The Spectator has just opened up its searchable archive of every issue. In June 1877 it seems the big issue was “footpads”
Footpad is an archaic term for a robber or thief specializing in pedestrian victims. The term was used widely from the 16th century until the 19th century, but gradually fell out of common use. A footpad was considered a low criminal, as opposed to the mounted highwayman who in certain cases might gain fame as well as notoriety.
Till Mrs. Potter’s carriage was attacked, the business looked serious. The footpads threatened Mr. Hodgson with death, and as he gave them what money he had, it remained uncertain whether they were in earnest or not, and the idea of a sudden revival of an old form of crime was not in itself absurd, but after the second affair there was no room for uncertainty. The highwaymen by no means belonged to the order of “bandits bold.” Dick Turpin would have been ashamed of them, and Claude Duval have cut off their ears. Mrs. Potter’s coachman whipped them, and they did nothing ; the coachman of the third carriage attacked only whipped on his horses and easily escaped ; and on the fourth occasion, when everything seemed propitious, the coachmen being old and the occupants of the carriage ladies only, they were put to ignominious flight by the advent of the familiar hansom cab.
They like silver spoons best, of course, but they will take anything, coats, clocks, gilt ornaments, walking-canes, kitchen utensils, and even, when they can command carts, household furniture. They are satisfied apparently with gains which can hardly be greater than they could earn by honest labour, and they have an ignominious fear of the police. A good deal of their work is done by day, it being a feature of these suburbs that the head of the house is usually absent in business hours ; but they also work at night, and then, in reporters’ parlance, “the neighbourhood of, say, Twickenham or Lee is thrown into alarm by a series of burglaries” of an insignificant, but still most annoying sort ; every servant has some story of her alarms to tell, and there is a sudden develop- ment of the passion for little dogs, always the best protectors. The police are placed on the alert, the robbers find too many observant persons are about ; the pursuit grows hot, and they decamp, to recommence their attempts in some other neighbour- hood, still within a short distance of London
A very slight reform, to be paid for by a moderate rate, would, we believe, remedy the whole evil, and dis- tinctly improve the value of suburban property. It is not that strict patrolling is required, such as protects the centre of London. The criminals to be defeated are not formidable, not numerous, and not daring, and strict patrolling is from physical circumstances not possible. But with a slightly increased staff, the police could obtain better information about suspicious characters, could re- ceive a complaint without a sense of overwork, and could keep up pursuit with something of the energy they show against more serious crimes. It is their knowledge that pursuit will not be serious or long continued which makes thieves so audacious, and which has tempted three or four of them to try whether highway robbery without murder might not be as easy a mode of gaining a living as burglary on the smaller scale. They have roused too much attention to succeed, but a very little money and no great amount of organising skill would make each of the great and wealthy villages round London as safe as Blackheath has recently been made.
That last paragraph could have come straight from a Safer Neighbourhoods report…
PS – If you enjoy stuff like this, you might like my post about Penny Dreadfuls, and the legend of Spring Heeled Jack, from a long time ago.