Autobiography of a Thief in Thieves' Slang
With this preface I transcribe, and interpret, the following autobiography, which is both authentic and true...It is a typical career that might be that of hundreds in East London.
I was born in 1853 at Stamford Hill, Middlesex. My parents removed from there to Stoke Newington, when I was sent to an infant school. Some time afterwards I was taken by two pals (companions) to an orchard to cop (steal) some fruit, me being a mug (inexperienced) at the game. This got to my father's ears; when I went home he set about me with a strap until he was tired. He thought that was not enough, but tied me to a bedstead - you may be sure what followed. I got loose, tied a blanket and a counterpane together, fastened it to the bedstead, and let myself out of the window, and did not go home that night, but met my two pals and dossed (slept) in a haystack. Early next morning my pals said they knew where we could get some toke (food), and took me to a terrace; we went down the dancers (steps) to a safe and cleared it out. Two or three days after I met my mother, who in tears begged me to go home, so I went home. My parents moved to Clapton; when they sent me to school, my pals used to send stiffs (notes) to the schoolmaster, saying that I was wanted at home; but instead of that we used to go and smug snowy (steal linen) that was hung out to dry, or rob the baker's barrows. Things went from bad to worse, so I was obliged to leave home again. This time I palled in with some older hands at the game, who used to take me a parlour-jumping (robbing rooms), putting me in where the windows was open. I used to take anything there was steal, and at last they told me about wedge (silver plate), how I should know it by the ramp (hallmark - rampant lion?) ; we used to break it up into small pieces and sell it to the watchmakers, and afterwards to a fence (buyer of stolen goods) down the Lane (Petticoat Lane). Two or three times a week I used to go to the Brit. (Britannia Theatre) in Hoxton, or the gaff (penny music-room) in Shoreditch. I used to steal anything to make money to go to these places. Some nights I used to sleep at my pals' houses, sometimes in a shed where there was a fire kept burning night and day. All this time I had escaped the hands of the reelers (police), but one day I was taken for robbing a baker's cart, and got twenty-one days. While there I made pals with another one who came from Shoreditch, and promised to meet him when we got out, which I did, and we used to go together, and left the other pals at Clapton.
At last one day we was at St. John's Wood, I went in after some wedge; while picking some up off the table I frightened a cat, which upset a lot of plates when jumping out of the window. So I was taken up and tried at Marylebone Police Court, and sent to Feltham Industrial school. I had not been there a month before I planned with another boy to guy (run away), and so we did, but was stopped at Brentford, and took back to the school, for which we got twelve strokes with the birch. I thought when I first went there that I knew a great deal about thieving, but found there was some there that knew more, and I used to pal in with those that knew the most. One day, while talking with a boy, he told me he was going home in a day or so; he said his friends was going to claim him out because he was more than sixteen years old. When my friends came to see me I told them that they could claim me out, and with a good many fair promises that I would lead a new life, if they did so, they got me out of the school. When I got home I found a great change in my father, who had taken to drink, and he did not take so much notice of what I done as he used. I went on all straight the first few moons (months) at costering. One day there was a fete at Clapton, and I was coming home with my kipsy (basket); I had just sold all my goods out. I just stopped to pipe (see) what was going on when a reeler came up to me and rapped (said), "Now, you had better guy, or else I shall give you a drag (three months in prison)." So I said "All right," but he rapped, "It is not all right, I don't want any sauce from you or else I shall set about (beat) you myself." So I said "What for? I have done nothing; do you want to get it up for me?" Then he began to push me about, so I said I would not go at all if he put his dukes (hands) on me. Then he rammed my nut (head) against the wall, and shook the very life out of me. This got a scuff (crowd) round us, and the people asked him what he was knocking me about for, so he said, "This is young --- , just come home from a schooling (a term in a reformatory). So he did not touch me again; so I went home, turned into kip (bed) and could not get up for two or three days because he had given me such a shaking, him being a great powerful man, and me only a little fellow. I still went on all straight until things got very dear at the market. I had been down three or four days running, and could not buy anything to earn a deaner (shilling) out of. So one morning I found that I did not have more than a caser (5s) for stock pieces (stock money). So I thought to myself, What shall I do? I said, "I know what I will do. I will go to London Bridge rattler (railway), and take a deaner ride and go a wege-hunting (stealing plate)". So I took a ducat (ticket) for Sutton in Surrey, and went a wedge-hunting. I had not been at Sutton very long when I piped a slavey (servant) come out of a chat (house), so when she had got a little way up the double (turning), I pratted (went) in the house. When inside I could not see any wedge laying about in the kitchen, so I screwed my nut into the washhouse, and I piped three or four pair of daisy-roots (boots). So I claimed (stole) them and took the lid off my kipsy and put them inside, put a cloth over them, and then put the lid on again, put the kipsy on my back as though it was empty, and guyed to the rattler and took a brief (ticket) to London Bridge, and took the daisies to a Sheney (Jew) down the gaff, and done them for thirty blow (shillings).
The next day I took the rattler to Forest Hill, and touched for (succeeded in getting) some wedge, and a kipsy full of clobber (clothes). You may be sure this gave me a little pluck, so I kept on at the old game, only with this difference, that I got more pieces (money) for the wedge. I got three and a sprat (3s 6d) an ounce. But afterwards I got 3s 9d and then four blow. I used to get a good many pieces about this time, so I used to clobber myself up and go to the concert-rooms. But although I used to go to these places I never used to drink any beer for some time afterwards. It was while using one of these places I first met a sparring bloke (pugilist) who taught me how to spar and showed me the way to put my dukes up. But after a time I gave him best (left him) because he used to want to bite my ear (borrow) too often. It was while I was with him that I got in company with some of the widest (cleverest) people in London. They used to use at (frequent) a pub in Shoreditch. The following people used to go in there - toy getters (watch stealers), magsmen (confidence-trick men), men at the mace (sham loan offices), broadsmen (card-sharpers), peter-claimers (box-stealers), busters and screwsmen (burglars), snide-pitchers (utterers of false coin), men at the duff (passing false jewellery), welshers (turf-swindlers), and skittle-sharps. Being with this nice mob (gang) you may be sure what I learned. I went out at the game three or four times a week, and used to touch almost every time. I went on like this for very near a stretch (year) without being smugged (apprehended). One night I was with the mob I got canon (drunk), this being the first time. After this when I used to go to concert-rooms, I used to drink beer....One day I was at Blackheath I got very near canon, and when I went into a place I claimed two wedge spoons, and was just going up the dancers, a slavey piped the spoons sticking out of my skyrocket (pocket), so I got smugged. While at the station they asked me what my monarch (name) was. A reeler came to the cell and cross-kidded (questioned) me, but I was too wide for him. I was tried at Greenwich; they asked the reeler if I was known and he said no. So I was sent to Maidstone stir (prison) for two moon...The mob got me up a break (collection), and I got between five or six foont (sovereigns) so I did not go out at the game for about a moon.
The first day that I went out I went to Slough and touched for a wedge kipsy, with 1220 ounces of wedge in it, for which I got nineteen quid sovereigns. then I carried on a nice game i used to get canon every night. I done things now that I should have been ashamed to do before I took to that accursed drink. It was now that I got acquainted with the user of twirls skeleton keys.
A little time after this I fell was taken up again at St. Mary Cray for being found at the back of a house, and got two moon at Bromley Petty Sessions as a rogue and vagabond; and I was sent To Maidstone, this being the second time within astretch. When I fekll this time I had between four and five quid found on me, but they gave it me back, so I was landed alright this time without them getting me up a lead collection.
I did not fall again for a stretch. This time I got two moon for assaulting the reelers when canon. For this I went to the Steel Bastille - Coldbath Fields Prison, having a new suit of clobber on me and about fifty blow in my brigh pocket. When I came out I went at the same old game.
One day I went to Croydon and touched for a red toy gold watch and red tackle gold chain with a large locket. So I took the rattler home at once. When I got into Shoreditch I met one or two of the mob, who said, "Hallo, been out today? did you touch?" So I said "Usher yes". So I took them in and we all got canon. When I went to the fence he bested cheated me because I was drunk and only gave me £8 10s for the lot. So the next day I went to him and asked him if he was not going to grease my duke put money in my hand. So he said, "No." then he said, "I will give you another half-a-quid;" and said "Do anybody, but mind they don't do you." So I thought to myself, "All right my lad; you will find me as good as my master," and left him.
Some time after that affair with the fence, one of the mob said to me, "I have got a plaace cut and dried; wikk you come and do it?" So I said "Yes; what tools will you want?" And he said "We shall want some twirls and the stick crowbar, and bring a Neddie life preserver with you" And he said "Now don't stick me up disappoint me; meet me at six tonight."