This lively and beautifully illustrated pocketbook aims to teach the unwary traveller the means and methods used by London thieves and conmen to trick the unwary out of cash or valuables. It also allowed the genteel metropolitan reader to pretend to be more familiar with criminal customs than perhaps he or she actually was.
The book deals with types of criminal under a number of headings, some familiar today (‘Kidnappers’) and some (‘Setters’) long since passed into obsolescence. (A setter was generally a poor but well-dressed man who would alight upon a rich country lady and so bamboozle her that she would agree to his more or less immediate proposal of marriage.) Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1838) is notable for its romantic view of such predators and their depredations. At the same time, it was also notable for suggesting a direct link between material poverty and crime – a view that some critics deplored on the basis that it seemed to remove independent moral agency from criminals.
- Article by:
- Mary L Shannon
- Poverty and the working classes
London Labour and the London Poor is a key work in the development of investigative journalism. Dr Mary L Shannon describes how Henry Mayhew conducted numerous interviews with street-sellers, sweepers and sewer-hunters, in order to share their stories with the reading public.