With the increase of import and export out of Hull and Leeds and the immigration of the rural poor to urban centres, there were more opportunities for crime especially among those that scorned the new trading bourgeoisie that came to power after the English Civil War. In Leeds, the rich trading families lived right next door to the hovels and the crudely built shacks of the poor. More importantly, with the increased trade came the ability of those that had the money to purchase more consumer goods including scarves, linen, jewellery, silks, and metal ornaments.
As Leeds and Hull became the headquarters for trade to Europe and the Baltic, tradesmen, clothiers, and skilled professionals all who had an increased wealth, carried valuables and increasing amounts of readily available cash. The economy of the middle class started to grow, and Leeds and Hull became places of grandiose buildings, gardens, theatres, and gambling resorts. Populations increased as the number of poor were forced to sell their labour and there were others that survived by crime. All of this justified by a growing social unrest and a supposedly honest world of increasing material wealth.
The availability of money and valuables grew, and the size, density and vagabond population provided ample prospects for earning a dishonest living. Leeds and Hull were made up of a network of narrow streets and partly cobbled lanes. There was a criminal underground with thieves and fences who provided shelter and economic assistance in return for stolen goods. The fence provided advice, tips, targets, and crime techniques but most importantly alibis and false bills of sale for stolen goods.
The justice system was full of corrupt magistrates, prison keepers, legal officials and arrangers that bribed officials and swearers to perjure in the court of law. Lack of a regulated police force gave rise to the independent officer or thief-taker. Most were recruited from the criminal underground and provided with powers of a general warrant which allowed them to arrest and detain on grounds of suspected crime.
Having come from the criminal structures that existed, most could easily move among the criminal world undetected. They employed spies to find out who had committed crimes and what goods they had acquired. They were also employed by prison keepers to arrest criminals and reap the benefits of blackmail and extortion. Often thief-takers would inform thieves of targets then arrest them returning the stolen goods to their owners for a fee.
An excerpt from my upcoming novel 'Dream of Courage'
“He’s worse than all of us put together! He makes out that he’s an honest man and gets hired to find stolen goods by the rich. In most cases, he’s the one that’s organised their theft. Gets paid by the owner of the stolen goods to find them, then fences most of it. Usually returns bits and pieces so they keep faith in him that he has done what he was hired ta do."
Paul Rushworth-Brown is the author of three novels:
Skulduggery- An exciting, mysterious, fictional and historically accurate adventure pulls no punches about the life and hardships of peasant farmers living on the moors of Yorkshire in 1590.
"Was excellent reading . I intended to read it over the next week but once I started I could NOT put it down . Really enjoyed it !"
Winter of Red- Come on this historic journey, which twists, turns and surprises until the very end. If you like history, adventure and intrigue with a dash of spirited love, then you will be engrossed by this tale of a peasant family unexpectedly getting caught up in the ravages of the English Civil War in 1642.
"A fictional, historical novel about a loving peasant family caught up in a 1642 shocking Civil War. Humour, romance, adventure and excitement are here to enjoy. A great story.
"Dream of Courage- Soon to be released!
The much anticipated story of the Rushworth family and their journey out of poverty.
King Charles has been executed and England becomes a Republic under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. Highwaymen, thief-takers, pirates and broggers tell
the story in this mysterious and bone chilling historical thriller.