Apprentices were effectively enslaved to their masters for many years. They received only their keep, and were locked
up at night and compelled to live by draconian rules. Apprentice boys had a reputation for being hooligans because they so
often resorted to theft and other crimes.
Between 1700 and 1725, nearly half of all those hanged at Tyburn were apprentice boys. One of them was Jack Sheppard (1702-24),
an apprentice carpenter who, as a thief, made more money in a month than a qualified carpenter made in a year. By the time
he was executed, he had become a hero, idolized for his daring escapes from prison.
Jack Sheppard's crimes were all petty: stealing two silver spoons, a roll of cloth, £7 in cash. But he was poor and associated
with prostitutes and other thieves, so when he was caught, he didn't stand a chance: he was sentenced to hang. His only options
were to wait out his time in goal or escape, which he did, only to repeat the procedure, with increasing audacity, four times.
In contrast, crimes committed by the rich, such as fraud and embezzlement, rarely ended in such harsh sentences. A year
after Jack had been repeatedly locked up, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Macclesfield, was found guilty of corruption. He was fined
£30,000, which the king helped him to pay, and spent a mere six weeks in the Tower.
When Jack was finally hanged on 16 November 1724, 200,000 people came to watch the event, not to gloat but in the hope
that their hero would escape at the last minute.
People who were put in the pillory with the intention of humiliating and making an example of them were often cheered
by the crowd instead. In 1764, the London Evening Post reported on three old men pilloried for perjury: 'Their tears and grey
hairs drew compassion from the people, and instead of being pelted, money was collected for them.'
This did not enhance the authority of the law or serve the interests of the property owners.
The 'privatized' system
In the 'privatized' system, individuals were rewarded for arresting criminals. Parish officers, for example, received
5 shillings (25p) for each vagrant collared. Citizens, encouraged to become vigilante 'thief-takers', could win big rewards,
such as £40 for turning in a highwayman.
At the end of the 18th century, London had a population of nearly a million but only 2,000 watchmen – the lowest
rank of law-keepers, who were often old and decrepit – and 1,000 officers, the next rank up. They couldn't begin
to deal with the large numbers of people who were turning to crime, let alone address the reasons why these individuals were
desperate enough to resort to pick pocketing, prostitution or rioting against rising food prices.
Indeed, even some of the supposed law enforcers were part of the criminal underworld. A notorious example was 'thief-taker
general' Jonathan Wild (1682-1725), a professional bounty hunter and the man who caught Jack Sheppard. As well as the large
amounts of money he made by betraying his partners in crime for a fee, wild operated an extremely lucrative 'lost property'
agency that sold back to their owners goods whose thefts he had planned.