The art of relieving men of their money

The Old Bailey is England's most important crown court. The court can try crimes from any part of the country. It was originally established as a Session House in 1539 but was rebuilt in 1774. The Old Bailey became known as the Central Criminal Court. The building was demolished in 1902 and today the Old Bailey stands on the site of Newgate Prison.
A Scene in St Giles
The Rookery St Giles 1851 Rookeries or Tom-all-alones were slums. Repeated epidemics of Cholera, Typhus and even the Black Plague should be adequate evidence for our imagination, but if that isn't enough, Henry Mayhew pointed out that polluted water from the Thames was allowed, once a week, into the Rookery ditches to provide a place used in common for sewage as well as drinking water.
The Esther M. Zimmer Lederberg Trust
The Rookery became a warren of alleys and courts in the 18th Century. It was a haven for thieves, coiners, prostitutes and beggars. The lodging houses and narrow passages they lived in no longer exist.
© Museum of London
A stone’s throw from the theatre district of Drury Lane
The landing of the convicts at Botany Bay', engraving from Watkin Tench's book, A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay (1789).
Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales:

Charlotte Walker

In spite of their low status in society many female criminals were able to fight the system, and win.

If women in London in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries sought the perfect crime in which to participate. Selecting and receiving stolen goods provided excellent opportunities for profit and little chance of punishment. Low conviction rates, combined with the fact that women did not have to pretend to be something else, but could be themselves, made dealing in stolen goods relatively easy for women in the large cities.

What we are talking about here is essentially fencing. Fencing is the crime of buying and reselling stolen merchandise. Without someone to dispose of stolen property, thieves would have to rely on their own connections, and both the costs and the risks of crime would increase substantially. For the rest of us, the fence provides an opportunity for people to buy something at less than market price.

Fencing took advantage of female skills such as the buying and selling of consumer goods and networking. Janice Turner writes that women’s experiences as pawnbrokers working in Rag Fair on Rosemary Lane (in the East End, near the Tower), led them to have ‘few qualms regarding the buying and selling of stolen goods, while Kathy Callahan identifies women as particularly likely to engage in the crime of receiving stolen goods since it matched their employment experience in the retail trade.

Charlotte Walker

Working in the St Giles area of London, Charlotte Walker a prostitute, fence and pickpocket, who was also arrested for assault and being disorderly on numerous occasions, was able to avoid punishment for twenty four years, despite having been arrested at least thirty times and tried at the Old Bailey on twelve occasions.
 By ensuring that stolen goods were never found on her person, and  by putting up a very creditable and lively defence at her trials she was able to have a long and successful career.
 Once in court she would quickly find and exploit inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case and further undermine their credibility by depicting them all as drunks and womanisers. At 4ft 11ins she hardly looked to be a major threat to society.

St Giles

The parish was dedicated to St Giles, the patron saint of lepers, beggars, cripples, the miserable and the lonely, of which there were plenty. By the 17th century, the contrast between rich and poor was enormous.
A stone’s throw from the theatre district of Drury Lane, the local area was home to countless bawdy-houses and streetwalkers, conspiring with swarms of thieves to empty the pockets of passers-by. In 1865, one visitor wrote “all about are man whose countenances and general appearance proclaim them to be thieves and cadgers.” Indeed, crime rates were among the highest across the whole of London, and it was widely acknowledged that “the walk through the Dials after dark was an act none but a lunatic would have attempted.”     Emily Brand

Early Life

According to the Criminal Register of the Felons in Newgate for 1802 compiled by Edward Raven, a clerk in the Home Department, Charlotte came from Liverpool, was 46 years old, 4’11” tall and possessed a fair complexion and light hair. At this time she was living in the parish of St Clement Danes. She was certainly working in London by February 1776 when she was accused of assault.
She had three main ways of relieving men of their goods. She either accosted them in the street and then put her hands in their breeches pockets, or she picked mens pockets whilst drinking with them, or she and an accomplice took men to lodgings and stole their money and watches while they slept.
Although Charlotte was arrested 27 times for stealing, she did not always find herself in court. Before anyone faced a trial at the Old Bailey, their case had to be heard by the grand jury, who met to assess the indictments and decide whether there was sufficient evidence to try the case. When Charlotte was on trial there very seldom was.
She was imprisoned for more than three weeks on eight separate occasions, with her longest stay being nine weeks.
A lack of reliable evidence may also have influenced the grand jury, as many of the prosecutors had been drunk at the time of the alleged offence. In most cases there were no other witnesses apart from the victims, and the stolen goods or money were rarely, if ever, found on her.       London Lives

The Old Bailey

At the Old Bailey Charlotte always gave a spirited and inventive defence. If possible, she made the prosecutors out to be drunks who associated with loose women, and she exploited any inconsistencies in their evidence. Her diminutive size may have helped the jurymen to appreciate her spirit without feeling that she presented a real threat to society at large, enabling them to acquit her. For example, Charlotte was accused of highway robbery in April 1781, a capital offence. The prosecutor, Joseph Bowman, claimed that as he went through French Horn Yard, she gave him a violent push against a wall, threw herself against him and robbed him. In conducting her own defence, Charlotte said, “He said, the first time, I pushed him against the wall, he fell on one side, and I robbed him; the second time he said, as he came out of the door, I held him together by both his arms, and so robbed his Worship: I said I must have three hands to rob him when I had hold of both his arms”. The jury acquitted her.
Charlotte was arrested for stealing at least once a year between 1781 and 1794, but only twice more thereafter, in January 1798 and December 1799. However, between April 1794 and October 1799 she was arrested for being a disorderly person on at least six separate occasions and committed to Tothill Fields Bridewell or Middlesex House of Correction. As she was now in her forties, she may have found it harder to attract customers.           London Lives

Her Final Trial

In January 1800 Charlotte was found guilty at the Old Bailey for the first time and was sentenced to death. In the Criminal Register for February 1798 she is described as “a very old offender” who “has been tried several times”.

Charlotte’s death sentence was commuted to transportation for life. She boarded a ship, the Nile, which set sail in June 1801 for New South Wales, arriving in Sydney on 14 December 1801. With the shortage of women in the colony, even Charlotte was able to find a skilled craftsman to live with. He was 14 years her junior, so her final years were probably more comfortable than her final decade in London.

She died in Sidney in November 1806 at the age of 52


London Lives

Cathy Callahan

Emily Brand

Criminal Lives | Exploring London

Forty years of crime in London (Journal) Robert B. Shoemaker

The Newgate Calendar

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