A Victorian

The Criminal Prisons and Prison Population of London

In the "World of London, indeed, we find almost every geographic species of the human family. If Arabia has its nomadic tribes, the British Metropolis has its vagrant hordes as well. If the Carib Islands have their savages, the English Capital has types almost as brutal and uncivilized as they. If India has its Thugs, London has its gajotte men. Criminal London spends some considerable part of its time at Newgate, Clerkenwell, Wandsworth, Hollowway, and other establishments well-known to fame.

pentonville There is a long and multifarious list of prisons distributed throughout London, if we include all the places of confinement, from the state or political stronghold down to the common jail for the county - from the debtor's prison to the sponging-house - from the penitentiary to the district "lock-up." Thus we have the Tower and the Hulks; and Whitecross Street prison, and the Houses of Correction and Detention; and the Queen's Bench, and the Penitentiary at Millbank; as well as the Female Convict Prison at Brixton, and the common jail, Horsemonger Lane; besides the "Model" at Pentonville, the New City Prison at Holloway, and the well-known quarters at Newgate; together with the cells at the several station-houses of the Metropolitan and City Police, and the sponging-houses in the neighbourhood of Chancery Lane - all of which come under the denomination of places of safe custody, if not of punishment and reform.

We shall find, however, amid the apparent confusion of details, that there are in London only three distinct kinds of places of safe custody, viz.: - PoiiticAl or State Prisons - such as the Tower and the Strong-room of the House of Commons; Civil. or Debtors' Prisons - as the Queen's Bench and the one in "Whitecross Street, together with a portion of Horsemonger Lane Jail; and Criminal Prisons; of which we are about to treat. Of these same Criminal Prisons there are just upon a dozen scattered through London; and it is essential to a proper understanding of the subject that we should first discriminate accurately between the several members of the family. As yet no one has attempted to group the places of confinement for criminals into distinct classes; and we have, therefore, only so many vague terms - as "Convict" Prisons (though, strictly, every offender - the misdemeanant as well as the transport - (is after conviction a convict) and "Houses of Correction," "Houses of Detention," "Bridewells," etc., to prevent us confounding one species of Criminal Prison with another.

Formerly every class of criminals and graduate in vice - from the simple novice to the artful adept - the debtor, the pickpocket, the burglar, the coiner, the poacher, the highwayman, the vagrant, the murderer, the prostitute - were all of them huddled together in one and the same place of durance, called the "Common Jail" (for even "Houses of Correction" - for vagrants and thieves only - are comparatively modern inventions); and it was not until the year 1823 that any systematic legal steps were taken to enforce a separation of the great body of prisoners into classes, much more into individuals - the latter being a regulation of very recent date.

coldbath fieldsOf late years, however, we have made rapid advances towards the establishment of a kind of criminal quarantine, in order to stay the spread of that vicious infection which is found to accompany the association of the morally disordered with the comparatively uncontaminated; for assuredly there is a criminal epidemic - a very plague, as it were, of profligacy - that diffuses itself among the people with as much fatality to society as even the putrid fever or black vomit.

Consequently it becomes necessary, whilst seeking here to arrange our present prisons into something like system, to classify them according to the grades of offenders they are designed to keep in safe custody; for it is one of the marked features of our times that the old Common Jail is becoming as obsolete among us as bull-baiting, and that the one indiscriminate stronghold has been divided and parcelled out into many distinct places of durance, where the reformation of the offender obtains more consideration, perhaps, than even his punishment.

Now the first main division of the criminal prisons of London is into - Prisons for offenders before conviction; and Prisons for offenders after conviction.

This is not only the natural but just division of the subject, since it is now admitted that society has no right to treat a man as a criminal until he has been proven to be one by the laws of his country; and hence we have prisons for the untried - distinct from those for the convict, or rather convicted.

The prisons for offenders after conviction are again divisible into places of confinement for such as are condemned to longer or shorter terms of imprisonment. To the latter class of institutions belong the Houses of Correction, to which a person may be sentenced for not more than two years; and Bridewells, to which a person may be condemned for not more than three months.

It is scarcely necessary to point out the great contrast which the prisons of the present day present to those of the past century and the early part of the present. Formerly the only object in view was punish ment, occasionally of the most careless leniency, and at other times of the most atrocious severity, Criminals were allowed to go on from crime to crime, and from bad to worse, until the police of the day thought them sufficiently advanced for promotion to the penal colonies, or to the gallows, which was ever crying out for fresh victims; prevention was unthought of, punishment was regarded as the only means of repressing crime. Modern philanthropy has pointed out the better and the cheaper course; it pleads that it is the duty of the State to see that the children of the poor should be taught the difference between right and wrong, and to take such measures with regard to crime that if its prevention be impossible, detection and punishment shall be almost a matter of certainty, not of chance.

Prisons were formerly hotbeds of vice: prisoners, young in crime, came out confirmed miscreants. Old offenders of the gravest description and young misdemeanants were herded together, and reformation was a thing unknown. Now times are changed; prisons are places of punishment; idleness, which was formerly the rule, is now almost banished, and consequently, the habits of order and industry, which are forced upon all inmates, are so irksome to the idle, that prisons are in reality places of punishment, and to be avoided. Still better, they are reformatories also, the prisoner is now taught that honesty is not only the best but the happiest policy, and the majority of persons who have completed their term, at least all-but confirmed delinquents, leave the walls of the prison with the determination of not again breaking the law.

In the first place, then, the criminal classes are divisible into three distinct families, i.e., the beggars, the cheats, and the thieves.

Of the beggars there are many distinct species.
(1.) The naval and the military beggars; as turnpike sailors and "raw" veterans.
(2.) Distressed operative beggars; as pretended starved-out manufacturers, or sham frozen-out gardeners, or tricky hand-loom weavers, etc.
(3.) Respectable beggars; as sham broken-down tradesmen, poor ushers or distressed authors, clean family beggars, with children in very white pinafores and their faces cleanly washed, and the ashamed beggars, who pretend to hide their faces with a written petition.
(4.) Disaster beggars; shipwrecked mariners, or blown-up miners, or burnt-out trades-men, and lucifer droppers.
(5.) Bodily afflicted beggars; such as those having real or pretended sores or swollen legs, or being crippled or deformed, maimed, or paralyzed, or else being blind, or deaf, or dumb, or subject to fits, or in a decline and appeaaring with bandages round the head, or playing the "shallo'w cove," i. e., appearing half-clad in the streets.
(6.) Famislied beggars; as those who cbalk; on tbe pavement, "I am starving," or else remain stationary, and bold up a piece of paper before their face similarly inscribed.
(7.) Foreign beggars, who stop you in the street, and request to know if you can speak French; or destitute Poles, Indians, or Lascars, or Negroes.
(8.) Petty trading beggars; as tract sellers, lucifer match sellers, boot lace venders, etc.
(9.) Musical beggars; or those who play on some musical instrument, as a cloak for begging - as scraping fiddlers, hurdy-gurdy and clarionet players.
(10.) Dependents of beggars; as screevers or the writers of "slums" (letters) and "fakements" (petitions), and referees, or those who give characters to professional beggars.

The second criminal class consists of cheats, and these are subdivisible into -
(1.) Government defrauders; as "jiggers" (defrauding the excise by working illicit still), and smugglers who defraud the customs.
(2.) Those who cheat the public; as swindlers, who cheat those of whom they buy; and duffers and horse-chanters, who cheat those to whom they sell; and "Charley pitchers," or low gamblers, cheating those with whom they play; and "bouncers and besters," who cheat by laying wagers; and "flat catchers," or ring-droppers, who cheat by pretending to find valuables in the street; and bubble-men, who institute sham annuity offices or assurance companies; and douceur-men, who cheat by pretending to get government situations, or provide servants with places, or to tell persons of something to their advantage.
(3.) The dependents of cheats; as "jollies" and "magsmen," or the confederates of other cheats; and "bonnets," or those who attend gaming tables; and referees, who give false characters to servants.

The last of the criminal classes are the thieves, who admit of being classified as follows: -
(1.) Those who plunder with violence; as "cracksmen," who break into houses; "rampsmen," who stop people on the highway; "bludgers" or "stick slingers," who rob in company with low women.
(2.) Those who hocus or plunder persons by stupefying; as "drummers," who drug liquor; and "bug-hunters," who plunder drunken men.
(3.) Those who plunder by stealth, as (i.) "mobsmen," or those who plunder by manual dexterity, like "buzzers," who pick gentlemen's pockets; "wires," who pick ladies' pockets; "prop-nailers," who steal pins or brooches; and "thumble screwers," who wrench off watches; and shoplifters, who purloin goods from shops; (ii.) "sneaksmen," or petty cowardly thieves, and of these there are two distinct varieties, according as they sneak off with either goods or animals. Belonging to the first variety, or those who sneak off with goods, are "drag-sneaks," who make off with goods from carts or coaches; "snoozers," who sleep at railway hotels, and make off with either apparel or luggage in the morning; " sawney-hunters," who purloin cheese or bacon from cheesemongers' doors; " noisy racket men," who make off with china or crockery-ware from earthenware shops; "snow-gatherers," who make off with clean clothes from hedges; "cat and kitten hunters," who make off with quart or pint pots from area railings; "area sneaks," who steal from the area; " dead-lurkers," who steal from the passages of houses; "till friskers," who make off with the contents of tills; "bluey-hunters," who take lead from the tops of houses; "toshers," who purloin copper from ships and along shore; "star-glazers," who cut the panes of glass from windows; "skinners," or women and boys who strip children of their clothes; and mudlarks, who steal pieces of rope, coal, and wood from the barges at the "wharves.

Those sneaks-men, on the other hand, who purloin animals, are either horse-stealers or "woolly bird" (sheep) stealers, or deer-stealers, or dog-stealers, or poachers, or "lady and gentlemen racket-men," who steal cocks and hens, or cat-stealers or body snatchers.

Then there is still another class of plunderers, who are neither sneaks-men nor mobsmen, but simply breach-of-trust-men, taking those articles only which have been confided to them; these are either embezzlers, who rob their employers; or illegal pawners, who pledge the blankets, etc., at their lodgings, or the work of their employers; dishonest servants, who go off with the plate, or let robbers into their master's houses, bill stealers, and letter stealers.

Beside these there are (4) the "shoful-men," or those who plunder by counterfeits; as coiners and forgers of checks, and notes, and wills; and, lastly, we have (5) the dependents of thieves; as "fences," or receivers of stolen goods; and "smashers," or the utterers of base coin.

Criminal Prisons admit of being arranged into the following groups:

I.  Prisons for Offenders After Conviction
        A. "Convict" Prisons" - for transports and "penal service" men
                1. Pentonville Prison
                2. Millbank Prison
                3. Female Convict Prison, Brixton
                4. Hulks, Woolwich
        B. "Correctional" Prisons - for persons sentenced to short terms of punishment. 
                1. City House of Correction (Holloway)
                2. Middlesex Houses of Correction
                        a. Coldbath Fields Prison, for adult males
                        b. Tothill Fields Prison, for boys and adult females
                3. Surrey House of Correction (Wandsworth Common)
II. Prisons for Offenders Before Conviction
        A. Detentional Prisons -for persons after committal by a magistrate. 
                1. Middlesex House of Detention Clerkenwell)
                2. Newgate
                3. Horsemonger Lane Jail
        B. Lock-ups - for persons previous to committal by a magistrate.
                1 . Metropolitan Police Cells
                2. City
Convict Prisons of London:
        Pentonville Prison
        The Hulks at Woolwich
        Millbank Prison - The Convict Depot
        The Female Convict Prison at Millbank
        The Female Convict Prison at Brixton
Correctional Prisons of London:
        The Middlesex House of Correction, 
                Coldbath Fields
                Bath Fields
                Tothill Fields
                The Female Prison at Tothill Fields
        The Surrey House of Correction, Wandsworth
        The Female Prison, Wandsworth
        The City House of Correction, Holloway
        The Female House of Correction, Holloway
        The House of Detention, Clerkenwell
        Horsemonger Lane Jail
Detentional Prisons of London:
        Newgate Jail
Several crimes committed throughout the country are officially arranged under four heads:
        1 . Offences against the person- including murder, rape, bigamy, common assaults, 
and attempts to procure miscarriage.
        2. Offences against property, 
                (a) "With violence- as burglary, robbery, piracy, and sending menacing letters,
                (b) "Without violence- including cattle-stealing, larceny by servants, embezzling, and cheating,
                (c) Malicious offences against property- as arson, maiming cattle, incendiarism, etc.
        3. Forgery, and offences against the currency - 
under which head are comprised the forging of wills, bank notes, and coining.

        4. Other offences- including high treason, poaching, working illicit stills, perjury, brothel-keeping, etc.
M. Gruerry, the eminent French statist, adopts a far more 
philosophic arrangement, and divides the several crimes into - 
1. Crimes against the State - as high treason, etc. 
2. Crimes against personal safety - as murder, assault, etc. 
3. Crimes against morals (with or without violence) - as rape, bigamy, etc. 
4. Crimes against property (proceeding from cupidity, or malice)
 -as larceny, embezzlement, incendiarism, and the like. 
--- The Great World of London, The Criminal Prisons of London, By Henry Mayhew, 1862 div

NewgateA brochure of fifty pages, full of figures and tables, just issued, contains the criminal statistics of the metropolis, as shown by the police returns. It is not very pleasant reading, in any sense, but it no doubt has its value. We learn from it that last year the police took into custody 64,281 persons, of whom 29,863 were discharged by the magistrates, 31,565 summarily disposed of, and 2,853 committed for trial; of the latter number 2,312 were convicted, the rest being either acquitted or not prosecuted, or in their cases true bills were not found. About twenty years ago, in 1839, the number taken into custody rather exceeded that of last year, being 65,965; although since that period 135 parishes, hamlets, and liberties, with, in 1850, a population of 267,267, have been added to the metropolitan district, and although the entire population must have greatly increased in the interval. These returns exhibits strange variations in the activity of the police; while last year the apprehensions were, as stated, 64,281, in 1857 they amounted to as much as 79,364. The difference is 15,000, and of that number in excess, not one-half were convicted, either summarily or after trial, the rest. forming an excess in the whole of those discharged by the magistrates. It is a striking fact that nearly half the number of all whom the police take into custody are discharged, so that the discrimination of the police is far from being on a par with its activity.


It is now nearly ten years since transportation to the colonies ceased to be a punishment for criminal offences. The Tasmanian and Australian authorities refused to receive them; and the government establishment at Norfolk Island was abandoned, the home government resolving to make an effort to dispose of the convict population in some other manner. The convict establishment on the Island of Portland was the first scheme proposed for the employment and reformation of offenders. The principal object was to secure a place of confinement for long-term convicts; the next, to systematically apply the labour of such convicts to "national works of importance" the prosecution of which at once was profitable, and afforded the means of training tlie convicts to habits of industry. The Penal Servitude Act was passed in 1850, and under it the much-condemned ticket of leave came into operation. It substituted sentences of penal servitude for all crimes formerly visited by sentences of transportation to a less period than 14 years. As few of such sentences, comparatively, reached over that period, the Act practically reduced the transportation sentences to a mere tithe of what they were before the average during the years from 1854 to 1857 not being more than 235 out of 3200. In 1857 the transportation sentences only amounted to 110, while the penal servitude sentences were 2474. In that year an Act was passed with a small proportionate remission of sentence as a reward for good conduct. The advantages of the system thus established, were considered to be 1st, Its deterring effects. 2nd, Its affording encouragement to the convict. 3rd, As giving the means of dealing with refractory convicts; and 4th, As affording means of employment to offenders on their discharge.

Portland PrisonPortland Prison, as the chief punitive establishment under this new system, is, of course, most deserving notice. In 1857, the total expenditure on this prison was 48,782. The total value of the labour performed in the same year was 41,855, which, divided by 1488 (the average number of prisoners), gave 28. 2s. 7d. as the rate per man. We doubt if the labour in our county prisons has ever reached the half of this value. Large numbers of the Portland prisoners have obtained employinent at harbour and other similar works since their discharge, and generally their conduct has been satisfactory. The Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society regularly assists the well-behaved convicts in finding employment on their release from confinement, and that society's operations have been remarkably successful. Pentonville prison has ordinarily from five to six hundred prisoners; while in Milbank the daily average number, in 1857, was about 1100. Parkhurst prison is kept for boy convicts, of whom the average daily number in 1857, was 431; and Brixton, for females, of whom 784 in all were received in that year. The Fulham Refuge is another female institution, in which convicts are received previous to being discharged on license, and in which they are taught a knowledge of household work, such as cooking, washing, etc., calculated to improve their chances of getting employment. Portsmouth, Chatham, Lewes, and Dartmoor are also used as convict establishments; the latter, however, is being gradually given up, as utterly unfitted for such a purpose, its temperature in winter somewhat approaching to that of Nova Zembla. It is difficult to say what are the numbers requiring to be disposed of in these convict prisons in the average of years, but they probably range about 7,000 males and 1,200 females. If the decrease of crime in 1858 continue in subsequent years, our home prisons will amply suffice for the reception of our convict population.

--- Criminal London, By B. Ewing Ritchie, 1860div Thumbs Linked to Images
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