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A Stranger’s Guide To London

August 8, 2022
by the gentle author

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Any readers from out of town who are preparing a visit to the capital this summer might like to read these excerpts from The Stranger’s Guide, exposing all the frauds of London, that I found in the archive at the Bishopsgate Institute.

The Countryman arrived in London.

Beaten by bullies & robbed.

Escaped & chased by watchmen.

Returned home gives a queer account of London.

BAWDS – Beware, young women, of those who, without any knowledge, pretend to be acquainted with you, your families and friends. This is an old bait to entice young women to their den to be devoured by the ravenous wolves to whom the bawd is a provider. Beware, ye unthinking young men, of receiving letters of assignation to meet at her house, for such letters are calculated to ensnare you and bring you to misery and destroy your health, fame and fortune. Avoid, ye countrymen and women, the pretended friendships of strangers that welcome you to town upon the arrival of the coach and that accost you at the inns, as they generally attend there for that purpose. If you once permit them to converse with you, they will by their artful  speeches, so far ingratiate themselves into your good graces as the engage your belief, get the better of your resolutions  and at length bring  you, by listening to their stories, to ruin and destruction.

BULLIES – Are dependent upon bawds & whores, sometimes the bully pretends to be the husband of the whore, whose bread he eats, whose quarrel he fights, and at whose call he is ready to do as commanded. It is very common for these women to bring home a gentleman and on entering the house ask the maid in a whisper if her master is at home. The maid according to former instructions replies, “No, he is gone out of town and will not return until tomorrow.” Upon which the gentleman is invited in and entertained with a story of the bully’s jealousy and the whore’s constancy. When the gentleman expresses a desire to leave and the bill being called for, he finds fault with the change, then the maid enters and says her master is below and immediately the bully appears and demands to know the gentleman’s business there – if means to debauch his wife? He then blusters and talks about bringing an action but at length is pacified by the bill being discharged.

DUFFERS –  These are a set of men that play upon the credulity of both sexes, by plying at the corner of streets, courts and alleys, their contraband wares, which generally consist of silk handkerchiefs made in Spitalfields, remnants of silk purchased at the piece brokers, which they tell you are true India, and stockings from Rag Fair or Field Lane, sometimes stolen, sometimes bought at very low prices, which they declare are just smuggled in from France, and therefore can afford to give you a bargain, if you will become the purchaser. On the other hand, should you not purchase, you will get abused and your pocket picked, at which they are very dexterous. Or, should you give them money to change, they tell you they will step to the public house to get it changed and come again in an instant. Then you see them enter the house and discover later, upon enquiry, they have escaped by the back door, to your great loss and mortification.

FORTUNE TELLERS & CONJURERS –  Almost all countries abound with these vermin. In London, we have several very famous in the Astrological Science, who pretend to a knowledge of future events by observations of the celestial signs of the zodiac. The better to carry on their delusions, they can tell you whether your life will be happy or miserable, rich or poor, fruitful or barren, and thousand incidents to please your fancy and raise your curiosity, insinuating at the same time (if they think you have money about you) that much good awaits you, therefore they must have a greater price for their intelligence. Who would not give or guinea, nay two – say they for the completion of their wishes, be it wisdom or wealth,  rather than a half a crown to learn that they might live in folly and poverty the rest of their lives?

FOOTPADS –  Are so numerous and so often described in the public papers that little new light can be thrown upon them and their practices. Daring insolence and known-down arguments are generally their first salute, after which they rifle your pockets and, if you have but little of value about you, they often maim or violently bruise you for want of that you are not in possession of. These shocking acts of these rapacious sons of plunder call for the interference of the magistracy to put a stop to their daring and consummate impudence as they exhibit, in and about the metropolis, skulking in bye-lanes, desolate places, hedges and commons, in order to waylay the unsuspecting stranger or countryman.

GAMBLERS – There are so many methods of gambling as there are trades and they move in so many spheres, from the most noble dukes and duchesses to the most abandoned chimney-sweeper, pretenders to honour and honesty, versed in various tricks and arts, by which many among the nobility and the gentry have squandered away their fortunes for the occupation of a Complete Gambler or in the true sense of the word, an Expert Gambler. The better to put you on guard against this villainy, I will mention several of the most fashionable and alluring passtimes at which various methods of deluding and cheating are practiced with some success, viz. gaming houses and horse races, cock-fighting, bowling, billiards, tennis, pharo, rouge et noir, hazard &c. together with routs, assemblies, masquerades and concerts, of a particular or private nature. In the latter of these, you will find notorious gamblers of the female sex, who deal in art and deception, as well as some more notorious male cheats who barter one commodity for another without a reference of credit or making it a debt of honour.

HANGERS-ON – These are a set of men of an indolent life, who rather than labour to gain a livelihood, will submit to any meanness that they may eat the bread of idleness. There are many kinds, some pretending to understand the sciences, others the arts, some set up for authors, others wits and the like. Hangers-on will eat or drink with you wherever you stay but will never offer to pay a farthing, however in lieu thereof, they will tell you an indecent story or sing you the latest lewd song. These you will easily find out and may easily get rid of by not treating or encouraging them upon your arrival.

HIGHWAYMEN – Are desperate and resolute persons who having spent their patrimony or lavished their substance upon whores and gamesters, take to the road, in order to retrieve their broken fortunes and either recoup them by meeting with good booty or end their lives in Newgate. The best means to avoid highwaymen is not to travel by night and in be cautious in displaying money, banknotes or other valuables at the inns you put up at, and be careful what company you join for fear they learn of whither you are going and for what purpose – if to pay or receive money, they will almost certainly waylay and rob, if not murder you.

JILTS – Are ladies of easy virtue, who, through an hypocritical sanctity of manners, and pretensions to virtue and religion, draw the countryman and inexperienced cit into their clutches. Of all whores, the jilt is the most to be avoided – for knowing more than others, she is capable of doing more mischief.

KIDNAPPERS or CRIMPS –  A set of men of abandoned principles, who having lavished away their fortunes enter into the pay of the East India Company, in order to recruit their army – and, in time of war, when a guinea or two is advertised to be given to any person that brings a proper man, of five feet eight or nine inches high, these kidnappers lie in wait in different places of rendezvous, in order to entrap men for money.

RING-DROPPERS – These are a set of cheats, who frequently cheat simple people, both from the country and in London, out of their money, but most commonly practice their villainous arts upon young women. Their method is to drop a ring just before such persons come up, when they accost them thus, “Young woman, I have found a ring and I believe it is gold for it has a stamp upon it.” Immediately, an accomplice joins in, who being asked the question replies, “It is gold.” “Well” says the formers, “As this young woman saw me pick it up, she has the right to half of it.” As it often happens that the young person has but a few shillings in her pocket,  the dropper says, “If you have a mind for the ring, you shall have it for what you have got in your pocket and whatever else you can give me,” which sometimes turns out to be a good handkerchief, cloak or other article. The deluded creature then shows the ring to another person in the street who informs her she is cheated by sharpers and the ring is not worth tuppence, being only brass gilt with a false stamp put on the deceive the unwary.

PICK-POCKETS – There are more pick-pockets in and about London than in all Europe besides, that make a trade and what they call a good living by their employment. The opera, playhouses, capital auctions, public gardens &c swarm with them. And, of late years, they have introduced themselves into our very churches and more particularly Methodist meetings. Therefore it would be prudent, when in a crowd, to keep one hand on your money and the other on your watch, when you find anyone push against you. Pocket books are only secure in the inside pocket with the coat buttoned and watch chains should be run through a small loop contrived for the purpose of securing the watch in the fob.

QUACKS – These  are a set of vile wretches who pretend to be versed in physic and surgery, without education, or even knowledge of a common recipe. If they think the patient is able to pay handsomely, they make them believe their case is desperate and generally turn them out worse than they find them.

SETTERS – These are a dangerous set of wretches who are capable of committing any villainy, as well by trapping a rich heir into matrimony with a cast-off mistress as by coupling a young heiress to a notorious sharper, down to the lowest scene of setting debtors for the bailiff and his followers. Smitten at the first glance of a lady, you resign your heart and hand at discretion, which she immediately accepts, on a presumption that delays are dangerous. The conjugal knot being tied, you find the promised and wished-for land, houses and furniture, the property of another and not of yourself.

SMUGGLERS – These are a numerous race of people that have no other way of living than following the illegal practice of smuggling. Two different gangs are concerted in carrying on this wicked business, the first to import the goods from abroad and the other to dispose of them when landed, but if the first were taken and punished as they deserve, the latter would fall of course.

WAGON HUNTERS – These are errant thieves, that ply in the dusk of the evening to rob the wagons upon their arrival. They are equally skillful in cutting away portmanteaus, trunks and boxes from behind chaises &c, if not thoroughly watched, which is the duty of every driver to take care of, by attending to the vehicle under his charge and giving a good look-out.

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. Mark permalink
    August 8, 2022

    Some things never change. Never trust a city gent!

  2. gkbowood permalink
    August 8, 2022

    Fortunately, my visits to London in 1979 and 1994 were nothing like this! I was dismayed to see the interior of Westminster Abbey had sprouted tourist kiosks INSIDE in ’94. I was told that the proceeds from many of these kiosks were in aid of ongoing repairs to Windsor Castle after the fire, still, it was detracting to say the least. I remember having a conversation with a Cabbie in ’94 about how London had an intimate feel and not at all threatening, to which, he agreed with evident pride.
    How I would love to go back and visit so many of the places you have taken us to in your blog! Thank you for that.

  3. Stella permalink
    August 18, 2022

    Gosh, London must have been quite a scary place, so many different hazards/dangers to watch out for; just the same now, I guess, and I think I can safely say – so will it always be. ?

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