WRITTEN BY ALISON CARTER
On the busy streets of London, there were rich pickings to be made…
The finest pickpockets in the business are those who understand timing. It may sound conceited but I believe I am among the best.
I know the precise moment at which to collide with a gentleman in Cheapside and have his coin purse from him. There’s a precious second in which a good thief can get a lace handkerchief, or a guinea. If that second passes, she must leave off.
Tilly Diver, at your service. My father’s name wasn’t Diver. If you’re a Londoner you’ll know that “diver” is a title given to those skilled in the art of acquiring… well, items not their own. My nickname has become my name.
I knew that this day would come…
Today I am in Newgate Gaol, and mighty uncomfortable it is too. It pains me to find myself sitting all alone on this bench, and with such a deal of damp in the walls. I knew that this day would come. I have evaded the law many times with bribes or with the aid of loyal friends, but not this time.
Jem – that’s my husband – has brought me today’s newspaper, and I have been enjoying the usual advertisements in its pages for the return of stolen goods. A particular silver buckle, which a lady at Southwark longs for, has for a week been in the hands of an excellent fence I know.
It astounds me that people take so little care. If a person were to come up to me and yell “have a care, ma’am!” I would know my purse was being cut from me as I looked around in alarm. People don’t believe they’ll be robbed.
It is all a matter of timing
Sometimes I favour a church for my work, and in church my methods are subtle. Do you know, last month some villain called “fire!” at a funeral in St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, and then pick-pocketed the fleeing congregation! That was a low trick. Me, I use the Sham Belly. A craftsman in Westminster made me two false arms with hands. I rest them on a wondrous big swelling (as of a babe in the womb) formed by stuffing a pillow up my gown.
My real arms remain beneath my petticoats, and thus I can pick the pockets of two ladies on either side, and all before the first reading! Last year the Sham Belly pickings funded a fortnight at Brighton. By the seaside, Jem commented that one day it would be nice to have a real babe. I love the man.
In the end, it was the Sham that got me. I wasn’t to know that one of the old ladies had sharp eyes.
Jem is beside himself with worry
They hang pickpockets. I’ve seen it, and it ain’t pretty. Jem is beside himself with worry, and hatches plans to spring me from the gaol, but I tell him that getting out of Newgate is a bigger game than we know.
Ah, here is the turnkey, come to take me up for the hearing. His timing is good: I have finished the bread and cheese that Jem brought. I ate well, the nausea that I have lately suffered being abated. The importance of timing has once again been proven. When I show my belly – my real belly – with the dark line of pregnancy running down it, they will have to call a doctor. They will curse me for being with child, but they won’t be able to hang me. English law doesn’t hang a pregnant woman.
I felt her sort of fluttering inside me today – I’m hoping for a sweet girl, see, and I long to meet her like I’ve never longed for anything.
In court, my Jem will laugh with delight, up in the gallery. We’re going to be the happiest family in London!
Speaking of galleries: in Newgate a diver friend has suggested picking pockets in the visitors’ gallery of the Houses of Parliament.
A fine scheme indeed! Once me and my darling babe have become well acquainted, and if Jem can mind her for me, I think it will be my next enterprise.