A 1996 televised video-recording showed two crooks poking a pole with a hook on the end of it through the letter-box of a clothing store and pulling out garments from a display unit. Little did they realize that they were replicating a method first described by Thomas Harman in 1566 in his Caveat for common cursitors
. Dickens’s Fagin (Oliver Twist
, 1837–8) had his real-life precursor in the London alehouse keeper and fence of 1585 described above in Chapter 2. The method of house-breaking recorded in Charles Reade’s novel “It is never too late to mend
” (1856) could act as a useful manual for the modern burglar. There are many continuities in criminal method although, as we have shown, criminals have always adapted their methods to take advantage of new opportunities and employed the latest technologies. There are also continuities in types of crime. The following abbreviated court account of urban violence leading to a homicide could have come from any age. Was it 1306, 1506, 1706, or 1906?
Robert Clark and William Walker, Liverpudlians travelling from Chester to Liverpool, started to quarrel. They came across Walker’s cousin, William Brown. The two cousins sided against Clark. The quarrel led to violence. Brown pulled a knife and threatened Clark, who fled in terror down an alley-way. Brown and Walker followed him, Walker brandishing his knife. In self-defence Clark also produced a weapon, and in the ensuing fray Walker was killed.
This case, as it happens, comes from 1306. There are, it would seem, certain constants in the history of crime and, to a lesser extent, in the history of punishment.