CLOSE
Getty Images
Getty Images

9 Tips for Avoiding London Pickpockets from a 19th Century Guide

Getty Images
Getty Images

London streets in the early 19th century could be dangerous places. In The London Guide and Stranger’s Safeguard Against the Cheats, Swindlers, and Pickpockets that Abound within the Bills of Mortality, Forming a Picture of London as Regards Active Life, published in 1819, “a gentleman who has made the police of the metropolis an object of enquiry twenty-two years” attempted to help strangers to the city avoid falling victim to all manners of crime—including diving, otherwise known as pickpocketing. “This way of obtaining the property of others, is certainly the most genteel, profitable, and alluring of any,” the author notes, “because it requires some degree of ingenuity to exercise it properly, and a great deal of address and firmness to get off without detection. Professors of the art are admired for their dexterity, by every one but the immediate losers.” Here were some of the author’s tips that would help newcomers to the city keep their wallets—some of which we should heed even today.

1. Don’t act like a tourist.

Fitting in was the name of the game in London. Newcomers, according to the author, were

easily recognized by their provincial gait, dialect, and cut of the cloth ; by the interest they take in the commonest occurrences imaginable, and the broad stare of wonder at every thing they see. … It would be surprising indeed, if the knavish part of the community did not endeavour to profit by the want of knowledge apparent in Johnny Newcome, or Johnny Raw, as such men are aptly called. He is followed for miles, sometimes for an entire day or more, by a string of pickpockets or highwaymen, until they can find an opportunity to do him.

The solution, then, was to “appear like a thorough bred cockney in your gait and manner, by placing the hat a little awry, and with an unconcerned stare, penetrating the wily countenances of the rogues; you attain one more chance, at least, of escaping the snares that are always laid to entrap the countryman or new comer.”

2. Walk the right way.

According to the author, walking in London wasn’t a simple thing; in fact, it was a system, with “every one taking the right hand of another, whereby confusion is avoided ; thus, if you walk from St. Paul's towards the Royal Exchange, you will be entitled to the wall of those you meet all the way ; whereas, if you cross over, you must walk upon the kirb stone.”

Walking in a “contrary mode” was sure to attract the attention of pickpockets, who would “hustle such an one against his accomplice in the day time ; the stranger will be irritated no doubt, and express his indignation, which will be the better for the rogues : in a half-minute's altercation, they get the best of the jaw, because the loudest and most impudent; —a spar or two ensues, in which he who pretends to support the stranger to the ways of town, draws him of his pocket-book, or his watch, if he has either, a fact they take care to ascertain beforehand.”

To avoid this unfortunate fate, the author stresses the “necessity of cautiously, yet energetically, pursuing his way, without dread or doubt ; since it is better to walk a little out of the right path, than run the risk of being directed wrong."

3. Avoid crowds.

Hanging out in places where many people were gathered increased a person’s chances of losing his wallet—especially if there’s some kind of kerfuffle. “If a horse tumbles, or a woman faints, away [pickpockets] run to encrease the crowd, and the confusion ; they create a bustle, and try over the pockets of unsuspecting persons,” the author says. He advises "steer[ing] clear of assemblages in the streets, by going round them." If that's unavoidable, "pressing rather rudely through them" is the key: "You become the assailant, if I may be allowed the term, and add one more chance of steering clear of danger.”

4. Don’t ask for directions in the street.

Pickpockets would target “silly persons” who “stand gaping at the names of streets, as if in doubt which road to take,” and asked people on the street which way they should go. The thieves would hustle the hick to an alleyway or some other ideal area to either “neatly” pick his pockets or beat him up and take his money. The author advises “that no one should ask his way in the street, but in decent shops."

If a man couldn't find a decent shop, he was advised to ask someone carrying a small parcel; this showed that "they are shopmen or porters," the writer says, and thus could be trusted. "Thieves do not go about encumbered in that manner, at least not hitherto ; but they might possibly adopt it hereafter, from this hint.” Oops.

5. Be on the lookout for shabby clothing.

Though “thieves frequently go well-dressed, especially pickpockets,” a close observer “may always discover in the dress of the genteel pickpocket, some want of unity, or shabby article, as a rusty hat, or the boot-tops in bad order, or a dirty shirt and cravat.”

6. Men: Avoid ladies out at night...

“Women who walk the streets at night, are invariably pickpockets,” the author advises. “I see no reason to set down those who by day entice the men into their dens, any thing better. Such as stand at the corners of lanes and courts, inviting men to stop, are clumsy hands, but contrive to pick up a good harvest occasionally : they rob indiscriminately every article of dress, knocking off the silly (perhaps drunken) man's hat in the street, with which the accomplice runs away ; at other times they will take off his cravat, while bestowing upon him their salacious caresses. A broach, or shirt-pin, is constantly made good prize of, but should the deluded man enter one of pestiferous abodes, which are so numerous in this metropolis, the loss of all he has is inevitable.”

7. ... And Beware of women asking silly questions.

Just in case that first tip wasn't enough, the author really wanted to drive home the point that ladies could be pickpockets, too, so the best course of action was just to breeze by them. “It is recommended over again not to be stopped in the streets, even by a handsome woman." It was for a man's own good. Lady pickpockets possessed, according to the author,

great nimbleness of fingers, and convey away your property while talking you into a silly passion for their persons. Although it seems brutish to rebuke a woman who should press against you in a crowd, in a church, at an auction, or in the streets, yet this should be done. … Such women amuse you with asking silly questions ; perhaps complain to you of some man who is pressing her, while one of her accomplices rifles your pockets in the mean time, from behind another accomplice, who keeps his arms up so as to prevent yours from defending your property.

A woman might even grab a man's arm, "as if for protection," but what she was really doing was keeping him from using it. Goodbye, wallet!

8. Ladies, don't window shop.

Or if they did, they should at least have the good sense to not get so close to the windows that a thief could get under their skirts. “Ladies who press to the windows of drapers shops are fine game,” the author says. “When they wore pockets with hoops, scarcely any operation in all the light finger trade was easier than the dive, or putting in one's hand ; afterwards, on the disuse of the hoop, the thing was performed by a short fellow, or boy, getting between the legs of the accomplice (a tall one) and spreading the petticoats, cut off the pockets, with a knife attached to the hand.”

9. And If you do get your pockets picked, don’t go after the thief.

“Should a pickpocket take to his heels, and be easily distinguished from his followers, it is not always advisable to stop him,” the author cautions. After all, “some are armed with knives, which they would not hesitate to use in a scuffle.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving
iStock
iStock

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. TURKEY

A roasted turkey on a platter.
iStock

Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. STUFFING

Pan of breaded stuffing.
iStock

Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. CRANBERRIES

Dish of cranberry sauce.
iStock

Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. MASHED POTATOES

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
iStock

Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. GRAVY

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
iStock

Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. CORN

Plate of corn.
iStock

Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. SWEET POTATOES

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
iStock

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Plate of green bean casserole.
iStock

Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. PUMPKIN PIE

Slice of pumpkin pie.
iStock

Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.
iStock

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
arrow
Food
The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios