Whetstone Park, London, WC2. Photo ©RogerDean 2016
The Million-Peopled City – John Garwood, 1853:
CRIMINAL AND DESTITUTE LONDON JUVENILES, OR THE RAGGED SCHOOL CLASS
Description of the adjacent notorious “Thieves’ houses.”
“Great excitement has lately prevailed on my district, in consequence of the houses, Nos. 2 and 3, West-street, being open for the inspection of the curious, previous to their demolition to make way for the new street about to be made in continuation of Farringdon-street. Many thousands of individuals visited and inspected these houses during the month of August, among whom were his [late] Royal highness the Duke of Cambridge, and several other persons of high rank and station in society. A general surprise was expressed that such places could so long have existed in the very centre of the metropolis, and within so short a distance of one of its leading public thoroughfares, and been notoriously used for the worst of purposes.
They are said to have been built in the years 1683-84, by a man named McWaullen or McWelland, chief of a tribe of Gipsies, under pretence of being a tavern called the Red Lion, but for the more direct purpose of concealing stolen property, and harbouring thieves. The dilapidated buildings behind were used as stables, where the fleetest horses were kept in constant readiness for pursuit or speedy flight. From all accounts it appears that these houses have ever been the resort of the most notorious and abandoned individuals of the metropolis. The names of their inhabitants stand conspicuous in the annals of crime, for among others are Jonathan Wild, Jack Sheppard, Jerry Abershaw, and Dick Turpin.
Many are the strange incidents said to have taken place within these walls, and though there are many exaggerated statements made, there is no doubt, from their situation – being by the side of the Fleet Ditch, the rapid current of which could at once sweep into the Thames what might be thrown in – their dark closets, trap-doors, sliding panels, and means of escape, they were among the most secure erections for robbery and murder. In the shop No. 3, there were 2 traps in the floor, one for the concealment of property, the other for a means of escape in case the felon should be pursued. His method of escape was by lifting a covering of wood about 3 feet square, when he immediately was in the cellar beneath; […].