Wednesday, 25 May 2016

May 21st 1839 on Selsley Common

May 21st 2016 – May 21st 1839
‘A lovely day spent on Selsley Common today, remembering this day in 1839 when 5,000 gathered here in support of the People's Charter. Then a talk about it all in the Bell, and a toast with the commemorative porter. Something quite English about it all - a different heritage though.’

We put on our best blouses, aprons and hats

I’ll never forget last Tuesday, even if I live to seventy.
We all woke up so excited, never eaten porridge so fast.
We put on our best blouses, aprons and hats,
The men shaved their chins, put on their caps,
Moleskin trousers and fustian waistcoats,
And out we strode into the lane.
Such a sight you never did see!
The men and women and children,
All marching in an orderly line past our cottage;
Then when we got to Stroud, we couldn’t believe our eyes:
Serpentine lines climbing up every valley side,
There must have been thousands!
All laughing and cheering, but sore determined,
To get our rights and right our wrongs;
Bread has never been so dear and wages are down, 
With long hours for those who do have work;
Then there was the Tolpuddle Martyrs,
Then there was the New Poor Law and the Workhouse.
The Bible tells us to nurture each other in sickness and in health,
But the Workhouse rents us all asunder!
So it was such a joy to see them all,
See them all streaming from Sheepscombe, Steanbridge and Slad,
Stroud, Woodchester, Uley, Wotton,
The Stanleys, Selsley, Cainscross, Minchinhampton, Painswick,
Rodborough, Stonehouse, Randwick, Ruscombe, Bisley,
Nailsworth, Avening and Horsley;
Bands playing, music flowing, banners billowing:
‘Liberty’; ‘Equal Rights and Equal Laws’;
‘For a Nation to be Free it is Sufficient that She wills it’.
Then the banners from the Working Men’s Associations,
And the Radical Women’s Associations,
Then the handbills and placards listing our six points:
Universal Suffrage; Secret Ballot; Payment of MPs;
Abolition of the property qualification for MPs;
Payment of MPs; Annual Parliaments;
Then the speeches up there on top of the common:
‘We must have the 6 points’;
‘Peaceably if we may, forcibly if we must’;
‘Those damnable Poor Law Bastilles are worse than prisons’;
‘May the Almighty inspire the people with vigour and energy’;
Then cheers for our Chartist leaders’ names,
And then the groans for Russell’s;
It was such a day and life will never be the same again:
Russell says we do not understand the laws of capital and wages, 
But we do, my Lord.
We do.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The 5 Ws and the H of Chartism

The 5 Ws and the H of Chartism

It was a political movement - for the ‘People’s Charter’ -
(‘Universal Suffrage, No Property Qualification, Annual Parliaments,
Equal Representation, Payment of MPs and Vote by Ballot’),
With three petitions to parliament in 1839, 42 and 48.

It grew out of disappointment with the 1832 Reform Act,
The national suppression of trades unions,
The government’s response to the Captain Swing riots,
The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and the workhouses -
The hated New Poor Law ‘Bastilles’
(Which criminalised poverty with the principle of ‘less eligibility’:
Conditions inside the workhouse should be worse
Than from the worst paid job outside);
Then there was the workplace:
The unregulated working hours, the high prices, the low wages,
The unemployment and short time working,
The loathing of the Benthamite ‘felicific calculus’;
It grew also from eighteenth century Tom Paineite democratic ideas,
Previous beliefs and practice of the revolutionary Spenceans,
The memories of Peterloo, the hatred of both Tory and Whig,
But the Chartist preacher, the Reverend Stephens, asserted:
Chartism is ‘a knife and fork question … 
A bread and cheese question’,
Whilst Richard Gammage, the contemporary Chartist historian,
Provided the long standing division of the movement into
‘Moral Force’ and ‘Physical Force’ Chartists.
But why, in particular, was there such a Chartist presence in Stroud in 1839,
And why was there such a commotion with the meeting on Selsley Hill?

Well, apart from the generalities of the above,
Lord John Russell was not only Stroud’s MP, but also the Home Secretary
And responsible for law, order and the suppression of Chartism;
He was also partly responsible for the terms of the 1832 Reform Act,
Which carefully extended the vote to the middle class
(From the aristocracy),
And deliberately excluded the working classes -
Even though they had borne the lion’s share of the campaigning
To bring about an extension of the franchise;
In addition, areas of declining cloth trade in the south-west
(Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire),
Were just the type of localities that led women and men to the Charter,
So when the Chartist National Convention was set up in London
(Partly to influence Parliament with the First Petition,
Partly to act as an alternative parliament should the Petition be rejected),
It was no surprise when the JP for Newport, John Frost,
Was chosen to appear on Rodborough Hill in March 1839,
As the prospective Chartist parliamentary candidate
For the next general election,
So as to challenge Russell in a blaze of national publicity
(Frost’s commission of the peace was withdrawn from him in March btw);
Meanwhile, the circulation of the Chartist newspaper the Northern Star
Was reaching 50,000 a week – and its influence far exceeded that:
Read and discussed in home, the workplace, the pub, the chapel, the church,
‘Each copy would go through many hands. Those who could not read would listen as others read to them; and all could discuss’
(Edward Royle: Chartism);
The National Petition was ready for Parliament in early May
(Nearly three miles long with nearly 1.3 million signatures);
Mass meetings were held all over the north in May,
And so Selsey’s mass meeting of 5,000 in May 1839
Slots nicely into view and perspective …

The springtime of 1839 was in some ways the high time for Chartism:
The Petition was rejected in the summer,
Plans for a general strike petered out,
Confused plans for armed insurrection
Such as Newport, November 1839
(Partly to try and free Henry Vincent from prison –
He had been so active in Stroud and the Valleys in the spring),
Only led to Frost’s transportation,
And by 1840, over 500 Chartists were in jail.

1842 saw waves of strikes (the ‘Plug Riots’),
But also widespread use of the telegraph and railways
To speed troop movements;
The Second Petition, with a claimed 3.3 million signatures
Was rejected by parliament,
And the National Charter Association held the movement together,
As it developed so many different local strands:
Teetotal Chartism, Temperance Chartism, Chartist Churches, Chartist Chapels,
The Chartist Land Cooperative Society,
Groupings with middle class organisations such as
The Complete Suffrage Union and the Anti Corn Law League …

The April of 1848 (‘the Year of Revolutions’)
Saw the Third Petition and a state of high alarm in London:
Queen Victoria took refuge in the Isle of Wight,
As parliament sniggered at some of the nearly 2 million signatures –
‘Victoria Rex’, ‘Duke of Wellington’ and ‘Mr Punch’ indeed;
But as Royle points out,
Such names were often used to conceal identity and reprisal;
Or to laugh at, gull and guy authority;
And if some signatures were written in the same hand,
These were not forgeries,
But reflected the opinions of the ’30 per cent of society’ who used an X;
‘Other signatures were dismissed because they were those of women’,
But as Royle points out:
‘Even if the … Commons did underestimate the number of petitioners, a figure of around two million – out of a total population of seventeen million over the age of ten – remains very impressive.’
And even though the events of April are usually portrayed as a damp squib,
Riots continued in the north,
A silent march of 80,000 took place in London,
Street fights with the police broke out in the East End,
Information from police spies and agents provocateurs
Suggested a metropolitan uprising as a national trigger,
But the movement declined and then disappeared into history …
A failure.

Or was it?
It gave the working class confidence and self-belief;
It helped develop a national political culture
 Whilst invigorating local diversities;
It politicised factory, mill, workshop, smithy, forge, furnace, loom, lathe, kitchen, bedroom, railway, canal, pub, spinning wheel, club, church, chapel, mechanics’ institute, evening schools, Sunday schools –
In short, it helped develop a working class consciousness,
And it forced the governments of the 1840s to bring in reforms
(Mines Act, Factory Acts, Public Health Act et al)
That otherwise would have been delayed.

Post Script:
Bronterre O’Brien 1837:
‘Knaves will tell you, that it is because you have no property you are unrepresented. I tell you, on the contrary, it is because you are unrepresented that you have no property.’

‘Address of the Female Political Union of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to their Fellow-countrywomen’, Northern Star, 9 February 1839:
‘We have been told that the province of woman is her home, and that the field of politics should be left to men; this we deny … For years we have struggled to maintain our homes … greet our husbands after their fatiguing labours. Year after year have passed away, and even now our wishes have no prospect of being realised, our husbands are over wrought, our houses half furnished, our families ill-fed, and our children uneducated … We are a despised caste, our oppressors are not content with despising our feelings, but demand the control of our thoughts and wants!’

‘The Christian Chartist Church’, Chartist Circular, 29 August 1840;
‘Christian Chartists! … Let us march triumphantly forward on the sacred way that leads to civil and religious liberty, equality and happiness. Let us press towards the glorious goal of Universal Suffrage.’

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Suburban Stroud Psychogeography

The walk into town from Coronation Road is seemingly nondescript,
It’s easy to ignore the street names’ indication of their dates of construction:
Coronation Road, King’s Road, Queen’s Road – The death of Edward, the accession of George;
It’s easy to miss the interplay of Stonehouse brick
 (Stamped with the company’s insignia),
And the walls of stone, fashioned from the rock excavated when digging foundations –
Edwardian modernity and Jurassic history side by side;
And in terms of memory and more recent history,
It’s not common knowledge that vegetables were once grown in the front gardens of Spillmans,
And how, Old Tom, the horse, munched his way through them all in the 1920s,
Savouring his favourite till last: a rich, ripe carrot,
While contentedly studying the other horses pulling the carts with their heavy loads

Over the cobblestones of Rodborough’s roads:
Coal and milk and spuds and beer and bread,
And, of course, the fishmonger, basket on head,
“What have you got for me today?” the housewives’ weekly question.
It’s also hard to know that there once was a cobbler who repaired boots at the end of Spillmans,
A man born in the mid 19th century and yet remembered by a resident in the 21st;
Just as others remember taking their beer jug down to Vesey’s Offie,

Half way down steep Spillmans Pitch,
Getting some choc drops for the children,
Or those long liquorice bootlaces.

It’s easy to miss the industrial archaeology on the Nailsworth branch line,
As you step across the bridge:
It's easy to miss Industry's footprint,
Lost in the elder, primrose, ash and willow.

But see the rusting mighty iron capstans,
One, now toppled, but one still firm and strong,
Once used for winching trucks down the gas works siding,
To a coal tippler (concrete remains there still),
Where a hydraulic ram tipped the trucks' coal

Down a chute to a narrow gauge hopper,
And thence over two bridges and the Frome,
To its destination at Stroud Gasworks –
Spillmans in the 1920s must have been more
LS Lowry
 than rus in urbe:
Steam whistle hooters,
Gas hissing in mantles,
Rain streaking the windowpanes,
Flat caps bobbing in unison,
Stout boots clattering on the cobbles,
Bread and marg in your pocket,
A small army on the march,
Wife at the washing,
Spillmans Pitch,
Another Monday morning;

I’m at the bottom of the hill now –
Snowdrops and crocuses and primroses
Covering the grass bank of the Clothier’s Arms,
Gazing up at the curved lines of Rodborough Hill
(Why so curved?
To aid the London stagecoach on its climb on the new turnpike?),
Pondering on the springs beneath the tarmac at the junction of Rodborough Avenue
(Spot the slight subsidence in the road),
Walking past the mills;
Anchor Terrace, Wharf House,
Under the subway along the old Bath Road to the lock gates,
Watching King George the Third at Wallbridge in 1788,
The year when he first started thinking about conversing with trees
(A consequence of his visit to Stroud, perhaps),
Then past the sunken, crumbling, barred windows of the old brewery,
Down there beneath the culverted Slad Brook,
Hard by the new bridge and roundabout,
Glancing back to see the Stroud Scarlet stretched out on tenterhooks in Rodborough Fields,
Where a man is arrested in front of the old Bell Inn
For selling The True British Weaver in the strikes of 1825;
Now it’s under the old broad gauge GWR bridge,
Past the statue of the Tory paternalist, George Holloway –
Inveterate opponent of cooperative societies and principles -:
‘Most of us who have lived long enough, have found that all is not gold that glitters, and if we put the co-operative principle to the test of examination we find that its ultimate result is destructive of the best interests of society and especially calamitous to the working classes. It is exactly on a par with trade unions, - whilst hurtful to society in general, it is especially injurious to those whom it is intended to benefit.’
And into the modern world of Stroud’s shops,
Where we never talk of the palpable ‘town and gown’ differences of social class,
So evident when comparing the DFL conspicuous consumption of the affluent
With my experience of buying mushrooms –
I absently mindedly picked up three Portobello mushrooms,
The shop assistant sensitively checked the price
And told me that he’d been unemployed for eight months and knew all about having to count the pennies
And did I know I would have to spend £6.50 on a few mushrooms?
The shop had a notice: ‘We now welcome sure start vouchers’,
That’s a world away from the sentiments of Mr. Holloway’s statue,
It’s a world away from people reveling in the fact that house prices are rising so rapidly in Stroud,
And it’s a world away from all that guff about schools and countryside and rail links and road links,
And yet it isn’t.
Is it?
It’s not Disraeli’s Two Nations: “Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.”
Is it?

Is it?

I think this walk reflects the ideas in Phil Smith’s On Walking … and Stalking Sebald Axminster: Triarchy Press (2014):
‘Many people complain that walking the suburbs is mind-destroying. Not if you internalize the details: the zen gravels, the emasculated lawns, the coughs of dogs across the night, and the traces of a long-gone rural terrain. All become metaphorical landscapes across which to plot yourself.’
Also see

Friday, 6 May 2016

Matthew Arnold's Lines on Dover and Forest Green

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
From far distant football ground
High above a Cotswold market town
Where wood and sward doth intertwine
In a resolute spring sylvan sign
That betokens ‘Victory!’
Not from Sherwood FOREST
In Lincoln GREEN,
With outlaws and poachers,
With goal-poachers,
Left wingers, Levellers, Diggers, Llamas,
The ghosts of handloom weavers,
Pedlars, tinkers, spinners of yarns,
Dale Vince’s capacious pockets,
Quorn pie, mash, peas,
Stroud Brewery ales …
Away fans might chant ditties such as
But as Fred Astaire so nimbly put it,
When dancing down the wing at Eastington
In top hat, white tie and tails:
‘Ha ha ha,
Who’s got the last laugh now?’

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Swapping Shirts with Shakespeare: Dover versus Forest Green

Enter Edgar, King Lear, Jon Parkin, Ye Beast, Dale Vince as Duke of Frocester, Scotty Bartlett and various morris dancers as footballers
Scene ; The white cliffs of Dover

But wait anon! The Beast doth soar high yet -
He crashes the ball high in the Dover net.
My Lord! Come thee hence to scry this wondrous scene.

A late winner methinks for the lads of Forest Green.’

Charles Buckingham: Gloucestershire's Jack Sheppard

Charles Buckingham: The Great Escaper

We all know of Spitalfields’ Jack Sheppard,
But what of Cheltenham’s Charles Buckingham?
Footpad on the Gloucester-Painswick turnpike,
Awaiting trial in Gloucester gaol after his capture in Bristol
(He had Bristol connections – when he was in the North Gloucester Militia,
He helped the romantically named Monsieur Dare,
A French prisoner of war, escape from Stapleton Prison;
Charles was court-martialled, but managed to escape and desert.),
He escaped from his cell just before the Christmas of 1808
(By nail, spoon and a ladder of blankets, sheets and mops,
He later said under oath; no inside help, Charles emphasised),
Keeping his freedom until the summer of 1809
(Despite a twenty guinea (oh, slavery!) reward),
When he was incarcerated in New Prison, Clerkenwell,
Almost emulating Jack’s feat there of almost a century before,
With adept fingers, file, nail, and crowbar,
But caught, right at the end with a score of other prisoners;
He was returned to Gloucester, mightily relieved
When his Jack Ketch black cap verdict was commuted;
And so he was bound for the prison hulks in the Thames,
Like Magwitch and Compeyson in Great Expectations,
He and others, chained, leg-ironed and handcuffed,
Rigorously guarded, until a change of horses on the Uxbridge turnpike
Enabled him and two others to escape – both eventually hanged;
But, Mr Buckingham, still not then thirty, tall and avian-like,
With a beak-like prominent nose,
Remained free as a bird:
Where did he fly to?

With many thanks to Jill Evans for permission to use her research at

Totally recommend that you visit Jill’s fascinating blog 

Tyburn Tree, Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild

Trivia or the Art of Walking the Streets of London: John Gay

Where the Mob gathers, swiftly shoot along,
Nor idly mingle in the noisy Throng.
Lured by the Silver Hilt, amongst the Swarm,
The subtil Artist will thy Side disarm.
Nor is thy Flaxen Wigg with Safety worn;
High on the Shoulder, in the Basket born,
Lurks the sly Boy; whose Hand to Rapine bred,
Plucks off the curling Honours of the Head.
Here dives the skulking Thief, with practis'd Slight,
And unfelt Fingers make thy Pocket light.
Where's now thy Watch, with all its Trinkets, flown?
And thy late Snuff-Box is no more thy own.
Bit lo! his bolder Thefts some Tradesman spies,
Swift from his Prey the scudding Lurcher flies;
Dext'rous he scrapes the Coach, with nimble Bounds,
While ev'ry honest Tongue Stop Thief resounds.

Tyburn Tree England

In dear old 18th century Tyburn Tree England,
So severe was the penal code, that you
‘Might as well be hanged for stealing a sheep as stealing a lamb’:
Why bother to be hanged for petty pilfering?
You might as well do a big job.

It was different for the aristos, however:
They could change the law to make their big jobs legal -
‘The Black Acts’ and enclosure criminalized walking
And privatized public spaces, slavery funded Augustan culture,
Whilst the government dined so well off the fat of the land
That John Gay was forced to satirize them all
In ‘The Beggar’s Opera’, where the prime minister,
Sir Robert Walpole and his gang were no better
Than the most hardened of Newgate’s criminals.
It ran and ran and ran.

Now the classically English take on our island story
Is ‘The Whig View of History’, where everything gets slowly better,
In a gradualist, incremental, organic, non-revolutionary manner:
There is nothing cyclical about the narrative at all,
It is a linear line of beneficence and improvement.
But today, I read Aditya Chakrabortty’s piece:
‘Today’s Britain: where the poor are forced to steal or beg from food banks
MPs who fiddled thousands got off lightly yet they have created a system where the hungry go to jail’ and ‘people who’ve had their benefits sanctioned, stealing televisions or other items sufficiently expensive to guarantee they’re sent down.’
Is this the new Tyburn penal code for the poor?
‘You might as well be warm in prison for stealing a telly rather than cold at home after being fined for stealing food from a shop?’

Tyburn Tree, Jack Sheppard and Jonathan Wild
Firstly: Jonathan Wild

Henry Fielding formed the Bow Street Runners in 1750,
But a generation before that, Jonathan Wild, self-appointed
Thief-Taker General of Great Britain, ruled the roost:
With no police force, arrests depended on rewards for information
Rather than detection, and such information came from the criminal underworld -
Wild saw and seized his opportunity within this metropolitan shadowland:
He set up thieves, receivers and informers for their jobs,
Restored stolen goods to their owners for a fee,
Handed thieves over to the law and the gallows and Jack Ketch -
In short, double-dealt with magistrates and malefactors alike,
Whilst short changing both for a good - or bad - ten years,
Until he cocked a snook once too often,
And danced his last dance at Tyburn Tree in 1725.

John Gay's character Peachum in The Beggar's Opera
Not only reflected Jonathan Wild,
But the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, too:
'I cannot indeed wonder that the Talents requisite for a great Statesman are so scarce in the world since so many of those who possess them are every month cut off in the prime of their Age at the Old-Baily ...A Highway-man never picks up an honest man for a companion, but if such a one accidentally falls in his way; if he cannot turn his heart
He like a wise Statesman discards him.'
Peachum's final recitation from his account ledger listed Walpole's nicknames:
'Robin of Bagshot, alias Gorgon, alias Bluff Bob, alias Carbuncle, alias Bob Booty',
And the Beggar states his message from the play: that the lower Sort of People have their Vices in a degree as well as the Rich: And that they are punish'd for them.'
And when the Beggar says 'And', he means 'But'.

Henry Fielding in his reflexive fictional factional Jonathan Wild,
Uses the motif of the 'Great Man' throughout the book,
To draw analogies between the infamous criminal, Wild,
And the notoriously corrupt Prime Minister, Walpole,
Prime Minister for twenty years from 1721 to 1742,
'Screenmaster-General' for the 'Robinocracy' as he was known.

'The Life of Jonathan Wild from his Birth to his Death' by H.D.,
Spoke of how 'by taking some of his own Gang now and then,
Because they had disoblig'd him, and apprehending others because they were not of his Gang, and hanging them ... he was reckoned a very useful Man, and was call'd upon by the Court ... And sometimes, by ingenious Quirks, or by managing the Juries or Evidences, he has brought off some of his Favourites...' And how 'he used to affect an extraordinary Intimacy with certain Justices of Peace; and it is said he sometimes drank with those Gentlemen at Taverns', So 'to be able so many Years to evade the Punishments appointed by the Laws... 'And to live not only in a Toleration, but even in a kind of Credit,
amongst the People he was robbing every Day'.
Fielding concluded his analogy by describing ' Newgate as no other than Human Nature with its mask off' and 'I think we may be excused for suspecting, that the splendid Palaces of the Great are often no other than Newgate with the Mask on. Nor do I know any thing which can raise an honest Man's Indignation higher than that the same Morals should be in one Place attended with all imaginable Misery and Infamy, and in the other, with the highest Luxury and Honour. Let any impartial Man in his Senses be asked, for which of these two Places a Composition of Cruelty, Lust, Avarice, Rapine, Insolence, Hypocrisy, Fraud and Treachery, was best fitted, surely his Answer must be certain and immediate; and yet I am afraid all these Ingredients glossed over with Wealth and a Title, have been treated with the highest Respect and Veneration in the one, while one or two of them have been condemned to the Gallows in the other.'

Now for Jack Sheppard, and a bit of Jonathan Wild

Let’s assume that an 18th century shilling means £15 today:
Well, such a robbery meant the gallows and a ‘hanging fair’ back then,
When Wolverhampton’s Jack Wild spent four years learning his trade
In jail, in London’s Wood Street Compter, from 1708-12,
Dreaming of his ledger books, names marked with a duplicitous double X,
While Jack Sheppard came into the world in Spitalfields in 1702,
Sharing the Spitalfields streets with rioting weavers,
Fast outgrowing his apprenticeship as a carpenter in Covent Garden,
Drinking with Edgeworth Bess, Jack Wild and ‘Blueskin’ Blake in the Black Lion,
Starting to use his lithe, nimble 5’ 4” frame, his artists’ fingers and hands,
His profound intelligence and quick, sharp wits, to steal silver, gold, cash and cloth;
It was 1722, and Jack was twenty years old.

By 1724, Wild was out to get the independent upstart Sheppard,
And Jack was incarcerated in St. Giles’s Roundhouse:
A razor saw him through the ceiling, and bed clothing down the wall;
He sauntered through the crowd, despite his irons –
But a month later, after Bess tried to help him escape from St. Ann’s Roundhouse, Soho,
He and Bess were thrown into the New Prison, Clerkenwell:
Smuggled tools saw off their fetters and cell bars; whilst bed clothes
Led them down the wall – but only into Bridewell House of Correction;
Jack shouldered the buxom Bess up the twenty foot gate and down to freedom.
He was the talk of the town.

Jack returned merrily to his life of crime and started thieving with ‘Blueskin’ Blake
(Who had an equivocal relationship with Wild both in and out of the nick),
Taking to the highways as well as London’s thronged streets,
Until Wild found out Jack’s whereabouts from a drunken Bess,
And Jack ended up in Newgate – he was sentenced to death at his trial;
Jack had been set up by Wild; Blueskin was furious and attacked Wild with a knife,
Later declaring: ‘That he had fully determined to murder him …
to have cut off his head and throw among the rabble’.
In the succeeding commotion, Jack set to work with an old nail,
Picking the lock on his on his handcuffs, climbing up through the chimney,
Picking a succession of locks on the strong doors, descending via his bedclothes,
Waddling in his irons to an old barn by the Tottenham Court Road,
Then disguising himself to discuss, part third person, the now famous Sheppard,
In a tavern in Piccadilly (according to Daniel Defoe):
‘I assured her it was impossible for him to escape out of the kingdom, and that keepers would have him again in a few days. The woman wished a curse on those who would betray him … I stept towards the Hay Market, and mixt with a crowd about two ballad singers; the subject being Sheppard. And I remember the company was very merry about the matter.’
A week later, ‘I … was transformed into a perfect gentleman’,
Carousing with ‘my sweetheart’, travelling ‘in a hackney coach, the windows drawn up’,
Then drinking with his mother, until ‘my senses were quite overcome …
I was altogether incapable of resisting …’ - he was taken back to Newgate,
On All Souls’ Day 1724, cheered by the constant stream of visitors,
Including the great and the good, who paid good money to see him;
But he was resentenced to death, shackled in the condemned cell –
Although he foresightedly managed to weaken a bar at his window.

Newgate was astonishing to the modern conception of a prison,
With our assumptions of uniformity rather than motley – but back then,
Wealth could buy you comfort; penury meant misery;
And visitors – such as Edgeworth Bess – might bring you a disguise,
(If you were Jack) and pull you out from the window, dressed as a woman,
So that you could wander out of Newgate, irons beneath your petticoats,
While London was distracted by St. Bartholomew’s Fair,
To reach the ferry at Blackfriar’s Stairs, to rest up for the night,
Before donning the smock and apron of a butcher, with your mate, William Page,
To spend a few days in the country, then thieving in Fleet Street, and Finchley;
Wild was after him, via Bess, but the keeper of Newgate got to Jack first,
And he was taken back to Newgate, to the redoubt known as ‘The Castle’,
To be chained to the floor in double sets of fetters.

The press was in a frenzy:
Journals, newspapers and broadsheets were all full of the past adventures
And infamous exploits of Jack Sheppard,
As well as the subsequent discovery of a file secreted in a Bible,
Then more files, a chisel and hammer;
This set Jack back, but although now more melancholic and pessimistic,
Jack still managed to liberate himself from his fetters:
‘Twas troublesome to be always in one position’;
Parker’s London News reported that the turnkeys
 ‘searched him from head to foot, but found not so much as a pin, and when they chained him down again … he reached forth his hand, and took up a nail, and with that, and with no other instrument, unlocked himself again  … Nothing so astonishing was ever known! He is now handcuffed, and more effectually chained.’
Jack had only one more trick up his sleeve – or waistcoat – for his journey by cart to Tyburn Tree:
A penknife was secreted in the hope that he might be able to continually chafe, rub and cut the rope
Bound around his wrists and bound for his neck, so that he might leap from that cart
And find refuge in the crowd there to pay their respects;
Alas! The knife was discovered by the Under-Sheriff …
Jack’s two hour procession, with rope and coffin, through crowds
Proffering handshakes and flowers, halted at a tavern for Jack to quaff his last drink,
Until the cart reached its woeful and final destination at Tyburn,
Where Jack brandished a pamphlet of his life detailing his misdemeanours
(Probably authored by Defoe; and publicity probably in exchange for protecting his body,
Either in the hope of resuscitation, or to save his corpse from the surgeons and dissection).
His legs thrashed in the air, his weight was insufficient for a quick death,
Well-wishers pulled at his legs to hasten the breaking of his neck and death,
Until at last Jack Sheppard was still;
A quarter of an hour later, the cart arrived to transport the body:
It was attacked – the crowd feared it was to be taken for hated unchristian anatomisation,
But Jack was eventually laid to rest in St Martin-in-the-Fields,
As the clock chimed mid-night.

And what of the wounded Jack Wild?

He was arrested on February 15th 1725,
Spending his days in luxury, in Newgate,
Insouciantly unbothered by Defoe:
‘I think it unpardonable, that a man should knowingly act against the law … contribute to the increase, as well as safety and maintenance, of pilferers and robbers, from no other principle, than a criminal selfishness … yet … As soon as anything is missing, suspected to be stolen, the first course we steer is to the office of Mr Jonathan Wild … so far from hating our enemy … we proffer him a recompense for his trouble, if he will condescend to let us have our own again … show that we are willing to forgive and forget, we consult … a person that deserves hanging …’,
Similarly unbothered by the parallels the press drew between himself
And the fraudulent Lord Chancellor, Lord Macclesfield, on trial in May,
Unbothered and probably puffed up as the spring and summer of 1725
Saw a constant parallel drawn between Thief-Taker Wild and Robber Walpole;
This continued right until the end of Walpole and his government,
But, for now, Wild was self-assured:
He felt sure his public listing of all the felons he had arrested would save him from the noose -
But, irony of ironies, the 1717 Jonathan Wild Act saw him convicted of a capital offence:
Receiving stolen goods.

His plea for mercy from the dock cut no mustard:
‘My Lord, I hope even in the sad condition in which I stand, I may pretend to some little merit for the service I have done my country … I have brought many … malefactors to just punishment, even at the hazard of my own life … I hope, my Lord, some compassion may be shown …’;
So, that meant King George next:
‘Tis nothing but your Majesty’s wonted goodness and clemency that could encourage me to sue for your royal favour and pardon … most dread and august sovereign, humbly prostrating myself at your royal feet … ‘

He only had laudanum left to try and render himself insensible,
But the derision of the crowd as the cart processed to Tyburn,
The abuse and execrations and constant missiles,
Must have made even Wild realise how hated he was -
He died quickly, in a shroud, after the cart left him dangling,
But there was to be no peace for Wild’s corpse:
Grave robbers saw to that.

Meanwhile, the English law went about its tasks with its usual failure:
Unpaid Justices of the Peace not attending to their duties,
Ditto constables and parish watches – and, in consequence,
Capital crimes increased by nearly 400% in the 18th century
(Deterrence rather than certainty of detection being the norm),
Although the pantomimic symbolism of appeal and the royal pardon
Meant that the number of executions actually declined –
A system of monarchical patronage and aristocratic control,
That enabled a projection of a Hogarthian Merrie England,
Where pauper and prince were equal before the law …
This projection of an illusory equality was also evident with the public pillory,
And even though some eventually lamented the death of Wild,
Asserting that crime was now on the increase,
The Fieldings were turning their minds to a police force for London,
The Bow Street Runners;
The brief reign of the likes of Jack Wild and Jack Sheppard would soon be over,
And Robert Peel’s ‘Peelers’ and ‘Bobbies’ were to be only a century away.

Some of the children have never heard the name of Her Majesty … Wellington, Nelson … St Paul, Moses, Solomon etc.’ but ‘there was a general knowledge … of … Dick Turpin … and more particularly of Jack Shepherd, the robber and prison-breaker.’
The Children’s Employment Commission

They groan’d aloud on London Stone
They groan’d aloud on Tyburn’s Brook
Albion gave his deadly groan,
And all the Atlantic mountains Shook.
(William Blake)

To understand 18th century law,
Its ideology is as important as its actuality:
How it was perceived as well as what it did
(The Free Borne Englishman trope:
‘Equality before the Law for both Rich and Poor’),
And at the top of the propertied triangle,
Sat the judge with his black cap majesty,
And then the good King Georges with the possible largesse of a royal pardon –
For just as the century saw an increase in capital offences
(An increase in trade and ‘portable property’ as well as poverty),
It also saw a decline in hanging ratios:
Hanging was quite palpably not working as a deterrent,
With royal pardons, transportation, and some juries reluctant to convict,
Even though, of course, all juries were made up of men of property,
And often, local acquaintances of the private prosecutor
(There was no police force to prosecute then, of course),
And there the undefended poor would face the arcane rituals of the court,
With its three guiding but often contradictory principles:
Majesty! Justice! Mercy!
Buttressed by Patronage, Paternalism, Deference,
Circumspection and Delicacy, when administering sentence.
(The dance of death between these three meant that about half of those condemned to the gallows were in fact transported or imprisoned.)
‘O yes! O yes! O yes! My Lords, the King’s Justices, strictly charge and command all manner of persons to keep silence while sentence of death is passing on the prisoners at the bar, on pain of imprisonment.’
‘The law is, that thou shalt return from hence, to the Place whence thou camest, and from thence to the Place of Execution, where thou shalt hang by the Neck, till the body be dead! dead! dead! and the Lord have Mercy upon thy Soul.’

And yet, even that august ritual was ridiculed:
‘Welcome to the Hanging Match next Collar Day when the Paddington Fair shall take place. Watch them Dance the Paddington Frisk when our friends shall Go West to Morris and Ride up Holborn Hill to Dangle in the Sheriff’s Picture Frame to finally Cry Cockles.’

Sources used: Douglas Hay Chapter One of Albion’s Fatal Tree: Property, Authority and the Criminal Law and Chapter Two by Peter Linebaugh: The Tyburn Riot against the Surgeons

Sources used:
Jonathan Wild by Henry Fielding (Edited with an introduction by Claude Lawson)
The Beggars Opera and Polly by John Gay (Ed, intro and notes by Hel Gladfelder)
The Thieves Opera by Lucy Moore
Whigs and Hunters by EP Thompson
The London Hanged by P Linebaugh
Albions Fatal Tree by Hay, Linebaugh, Rude, Thompson and Winslow
Songs of Innocence and Experience William Blake
The Life of Jonathan Wild from his Birth to his Death D Defoe
The Road to Tyburn Christopher Hibbert
Trivia or the Art of Walking the Streets of London: John Gay