home to those who couldn't afford to live anyplace else.
Life in Wapping and the other poorer districts of London was dirty and dangerous. People often lived fifteen or twenty to a room, in cold, dimly lit, and unstable houses. There was no organized trash collection; chamber pots were dumped out of windows, splattering everyone and everything on the streets below. Manure from horses and other livestock piled up on the thoroughfares, as did the corpses of the animals themselves. London's frequent rains carried away some of the muck, but made the overpowering stench from the churchyards even worse; paupers were buried in mass graves, which remained open until fully occupied. Cold weather brought its own atmospheric hazards, as what little home heating there was came from burning poor-quality coal.
Disease was rampant. Eight thousand people moved to London each year, but the influx barely kept up with the mortality rate. Food poisoning and dysentery carried off on average a thousand a year, and more than eight thousand were consumed by fevers and convulsions. Measles and smallpox killed a thousand more, many of them children, most of whom were already ravaged by rickets and intestinal worms. Between a quarter and a third of all babies died in their first year of life, and barely half survived to see the age of sixteen.
The streets swarmed with parentless children, some of them orphaned by accidents or disease, others simply abandoned on the church steps by parents who were unable to feed them. Overwhelmed parish officials rented babies out to beggars for use as props for four pence (£.016) a day and sold hundreds of five- to eight-year-olds into seven years of slavery for twenty or thirty shillings (£1 to £1.5) apiece. These small children were purchased by chimney sweepers, who sent them down the flues to do the actual cleaning, sometimes while fires were still burning below them, cleaning coal dust without masks or protective clothing. These "climbing boys" soon succumbed to lung ailments and blindness or simply fell to their deaths. Church officials put the children they could not sell back out on the street "to beg about in the daytime and at night [to] sleep at doors, and in holes and corners about the streets," as one witness reported. Large numbers of these hungry, bedraggled urchins roamed the streets together in bands called the Blackguards, so called because they would shine the boots of cavalrymen for small change. "From beggary they proceed to theft," the same Londoner concluded, "and from theft to the gallows."
Not everyone in Wapping was destitute. There were pub keepers and dockworkers, merchants and sailmakers, brothel owners and boardinghouse keepers, even officers and ship captains of modest means. A few prominent craftsmen also lived in the precinct, including a Mr. Lash, who built the queen's carriages, and the brewer Altoway, in whose barrels upward of £1,500 in beer and ale were stored at any given time, awaiting distribution to a thirsty city. London's water supplies were so unhealthy that the entire population drank beer instead, children included. Nearby was Roberts's boatyard, which afforded its workers a grandstand view of the neighborhood's greatest attraction: Execution Dock, where the Admiralty Court sent condemned sailors and captured pirates to meet their maker.
If Charles Vane grew up in Wapping, he would have seen numerous pirate hangings, including those of five of Henry Avery's crew in the fall of 1696, and William Kidd and four other pirates in May of 1701. Vane would have been a boy, but in those days nobody missed an execution: It was one of the most popular forms of entertainment.
The fun started days or weeks ahead of time at Marshalsea or Newgate Prison, where visitors tipped the guards for a chance to gawk at the condemned. On the day of execution, thousands lined the streets along the route to Wapping, waiting for the prisoners to roll by, lashed inside carts and escorted
AK Waters, Vincent Hobbes
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