The London Vagrancy crisis of the 1780s

Tim Hitchcock

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This article outlines the changing character of vagrant removal from the City of London during the 1780s, suggesting that the City largely abandoned its duty to 'punish' the vagrant poor in favour of a policy of simply moving them on as quickly and cheaply as possible. After describing the impact of the destruction of Newgate and the resulting overcrowding in London's other prisons, it provides evidence for a dramatic increase in vagrant numbers. The article suggests that this change was both a direct result of the crises of imprisonment, transportation and punishment that followed the Gordon Riots and American war; and a result of growing demand for the transportation provided to vagrants, on the part of the migratory poor. Having established the existence of a changing pattern of vagrant removal, it suggests that the poor increasingly made use of the City of London, and the system of removal, to access transportation in pursuit of seasonal migration, and more significantly, medical care in the hospitals of the capital as part of a wider 'economy of makeshift'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-72
Number of pages14
JournalRural History
Issue number1
Early online date13 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


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