THE ROAD TO TYBURN by Christopher Hibbert


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London's 18th century underworld provides substance for a fascinating and dreadful tale, with a hero who might have been lifted out of The Beggars' Opera. Jack Sheppard was an ingratiating scoundrel who was hanged at Tyburn in 1724, and who provided Hogarth with the inspiration for his series, The Virtuous and Idle Apprentice. His 22 years began with birth to poor and honest parents, who died; he was sent to a workhouse school, a horrible fate; later he was apprenticed to a carpenter and became a skilled locksmith, a useful adjunct to his subsequent calling. At 21 he fell in love with a joyous prostitute and began stealing to find money to spend on her. At 22 he was hanged, the darling of the town, celebrated in ballad and story. His crimes were unprofitable and unspectacular, but his genius for prison breaks made sensational tales. This is far more than Jack Sheppard's story, however, for here is 18th century London, with its thieves and trulls, cutthroats and murderers, aristocratic delinquents. Jonathan Wild, perhaps the greatest organizer of crime the world has known, plays a part in the tale, as do many others known to history. It is not a pretty story and the author piles horror on horror, but Hogarthians and students of 18th century England will relish it, while it makes substantial contribution to the history of crime. Not however for the squeamish.

Publisher: World