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Jonathan
Wild rose to power at a time in London where crime was prevalent, and a lot of
people wanted something done about it. Wild became very well known to the
people of London as well as befriending criminals and becoming a leader of the
cities underworld, known as a man who could get something done. The empire in
which he constructed was built on the foundation of hiring thieves to steal
from people, hand the stolen goods to Wild, then he would sell the item back to
the original owner, satisfying them as they had their item retrieved, Wild
received some of the money and paid the thieves with the rest. Despite his
success, his scheme did not last forever.

Born
in Wolverhampton in 1682, “Wild began his early employment as a buckle maker” (Jeffers, 2014) suggesting there was
nothing out of the ordinary regarding his childhood, and went on to marry in
his teenage years and have a child with his wife. Despite having a family, Jonathan
left them whilst in his early twenties and headed to London where he made a
living applying his trade however didn’t find much success and found himself in
debt after a few years. “It didn’t take him long to end up in debtor’s prison
where he mingled with members of the criminal class.” (Taylor, 2017)

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Wood
Street Compter is the prison Wild served his four years, however not all was
bad, as he saw opportunity and made the most of his predicament. Delivering
messages and completing tasks are just some of the things Jonathan did to get
close to the guards of the prison and build a good relationship between them
which came with benefits. The guards trusted Wild. “He became so trusted that
the guards allowed him to accompany them out to capture criminals” (Conliffe, 2016) Prison also
presented him with a great opportunity to learn more about London’s underworld
and how it worked from people who had first hand experience. He formed
relationships with people he believed could be useful down the line and met a
woman named Mary Milliner, who was a prostitute. Once released from prison,
Jonathan and Mary had an effective scheme they used on unsuspecting men at
night. Mary would seduce and entice the suspect and lead them down an alley
way, and whilst distracted, Wild would come from behind and knock the victim
unconscious and proceed to take everything they had on them. Operating this way
gained the two a lot of money quick, and had enough that they decided to buy a
pub known as the Kings Head.

Under
the management of Wild and Milliner, the pub became a frequent for thieves and
other delinquents, most likely due to the number of contacts in the underworld
Mary had. Because of this, and complaints he had heard from some of the thieves
about low-profit deals they had been receiving, he became a fence, which was common
for a man in his position, buying stolen items from these thieves and selling
them on to other people for a higher price, satisfying everyone. “The law had
begun to crack down on this trade though, with increasingly strong sentences
being passed on those caught selling or buying stolen property.” (Conliffe, 2016) Wild would rather
avoid being arrested again so devised a new scheme to make large profits for everyone
involved in the process. Jonathan sent word to all the thieves he knew well
enough to trust and pitched his idea to them, hoping to gain their approval. “When
they made prize of anything, they should deliver it to him, instead of carrying
it to the pawnbroker, saying he would restore the goods to the owners, by which
means greater sums might be raised, while the thieves would remain perfectly secure
from detection.” (Anon., n.d.)

The
plan took place effectively immediately, with Wild setting up an office
offering to retrieve peoples stolen goods. “Victims of robbery would come to
Wild and ask for assistance in retrieving their stolen property. Wild would
gladly oblige, for a price.” (Wright, 2009) However, there was a
very high chance that Wild already had the customers stolen items in his
possession, or knew where he would be able to find due to the thieves and
agents he had working for him. So Wild would give the customer back their
property once they had payed for his services, and then he would give the thief
who stole it a cut of the money as well. This operation proved very profitable
and gained Wild a higher reputation both to the people needing his service and
to the cities underworld.

Jonathan
Wild, also going by the name thief taker general at this point, started to attract
the attention of Charles Hitchen. Charles was the public official responsible
for keeping order in London’s streets, but was also in the same line of work as
Wild. Hitchens got into contact with Wild as he wasn’t as secretive as the thief
taker 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 and
did it properly. Charles and Jonathan spent some time partnered with each other
with Wild doing what was expected of him, but when Hitchen was reinstated and
no longer feared for his job, he saw no further use for Wild, which would prove
to be a big mistake. Currently these two were the biggest players in London’s
underground and they were battling it out for total control. Inevitably Wild
emerged victorious in the end. One factor that contributed greatly to Wilds
success 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 him
or handing them over to the authorities and getting paid for it, as well as
exposing Charles more as time went on. “Hitchen attempted to expose Wild as a
fraud, 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 kept
his office, he was essentially powerless.” (Conliffe, 2016)

With
there no one to properly stand in his way, Wild spread his empire and network
of thieves further than before. He had different gangs of thieves in different
parts of London stealing goods and selling them back. Anyone that stood in his
way he had arrested, that includes gang members too. “Because he had the
persona of an upstanding citizen, his men could not speak out against him
without knowing both Wild’s wrath and that of the general public.” (Jeffers, 2014) Wild was untouchable
and nobody could stop him, or so it seemed.

Arguably
the biggest mistake Wild made whilst at the top was his decision to imprison a
highwayman called Joseph Blake, also known as ‘Blueskin’ and a thief known as
Jack 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 employ
Sheppard into his own ranks but after being declined decided having him
arrested would be the best course of action. 

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