Policing the Poor in Eighteenth-Century London: The Vagrancy Laws and Their Administration

Authors

  • Nicholas Rogers

Abstract

The treatment of vagrancy in eighteenth-century England has conventionally been seen as amateurish, arbitrary and corrupt. This paper argues that, even in London, vagrancy was shaped by local discretionary code that recognized the diversity and complexity of vagrancy and the requirements of a capitalist economy for male, mobile labour. It was only as the metropolitan labour market contracted that the defects of the vagrancy laws became apparent. In this context, local administrative policies gave way to broader, interventionist strategies as new kinds of "moral entrepreneurs" persuaded ratepayers that more expensive, carceral alternatives were necessary to police London's wandering poor.

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Published

01.05.1991

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Section

Articles