Child-stripping in the Victorian City

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MacRaild, Don ; Neal, Frank (2012)

During the nineteenth century, police, magistrates, reformers and the press noticed a rising tide of juvenile crime. Child-stripping, the crime of stealing young children's clothes by force or deception, was an activity of this type which caused alarm among contemporaries. As the century progressed, improved policing, urbanization and Irish migration, allied to growing social concern, caused more cases of child-stripping to be noticed. Accounts by Dickens, Mayhew and others characterized child-stripping as an activity indulged in by old women who were able to make money by victimizing the weakest strata of society. However, research in the British Library's digitized newspaper collections as well as in parliamentary papers conclusively demonstrates that child-stripping, far from being the domain of Dickensian crones, was actually perpetrated by older children, notably girls, against children even younger than themselves. Despite widespread revulsion, which at times approached a ‘moral panic’ prompted by the nature of the crime, progressive attitudes largely prevailed with most child-stripping children being sent to reformatories or industrial schools in the hope of reforming their behaviour. This article thus conforms with Foucauldian notions of the switch from physical to mental punishments and aligns with the Victorians’ invention of children as a category of humanity that could be saved.
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    77 references, page 1 of 8

    2 Dombey and Son (1846; London, 1995), 71. Also, M.E. Winchester's Adrift in a Great City (London, 1892).

    3 G. Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age (London, 1984), 471.

    4 H. Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, 4 vols. (London, 1864), vol. I, 281.

    5 J. McLevy, Casebook of a Victorian Detective, ed. Scott Moncrieff (Edinburgh, 1975), 198, 199, 205.

    6 For an excellent survey, see S. d'Cruze and L.L. Jackson, Women, Crime and Justice in England since 1660 (Basingstoke, 2009).

    7 Glasgow Herald, 15 Jan. 1844, 14 Sep. 1849.

    8 Caledonian Mercury, 1 Oct. 1838.

    9 Jackson's Oxford Journal, 23 Sep. 1843. See also the case of the six times convicted Matilda Smith: Lloyd's Weekly London Newspaper, 19 Jul. 1857; and Louise Nichol and Agnes Johnson of Glasgow who were charged with six cases: Manchester Times, 17 Jun. 1854.

    10 Newcastle Courant, 12 Aug. 1853.

    11 Liverpool Courier, 11 Jul. 1855.

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