I was perusing Donald A. Lowe's book, 'The Regency Underworld', the other day - all in the name of research, I hasten to assure you - I have no immediate plans for a change in career path. Anyway, I came across a fascinating article entitled:
ESTIMATES OF PERSONS WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO SUPPORT THEMSELVES IN AND NEAR THE METROLOLIS BY PURSUITS EITHER CRIMINAL - ILLEGAL - OR IMMORAL.
Who could resist such a tantalizing title? Naturally I read on. In about 1797 there were 115,000 persons engaged in criminal pursuits within the vicinity of London. These were broken down into various categories, and I list below the ones that most captured my imagination.
Thieves, Pilferers, and Embezzlers who live partly by depredation, and partly by their own occasional labour. 8,000
Then there were - A class of suspicious Characters, who live partly by pilfering and passing Base Money - ostensibly Costard Mongers, Ass Drivers, Dustmen, Chimney Sweepers, Rabbit Sellers, Fish and Fruit Sellers, Flash Coachmen, Bear Baiters, Dog Keepers (but in fact Dog Stealers). 1,000
Or my personal favourite - Spendthrifts - Rakes - Giddy Young Men inexperienced and in the pursuit of criminal pleasures - Profligate, Loose and dissolute Characters, vitiated themselves, and in the daily practice of seducing others to intemperance, lewdness, debauchery, gambling, and excess; estimated at: 3,000
But by far the largest entry, 50,000 of them, representing almst half of the total, was: Unfortunate Females of all descriptions, who support themselves chiefly or wholly by prostitution.
Could it be that the fairer sex possessed less talent when it came to living by deception, or was it the lack of opportunity to hone their neferacious skills which caused them to turn in such numbers to the 'oldest profession'?