Green’s Dictionary of Slang

charlie n.1

also charley, charleyman

1. a watchman, a beadle [punning cant; supposedly linked to the improvement of the London watch system by Charles I, but no use of the word for 150 years afterwards is recorded].

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang.
[UK]T. Greenwood ‘The Tears of Pierce Egan’ in Hindley James Catnach (1878) 117: The Town felt regret as the bell tolled the news / And no one rejoiced — but the Charleys!
[UK]‘Nocturnal Sports’ in Universal Songster II 179/2: I mills the watchmen-varment. [...] ’Cause, ye see, I hates your cust charleymen.
[US]Commercial Advertiser (N.Y.) 1 Feb. 2/3: The Charlies being called, before [the rowdies] could burn the ken, . . . they were nabbed and carried to the nask, . . . and in the morning brought before the Beak.
[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 68: A good milling was quite familiar to his feelings, a black eye a common occurrence; carried home by the Charleys, out of all calculation.
[UK]‘Lady Barrymore’s Lamentation in Quod’ in Convivialist in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) IV 19: The Charleymen who oft I’ve floor’d, / I know will all rejoice.
[US]N.Y. Times 7 June 2/6: All this the prisoner very calmly submitted to; but when he was requested in a very imperious manner to walk to the watch-house in the custody of a Charley, he showed fight.
Crim.-Con. Gaz 1 Sept. 17/3: His transgressions never exceeded the borrowing of a charleys lantern.
[UK]C. Mackay Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions (1869) 246: Every youth on the town was seized with the fierce desire of distinguishing himself by knocking down the ‘charlies,’ being locked up all night in a watch-house, or kicking up a row among loose women and blackguard men in the low dens of St. Giles’s.
[Aus]Satirist & Sporting Chron. (Sydney) 18 Feb. 4/1: The charleys were soon ‘to the fore’ and with great promptitude, conveyed our hero to durance vile. The cells of a watchhouse were not much to his liking.
[US]‘Ned Buntline’ Mysteries and Miseries of N.Y. I 31: Go on a bender, kick up a row in Leonard street, or bother the ‘Charlies’ a little.
[UK]G.A. Sala Gaslight and Daylight 58: Intimately connected, in association and appearance, with the Jarveys, were the Charleys, or watchmen [...] we used to beat those Charleys, to appropriate their rattles, to suspend them in mid air.
[Ire]Cork Examiner 6 Apr. 4/1: She screamed until the watchman came to her assistance [...] A brother charlie pursued and arrested [the attacker].
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[UK]Dundee Courier (Scot.) 17 May. 7/4: Against the Magistrates and the old Charlies (parish constables) [...] Brine felt the fiercest resentment.
[UK]A. Griffiths Chronicles of Newgate 210: A few feeble watchmen, the sorely-tried and often nearly useless ‘Charlies’.
[UK]A. Morrison Tales of Mean Streets (1983) 21: The night-watchmen — a sort of by-blow of the ancient ‘Charley,’ and himself a fast vanishing quantity — is the real professional.
[UK]Sheffield Dly Teleg. 11 Apr. 9/7: The old watchman, nicknamed ‘Charlie’.
(ref. to late 19C) Dly Gaz. for Middleborough 9 Jan. 2/5: The ‘Charleys’ [...] existed side-by-side with the Bow-street patrols.
[UK]Sun. Post 23 May 9/4: Watchman Bluff Scares Burglars. Strange experinece of ‘Bond Street Charlie’.

2. (US) a policeman.

[US]D. Corcoran Picking from N.O. Picayune 50: Another [policeman] was making a rough draft, with his pencil, of a ‘Charley on duty’.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 27 Feb. 2/3: A good up-standing mill [...] without fear of incurring the displeasure of the beaks, or charleys.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 16 July 2/6: Abraham Lewis was charged with having knocked down Sergeant Swainston. The Charley stated that the prisoner [etc.].
[UK]Eve. Teleg. 30 Aug. 3/3: They made such a noise in the Ram’s Horn churchyard that the attention of a policeman (a ‘Charlie’) was called, and he sprang his rattle.

3. a gold watch [pun on sense 1].

[US]Matsell Vocabulum.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 21 Sept. n.p.: [He was] charged with the larceny of two ‘charleys’ and a half ‘century’ from a lady in the city [...] The watches being valuable — one having no less than ten ‘sparks’ on the case.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).

In compounds

In phrases

get the best of a charlie (v.) [best v.]

to upset a watchman in his box, a popular ‘game’ among upper-class rowdies.

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 231: This song has reminded me of a bit of fun which I had intended, Jerry, to have shown you before you left London. It is ‘Getting the best of a Charley;’ and I will put you up to it before we go to sleep tonight.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.