London Lives Revealed: Charlotte Walker
Throughout the week we will feature a ‘life in a day’, beginning with Charlotte Walker, a recidivist pickpocket who was rarely punished
Charlotte Walker, c. 1754-1806
Charlotte Walker was a prostitute and pickpocket who had a long and eventful career in the St Giles area of London. Over a twenty-four year period, Charlotte appeared twelve times to answer charges at the Old Bailey, mainly simple grand larceny or pickpocketing, and yet she was convicted only once. An additional fifteen arrests for felony were noted in the sessions books, three of which were reported in The Times. She was also arrested for assault and for being disorderly on a number of occasions, and once for being a vagrant.
According to the Criminal Register of the Felons in Newgate for 1800, compiled by Edward Raven, a clerk in the Home Department, Charlotte Walker came from Liverpool, was 46 years old, 4’11” tall, possessed a fair complexion and light hair, and had lived lately in the parish of St Clement Danes. She was certainly living in London by February 1776 when she was accused of assault, but her first Old Bailey court appearance, for theft, did not occur until 3 December 1777 when she was about 23 years old. This was the first of eleven acquittals.
Charlotte’s main stomping ground lay in the districts just to the west of the City of London, between High Holborn and Parkers Lane to the east and Fleet Street to the west, taking in Drury Lane and the area around St Clement Danes. It seems she rarely strayed beyond St Giles in the Fields, St Clement Danes and the adjoining parishes. She had three main ways of relieving men of their goods. She either accosted men in the street and then put her hands in their breeches pockets, or she picked men’s pockets whilst drinking with them, or she or an accomplice took men to lodgings and stole their money and watches while they slept.
Although Charlotte was arrested 27 times for stealing, she did not always find herself in court. Before anyone faced a trial at the Old Bailey, their case had to be heard by the grand jury, who met to assess the indictments and decide whether there was sufficient evidence to try the case. During Charlotte’s career, the grand jury decided there was not sufficient evidence against her on twelve occasions. In three other instances the prosecutors failed to appear to carry the prosecution forward. These grand jury decisions may have been influenced by the length of time Charlotte had been held in custody awaiting trial. She was imprisoned for more than three weeks on eight separate occasions, with her longest stay being nine weeks. A lack of reliable evidence may also have influenced the grand jury, as many of the prosecutors had been drunk at the time of the alleged offence. In most cases there were no other witnesses apart from the victims, and the stolen goods or money were rarely, if ever, found on her.
Old Bailey Trials
At the Old Bailey Charlotte always gave a spirited and inventive defence. If possible, she made the prosecutors out to be drunks who associated with loose women, and she exploited any inconsistencies in their evidence. Her diminutive size may have helped the jurymen to appreciate her spirit without feeling that she presented a real threat to society at large, enabling them to acquit her. For example, Charlotte was accused of highway robbery in April 1781, a capital offence. The prosecutor, Joseph Bowman, claimed that as he went through French Horn Yard, she gave him a violent push against a wall, threw herself against him and robbed him. In conducting her own defence, Charlotte said, “He said, the first time, I pushed him against the wall, he fell on one side, and I robbed him; the second time he said, as he came out of the door, I held him together by both his arms, and so robbed his Worship: I said I must have three hands to rob him when I had hold of both his arms”. The jury acquitted her.
Charlotte was arrested for stealing at least once a year between 1781 and 1794, but only twice more thereafter, in January 1798 and December 1799. However, between April 1794 and October 1799 she was arrested for being a disorderly person on at least six separate occasions and committed to Tothill Fields Bridewell or Middlesex House of Correction. As she was now in her forties, she may have found it harder to attract customers.
Her Final Trial
On 7h December 1799 Charlotte met John Taylor as he left the White Bear in Bride Lane, between midnight and 1 am. She asked him for a drink but he said he had no money. She felt around his breeches, saying she was sure he had some money. He immediately missed his silver watch and called a watchman, who searched Charlotte and found the watch concealed in her bosom. At her trial in January 1800 Charlotte gave a characteristically robust defence, but the jury were not convinced by her story, and she was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Thus ended Charlotte’s remarkably long criminal career. She had been careless in taking a watch from a conscious victim, and maybe the jury found the idea of anyone wanting to go home with an elderly prostitute implausible. However the changing patterns of criminal record keeping also played a role. Under “Remarks” in the Criminal Register for February 1798 she is described as “a very old offender” who “has been tried several times”. Her past had caught up with her, and this time there was no escape.
Charlotte’s death sentence was commuted to transportation for life. She boarded the ship, the Nile, which set sail in June 1801 for New South Wales, arriving in Sydney on 14 December 1801, where she died in November 1806.
But Charlotte’s intriguing life had one final twist. According to the Sydney Gazette, she died “of an apoplexy”, and “in consequence of unpleasant rumours being circulated relative to the circumstances of her death, her husband was apprehended and kept in custody, until yesterday liberated by the verdict of a coroner’s inquest”.
Her ‘husband’ was George Carpenter, a shoemaker, who had arrived in Sydney on 20 Nov 1800 on the ship Royal Admiral 2 and was freed from servitude in Jan 1805.  In the 1805-6 census, or muster, Charlotte had been given a ticket of leave, and was living with George Carpenter, being described in Marsden’s Female Muster of 1806 as a concubine, ie not married. It is not clear from the sparse records when she started living with him. They appear to have been living in the Brickfields area when she died, aged about 52. It seems that, with the shortage of women in the colony, Charlotte was able to find a skilled craftsman to live with. He was 14 years her junior, so her final years were probably more comfortable than her final decade in London, in the company of her ‘toy-boy’.
1 Mary Clayton, The Life and Crimes of Charlotte Walker, Prostitute and Pickpocket, London Journal, 33, 1 (2008), pp. 3-19. New documents have come to light through the London Lives project since the publication of this article. ⇑
2 The National Archives (TNA), HO 26/7. ⇑
3 London Metropolitan Archive (LMA), MJ/CC/B/44. ⇑
4 James McClelland, Convict, Pioneer and Immigrant Series of Australia Index No. 3: Readable Names of all Convicts and Free persons arriving Australia 1801-1805 (New South Wales, 1983); New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Death Certificate, no. 2125, vol. 2A. ⇑
5 Sydney Gazette, 26 November 1806. ⇑
6 TNA HO 10/37; Colonial Secretary’s Papers 1788-1825 Reel 6056 4/1765 p.182. George was buried 28 June 1813 at St Philip, Sydney, aged 45: TD Mutch, Index to births, deaths and marriages 1787-1828. Reels 2125-2129. ⇑
7 TNA HO 10/37 ⇑
This biography is written by Mary Clayton for www.londonlives.org