What are Magsmen, Gonophs, Macers, Shofulmen and Screevers?
In my blog on Kellow Chesney’s book The Victorian Underworld I mentioned a few of the underworld’s “technical terms”. Kellow Chesney gives a very comprehensive list at the back of his book, but I think it’s only fair to give an explanation of the ones I mentioned.
They would have been very familiar terms to the characters in our books, and – certainly as far as William Quest goes – many of the characters in that series of books qualify to be included under one or more of these terms.
So here goes:
Magsmen – well basically a cheat or a sharper of the lowest kind – the sort who’d probably try and cheat you in a pub or out on the street. They’re still around so watch out!
Macers – Macers play the same sort of game as magsmen but at a slightly higher level. Think con-artist in modern terms and you’re more or less there.
Gonophs – gonophs are minor thieves and often the less skilled sort of pickpockets. Poverty drove many Victorians to crime in this way. My character William Quest starts his life on the streets as a gonoph, but becomes more skilled as time goes by.
Shofulmen – These individuals were purveyors of bad money. Not uncommon in the earlier decades of the century.
Screevers – Although it became an occasional name for pavement artists, the original screevers were writers of fake testimonials – quite a handy vocation in Victorian times when you might need a phony reference, especially if you’d been dismissed by your employer without a character. My character Jasper Feedle partakes in screeving amongst his other many talents.
If you want to enter the dangerous Victorian Underworld do seek out Kellow Chesney’s book – or if you want to walk the dangerous alleys of Victorian London do try my William Quest novels…