Esoteric London

No. 369: Worship Street, EC2

Posted in Crime and Punishment, Graffiti by esotericlondon on July 28, 2011

Worship Street, London, EC2. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

The Morning Chronicle, Labour and the Poor – Henry Mayhew, 1849-50: 

The pickpockets generally lodging in the house consist of handkerchief-stealers, shoplifters – including those who rob the till as well as steal articles from the doors of shops. Legs and breasts of mutton are frequently brought in by this class of persons. There are seldom any housebreakers lodging in such places, because they require a room of their own, and mostly live with prostitutes. Besides the pickpockets, there are also lodging in the house speculators in stolen goods. These may be dock-labourers or Billingsgate-porters, having a few shillings in their pockets. With this they purchase the booty of the juvenile thieves. “I have known, says my informant, “these speculators wait in the kitchen, walking about with their hands in their pockets, till a little fellow would come in with such a thing as a cap, a piece of bacon, or a piece of mutton. They would purchase it, and then either retail it amongst the other lodgers in the kitchen, or take it to some fence,’ where they would receive a profit upon it. The general feeling of the kitchen – excepting with four or five individuals – is to encourage theft. The encouragement to the “gonoff” (a Hebrew word signifying a young thief, probably learnt from the Jewish fences in the neighbourhood), consists in laughing at and applauding his dexterity in thieving; and whenever anything is brought in, the “gonoff” is greeted for his good luck, and a general rush is made towards him to see the produce of his thievery. The “gonoffs” are generally young boys; about 20 out of 30 of these lads are under 21 years of age. They almost all of them love idleness, and will only work for one or two days together, but then they will work very hard. It is a singular fact that, as a body, the pickpockets are generally very sparing of drink. My informant never knew any one of these young pickpockets or “gonoffs to be drunk, or to seem in any way anxious for drink. They are mostly libidinous – indeed universally so – and spend whatever money they can spare upon the low prostitutes round about the neighbourhood. Burglars and smashers generally rank above this class of thieves. A burglar would not condescend to sit among pickpockets. My informant has known a housebreaker to say with a sneer, when requested to sit down with the “gonoffs,” “No, no, I may be a thief, sir, but, thank God, at least I’m a respectable one.

Also see post No. 4