Typically, when two 13-year-olds and a 12-year-old were convicted of a burglary in 1821, they were ‘recommended to mercy on account of their youth’: a phrase that was regularly recorded by the courts.
The last execution of a juvenile in England was probably that of John ‘Any Bird’ Bell, at Maidstone in Kent in 1831: a 14-year-old who committed a cold blooded murder of a 12-year-old boy during a bungled robbery .
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.
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.
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.
Often these were hung on poles outside the shops for sale to passers-by, many of whom went there to buy back their own stolen property.
Crowded places such as fairs, marketplaces and public executions were particularly profitable for young thieves.