Gothic pillory (early 16th century) in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany

I came across a treasure trove of original documents. Millions of pages of old court records.

The NYT has an article about a link known as the Old Bailey link. Remember Rumpole of the Bailey? The TV series about a barrister who argues criminal cases at the Bailey?

Well the Bailey has been around for centuries.

I tend toward the boring and the tedious but this is sooooooooo very interesting to me! And when did boring and tedious ever stop me? Just ask my kids.

 The Old Bailey offers a unique window into the criminal justice system and, by extension, British culture. The free searchable online archive,, contains accounts of nearly 198,000 trials between 1674 and 1913. “It’s the largest body of accurately transcribed historical texts online,” said Tim Hitchcock, a historian at the University of Hertfordshire in England and part of the team. “All of human life is here.”

Oh I hit this link like pancakes in the early morning hours following a hard drinking night at the local university pub!

I picked the year 1700 to begin my descent into history. I found paragraphs discussing this dispostion and that disposition and then after five or so entries I was treated to a ‘special link’ which brought me to a picture of the original document! Just as it was printed on a Guttenberg Press in 1700!

This experience was much more fun than internet porn! Ha

As one can imagine 239 years of criminal proceedings might be difficult to consume, NYT discusses this ‘project’.

Mr. Hitchcock argues that new methods of digitally analyzing and mapping the history of crime using the entire Proceedings will revise “the history of the criminal trial.” After scouring the 127 million words in the database for patterns in a project called Data Mining With Criminal Intent, he and William J. Turkel, a historian at the University of Western Ontario, came up with a novel discovery. Beginning in 1825 they noticed an unusual jump in the number of guilty pleas and the number of very short trials. Before then most of the accused proclaimed their innocence and received full trials. By 1850, however, one-third of all cases involved guilty pleas. Trials, with their uncertain outcomes, were gradually crowded out by a system in which defendants pleaded guilty outside of the courtroom, they said.

Conventional histories cite the mid-1700s as the turning point in the development of the modern adversarial system of justice in England and Colonial America, with defense lawyers and prosecutors facing off in court, Mr. Hitchcock and Mr. Turkel said. Their analysis tells a different story, however.

Here is how it worked for me (so far)

January 15, 1700

The proceedings in question ran from January 15th thru the 19th.

Andrew Andrews , of the Parish of St. Giles in the Fields , was Indicted for Feloniously Stealing 2 Cloath Coats 2 Holland Shirts, 2 Flaxen Shirts, 2 pair of Stockings, and 5 l. in Moneys numbred , the Goods and Moneys of George Norford , on the 27th, of December last; to which Indictment he pleaded Guilty .

Francis Coleman , of the Parish of great St. Bartholomews , was Indicted for privately Stealing out of the Shop of Benjamin Paris , 2 Dozen pair of Mens Kidleather Gloves value 30 s. on the 11th of January last . The Prosecutor said that he found the Prisoner in his Shop, with the Goods upon him. The Prisoner alleadged that he did come to the Shop from one Mr. Williams to fetch such Goods but could not prove it. He was known to the an old Offender, the Jury thereupon found him Guilty .




Walter Terry and James Jones , of the Parish of St Gregories , was Indicted for Feloniously stealing a lack Silk Fur Cap, of the value of 5 s. the Goods of Edward Gilford , on the 30th of December last. It appeared that they were brought before my Lord Mayor Suspicion of having comitted another Fact, and being searcht, the Cap was found upon Terrey; but upon enquiry, it was own’d by Mr. Guilford, who said That it was his Cap, and was taken away from his Stall; but Terrey denied it, saying he bought it of an Ends of Gold and Silver Man in Covent-garden, but could not prove it, nor give any good account of himself; the Jury thereupon found him Guilty , but the Evidence not being sufficient to Convict Jones, he was acquitted .

[Branding. See summary.]


found. The Jury having considered the Matter, found her not Guilty .

Reference Number: t17000115-7

Anne Graham and Elizabeth Barnett , both of the Parish of St. Martin Orgars, in the Ward of Candlewick , were Indicted for Feloniously stealing 13 Yards of Drugget Stuff, value 40 s. the Good of Benjamin Barnsly , on the first of January last. The Prosecutor declared that the Prisoners came into his Shop pretending to buy a Gown and Petti-coat, and whilst he was busy, Graham took the Stuff and conveyed it under her Cloaths; after they had done cheapning, they bid an under Price, and were going away; but he having perceived that Graham took the Stuff, laid hold of her, and brought her into the Shop, where she dropt it. He further declared, That she said when her Mitimus was made to send her to Newgate, that it was but putting her Head into a new fashion Engine, and be burnt in the Munns. The Jury thereupon

See original Click to see original

found her Guilty : But the Evidence against Barnet not being sufficient to Convict her, she was acquitted .

[Death -respited for pregnancy. See summary.]

I will continue to research this major exposition of original court documents but let me tell you what I have surmised so far.

The primary trespass involves shoplifting of one sort or another.

Women and men will visit certain clothing marts and such as possible buyers and shove products into their clothing and abscond with all they think they can get away with.

As in all eras, there are murders and other mayhem.

One line of court proceedings really got to me.

Now we must remember context at all times.

The southern Mediterranean kingdoms were made up primarily of African-European Blacks. These people from the highest of civilizations mirroring the ‘civilizations’ to their north controlled as much of the trade and traffic of the Mediterranean culture as anybody else.

And we must recall that by 1700 A.D. a large percentage of sailors operating throughout the Mediterranean and Europe were Black.

Well one aspect of these court proceedings involved white slave traders who would kidnap Blacks found in Europe (England) and sell them into slavery; sending them to the New World for fun and profit.

I just found it so interesting to see criminal proceedings brought against these slave traders when slave trading of course was not outlawed in the British Isles until the late 18th Century.

These types of proceedings brought the death penalty of course.

The other two main punishments involved ‘branding’ and the whip.

So we see a system is being developed in GB that is rather interesting.

A bloke gets off from time to time for what appears to be a proper analysis of evidence.

Those who are found guilty (by confession or verdict) fall into a few categories.

You are hung.

You are burnt.

You are whipped (whipt, I love spelling)

Now, being burnt carries a biblical theme it seems to me.

A mark of Cain so to speak—although remember the Mark of Cain was meant by the Good Lord to keep Cain safe according to the Bible. Later the parable was skewed so that the Mark of Cain would identify those who had transgressed the Commandments of God.

So, much like the manner in which we treat sex perverts, those who were burnt could be easily identified as having ‘a record’.

At least if you were whipped (and recall that for centuries those of the Cloth would thusly ravage their own bodies) you could hide your scarring with clothing.

As the NYT notes, the first modern prison in England does not appear until 1792—about the same time America saw her first modern prison.

It was as if society did not know exactly what to do with transgressors.

For millennial there seemed to be two choices:

Kill the bugger or exile him.

Socrates took the poison pill so to speak.

Aristotle took the exile without really being offered that choice. In other words he skipped town.

And yet, the debtor’s prison has been around for a long long time.

Something repubs all over this free and fair nation would like to see return as a fiscal measure during these troubled economic times, no doubt.

So to say that there were no ‘modern day prisons’ until 1792 cannot be correct. And these annals demonstrate this time and time again.

There is an illogical approach to those sentenced to debtor’s prison by the way. I mean if you are sentenced to debtor’s prison for a year, how in the hell will you be able to pay back the debt that sent you there?

My take on debtor’s prison (which was in full force and effect in our country years after the Constitution was in force) was that it was a blackmail and extortion racket.

Give us our money or your father/brother/nephew will rot in prison.

Madison procured the monies necessary to get his pal-a former Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court out of stir.

And irony of ironies, both Madison and Jefferson came close to finding themselves in debtors prison due to their own financial quandaries.

That is enough for now.

But I shall delve into an interesting question for me anyway.

Think about how many of those whom we shut away into private and public prisons, offering them $.25 an hour for their work and providing them with nothing after they serve their time.

How many felons at the onset of their criminal prosecutions would have gladly accepted a good whipping or a branding?



13 thoughts on “CRIME & PUNISHMENT

  1. A good whipping or branding might do a world of good. However, it would deprive some corporation from partiticpating with unfettered glee in our capitalist enterprise. Prisons in the U.S. are big business.

    1. I gotta tell ya John, I am into Sherlock now but a third of my time is dedicated to these documents.

      This is incredible.

      I will go into this more when I see you but this all has to do with




      I mean this is where we came from!

      This is where government meets the church….

      I am captivated by this stuff!

      1. I’m ok with sit up straight and eat your vegetables. But the immortal soul part leaves me cold. I see the hand of man driving everything and the hand of god nowhere in sight.

        As for the boundary between church and state. Certain people want to keep moving the damn thing. All they’ve managed to do is confuse the hell out of everybody. And make enemies of persons who would in any other context be their friends.

        I appreciate your interest in jurisprudence as once practiced. However, I’m thinking that it’s all but impossible to make even a casual comparison to what we have today. The basics of right and wrong have morphed into a form that is decidedly unrecognizable. In their present form our laws have created a scheme of social, legal and financial stratification that in theory isn’t supposed to be a part of our republic.

        In systemic terms there comes a time when every system ever invented outlives it’s usefulness. I think we may be at that point. We have this situation where the effectiveness and manageability of government and of our courts are unable to fulfill the need. Even the need itself, at least in civil courtrooms, has been modified. The need now is heavily weighted to benefit a certain constituency characterized by wealth. Any idea of delivering uniformly just results to legal disputes has all but disappeared. Just look at the Roberts court.

        A courtroom circa 1700 is a quaint predecessor of today. In evolutionary terms this Roberts court represents a fairly major upheaval of jurisprudence. I suspect that across the centuries you can trace court actions and clearly identify how this evolution has affected all of society.

        1. There were 190,000 dispositions at the Old Bailey from 1673-1913. So considering the population involved during those years (which I have not researched) it would seem that there were relatively few dispositions every year.

          I assume that most matters were handled ‘in house’. The Lord of the local manner took care of his own.

          Slave holders in the South certainly did not use courts in order to punish their own property!

          Europe at one time had a three tiered court system. There were the clerical courts (The Church), the common law courts and the King’s Court (actually referred to as the Courts of Equity).

          The documents in question refer to the years following the English Revolution. Cromwell is dead in 1658.

          So the development of the Criminal Laws after 1673 represent an entirely new look at the Criminal Laws, the Criminal Courts and the relationship between the government and the new Mercantile Class.

          That’s enough!

          1. Now thats interesting. Your reference to the government and the new Mercantile Class would suggest the beginnings of those changes which today are widely recognized as beneficial to business and commerce and conversely disadvantageous to individuals.

            Were I to have guessed at this I would have dated it at a much later time.

            I wonder if this was in any way associated with guilds that served as labor organizations back then?

        2. To heck with the evolutioon of jurisprudence.

          If you want to know that the invisible rules that determine human behavior and hold any given society together, you go look at what happens when those invisible rules are broken. That’s what this treasure trove documents over a long period of time.

          Not only were the invisible social rules broken, the transgression was considered important enough so that society spent a lot of time and energy trying to punish the transgressors. Those invisible rules become visible and are documented in this collection.

          And those invisible rules are the power society has that forces everyone in it to act in specific ways. Emile Durkheim established that this is the source of the idea of God. The rules exist, we all learn them to fit into society and when we break them there are social pressures and punishments for breaking them. Such invisible forces are given an image to personify them. In more fragmented societies, each separate town has their own image (the city god) and as political alliances come together (polytheism) and empires get formed, a single “god” becomes superior, representing the membership in the empire.

          But the actual ethics represented by these images (gods) are social creations which work to unify each society. It’s the set of guidelines (ethics) we are almost all taught as children.

          This set of documents is a treasure trove of documents showing what caused conflicts at different times and who was involved. (The punishments don’t really matter that much – they document what is known about psychology and getting deviants to conform. Mostly not much.)

          Now if I just knew how data mining worked … Ah yes. Dozens of sociology master’s theses.

          1. I am learning and relearning plenty at this huge site.

            The reporting of sexual crimes changes over the two centuries for instance.

            It became a crime to report the sexual criminal proceedings. ha

            Oh and sentencing….a lot of sentences were commuted by the King.

            And the site of punishments changed so that in the beginning you might be flogged or hung or drawn and quartered at the scene where the felony was committed.

            Sometimes your dead body would be left for all to see as a reminder to other would be felons.

            Indeed this link could be a full college course for an entire year.

            really a fascinating study put together so that there are lectures concerning all facets of the criminal court process over 240 years besides the reports themselves that vary from a paragraph to scores of pages.

            1. When did it become a crime to report the sexual criminal proceedings?

              Victorian era, I’ll bet. Where else could you find good pornography published then? Prior to that, who cared? No repression. But Max Weber says that sexual repression is a characteristic of the petite Bourgeoise, and the Victorian era rather corresponds to when the middle class took control of English society because of the Industrial Revolution.

              That’s mostly a guess on my part about the reasons, of course.

          2. Breaking the invisible rules makes me chuckle.

            What it suggests to me is constraints on people that keeps them from acting in a way that comes natural. This ends up with us all living a lie and being set up for an awful shock when the truth is periodically revealed. Like with 9/11 when the whole damn country went nuts and hasn’t yet settled down. The possibility we might ever be attacked wasn’t a thing we were able to entertain.

            This cockeyed scheme has us all paranoid and crazy and making a general mess of things. All because we can’t bear to acknowledge the truth of our existence.

            1. I’d have to ask what was “natural” for a rather unique animal which communicates with speech and whose brain is only partly developed at birth.

              We absorb the invisible rules regarding how to treat each other along with language. Language, the invisible rules of behavior, everything — it’s called culture. And it’s imposed on each of us as we grow up. Our brains continue to develop into our 20’s and the abilities we are born with but never use are culled out while the abilities we use regularly are increased like muscles which are worked.

              I stumbled onto this article about a new book by Francis Fukuyama several days ago. It’s The Origins of Political Order, Fukuyama’s theory of how human societies have evolved over recent millennia. It appears to me to be an advance over Max Weber’s amazing sociology. Both describe how cultures develop. But culture is all about those invisible rules we are all supposed to know without being told.

              The law, then, is an effort to enforce those rules. Since law has been written down the process of writing has been an effort to make those rules explicit, but we are all supposed to “know” what is right and what is wrong anyway. This fascination collection of documents is a collection of incidents when someone has violated social rules and formal social procedures were applied to “heal” the injury to the social order. Thanks to the development of canon law, the incidents have been documented and judged. Now we can go back and determine what invisible cultural rules were violated because they are exposed in the investigation and judgement process.

              Actually there is an entire process or discipline in sociology called Ethnomethodology which used the process of breaking social rules to force people to make them explicit. Since I have been studying both computer science and sociology for the last year, this was the first thing that I thought of when I read this article.

              dd, this is NOT a boring subject! At least not to some of us.

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