‘Bred up a butcher’: The meat trade and eighteenth-century criminality

Stephen Basdeo, a historian and lecturer based in Leeds, United Kingdom. The following article is a pre-publication print of a chapter which appeared in Food and Feast in Modern Outlaw Tales (2019) (PDF linked here). Copyright agreements and author self-archiving rules mean that I am now free to post this here for the benefit of others.

Unless otherwise stated, all images contained herein are my own and taken from rare books in my personal library. You may re-use these images as long as appropriate credit is given.

Title page to later edition of Charles Johnson’s History of the Highwaymen (1734; 1839 edn. Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection)


In May 1685, two men named Thomas Blanke and Edward Gardner were convicted of robbery and sentenced to be hanged at Tyburn in London.[1] On 5 December 1707, Edward English was executed at St. Stephen’s Green, in Dublin, likewise for the crime of robbery.[2] On 21 January 1727, also at St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, another man named John Dobin was hanged for having committed a similar crime.[3] All of these men’s cases are relatively unremarkable, but the one thing that they have in common is the fact that all of them were involved, at some point in their lives, in the butcher’s trade.

In light of such cases, the neo-Marxist historian, Peter Linebaugh, argues that

in Tyburnography, we found that among those who had been hanged a disproportionate number had been butchers.[4]

The reason for the over-representation of butchers in contemporary criminal accounts, according to Linebaugh, can be explained solely in terms of economics and the rise of capitalism; the erosion of the butchers’ guilds’ monopoly on meat meant that they were undercut by people who sold sub-standard meat.[5] It is no surprise that many butchers turned to robbery in order to support themselves when business was bad, as the highwayman William Johnson did in 1711.[6] Some of them, if they did not themselves rob, acted as fences for local poachers, as Henry Cook, a butcher-turned-highwayman, was forced to in the early part of his criminal career.[7]

Linebaugh’s data is taken from court records and he says little about the contemporary cultural reasons that highwaymen were seemingly predisposed to criminality, apart from citing a poem by John Gay entitled Trivia; or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London, which implies that butchers were violent people:

Butchers whose hands are dy’d with blood’s foul stain,

And always foremost in the hangman’s train.[8]

He rarely references literary accounts of crime such as Alexander Smith’s A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen (1719), Charles Johnson’s Lives and Exploits of the Most Noted Highwaymen (1734), and Johnson’s Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals (1735). These books were collections of short biographies of the most notorious criminals, with a particular emphasis upon highway robbers. These were more popular and reached a wider audience than the Proceedings, and they were reprinted frequently throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.[9]

This chapter argues that we must look beyond social and economic factors towards more cultural factors to find out why butchers were viewed as potentially criminal by some contemporary writers. Instead, it is argued here that the declining economic status of the trade intersected with wider cultural fears regarding violence and depravity, and animal cruelty.[10] Yet as we shall see, sometimes membership of the butchers’ trade was viewed as immaterial, and it was crimes that were committed as a result of overindulgence in alcohol which were blamed for their criminality. Master butchers, additionally, often worked with apprentices. In the case of butchers’ apprentices, fears surrounding butchers’ apparent predisposition for violence was often overshadowed by other moral panics, such as the figure of the unruly and idle apprentice who spent his nights in taverns and chocolate houses. However, far from being depraved, the sources examined here also highlight occasions where apprentices shunned the meat trade because it physically disgusted them. The discussion of apprentices is particularly useful because the history of the lives of supposedly unruly apprentices before the nineteenth century is difficult to investigate fully due to the lack of records available, a contributing factor to which is the fact that contemporary court papers and newspapers rarely make reference to an offenders’ ages.[11] Clearly, when it comes to assessing eighteenth-century butchers’ criminality, it is too simplistic to say that those involved in the preparation of meat were criminal because their businesses took a turn for the worst and they were already desensitized to violence.

The “triple tree” at Tyburn (National Archives)

The Status of Butchers in the Eighteenth Century

Butchers could hardly be classed as members of polite society. Their appearance was unseemly: they were usually stocky and overweight, and descriptions of them from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries refer to the blood-stained aprons, which contrasts with the fine laced clothing that polite gentlemen would have worn.[12] Furthermore, the environment that they worked in was unpleasant. Nowadays, when animals are slaughtered, it is generally not the local town butcher who carries out this task, for it is a job which is carried out in an abattoir or slaughterhouse. During the eighteenth century, however, most animals were carried ‘on the hoof’ to towns to be slaughtered and then sold. This was often done at the butcher’s stall and, if in London, it was likely done at Smithfield Market, a site which had facilitated the slaughter of animals and the sale of meat since the medieval period.[13] The practice continued until the 1850s.[14] It was only c. 1900 that the slaughter of animals began to be hidden from public view.[15] Butchers shops were often spoken of as being pictures of barbarity. For example, an essay written by Alexander Pope in the Guardian in 1713 says that,

I know nothing more shocking or horrid than the prospect of [butchers’] kitchens covered with blood, and filled with the cries of creatures expiring in tortures. It gives one an image of a giant’s den in a romance, bestrewed with the scattered heads and mangled limbs of his victims.[16]

One writer in The General Entertainer put a more poetic slant upon the fear that he imagined some animals would have felt before their slaughter:

Against an elm a sheep was ty’d.

The butcher’s knife in blood was dy’d;

The patient flock, in silent fright,

From far beheld the horrid sight;

. . .

With purple hands and reeking knife,

He strips the skin yet warm with life:

Your quarter’d fires, your bleeding dams,

The dying bleat of harmless lambs,

Call for revenge.[17]

Other writers expanded upon the description of the suffering endured by animals in butchers’ shops, speaking of how these tradesmen ‘mangle [the] bodies’ of Oxen, and of how after they have been slaughtered,

‘retains a Sensation of Life three times longer than any known Creature in the Creation.’[18]

Allusions to the grim interior of butchers’ shops are made in accounts of the legendary highwayman and murderer Sawney Beane, who is said to have flourished in Scotland during the reign of King James VI (later James I of England). His biography was one of the most disturbing narratives to appear in the annals of the highwaymen, for he was not only a thief but also a cannibal (his story was adapted by Wes Craven for the 1977 movie entitled The Hills Have Eyes). That the story has no basis in fact was beside the point for criminal biographers, who often invented stories, drew upon folklore, or adapted fictional criminals’ stories.[19] In Johnson’s account, Sawney and his family, which number over forty souls who are all the product of incest, live in a cave in the highlands of Scotland, and prey upon lonely travelers. Eventually, they are hunted down when King James VI leads an army into the area. Upon entering Sawney’s lair,

The soldiers were shocked to behold a sight unequalled in Scotland, if not in any part of the universe. Legs, arms, thighs, hands, and feet, of men, women, and children, were suspended in rows like dried beef. Some limbs and other members were soaked in pickle.[20]

Johnson is clearly using the imagery of the butcher’s private slaughterhouse to describe the cannibals’ lair. The humans who fell into Sawney’s captivity must have been terrified, much like the animals whom, some writers at the time recognized.[21]

Title page to the fifth volume of The Newgate Calendar (Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection)

Butchers and the Result of their Violent Tendencies

Butchers’ willingness to kill helpless, harmless animals was assumed by some writers to have been easily transferable to humans, and allegedly contributed to the development of a

‘bloody and barbarous disposition.’[22]

Johnson’s Remarkable Criminals illustrates this point:

John Hewlet was born in Warwickshire, the son of Richard Hewlet, a butcher, and though not bred up with his father, he was yet bred to the same employment at Leicester, from which, malicious people said he acquired a bloody and barbarous disposition.[23]

Dogfight in Regency London. Prior to the Victorian era these kinds of sports were popular with all classes. Note how gentlemen in top hats stand alongside working-class gentlemen. From Pierce Egan’s Tom and Jerry (1821) (Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection)

Early advocates of vegetarianism, such as Thomas Tryon (1634–1703), argued that shedding animal blood awakened ‘poysonous fires’ which, once released from the carcass, would infect those exposed to it, principally butchers, with all manner of wicked inclinations.[24] Tryon, in fact, was quite vehement in his arguments that butchers were potentially violent and criminal. In a letter to a friend, which he titled ‘Of the Employments Arising from the Fountain of Darkness,’ butchers, as well as other people involved in food preparation such as poulterers and even fishermen,

‘are toucht [sic] with the like pernicious evil.’[25]

Perhaps the idea of these poisonous fires released from the spilling of animals’ blood contributed to the butcher/highwayman Whitney’s irascible and sometimes unhinged temperament: he was prone to violent outbursts and acted without any form of civility or politeness when he was robbing his victims. For example, in Smith’s Highwaymen, when Whitney, a former butcher-turned-highwayman, met a gentleman on the road, he commands the latter to stand and deliver,

‘or else I must be obliged to send a brace of balls through your head.’[26]

This is in stark contrast to the idealized and gentlemanly highwayman, Captain Macheath, found in John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), who gives the following caution to his fellow highwaymen:

‘act with conduct and discretion. A pistol is your last resort.’[27]

Perhaps Whitney’s former trade had made him desensitized to violence, unlike the gallant and heroic Macheath. Towards the end of the century, the antiquary Joseph Ritson (1752–1803) argued that butchers were often desensitized to violence:

The butcher knocks down the stately ox with no more compassion than the blacksmith hammers a horse-shoe, and plunges his knife into the throat of an innocent lamb, with as little reluctance as the tailor sticks his needle into the collar of a coat.[28]

Joseph Ritson (1752-1803) (Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection)

As Ritson implies, the butchers’ profession meant that its practitioners had to, on a daily basis, harm and kill animals. This view of butchers as having potentially vicious inclinations likely stemmed in part from the fact that, generally, cruelty to animals had been a marker of potential criminality since at least the mid-seventeenth century. For example, in Richard Head’s The English Rogue (1665), the protagonist, Meriton Latroon, tells the reader how in his youth he beat the brains out of a poor turkey and enjoyed the experience so much that it

‘tryed the weakness of mine eyes and so strain’d the optick nerves, that they ran a tilt at one another, as if they contended to share with me in my victory.’[29]

Title page to The English Rogue (1665) (Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection)

A notable example of the supposed link between animal cruelty and criminality is given in William Hogarth’s The Four Stages of Cruelty (1751), in which, in his youth, the protagonist, Tom Nero, is seen torturing defenseless animals. By the time of the events depicted in The Third Stage of Cruelty, Nero has progressed from cruelty to animals to committing theft and murder.

Apprentice Butchers and Potential Criminality

Many of the highwaymen-butchers in the annals of Smith and Johnson had only been associated with the meat trade in their youths when they were apprentices. The terms of service for an apprentice could begin when a child was as young as 7, but more often than not, it usually commenced around the age of 12 or 13. A legally binding document was drawn up by a clerk and signed by a Justice of the Peace, which obliged the master to train the child up to their trade and provide them with shelter, food, and clothing for a minimum of seven years.[30] While many boys would have undoubtedly completed their apprenticeships without issue, unruly and rebellious apprentices certainly have a special place in the history of eighteenth-century crime. The figure of the idle apprentice, made famous in another of William Hogarth’s works, entitled Industry and Idleness (1747), was just as worrying a figure for eighteenth-century moralists as a depraved butcher, and fears of butchers’ ‘bloody and barbarous dispositions’ converged with anxieties surrounding unruly apprentices.

Contemporary writers assumed that apprentices who turned to crime were simply idle and potentially criminal merely because they did not want to work, preferring ‘a good life.’[31] This is certainly the case in the account of the highwayman John Addison, whose criminal career began because he absconded from his master’s service and began mixing with bad company in taverns.[32] Some butchers’ apprentices may indeed have had a propensity for violence, which could develop due to their involvement in the trade, but there were also those who simply did not like the type of work with which they were involved. Many of these butcher/highwaymen apprentices never completed their terms of service, and the reasons for this are various and are not reducible to being a simple case of juvenile depravity and unruliness. Butchery was so foul a trade that Tryon said that it was only as a last resort that boys should be apprenticed to it.[33] In such a context, it is unsurprising that we find that many apprentices disassociated themselves from the meat trade because they found it unpleasant. Thus, in Smith’s biography of Robin Hood that is found in his Highwaymen volume, as we saw earlier with other descriptions of butchers, we are told that Robin was

‘bred up a butcher, but being of a very licentious, wicked inclination, he followed not his trade, but in the reign of King Richard the First, [associated] himself with several robbers and outlaws.’[34]

While Smith does not give the reasons for Robin Hood’s having cast aside his trade, Johnson’s words in a similar account are more interesting, for he says that Robin Hood was

‘trained to the occupation of a butcher, but his mind was soon disgusted with that industrious employment.’[35]

‘Disgust’ is an interesting choice of words here, for when apprentices usually turned away from their trade, it was usually as a result of their idle nature. The fact that Robin was disgusted with the trade suggests that he found it abhorrent. The young felon, James Filewood, sheds further light on this matter: born of honest and respectable parents, he was brought up to the trade of a poulterer (a profession related to that of a butcher but one which specifically dealt in chicken and turkey). As we have seen, being in the meat trade was not pleasant work, and why would young Filewood get his hands dirty in the scalding, picking, and gutting of chickens when to pick pockets was so much easier and less gruesome? Thus, he cast off his profession and went robbing upon the highway.[36] As such, butchers’ apprentices may indeed have had a propensity for violence, which could develop due to their involvement in the trade but there were also those who simply did not like the type of work with which they were involved.

Not every butcher’s apprentice in Smith and Johnson’s books was an unruly apprentice who turned away from their trades because they were inherently wicked. Some were subject to what might now be termed child abuse at the hands of their masters, and such is the case with James Hind. Unable to bear his master any longer, he ran away, with the assistance of his mother, to London. And it is in London that he first became acquainted with the criminal underworld.[37] Another highwayman named Stephen Gardiner (d. 1724) was similarly beaten by his master on a regular basis, although Johnson depicts these as necessary beatings that were undertaken in order to curb the young Gardiner’s

‘passion for liberty and idleness.’[38]

The Evil Habits of Masters

The common perception that many apprentices were naturally idle was indeed a convenient excuse for moralists such as Smith to write about. The meat trade, as well as being unpleasant work, was often a hard life for apprentices during which they worked long hours for very low pay, which would have undoubtedly been much more unpleasant if they were bound to an overbearing and cruel master; naturally, they would have sought a distraction from the work that they were bound to, and for apprentices in London, there were many taverns and other ‘low’ establishments for them to enjoy the few leisure hours they managed to get. However, many apprentices had to find ways of enjoying themselves in such a way that their masters did not notice, and there was plenty of entertainment on offer in London at the time. People in eighteenth-century Britain knew how to enjoy themselves, and the capital had a variety of attractions to suit the rising urban bourgeoisie. Among these were the coffeehouses and taverns, or public house. Coffeehouses suited the tastes of politically informed members of polite society who gathered to read and debate the news of the day in periodicals.[39] As we will see ahead, however, while members of polite society visited coffeehouses and chocolate houses, it does not mean that these venues were necessarily considered polite. Public houses provided alcoholic refreshment as well as food, and in most towns, the tavern had a place in the life of those who lived there, whose patrons could obtain admittance as long as they could pay for their drink.[40] These venues’ customers were typically artisans, laborers, farmers, and shopkeepers.[41] These were the professions who most likely had in their small businesses an apprentice or two and sometimes it was the masters themselves who induced their apprentices to follow the ways of vice by setting bad moral examples, as expressed in The Criminal Recorder (1804–1809):

The evil habits of masters are in a great degree the means of corrupting apprentices. No sooner does an apprentice advance towards the last year of his time, than he thinks it incumbent on him to follow the example of his master by learning to smoke. This accomplishment acquired (according to his conception), he is a fit associate for those who frequent public houses.[42]

Visiting public houses in the eighteenth century was not an inherently bad thing, but the same writer argues further that, although the master may visit respectable public houses, the apprentice, in order to avoid meeting with the master on a night out, must necessarily visit places where he knows that his master will not venture, which tend to be places of ill repute where the apprentice ‘meets with depraved company.’[43] In such places, they could become addicted to vice. Whether it was the example of his master visiting public houses which induced the butcher’s apprentice, Jack Addison (d. 1711), to visit places of ill repute it is impossible to say. Nevertheless, he did visit such places throughout the term of his apprenticeship, where he met the prostitute Kate Speed who encouraged him in the ways of vice.[44]

The highwayman Whitney, a former butchers’ apprentice (Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection)

The Slippery Slope of Sin

There are many trades are represented in the histories of highwaymen. Butchers could potentially be prone to developing a bloody and barbarous disposition as a result of the activities that they carried out daily, namely the butchering of animals. But what ultimately mattered to criminal biographers was how a person conducted his or her life, whatever his or her profession had been. This is because, as Lincoln B. Faller argues, in the eighteenth century, the commonly held view was that all people were capable of becoming criminals because all men were sinners, tainted by original sin.[45] This is why young butchers/highwaymen are depicted more often than not as Hogarthian idle apprentices. A significant portion of these apprentices were indeed butchers, but they are guilty of small misdemeanors which progress, in the fullness of time, to a criminal career. In the case of Jack Withers, an apprentice butcher, these small sins include taking coins out of the collection basket in church during the offertory.[46] Withers did complete his term of apprenticeship, but as soon as it was over, it appears that he very quickly fell in with the wrong sort of crowd. It was after his apprenticeship that he began to indulge his sinful inclinations, and commenced his profligate career, which brought his life to an early end on the gallows.[47] This is recorded of another robber named Robert Crouch in Johnson’s Remarkable Criminals, in which it is said that he was apprenticed to a butcher and served his full term,

‘but as soon as he was out of it he addicted himself to gaming, drinking, and whoring, and all the other vices which are so natural to abandoned young fellows in low life.’[48]

Membership of the butchers’ trade here is of little consequence in these accounts. These lads might have cut respectable figures in the world, having been successful in their apprenticeships, were it not for the fact that they had indulged their sinful inclinations. Thus, it was a slippery slope: once a person had committed a small sin that intersected with his or her criminality and predisposition towards barbarism, he or she could become addicted to a criminal way of life.[49]

The Beggar’s Opera (2nd edn, Stephen Basdeo Personal Collection)

‘Squandering their income through drinking, whoring, and gambling’

Yet it was not only young apprentices who had to be on their guard against the temptations of the town, for there are a few cases of adults recorded in the works of Smith and Johnson whose lives end at the scaffold after squandering their income through drinking, whoring, and gambling. In fact, sometimes it was not their background in the meat trade which induced them to commit crime, but simply the fact that they were drunk. William Gordon, another butcher/highwayman, is a case in point:

This malefactor was brought up to the business of a butcher; but, for twenty years previous to his execution, had been a reputed highwayman . . . he was, however, afterwards convicted, at the Old Bailey, of a highway robbery, between Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner, on Mr Peters, under-treasurer of the Temple, whom he robbed of his hat, wig, watch, and a gold ring; and, being at the time in a state of intoxication, he was soon apprehended, and had no other plea to offer other than that he was drunk.[50]

Similar circumstances are recorded in the Newgate Calendar’s entry for Abraham Wells, a thief:

He was the son of a carpenter at Enfield, who bound him to a butcher at his native place, where he engaged in business for himself, and sold considerable quantities of meat, by wholesale, at the London markets. He paid his addresses to a widow of some fortune, whom he married; but she prudently reserved a part of her property to her own use. When Wells had been married some time, he became uneasy that his wife opposed his extravagance and, being unhappy at home, he kept bad company.[51]

The word ‘extravagance’ in many accounts is synonymous with drinking, whoring, and gambling, which highwaymen were well known to engage in. This is illustrated in the following exchange between Peachum and Mrs. Peach in The Beggar’s Opera:

Mrs. Peach. Pray, my dear, is the Captain rich?

Peach. The Captain keeps too good company ever to grow rich. Marybone and the chocolate houses are his undoing.[52]

Marylebone was famous for its seemingly genteel pleasure gardens by the eighteenth century but they were places where members of the polite classes could indulge in certain vices. Patrons would pay a fee to enter and they would be able to enjoy polite entertainment such as music, as well as partaking of refreshment and entertaining ladies.[53] Many of the ladies whom the gentlemen in the pleasure gardens entertained were mistresses, and prostitutes were known to frequent them, as well.[54] However, Macheath’s profligacy, as indicated earlier, has developed also as a result of frequenting chocolate houses. As a result of trade with the Americas, imports of luxury cocoa beans led to the establishment, in the seventeenth century, of chocolate houses. The famous diarist, Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), who refers to it in his diaries as ‘jocolatte,’ was fond of visiting chocolate houses because for him, hot chocolate was the perfect hangover cure.[55] While chocolate in this period was a drink which mainly the rich could afford, high prices did not mean that venues such as the ones that Macheath visits were genteel or polite places. White’s Chocolate House had, by the early part of the eighteenth century, become the coffeehouse to visit, which Jonathan Swift described as

‘a place to be fleeced and corrupted by fashionable gamblers and profligates.’[56]

This is probably why Richard Steele’s fictional Isaac Bickerstaff in The Tatler (1709–1710) authored pieces on

‘gallantry, pleasure, and entertainment . . . under the article of White’s Chocolate-house.’[57]

As the reference to Swift’s words suggests, gambling was one of the most common activities to participate in at the chocolate houses. Prostitutes were a common sight in most chocolate houses, as well.[58] Thus, chocolate and chocolate houses were associated with extravagance, drunkenness, and gambling, which has contributed to modern perceptions of the consumption of chocolate being associated with overindulgence and decadence.[59] It is through living such an extravagant life that some people fell into a life of crime because they needed to fund their lifestyle. Let us take the example of another butcher/highwayman named Nicholas Wells (d. 1712). He was compelled to commit crime, not so much because of an innate ‘bloody and barbarous disposition,’ but from a love of good living. He was a respectable butcher by trade, and married well: his wife came with a dowry of £120, which is the approximate equivalent of £10,000 today. He soon squandered his sizeable income, however, at the gambling table and various alehouses, until finally he had to take to robbing upon the highway to defray his debts.[60]


Thus, in ‘Tyburnography,’ or the social history of crime, there was indeed, as Peter Linebaugh points out, a relationship between the meat trade and criminality for butchers are overrepresented in court records. Yet Linebaugh’s socioeconomic explanation for the over-representation of butchers in court records does not translate neatly on to more literary sources, such as Smith’s and Johnson’s histories of the highwaymen. The evidence presented here suggests in some cases that membership in the butchers’ trade could be seen as a potential marker of criminality, with a willingness to harm small animals pointing to a ‘bloody and barbarous disposition.’ While it is useful to study the demographics of the condemned, there were also cultural factors at play in contemporary explanations of criminality. Their predisposition towards barbarism could be exacerbated through visiting taverns, becoming inebriated, and associating with disreputable characters. Furthermore, the butchers-turned-highwaymen who appear in the annals of Smith and Johnson were often apprentices who absconded from their masters. In some respects, they should be viewed more as typical Hogarthian idle apprentices who shunned industrious employment and took to robbing, yet some of them found the trade disgusting and left of their own accord. Criminal biographers such as Smith and Johnson are evidently aware that there are social and economic reasons which explain why butchers have a predisposition towards criminality, but to their stories they attach other cultural factors as well. Thus, in literary sources, a number of contemporary fears surrounding predisposition to violence, animal cruelty, and juvenile delinquency converged in accounts of robbers involved in the meat trade.

References and Notes

[1] Ordinary of Newgate Prison: Ordinary’s Accounts: Biographies of Executed Convicts 6 May 1685.

[2] The Last Speech and Dying Words of Edward English, Butcher. Who was Executed at St. Sephen’s-Green, for Robbing of one Mr. at the Green-Hills, on Friday 5th of December, 1707.

[3] Speech, Confession and Dying Words of James Dealy Constable, John Dobin Butcher, and Edward Dunn; Who are to be Executed near St. Stephen’s Green, this present Saturday being the 21st of this Instant January 1726–7.

[4] Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged,184. ‘Tyburnography’ means the demographic study of the condemned as it appears in the crime-related print culture that flourished during the eighteenth century.

[5] Linebaugh, The London Hanged, 198–99. What once had been a proud industry with its own guild during the medieval and early modern periods, had by the eighteenth century had its monopoly on the production and sale of meat broken by the emerging capitalist free market, and the guilds, in general, were no longer able to control entry into their respective trades. Crossley and Erlington, The City of Oxford, 316; The new free market in meat led to inferior produce being sold by many butchers. In eighteenth-century Oxford, for example, the Association of Oxfordshire Butchers, established in 1294, petitioned the local corporation to stop non-associated butchers from ‘hawking all kinds of meat in the city.’ See The Cheating Traders Garland, 4; butchers therefore acquired a reputation for cunning. Contemporary ballads likewise warned purchasers about the poor meat that was often sold by the new unregulated butchers: ‘The butcher is likewise a fly cunning knave, / He’ll cheat you with flink, when good meat you should have.’

[6] The Newgate Calendar; or, Malefactor’s Bloody Register, 2:81.

[7] Linebaugh, The London Hanged, 185–86. The citation to the original case is as follows: The Ordinary of Newgate, his Account of the Behaviour, Confession, and Dying Words, of the Malefactors, who were Executed at Tyburn, On Wednesday the 16th of September, 1741, 4–5.

[8] Linebaugh, The London Hanged, 184. The citation to the original poem is as follows: Gay, Trivia; or the Art of Walking the Streets of London, 16.

[9] Relevant scholarship on eighteenth-century criminal biography includes the following: Lincoln B. Faller, Turned to Account: The Forms and Functions of Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century Criminal Biography; Hal Gladfelder, Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England: Beyond the Law; and Richard Ward, Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London.

[10] Additional note on methodology: I will focus principally upon the compendia because, although there were numerous shorter books and pamphlets available, their content is representative of a larger body of more popular crime literature that the public was reading at the time, and Smith and Johnson often plagiarized contemporary accounts of criminals and inserted them into their own narratives. Furthermore, I will focus principally upon highwaymen because as Faller, Turned to Account, 74 says: each type of crime elicited a different response from the public and the press; murder was viewed as a sin against God, whereas robbery was a sin which resulted as a result of people succumbing to their inner depravity. And although this collection is focused upon outlaw narratives, I shall focus upon accounts of highwaymen because, as Hobsbawm, Bandits, 44–45 says: the eighteenth-century highwayman was early modern England’s rather poor substitute for the idealized medieval outlaw.

[11] Gray, Crime, Policing and Punishment in England, 1660–1914, 178: one possible reason for this is that, from the seventeenth century until 1933, the age of criminal responsibility in England was 7 years old, being raised to 10 thereafter.

[12] Cockayne, Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 42, 72–4.

[13] Williams, ‘City of Beasts: Horse and Livestock in Hanoverian London,’ 205. In 1488, an Act (4 Hen. VII, c.3) prevented the killing of beasts within the walls of London but following petitioning by the butchers, this was repealed in 1532 (4 & 5 Henry VIII, c.3).

[14] Otter, ‘Civilizing Slaughter: The Development of the British Public Abattoir, 1850–1910,’ 29–51.

[15] Otter, ‘The Vital City: Public Analysis, Dairies and Slaughterhouses in Nineteenth-Century Britain,’ 518.

[16] Guardian, 1:267.

[17] The General Entertainer: or, A Collection of Near Three Hundred Polite Tales and Fables, 1:63.

[18] Gent, Carolina, or, A Description of the Present State of that Country and the Natural Excellencies, 30.

[19] For example, both Smith and Johnson’s works contain biographies of Sir John Falstaff and Colonel Jack. And criminal biographers criticized each other on occasion, accusing others of writing sub-par histories by fabricating stories. For example, in The Highland Rogue (1723), a biography of the famous Rob Roy, we read the following criticism of Alexander Smith’s Highwaymen: ‘what an object of contempt and ridicule is Captain Alexander Smith . . . his works are a confus’d lump of absurd lies, gross obscenity, awkward cant, and dull profaneness’ (vii). Likewise, Robin Hood scholar Joseph Ritson had this to say about Charles Johnson in Robin Hood: A Collection of All the Ancient Poems, Songs, and Ballads (1795): ‘Another piece of biography, from which not much will be expected, is “The lives and heroic achievements of the renowned Robin Hood, and James Hind, two noted robbers and highwaymen, London, 1752” 8vo. This, however, is probably nothing more than an extract from Johnson’s Lives of the Highwaymen, in which, as a specimen of the author’s historical authenticity, we have the life and actions of that noted robber, Sir John Falstaff” (xiv).

[20] Johnson, Highwaymen, 28.

[21] Agrippa, The Vanity of Arts and Sciences, 246–47; interestingly, one writer also uses the idea of animal cruelty in hunting to criticize the nobility and to draw attention to their ‘beastly’ nature, saying: ‘Hunting hath in it self something fierce and cruel, while the Poor Beast overcome at length by the Dogs, becomes a Spectacle of Delight, in having its Blood shed and Bowels torn out; at which the Barbarous Hunter laughs, while the Foe-Beast rowted with an Army of Dogs, or entangled in a Toyl, is carried home by the Triumphant Huntsman, with a great Troop at his heels; where the fatal Prey is cut up in bloody terms of Art, and proper words of Butchery, other than which it is not lawful to use. A strange madness of such kind of Men, a most renowned Warfare, where they themselves casting off their Humanity become Beasts.’ Clearly, the ‘beastly’ manner in which people hurt and killed animals for food was by no means limited to the plebeian classes.

[22] Brown, Sixty Years’ Gleanings from Life’s Harvest: A Genuine Autobiography, 163; Another interesting illustration of some butchers’ predisposition to violence is given early in the next century when, John Brown, who was recounting his youth in the late eighteenth century, said that butchers often made good pugilists because of their strength and toughness. The sport was condemned as being of ‘a low and brutalizing nature’ in spite of the fact that many respectable tradesmen participated in it, either as pugilists themselves or as patrons.

[23] Johnson, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals Who Have Been Condemned and Executed for Murder, the Highway, House-Breaking, Street Robberies, Coining or Other Offences, 211.

[24] Guerini, ‘A Diet for a Sensitive Soul: Vegetarianism in Eighteenth-Century Britain,’ 35.

[25] Tryon, ‘Of the Employments Arising from the Fountain of Darkness,’ cited in Cockayne, Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 42.

[26] Smith, Highwaymen, 44.

[27] Gay, The Beggar’s Opera, 11.

[28] Ritson, An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food as a Moral Duty, 229.

[29] Head, The English Rogue Described in the Life of Meriton Latroon, 16–7.

[30] Hitchcock, Howard, Shoemaker, ‘Apprenticeship Indentures and Disciplinary Cases (IA).’

[31] John Richetti, cited in Faller, Turned to Account, 45.

[32] An Account of the Life, Birth, Death, Parentage, and Conversation, of Mr. John Addison, a Most Notorious Highway-Man, 4.

[33] Tryon, op. cit.

[34] Smith, Highwaymen, 408.

[35] Johnson, Highwaymen, 70.

[36] Smith, Highwaymen, 392.

[37] Ibid., 136.

[38] Johnson, Remarkable Criminals, 143. However, Levene, ‘Honesty, Sobriety, and Dilligence,’ 183–200 points out that bad relations between masters and their apprentices were not typical, and on the whole, relations between them were harmonious and the majority of young lads would likely have completed their apprenticeships without issue

[39] See Cowan, The Social Life of Coffee, and Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Enquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society.

[40] Melton, The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe, 226.

[41] Cooke, A History of Drinking, 1.

[42] Anon. The Criminal Recorder, 3:11

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid., 243.

[45] Faller, Turned to Account, 54.

[46] Smith, Highwaymen, 63.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Johnson, Remarkable Criminals, 439.

[49] McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs, 59.

[50] The Newgate Calendar; or, Malefactors’ Bloody Register, 1:343–44.

[51] Ibid., 394.

[52] Gay, The Beggar’s Opera, 5.

[53] See Mollie Sands, The Eighteenth-Century Pleasure Gardens of Marylebone 1737–1777.

[54] Coke and Borg, Vauxhall Gardens: A History, 191–92.

[55] Beckett, The Science of Chocolate, 2.

[56] Chrystal, Chocolate: The British Chocolate Industry, 12.

[57] Steele, The Tatler, ed. Alexander Chalmers, 1:3.

[58] Lewis and Ellis, Prostitution and Eighteenth-Century Culture: Sex, Commerce and Morality, 3.

[59] Loveman, ‘The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640–1730,’ 37.

[60] Based upon the values listed at the National Archive’s Old Currency Converter website: