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The Sanctuary created and crossed by the Church for the refuge of those who had fallen into temptation became, as we know, the resort of the rogue, the murderer, and the habitual criminal. Within the precincts of St.-Martin's-le-Grand were carried on with impunity all the trades and methods of producing things counterfeit. The Sanctuary of Westminster was a scandal and a disgrace. These places had been finally abolished after much trouble: the City officers could march their rogues to Newgate without fear of a rescue from St. Martin's. The people of Westminster could lie down at night without fear of housebreakers from Sanctuary. At the same time the custom of holding and seeking sanctuary was too deep-rooted to be quickly abolished. Perhaps there was something comfortable in the thought that there should be a place, however small, where the officers of the law were not admitted, and where rogues should be unmolested. It was a loophole for repentance, perhaps: it was a gleam of sunshine on the path of the outlaw. So the custom was continued well into the eighteenth century. In this chapter I am going to recall the memory of these later Sanctuaries. As may be imagined, literature says little about them. But it says enough to show that there were places dotted about London which served all the purposes of the old sanctuaries without the restraints of ecclesiastical government: in fact, there was no government, except on purely democratic principles. In these places lived rogues and villains of all kinds: here the thief-taker came to find{242} his man—observe that this functionary was admitted; the thief-taker ventured where the sheriff's officer could not. Why was this? Because the London rogue had a sense of justice: no man could expect to go on for ever: when a man's time was up, let him give place to his successor. The thief-taker, therefore, was a recognised official: it was his duty to assign to every man his proper length of rope. This allowance expended, it was the duty of the rogue to get up when he was called, go away quietly with the thief-taker, and get hanged in due course. Otherwise, there would have been no living to be made by the rogues on account of the competition of numbers. The name of Alsatia had been long forgotten, but the asylum still remained.

In the 'Fortunes of Nigel' we are made acquainted with the Alsatia of Fleet Street. There were other places equally secure for rogues, besides Alsatia. Such were Whetstone Park in Lincoln's Inn Fields; Fullwood's Rents, Holborn; Milford Lane, Strand; Montagu Close, Southwark; and others. All these were gradually extinguished; not by any summary procedure; not by turning out the rogues and forcing them to scatter; not by marching off the whole population to prison; but by the slower and more gradual process of transformation. This process began when the parts and places around became respectable. There is something chilling and repellent to the common rogue about the proximity of respectability: he does not like to be in its neighbourhood: in this way these degenerate and unlawful sanctuaries gradually fell into decay. One alone remained, when all the others had disappeared. It was in that part of Southwark—that part which is still a slum—called Mint Street, nearly opposite St. George's Church in the High Street. This street, with its alleys and courts, was inhabited by as villainous a collection as even the eighteenth century, which in point of villains was rich beyond its predecessors, could not equal. They had retreated here from their former{243} haunt in Montagu Close, as to a last fortress, which was not yet besieged. They lived in perfect safety here: no writ could be served on them: no arrest could be made: the only person they had to fear was, as said above, the thief-taker.

The annals of this Sanctuary were never, unfortunately, kept; it is impossible to ascertain what illustrious criminals were here housed and for how long. There are, however, one or two little histories of the Mint which will serve to show us at once the public spirit, the courage, and the immunity with which the people of the later Sanctuary lived and acted.

The first story belongs to the year 1715. The case of Dormer v. Dormer and Jones came on for hearing at Westminster Hall. It was a divorce case, in which the co-respondent had been a footman in the plaintiff's house. There seems to have been no defence, practically. The verdict of the Jury was for the plaintiff, with 5,000l. damages. Now, consider for a moment what that verdict meant. In these days, when a defendant without any private means at all is mulcted in damages and costs, whether of 5,000l. or of 100l., he simply smiles. He is not in the least degree affected. Nothing worse than bankruptcy can happen to him, and when a man has nothing bankruptcy presents few terrors. In Portugal Street subridet vacuus viator—the insolvent pilgrim smiles cheerfully. But in those days it was very different. To inflict damages of 5,000l. meant simply that the Jury considered the case one in which the defendant, who could not be tried in the criminal courts, could only be adequately punished by being locked up for the whole of his remaining days in a debtor's prison, where, since he was only a footman whose relations were probably unable to assist him and certainly unable to maintain him, he would speedily take his place on the common side, and there he would be slowly done to death by insufficient food and insufficient clothing, by privation, cold, fever and misery.{244}

The Jury therefore gave this verdict with deliberate intention. It meant prison and slow starvation and insufficient warmth, and so everybody instantly understood, including Mr. Jones himself. In a moment the officers would have laid hands upon the unhappy but undeserving footman. But he was too quick for them: he turned: he fled: he hurled himself down Westminster Hall through the crowd of lawyers, witnesses, booksellers, glovesellers, and visitors: he tore across New Palace Yard, now pursued by the officers: he made for the 'Bridge,' that is, the pier so called, for as yet there was no Bridge: he jumped into the first boat and shoved off. When the bailiffs arrived breathless at the Stairs, they saw their prisoner already half way across the river. They too jumped into a boat: for some reason or other—one knows not why—it was most unlucky—their boat took a long time to get off: something was wrong with the painter: the ropes were knotted: the stretchers wanted to be set right: the oars were on the wrong sides: the men were slow in getting off their coats: finally, when she was cast loose the boat proved to be another Noah's Ark for creeping slowly over the face of the waters. Jones therefore got safely ashore on the other side, and the bailiffs turned back with a good deal of cursing. Once ashore, the fugitive made straight to Mint Street, as to a Levitical City which was also a City of Refuge. I know not what became of him afterwards. It was a hive where all the bees were busy. Jones could not eat the bread of idleness: he therefore, one may certainly conclude, became a rogue by profession and in due course met his fate bravely with white ribbons round his cap, an orange in one hand, a Prayer-book in the other, and a large nosegay in his shirt front.

Here is another story of the same Eighteenth Century Sanctuary. It will seem incredible that the Executive should have been so incapable, but the story is literally true.

Things being in so satisfactory and settled a condition,{245} the Law being so triumphantly defied, at the Mint in Southwark, some of the residents or collegians naturally desired to go farther afield, and to establish more Sanctuaries or Law-defying{246} colonies on the other side of the river, which was reported to be ripe for these settlements. No reports of Meetings, Proceedings, and Resolutions held and passed on the subject have come down to us. However, that matters very little. Every great movement, we know, is the work of one man. Therefore there arose a Prophet—the Prophet as Rogue. He perceived, understood, and presently began to preach that a 'long felt want'—call it rather a 'need'—existed, which it was his duty to supply. The old Sanctuaries of North London, he pointed out, had fallen into decay. Alsatia was deplorably respectable: bailiffs had been seen in Milford Lane: the trade of counterfeit rings was no longer carried on in St. Martin's. And, though there were certainly taverns in Clerkenwell which bailiffs regarded with a useful respect, it could not be denied that London needed a new Sanctuary. This need he called upon his friends and fellow-residents in the Mint to supply. He set before his hearers with burning eloquence—I am sure it was burning—a Vision of a New London, Purged; Purified; without honesty; without morals; without law; with neither gallows, pillory, whipping post, or stocks: a City entirely in the hands of Rogues who would compel all the conquered City to work for them: would seize on all property and would live triumphantly happy with complete control over all the Prisons. To make a beginning of this Millennium, he proposed, by means of colonies from the Mint, to plant all London with Sanctuaries until, in fulness of time, the City should become one huge Sanctuary, where debts would never be collected, and robbery and murder would never be punished.

They chose for their new settlement a piece of ground on the east of Tower Hill, where Cable Street is now. They laid down their boundaries: they called the place the New Mint: they said, 'Within these limits there shall be no arrest.' This new law they communicated fairly and plainly, because everything was above board, to all the catchpoles. They then sat{247} down as in an impregnable fortress. Remember, that if there were no police, such as we now understand by the word, they were close to the soldiers of the Tower, who might have been called in to disperse this lawless establishment. However, nothing at all was done. They sat down triumphant. Presently—I know not how long afterwards—a bailiff was actually found to disregard the warning. You will hardly believe that this rash and audacious person ventured to arrest a New Minter within the Precincts!

Then the colonists arose and formed into column: they called for music: preceded by a band of what used to be called the Whifflers, they marched in a procession, four abreast, quietly, calmly, but with settled purpose in their gallant and resolute faces: they carried a banner, yea, the Flag of Unrighteousness: they marched straight to the house of the offender, who, for his part, was so foolish as not to run away. It is, however, a weakness common to Catchpoles that they always put their trust in the Law. They arrested that Catchpole: they led him to the place where he had offended: and there they made an example of him. They tore away every shred of clothing from him: they flogged him all over with brooms and thorny brambles: they gave him a thousand lashes, so that there was not a whole inch of skin left upon him: they dragged him through filthy ponds and laystalls: they took him out and flogged him again: they tried to flog the life out of the poor wretch but failed, for he survived: then they dragged him again through the filth: at last they suffered him, bleeding and naked, to crawl home as best he might. I am sorry to say that I have no information as to the end of the New Mint adventure; but it certainly appears that no one was punished for this outrage, and that no attempt even was made to punish anyone. Perhaps the memory of that gallant deed still lingers in Cable Lane: but I have not ventured to inquire of the still rude and independent freemen, its present residents.


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