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The activities of so-called ‘lads-men’ were regularly reported.These were criminal bosses who supposedly trained young boys to steal and then later sold on the stolen goods they received from them.have made Victorian child-thieves familiar to us, but to what extent did juvenile crime actually exist in the 19th century?
In reality, death sentences bestowed on children were almost always commuted to lesser sentences on the grounds of leniency.
Of the 103 children aged 14 or under who were sentenced to death at the Old Bailey between 18, not one was executed.
Thomas Duggin for example was an infamous ‘thief-trainer’ who worked in London’s notorious St Giles slum in 1817, and as late as 1855 newspaper reported the activities of Charles King, a man who ran a gang of professional pick-pockets.
Among King’s gang was a 13-year-old boy named John Reeves, who stole over £100 worth of property in one week alone.
His sentence by this time was already considered exceptional.
Death sentences for girls and boys under 16 years of age were in practice usually commuted to transportation.
Journalist Henry Mayhew, for example, wrote extensively about the corrupting effects of poverty on the young.
In Mayhew described life in the capital’s ‘low-lodging houses’, where he found several young boys engaged in daily petty thefts, including one who recounted how he was regularly drunk at the age of 10.
Picking of pockets was especially troublesome, particularly the theft of silk handkerchiefs, which had a relatively high resale value and could thus be easily sold.
Field Lane in London for example (the setting of Fagin’s den in ) was the home to several notorious receivers of stolen goods, where it was believed more than 5,000 handkerchiefs were handled each week.