JonathanWild rose to power at a time in London where crime was prevalent, and a lot ofpeople wanted something done about it. Wild became very well known to thepeople of London as well as befriending criminals and becoming a leader of thecities underworld, known as a man who could get something done. The empire inwhich he constructed was built on the foundation of hiring thieves to stealfrom people, hand the stolen goods to Wild, then he would sell the item back tothe original owner, satisfying them as they had their item retrieved, Wildreceived some of the money and paid the thieves with the rest. Despite hissuccess, his scheme did not last forever.Bornin Wolverhampton in 1682, “Wild began his early employment as a buckle maker” (Jeffers, 2014) suggesting there wasnothing out of the ordinary regarding his childhood, and went on to marry inhis teenage years and have a child with his wife.
Despite having a family, Jonathanleft them whilst in his early twenties and headed to London where he made aliving applying his trade however didn’t find much success and found himself indebt after a few years. “It didn’t take him long to end up in debtor’s prisonwhere he mingled with members of the criminal class.” (Taylor, 2017)WoodStreet Compter is the prison Wild served his four years, however not all wasbad, as he saw opportunity and made the most of his predicament. Deliveringmessages and completing tasks are just some of the things Jonathan did to getclose to the guards of the prison and build a good relationship between themwhich came with benefits. The guards trusted Wild. “He became so trusted thatthe guards allowed him to accompany them out to capture criminals” (Conliffe, 2016) Prison alsopresented him with a great opportunity to learn more about London’s underworldand how it worked from people who had first hand experience. He formedrelationships with people he believed could be useful down the line and met awoman named Mary Milliner, who was a prostitute. Once released from prison,Jonathan and Mary had an effective scheme they used on unsuspecting men atnight.
Mary would seduce and entice the suspect and lead them down an alleyway, and whilst distracted, Wild would come from behind and knock the victimunconscious and proceed to take everything they had on them. Operating this waygained the two a lot of money quick, and had enough that they decided to buy apub known as the Kings Head. Underthe management of Wild and Milliner, the pub became a frequent for thieves andother delinquents, most likely due to the number of contacts in the underworldMary had. Because of this, and complaints he had heard from some of the thievesabout low-profit deals they had been receiving, he became a fence, which was commonfor a man in his position, buying stolen items from these thieves and sellingthem on to other people for a higher price, satisfying everyone. “The law hadbegun to crack down on this trade though, with increasingly strong sentencesbeing passed on those caught selling or buying stolen property.” (Conliffe, 2016) Wild would ratheravoid being arrested again so devised a new scheme to make large profits for everyoneinvolved in the process. Jonathan sent word to all the thieves he knew wellenough to trust and pitched his idea to them, hoping to gain their approval. “Whenthey made prize of anything, they should deliver it to him, instead of carryingit to the pawnbroker, saying he would restore the goods to the owners, by whichmeans greater sums might be raised, while the thieves would remain perfectly securefrom detection.
” (Anon., n.d.
)Theplan took place effectively immediately, with Wild setting up an officeoffering to retrieve peoples stolen goods. “Victims of robbery would come toWild and ask for assistance in retrieving their stolen property. Wild wouldgladly oblige, for a price.” (Wright, 2009) However, there was avery high chance that Wild already had the customers stolen items in hispossession, or knew where he would be able to find due to the thieves andagents he had working for him. So Wild would give the customer back theirproperty once they had payed for his services, and then he would give the thiefwho stole it a cut of the money as well. This operation proved very profitableand gained Wild a higher reputation both to the people needing his service andto the cities underworld.
JonathanWild, also going by the name thief taker general at this point, started to attractthe attention of Charles Hitchen. Charles was the public official responsiblefor keeping order in London’s streets, but was also in the same line of work asWild. Hitchens got into contact with Wild as he wasn’t as secretive as the thieftaker general was and worried it was going to cost him his job and reputation,and partnered with him to make sure his thieves knew what they were doing anddid it properly.
Charles and Jonathan spent some time partnered with each otherwith Wild doing what was expected of him, but when Hitchen was reinstated andno longer feared for his job, he saw no further use for Wild, which would proveto be a big mistake. Currently these two were the biggest players in London’sunderground and they were battling it out for total control. Inevitably Wildemerged victorious in the end. One factor that contributed greatly to Wildssuccess was the fact Hitchen previously had Jonathan watch over all his thieves,so he knew all their identities, forcing them to either come and work for himor handing them over to the authorities and getting paid for it, as well asexposing Charles more as time went on. “Hitchen attempted to expose Wild as afraud, but Wild had a trump card – he knew that Hitchen was a homosexual.
Exposing this fact was enough to demolish Hitchen’s credibility. Though he kepthis office, he was essentially powerless.” (Conliffe, 2016) Withthere no one to properly stand in his way, Wild spread his empire and networkof thieves further than before. He had different gangs of thieves in differentparts of London stealing goods and selling them back.
Anyone that stood in hisway he had arrested, that includes gang members too. “Because he had thepersona of an upstanding citizen, his men could not speak out against himwithout knowing both Wild’s wrath and that of the general public.” (Jeffers, 2014) Wild was untouchableand nobody could stop him, or so it seemed. Arguablythe biggest mistake Wild made whilst at the top was his decision to imprison ahighwayman called Joseph Blake, also known as ‘Blueskin’ and a thief known asJack Sheppard. Sheppard was a known thief in London, and was well respected by society.
He had caught Wilds attention. The thief taker general first attempted to employSheppard into his own ranks but after being declined decided having himarrested would be the best course of action.