« PreviousContinue »
LAST time we had a walk together we looked into some of the queer places about Old Pye Street and Duck Lane, in Westminster, and I think we could not do better than make another visit to them now. By the way, that Duck Lane used to be a notorious place, when the cock fights
WALKS IN LONDON.
and other infamous practices were regularly carried on in it. Strange doings often took place then, but they are all ended now.
Let us take a walk into this little quiet court behind New Pye Street. Quiet, did I say! It is, and has been, inhabited by a number of the vilest wretches that ever trod the earth. I remember the day when it was quite unsafe for any respectable person to go into it,—not very safe yet, perhaps : but you needu't be afraid. Your old friend, Allan Gray, has a sort of passport for such places, and if you keep a firm hold of his arm, and give a kind civil answer to any one who may speak to you, there will no evil befal you. You must go with me into that house in the corner, with the broken window-panes, walk up stairs to the attic floor, tap at the door of the back room, and when we get in you shall hear from me what your schoolmaster would perhaps call an. interesting historical narrative."
You see"-of course you cannot where there is no light, but hold fast by the railing and you won't stumble. You begin to believe now, I suppose, that one half of the world really do not know how the other half live. Now, we are just close on the top landing-rather tight work, these steep, narrow stairs, for an old man like me to climb
What! what's the matter? your hand pricked! Never mind; I know what it is ; you should not have knocked so rashly; but it won't bleed much-and will explain it all to you presently. Come into this little room and sit down for a moment.
So Morris's door is still as he left it—as your gloves and bleeding fingers testify--protected from top to bottom with sharp pointed nails.
can't WALKS IN LONDON.
Morris was a coiner. Thousands of sovereigns and half-crowns and shillings have been made in that little room. Clever fellow he was ; he made the best bad coin of any man in all Duck Lane. His coins always fetched a good price-often full half value ; that is, four bad sixpences for one good shilling. Let us look into the room. His galvanic battery stood in that corner. With out the battery he could not have made such “good” coins.
They were made of pewter-old spoons and such like things he bought at the rag-shops—which were melted
and cast into moulds formed of plaster of Paris, from half-worn good coins. This latter fact will explain to you how it is that nearly all bad money seems to be old and half-worn. They appear as if they had been working and wandering about the world, as good honest shillings do, providing breakfasts, and dinners, and teas, and railway trips, and thousands of other nice things for all sorts of people, for months and years past, whereas they may have come out of Pye Street or Duck Lane but a few days ago. Learn from this, my friend, that, even in Westminster, with the great Abbey and the Houses of Parliament on the left hand, and the Queen's palace on the right, “it isn't all gold that glitters."
By the aid of the galvanic battery this man hardened his pewter coins, and then he gilded the sovereigns with gold, and the half-crowns and shillings with silver, so that it was most difficult to detect the fraud, they looked so much like real money. He generally sold his coins to the “Swells," who purchased them at so much per dozen, and passed them where and when they could. His was a strange life. In that top room, across the court, his family lived for some years, and there was a trap-door
WALKS IN LONDON.
through the roof of it, similar to that one over your head, through which he could escape in case of danger. You see how difficult it would have been to get at him in here. It would not be easy to push open that door, so full of sharp spikes, and even when open as wide as it will go you can only creep in with your head at your knee.
He lived several years here, but the police found him out at last. A man told them all about him, and one evening twelve blue coats surrounded his door. They stole quietly upstairs, took Morris unawares, got in, and, after a dreadful scuffle, overpowered and handcuffed him. He then became as quiet as a lamb, and walked cheerfully down stairs. The poor policemen then thought the field was all their own; but they little knew what was awaiting them.
While this was going on, Morris's wife, seeing the police from the opposite side of the way, ran off to the public house in Old Pye Street, which was inhabited by a gang of notorious thieves and robbers, and told their captain or leader what the police were doing. He instantly despatched a regiment of his men, who in a very few minutes were “biding their time” at the bottom of Morris's stairs. By this time the police had Morris down to the second landing, when, raising his fettered hands to his mouth, he gave a shrill whistle, and instantly the fellows at the bottom rushed up like so many bears ; drove the policemen upstairs again, almost killing them with blows and bludgeons ; they pitched Morris over the railing, who, like a cat, fell on his feet on the floor ; rushing off he made for the banks of the Thames, where a comrade followed with a file, with which he cut off the handcuffs, and set the coiner once more at liberty. Several
WALKS IN LONDON.
of the poor policemen were taken home in cabs, defeated, bruised, and half killed.
After a while, Morris returned to his old place, and his old work. Once more they tried to take him. Inspector Penny surrounded his door at midnight with a regiment of fifty men ; but Morris heard them coming, escaped through the trap-door to the roof of his house, and, leaping from one house to another, was once more free.
At two o'clock one morning they again surprised him ; he got out on the roof, but a false leap cost him his liberty. Forgetting that a drain had just been opened behind his house, he leaped down, fell against the side of the drain, which stunned and lamed him ; but so determined was he to be freed from his pursuers, that he tried to get under the wheels of a wagon, which happened to be passing at the time, thus preferring death to imprisonment. But he was taken, sent to Newgate, tried-first for making bad coin, next for stealing the Queen's handcuffs, and sentenced to transportation for life. He remained for some years in prison at home, where he became, I believe, a wiser man, and from which he was sent to Australia.
All this was good for his poor boy. His father had brought him up to his own life and calling, teaching him to make bad coins, pass them, swap them, or swallow them, according to necessity. Yes, even to swallow them when in fear of detection. He told me, that commencing first to swallow something small (as a cherry-stone) — trick which you had better never try-he went on to something larger, until at length he could gulp a sovereign or a shilling. He had swallowed four or five at a time, but he had known his father manage as many as six or eight! Old Allan Gray became a sort of father and