8
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

David Copperfield described a walk through London with his aunt, Betsey Trotwood:

My aunt, who had this general opinion in reference to London, that
every man she saw was a pickpocket, gave me her purse to carry for
her, which had ten guineas in it and some silver. We were crossing
to [St Paul’s Churchyard] when I noticed that my aunt quietly
accelerated her speed and looked frightened. I observed at the same
time that a lowering, illdressed man, who had stopped and stared at
us in passing, a little before, was coming so close as to brush against
her
.

Miss Trotwood was right to be concerned, for London was an extremely dangerous place. With a level of poverty, and therefore desperation, that is scarcely imaginable today, thieves and swindlers preyed on the vulnerable, the careless and the credulous as an urgent matter of survival. Anything that could be used, consumed or sold on would be hunted by some species of criminal. The whole infrastructure of surveillance and protection that Londoners now take for granted (telecommunications, CCTV, police patrols) did not of course exist and neither, therefore, did the sense of psychological confidence that measures could be taken to fight crime. The most that a victim could usually hope for was the help of passers-by.

As well as purse-snatching there was also ‘clouting’: the stealing

-261-

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Inside Dickens' London
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 6
  • 1 - The Place 13
  • 2 - The People 36
  • 3 - Shops and Shopping 66
  • 4 - City and Clerk 95
  • 5 - Transport and Travel 120
  • 6 - Entertainment 148
  • 7 - The Poor 216
  • 8 - Crime and Punishment 261
  • 9 - The Respectable 296
  • Gazetteer 335
  • Chronology 339
  • Index 341
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