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Research and Interviews

Hi, first time poster, long time reader/writer wannabe. My name is Joe, and I like coffee, so CuppaJoe it is. I'm currently researching what I hope will become my first novel, and I need to learn about picking pockets. I wonder if any of you can help me - do you know (or are you secretly!) a pickpocket? Do you know where I might start to research such a subject?

I've read quite a few posts on this forum and I can see a wealth of experience and talent out there, Keep it up, I'm learning loads! Thanks and thanks in advance,



  • Hi, CuppaJoe - and welcome!

    What a great question!

    I was in Oliver Twist as a child, but that's as far as it goes, I'm afraid.

    There used to be a programme called something like 'The Real Hustle' where the details of scams and petty crime were revealed. One of the presenters was Alexis Conran, now an actor, but once a con-man (I believe), there was another man (Scottish) whose name I've forgotten and a young girl called Jess who was often used as a distraction/stooge. You might be able to Google the series. They definitely discussed pick-pocketing.

    All I know is that usually a team is involved where one person distracts by asking a question, or pretending to be lost and holding out a map, while another dips in. Often, they just use two fingers to extract a wallet. Sometimes they mark a victim with chalk on the shoulder so that other members of the team know he has a full wallet from the cashpoint machine and can follow him in turn.

    Newspapers and big bags are often used as shields on public transport, and jostling is a technique at busy road crossings where delving hands won't be felt. My sister-in-law had her bag gently unzipped at a pedestrian crossing and as she was walking across the road, she happened to look down to see a hand in her bag pulling out her purse. There was a tussle and shouting and she eventually managed to pull it off the young girl. Sometimes the technique is to help a victim up, whilst fleecing them, after an accomplice has pushed them over. This quite often happens at the top of escalators to create more havoc.

    Oh. I guess I did know a bit, after all.

    *considers changing profession*
  • Thank you for your swift reply! Intrigued by your part in Oliver Twist - was that in a play or TV/Film? does your username of Tiny Nell allude to your role?

    Thanks for the detail - you certainly know more than I do! I will look into The real Hustle. I have bought a book (or two - it's becoming a problem!) on Amazon on pickpocketing, which gives me some great insights, but what I really want to find out is how people become pickpockets - who teaches them etc? Does everyone have their Fagin?

  • There are a lot of online resources for historical sources and I'd suggest that pickpocketing hasn't changed much in two hundred years. Same techniques. You can read and search most 19th century newspapers for free online if you have a local library card, and Google Books has digitised millions of out-of-copyright books that you can read for free. Be aware, however, that 'pickpocket' might not have been the term used at the time. 
  • Ha! No, just a school play, CuppaJoe - but good investigative thinking!
  • Have you tried London's Underworld by Henry Mayhew? Henry Mayhew wrote a series of what we would now call social history books starting with London Labour and the London Poor in 1851 with London's Underworld being the fourth book coming in 1862. This may be available online or through a library. He had a whole section on Thieves and Swindlers with pickpockets a category. Hope that helps.
  • You're not catching me! I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on this subject.
  • Wordy, GeraldQ, Thank you much for your assist! Phots Moll, why does your dubious statement fill me with curiosity? 
  • CuppaJoe said:
     Phots Moll, why does your dubious statement fill me with curiosity? 
    Search me! (But not the cupboard under the stairs, OK? You don't need to look in there. Nor the attic.)
  • Phots Moll - "Feef!" 'Ee shouted! "Feef!" pointin' 'is fingers at me all accusat'ry like. "Wot, Me?" I arsked. "Yer", 'ee said, "You!"
  • I've got receipts – and the ink is nearly dry.
  • Afraid I also know nothing. Thank goodness. 
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