Tuesday, August 03, 2010


I love this stuff (more from our pals at Delancey Place)…

"On 18 September,1837, Jack Whicher became a police constable. The Metropolitan Police, the first such force in the country, was eight years old. London had got so big, so fluid, so mysterious to itself that in 1829 its inhabitants had, reluctantly, accepted the need for a disciplined body of men to patrol the streets. The 3,500 policemen were known as 'bobbies' and 'peelers' (after their founder, Sir Robert Peel), as 'coppers' (they caught, or copped, villains), as 'crushers' (they crushed liberty), as 'Jenny Darbies' (from gendarmes), and as pigs (a term of abuse since the sixteenth century). "In the daytime, a constable covered a seven-and-a-half-mile beat at two-and-a-half miles an hour for two four-hour stints: from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., say, and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. He familiarised himself with every house on his beat, and strove to clear the roads of beggars, tramps, costermongers, drunks and prostitutes. (The city) teemed with tricksters. The police watched out for 'magsmen' (conmen, such as card sharps) who 'gammoned' (fooled) 'flats' (dupes) with the help of 'buttoners' or 'bonnets' (accomplices who drew people in by seeming to win money from the magsmen). A 'screever' (drafter of documents) might sell a 'fakement' to a vagrant 'on the blob' (telling hard-luck stories) - in 1837, fifty Londoners were arrested for producing such documents and eighty-six for bearing them. To 'work the kinchin lay),' was to trick children out of their cash or clothing. To 'work the shallow' was to excite compassion by begging half-naked. To 'shake lurk' was to beg in the guise of a shipwrecked sailor. In November 1837 a magistrate noted that some thieves in the Holborn area were acting as decoys, feigning drunkenness in order to distract police constables while their friends burgled houses." The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher – Kate Summerscale (Walker)

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