On the morning of 4 May 1840, Edward Oxford stepped out of his lodgings in West Place, West Square, at the Lambeth border of Southwark, and set off eastwards into the heart of that densely populated, proletarian district south of the Thames. He was eighteen, though his diminutive stature and baby face made him look much younger. He was—unusually for him—suddenly prosperous, with £5 in his pocket. And, for the first time in ages, he was free: unemployed by choice, and finally able to pursue the ambition that had been driving him for some time. He set off into what Charles Dickens called the “ganglion” of Southwark’s twisted streets, his destination a small general goods store on Blackfriars Road.
Behind him lay one of the very rare green expanses within the gritty boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark. West Square, where Oxford, quitting his job in the West End, had moved four days before to be with his mother, his sister, and her husband, was one of the very few gardened squares on that side of the river. The square was meticulously maintained and gave this neighborhood an unusual air of gentility. And directly to the west of the square, a stone’s throw away, a bucolic English-style garden relieved the area from the surrounding urban sprawl. This greenery, however, was not part of a public park—no such thing existed in Southwark at the time—but rather the connected grounds of two institutions. Directly adjacent to West Square stood the Bridewell House of Occupation, a home and school to indigent children. And behind this rose the cupola of an immense neoclassical building: Bethlem Hospital for the Insane.
Southwark had been for the last twenty-five years the latest location of Bedlam, or Bethlem Hospital, which had held many of London’s insane since the fourteenth century. Behind Bethlem’s walls operated a carefully structured world within a world designed to deal with different degrees and classifications of insanity. And, at the extremities of the hospital, segregated from the rest of the hospital and, with high walls, from the world outside, lay the feature that made Bethlem unique: it housed England’s only purpose-built facility for the criminally insane. Communication between the worlds inside and outside the asylum was largely restricted to sound: the occasional shrieks of the patients might have carried as far as West Square; the clanking and clattering of industrial South London must have intruded upon the disturbed thoughts of the patients.
But on this day, if Edward Oxford was even aware of Bethlem’s world within a world, he was headed away from it, literally and figuratively. He had his entire life largely kept himself—his dreams and his plans—to himself. Today, however, that would change. Today, Oxford would take a major step toward recognition by all of London—by the world. Today, he would buy his guns.
Back in his room at West Square, Oxford kept a locked box. When, five weeks later, the police smashed its lock and opened it, they found the cache of a secret society: a uniform of sorts—a crepe cap tied off with two red bows—and, neatly written on two sheets of foolscap, a document listing the rules and regulations of an organization optimistically named “Young England.” The documents revealed Young England to be a highly disciplined insurrectionary body.
The card security code is an added safeguard for your credit/debit card purchases. Depending on the type of card you use, it is either a three- or four-digit number printed on the back or front of your credit/debit card, separate from your credit/debit card number. To make shopping at Book-of-the-Month Club®
even more secure, we require that you enter this number each time you make a credit/debit card purchase. Please note that your security code will not be stored with us even if you have saved your credit/debit card information.