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The Seven Curses of London  —  £ 3.99

Go to the eBook Shop James Greenwood worked as a journalist for the Pall Mall Gazette and Daily Telegraph. He went undercover as a 'casual' in a workhouse as part of this exhaustive investigation into vice and malpractice in mid-Victorian London.

He defines the seven curses as; Neglected Children, Professional Thieves, Professional Beggars, Fallen Women, Drunkenness, Betting Gamblers and Waste of Charity. The book was shocking then, and still is, not least because it's almost all still going on, over 140 years later.

This eBook version contains the entire text as published in 1869. Please see the extract below for a list of the contents and chapter 1.

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The cover is the original with a few blotches removed. The frontis contains a delightful sketch of Mr. Greenwood carefully looking every inch the upstanding and vigilant Victorian Gentleman reformer.

Parts of the book read more like a handbook than a warning. If you wanted to meet 'fallen women', there is a list of places to find them and a description of what they get up to. If you wanted to commit a fraud, there are step-by-step instructions to several, and the patois in the book might also be the source of every Hollywood 'Cockney' accent you have heard.


The text and any images below are identical to the eBook; however, depending on the typeface, etc., that you select, they may not display here exactly as they do on your eReader. Also, pages turn as normal, rather than the scrolling effect seen here.



1. Neglected Children

Chapter I

The Pauper Population — Pauper Children — Opinions concerning their proper Treatment — A Hundred Thousand Children loose in London Streets. — Neglected Babies — Juvenile “Market Prowlers".

Chapter II

Who are the Mothers? — The Infant Labour Market — Watch London and Blackfriars Bridges — The Melancholy Types — The Flashy, Flaunting "Infant" — Keeping Company — Marriage — The Upshot.

Chapter III

“Baby-Farmers” and Advertising “Child Adopters” — "F. X." of Stepney — The Author’s Interview with Farmer Oxleek. — The Case of Baby Frederick Wood.

Chapter IV

The London Errand Boy — His Drudgery and Privations — His Temptations. — The London Boy after Dark — The Amusements provided for him.

Chapter V

Curious Problem — The Best Method of Treatment — The “Child of the Gutter” not to be Entirely Abolished — The Genuine Alley-Bred Arab — The Poor Lambs of the Ragged Flock — The Tree of Evil in Our Midst — The Breeding Places of Disease and Vice.

2. Professional Thieves

Chapter VI

Twenty Thousand Thieves in London — What it Means — The Language of "Weeds" — Cleverness of the Pilfering Fraternity — A Protest Against a Barbarous Suggestion — The Prisoner’s great Difficulty — The Moment of Leaving Prison — Bad Friends — What Becomes of Good Resolutions and the Chaplain’s Counsel? — The Criminal’s Scepticism of Human Goodness — Life in "Little Hell" —The Cow Cross Mission.

Chapter VII

The Three Classes of Thieving Society — Popular Misapprehensions — A True Picture of the London Thief — A Fancy Sketch of the "Under-Ground Cellar" — In Disguise at a Thieves’ Raffle — The Puzzle of "Black Maria" — Mr. Mullins’s Speech and his Song.

Chapter VIII

The Beginning of the Downhill Journey — Candidates for Newgate Honours — Black Spots of London — Life from the Young Robber’s Point of View — The Seedling Recruits the most difficult to reform — A doleful Summing-up — A Phase of the Criminal Question left unnoticed — Budding Burglars — Streams which keep at full flood the Black Sea of Crime — The Promoters of "Gallows Literature" — Another Shot at a Fortress of the Devil — "Poison-Literature" — "Starlight Sall" — “Panther Bill”

Chapter IX

The Registered and the Unregistered Thieves of the London Hunting-ground — The Certainty of the Crop of Vice — Omnibus Drivers and Conductors — The "Watchers" — The London General Omnibus Company — The Scandal of their System — The Shopkeeper Thief False Weights and Measures — Adulteration of Food and Drink — Our Old Law, “I am as honest as I can afford to be!” — Rudimentary Exercises in the Art of Pillage.

Chapter X

Lord Romilly’s Suggestion concerning the Education of the Children of Criminals —Desperate Criminals — The Alleys of the Borough — The worst Quarters not, as a rule, the most noisy — The Evil Example of "Gallows Heroes", "Dick Turpin", "Blueskin,” etc. —The Talent for “Gammoning Lady Green." — A worthy Governor’s Opinion as to the best way of “Breaking” a Bad Boy — Affection for “Mother “ — The Dark Cell and its Inmate — An Affecting Interview.

Chapter XI

Recent Legislation — Statistics. — Lord Kimberley's “Habitual Criminals” Bill. — The Present System of License-Holders — Colonel Henderson’s Report — Social Enemies of Suspected Men — The Wrong-Headed Policeman and the Mischief he may Cause — Looking Out for a Chance — The Last Resource of Desperate Honesty — A Brotherly Appeal — "Ginger will Settle Her" — Ruffians who should be Imprisoned for Life.

3. Professional Beggars

Chapter XII

“Only a Beggar” — The Fraternity 333 Years ago — A Savage Law — Origin of the Poor-Laws — Irish Distinction in the Ranks of Beggary — King Charles’s Proclamation — Cumberland Discipline.

Chapter XIII

The Effect of “The Society for the Suppression of Mendicity” — State Business carried out by Individual Enterprise — "The Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society" — The quiet Work of these Societies — Their Mode of Work — Curious Statistics Singular Oscillations — Diabolical Swindling.

Chapter XIV

The Variety and Quality of the Imposture — Superior Accomplishments of the Modern Practitioner — The Recipe for Success — The Power of “Cheek” — “Chanting” and the “Shallow Lay” — Estimates of their Paying Value — The Art of touching Women’s Hearts — The Half-resentful Trick — The London “Cadger” — The Height of “The Famine Season”.

Chapter XV

The Newspaper Plan and the delicate Process — Forms of Petition — Novel Applications of Photography — Personal Attractions of the Distressed — Help, or I perish!

4. Fallen Women

Chapter XVI

The Difficulty in handling it — The Question of its Recognition — The Argyll Rooms — Mr. Acton’s visit there — The Women and their Patrons — The Floating Population of Windmill-street — Cremorne Gardens in the Season.

Chapter XVII

Statistics of Westminster, Brompton, and Pimlico — Methods of conducting the nefarious Business — Aristocratic Dens — The High Tariff — The Horrors of the Social Evil — The Broken Bridge behind the Sinner — "Dress Lodgers" — There’s always a “Watcher” —Soldiers and Sailors — The “Wrens of the Curragh”.

Chapter XVIII

The Laws applying to Street-walkers — The Keepers of the Haymarket Night-houses — Present Position of the Police-magistrates — Music-hall Frequenters — Refreshment-bars — Midnight Profligacy — “Snuggeries” — Over-zealous Blockheads.

Chapter XIX

Ignoring the Evil — Punishment fit for the “Deserter” and the Seducer — The “Know-nothing” and “Do-nothing” Principle — The Emigration of Women of Bad Character.

5. The Curse of Drunkenness

Chapter XX

The crowning Curse — No form of sin or sorrow in which it does not play a part — The “Slippery Stone” of Life Statistics — Matters not growing worse — The Army Returns — The System of Adulteration.

Chapter XXI

The Permissive Liquors Bill — Its Advocates and their Arguments — The Drunkenness of the Nation Temperance Facts and Anecdotes — Why the Advocates of Total Abstinence do not make more headway — Moderate Drinking — Hard Drinking — The Mistake about childish Petitioners.

6. Betting Gamblers

Chapter XXII

The Vice of Gambling on the increase among the Working-classes — Sporting “Specs” — A “Modus” Turf Discoveries — Welshers — The Vermin of the Betting-field — Their Tactics — The Road to Ruin.

7. Waste of Charity

Chapter XXIII

Parochial Statistics — The Public hold the Purse-strings — Cannot the Agencies actually at work be made to yield greater results — The Need of fair Rating — The heart and core of the Poor-law Difficulty — My foremost thought when I was a “Casual” — Who are most liable to slip? — “crank-work” — The Utility of Labour-yards — Scales of Relief — What comes of breaking-up a Home.

Chapter XXIV

Emigration — The various Fields — Distinguish the industrious Worker in need of temporary Relief — Last Words.

Chapter I


The Pauper Population — Pauper Children — Opinions concerning their proper Treatment — A Hundred Thousand Children loose in London Streets. — Neglected Babies — Juvenile "Market Prowlers".

     IT is a startling fact that, in England and Wales alone, at the present time, the number of children under the age of sixteen, dependent more or less on the parochial authorities for maintenance, amounts to three hundred and fifty thousand.
     It is scarcely less startling to learn that annually more than a hundred thousand criminals emerge at the doors of the various prisons, that, for short time or long time, have been their homes, and with no more substantial advice than “to take care that they don’t make their appearance there again,” are turned adrift once more to face the world, unkind as when they last stole from it. This does not include our immense army of juvenile vagrants. How the information has been arrived at is more than I can tell; but it is an accepted fact that, daily, winter and summer, within the limits of our vast and wealthy city of London, there wander, destitute of proper guardianship, food, clothing, or employment, a hundred thousand boys and girls in fair training for the treadmill and the oakum shed, and finally for Portland and the convict’s mark.
     It is these last-mentioned hundred thousand, rather than the three hundred and fifty thousand previously mentioned, that are properly classed under the heading of this first chapter. Practically, the three hundred and fifty thousand little paupers that cumber the poor-rates are without the category of neglected ones. In all probability, at least one-half of that vast number never were victims of neglect, in the true sense of the term. Mr. Bumble derives his foster children from sources innumerable. There are those that are born in the “house,” and who, on some pretext, are abandoned by their unnatural mother. There are the “strays,” discovered by the police on their beats, and consigned, for the present, to the workhouse, and never owned. There is the off-spring of the decamping weaver, or shoemaker, who goes on tramp “to better himself;” but, never succeeding, does not regard it as worth while to tramp home again to report his ill-luck. These, and such as these, may truly ascribe their pauperism to neglect on somebody’s part; but by far the greater number are what they are through sheer misfortune. When death snatches father away from the table scarcely big enough to accommodate the little flock that cluster about it — snatches him away in the lusty prime of life, and without warning, or, worse still, flings him on a bed of sickness, the remedies for which devour the few pounds thriftily laid aside for such an emergency, and, after all, are of no avail, what other asylum but the workhouse offers itself to mother and children? How many cases of this kind the parish books could reveal, one can only guess; quite enough, we may be sure, to render unpalatable that excessive amount of caution observed by those in power against “holding out a premium to pauperism. It is somewhat amazing to hear great authorities talk sometimes. Just lately, Mr. Bartley, reading at the Society of Arts a paper entitled, “The training and education of pauper children,” took occasion to remark:—
     “These children cannot be looked upon exactly in the same way as paupers proper, inasmuch as their unfortunate position is entirely due to circumstances over which they could have no control. They are either the offspring of felons, cripples, and idiots, or orphans, bastards, and deserted children, and claim the protection of the law, frequently from their tenderest years, from having been deprived of the care of their natural guardians without fault or crime of their own. Such being their condition, they must either steal or starve in the streets, or the State must take charge of them. It may further be affirmed that, in a strictly commercial point of view, it is more economical to devote a certain amount in education and systematic training than by allowing them to grow up in the example of their parents and workhouse companions, to render their permanent support, either in a prison or a workhouse, a burden on the industrious classes. The State, in fact, acknowledges this, and accordingly a provision is theoretically supplied for all pauper children, not only for their bodily wants, but, to a certain extent, for their mental improvement. At the same time, it is also necessary that the extreme should not be run into, viz., that of treating them so liberally as to hold out a premium to pauperism. In no case should their comfort be better than, nor in fact as good as, an industrious labourer has within his reach.”
     Mr. Bartley is a gentleman whose knowledge of the subject he treats of exceeds that of most men; moreover, he is a man who, in his acts and nature, shows himself actuated by a kind heart, governed by a sound head; but, with all deference, it is difficult to agree altogether with the foregoing remarks of his: and they are the better worth noticing, because precisely the same sentiment breathes through almost every modern, new, and improved system of parochial reform. Why should these unfortunate creatures, “their unfortunate position being entirely due to circumstances over which they had no control,” be made less comfortable in their condition than the industrious labourer, — who, by the way, may be an agricultural labourer, with his starvation wages of nine shillings a week and his damp and miserable hovel of two rooms to board and lodge his numerous family? What sort of justice is it to keep constantly before their unoffending eyes the humiliating fact that they have no standing even on the bottom round of the social ladder, and that their proper place is to crouch meekly and uncomplainingly at the foot of it? Even supposing that they, the pauper children, are “either the offspring of felons, cripples, and idiots, or orphans, bastards, and deserted children,” which is assuming to the verge of improbability, still, since it is acknowledged that the state in which we discover them “is due to no fault or crime of their own,” why should we hesitate to make them commonly comfortable? To fail so to do when it is in our power, and when, according to their innocence and helplessness, it is their due, is decidedly at variance with the commonly-understood principles of Christian charity. It will be needless, however, here to pursue the subject of pauper management, since another section of this book has been given to its consideration. Anyhow, our three hundred and fifty thousand pauper children can have no claim to be reckoned among the “neglected.” They are, or should be, a class whose hard necessity has been brought under the notice of the authorities, and by them considered and provided for.
     There are other neglected children besides those already enumerated, and who are not included in the tenth part of a million who live in the streets, for the simple reason that they are too young to know the use of their legs. They are “coming on,” however. There is no present fear of the noble annual crop of a hundred thousand diminishing. They are so plentifully propagated that a Savage preaching “civilization” might regard it as a mercy that the localities of their infant nurture are such as suit the ravening appetites of cholera and typhus. Otherwise they would breed like rabbits in an undisturbed warren, and presently swarm so abundantly that the highways would be over-run, making it necessary to pass an Act of Parliament, improving on the latest enacted for dogs, against the roaming at large of unmuzzled children of the gutter. Observe the vast number of “city Arabs,” to be encountered in a walk, from Cheapside to the Angel at Islington, say. You cannot mistake them. There are other children who are constantly encountered in the street, male and female, who, though perhaps neither so ragged and dirty as the genuine juvenile vagrants, are even more sickly and hungry looking; but it is as easy to distinguish between the two types — between the home-owning and the homeless, as between the sleek pet dog, and the cur of the street, whose ideas of a “kennel” are limited to that represented by the wayside gutter, from which by good-luck edibles may be extracted. Not only does the youthful ragamuffin cry aloud for remedy in every street and public way of the city, he thrusts his ugly presence on us continuously, and appeals to us in bodily shape. In this respect, the curse of neglected children differs widely from any of the others, beggars alone excepted, perhaps. And even as regards beggars, to see them is not always to believe in them as human creatures helpless in the sad condition in which they are discovered, and worthy of the best help we can afford to bestow on them. It is next to impossible by outward signs merely to discriminate between the impostor and the really unfortunate and destitute. The pallid cheek and the sunken eye, may be a work of art and not of nature, and in the cunning arrangement of rags, so as to make the most of them, the cheat must always have an advantage over the genuine article. Weighing the evidence pro and con., the object of it creeping even at his snail’s pace may be out of sight before we arrive at what appears to us a righteous verdict, and our scrupulous charity reserved for another occasion. But no such perplexing doubts and hesitation need trouble us in selecting the boy gutter bred and born from the one who lays claim to a home, even though it may be no more than a feeble pretence, consisting of a family nightly gathering in some dirty sty that serves as a bedroom, and a morning meeting at a board spread with a substitute for a breakfast. In the latter there is an expression of countenance utterly wanting in the former; an undescribable shyness, and an instinctive observance of decency, that has been rain-washed and sun- burnt out of the gipsy of the London highway since the time of his crawling out of the gooseberry sieve, with a wisp of hay in it that served him as a cradle.
     And here I can fancy I hear the incredulous reader exclaim, “But that is mere imagery of course; ragamuffin babies never are cradled in gooseberry sieves, with a wisp of hay to lie on.” Let me assure you, dear madam, it is not imagery, but positive fact. The strangest receptacles do duty as baby cradles at times. In another part of our book, it will be shown that a raisin-box may be so adapted, or even an egg-box; the latter with a bit of straw in it as a cradle for an invalid baby with a broken thigh! But as regards the gooseberry sieve, it is a fact that came under the writer’s immediate observation. Accompanied by a friend, he was on a visit of exploration into the little known regions of Baldwin’s Gardens, in Leather Lane, and entering a cellar there, the family who occupied it were discovered in a state of dreadful commotion. The mother, a tall, bony, ragged shrew, had a baby tucked under one arm, while she was using the other by the aid of a pair of dilapidated nozzleless bellows in inflicting a tremendous beating on a howling young gentleman of about eleven years old. “Tut! tut! what is the matter, Mrs. Donelly? Rest your arm a moment, now, and tell us all about it.” “Matther! shure it’s matther enough to dhrive a poor widdy beyant her sinses!” And then her rage turning to sorrow, she in pathetic terms described how that she left that bad boy Johnny only for a few moments in charge of the “darlint comfortable ashleap in her bashket,” and that he had neglected his duty, and that the baste of a donkey had smelt her out, and “ate her clane out o’ bed.”
     I have had so much experience in this way, that one day I may write a book on the Haunts and Homes of the British Baby. It was not long after the incident of the gooseberry sieve, that I discovered in one small room in which a family of six resided, three little children, varying in age from three to eight, perhaps, stark naked. It was noon of a summer’s day, and there they were nude as forest monkeys, and so hideously dirty that every rib-bone in their poor wasted little bodies showed plain, and in colour like mahogany. Soon as I put my head in at the door they scattered, scared as rabbits, to the “bed,” an arrangement of evil- smelling flock and old potato-sacks, and I was informed by the mother that they had not a rag to wear, and had been in their present condition for more than three months.
     Let us return, however, to the hordes of small Arabs found wandering about the streets of the city. To the mind of the initiated, instantly recurs the question, “whence do they all come? They are not imported like those other pests of society, “German band boys or organ grinders;” they must have been babies once upon a time; where did they grow up? In very dreary and retired regions, my dear sir, though for that matter if it should happen that you are perambulating fashionable Regent-street or aristocratic Belgravia, when you put to yourself the perplexing question, you may be nigher to a visible solution of the mystery than you would care to know. Where does the shoeless ragged, dauntless, and often desperate boy of the gutter breed? Why, not unfrequently as close almost to the mansions of the rich and highly respectable as the sparrows in their chimney stacks. Nothing is more common than to discover a hideous stew of courts and alleys reeking in poverty and wretchedness almost in the shadow of the palatial abodes of the great and wealthy. Such instances might be quoted by the dozen.
     It is seldom that these fledglings of the hawk tribe quit their nests or rather their nesting places until they are capable, although on a most limited scale, of doing business on their own account. Occasionally a specimen may be seen in the vicinity of Covent Garden or Farringdon Market, seated on a carriage extemporized out of an old rusty teatray and drawn along by his elder relatives, by means of a string. It may not be safely assumed, however, that the latter are actuated by no other than affectionate and disinterested motives in thus treating their infant charge to a ride. It is much more probable that being left at home in the alley by their mother, who is engaged elsewhere at washing or “charing,” with strict injunctions not to leave baby for so long as a minute, and being goaded to desperation by the thoughts of the plentiful feed of cast-out plums and oranges to be picked up in “Common Garden” at this “dead ripe” season of the year, they have hit on this ingenious expedient by which the maternal mandate may be obeyed to the letter, and their craving for market refuse be at the same time gratified.
     By-the-bye, it may here be mentioned as a contribution towards solving the riddle, “How do these hundred thousand street prowlers contrive to exist?” that they draw a considerable amount of their sustenance from the markets. And really it would seem that by some miraculous dispensation of Providence, garbage was for their sake robbed of its poisonous properties, and endowed with virtues such as wholesome food possesses. Did the reader ever see the young market hunters at such a “feed” say in the month of August or September? It is a spectacle to be witnessed only by early risers who can get as far as Covent Garden by the time that the wholesale dealing in the open falls slack — which will be about eight o’clock; and it is not to be believed unless it is seen. They will gather about a muck heap and gobble up plums, a sweltering mass of decay, and oranges and apples that have quite lost their original shape and colour, with the avidity of ducks or pigs. I speak according to my knowledge, for I have seen them at it. I have seen one of these gaunt wolfish little children with his tattered cap full of plums of a sort one of which I would not have permitted a child of mine to eat for all the money in the Mint, and this at a season when the sanitary authorities in their desperate alarm at the spread of cholera had turned bill stickers, and were begging and imploring the people to abstain from this, that, and the other, and especially to beware of fruit unless perfectly sound and ripe. Judging from the earnestness with which this last provision was urged, there must have been cholera enough to have slain a dozen strong men in that little ragamuffin’s cap, and yet he munched on till that frowsy receptacle was emptied, finally licking his fingers with a relish. It was not for me to forcibly dispossess the boy of a prize that made him the envy of his plumless companions, but I spoke to the market beadle about it, asking him if it would not be possible, knowing the propensities of these poor little wretches, so to dispose of the poisonous offal that they could not get at it; but he replied that it was nothing to do with him what they ate so long as they kept their hands from picking and stealing; furthermore he politely intimated that “unless I had nothing better to do” there was no call for me to trouble myself about the “little warmint,” whom nothing would hurt. He confided to me his private belief that they were “made inside something after the orsestretch, and that farriers’ nails wouldn’t come amiss to ‘em if they could only get ‘em down.” However, and although the evidence was rather in the sagacious market beadle’s favour, I was unconverted from my original opinion, and here take the liberty of urging on any official of Covent Garden or Farringdon Market who may happen to read these pages the policy of adopting my suggestion as to the safe bestowal of fruit offal during the sickly season. That great danger is incurred by allowing it to be consumed as it now is, there cannot be a question. Perhaps it is too much to assume that the poor little beings whom hunger prompts to feed off garbage do so with impunity. It is not improbable that, in many cases, they slink home to die in their holes as poisoned rats do. That they are never missed from the market is no proof of the contrary. Their identification is next to impossible, for they are like each other as apples in a sieve, or peas in one pod. Moreover, to tell their number is out of the question. It is as incomprehensible as is their nature. They swarm as bees do, and arduous indeed would be the task of the individual who undertook to reckon up the small fry of a single alley of the hundreds that abound in Squalor’s regions. They are of as small account in the public estimation as stray street curs, and, like them, it is only where they evince a propensity for barking and biting that their existence is recognised. Should death tomorrow morning make a clean sweep of the unsightly little scavengers who grovel for a meal amongst the market offal heaps, next day would see the said heaps just as industriously surrounded.


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