radically increased the personnel available for police duties; but by the autumn, as the last of the rioters were hanged and the military were increasingly confined to barracks, a new dispensation emerged. Respectable Londoners had become more distrustful of their social inferiors, while a stronger sense of opposition to authority could be found among prisoners and defendants.
In part this can be seen in the business of the Old Bailey. In the years following the outbreak of hostilities in North America, the number of crimes tried remained level or declined, but following the mass prosecution of rioters in June and September 1780, the number of trials began to increase. This marked the beginning of a period of significant increase, peaking in 1784 following demobilisation. Unusually, the first phase of this increase, between 1779 and 1782 when the number of offences increased by more than half, occurred during wartime and affected men and women equally. A similar increase occurred at Bridewell, where commitments increased by 43.6 per cent between 1780 and
The first part of these increases did not occur during a period of economic hardship, and the most likely explanation is that in the tense period of insecurity following the riots, victims, neighbours and officers were more likely to prosecute suspected offenders formally, rather than rely on widely used traditional informal procedures. The activities of voluntary associations like the Honourable Artillery Company may also have contributed.78 It is also possible, though impossible to substantiate, that London’s alienated working poor became more willing (or felt more compelled) to break the law in these years.
In the early 1780s more Londoners than ever before found themselves in prison and before the courts. Around 1780 the house of correction in Clerkenwell received approximately 2,000 prisoners annually, and New Prison around 1,650.79 In the City, the compters received approximately 4,000 commitments a year.80 Even allowing for double counting and recidivism, if we include the Newgate and Bridewell the number of Londoners who were incarcerated in the years around 1783–4 exceeded 11,000 a year, or approximately 1.3 per cent of London’s total population.81 Since these figures do not include the Westminster or Surrey houses of correction and all those indicted at the City, Middlesex, Westminster and Surrey sessions (most of whom were bound over rather than imprisoned), the actual number brought before the authorities and accused of some form of criminal activity in these years must have amounted to around 3 per cent of the population. Not only does this figure betoken a significant increase in the desire of Londoners to prosecute deviance, it is also a measure of the unprecedented pressures the machinery of criminal justice faced in the early 1780s, at a time when the prisons were still overcrowded due to both the damage sustained in the Gordon Riots and the suspension of transportation.
Source: Old Bailey Online, Statistics: Crime by year, 1775–1789 (counting by offence); Faramerz Dabhoiwala, ‘Summary justice in early modern London’, English Historical Review, 121:492 (2006), appendix (committals).
Online dataset: Crime Prosecutions (xlsx)
The consequences for London’s prisoners and prisons were profound. After years of policy chaos, the prison population was becoming both more experienced and more recalcitrant. A simple snapshot of the inmates of Newgate on 15 January 1783 – when the prison was still only partly repaired – reveals some of the prisoners’ characteristics. In addition to the traditional complement of prisoners awaiting trial (145), there were 211 ‘on orders’, primarily either sentenced directly to imprisonment or held from session to session awaiting transportation, all mixed together and free to argue and plan.82
The ‘Mother of Newgate’ was Lea Joseph Solomons, a widow and receiver, who had attempted to recoup her declining fortunes through arson and insurance fraud.83 In August 1779 she set fire to her rented house in hopes of claiming £400 in insurance on her working capital and clothes. At her trial she was convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment at Newgate, and to pay a £100 fine. Following her release during the Gordon Riots and eventual recapture, she was simply left ‘to remain’ for years after. Among the men was Thomas Mooney, who had led a mob of between 300 and 400 people during the Gordon Riots and, although found not guilty of that offence, was later incarcerated in Bridewell for a minor offence, where he assaulted the keeper, earning himself a transfer to Newgate and years of uncertain imprisonment.84 There was also John Martin, described in the Proceedings as ‘a negro’, a sailor and probably a refugee from the American Revolution.85 He spent the whole of the summer and autumn of 1782 and the spring of 1783 in Newgate following his conviction for stealing a bundle of clothes. Sentenced to seven years’ transportation to the coast of Africa, he only escaped this fate by virtue of suffering from typhus. Essentially left to rot in prison, he was eventually sent to New South Wales on the First Fleet.86
These were desperate men and women, thrown together in desperate circumstances. Their experiences, and those of their numerous fellow inmates, contributed to the development of new attitudes, and new strategies of self-preservation.
The place, the theatre of justice, in which these new attitudes are most evident is the Old Bailey itself. These were the years when the ‘adversarial trial’ reached maturity with a dramatic increase in the number of defence counsel, which contributed to the development of new legal procedures and defendant rights.87 While we have seen that defence counsel were first allowed to appear at Old Bailey trials in 1732, and in the ensuing decades had frequently represented highwaymen, members of gangs and rioters, from the late 1770s there was a further step change in the number of defence counsel appearing. In part the evidence for this reflects the reporting in the Proceedings, since the presence of counsel was not routinely reported prior to the appointment of Edmund Hodgson as publisher in 1782.88 However, the sheer magnitude of the increase provides evidence that a change in the use and role of counsel took place in these years. According to Allyson May, these changes were ‘rooted in client behaviour rather than any theoretical imperatives on the part of the legal profession’.89 And as Figure 7.7 demonstrates, it was defendants rather than prosecutors who led the way. The growing number of defendants who appeared at the Old Bailey from the late 1770s came to realise that with the help of defence counsel they could challenge the courts and their prosecutors more effectively.
Source: Old Bailey Online, keyword search for: counsel, council, councel, counc* etc.; and cross examined and cross examination; Beattie, ‘Scales of justice’, 227 (the figures for 1780 have been recalculated to include trials associated with the Gordon Riots); Landsman, ‘Rise of the contentious spirit’, 607.
NB: Figures for the early 1790s are incomplete, as trials resulting in an acquittal were eliminated from the published Proceedings between October 1790 and December 1792.
Online dataset: Legal Counsel at the Old Bailey 1715-1800 (xlsx)
The Gordon Riots, and the wave of prosecutions that followed, played a key role in advancing these changes. An examination of the sessions on either side of the riots makes it clear that it was precisely in these trials – held at the sessions beginning 28 June, just weeks after the riots – that counsel first appear in large numbers. In the May sessions prosecuting counsel is mentioned in one trial, and defence counsel in a further three. By contrast, in the June sessions thirty-three prosecuting counsel are explicitly mentioned (reflecting the state’s desire to convict the rioters) and twenty-one for the defence.90 Never before had counsel appeared at so many trials in a single Old Bailey sessions.
To some extent this particular meeting of the court is anomalous – in subsequent sessions the number of defence counsel gradually but briefly declined to a level not much higher than in the years prior to the riots – but a new and clear pattern quickly emerged that saw the proportion of trials with counsel reach unprecedented levels for the remainder of the decade. As well as acting as a catalyst for new attitudes to prosecution and imprisonment on the part of victims and the authorities, the riots and their aftermath also represent a significant escalation in the role of defence lawyers in the courtroom. It is the Gordon Riots that mark the moment when defendants en masse at the Old Bailey decided it was time to get lawyered up against a system they perceived as rigged against them. And if convicted and sentenced to death, some members of this same cohort of men and women decided, by refusing the royal pardon, that it was worth the risk of death to challenge the judges.
While these changes were well in train before William Garrow came to the bar in November 1783, Garrow’s presence was nonetheless transformative. The most prominent defence lawyer of the eighteenth century, from his first trial at the Old Bailey he proved himself a master of cross-examination and judicial attack. In the next ten years Garrow is estimated to have acted in over a thousand cases, about three-quarters for the defence. It has been argued that he laid the foundation for the notion that the defendant was innocent until proven guilty, and that the guilt or innocence of the defendant should be proven through an adversarial procedure.91 But what historians have yet to explore is the nature of the group of men and women who were paying Garrow to act in this capacity.
As already noted, in the decade after the creation of the first hulks there was a generation of men and women who found themselves held for long periods in unreformed prisons organised in such a way as to allow both social interaction among prisoners and (with the exception of the hulks) the incorporation of a wider group of visitors into prison culture. These men and women lived together for years on end, many under the shadow of the gallows. And it is their shared knowledge of criminal justice and its officers that led to a growing sophistication in the courtroom and a viral enthusiasm to deploy Garrow and other counsel in their defence.
A simple measure of the origins of this change in attitudes can be found in the characteristics shared by Garrow’s first fifty defence clients. All but seven individuals (86 per cent) had been previously tried at the Old Bailey, and hence held for a time in New Prison or Newgate, on at least one occasion prior to the trial in which Garrow was involved. Typical of Garrow’s clients was Richard alias Jonas Wooldridge, who, without benefit of counsel, and with three others, had been found guilty of counterfeiting in September 1781.92 He was fined one shilling and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment in Newgate, which he served in New Prison while Newgate was out of commission.93 Three years later, when he was again tried for the same offence, Wooldridge employed Garrow as his counsel, and as Wooldridge looked on, Garrow attacked the prosecutor for being motivated by a desire to secure her husband’s acquittal on a similar charge, raised a technical point of law and argued with the judges. In the end, Garrow left the court consumed by laughter at the prosecutor’s expense, with Wooldridge a free man.94 The benefits of obtaining a lawyer, and a desire to employ Garrow, were part of the expertise that circulated through New Prison and Newgate in these years.
The significance of this change in defendant behaviour is reinforced by an appreciation of the costs involved. Between prison garnish, living expenses and gaol fees, being accused of any crime in the eighteenth century was an expensive proposition that required the support of friends. Hiring defence counsel, which could easily cost £1 or more per trial, substantially increased the cost.95 And yet, lower-class Londoners managed to raise this money: among Garrow’s first fifty clients were seven servants (plus a servant’s wife), four labourers, a laundress, a broker and dealer in old iron and rags, a buyer and seller of old clothes, a chandler, a porter and several craftsmen (cooper, gardener, hair dresser, ivory turner, shoemaker, silk throwster, stone mason).96 We do not know how prisoners managed to secure this money, but with their lives at stake (as the number of hangings increased) desperation became the mother of invention. Funds are likely to have come from some combination of charity (including from fellow prisoners), possible reduced charges from lawyers keen to make a name for themselves in the courtroom, the proceeds of crime, and family and friends. Patrick Madan, for example, received financial support from his sister. In his letters home, among the details of his attempts to escape from Newgate, the problems he was encountering in smuggling gaol-breaking equipment in a pie and the idle gossip of the prison community, he reported how, with his sister’s assistance, he had, ‘procured [a] lawyer’, an ‘Old Bailey Solicitor’.97 The fact that several hundred were able to pay counsel in the 1780s, many of whom were in lower-class occupations and including for the first time many who were accused of non-capital offences, is testimony to both the desperation and the combativeness of Old Bailey defendants in these years.98
Garrow’s most successful defence strategy is also revealing of the attitudes of prisoners in the aftermath of the riots. His most common rhetorical device was to question the financial interests of the prosecution, and, despite John Fielding ‘s attempts to make the Bow Street Runners respectable, to paint the varied officers of the law in the lurid and corrupt colours of a thief-taker. Garrow aggressively raised this long-standing defence tactic to a new level. Again and again he asked what the prosecution hoped to get out of a conviction. In the process, and on behalf of hundreds of prisoners, he held to account a system that was perceived as out of control, and he questioned the very basis of the evolving system of police. For the most part, he avoided using this tactic when cross-examining senior Runners from Bow Street, who with vast courtroom experience, quickly developed the ready defence of asking Garrow what he himself earned.99 But Garrow was confident enough of the jury’s dislike of the other Runners to characterise them in open court as the ’myrmidons’, or hired ruffians ’that attend at the Brown-bear’.100 In making this kind of case, Garrow cut with the grain of public opinion about the new system of police, an opinion that encompassed both his clients and at least some members of the jury.
There is some evidence that those who were defended by counsel were more likely to be found not guilty: over half of Garrow’s clients were acquitted, compared to just 35 per cent of all defendants in the same years.101 And the ability of some offenders such as Charlotte Walker to avoid conviction for long periods with the assistance of counsel is indeed impressive.102 However, with prosecution counsel also increasingly present, the balance of power in the courtroom had not dramatically changed. Overall, the new frequency with which defence counsel were employed was as likely to have been motivated by fear as by hubris. Many of Garrow’s clients would likely have agreed with Benjamin Brown, who despaired when his counsel failed to appear: ‘I thought I was prepared with a counsel, but am entirely lost’.103
According to John Langbein one of the consequences of the growing use of barristers for the defence was the silencing of the defendant, as lawyers shifted the focus of the trial to whether the prosecution had proved its case, and defendants let their counsel make their case for them.104 But perhaps encouraged by the development of a more adversarial tone in criminal trials, those defendants who did speak began to do so in an increasingly confident tone, justifying their crimes with claims that they had been driven to steal by ‘starvation’, ‘necessity’ and ‘distress’. Despite the dangers associated with admitting culpability (such testimony only increased the chance of conviction, and punishments tended to be no lighter), defendants challenged the court to convict them in the face of increasingly eloquent pleas for mercy. Thomas Archer, accused in 1784 of stealing two loaves of bread worth 15 pence from the basket of a journeyman baker making deliveries, told the court:
I have a wife and three children, and I could get no work, I was drove to great distress, I had no bread for three or four days; I come from Norfolk to seek for work; I am a baker by trade, I have applied at a number of places, but none of them wanted a journeyman.
Nonetheless, he was convicted, sentenced to be publicly whipped and passed back to his parish. Mary Smith received a little more mercy. Charged in 1783 with stealing two linen shirts from ‘a poor woman’ in the house in which she lodged, she told the court:
Sir, I was in great distress, I was a widow with two small children, I buried my husband out of her house … I meant to return them again, she knows I have worked at several places; I have no friend in the world.
Although she was also convicted, the jury recommended her to mercy, and the court ordered her to be privately whipped and discharged, telling her, ‘You will have favour shewn to you this time; but if you are not able to maintain yourself by honest industry, apply to your parish’.105 While this growing practice of defendants justifying their crimes may often have been ineffective or even counterproductive, their growing willingness to stand up to the court and make such pleas, even without the aid of a lawyer, is indicative of a new assertiveness among prisoners.
The impact of legal counsel was even wider. Those who acted at the Old Bailey, or the solicitors they worked with, also practised in other London courts, defending the accused, prosecuting counter-accusations and challenging poor law orders. Lawyers had been involved in hearings at Bow Street since at least 1772, when John Fielding had begun conducting regular ‘re-examinations’.106 One such attorney, Thomas Ayrton, ‘an attorney at King’s Bench’, brought a suit which successfully challenged Fielding’s practices. Following an illness which lasted a few months, Fielding died in November 1780, but the hearings continued under a justice with less clout, William Addington. Ayrton brought his suit in December following an altercation at a hearing conducted at Bow Street by Addington of a suspected highway robber, in which Ayrton, as usual, was not permitted to cross-examine the prosecutor. The resulting legal challenge, tried in front of Lord Mansfield, ended with a strong censure of the Bow Street practice of pre-trial hearings, particularly the extensive pre-trial publicity they received. As a consequence of this case, newspapers stopped reporting the hearings, and defendants were no longer expected to disclose their evidence in advance of the trial. It is likely that the growing practice of solicitors representing accused felons at such pre-trial hearings resulted in further challenges to the procedures in the ensuing decades.107 Solicitors also increasingly aided the poor in cases of poor law appeals, vagrancy and debt. John Silvester, one of the most active Old Bailey counsel, regularly appeared on briefs for settlement and vagrancy cases in the 1770s, although we know little about the nature of his practice.108 Just as counsel hired by defendants forced legal innovations which worked to their advantage in the courts, solicitors may have stimulated changes in poor law practice which benefited the poor.
During these same years punishment was further transformed, driven by both social anxiety and the behaviour of convicts. Following the Gordon Riots, more defendants were convicted and punishments became harsher. Between 1770–81 and 1782–6, the conviction rate at the Old Bailey (both full and partial verdicts) increased, despite the increased presence of defence counsel, from 55 to 61 per cent.109 With transportation unavailable until 1787 (although sentencing resumed in 1781), there were substantial increases in the number and proportion of convicts who were whipped, imprisoned and sentenced to death.
Following the suspension of transportation, the authorities initially relied on traditional punishments. The number of sentences of branding per year increased from an average of 17.7 between 1750 and 1775 to 100.5 between 1776 and 1779, when it was abolished as a punishment for crimes subject to benefit of clergy.110 Similarly, following a decline in the use of whippings in the 1750s, the punishment was substantially revived in the late 1770s. As recorded by the Sheriff of London, the number of whippings carried out (including those sentenced at quarter sessions) increased from 40 offenders in 1779 to 164 in 1785, the largest annual total in the century. Similarly, whereas 60 felons were sentenced to death in 1779, this figure almost tripled to 173 in 1783. Executions increased even more dramatically. Whereas 23 were executed in 1779, there were 97 executions in 1785, the bloodiest year in the century. Not only were more convicts hanged, but they formed a growing percentage of all those sentenced to death, reaching 64.2 per cent of the condemned in 1785 and 81.4 per cent in 1787. This was a direct result of a decision by the Home Secretary in September 1782 to refuse to grant pardons (as had often occurred previously) to those convicted of robberies and burglaries ‘attended with acts of great cruelty’.111 All told, 500 people were hanged in London in the seven years following 1780, almost a third of all those hanged in the eighteenth century.
Source: Old Bailey Online: Statistics: Punishments by year, 1770–1790, counting by defendant.
Online dataset: Punishment Statistics 1690-1800 (xlsx)
Source: PP, House of Commons Sessional Papers, 1818, xvi, 185–7 and 1819, xvii, 295–9.
Online dataset: Death Sentences and Executions 1749-1806 (xlsx)
The increasing severity of punishment in response to the twin crises of the Gordon Riots and the post-war crime wave was accompanied by changes in implementation. Both whippings and executions were carried out in new ways which served to reduce the role of the watching crowd and ensure that the authorities retained control of the ritual, addressing concerns raised by Henry Fielding in 1751. Accelerating a long-term trend which had begun in the 1730s, whippings were primarily conducted in private. Rather than being carried out along a street for a hundred yards ‘at the cart’s tail’, whippings were increasingly staged at a stationary whipping post or inside prisons. The proportion of whippings carried out in public (whether sentenced at the Old Bailey or quarter sessions) declined by almost half, from 42.8 per cent in the 1770s to just 23.1 per cent in the 1780s.112 As noted previously, the motivations for this shift in penal strategy are unclear. While there is no direct evidence that the authorities were concerned about potential disorder among the crowds which witnessed whippings, this is suggested by the fact that from 1785 the City of London began to use large numbers of ‘extra constables’ to police public punishments.113
Source: TNA, Sheriff’s Cravings, T64/262, T90/165-168.
Online dataset: London Whipping Punishments 1770-1799 (xlsx)
Similar concerns lay behind the decision in the autumn of 1783 to move public executions from their traditional location at Tyburn on the western edge of the metropolis to immediately outside Newgate prison (whose reconstruction following the Gordon Riots was nearly complete). As a result, the sometimes disorderly procession carrying the condemned in a cart from Newgate to Tyburn was abandoned, executions were held earlier in the day and the size of the crowds which were able to watch executions was reduced. Furthermore, the introduction of the ‘drop’ speeded up hangings, making it difficult for the condemned to make a show of dying ‘game’ and giving the crowd less of an opportunity to sympathise with their suffering. Executions would now take place in front of the rebuilt Newgate’s sober facade, with the condemned brought out onto the scaffold only shortly before their actual executions.
The motivations for this significant change in the execution ritual have been variously ascribed by historians to a desire to protect property values in the west end, concerns to enhance the impact of prospective executions on the convicts’ imaginations and, in the latest article on the subject, attempts to improve the deterrent effect on the attending crowd.114 As Simon Devereaux argues, ‘the most compelling impetus for the abolition of Tyburn was a penal crisis of unprecedented proportions’, with the existing regime manifestly failing to stop the apparently relentless increase in crime. Immediately before the decision to transfer executions to Newgate was taken, twenty-six men who had mutinied on a transport ship they believed was destined for Africa had been convicted, and six were hanged.115 In this context the decision to stage executions at Newgate was made in an attempt, much like the multiple locations of the executions of the Gordon rioters, to re-establish control over an increasingly intransigent criminal population. But the authorities also sought to stop the crowd disorder which still sometimes accompanied processions to Tyburn and subsequent executions. As the sheriffs Thomas Skinner and Barnard Turner (who had been involved in suppressing the Gordon Riots) argued in their pamphlet justifying the change:
The Croud of Spectators will probably be more orderly, because less numerous; and more subject to controul by being more confined; and also because it will be free from the accession of stragglers whom a Tyburn procession usually gathers in its passage, and who make the most wanton part of it.116
The problem of crowd disorder nonetheless persisted, contributing to the scaling back of the number of prisoners executed in London after the peaks in 1785 and 1787. In 1788 this figure dropped from 92 to 25, and the number stayed low for the rest of the century: between 1789 and 1800 executions averaged 22 per year. This is because the bloodbath in the mid-1780s placed capital punishment ‘under attack to a degree never before experienced’.117 Opposition to large-scale executions can already be seen in 1780, when Edmund Burke unsuccessfully lobbied for the number of Gordon rioters to be executed to be limited to six, since, he wrote: ‘a very great part of the lower, and some of the middling people of this city, are in a very critical disposition … [and] may very easily be exasperated, by an injudicious severity, into desperate resolutions’.118 In 1784 the housekeeper at the Old Bailey was worried that ‘evil minded people would gain access to the yard where the scaffold was kept between executions and set fire to it’.119 Changing the location of executions had not allayed concerns about the behaviour of both the crowd and the condemned: a correspondent to the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1784 complained that ‘Our executions seem to have lost all their good effects … the only solicitude too many of [the crowd] discover is, whether the criminals die hard’.120 That concern about the impact of frequent executions was shared at the highest levels of government is indicated by the worry expressed by the prime minister, William Pitt, in 1789 that they would create the wrong ‘public impression’.121
If both public attitudes and crowd behaviour rendered large-scale executions no longer feasible, it was necessary to increase the use of secondary punishments. Whipping was deemed adequate only for minor offences, leaving imprisonment and transportation (if a new destination could be found) as the only alternatives. But owing to the trail of destruction left by the Gordon rioters, London’s prisons in the early 1780s were in a state of chaos. Newgate had suffered most and was only gradually brought back into use, one section at a time. It would not be fully repaired until the summer of 1784. Most London prisoners were therefore crowded into the hastily repaired New Prison and Middlesex house of correction in Clerkenwell, where convicts serving sentences of imprisonment joined those arrested and waiting to stand trial, petty offenders committed by summary jurisdiction to short terms of hard labour, and debtors. Since it was necessary to house convicts who previously would have been transported as well as those displaced from Newgate, the crowding was intense. The resulting poor conditions and inevitable intermingling among different classes of prisoners contributed to the further evolution of a culture of resistance among London’s prison populations. Managing both prisons became the main item of business discussed by the Middlesex justices at their meetings throughout the early 1780s.
The scale of the problem can be seen in the fact that between May and September 1780 a total of 678 prisoners were committed to New Prison.122 The number committed to the house of correction is not known, but by October the Middlesex justices expressed concern that ‘a far greater number of persons is now in general imprisoned there than what the building is capable of containing with safety and convenience’. In 1781–2, the number of prisoners held at any one time ranged from 134 to 233; there were 130 more in New Prison. We have seen that prison crowding was a serious issue in the years between the suspension of transportation and the Gordon Riots; the difference now was that London’s strongest prison was temporarily unusable, and prisoners were forced into buildings not designed to hold large numbers of felons. To prevent escapes, a military guard was placed at both prisons.123 When Newgate fully reopened in 1784 the poor conditions and overcrowding were simply transferred. In November, the keeper reported that the prison contained 362 felons and 167 debtors, and about 300 of the 529 prisoners lacked rugs to sleep on and keep themselves warm.124 A year later the prison held 680 prisoners, and in October 1788 almost 750.125
The presence of so many long-term prisoners (convicts serving sentences of imprisonment, and those awaiting transportation) continued to be problematic. Reports from 1781 indicate that the Clerkenwell house of correction held between 55 and 65 convicted felons, while a list of the prisoners in February 1783 included 77 prisoners who had been convicted at the Old Bailey, and a further 18 convicted at the Middlesex sessions.126 Some had been there since April 1781. The previous month the keeper of New Prison voiced concern about ‘the capital convicts now in his custody who are very numerous and licentious and continually endeavouring to escape’, and a week later a committee of justices reported that convicts who ‘continue there months and for years [are] in an idle and worse than an useless state corrupting each other and forming confederacies dangerous to the public … [they are] ever making disturbances and riots within the goale and encouraging others to misbehave’.127 Similar concerns were apparently present at the City of London Bridewell, where the number of commitments increased dramatically between 1781 and 1784. In December 1782 the General Prison Committee issued new regulations restricting visitors, ordered that cutlasses be kept in a case in the watch house and stipulated that ‘a Rattle be Provided … in Case of any Disturbance [an officer] may Alarm the Beadle at the Lodge that the Gate of the Hospital may be immediately Locked to Prevent Escapes’.128
Despite these precautions, including the presence of military guards, the rebellious mood among the prisoners led to a rash of escapes and mutinies. We have already seen that there was no shortage of escapes in the five years leading up to the Gordon Riots. But in the chaotic years which followed, leading to the decision to establish a penal colony in Australia, escapes multiplied, and London’s prisons and transport ships became a seething cauldron of discontent (Figure 7.2).
In the prisons alone, the seven multiple escapes and three attempts between July 1780 and June 1785 demonstrate both the desperation and the new-found confidence of convict prisoners, particularly at the recently rebuilt New Prison. In December 1780, three convicted felons, William Mackenzie, Joseph Caddy and George Bartington, escaped. Their recapture cost £60 and earned the keeper a harsh rebuke from the Middlesex justices.129 Four months later, on 29 April 1781, a further escape attempt from the same prison was mounted by the inmates, who
in an unlawful, riotous and tumultuous manner assembled themselves together and attempted to break out of and escape … and with force and arms assaulted [the guards] stationed to keep the said prison.130
The guards were issued with guns and in the mêlée that followed William Bell, a thief a few months into a year-long sentence of hard labour, was shot and killed.131 Five months later still, on 3 September 1781, once again the prisoners ’assembled themselves together and attempted to break out of and escape from the … prison’.132 Again, guns were issued, and this time, three prisoners were shot and killed: Benjamin Lees, William Trenter and George Hutton.
Later the same month, and in direct response to this incident, the keeper, Samuel Newport, petitioned the Middlesex justices, who incorporated his observations in a further petition of their own to the judges at the Old Bailey, describing the mood of the prisoners.
That since the late Dreadful Riots … those confined in the … Prison … have become most licentious and dissolute, are unruly and riotous to a very daring degree, continually committing the most outrageous acts, endeavouring to effect their escape, and encouraging others to join with them in their desperate designs… In such an attempt lately [made] three Prisoners [were] unfortunately killed and three more wounded.
Newport concluded his plea with the observation that the prisoners were possessed of a ‘determined Resolution… [for a] General Escape’.133 In response, a troop of soldiers was stationed in the gaol for two years, at a cost of £16 per quarter, in an attempt to calm what the local commander would later describe as the’riotous and dangerous state of the prisons’.134 And as a carrot to counterbalance this stick of military authority, the daily allowance of food provided to each prisoner was doubled, and for the first time shoes and clothes were made available for poor prisoners.135
Samuel Newport’s fears were nonetheless realised. In February 1782 he informed the justices ‘that several prisoners had attempted a break out of one of the wards and had destroyed some part thereof’.136 Seven months later, ‘two prisoners … made their escape’ from Newgate.137 And in November of the same year, William Wood, a prisoner at the house of correction at Clerkenwell, directly next door to New Prison, put a pistol to the head of Thomas Mumford and threatened to blow his head off if he did not deliver the keys; while John Fitzgerald, his legs still in irons, threatened to cut John Brown ‘s throat if he did not cooperate. In total, thirty-one people, all classified as ’vagrants’, escaped that night.138
A clear measure of the fear and anxiety created in the minds of the administrators of criminal justice by this new spirit of rebellion and escape can be found in the reactions of the keeper of New Prison to a riot, perhaps an attempted escape, perhaps just a scuffle, that occurred on 1 August 1784. Some stones were thrown and a complaint was made by the women prisoners because their victuals were not delivered as normal at the open gate to their yard, but through a serving hatch. A broomstick was pushed through the gate in a threatening manner, and someone yelled that they would burn the prison. In a desperate response to what most witnesses described as a relatively minor affray, the keeper broke open the arms cabinet and distributed weapons to both his own staff and a couple of soldiers who happened to be visiting. In the confusion that followed Sarah Scott, seven months pregnant and mother of two, was shot in the face and killed. No escape was effected, but the fear of one, and the pride of prisoners in being able to create that fear, was fully reflected in the trial for murder that followed, when the prisoners’ testimony reveals a remarkable self-confidence. When called to testify against William Stevenson, the man who fired the fatal shot, each prisoner seemed more keen than the last to claim a reputation as an escape artist and rabble- rouser. Daniel Hopkins claimed he was only in New Prison in consequence of ‘breaking out of that [same] gaol’, while Thomas Jones claimed to have escaped from Newgate. The counsel for the defence suggested that Jones ‘was so bad a fellow, that the keeper got some of his own people to bail [him], that [he] might not corrupt the whole gaol’. To this Jones heartily concurred,’Right, Sir! Very right, Sir! Very right, Sir! ’.139
A similar narrative was played out on the hulks. Owing to prison overcrowding and the renewal of court sentences of transportation (despite the fact no destination had been identified), convicts continued to be kept there. Their continuing use from 1782, despite their known limitations, was justified as a stop-gap measure until transportation could resume. In December the removal of additional prisoners to the hulks was justified in a Treasury minute by the fact ‘that the Gaol of Newgate is crowded with prisoners to a very inconvenient degree’.
However, conditions on the hulks were at least as bad as in the prisons, and once again some of the convicts escaped. And once again, those re-arrested justified their actions by the harsh treatment they had received. Charles Peyton told the court in 1785 ‘I have only to say, I had very hard usage on board the hulk’.140 George Morley, tried for escaping for a second time, said ‘I cannot disown the charge of being guilty, the reason of my making my escape, was the ill treatment I received after my first escape’. Morley elaborated:
I was run over across my loins, I am lame, I was always struck without a cause, when I tried to do the utmost of my endeavour, and I hope the merciful Jury will take it into consideration, and send me to any other place: the allowance [of food and drink] is but two pints of barley water, from three in the morning, till six in the afternoon, and there is half a brown loaf, and half an ox cheek for six hearty young men, and the ballast that I heaved up, weighs a ton weight, and is fit for a horse to do, and I am entirely a cripple now, and an object [of mercy].141
Memories of such harsh treatment were not easily erased. Charles Peat spent some time on one of the hulks before being taken on the transport ship the Mercury in 1784, from which he escaped following a prisoners’ mutiny. At his trial for returning from transportation he told the court ‘Whilst I was on board the hulk, I had the mortification of seeing my fellow sufferers die daily, to the amount of two hundred and fifty’.142 Joseph Morrell had extensive experience of the hulks between 1784 and 1789.143 Convicted of grand larceny in 1784 and sentenced to transportation, he was committed to the hulk the Censor , moved to the Justicia and then to a hospital ship, from which he escaped in 1786. Indicted for returning from transportation, he told the court ‘I suffered such hardships, that I made my escape’. Convicted and sentenced to death but with a recommendation for mercy from the jury, Morrell was apparently sent to Newgate. Before he was sentenced, he pleaded ‘I hope I shall not go on board any more hulks; I accept my sentence very freely, only not to send me on board the hulks’.144
Throughout the century there was a persistent pattern of prison escapes, and prisoner collusion in devising defence strategies for their trials. But the 1780s witnessed a significant escalation of oppositional behaviour among London prisoners, defendants and convicts, both at the Old Bailey and in the prisons. More than a simple, and perhaps understandable rejection of the carceral chaos that characterised London in these years, the mutinies and mass escapes, and confident behaviour in court, constituted a newly self-confident plebeian challenge to the institutions of criminal justice. The authorities were forced to respond.
The resistance to the hulks reminded the authorities (should any doubt have remained) of their serious limitations. Pointing out the deficiencies not only of the hulks but also of the prisons and the increased number of executions, in 1784–5 a House of Commons committee emphasised the need to return to transportation as soon as possible. With respect to the prisons, the committee noted ‘that the extraordinary fullness of the gaols makes a separation of offenders impracticable, and that by constant intercourse they corrupt and confirm each other in every practice of villainy’. But the hulks were no better: ‘however necessary they may have been as a temporary expedient, [they] have singularly contributed to these mischievous effects… [the prisoners] form distinct societies for the more complete instruction of all new comers’. Although the committee did not put it this way, those incarcerated had discredited the hulks and the prisons as effective means of punishment. But increasing the number hanged was no longer possible. While refraining from directly criticising the increase in executions, the committee also noted that ‘these sacrifices to public justice have produced no other effect than the removal of the offenders in question; and crimes … still multiply’.145
Through both plebeian resistance and public opinion, the pressure to do something was irresistible, and the judges began sentencing offenders to transportation again as early as October 1781. The American War was coming to an unsatisfactory end and the usual post-war crime wave was in prospect, but an alternative destination had not yet been identified. In a futile attempt to resolve the problem, in 1782 and 1785 four transport ships were sent abroad, to the African coast, America (twice) and Honduras.146 However, the newly mutinous spirit among the convicts helped ensure a rocky road for these experiments. Robert Hill, ordered to go to Africa, refused because he had been granted a pardon on condition he went to the East Indies. When this failed, he, together with Patrick Madan and two others, attempted to scuttle the ship by piercing a hole in the bottom and was given 175 lashes and imprisoned.147 Thomas Limpus, whose life story began this book, made the voyage to Goree on the West Africa coast, but conditions were so poor when he got there that, he claimed, ‘the soldiers were drawn up in a circle on the parade, the Lieutenant of the island ordered us all into the middle of it, and told us we were all free men, and that we were to do the best we could, for he had no victuals’.148 Having managed to work his passage home, Limpus was tried for returning from transportation and sentenced to be transported to America for life. While in Newgate awaiting trial, Limpus intermingled with other prisoners who were about to board the transport ship the Swift. Although the ship’s stated destination was Nova Scotia, it was actually destined for Maryland.149 Perhaps sensing the deception involved, many convicts worried that they would actually be taken to Africa, the horrors of which had been retailed by Limpus.
When the Swift set sail on 28 August 1783, her 143 prisoners were fearful and rebellious; and as she beat her way down the Channel they rose up in mutiny. As Charles Keeling later testified, ‘the reason of our first opposition’ was ‘that we were to go to Africa’.150 Having taken over the ship, the convicts sailed it close to shore and cast anchor. Forty-eight felons escaped onto the smugglers’ coast of Kent, sparking one of the largest manhunts in the history of eighteenth-century crime, only surpassed by that which had followed the Gordon Riots. Thirty-nine were eventually captured, and twenty-six were tried at the Old Bailey for returning from transportation. Restocked with food, the Swift did eventually make it to North America, landing in Baltimore in December. However, the convict population still harboured a visceral distrust of those responsible for their punishments, and when a second transport ship, the Mercury, headed to America the following year with 179 prisoners, they once again mutinied, this time off the coast of the Scilly Isles. At least 108 prisoners, including Thomas Limpus, escaped, but most were recaptured before reaching land and the ship continued on its way, only to be rejected by the newly independent Americans and forced to sail to Honduras, where the colonists also wanted to have nothing to do with it.151 Faced with stiff rejection by both the convicts and the destination populations, the authorities were forced to find a new destination for transportation, eventually deciding on Botany Bay in 1786.
The First Fleet, comprising eleven ships holding almost 700 convicts, set off for Australia in May 1787, commencing an episode of forced migration that would ultimately ship 164,000 convicts from the UK to Australia over the next eighty-one years. While in numerical terms the reintroduction of transportation was clearly successful, it is important to note that it would never again dominate the penal system for felons the way it had prior to 1776. Whereas sentences of transportation account for just under two-thirds of all Old Bailey punishments between 1718 and 1776, transportation to Australia accounted for only a third of sentences between 1787 and 1800. This is not only because transportation to Australia was expensive and there was a new desire to attempt to reform those convicted of less serious offences in prisons but also because the underlying discontent among the convict population continued. An attempted mutiny on the Second Fleet was perhaps inspired by men who had participated in those on the Swift and Mercury. Parodoxically, it was only foiled through the intervention of a fellow transportee, Samuel Burt.152
The authorities also addressed the crisis of order by attempting to beef up the policing of the metropolis. While the need for enhanced security for property was self-evident, the options for action and reform were limited. Immediately following the Gordon Riots, the military were given the primary responsibility for maintaining order, supplemented by neighbourhood associations. But the military were a target of popular hostility and were quickly withdrawn to their camps. In addition to largely middle-class concerns about infringements on English liberties, hostility among plebeians resulted from memories of the soldiers’ violent repression of the riots, which did not fade quickly. In February 1782, twenty months after the riots, two soldiers from the guards (which had been deeply involved in the army response) were committed to New Prison on suspicion of stealing lead. As soon as they entered the prison, they were attacked by Patrick Madan and several other prisoners.153 According to one of the soldiers, William Stobbart:
as soon as he went in among the other prisoners Patrick Madan seized hold of him and put him in to a large tub of filthy Urine & kept him there until he was near being suffocated declaring they would serve every soldier in like manner for preventing them getting out of Goal.154
This traditional community shaming punishment was often used against informers. We have seen that earlier, out of concern that a show of military force might result in a much more violent popular response, the military were kept out of sight when the executions of twenty-six convicted Gordon rioters took place not much more than a month after the riots ended. Instead, policing was carried out by voluntary associations such as the London Volunteers Association, and supernumerary constables.
Over the ensuing years, as anxiety about crime mounted, the need for improved policing in the metropolis was keenly felt, but the military were clearly not the answer. Nor was the creation of a metropolitan-wide police force, as proposed in the ‘radical and in some ways extreme’ London and Westminster Police Bill, a response to the crisis of order revealed by the Gordon Riots which was presented to parliament in 1785. The bill was scuttled owing to objections from City officials and the Middlesex justices, both of which wanted to preserve their traditional autonomy from central government interference.155 Instead, reforms took place at the local level, in ways intended to prevent an escalation of the penal crisis. In the City, a city-wide night ‘patrole’ was created in 1785 for the purpose of moving on vagrants and loose, idle and disorderly men and women, quelling minor disturbances and preventing serious crime. Significantly, this preventative function meant that the patrole made few arrests. As Andrew Harris argues, the City authorities had no wish to add to the pressures on the overcrowded prisons.156
A similar reduction in ambition and focus on prevention was evident in changes at Bow Street, which had suffered both the physical destruction of Fielding’s office and its records and substantial damage to its reputation. At hearings conducted during the riots, the names of witnesses who testified against the rioters were retailed to the press, which subsequently published them, allowing the rioters to take revenge. A few months later, following the death of John Fielding in September, a ruling at King’s Bench in a suit brought by Thomas Ayrton led to the end of both press reporting of preliminary hearings and, apparently, the practice of holding regular ‘re-examinations’ of suspects. 157 Forced to change its policies, Bow Street, now under the direction of Sampson Wright, returned to its original focus on prevention and detection, rather than prosecution. Nevertheless, the Runners continued to be treated with hostility or suspicion in parts of plebeian London; as one Runner, John Sayer, recalled in 1816, in the 1780s ‘An officer could not walk in Duck-lane, Gravel-lane, or Cock-lane, without a party of five or six men along with him’, or else gangs ‘would have cut him to pieces if he was alone’.158 While the Runners continued to be respected, and used, by many Londoners, they were distrusted by the poor. Perhaps the introduction of a government-funded armed foot patrol in 1782 to discourage highway robbery on the streets leading into London encountered less opposition, focused as it was on the periphery of the metropolis. As Beattie observes, the 1780s witnessed ‘something of a transition in London policing’ towards a new focus on prevention, ‘in opposition to what some were coming to regard as the brutality of Fielding’s catch-and-punish policing’.159
Supplementing these limited reforms of official policing, there was a return to voluntary policing in 1787 in the form of yet another reformation of manners campaign, launched by the Proclamation Society. Founded by William Wilberforce with substantial elite backing, the immediate stimulus for the new Society was a proclamation issued by the king against drunkenness, gaming, profane swearing and cursing, lewdness, profanation of the sabbath and ‘other dissolute, immoral, or disorderly practices’.160 However, while a campaign against vice was an entirely conventional response to a perceived growth in crime and disorder, lessons had been learned from the opposition encountered in earlier campaigns and the tactics used this time were far less dependent on the aggressive use of criminal justice. As Joanna Innes has commented, the campaign ‘was marked by tactical caution’, as efforts were targeted at convincing sinners to reform or, if that failed, encouraging existing legal officials to carry out their responsibilities more rigorously. Unlike previous societies, informers were used sparingly.161 Rather than prosecute large numbers of offenders, supporters relied on high-profile prosecutions of a small number of ‘examples’ as a means of discouraging vice. Nonetheless, once again the reformers encountered substantial opposition, including vexatious prosecutions, from the middle and lower classes, and by the end of the century its campaign against vice had ended. As Innes concludes, ‘the cause of moral reform, as the Proclamation Society had implemented it, had failed to win the hearts and minds of the people’.162 Despite widespread concerns about public order, plebeian resistance helped ensure that changes in policing in the 1780s were limited. Not only was the military isolated and the powers of Bow Street and the new City ‘patrole’ constrained, but popular and legal opposition to the systematic prosecution of vice also meant that a traditional reformation of manners campaign was no longer feasible.163
The parish system of poor relief was to some extent shielded from the direct impact of the crisis of order and punishment. There is little evidence that the elderly and infirm men and women who formed the majority of workhouse populations engaged in active resistance or political violence. The systems of relief and judicial policy were nevertheless intertwined, and as policing and punishment evolved, so too did parochial policies. The role that ensured that Sampson Rainsforth would be an early and prominent victim of the Gordon Riots was his past service as the high constable of Westminster, and his testimony against the rioters at Bow Street.164 But also important was his service as a vestryman, then churchwarden, and by June 1780, upper or senior churchwarden of St Clement Danes, where he acted in the interests of the ratepayers. Indeed, Rainsforth spent the early part of the evening of 5 June chairing a committee of churchwardens and overseers for the parish, to arrange contracts for supplying the workhouse with ‘Forty Chaldron of the best Windsor Ponton Tanfield Moor Coals’.165 He went home after this meeting, only to be dragged from his bed later the same night and forced to watch his furniture and stock in trade torched by the rioters.166
Rainsforth went on to serve the parish as senior overseer of the poor throughout much of the early 1780s and was intimately involved in the reformulation of poor relief during these years. These multiple roles, also evident in the mixed business of select vestries, reflect the uncertain boundary that existed between criminal justice and parish poor relief, and the extent to which many people were obliged to fill roles in both systems as they progressed through a series of annual appointments. Poor relief and criminal justice were perhaps divided by their perceived objects: the deserving and the disorderly respectively. However, they were tied into a single whole both by personnel like Rainsforth, with their desire to defend the social order in a time of upheaval, and by the needs, behaviour and expectations of London’s working population.
We have seen in previous chapters that from at least mid-century expenditure, both per pauper and per capita, in London on poor relief increased significantly, and that from the 1720s poor relief in the capital was characterised by a remarkably high reliance on institutional provision, both in parish-run and in private-contract workhouses. In particular, driven by both pauper demand and statutory ‘reform’, relief levels grew substantially from the mid-1760s through the middle of the following decade. But from the mid-1770s, across the capital, parish authorities made great efforts to reduce expenditure and generally succeeded in stabilising costs, despite the static or falling living standards of these years for London workers.167 In this same period (1775–87), a series of parliamentary enquiries spearheaded by Thomas Gilbert into the state of poor relief and workhouses called attention to London’s relatively high level of expenditure and extreme reliance on institutional care. Like Jonas Hanway, Gilbert was essentially sympathetic to the plight of the parish poor, but his inquiries exposed a system of relief that must have appeared increasingly expensive to vestrymen and ratepayers.168
The resulting dialogue between parish bureaucrats and the poor was unequal and led to a series of policy innovations that substantially disadvantaged the latter. Some parishes, such as St Dionis Backchurch, became ever more reliant on contract workhouses, gradually withdrawing from the provision of outdoor relief and the provision of annuities for elderly widows. In a small parish like St Dionis, these changes both physically removed parish pensioners from a tightly knit community and, in the minds of the poor at least, threatened their ability to appeal to the Lord Mayor. Significant for more Londoners were developments concerning the relief provided to thousands of paupers in the extensive workhouses of Westminster and Middlesex.169 Here, the same pressures to reduce parochial obligations to the poor led to the creation of a more bureaucratic system of relief. In turn, these changes exacerbated the problems faced by the system of vagrant removal (which substantially overlapped with poor relief).
Sampson Rainsforth’s parish of St Clement Danes was in many respects typical of these large extramural parishes. Following ten years of dramatically increasing parish expenditure (rising from £2,645 per annum in 1764 to an average annual expenditure of £4,592 in the mid-1770s), and the establishment of a new workhouse (finally) in 1773, St Clement’s was faced with both public criticism of its care for the over 300 paupers maintained in its workhouse and growing demands that expenditure should be kept within bounds.
Source: St Clement Danes Vestry Minutes and Parliamentary Papers. See also PP, ‘Abstract of the answers and returns made … relative to the expense and maintenance of the poor in England’, 1803–4, p. 724.
Online dataset: St Clement Danes Poor Law Expenditure 1706-1803 (xlsx)
In some respects, the establishment of a workhouse in 1773 had left the parish open to the demands of the poor – institutional relief systems were uniquely dependent on the good will of inmates to function effectively. However, in the first instance, it was the care of dependent children that provided the driving force in the evolution of relief, and a touchstone issue for the parish, and for poor parents. St Clement Danes had been singled out for public opprobrium by Jonas Hanway in the 1760s for the apparently high death rates suffered by children in parish care, but despite significantly improving its system of record keeping and sending children to nurse in Enfield, the parish continued to suffer a high mortality rate. Removing infant children to nurse in the countryside might have been marginally healthier, but it disadvantaged both the children and their parents by making it more difficult for them to keep in contact.
In company with many other London parishes, and driven at least in part by a desire to shift long-term parochial obligations to distant communities, St Clement Danes decided to take this policy of separating parents and children even further. In 1782 the parish contracted to send girls to work at a silk mill in Hampshire. Ten girls, the youngest six-year-old Ann Benzie, were dispatched on 2 July. At the same meeting, the parish sought to limit its responsibility for the care of even younger children by boarding them with the Foundling Hospital.170
This was the first of a series of decisions taken in the crisis years of the early 1780s which attempted a thorough reconfiguration of the system of relief provided by St Clement Danes at the expense of the poor. In the first instance, these changes were precipitated by rising costs and the issue of the work expected of the workhouse inmates. Almost precisely a year after the children were first sent to Hampshire, Sampson Rainsforth led the way in seeking to find some way of making a profit from the poor. In July 1783, at Rainsforth’s behest, a committee was created to investigate other workhouses, and to seek the ‘most effectual means to Employ the Poor’.171 In most parishes with large workhouses, this kind of inquiry was set on foot every few years in the vain hope of finding ways of squeezing advantage from the poor (the most common occupation was spinning mop yarn, which could be produced with the minimum of care and effort). For the most part, and given the limited power of workhouse administrators to force the poor to work, these kinds of inquiries ran into the ground.
Unusually, however, on this occasion workhouse inmates themselves appear to have become involved, and, in the words of the parish clerk, ‘agitated’, with regard to their employment.172 The inmates posted a petition in the workroom, which has not survived but appears to have been precipitated by a threatened loss of earnings to the poor. In most workhouses a proportion of the tiny income generated through manufacturing was distributed as ‘encouragement’ money. In this instance, the ‘agitation’ led to a rapid response: ‘Ordered that the Petition in the Mop Room be forthwith taken down and the Machine for Opening the Wool be immediately put into repair so as to Employ the Poor in spinning Mop yarn as heretofore’.173
Over the next twenty months, as workhouse expenditure rose to unprecedented heights, a new labour contractor was brought in and desperate attempts were made to secure cheaper supplies – to little purpose. Finally, in the autumn of 1784 the parish decided on a comprehensive review of its provision and, as a first step, ordered the creation of a unique workhouse census to record the details of all the inmates in the house – ‘their Christian and Sir Names – Their Age – the time and Manner of their gaining Settlements in this Parish’ – all of which was designed to remove the unsettled and the disorderly from the house and thus reduce expenses.174 The resulting document listed 393 individuals, and a measure of its significance can be found in the numbers in the house by August of the same year – only 280.175 Over a hundred people had been shunted onto the streets, or removed to another parish, either as a pauper or a vagrant. Some had no doubt left voluntarily to take up seasonal work in the spring, but many others were forced to leave.
For the children of the workhouse, however, a different fate awaited them. At the same meeting that determined the creation of the census, a further resolution was passed ‘That an Advertizement be inserted in the Daily Advertizer that there are several Children, Boys and Girls in the Workhouse of a fit Age to be placed out Apprentices’.176 After several months’ negotiations, the parish agreed to supply a steady stream of parish apprentices, as young as eight, to the new mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire. In the next five years, twenty-two girls and sixty-one boys were apprenticed by the parish. Most went to John Birch ’s Backbarrow Mill, near Lake Windermere in Lancashire (now part of Cumbria).177
While small City parishes sent their paupers to contract workhouses on the edge of the metropolis, beyond the reach of the Lord Mayor and community oversight, parishes such as St Clement’s sent pauper children hundreds of miles away to large factories where they had no friends and no family, where Sunday visiting would be unknown, and where, however supportable the food and labour might be (and the parish regularly inspected conditions), each child was incalculably disadvantaged by mere distance.
In one step, St Clement’s reduced the likelihood of future demands on its resources, drove the marginal poor from its doors and attempted to gain a new control over its costs. In pursuing these initiatives, it was not alone. While the parish’s workhouse census is unique, its decision to apprentice its pauper children to factory labour put it at the centre of a metropolitan-wide transformation. Following early experiments in apprenticing children to silk weaving in the south-east, from the spring of 1785 most of the larger London parishes settled on industrial apprenticeships in Yorkshire and Lancashire. The first group of five young boys left the workhouse of St Martin in the Fields for the mill owned by Thomas and William Douglas at Eccles in Lancashire on 28 May 1785.178
St Clement’s was not far behind. Its first wagon full of twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys left for the same mill on 25 November of the following year. Among their number, was twelve-year-old James Vobe.179 He was the fourth of six children, the son of Jane and Thomas Vobe, who had kept the Indian Queen alehouse in Holywell Street until the family fell into crisis in 1781 and were forced to seek parish support. In being sent north, James was effectively separated from a large family, including his older brother Thomas, who was by this time gainfully employed outside the workhouse as a waiter, his older sisters Elizabeth and Ann, and his younger sister Jane.180 It is unlikely he ever saw any of them again; least likely his older brother Thomas, who was sentenced to seven years transportation in 1788 and shipped to Australia on the Surprise, as part of the Second Fleet, in 1790.181 In 1786 the example set by St Martin’s and St Clement’s was followed by St Giles in the Fields, St Mary Lambeth, and St James Piccadilly.182
However, the new policies of exclusion and industrial apprenticeship could not stop the demands placed on the parish by the poor. When in 1786, Mary Brown, a seventeen-year-old prostitute, went into labour, the discussion that ensued between her, Mrs Davies (who kept the lodging house from which she worked), and Ann Pope reflected the continuing self-conscious manipulation of the parishes of London by the poor. First, and despite living in Jackson’s Alley, in St Paul Covent Garden, they discussed which parish workhouse was the best place to give birth – St Martin in the Fields or St Clement Danes – and quickly determined that the latter was the best ‘casualty parish’ in London and that Mary should apply there. When Mary presented herself at the door, deep in labour, the workhouse mistress had no choice but to admit her to the lying-in ward, where she rapidly gave birth to an illegitimate boy named John. The child automatically gained a settlement in the parish by virtue of being born illegitimate. But Mary likewise was able to tell a story that gave her a legal claim to stay. In a long and revealing settlement statement recorded several days after the birth, she claimed ‘she was born on board ship coming from Ireland’, meaning that she was settled in neither Ireland nor England, and therefore impossible to remove from St Clement’s.183
Just as accused criminals and convicts sought new ways of working an increasingly oppressive system, so paupers were able, in the face of substantial cost-cutting measures and new initiatives, to find imaginative means of securing the relief they needed. Despite the best efforts of Sampson Rainsforth and his fellow parish officers, the cost of relieving the poor of St Clement’s, which had briefly stabilised around 1780, renewed its upward trajectory, indicating the success of paupers like Mary Brown in frustrating every attempt to save on the rates.
At the awkward intersection between poor relief and criminal justice, the treatment of vagrancy also substantially evolved in these years, reflecting not simply harsher official attitudes but also the demands and expectations of the poor. Rates of committal to Bridewell (and probably London’s other houses of correction) soared in the first few years of the 1780s, reflecting both a new intolerance of minor street disorder following the Gordon Riots and the fears created by the arrival of newly demobilised soldiers at the ragged end of the American War. Almost 3,000 men and women were committed to Bridewell in 1783, by far the largest annual total in the century, despite long-running concerns about the prison’s corrupting influence on those incarcerated. Many were vagrants of one description or another, sentenced to suffer the usual punishment of a week or a month at hard labour and a whipping. But by 1784 the resulting overcrowding, in combination with the pressures created by the demobilisation of soldiers and sailors in the winter and spring of that year, seems to have contributed to a fundamental change in the system of vagrant punishment and removal. In that year the number of commitments to Bridewell fell to 612, while the number of vagrants passed from the City to Middlesex for removal to their place of settlement grew. This reached 2,231 individuals in the twelve months following October 1784. While continuing to arrest and remove vagrants in large numbers, the City had abandoned its legal obligation to punish them in Bridewell and directly passed them instead. Like many of the dependent poor, and (eventually) convicts, those labelled as vagrants were simply expelled from the metropolis.184 However, the difference in this case is that some ‘vagrants’ apparently chose to be removed.
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)
When Henry Adams succeeded his father as the ‘vagrant contractor’ for Middlesex in 1774, the average number of vagrants carried from the houses of correction to the county border numbered around 1,300 per year. But with this change in City policy, in early 1783 Adams was overwhelmed by the number of vagrants passed into his hands. When the total reached over 4,000 in the twelve months after October 1784, Adams complained bitterly to his paymasters, the Middlesex sessions, and presented evidence that the vast majority of this increase came from the City of London. He complained that the individuals passing through his hands ‘do not appear to be Objects of the Vagrants Laws’ and many were ’dangerously Ill some of which have died in his Hands’.185
Adams concluded that the reason the number of vagrants passed from the City had increased exponentially ‘arose from the ease with which passes were obtained from the Magistrates of the City of London’ and that ‘the City Magistrates never … Cause the Vagrants to Be Whippd or Imprisoned … previous to their being passed’.186 This sparked a furious letter to the Lord Mayor, who promised to investigate – although there is no evidence that he ever did so.
Thus, vagrant removal in the City changed in the 1780s. In part, this may have resulted from changes in policing, including more aggressive regulation of street traders from 1784 and the creation of the more preventative-focused City patrole in 1785.187 More generally, it may reflect a combination of a short-term crisis resulting from demobilisation and increasing intolerance of the less savoury inhabitants of the streets.188 However, it may also reflect a recognition that the City simply did not have the facilities to punish vagrants as the law directed. Concern about prisoner unrest may have discouraged its officials from continuing to commit large numbers of vagrants to Bridewell.
There is evidence that the poor took advantage of this change. Some Londoners appear to have used a vagrancy conviction as a relatively painless pathway to free transportation, medical care and accommodation. Being arrested as a vagrant required a certain wilfulness, and the growing numbers being passed through the City suggest that its policies made arrest for this offence attractive for seasonal migrants and the Irish poor, once it became clear that they would not be punished in Bridewell before being removed.189 Others, as Adams’s complaint suggests, simply went to the Lord Mayor and requested a pass. Given the absence of first-person evidence from those concerned, these are difficult points to prove, but they are supported by both a demographic change among those removed (now more often single adult men, perhaps travelling in search of work) and a reminiscence of James Dawson Burn from the early nineteenth century.190 As a child, Dawson recalled having been taken by his mother to the Mansion House in the City to apply ‘for a pass to Hexham, in Northumberland … which she had no difficulty in obtaining’. Armed with this pass, the family travelled northwards, benefiting from the support parishes were obliged to provide removed vagrants:
As my mother preferred taking the journey at her ease, and her own time, she frequently had the benefit of the cash that the overseers would have had to pay for sending us forward in a conveyance, and at the same time she had the advantage of the intermediate relieving officers, who were often glad to get clear of us at the expense of a shilling or two.191
This system could also be used by paupers to obtain medical support. When Adams began to refuse to accept vagrants who were ill, the City was forced to provide medical care for any vagrant it wished to pass, until they were well enough to be able to endure a long journey in a cart. As a result, the City’s medical costs began to increase in the late 1780s, reaching almost £1,800 per annum in the 1790s, for the care of hundreds of vagrants who appear to have simply presented themselves at the Mansion House and Guildhall Justice Rooms with a demand for a pass.192
Just as the pressure on the prisons eased with the departure of the First Fleet and the waning crime wave, the immediate crisis of vagrant removal eased in the latter years of the 1780s. However, the City never returned to a comprehensive policy of punishing vagrants. In 1790, when a committee of the Middlesex bench examined a group of three vagrants passed from the City, it ruefully observed in its report that they had been ’advised to go to the Lord Mayor for passes which they did, and had them of course’. 193 As with parochial poor relief, the City’s attempt to reform its procedures for apprehending vagrants in the tense years following the Gordon Riots failed to prevent the poor from exploiting the system for their own ends. Consequently, vagrancy would remain an item of concern to the authorities in the early 1790s.
The culmination of this escalating pattern of plebeian resistance was played out at the Old Bailey in the second half of the decade. The case which made William Garrow ‘s name was that of Henry Aikles, who was tried for returning from transportation in 1785 and whose case demonstrated that a transportee could return if conditions forced him to (in this case, illness prevented Aikles from even embarking).194 This was also the first case in which Garrow asserted that the court could not ’extend the law beyond the letter of it’.195 It was a complex case that brought to the public’s attention both the dubious legality of the legal fiction the court was attempting to impose through the use of the hulks (that prisoners were being transported ’beyond the sea’) and the ability of a smart brief to cut a swath through the apparently secure authority of the crown. The implications of Aikles’s case exercised the court through the late 1780s, and it was later referred to as a precedent for others caught returning from transportation or escaping from the hulks. For those awaiting trial, it must have exposed a weakness in the court’s armour which would become more evident as the plans for the new penal colony in New South Wales developed in just these years.
Nonetheless, by this point there was no question but that transportation would be resumed, despite the setbacks on the voyages to Africa and America. Simon Devereaux has argued that from the point of view of the authorities transportation remained an ideal punishment because it appeared to fulfil all the potentially contradictory expectations of the purposes of punishment at this time: severity, deterrence and reform.196 At the same time, it also addressed the continuing pressures caused by prisoners in London’s overcrowded prisons and hulks. In the 1786 letter from Lord Sydney which finally announced the choice of Botany Bay in Australia as the new destination, the first justification given for the resumption of transportation was that ‘the several gaols and places for confinement of felons in this kingdom being in so crowded a state that the greatest danger is to be apprehended, not only from their escape, but from infectious distempers, which may hourly be expected to break out amongst them’.197
While disease was a problem, the ‘distemper’ of convict rebellion also worried the authorities. That rebellious attitudes among convicts were still present in Newgate in the late 1780s can be seen in the phenomenon of ‘refusing the royal pardon’– the dramatic refusal by nineteen men and women in the spring and autumn of 1789 to accept transportation to New South Wales in preference to death.198
The first refusenik, however, was not among the men and women who stood before the court in 1789, but appeared three years earlier. His name was Samuel Burt and his defence counsel was once again William Garrow.199 In court it emerged that he had determined to forge an order to pay £100 with the precise intention of being caught, tried and executed. He was a lovelorn apprentice who was denied the object of his love. Garrow understandably entered a defence of insanity, but Burt was convicted nonetheless. At the next session his sentence was respited to transportation for life – an offer which Burt eloquently turned down, so that he would still be hanged. He only finally accepted transportation to New South Wales after the object of his affection died from a fever contracted while visiting him in Newgate. At the session starting 22 February 1787, Burt accepted his fate in a long-winded speech, before making room for Henry Aikles to stand up immediately after him to hear the outcome of his own case. Both Burt’s initial refusal and the legal changes implied by the precedent set by Aikles sent strong messages to the prisoners next door.200
The first news of the progress of the settlement in Australia by the First Fleet reached London in the last week of March 1789, and throughout April the newspapers were full of optimistic accounts of the landing at Botany Bay, while possibly less rosy accounts drawn from direct experience circulated through the waterside communities of London.201 At the end of the April sessions, twenty-three women who had been sentenced to death were brought before the bar at the Old Bailey, where they received the news that they were to be pardoned on condition of transportation to New South Wales as part of the Second Fleet, which was just then in preparation. Of these women, seven simply refused to accept their pardons. They proclaimed their innocence and, in the words of Sarah Mills, declared they ‘would rather die than go out of my own country to be devoured by savages’.202
After furious negotiations with the court, and under the threat of almost immediate execution, the women held out over the course of two more sessions. It was only after being held in solitary confinement in Newgate on bread and water, and following the desperate intervention of William Garrow, ferrying messages between the women and the judge, that they were finally compelled to accept transportation.203
At the September sessions that year, as the Second Fleet continued its preparations for departure, a further twelve men refused the king’s pardon. Some claimed innocence, questioning their treatment at the hands of the court. John Durham complained bitterly of his conviction on the basis of uncorroborated evidence and declared: ‘I think I ought to suffer as a man; I am very sorry I must refuse it’.204 In this instance, it was not until the October sessions that all the men could be convinced to accept transportation.
The majority of these seven women and twelve men who refused pardons that year had been in prison for many months – many for as long as two years between arrest, trial and the final offer of transportation – and must have been familiar with Burt’s case, and with the state of preparation of the Second Fleet. Of the twelve men who refused the royal pardon in 1789, four had been defended by Garrow at their original trials.
Eventually, all the convicts caved in and accepted their pardons – though several did eventually avoid transportation. However, no one in the courtroom (or in the wider population of plebeian London) could fail to have marked the apparent impotence of the judges at the Old Bailey in the face of this concerted opposition. When Judge Rose declared to Mary Burgess on 22 April that ‘you certainly will be ordered immediately for execution’, and she answered, ‘Well, I am very glad to hear it. I do not care how soon’, and yet the threatened order was not given, the balance of authority in the courtroom had changed.205
The fundamental transformations in criminal justice and the evolution of poor relief that marked the 1780s cannot be understood without acknowledging the crisis of obedience precipitated by the Gordon Riots. Reforms were driven not only by bureaucratic impetus, cost-cutting and (at times) humanitarian concerns but also by a fundamental fear of rebellion and disorder. Nor should we underestimate the impact of wider plebeian pressure and resistance in shaping social policy. The demands of the poor forced City and parish officials to change their approaches to poor relief and vagrancy, while the growing number of defendants obtaining legal representation enhanced the role of counsel in the criminal trial and increased its impact. Each official initiative to address the crises caused by the interruption of transportation, the Gordon Riots and the post-war crime wave, whether it was the introduction of the hulks, the surge in executions and whipping, the increase in incarceration or the attempts to implement new forms of policing and new strategies for removing vagrants, was circumscribed by plebeian behaviour, both actual and anticipated.
By 1789 the two most common punishment sentences at the Old Bailey were imprisonment and transportation, the public punishments of death and whipping having declined precipitously since their peaks in the mid-1780s. As these public punishments declined in part owing to concerns about the disorder they might occasion, rebuilt prisons and transportation to Australia came to dominate punishment strategies. This dominance resulted from the crisis created by the overcrowding of prisons and hulks and the ensuing escapes and mutinies, which forced London’s judicial authorities to accelerate the pace of penal reform.
As the increased use of transportation to a faraway continent and imprisonment, often with hard labour, suggests, the consequences of this transformation did not necessarily work to the advantage of plebeian Londoners, but they had nonetheless played a fundamental role in shaping it. Without the pressures generated in these years, the pace and the trajectory of change in both penal reform and poor relief would have been very different. Even the refusals of the royal pardon had significant consequences. While in the end the convicts accepted their pardons and most endured transportation, the experience prompted the authorities to revise the processes of sentencing and pardoning in order to reduce the amount of discretion exercised, both by the courts and by convicts. From 1797 conditional pardons were tantamount to orders: it was no longer necessary for convicts to accept a pardon in order for it to take effect.206
By the end of the decade, transportation to Australia and improved economic conditions had reduced the pressures on criminal justice and the poor law, but the relationships between authority and deference, governors and governed, had been transformed. The new dispensation is epitomised in the 1789 refusals, when a group of convicts momentarily challenged the very foundations of the penal system. However, these men and women formed only a vocal and visible fragment of a wider community. If the prisons and transport ships formed the debating chambers in which the terms of new attitudes and loyalties were hammered out, those attitudes soon spilled beyond the prison walls. As the numbers hanged grew temporarily to unsupportable levels, as the children of the poor were shipped beyond the love of a parent, as a generation of young men and women pined in prison and rotted on shipboard and as parish worthies turned a hardened face to the suffering of their neighbours, a new anger was created. That anger was not informed by fine words or clearly articulated programmes for change, but it formed a new caesura which divided many plebeian Londoners from those who governed them. The government’s crackdown, following the French Revolution, on suspicious behaviour and dissent in the 1790s further exacerbated these divisions, but Londoners now possessed an array of tactics which would allow them to fight back and to continue to shape social policy.
The national figure for 1775 was approximately 900: Peter Wilson Coldham, Emigrants in Chains: A Social History of Forced Emigration to the Americas of Felons, Destitute Children, Political and Religious Non-Conformists, Vagabonds, Beggars and Other Undesirables, 1607–1776 (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1992), p. 183, Appendix viii.↩
PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 36, 15 April 1778, p. 927; and ‘Report from the committee … to consider… persons convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, and now under sentence of imprisonment …’, 1 April 1779, p. 9.↩
PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 15 April 1778, p. 927; and PP, ‘Report from the committee’, 1 April 1779, p. 10.↩
PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 15 April 1778, p. 929; and PP, ‘Report from the committee’, 1 April 1779, p. 11.↩
PP, ‘Report from the committee’, 1 April 1779, pp. 9–10.↩
PP, ‘Report from the committee’, 1 April 1779, p. 12.↩
LMA, ‘Account of people convicted and confined on a prison ship’, MA/G/GEN/1301.↩
19 Geo. III c. 74, ‘An Act to explain and amend the laws relating to the transportation, imprisonment and other punishment of certain offenders’; PP, ‘Report from the committee’, 1 April 1779, pp. 25–6; Simon Devereaux, ‘The making of the Penitentiary Act, 1775–1779’, Historical Journal, 42:2 (1999), 428–30).↩
PP, ‘Report from the committee’, 1 April 1779, p. 7.↩
PP, ‘Report from the committee’, 1 April 1779, p. 7.↩
PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 15 April 1778, p. 927.↩
PP, ‘Report from the committee’, 1 April 1779, p. 7.↩
LL, set, ‘Michael Swift’; Morning Post, 30 October 1776 (Burney); LL, Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court, September 1778 (LMSMGO556070213).↩
LMA, Middlesex Sessions, ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing the house of correction, Clerkenwell, and the New Prison, Clerkenwell’, MA/G/GEN/0001, vol. 2, p. 58.↩
LL, set, ‘Patrick Madan’. For an extended account of Madan’s experience, see Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Lost Story of Britain’s Convict Disaster in Africa (Oxford University Press, 2011), ch. 2.↩
London Chronicle, 19 August 1777 (Burney).↩
Michele Field and Tim Millett, Convict Love Tokens: The Leaden Hearts the Convicts Left Behind (Wakefield Press, 1998). For a discussion of the symbolism and meanings associated in popular culture with coins, see Deborah Valenze, The Social Life of Money in the English Past (Cambridge University Press, 2006).↩
LL, Middlesex Sessions: General Orders of the Court, September 1778 (LMSMGO556070215); LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing’, MA/G/GEN/001, vol. 3, pp. 7, 12 (28 Jan. 1780).↩
For this section, see also Tim Hitchcock, ‘Renegotiating the bloody code: the Gordon Riots and the transformation of popular attitudes to the criminal justice system’, in Ian Haywood and John Seed, eds., The Gordon Riots and Eighteenth-Century British Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 185–203.↩
J. Paul de Castro, The Gordon Riots (London: Oxford University Press, 1926), p. 236; Tony Hayter, The Army and the Crowd in Mid-Georgian England (London: Macmillan, 1978), p. 186. The often repeated estimate of 700 is derived from N. William Wraxall, Historical Memoirs of My Own Time (Philadelphia, Penn., 1836), p. 138.↩
The best narrative account remains de Castro, Gordon Riots; see also Christopher Hibbert, King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the Riots of 1780 (London: Longman, 1959); and John Nicholson, The Great Liberty Riot of 1780 (London: BM Bozo, 1985). The most intellectually ambitious analyses of the riots include Rudé, ‘The Gordon Riots’); and Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (London: Allen Lane, 1991), ch. 10, ‘The delivery of Newgate’; and, more recently, Haywood and Seed, eds., The Gordon Riots.↩
Joanna Innes, ‘Payne, William (1717/18–1782)’, ODNB; BL, Add. Ms. 42129, f. 8.↩
General Evening Post, 3–6 June 1780 (Burney).↩
As recalled by Rainsforth in a deposition given at Bow Street, and reproduced in de Castro, Gordon Riots, p. 44. See also John Beattie, The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750–1840 (Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 148.↩
The Rev. William Winterbotham: A Sketch (London: Printed for private circulation, ), p. 9.↩
See, for instance, Merika Sherwood, ‘Blacks in the Gordon Riots’, History Today, 1 December 1997, 24–8.↩
LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, February 1782 (LMSMPS507510097), (LMSMPS507510098), (LMSMPS507510105), (LMSMPS507510125); Philip Rawlings, ‘Fielding, Sir John (1721–1780)’, ODNB; and Anthony Babington, A House in Bow Street: Crime and the Magistracy: London 1740–1881 (Chichester: Barry Rose Law, 1999), p. 161. Lord Mansfield had taken a leading role in obstructing the prosecution of Catholics, so the attack on his house might have been partly motivated by anti-Catholic sentiment.↩
Of the thirteen men arrested on Friday, one was bailed and eight were released following a re-examination at Bow Street on the Monday. See de Castro, Gordon Riots, pp. 58–9. For Bow Street, see Babington, House in Bow Street, p. 161. For the low levels of destruction and violence traditionally associated with riot, see Robert Shoemaker, The London Mob: Violence and Disorder in Eighteenth-Century England (London: Hambledon and London, 2004), pp. 113–33, passim. The figure of £10,000 incorporates the damage done to the homes of William Hyde, Lord Mansfield, Sir John Fielding and Robert Cox (£10,062 in total compensation). It excludes Sampson Rainsforth’s house, as he was not a serving justice at the time.↩
LMA, City of London: Sessions, ‘Committee for carrying into execution so much of the Act of parliament lately passed as relates to the rebuilding the gaol of Newgate’, COL/CC/NGC/04/01/001, ff. 355 (29 Nov. 1780), 533 (13 July 1784).↩
LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 28 June 1780 (t17800628-34). Thomas Haycock’s role and background are substantially explored in Linebaugh, London Hanged, pp. 346–7.↩
East Riding Records Office, DDGR/42/30, John Grimston letters, f. 58, 8 June 1780. Our thanks to Katrina Navickas for this reference. For the issuing of arms, see Anthony Babington, Military Intervention in Britain from the Gordon Riots to the Gibraltar Incident (London: Routledge, 1990), p. 27.↩
LMA, ‘Committee for carrying into execution … the rebuilding of Newgate’, COL/CC/NGC/04/01/001, f. 361, 29 Nov. 1780.↩
Rudé, Paris and London, p. 275. For a detailed analysis of the state trials, see Uwe Böker, ‘“The people that the maddest times were ever plagued with”: English justice and fair trials after the Gordon Riots (1780)?’, Erfurt Electronic Studies in English, 6 (2003).↩
Rudé, Paris and London, p. 275; White, ‘“For the safety of the City”’, pp. 209–16. Rudé states that the number eventually hanged was twenty-five, but as White points out (p. 219) the addition of Henry Penny, executed on 22 August, raises this to twenty-six.↩
For the post-war crime wave, see John Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England 1660–1800 (Princeton University Press, 1986), ch. 5, passim.↩
William Blizard, Desultory Reflections on Police (1785), passim. We are grateful to Joanna Innes for this reference.↩
In October 1778, the keeper of the Middlesex house of correction, Edward Hall, estimated that approximately 2,000 persons a year were committed to his custody: LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing’, MA/G/GEN/0001, vol. 2, p. 58 (13 Oct. 1778). Three surviving ‘turnover’ calendars from around this time include an average of 267 prisoners committed since the last sessions, and there were eight sessions a year: LMA, Middlesex Sessions: ‘House of correction calendars’, MJ/CC/B/079–90 (Feb. 1778 and April 1781); LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for building the new house of correction’, MA/G/CBF/1 (January 1784); LMA, ‘List of prisoners committed to New Prison’, MJ/CC/V/002 (January 1778 – October 1780).↩
LMA, City of London: Sessions, ‘Miscellaneous papers from the Compter Committee’, CLA/032/02/006, figures for 1771–82.↩
Assuming a population of 820,000: John Landers, Death and the Metropolis: Studies in the Demographic History of London, 1670–1830 (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Table 5.7, p. 179. Evidence collected as a result of the authorities’ new-found interest in prison conditions allows us to estimate for the first time the total number of Londoners affected.↩
LMA, City of London: ‘City sessions rolls’, CLA/047/LJ/01/1107 (January 1783).↩
John Beattie, ‘Scales of justice: defense counsel and the English criminal trial in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’, Law and History Review, 9:2 (1991), 228; Robert Shoemaker, ‘Representing the adversary criminal trial: lawyers in the Old Bailey Proceedings, 1770–1800’, in David Lemmings, ed., Courtrooms and the Public Sphere in Britain, 1700–1850 (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 71–83.↩
Allyson May, ‘Advocates and truth-seeking in the Old Bailey courtroom’, Journal of Legal History, 26:1 (2005)), 85. See also T. P. Gallanis, ‘The mystery of Old Bailey counsel’, Cambridge Law Journal, 65:1 (2006), 159–73; and Allyson May, The Bar and the Old Bailey, 1750–1850 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003).↩
On Garrow, see John Beattie, ‘Garrow and the detectives: lawyers and policemen at the Old Bailey in the late eighteenth century’, Crime, History and Societies, 11:2 (2007), 5–24); and John Hostettler and Richard Braby, Sir William Garrow: His Life, Times and Fight for Justice (Hook, Hampshire: Waterside Press, 2009).↩
For the complete list, see the group of ‘GarrowsClients’ on the London Lives website.↩
Runners like Charles Jealous regularly appeared, frequently several times, at sessions of the court. In the five years before Garrow came to the bar Jealous appeared in at least forty-two separate trials. For a wider discussion of Garrow’s attitudes towards the Runners, see Beattie, ‘Garrow and the detectives’.↩
LL, Old Bailey Proceedings, 25 February 1784 (t17840225-29); Oxford English Dictionary, ‘Myrmidon’, definition no. 3.↩
Old Bailey Online, Statistics: Verdicts by year, 1770–86 (counting by defendant). Unknowns and multiple defendants excluded.↩
Beattie, Crime and the Courts, pp. 88–9.↩
Robert Shoemaker, ‘Streets of shame? The crowd and public punishments in London, 1700–1820’, in Simon Devereaux and P. Griffiths, eds., Penal Practice and Culture, 1500–1900: Punishing the English (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), pp. 238–40 and Table 9.1.↩
Steven Wilf, ‘Imagining justice: aesthetics and public executions in late eighteenth-century England’, Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities, 5:1 (1993–4), 51–78; V. A. C. Gatrell, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770–1868 (Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 602–4; Devereaux, ‘Recasting the theatre of execution’.↩
White, ‘“For the safety of the City”’, pp. 216–17; An Account of Some Alterations and Amendments Attempted in the Duty and Office of Sheriff of the County of Middlesex and Sheriffs of the City of London, during the Shrievalty of Sir Barnard Turner and Thomas Skinner, Esq. (1784), p. 29.↩
LMA, ‘Committee for carrying into execution … the rebuilding of Newgate’, COL/CC/NGC/04/01/001, f. 533 (13 July 1784).↩
LMA, ‘List of prisoners committed to New Prison’, MJ/CC/V/002.↩
LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing’, MA/G/GEN/0001, vol. 3, pp. 40, 42, 67 (27 Oct. 1780, 10 Nov. 1780, 26 April 1781); LMA, Middlesex Sessions: ‘House of correction calendars’, MJ/CC/B/080; LMA, ‘Justices’ reports to sessions on the state of New Prison and Middlesex Bridewell’, MA/G/GEN/0010 and MA/G/GEN/0013 (1781); LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for building the new house of correction’, MA/G/CBF/001 (27 Jan. 1784).↩
LMA, City of London: Sessions, ‘Miscellaneous papers from the Compter Committee’, CLA/032, Nov. 1784.↩
LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing’, MA/G/GEN/0001, vol. 3, p. 67; LMA, ‘Justices’ reports to sessions’, MA/G/GEN/0010; LMA, Middlesex Sessions: ‘House of correction calendars’, MJ/CC/B/81.↩
LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing’, MA/G/GEN/0001, vol. 3, pp. 56–7 (13 and 21 March 1781).↩
LMA, ‘Minutes of the committee for repairing’, MA/G/GEN/0001, vol. 4, p. 133 (2 Feb. 1782).↩
PP, Journals of the House of Commons, 40, 28 July 1785, p. 1161.↩
LL, set, ‘Patrick Madan’; Old Bailey Proceedings, 9 January 1782, Supplementary Material (o17820109-2); London Chronicle, 28 July 1781 (Burney).↩
LL, Middlesex Sessions: Sessions Papers, February 1782 (LMSMPS507510013). Emma Christopher suggests this was an individual response on Madan’s part to the role of soldiers in thwarting his own escape attempts, but he appears to have had the support of other prisoners in targeting these men. Christopher, A Merciless Place, p. 210.↩
PP, ‘Report from the committee on the state of the police of the metropolis’, 1816, p. 212.↩
London Gazette, 29 May 1787 (Burney).↩
Joanna Innes, ‘Politics and morals: the reformation of manners movement in later eighteenth-century England’, in Eckhart Hellmuth, ed., The Transformation of Political Culture: England and Germany in the Late Eighteenth Century (Oxford and New York: German Historical Institute, 1990), p. 75. See also M. J. D. Roberts, Making English Morals: Voluntary Association and Moral Reform in England, 1787–1886 (Cambridge University Press, 2004).↩
Innes, ‘Politics and morals’, p. 118.↩
See Leonard Schwarz, ‘The standard of living in the long run: London, 1700–1860’, Economic History Review, 2nd Series, 38:1 (1985), 28, Fig. 1 and 36–40, Appendix 1.↩
The best recent analysis of the returns generated by Gilbert’s activities is David Green, Pauper Capital: London and the Poor Law, 1790–1870 (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010), ch. 2.↩
The 1776 inquiry found that London as a whole had at least eighty workhouses with spaces for over 16,000 paupers: PP, ‘Abstract of the returns made by the overseers of the poor, 1776’ (15 May 1777); Green, Pauper Capital, pp. 57–64.↩
In total the parish sent 99 girls and 180 boys in the three decades up to 1815. Katrina Honeyman, Child Workers in England, 1780–1820: Parish Apprentices and the Making of the Early Industrial Labour Force (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), Table 4.1, pp. 59–60.↩
LL, St Martin in the Fields Workhouse Registers, May 1785: Charles Stuart (smdswhr_582_58254), Joseph Barnes (smdswhr_591_59117), Jeremiah Sparks (smdswhr_622_62244), Hughes Twendale (smdswhr_624_62431) and John Hughes (smdswhr_628_62863).↩
Douglas Hay suggests that 130,000 men were discharged in the spring of 1783: ‘War, dearth and theft in the eighteenth century: the record of the English Courts’, Past & Present, 95 (1982), 139.↩
Simon Devereaux, ‘In place of death: transportation, penal practices, and the English State, 1770–1830’, in Carolyn Strange, ed., Qualities of Mercy: Justice, Punishment and Discretion (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1996), pp. 52–76.↩
See Lynn MacKay, ‘Refusing the royal pardon: London capital convicts and the reactions of the courts and press, 1789’, London Journal, 28 (2003), 21–40; Simon Devereaux, ‘“Death is more welcome to me than this pardon”: execution, transportation, and convict resistance in London during the 1780s’, Proceedings of the University of Queensland History Research Group, 13 (2002), 53–65, 7 April 2020; Simon Devereaux, ‘Imposing the royal pardon: execution, transportation, and convict resistance in London, 1789’, Law and History Review, 25:1 (2007), 101–38; Hitchcock and Shoemaker, Tales, pp. 225–33.↩
Burt was initially tried in July 1786, and found guilty and sentenced to death, though both the jury and prosecutor recommended the court give him mercy. His sentence was respited until January, at which time Burt refused the pardon and was remanded in custody. At the next sessions he finally accepted transportation to New South Wales. LL Old Bailey Proceedings, 19 July 1786 (t17860719-31 and s17860719-1), 10 January 1787 (s17870110-1) and 21 February 1787 (o17870221-2).↩