Saturday 26 May 2012

Diary of a Girl Pickpocket

"I was born at Stockport; my father was a pensioner, and had one shilling per day; my father and mother were both sober and industrious, but my mother would have done anything to have got us meat. My father was more shy; he was a shoemaker. I went for nearly three years to a Roman Catholic School, at threepence a week. I went to the factory at 10 years old, and worked till I was 12. Then I went to service at Mosley, at a boarding school. I stayed there till I was 14. I then left on account of the small wages. I came home, and was sent by my father to learn to be a lad's cap maker; I was learning for three months, and then I came home again. .
     "When I came home, I saw that my brother Richard was dressed very fine, besides having a gold ring and a watch. My brother was not then living at home regularly, because he could not stand my father's reproaches. I used to say to my father, 'How well is Richard dressed!' and my father would say, 'But who thinks anything of it? he's a prig.' My mother was more unhappy about it than my father, and often followed him about the town, begging him to come home. When I was just fifteen, my mother gave me threepence to go to Knottmill Fair, and I met my brother there. He told me what to do, and I stood before him, so that nobody could see his hand, while he picked a woman's pocket of 7s. 6d. and a purse. He gave me a shilling. and then told me to go home. I went into a show and picked a young woman's pocket of 1s. 6d. I trembled very much when I did it; I met the young woman again in a short time, and she was crying; I heard her say the money was her mother's; I cried too, and would have given back the money, but was afraid of being took up. I dared not take the money home, so I took it to a stay shop, and paid it in advance towards a pair of stays. I remained at home three months without doing anything more. At the end of that time, my little brother Edward was taken up for picking pockets, and got three months. He had been taken up three times before, and had only been out three days. During twelve months, he had only been at liberty four days.
     "One of the witnesses against him was one or his own companions, and after he had been the means of convicting him, I leathered him just outside the court. I was taken up for the assault on this witness, and remained in the New Bailey a week. I was then bailed out by two navvies, (these two men were perfect strangers; this kind or security is very common.) My mother met me in the street, and we were treated to some rum by a companion of my brother Richard's, James O'B., who had £100, which he had stolen from a woman. My brother was then in Gloucestershire, picking pockets. O'B. gave me money to complete the purchase of my stays. I had been at a fair with another young woman only for a day, and we got £3 between us. When I got home again, my mother had a letter from Richard, saying that he was put back for trial at Gloucester for pocket-picking, and wanted money to pay for a counsellor. I went by the train to Oughton, and at the station picked a woman's pocket of 15s. which paid for my place to Kidderminster. I went from Kidderminster to Worcester, with five or six other females, and got 15s. more from them. I stopped all night at Worcester. I went in an omnibus to the Gloucester station next morning, and picked a lady's pocket in the omnibus of £1 2s. I got into Gloucester on Friday night; saw my brother next morning, told him that I would try to get some money for a counsellor, and went to the market; but it is a very poor market, and I only got 10s. 9d. I could not get money enough to fee my brother a counsel, and he received three months, having been recommended by the jury to mercy, on account of his being so young. I then went to Derby, and then to Sheffield, where I saw O'N., whom I had previously known in Manchester, through my brother. I went to Rotherham statute fair, and got about £4. I saw O'N. again, who said, 'I think you have done better than any of us!' for a great many pick-pockets were there. I then went to Bain statute fair, but got nothing, for it rained, and no people came. I returned to Sheffield, and then went to Hull. I went to all those places myself, having heard O'N. and his companions say they were going. It was the fair, and I got between £6 and £7. I seldom kept my money, for others travelling in the lodging houses used to say they were hard up, and borrowed it from me. O'N. wanted me to live with him without being married, but I would not. My eldest brother, John, was then in Hull, serving a month for picking pockets. I waited till he came out, and then he leathered me for coming away from home. I ran away from him and went to Leeds, there I met O'N. again, and the askings were put up for us to be married. I filled up the three weeks by going to Sheffield and York, and got about £10 or £11, at both places together. We were married at the old church. Up to this time I could only pick outside pockets, but O'N. taught me how to raise outside dresses, and to pick inside pockets. I was married on the Thursday, and on the Saturday I got 10s. in the market. On Monday my brother Edward came to Leeds. We all went out, and Edward picked a pocket of 13s, but he had been watched, and we were all took up, and we got three months.
     "After our liberation we went to Hull, and found Prince Albert was going to lay the foundation stone of Grimsby Docks. At Hull I got 17s. We went to Grimsby, and Edward and I got 30s. each. From Hull we went to Newark, where we got £7; then to Redford, £4; then to Sheffield, where I was took up for 30s. I had just taken from a woman. This brought me six weeks, and O'N. (my husband) two months in Wakefield. I travelled after I came out, until O'N. came out, and got in the fortnight about £15. Then we went to Selby, and got £4 in the market. Then to Hull, and got £5 at the station. Then to Manchester, when I and my husband went to live with my father. While I lived at Manchester, I went out with O'N. almost every day by the trains, six or seven miles out of Manchester, sometimes second sometimes first class, having very good clothes. The largest sum I ever got was £22, going from Manchester to Stockport. O'N. did nothing but shade me off. He was a great drunkard, and I had to pay from 20s. to 35s. every week to the beer shop for him. We carried on this way for about six months, making on the average about £10 a week. We lived at my father's all this time. He used to fret and cry, and tell us we should get into disgrace, but we took no heed. He was too good-natured with us. We then heard that Preston market was very throng on a Saturday, and for thirteen weeks we came over, O'N., Richard, and I, every Saturday. O'N. and I went together, and Richard and O'G.; at night we shared all equally. The largest sum I ever got at Preston was £17, and the smallest about £3. I used to call £4 and £5 nothing. It was owing to the wet day we went into the shop, few people being in the market, when the offence took place for which we were transported. Although I was three years at school, I never learned to read. Once when I was at Preston station, I got some money in a purse, (9s.) I took the purse, a red silk one, and put it in the water closet on the Manchester side of the station. It was put behind the pipe, over the seat. (This place was searched and the article found). This was about two months ago. When I got a purse in a crowd, I used to take the money out and put the purse into some man's pocket. I've done this eighteen or nineteen times. It was the best way of getting rid of the purse. J.O'N. lived with another young man in a furnished cellar. They dressed very well, and each kept a woman. They used to have beef stakes and beer regular to breakfast. I used to go out on Monday and get £2 and £3, which would satisfy me for two days, and then I would go again on Wednesday or Thursday, and again on Saturday, and generally got in the week about £20. I was never satisfied with less. O'G. did not do much, he used to be clammed. My brother Edward was very daring. He could pick a woman's pocket as she was running along the street. If he had seen a thing that he fancied, he would say, 'That's mine,' and watch his opportunity till he got it. John had no heart (energy) for thieving. He lived on a woman, who kept him. K. and McG. were guns - that is, they taught younger thieves and screened them when they were practising. K. kept a pick-up woman - that is, one who commits robberies in the street, K. coming up at the right moment to screen or rescue her."

Quoted in Ragged School Union Magazine, 1854


  1. This is really fascinating. Really puts the modern day into perspective.

  2. You rarely hear about the life of female pick pockets. I find that strange.

  3. stop being antifeminist!!!!
    there is no problem hearing about females they are just as well known as men are and should be respected and treated the same.