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A cadger's map of Kent

A cadger's map of Kent

Keeping on with the theme of Victorian social history, in a recent house-call I picked up a latish edition of John Camden Hotton’sSlang Dictionary, 1885. Not of great commercial value, but irresistible. Hotton himself is fun - a bookseller, publisher (and pornographer) who founded Chatto & Windus. There’s a peculiar English fascination with slang and cant which stretches back over four centuries, at least, and I’m as susceptible as the next person! (Julie Coleman covers the entire subject in four highly entertaining volumes: A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries, 1567-1984; OUP, 2004-2010). And of course there’s a map - a woodcut frontispiece which is repeated on the front cover (where it is blocked in gilt). The title simply describes it as ‘a cadger’s map of a begging district’ but the according to the text it is a ‘correct facsimile’ of an actual map of a locality near Maidstone in Kent. Hence the inclusion of various extraneous doodles, interpreted by Hotton as sketches of ‘a favourite or noted female’ (Three Quarter Sarah) a cadger, and as the reckoning of a day’s earnings for three tramps (13 shillings: not bad at all if one is thinking in terms of average earnings but less satisfactory using the retail price index.


The hieroglyphs are a coded way of sharing information: no good (too poor, and know too much); bone (good, but cheese your patter); cooper’d (spoilt by too many tramps calling there); gammy (unfavourable … mind the dog); flummoxed (dangerous, sure of a month in “quod”). Hotton suggested a Romany origin for the hieroglyphs, not entirely unreasonable in itself (there are links with cant), but he then runs riot with the possibility that they were therefore of great antiquity: “How strange it would be if some modern Belzoni or Champollion …discovered in these beggars’ marks traces of ancient Egyptian or Hindoo sign-writing!” It hasn’t happened yet …


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