Ubiquitous Theft: The Consumption of London in Mayhew’s Underworld
John Binny’s "Thieves and Swindlers" in Henry Mayhew’s groundbreaking London Labour and the London Poor (1851) uses the motif of the river to chart London’s streets and architecture through categories of theft. From the petty theft of pickpockets to the institutionalized corruption of the commercial centre of Britain’s empire, layers and degrees of stealing physically and ideologically define the city. In this chapter, the environmental decay of the city, figured through the polluted Thames, speaks to the decay across the strata of London society. Criminality is not only as ubiquitous across class, but entrenched in the city’s foundations and flooding the nation beyond London’s boundaries.