18th Century Thief-takers – Part 2

Part 2 – Rivalry between Jonathan Wild and Charles Hitchin

Rivalry between Wild and his old boss Hitchin came to a head when Hitchin attempted to win the support of the Court of Aldermen for his plan to eliminate crime by publishing an attack on Wild as the ‘regulator’ of the criminal world in 1718. In this tract (pictured below) he accused Wild of manipulating evidence to convict and hang minor offenders while protecting greater villains and profiting from the return of stolen valuables.

thief-taker-p2-1A true discovery of the conduct of receivers and thief-takers in … the city of London : to the multiplication, and encouragement of thieves, house-breakers, and other loose and disorderly persons.

By Hitchin, Charles, published in London : 1718.
Available at Guildhall Library, shelf mark A 2.6 NO 60 (please note photo ID such as passport or driving licence is required to consult this item).

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Above, a wood cut of a man being hanged, taken from the same volume.

Needless to say Wild retaliated, giving an account of his work as Hitchin’s assistant and of the Marshal’s turning a blind eye to, and even profiting from, the thefts carried out by numerous young pickpockets in the City. Furthermore, he included evidence of Hitchin’s homosexuality by telling how the marshal had taken him to a house of ‘He-Whores’, also known as a Molly House, one of several such clubs for homosexual men established in London in the early decades of the eighteenth century.

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An answer to a late insolent libel, entituled A (true) discovery of the conduct of receivers and thief-takers, in … the city of London / Written by C(harle)s H(itchi)n. Wherein is prov’d … who is originally the grand thief-taker … (Anon.).
By Wild, Jonathan, 1682?-1725. London : T. Warner, 1718.
Available at Guildhall Library A 1.2 NO 65A (please note photo ID such as passport or driving licence is required to consult this item.)

Hitchen made an unsuccessful attempt to turn these charges aside by reissuing his condemnation of Wild, in a slightly enlarged version, under a new title The Regulator, or, A Discovery of the Thieves, Thief-Takers and Locks, 1718 also available at Guildhall Library (see below):

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People of the eighteenth century, like the people of today, were intrigued by the lives and language of the criminal world.  A list of ‘Flash words now in Vogue amongst Thieves’ can be found in the same publication:

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To be continued…

Isabelle Chevallot

Assistant Librarian Guildhall Library

 

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