Born in 1795 in Birmingham, Jack Hood was the son of a costermonger. He worked his father’s barrow in the Bull Ring market until his late teens when Jack decided there must be more to life than selling fruit and veg. After a variety of manual jobs, Jack ended up as a pikeman, working the turnpike gate on the Birmingham to Wolverhampton road. Jack initially enjoyed his work but being out all hours in all weathers eventually got him down. Jack decided wages of five shillings a week wasn’t enough, so he started pocketing some of the tolls and accepting bribes to allow overweight carts through. Having money to spare led Jack into heavy gambling and drinking.
Whilst spending time in the gambling clubs, Jack realised working in the clubs could be more profitable than gambling and pocketing the odd toll from his turnpike. He gained employment as a doorman in one of the clubs and by the age of 30, Jack was involved in the Birmingham criminal underworld. He was part of a gang that operated at the fairs and prize fights, mingling amongst the crowds picking pockets. The gang were also involved in betting and organising their own prize fights which were often rigged in the gang’s favour. Despite a few minor convictions, Jack was doing well, but by the age of 38 things took a turn for the worse.
At a prize fight there was a violent scuffle with a rival gang resulting in Jack fatally wounding one of his rivals. To avoid arrest Jack fled to London.
Jack settled in the notorious rookery of St. Giles and it wasn’t long before he was once again tempted by the easy money offered by a criminal way of life. Starting off working with a pick pocketing gang, he moved on to robbery and burglary. Later he was taught the art of making fake coins known as ‘coining’, Jack set himself up in a garret where he made moulds and cast up fake crowns, half crowns and shillings. Profits were high but so were the risks and he was always moving around trying to stay one step ahead of the metropolitan police.
Nowadays Jack can usually be seen loitering, looking for an opportunity to make some easy money, sometimes with a pocketful of forged coins waiting to be passed on, or maybe with a silk handkerchief or item of jewellery to sell.