During the first quarter of the last century, there were formed in the metropolis "Street Clubs," of the inhabitants of the same street; so that a man had but to stir a few houses from his own door to enjoy his Club and the society of his neighbours. There was another inducement: the streets were then so unsafe, that "the nearer home a man's club lay, the better for his clothes and his purse. Even riders in coaches were not safe from mounted footpads, and from the danger of upsets in the huge ruts and pits which intersected the streets. The passenger who could not afford a coach had to pick his way, after dark, along the dimly-lighted, ill-paved thoroughfares, seamed by filthy open kennels, besprinkled from projecting spouts, bordered by gaping cellars, guarded by feeble old watchmen, and beset with daring street-robbers. But there were worse terrors of the night than the chances of a splashing or a sprain,—risks beyond those of an interrogatory by the watch, or of a 'stand and deliver' from a footpad." These were the lawless rake-hells who, banded into clubs, spread terror and dismay through the streets. Sir John Fielding, in his cautionary book, published in 1776, described the dangerous attacks of intemperate rakes in hot blood, who, occasionally and by way of bravado, scour the streets, to show their manhood, not their humanity; put the watch to flight; and now and then murdered some harmless, inoffensive person. Thus, although there are in London no ruffians and bravos, as in some parts of Spain and Italy, who will kill for hire, yet there is no resisting anywhere the wild sallies of youth, and the extravagances that flow from debauchery and wine. One of our poets has given a necessary caution, especially to strangers, in the following lines:—
"Prepare for death, if here at night you roam,
And sign your will before you sup from home;
Some fiery fop with new commission vain,
Who sleeps on brambles 'till he kills his man;
Some frolic drunkard, reeling from a feast,
Provokes a broil, and stabs you in a jest.
Yet, ev'n these heroes, mischievously gay,
Lords of the street, and terrors of the way;
Flush'd as they are with folly, youth, and wine,
Their prudent insults to the poor confine;
Afar they mark the flambeau's bright approach,
And shun the shining train and gilded coach."
Club Life of London Vol. I