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Night RaidersBurglary and the Making of Modern Urban Life in London, 1860-1968$
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Eloise Moss

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198840381

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198840381.001.0001

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The Cat Burglar as London’s Rooftop Threat

The Cat Burglar as London’s Rooftop Threat

(p.89) 4 The Cat Burglar as London’s Rooftop Threat
Night Raiders

Eloise Moss

Oxford University Press

First described in 1907, ‘cat’ burglars’ reputation as extraordinarily athletic thieves and rooftop-dwellers was cemented during the 1920s, when the feline burglars appeared to ransack the West End mansions of the wealthy with frightening regularity—according to the press. Disregarding the regulated concourse of the street to reach their victims via window, wall, and roof, cat burglars forever altered received wisdom on how London as an environment could be manipulated and experienced, and how it needed to be policed. The fact that all this took place at night as well gave added lustre to these thieves’ well-publicized exploits. An entirely new sub-category of crime thus emerged as space, time, and identity became intertwined around burglary. Concurrently, the material residue of cat burglars’ rooftop escapades—broken tiles and drainpipes, soil-marks on walls, etc.—encouraged new modes of policing and regulation based on the developing practice of forensic science. This chapter considers the geographical signifiers associated with burglars’ activities across the ‘public’ spaces of the city. It argues that accounts of burglars’ unusual mobility when travelling to victims’ houses evoked fears surrounding the erosion of London’s social boundaries, through suburbanization bringing working, middle, and upper classes into closer proximity than ever before, and via disruptive new modes of travel such as the car and Underground railway. In so doing, it shows that contemporary understandings of how London as an environment could be manipulated and experienced were fundamentally revised in relation to burglary.

Keywords:   cat burglar, forensic science, environment, city, police, suburbs, criminal mobility

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