Fear and Fortune: Robbery in London in the Late Eighteenth Century


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Virginia Tech


Public representation of highwaymen and footpads in the press spawned a climate of fear in London.  Descriptions of the violence that highwaymen and footpads employed in the course of their crimes generated this fear.  Violence set them apart from other non- or less-violent thefts that occurred in much greater numbers in the capital, but received less coverage in the public discussion of crime at the time.  Victims of robbery came from all different social classes and demographic groups, and this too contributed to the fear by creating an image of robbers who could attack anyone at any time.  This ardent fear appeared to have overshadowed some of the new social and economic explanations of criminals' motives and emerging humanitarian approaches to crime prevention.

The court records suggest that highwaymen and footpads were often young men who operated in organized gangs and used violence to create fear and ensure success in their attack -- and this paralleled the public perceptions.  However, the trials show that women did in fact account for a small -- but noticeable -- percentage of robbers, and robbers also acted individually as well as in groups.  The court proceedings also <demonstrated that highwaymen and footpads created networks with prostitutes, alehouses, pawnshops, and workhouses in order find potential victims, recruit new robbers, peddle pilfered goods, and increase the odds of successfully accomplishing their crime and escaping.



London, Crime, Robbery, Eighteenth Century