Proposal to Prevent Street Robberies

The following proposal was prompted by the crime wave of 1728.

5 October 1728

A Proposal humbly offer’d to the Rt. Hon. the Lord Mayor, Court of Aldermen and Recorder of the City of London ... for Preventing STREET ROBBERIES.

The principal encouragements, and opportunity given to streeet-robbers is that our streets are so poorly watch’d; the Watchmen for the most part, being decrepid, superannuated Wretches, with one foot in the grave, and the t’other ready to follow; so feeble, that a puff of breath can blow ’em down: Poor crazy mortals! much fitter for an Alms-house than a Watch-house. A City watch’d and guarded by such animals, is wretchedly watch’d indeed.
      Nay, so little terror do our Watchmen carry with them, that hardy thieves make a mere jest of ’em, and sometimes oblige even the very Watchmen, who should apprehend ’em, to light ’em in their roguery: And what can a poor creature do, in terror of his life, surrounded by a pack of ruffians, and no assistance near.
      Let the Watch be compos’d of stout able bodied men, and of those at least treble the number now subsisting, that is to say, a Watchman to every 40 houses, 20 on one side of the way, and 20 on the other; for it is observable, that a man cannot well see distinctly beyond the extent of 20 houses in a row; if ’tis a single row, and no opposite houses, the charges must be greater, and their safety less. This man should be elected, and paid by the house-keepers themselves, to prevent misapplication and abuse, so much complain’d of, in the distribution of publick money.
      He should be allow’d 20s. per anum, by each house-keeper, which at 40 houses, as above specify’d, amounts to 20l. per annum, almost treble to what is at present allow’d; and yet most house-keepers are charg’d at least 2s. 6d. a quarter to the Watch, whose beat is, generally speaking, little less than the compass of half a mile.
      This salary is something of encouragement, and a pretty settlement to a poor man, who, with frugality, may live decenty thereon, and, by due rest, be enabled to give vigilant attendance.
      The Watch thus station’d, strengthen’d, and encourag’d, let every Watch-man be arm’d with fire-arms and sword; and let no Watch-man stand above 20 doors distant from his fellow.
      Let each Watchman be provided with a bugle-horn, to sound on alarm, or in time of danger; and let it be made penal, if not felony, for any but a Watchman to sound a horn in and about the City, from the time of their going on, to that of their going off, except the Post Boys.
      That the Watchmen may see from one end of their walks to the other, let a convenient number of lamps be set up, and those not of the convex kind, which blind the eyes, and are of no manner of use; they dazzle, but give no distinct light: And farther, rather than prevent robberies.
      Turnpikes and stoppages may be made to prevent escapes, and it will be proper for a Watchman to be plac’d at one of these ...
      The streets thus guarded and illuminated, what remains, but that the money allotted by the Government be instantly paid on conviction of every offender; for delays in this case are of dangerous consequence, and no body will venture their lives in hopes of a reward if it be not duly and timely paid. ...
Some of our common soldiery are (and I hope unjustly) suspected. This may be easily confuted, if stirct orders are enforc’d, that none but Commission, or Warrant Officers shall be out of their quarters after ten at night. And if we consider, that of those who have been executed for ten years past, not one in ten were soldiers, but, on the contrary, seamen discharg’d, and thrown on the publick, without present subsistence, which made them desperate: But I hope the Act now depending for the Encouragement of Seamen, &c. will sufficiently remove that obstacle also. (The Weekly Journal; or, British Gazetteer)

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "Proposal to Prevent Street Robberies", 29 August 2002 <>

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