The early nineteenth-century Irish in London are often remembered as poor, semi-criminal slum dwellers, associated with the narrow streets of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, the dockside parishes of the East End, and the Borough. Apart from internal English migrants, they were the city’s largest group of outsiders. An 1803 estimate pegged the number of Irish beggars at 5,300, in addition to London’s substantial financially secure Irish population. In the popular imaginations of Londoners, the Irish had a reputation for poverty and drink-related crime, highlighted by Patrick Colquhoun in 1797 and Henry Mayhew in 1851. Peter Linebaugh’s analysis of mid-Georgian hangings demonstrated that they also comprised a disproportionate number of the condemned, while J.M Feheney showed that London’s Victorian-era gaols groaned under the weight of Irish prisoners. My latest research, published in The London Journal, challenges the Irish criminal reputation by analysing 882 people suspected of currency-related crime by the Bank of England (1797-1821), exploring how changes in policing and detection strategies affected the Irish and English differently. The full article can be read open access [LINK to Full Text], thanks to the support of the University of Hertfordshire.
1 M. Martin, Letter to the Right Hon. Lord Pelham, on the State of Mendicity in the Metropolis (London, 1803), 8 and 19; C. Bailey, Irish London (Liverpool, 2013).
2 P. Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis (1797), 189–90; H. Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor (1851).
3 J.M. Feheney, ‘Delinquency Among Irish Catholic Children in Victorian London’, Irish Historical Studies, 23 (1983), 322; R. Swift, ‘Heroes or Villains?: The Irish, Crime and Disorder in Victorian England’, Albion, 29 (1997), 403; P. Linebaugh, The London Hanged (London, 2003), 318.
4 P. King, ‘Ethnicity, Prejudice and Justice. The Treatment of the Irish at the Old Bailey, 1750–1825’, Journal of British Studies, 52 (2013), 390–414.
Once declared a vagrant by a magistrate, the person would be taken into custody and would begin their journey back ‘home’. Home in this context meant the parish where they held legal settlement, which in many cases was where they (or their father/husband) was born, but may also have been the last place where they managed to secure employment for twelve consecutive months, or where they rented a property worth at least £10 p.a.
The physical process of removal, as outlined in ‘Loose, idle and disorderly', involved a vagrant contractor whose job it was to shepherd people to the edge of Middlesex where they would be leapfrogged home by a series of county or regional contractors with similar county-level duties.
Each county had their own perogative for how they wanted to administer this system. As David Hitchcock noted, the idea of a vagrant contractor was established in the early eighteenth century, possibly in Warwickshire in 1709 when the local constables handed over responsibility for conveying vagrants to a man named Will Wright who did the job on behalf of the whole county; a reaction to the Vagrancy Cost Removal Act of 1700.
As this network of contractors grew, so too did the need for coordination. A contractor from Middlesex needed to know he could leavea a vagrant at the border of the next county and that someone would be there to take possession of the person for the next leg of the journey. The series of depots used in Middlesex has been well charted by myself and my colleagues: Louise Falcini &Tim Hitchcock. But the rest of the country is less well understood in this regard.
That’s why I was so pleased to discover that David Hitchcock’s book contained detail of the depots used in Hertfordshire (immediately north of Middlesex), allowing us to get a clearer picture of how these waypoints come together, which you can see combined with our earlier work in Figure 1.
This is exciting (for me) because it highlights a clear attempt to build an efficient and geographically strategic network of administration. Like strategically placed medieval forts were erected for defence against invaders, these depots have been placed to ensure people are shepherded through as efficiently as possible.
In the case of Hertfordshire, there is also a clear sense that they’re merely handling vagrants expelled from Middlesex. Hertfordshire’s most busy depot (according to David Hitchcock) is Hempstead in the west, handling three-times more vagrants than Hertford in the east. You’ll note from Figure 1, that 3:1 ratio is roughly the same proportion of business going through Ridge (the logical depot on the way to Hempstead) and Cheshunt (the logical depot on the way to Hertford). Despite the fact that David Hitchcock’s research pertains to the period 1700-1750 whereas ours looks at c., 1775-1785 there’s a clear sense of well-worn paths and reasonably consistent flows of people out of Middlesex.
I would love to continue charting this network across the country, so if you have records for other counties, please get in touch.
Tim Hitchcock, Adam Crymble, & Louise Falcini, ‘Loose, idle and disorderly: vagrant removal in late eighteenth-century Middlesex’, Social History vol .39, no. 4 (2014).
David Hitchcock, Vagrancy in English Culture and Society, 1650-1750 (2016), 109.
David Hitchcock, Vagrancy in English Culture and Society, 1650-1750 (2016), 120.
With thanks to Louise Falcini: QS/MISC/B/133/1-4 in Herts RO contains the Justices Orders to Masters of Houses of Correction regarding the maintenance and conveyance of vagrants, showing amounts allowed in each case.
This is the slightly-altered text of the paper I delivered at the British Society of Eighteenth Century Studies (BSECS) conference in Oxford, January 2017.
I’d like us to consider unwanted Irish migration to eighteenth century London, around the time of the American Revolutionary war. And I want to complicate that by thinking about unintentional Irish migration to eighteenth century London. I’ll do my best to show the extent to which the two were connected. In doing so, I’d like to suggest that many of the ‘problems’ associated with the Irish in London were actually facilitated by the state as part of the infrastructure of war.
So let’s start with the idea of unwanted Irish migration. And by unwanted, I basically mean poor. Economics is one of the primary objections to migration. We don’t like things (or people) that cost us money.
The rich object to the potential threat to the poor relief system the Irish might pose, requiring extra taxes to feed hungry mouths.
The poor object to the Irish competition for low-paid work, putting their own families under increased strain.
These fears have contributed to the group’s bad contemporary reputation. They were poor. Often had young children. Lived in squalid conditions, work for low wages, and had a reputation for crime, poverty, and drink-fuelled violence. Those are the stereotypes of course. That’s not to say nobody wanted these people. We know there were plenty of women willing to marry Irish migrants and have children with them. We also know that employers were happy to hire them. So I use the term ‘unwanted’ with the caveat that it’s a perspective rather than an objective truth.
Unwanted migration was officially controlled by the Vagrancy system laid down by the Vagrancy Act of 1744. If someone didn’t have settlement locally, and they were declared a vagrant by a magistrate, they would be expelled back from whence they came, as defined by their legal settlement. In Middlesex that was controlled centrally and involved a man named Henry Adams shepherding vagrants to the edge of the county. The map in Figure 1 highlights that network of depots used by Adams for doing this work. This map was pieced together by my colleagues and I as part of a project that we call ‘Vagrant Lives’. Part of that project was to build a dataset of all 14,789 people for whom we have a surviving record of their experience with the vagrancy system at this time.
That dataset has been published in the Journal of Open HumanitiesData, so please feel free to use it.
One of the things it’s let us do is to explore how groups of vagrants expelled to different parts of the country were distinct from one another.
One group who clearly stands out as different is the Irish. They are overwhelmingly male. This is unusual for vagrants, because this system was largely used to expel unwanted English women and their children who together might become a burden on the poor relief system. Amongst the Scots, it’s predominantly families as you can see on Figure 2, with the red lines representing groups of people expelled to Scotland. So again, possibly related to the poor relief system.
But not the Irish: distinctly male, and distinctly men travelling on their own (as the blue lines in Figure 3 show). The Irish didn’t technically have settlement anywhere. That was a British idea, not an Irish one. So technically you couldn’t expel the Irish – though in practice the vagrancy records show they clearly were sent away. Nevertheless, this means the letter of the law meant the Irish were treated differently by this system.
From what we can tell, a significant proportion of the Irish seem to have volunteered to go, turning up at the Lord Mayor’s office and requesting a vagrant pass. As Tim Hitchcock has previously showed, these became available in the early 1780s as the City of London sought to find space in its gaols now that the American colonies were no longer available as a destination for convicts.
You weren’t really supposed to be able to volunteer to be a vagrant, but for the Irish it was a free (if uncomfortable) ride home. And for the City of London, it was a way to get rid of a few extra bodies from an already overcrowded space. We see over 1,100 Irish men granted Vagrant Passes back to Ireland in these years.
Now, the vagrancy records are a bit patchy. We’ve got 42 of a possible 60 sets, meaning we don’t have the full picture. We’re missing all of 1779, for example. But Figure 4 shows the number of each Scottish, English, and Irish vagrants expelled by session of the Middlesex Bench, and I think it gives a fairly good idea of what’s going on. In particular, the circles increase in both frequency and size when the Peace of Paris is signed to end the American Revolutionary War. The vagrants also become more male, even in Scotland, which I just mentioned was known more for family units expelled.
This says ‘demobilisation’ to me, and the male nature of most Irish vagrants suggests that this may have been a strategy for getting home after the war. Demobilisation was heavily centralized in London. Soldiers and sailors weren’t taken home; they were dropped off and left to find their own way. Under the vagrancy laws of 1744 they had the right to beg their way home, but few provisions were in place at this time. That is, unless you were injured.
Disabled or long-serving soldiers had the right to apply for a pension from the Chelsea Hospital (army) or Greenwich Hospital (navy). Both Chelsea and Greenwich are within a few miles of London, hence it was not too difficult to expect a wounded soldier to hobble to the hospital from the quay. And thus made London a good spot to demobilise the military. Soldiers were given a time and a date and told to show up at the hospital for a medical examination. These examinations survive for the Chelsea Hospital in their entirety, meaning we can get details of the names, injuries, and birthplaces of every soldier who showed up seeking a pension, as well as precise details of the day he was in Chelsea.
This means we can look at the timings between the use of the Chelsea Hospital and the increased use of the Vagrancy system, to ask if we’re looking at the same group of people. I’ve not yet managed to transcribe the whole set of these pensioners, because quite frankly the records are vast and this is a work in progress. But I did look at those immediately after the Peace of Paris, until early 1785 when the rate of demobilisation had really started to trickle and peter out. I was surprised by the sheer scale of Irish involvement in the military and how that transfers into an Irish presence in London. The volume I transcribed included the details of 862 Irish soldiers. About 20% of all soldiers in the volume. If I had the entries for the previous year, I’d expect we’d be talking about 2,000 Irish soldiers physically in London in the months and years following the end of the American Revolutionary war. 2,000. That’s a lot of people. And those are just the Irish ones.
This is despite the fact that Irish Catholics were officially barred from military service until the American Revolutionary War. Of course, Terence Denman has refuted that ban in practice. So 2,000 extra Irish people in the area. Or I should say: at least 2,000, because they are just the ones who were eligible for army pensions. I haven’t looked at sailors. And the Chelsea Hospital records at this time don’t include those soldiers who survived able-bodied and sound of mind and of whom we have no clear record of their identity.
Even if these men intended to leave and head back home almost immediately after their examination, what we see is an intense pressure on London for a short time at least. The new faces needed feeding, housing, and negotiating in social spaces. Crime records from the Old Bailey show that these interactions didn’t always go smoothly.
The fact that these men were dumped in London, I think complicates our traditional understanding and models of migration. These are not really push or pull factors. These aren’t seasonal labourers seeking employment on the farms surrounding the capital, as highlighted by Barbara Kerr. They aren’t the willing emigrants who were too poor to make the trip to America, as highlighted by Lynn Hollen Lees. These are people who were paid to do a job and their employer left them in London when they were done.
The government may have been aware of an Irish poverty problem in London, but it seemed utterly unaware that its own systems were contributing actively to it by funneling young Irish men towards the metropolis. The Irish in particular get younger over time in the Chelsea Hospital records. While not the case with the Scots or the English, the average age of an Irish pensioner in 1812 is 30 years old, compared to 40 for the Scots. That’s a substantially different phase of the life-cycle, and may be a key to understanding some of the Irish stereotypes at the time.
Namely: that they were willing to work for less money, live in squalid conditions, and like to drink and fight at the pub.
You could be describing an undergraduate experience there. People living away from home and on their own for the first time in a new environment. I think that raises some questions about the Irishness of these stereotypes, and whether or not we should instead be thinking more carefully about demographics.
Are these Chelsea Pensioners turning to the Vagrancy System to get home? This would make sense, because most of these Chelsea pensioners are quite severely injured, and often in ways that would prevent them from walking home. Nevertheless, the answer is: No.
Or at least, it’s incredibly rare to be able to trace an individual in both the Chelsea Hospital and Vagrancy records. I only found 23 out of 850 Irish soldiers who did so. Many of those had complaints about wounded legs and feet in particular, but the practice is just so uncommon.
One of the only deliberate cases is that of Irishman Robert Lawson, who showed up for his examination at Chelsea in January of 1784, then a few days later took his wife and two children to the Guildhall in London where they requested a vagrant pass, and received their free ride home.
Of those who appear in both systems, Lawson and his family left quickly: within a week. That was enough time to leave a few marks on the city, but not many. Others stayed considerably longer. Patrick Gearing stayed for the summer, leaving 6 months after his examination. Patrick Downey too stayed for the summer. Owen Morris left just before Christmas, after 3 months in London. And William Robinson left as a vagrant almost a year after his exam.
The vagrancy records also support a lag. Large cohorts of Irish leavers appear throughout 1785 when the demobilisation process had already come to an end. Some of this can be explained by seasonal harvest workers who also used the vagrant passes to get back to Ireland, but not all. Some of these men were soldiers and sailors, and this system was a means of leaving when they had their fill of London.
Unfortunately, the vagrancy records don’t survive for London after 1785, and it’s distinctly difficult to trace these men across different types of records, so its difficult to get a clear picture of how many of these demobilised Irish men stayed in London, and for how long. But I think we can say that the group was large enough and their time in London intense enough that we need to make sure we include them in our understanding of migration to the capital. These temporary relationships between the Irish and London aren’t captured by the traditional narrative. It’s not a case of a push or a pull factor. It’s more complicated than that.
The relative youth and comparative lack of skills of these men may well have contributed to the negative reputation of the group. But to give these Irish individuals their due, we need to see their migration to London as many of them would have done: accidental and unwanted.
1. Tim Hitchcock, Adam Crymble, & Louise Falcini, ‘Loose, idle and disorderly: vagrant removal in late eighteenth-century Middlesex’, Social History vol .39, no. 4 (2014), 513.
2. Adam Crymble, Louise Falcini, & Tim Hitchcock, ‘Vagrant Lives: 14,789 Vagrants Processed by the County of Middlesex, 1777-1786’, Journal of Open Humanities Data, vol. 1, no. 1 (2015): http://doi.org/10.5334/johd.1
3. Tim Hitchcock, ‘The London Vagrancy Crisis of the 1780s’, Rural History, vol. 24, no.1 (2013), 53-66.
4. Adam Crymble, Louise Falcini, & Tim Hitchcock, ‘Vagrant Lives: 14,789 Vagrants Processed by the County of Middlesex, 1777-1786’, Journal of Open Humanities Data, vol. 1, no. 1 (2015): http://doi.org/10.5334/johd.1; Chelsea Hospital Medical Examinations (TNA: WO116/8-9).
5. Terence Denman, ‘Hibernia officina militum: Irish recruitment to the British regular army, 1660-1815’, Irish Sword, vol. 20 (1996), 148-166.
6. Barbara Kerr, ‘Irish Seasonal Migration to Great Britain, 1800-38’, Irish Historical Studies, vol. 3 (1943), 365-380.
7. Lynn Hollen Lees, Exiles of Erin: Irish Migrants in Victorian London (1979).
8. Chelsea Hospital Medical Examinations (TNA: WO116/14).
In the late eighteenth century, ‘London’ meant many things. Technically, ‘London’ was the ‘City of London’, the dark blue area on the map above. But by the eighteenth century, the ancient city had spilled beyond its medieval stone walls, and urban sprawl had connected it to the Liberty of Westminster (purple), and urban Middlesex had extended well out into the countryside (rust-colour). Each of these areas maintained their own systems of local government and administration.
As outlined in ‘Loose, Idle and Disorderly’, the county of Middlesex hired a man named Henry Adams to shepherd all of the county’s vagrants to the edge of the county so they could be sent on their way. This meant that at least three different systems were feeding vagrants into Henry Adams’ hands.
1) Those proclaimed vagrants in the ‘City’ and passed directly to Adams (blue).
2) Those proclaimed vagrants in the Liberty of Westminster and processed via Tothill Fields prison (purple).
3) Those proclaimed vagrants in urban Middlesex and processed via Clerkenwell prison (rust).
The lists that Adams submitted eight times per year to the county in exchange for payment have formed the basis of our ‘Vagrant Lives’ dataset of 14,789 individuals removed via this system. The lists were produced by Adams as a bill to the county, so he had every reason to ensure everyone he conveyed in his cart was included on the lists. That’s why it was so surprising to discover that between at least 7 December 1780 and 22 February 1781 only a single vagrant was expelled from Urban Middlesex (see Gold section on Figure 2). That vagrant was a man named Bryan Lyons, who was condemned by magistrate John Bretell and sent home to Warwickshire after a short stay in Clerkenwell.
It would be easy to miss this temporary cessation because the survivability of the lists is itself patchy (white segments on Figure 2), but it’s distinctly there: urban Middlesex simply stopped conveying vagrants for two sessions of the bench. This only happens in urban Middlesex; the City of London and Westminster both continue to use it as before.
Tim Hitchcock has highlighted what he calls the ‘London Vagrancy Crisis’ of the 1780s, during which London’s gaols were attacked (during the Gordon riots) and otherwise under intense pressure as they had not been designed for long-term incarceration. Instead, the practice had long been to send criminals abroad, but the loss of the American colonies denied that option until the first penal colony was established in Australia in 1788. In the interim, London’s gaols were overflowing, causing unrest.
It’s quite likely that vagrancy had to take a back seat for a few months as the magistrates and gaolors dealt with bigger problems. Why Westminster didn’t have the same problem, we cannot be sure. Because of missing records, we can’t even be certain how long it lasted, as we do not have the three lists that should follow this. By mid-1781 however, the vagrants have returned to Henry Adams’ hands.
This anomaly in our records demonstrates that local administration is incredibly complex. Understanding how systems like vagrancy removal worked involves an awareness of that complexity, and a keen eye for strange anomalies in the source base.
 Hitchcock, T., et al. ‘The City of London is indicated in dark blue, Westminster in purple, Middlesex in brown, and Southwark in green…’ London Lives (2012) [https://www.londonlives.org/static/WestminsterLocalGovernment.jsp].
 Crymble, A, Falcini, L and Hitchcock, T 2015 Vagrant Lives: 14,789 Vagrants Processed by the County of Middlesex, 1777–1786. Journal of Open Humanities Data 1:e1, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/johd.1
 Hitchcock, T. ‘The London Vagrancy Crisis of the 1780s’, Rural History, vol. 24(1) (2013), 55-66.
 See: Hithcock, T. & Shoemaker, R. ‘The state in chaos: 1776-1789’, London Lives: Poverty, Crime and the Making of a Modern City, 1690-1800, (2015) pp.333-393.
Scotland and Ireland were both far away from London as far as eighteenth century travellers were concerned. For the Irish, getting to London involved a dangerous sea journey across the Irish sea. For the Scottish, either a sea passage along the coast, or a long and uncomfortable overland journey. One of the elements that’s been cropping up in our ongoing study of vagrancy, is that vagrants from Ireland and those from Scotland appear to have been drawn from completely different demographic groups from one another. In other words, an Irish vagrant in London was not like a Scottish vagrant at all.
It seems that the only thing they may have had in common was the fact that they were both probably poor and being expelled back home.
As you can see in Figure 2, the Irish are overwhelmingly men expelled on their own (blue bars), as opposed to women travelling alone (gold) or family groups (red – meaning an adult and at least one dependent, either a wife or child(ren)). This solo-male predominance persists no matter what month the vagrant was expelled. August is empty because our records were part of a series of records that were compiled 8 times per year, and that never took place in August (even eighteenth century administrators needed a holiday). As you can see, Irish women were incredibly rare amongst vagrants removed. This makes the Irish unique, because as we argued in ‘Loose, idle and disorderly: vagrant removal in late eighteenth-century Middlesex’, Vagrancy in London overwhelmingly picked up women. In other words: the vagrancy system in London was a system for expelling unwanted vulnerable women who might become a financial burden on the local parish’s poor relief system. But not so for Irish vagrants. It was instead a system for removing unwanted men.
The Scottish on the other hand show a completely different demographic pattern, as seen in Figure 3. Scottish men traveling on their own were rare. That’s particularly so in December, as well as March, May, and June. Even at their peak they never made up more than one third of Scottish vagrants. Scottish women were also relatively unusual amongst those expelled from Middlesex. So again, the Scottish vagrant (like the Irish) is unlike the English. But overwhelmingly the Scottish story is one of families being sent back north across the border.
These observations that we see from Figures 2 & 3 raise all sorts of questions. Firstly, we of course need to ask why we see these differences. In the case of the Irish, the answer is significantly related to demobilisation of soldiers and sailors after the American War of Independence. This in its own right is interesting, because we’ve repeatedly been told that Irish Catholics were not permitted in the armed forces until 1793 – though Terence Denman’s oft-overlooked claims have long-refuted that oversight.
Secondly, the nature of the Scottish border in particular is striking. We might imagine that it was an imaginary line between two countries that had been in a union for more than seven decades by the time of our period. But this result suggests a much more tangible border that reflects a different culture. Why are so many Scottish families being expelled, when the English from the north don’t follow the same pattern?
Finally, this tells me that we need to look closer at the ways the different parts of the British isles were connected, and the ways that they were not. There is not one story of vagrancy and migration within Britain and Ireland, and these data highlight that.
 Crymble, A, Falcini, L and Hitchcock, T 2015 Vagrant Lives: 14,789 Vagrants Processed by the County of Middlesex, 1777–1786. Journal of Open Humanities Data 1: e1, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/johd.1
 Tim Hitchcock, Adam Crymble, and Louise Falcini, ‘Loose, Idle and Disorderly: Vagrant Removal in Late Eighteenth Century Middlesex’, Social History, vol. 39 (2014), 509-527.
 Terence Denman, ”Hibernia officina militum’: Irish recruitment to the British regular army, 1660-1815′, Irish Sword, vol. 20 (1996), 148-166.
Those arrested as vagrants on the streets of eighteenth-century London risked expulsion from the city, back from whence they came. The Vagrant Lives project has collected the details of 14,789 of these vagrants and produced a downloadable dataset which we would encourage you to reuse. Using that dataset, this map was produced, which show us where London’s vagrants didn’t come from. Not intentionally; it was meant to show where they did come from. And you can see that by looking at the shrapnel-like outlines of filled-in parishes. But it’s the spaces between on this map that catch my eye. There’s remarkable regularity to the gaps that looks almost too perfectly diffused to be random. As if their distribution is the product of some intelligent design.
There is a clear pattern to the places of origin of Middlesex vagrants on this map: a dense cluster in the parishes around London, slowly dissipating as you move further away. One of our aims with the Vagrant Lives project is to understand patterns like these, to help us gain new insight into what motivated people to make the decision to migrate to London, and what led others to stay home.
This is a long-standing challenge that scholars have been trying to answer for decades. More than a century ago, Ernst Georg Ravenstein (1885 & 1889) came up with an explanation which he called ‘laws of migration’. These ‘laws’ he had derived from his own statistical analysis of the 1881 census. Amongst those laws (paraphrased nicely by Mark Healy at Harper College), are:
Most migrants move only a short distance.
Long-distance migrants go to one of the great centers of commerce and industry.
Natives of towns are less migratory than those from rural areas.
Economic factors are the main cause of migration.
127 years later we’re still turning to Ravenstein to think about migration, and I suppose we can see from this map that his laws might help us to suggest at least a partial explanation for the patterns we see. The dense cluster of migrants hailing from around London certainly adhere’s to Ravenstein’s first law that migrants tend not to move very far. The London on this map is clearly slurping up people from the surrounding countryside. But nothing in Ravenstein’s work explains how the parishes came to seem so perfectly diffused. Why one parish and not its neighbours?
Perhaps its a product of chance; or of the distribution of the population across the landscape; or something else. Whatever it is, I think it’s beautiful, and I’m planning to find out.
A caveat in case you intend to cite this map: some regions are mis-represented by this graphic. Our ability to ‘map’ someone here was contingent on our original source material telling us the name of the parish the vagrant had come from. This was common in England, but in Wales in the west, we more often know the county only. You can’t map counties on a parish map because you don’t have the required level of precision. And so it looks emptier than it should. We also suspect that we have better coverage to the north and west of London than we have to the south and east. So please cite only if you understand the underlying evidence, which can be found in the original dataset.
 Crymble, A, Falcini, L and Hitchcock, T 2015 Vagrant Lives: 14,789 Vagrants Processed by the County of Middlesex, 1777–1786. Journal of Open Humanities Data 1: e1, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/johd.1
 Burton, N., Westwood, J. and Carter, P., GIS of the Ancient Parishes of England and Wales, 1500-1850 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], March 2004. SN: 4828.
 E.G. Ravenstein, ‘The Laws of Migration’, Journal of the Statistical Society, vol. 52, no. 2 (1889), 241-305.
 Mark Healy, ‘Ravenstein’s Laws of Migration’, Harper College [http://www.harpercollege.edu/mhealy/migrat/xp/mgraven.htm].
For some in the Leave campaign, the right to freedom of movement enshrined in the European Union was a bitter pill to swallow, because it let them – outsiders – into our community without giving control over where they went and how many came. Outsiders put pressure on local services, they said. They can outcompete local people for jobs and, in some cases, claim benefits from systems they have not paid into.
Membership of the EU made the UK financially liable for people it did not know. These concerns are perfectly natural as is the right to demand assurances against abuses of the system.
But the English have long used the same ideas against their own people to protect local interests at the expense of rights to internal migration. A right to move to London, or Blackpool, or Swansea is taken for granted. But for doing just that, throughout history, tens of thousands of English people were rounded up, publicly whipped, subject to hard labour and thrown on a cart to be physically expelled whence they came.
This was the punishment for seeking poverty relief outside of your own parish. This was the “vagrancy” system that had been established to protect local resources from benefits tourism.
A nation divided
The idea of nationalism took centuries to develop. In medieval times, England was a land of localism in which people knew and experienced the world from ground level – church spires on the horizon, rather than the familiar satellite outline of our islands that we now know so well. Across the country, thousands of these parish-based communities lived fairly local lives. A longstanding medieval tradition of charity was the only security available to the poor.
But this charity came under threat when Henry VIII initiated the Protestant Reformation in the 1530s. A byproduct of the Reformation was the abolition of purgatory in the Protestant religion. Catholics had long been told that they could expedite their passage through this waiting room of Heaven by making donations to the church, which were (at least in part) used to support the local poor. Henry’s Protestant ministers noted that there was no basis for purgatory in scripture, and so it was purged. With it went the donations, resulting in a decline in charitable giving in the newly Protestant nation.
In good times this may not have been a significant threat, but a series of poor harvests in the 1590s brought the people to their knees. Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I tried to address the problem through a national system of obligatory charity that focused on local support for local people. In an age without mass communication, locally administered poor relief was eminently practical. This Elizabethan Poor Law (1601) was the basis of charity and provision for the poor for centuries thereafter.
Like today, locals worried about having to support outsiders. To prevent abuse, the Laws of Settlement (1662) were passed to give every person in the country a single parish of legal settlement – that is, one parish where they could go to request aid in hard times.
This was good protection for popular migrant destinations such as London where local leaders worried they would be ruined if no limits were imposed on their obligations. The system also meant that people were simultaneously protected – because they had somewhere to turn – and penalised because they only had one place to turn.
Fine if you were happy with your place of settlement – but for many, it added a risk if you decided to move. If times got tough, the lash and the cart awaited.
Settling for less
Settlement was determined firstly by your place of birth. But it was also possible to adopt a new settlement, just as today one can change nationalities. Women adopted the settlement of their husband upon marriage. This could be an advantage if she had come from afar because it legally tied her to her new home. But it was also a significant risk if his settlement was on the other side of the country because she could be forced to return there if she fell into poverty, despite having no friends to turn to once she arrived.
One could also obtain a new settlement by demonstrating a certain level of wealth or paying local taxes – even in the past, money opened doors for migrants. Under the laws of settlement, a year’s service was one of the ways you could gain legal settlement in your new home, and the most likely route for a young woman.
But the first year of employment in a new area was tenuous – getting fired or having one’s employer die before that period expired meant servants were particularly vulnerable. In the interest of keeping their own taxes low, it was not uncommon for employers to hire on contracts of one year less a day to prevent their staff from becoming eligible locally for relief. The last internal migrants to be whipped and expelled suffered their humiliating punishments in the 1790s.
England in the middle ages would have thought it preposterous to allow unfettered internal migration. So how have we come to see it as natural and self-evident? I suspect it has been forgotten that it was ever any different. By contrast, the EU’s problem regarding freedom of movement is that it exists in living memory: too many people recall the day that right came into being.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that as the centenary of WWI is commemorated, we are also seeing a revitalisation of British nationalism. And so the historical conditions were recently set for enough voters to choose to define the boundaries of the community as Britain rather than Europe. Perhaps Britain was not quite ready for Europe. This is not entirely surprising: it took hundreds of years for it to accept being British.
If you’ve ever studied the Irish in eighteenth or nineteenth-century London, you’ve probably quickly learned that they were clustered in the Rookery – the twisting streets and narrow lanes, of St Giles-in-the-Fields. In the eighteenth century, St Giles was one of the relatively newly built regions of the metropolis. During the Tudor and Stuart eras, ‘London’ had distinctly meant the medieval walled ‘City of London’ along the north Bank of the Thames. Across the river was another urban area: Southwark, or the ‘Borough’, which was accessible via London Bridge. And to the west where St Giles now stands, was fields separating London from Westminster up river a few miles. Over the course of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, the fields filled in with houses and new streets, in large part to manage the demand for housing arising from the metropolis’s thousands of migrants arriving each year.
For ‘Londoners’ – that is, people from the ‘City’, there was a clear hierarchy. These ‘extra-mural’ or beyond-the-walls parishes were not part of their London. When you look at the Irish in London, you’re almost exclusively looking at this ring of parishes outside of the city’s walls. It was a space people could grow into, of which St Giles was most-well known for its Irish population.
I had always assumed that the core of the Irish community was in 7-dials, the network of converging streets in the south-west corner of the parish which spread out like a web from a central plaza (see the map at the top of the post). Today it’s not a bad place to go to buy some shoes or have a nice meal, but in the eighteenth century, it was a centre of poverty and squalor. Nearby Hog Lane which forms part of the parish’s western boundary, was the inspiration and setting of Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’.
As it happens, I was wrong. The centre of Irish London seems instead to be a few streets to the east, in Lewkner Lane (now Macklin Street). In 1767, at the request of the Bishop of London, the local curate, Richard Southgate, conducted a census of Catholics in his parish. St Giles wasn’t being singled out; this was part of a national endeavour by the Church of England to better understand the ‘Visible Increase of Papists in the Cities of London and Westminster’.
All parishes under the Bishop’s jurisdiction were required to submit a census of ‘Papists’ (Catholics) in their neighbourhood, along with details of their names, occupations, ages, and their length of residence. Southgate did not adhere to the instructions, and instead he produced a street-by-street account of Catholic householders and lodgers. We have no names, but we know where in the parish they lived, giving us a unique insight into Catholic housing in one small part of London. From that census, it’s the modest Lewkner Lane, a narrow street only 180m long, that stands out as the most Catholic, with 202 individuals in the street’s 57 buildings.
I find ‘202 individuals in 57 buildings’ rather abstract, so to get a better sense of what that might mean I decided to map the street (starting from the north west house and heading east), which makes it immediately clear just how likely one was to encounter Catholics in this very ‘Catholic’ space. If they all held hands, they could easily link Drury lane in the west to Cross Lane in the east. How many of them were Irish we do not know, but I suspect a fair few if not most. Based on this distribution and concentration, one could certainly put forth a strong case that this was not an ‘English’ space at all.
How did 202 Catholics end up on Lewkner’s Lane? It’s difficult to tell, but I suspect it’s down in part to the letting strategies of the landlord. We don’t know who owned the houses on Lewkner’s Lane, but running parallel, a Joseph King leased a ‘large portion of the property’ in St Thomas Street immediately to the south (a.k.a. King Street) in 1765, and despite being the same size as its neighbour, was home to only 28 Catholics – 14% the number in Lewkner’s Lane.
It’s unlikely that the superior landlord managed the short-term requests for lodgings from temporary people looking for a place to lay their heads, but someone like him almost certanily decided who to let the main house to, who may have had the right to rent out the other rooms. An Irish family downstairs looks like it might have increased the chances of Irish families upstairs, as well. The eighteenth century certainly offered no protection against religious discrimination, and so an Irish Catholic looking for a room was at the mercy of those with the ability to grant or refuse that access. Getting to the core of the matter will require some more digging, but given the very recent ‘Brexit’ vote here in England, fueled in part by concerns over migration, it’s more important than ever to understand how these ethnic communities affected the social dynamics of cities such as London.
It’s also a good opportunity to understand how spaces like St Giles and Lewkner’s lane ceased to be ‘Irish’ or ‘Catholic’ spaces, and just became London.
 FP Terrick, 23, ff. 20-27. Lambeth Palace Library (1767).
 FP Terrick, 20, ff. 1. Lambeth Palace Library (1765).
 Base map from: Nathaniel Rodgers Hewitt, ‘Plan of the parishes or divisions of St Giles and St George, Bloomsbury’ (1815): [http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/crace/p/007zzz000000015u00002000.html]
 ‘Site of Rose Field: Macklin St., Shelton St., Newton St. (part) and Parker St. (part)’, in Survey of London: Volume 5, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt II, ed. W Edward Riley and Laurence Gomme (London, 1914), pp. 27-32. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol5/pt2/pp27-32 [accessed 10 July 2016].
This is ‘Irish Peg in a rage’. As you can see, the Macaroni in the red jacket has carelessly tipped her beer mug and has understandably been confronted by his victim. If nothing else we must be sympathetic to Peg, whose shabby attire and lowly job as a cauliflower saleswoman presumably means that she can ill-afford to waste money on spilled beer. The same cannot be said for the fashionably dressed young man who can certainly afford to correct his mistake.
I wouldn’t jump to too quickly label this an anti-Irish caricature. I say that because, though it certainly doesn’t depict Peg (or the young man) in an overly flattering light, the print was produced by Carington Bowles, a London-based third-generation print seller known for his satyrical engravings of social interaction in Georgian London. For Bowles, just about anyone was fair game, including the English of all social classes. In that sense, he hasn’t singled out the Irish for scorn; rather he has included them in his ongoing attempts to document life in London. In so doing he’s implicitly acknowledging the Irish as part of his city. It’s a few inches towards acceptance, if not as far as we might hope (from Peg’s point of view).
The image paints Peg as a hard woman who has been forced to look out for herself on the London streets. She seemingly cannot trust the man to compensate her, so she takes matters quite literally into her own hands. Her plight is contrasted sharply by the obviously comfortable circumstances of the Englishman. For a contemporary, his sharp dress, cleanliness and outward appearance of health would signal that he has servants at home to buy and cook any cauliflowers he will consume. Under normal circumstances there is therefore no need for him to speak to, let alone acknowledge Peg. Presumably Peg will be cooking her own cauliflower.
In that sense, what we see is a juxtaposition from a Londoner’s point of view of immigrant and local experience. It’s a juxtaposition that probably contains more than a grain of truth to it. I suspect this Irish Peg was a real woman, probably known casually to the engraver. At the least she is a caricature of one of the many feisty hawkers who made a living selling on London’s streets in the eighteenth century and who had to take care of themselves. However, if Peg was real, I’ve yet to come across any written evidence to prove it. No ‘Irish Pegs’ fit the description in London in the 1770s.
But there are other Irish Pegs. Margaret Eaton, who went by the name ‘Irish Peg’, was a notorious thief in the city’s east end in the 1730s , and another named Margaret Poland who too used the moniker in the 1740s. In 1747, another Irish Peg was arrested in Bedford for receiving a stolen diamond (Figure 2). And in 1815, an Irish Eliza appears in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey in which a witness describes a fight between the woman and a friend over a torn dress.
Nicknames are a funny business. At least one witness seems unaware of the woman’s real name, suggesting he had only ever known her by her alias. But one can never be sure if a nickname was self applied, or adopted begrudgingly after repeated use. With these Irish Peg’s and Eliza’s, one gets the sense that they were names the women were happy enough to respond to.
All of these Pegs are almost certainly Irish immigrants, and yet the name implies people who were not Irish spoke to her, and addressed her by name. That in itself is a big step in a lonely city. We can infer that the nickname came from an English tongue, for the same reason we don’t see anyone named ‘English William’ on the city’s streets. If there were an ‘English William’, we’d more likely find him in Dublin than in London where the adjective was a distinguishing feature rather than a reflection of the collective. If Peg did get her name from a English person, that means that English people took the time to talk to Peg, probably more than once. They learned enough about her to know she was Irish and that her name was Peg. But they went further than just learning her name, because they found a way to categorise her and fit her mentally into their neighbourhood. Presumably there was more than one Peg nearby, because they had to find a way to disambiguate this Peg from someone else, to make sure everyone knew who they meant. Why else would anyone make someone’s name longer than it needed to be?
These are baby steps towards integration. And though all of the Irish Peg’s I’ve mentioned appear to have lived on the margins of society, her name tells us that she was finding a place. As Janice Turner notes, one Irish Peg (Margaret Eaton, described above) even managed to infiltrate the East London underworld, to the extent that thief takers were willing to defend her in court, keeping her out of prison on at least one occasion. Perhaps not the type of integration locals might hope for in an immigrant, but for me, the name ‘Irish’ Peg suggests a level of endearment, and an early step in the process towards community acceptance.
Carington Bowles, ‘Irish Peg in a rage. Make good the damage you dog, or I’ll cut away your parsnip’ (1773) [Trustees of the British Museum].
Timothy Clayton, ‘Bowles family (per. c.1690–c.1830)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 13 June 2016), October 1730, trial of Margaret Eaton , alias Irish Peg (t17301014-76).
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 13 June 2016), December 1740, trial of Margaret Poland , alias Irish Peg (t17401204-51).
‘Country News’, Whitehall Evening Post (28 March 1747); Issue 176. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 13 June 2016), September 1815, trial of THOMAS STEVENS (t18150913-181).
Janice Turner, ‘Ill Favoured Sluts: The Women of Rosemary Lane’, An Anatomy of a ‘Disorderly’ Neighbourhood: Rosemary Lane and Rag Fair, c. 1690-1765 , pp. 283-284 [PhD Thesis, 2014].