Were the Irish in 19th century London more criminal, or just easier to catch?

Adapted from a section of: Rudolph Ackermann, ‘The Pillory’, Microcosm of London, 1807.

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.

A. Crymble, ‘How Criminal Were the Irish? Bias in the Detection of London Currency Crime, 1797-1821‘, The London Journal (2017): http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03058034.2016.1270876


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.

5. A. Crymble, ‘How Criminal Were the Irish? Bias in the Detection of London Currency Crime, 1797-1821’, The London Journal (2017): http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03058034.2016.1270876