Girl gang's grip on London underworld revealed

Girl gangs might sound like a modern British problem, but new research has revealed an all-female crime syndicate had a firm and pitiless grip on London as far back as the 18th century.

Forgotten stashes of photographs, records and letters have revealed that although the capital was carved into different fiefdoms by various male villains, one all-female gang ruled part of the gangland underworld for almost two centuries.

The all-female Forty Elephants or Forty Thieves worked alongside the notorious Elephant and Castle gang, a sprawling, powerful army of all-male smash-and-grab artists, burglars, receivers, hard men and crafty villains operating across south London. The Forty Elephants, in contrast, was a tightly run, neatly organised collection of cells, whose operations extended across London and into other cities.

Presided over by a formidable "queen", the Forty Elephants were responsible for the largest shoplifting operation ever seen in Britain between the 1870s and 1950s. The gang was first mentioned in newspapers in 1873, but police records suggest it had existed since the late 1700s.
Dressed in specially tailored coats, cummerbunds, muffs, skirts, bloomers and hats sewn with hidden pockets, they mounted raids on London's West End shops, where they plundered goods worth thousands of pounds.
They became so well known in London that panic erupted when they were seen near high-class shops. The gang's response was to branch out, expanding their enterprise to country and seaside towns.

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We tend, perhaps due to the speed of the internet delivering ever-faster the news into our hands, to think of crime as forever growing worse.

Not necessarily so.