Cony-Catching - A Pleasant Discovery of the cozenage of Colliers.

A Pleasant Discovery of the cozenage of Colliers.

            ALTHOUGH (courteous Readers) I did not put in amongst the laws of cozening, the law of legering, which is a deceit wherewith colliers abuse the commonwealth, in having unlawful sacks, yet take it for a petty kind of craft or mystery, as prejudicial to the poor, as any of the other two, for I omitted divers other devilish vices; as the nature of the lift, the black art, & the curbing law, which is the filchers and thieves that come into houses or shops, & lift away anything: or picklocks, or hookers at windows, though they be as species and branches to the table before rehearsed. But leaving them, again to our law of legering. Know therefore, that there be inhabiting in & about London, certain caterpillars (colliers I should say) that term themselves (among themselves) by the name of legers who for that the honourable the L. Mayor of the city of London, & his officers, look strictly to the measuring of coals, do (to prevent the execution of his justice,) plant themselves in & about the suburbs of London, as Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Southwark, & such places, and there they have a house or yard, that hath a back gate, because it is the more convenient for their cozening purpose, and the reason is this; the leger, the crafty collier I mean, riseth very early in the morning, and either goeth towards Croydon, Whetstone, Greenwich, or Romford, and there meeteth the country colliers, who bring coals to serve the market: there, in a forestalling manner, this leger bargainth with the country collier for his coals, and payeth for them nineteen shillings or twenty at the most, but commonly fifteen and sixteen, and there is in the load 36 sacks: so that they pay for every couple about fourteen pence. Now having bought his coals, every sack containing full four bushels, he carrieth the country collier home to his legering place, and there at the back gate causeth him to unload, and as they say, shoot the coals down. As soon as the country collier hath dispatched and is gone, then the leger who hath three or four hired men under him, bringeth forth his own sacks, which be long & narow, holding at the most not three bushels, so that they gain in the change of every sack a bushel for their pains. Tush, yet this were somewhat to be borne withal, although the gain is monstrous, but this sufficeth not, for they fill not these sacks full by far, but put into them some two bushels & a half, laying in the mouth of the sack certain great coals, which they call fillers, to make the sack show fair, although the rest be small wilow coals, and half dross. When they have thus not filled their sacks, but thrust coals into them, that which they lay uppermost, is best filled, to make the greater show: then a tall sturdy knave, that is all ragged, and dirty on his legs, as though he came out of the country (for they dirty their hose and shoes on purpose to make themselves seem country colliers:) Thus with two sacks apiece they either go out at the back gate, or steal out at the street side, and so go up and down the suburbs, & sell their coals in summer for fourteen and sixteen-pence a couple, and in winter for eighteen or twenty. The poor cooks & other citizens that buy them, think they be country colliers, that have left some coals of their load, and would gladly have money, supposing (as the statute is) they be good and lawful sacks, are thus cozened by the legers, & have but two bushels and a half for four bushels, and yet are extremely racked in the price, which is not only a great hindrance to her Majesty's poor comons, but greatly prejudicial to the master colliers, that bring true sacks & measure out of the country. Then consider (gentle readers) what kind of cozenage these legers use, that make of thirty sacks some 56, which I have seen, for I have set down with my pen how many turns they have made of a load, and they make 28, every turn being two sacks, so that they have got an intolerable gains by their false measure. I could not be silent seeing this abuse, but thought to reveal it for my country's commodity, and to give light to the worshipful justices, and other her Majesty's officers in Middlesex, Surrey, and elswhere, to look to such a gross cozenage, as contrary to a direct statute, doth defraud & impoverish her Majesty's poor commons. Well may the honourable and worshipful of London flourish, who carefuly look to the country coals, & if they find not 4 bushels in every sack, do sell them to the poor as forfeit, & distribute the money to them that have need, burning the sack, & honouring or rather dishonouring the pillory with the colliers' dirty faces: & well may the honourable & worshipful of the suburbs prosper, if they look in justice to these legers who deserve more punishment than the statute appoints for them, which is whipping at a cart's tail, or with favour the pillory.

A Plain Discovery.

            For fuel or firing being a thing necessary in a commonwealth, and charcoal used more then any other, the poor not able to buy by the load, are fain to get in their fire by the sack, & so are greatly cozened by the retail. Seeing therefore the careful laws her Majesty hath appointed for the wealth of her commons, and succour of the poor, I would humbly entreat all her Majesty's officers, to look into the life of these legers, and to root them out, that the poor feel not the burden of their unconscionable gains. I heard with my ears a poor woman of Shoreditch who had bought coals of a leger, with weeping tears complain and rail against him in the street, in her rough eloquence calling him cozening knave, & saying, 'tis no marvel, villain (quoth she) if men compare you colliers to the devil, seeing your consciences are worser then the devil's, for he takes none but those souls whom God hates: and you undo the poor whom God loves.
            What is the matter good wife (quoth I) that you use such invective words against the collier: a collier sir, (saith she) he is a thief and a robber of the common people. I'll tell you sir, I bought of a country collier two sacks for thirteen-pence & I bought of this knave three sacks, which cost me 22 pence: and sir, when I measured both their sacks, I had more in the two sacks by three pecks, then I had in the three. I would (quoth she) the Justices would look into this abuse, and that my neighbours would join with me in a supplication, and by God I would kneel before the Queen, and entreat that such cozening colliers might not only be punished with the bare pillory, (for they have such black faces, that no man knows them again, and so are they careless) but that they might leave their ears behind them for a forfeit: & if that would not mend them, that Bull<22> with a fair halter might root them out of the world, that live in the world by such gross and dishonest cozenage. The collier hearing this, went smiling away, because he knew his life was not looked into, & the woman wept for anger that she had not some one by that might with justice revenge her quarrel. There be also certain colliers that bring coals to London in barges, and they be called Gripers, to these comes the leger, & bargains with him for his coals, & sells by retail with the like cozenage of sacks as I rehearsed before. But these mad legers (not content with this monstrous gain) do besides mix among their other sacks of coals, store of shruff dust and small coal, to their great advantage. And for proof hereof, I will recite you a matter of truth, lately performed by a cook's wife upon a cozening collier.

How a Cook's wife in London did lately serve a Collier for his cozenage.

            IT chanced this summer that a load of coals came forth of Kent to Billingsgate, and a leger bought them, who thinking to deceive the citizens, as he did those in the suburbs, furnished himself with a couple of sacks, and comes up Saint Mary Hill to sell them: a cook's wife bargained with the collier and bought his coals, and they agreed upon fourteen pence for the couple: which being done, he carried the coals into the house, and shot them: and when the wife saw them, and perceiving there was scarce five bushels for eight, she calls a little girl to her, and bade her go for the Constable: for thou cozening rogue, quoth she, (speaking to the collier) I will teach thee how thou shalt cozen me with thy false sacks, whatsoever thou doest to others, and I will have thee before my Lord Mayor: with that she caught a spit in her hand, and swore if he offered to stir, she would therewith broach him; at which words the Collier was amazed, and the fear of the pillory put him in such a fright, that he said he would go to his boat, & return again to answer whatsoever she durst object against him, and for pledge hereof (quoth the collier) keep my sacks, your money, and the coals also. Whereupon the woman let him go, but as soon as the collier was out of doors, it was needless to bid him run, for down he gets to his boat, & away he thrusts from Billingsgate, and so immediately went down to Wapping, and never after durst return to the cook's wife to demand either money, sacks or coals.

How a Flax-wife and her neighbours used a cozening Collier.

            NOW gentlemen by your leave, and hear a mery jest: There was in the suburbes of London a flax-wife that wanted coals, and seeing a leger come by with a couple of sacks, that had before deceived her in like sort, cheapened, bargained & bought them, & so went in with her to shoot them in her coalhouse. As soon as she saw her coals she easily guessed there was scarce six bushels, yet dissembling the matter, she paid him for them, and bade him bring her two sacks more: the collier went his way, & in the meantime the flax-wife measured the coals, and there was just five bushels and a peck. Hereupon she called to her neighbours; being a company of women, that before time had also been pinched in their coals, and showed them the cozenage, & desired their aid to her in tormenting the collier, which they promised to perform, & thus it fell out. She conveyed them into a back room (some sixteen of them) every one having a good cudgel under her apron; straight comes the collier, and saith, Mistress, here be your coals: welcome good collier, quoth she, I pray thee follow me into the back side, & shoot them in an other room. The collier was content, and went with her. but as soon as he was in, the good wife locked the door, and the Collier seeing such a troupe of wives in the room, was amazed, yet said God speed you all shrews, welcome quoth one jolly dame, being appointed by them all to give sentence against him: who so soon as the collier had shot his sacks, said, Sirrah collier, know that we are here all assembled as a Grand Jury, to determine of thy villainies, for selling us false sacks of coals, & know that thou art here indited upon cozenage, therefore hold up thy hand at the bar, & either say, guilty, or not guilty, and by whom thou wilt be tried, for thou must receive condign punishment for the same ere thou depart. The collier who thought they had but jested, smiled & said Come on, which of you shall be my judge? Marry, quoth one jolly dame, that is I, and by God you knave, you shall find I will pronounce sentence against you severely, if you be found guilty. When the collier saw they were in earnest, he said, Come, come, open the door, and let me go: with that five or six started up, and fell upon the collier, and gave unto him half a score of sound lambacks with their cudgels, and bade him speak more reverently to their principal.

            The collier feeling it smart, was afraid, & thought mirth & courtesy would be the best mean to make amends for his villainy, and therefore said he would be tried by the verdict of the smock. Upon this they panelled a jury, and the flax-wife gave evidence; and because this unaccustomed jury requir'd witness, she measured the coals before the collier's face, upon which he was found guilty, & she that sat as principal to give judgement upon him, began as followeth.

            Collier, thou art condemned here by proof, of flat cozenage, and I am now appointed in conscience to give sentence against thee, being not only moved thereunto because of this poor woman, but also for the general commodity of my country, and therefore this is my sentence: we have no pillory for thee, nor cart to whip thee at, but here I do award that thou shall have as many bastinadoes as thy bones will bear, and then to be turned out of doors without sacks or money. This sentence being pronounced, she rose up, and gave no respite of time for the execution, but according to the sentence before expressed, all the women fell upon him, beating him extremely, among whom he lent some lusty buffets. But might overcomes right, and therefore Ne Hercules contra duos.<23> The women so crushed him, that he was not able to lift his hands to his head, and so with a broken pate or two, he was paid, & like Jack Drum<24>, fair and orderly thrust out of doors.

            This was the reward that the collier had, and I pray God all such colliers may be so served, and that good wives when they buy such sacks, may give them such payments, and that the honourable and worshipful of this land, may look into this gross abuse of colliers, as well for charity sake, as also for the benefit of the poor: and so wishing colliers to amend their deceitful and disordered dealings herein, I end.


Prev Next

Back to Introduction