Monday, January 31, 2011

A 'Black Fellow' in Deptford, 1839

In 1839 an official commission was 'appointed to inquire as to the best means of establishing an efficient constabulary force in the counties of England and Wales'. Their report makes interesting reading now, as it makes fairly explicit that in creating the police force a primary consideration was to be able to tackle popular protests - matters they considered included the 'effects of the use of violence to maintain wages', 'effects of the use of violent and illegal disturbance of the investment of capital' and 'disorganisation of the civil force for action in case of riotous disturbances'.

Another social 'evil' they considered needed tackling was 'vagrancy' and they took evidence on beggars, trampers, hawkers, 'travelling jews' and other itinerants. The following account mentions one such person who was apparently well known in Deptford:

'Beggars tramp about from town to town: there is a low lodging-house for travellers in every village: they tell that they are travelling to find workd, but pray to God they may never get it. They all go out 'to walk' in the mornings, and return at night to their lodging houses, where they lives wll, and spend the day's produce in drinking. They are merry fellows, money or no money, and laugh at the people for 'flats' They tell each other what houses are 'good' and arrange their districts so as not to interfere with each other. Every tramper is accompanied by his fancy girl or wife. A black fellow, who is well known about Deptford, and goes about the streets singing and dancing, takes his country journey with two women, and makes plenty of money to pay all their expenses'.

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