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Frequently Asked Questions

Looking for People

  1. I know Jane Coughlan was convicted of burglary in London in 1797 but I can't find her trial details. Can you?
  2. Peter Jones was a defendant in this trial. Can you tell me his date of birth / mother's name / whether he had two sisters called Mary and Jenny?
  3. Can you tell me about Jack Smith?
  4. I've found Oscar Wilde's trial, but it only has the charge and the outcome. Where can I find a full transcript of the trial?

The Old Bailey/Central Criminal Court

  1. We want to visit the Old Bailey and we were wondering if you can help.
  2. I'm looking for details of a trial that took place at the Old Bailey in 1656 / 1918 / 2003 but I can't find them on the site? Where can I find them?
  3. Can you recommend a book which provides a general introduction to the Old Bailey Proceedings and their eighteenth-century context, and/or which includes accounts of some of the most fascinating trials?

Researching Crime and Justice

  1. Can you tell me what the 'benefit of clergy' is?
  2. Can you tell me how many people were transported in the 1780s / what the punishment for kidnapping was after 1800 / what crimes were committed by teenagers in the 18th century?
  3. I'm doing research on the role of judges in 18th century trials? Can you help me?
  4. Can you help me find court records in Portsmouth / information about prisons in Scotland / burial records in Shropshire.

Copyright Questions

  1. I want permission to use an image / transcripts from the site / link to the site.

User Accounts

  1. I'm trying to register but I can't make out that gobbledygook in the form and it won't let me through. Please help!
  2. I've lost my password. What can I do?

Looking for People

1) I know Jane Coughlan was convicted of burglary in London in 1797 but I can't find her trial details. Can you?

There are a number of ways in which you can make your search more successful

  • try a keyword search as well as a name search.
  • widen your search - for example, try putting in just the surname or using a wider date range.
  • try variant spellings (particularly of names and places) or use a wildcard, as explained in the help sections of the name and keyword search pages.
  • try different searches - if you know the crime or the punishment and the date, a Crime, Verdict and Punishment search may return useful matches that a name search doesn't.
  • use as much information as you know to identify matches - maybe you know the names of other people involved in the trial, or you know the place that the crime was committed - you can try a keyword search to see if you can identify relevant matches.

If you still can't find the relevant records, the trial may have taken place in another court, perhaps the quarter sessions (which dealt with less serious offences) or an assizes court outside London. If you can't find a record and you think it should be there, we can investigate to check that it isn't a technical fault with the site but in the majority of cases, we are unable to locate any more information than a user could.

2) Peter Jones was a defendant in this trial. Can you tell me his date of birth / mother's name / whether he had two sisters called Mary and Jenny?

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey are accounts of the trials heard at the Old Bailey. There may be biographical information revealed within the trials - a wife or brother may be called as a witness or referred to in testimony or the age of a defendant may be used to argue for a lighter sentence. This information is very limited and the only way to find it is to read the trial transcripts and see whether they contain it. You can do a name or keyword search for Peter Jones, read the transcripts of the trials that are relevant to him and see if any biographical information is available about him but in the majority of cases, this is unlikely to provide much biographical information. You can also look at any associated records listed for the trial. Beyond this, there are a number of other sources for studying individual lives from this period--consult the bibliography and the libraries and archives listed on the Associated Records page. We are unable to help you conduct research in sources other than those reproduced on this site.

3) Can you tell me about Jack Smith?

We only have access to the information that is publicly available on the site so if you can't find any information, then it is unlikely that we will be able to. For tips on successfully searching the site, see FAQ 1. The more information you have about the records you are searching for, the more likely we are to be able to help you if you still can't locate information after following the tips above. A request for information based on name alone is unlikely to result in useful matches - information such as a date range, crime or punishment make a successful search more likely.

4) I've found Oscar Wilde's trial, but all it has is the charge and the outcome. Where can I find a full transcript of the trial?

Our database contains the complete text of the original printed trial reports. Very occasionally, text may have been missed out accidentally; this can be easily checked by viewing the images of the original pages, and you should let us know if this has happened.

However, many cases were only reported very briefly. The Proceedings was not an official transcript of court proceedings and the reports were always selective, but a number of circumstances were particularly likely to produce very truncated reports. Many less serious misdemeanours were of little interest to the reporters and so they gave only the barest information about them. From the late 18th-century onwards, there was a growing reluctance to discuss sexual offences, especially homosexuality, in any detail. Finally, it must be remembered that when defendants pleaded guilty, which was increasingly common from the 1820s onwards, there would be very little to report.

Unfortunately for researchers today, there was no legal requirement to take full shorthand transcripts of trial proceedings before the early 20th century and for the vast majority of 'ordinary' trials in London, the Proceedings provide the fullest record available. You may however be able to find more information about a particular case in newspapers or pamphlets, or in the manuscript court records; see also this useful online guide.

The Old Bailey/Central Criminal Court

1) We want to visit the Old Bailey and we were wondering if you can help.

Sorry, we are not the Old Bailey and we have nothing to do with the day-to-day running of the Central Criminal Court (or Old Bailey, as it is often known). You need to contact them directly with queries about visits, work experience or current and recent cases. More information on the Old Bailey can be found here.

2) I'm looking for details of a trial that took place at the Old Bailey in 1656 / 1918 / 2003 but I can't find them on the site? Where can I find them?

Unfortunately, we can't help you with this enquiry. The Proceedings of the Old Bailey website provides details of 200,000 trials from 1674 to 1913 but we cannot assist you with details of trials outside these dates.

3) Can you recommend a book which provides a general introduction to the Old Bailey Proceedings and their eighteenth-century context, and/or which includes accounts of some of the most fascinating trials?

You might find the following book, written by the project directors, of interest: Tim Hitchcock and Bob Shoemaker, Tales from the Hanging Court (Hodder Arnold, 2006). Beyond this, consult the introductory reading sections on the historical background pages for a wide range of suggestions for relevant reading.

Researching Crime and Justice

1) Can you tell me what the 'benefit of clergy' is?

We have tried to provide explanations of unfamiliar historical and / or legal terms on the website. Many phrases are explained in the glossary. If you can't find the answer here, you may find it within the Historical Background pages, which provide more in-depth information on topics such as crimes and punishments. For example, a detailed explanation of the term 'benefit of clergy' can be found on the Punishments page.

If you can't find the answer within the glossary or the Historical Background pages, let us know - you may have found something that we need to add to the glossary.

2) Can you tell me how many people were transported in the 1780s / what the punishment for kidnapping was after 1800 / what crimes were committed by teenagers in the 18th century?

You may find the Statistical search useful. This allows you to view this type of summary information in a variety of formats (pie chart, bar chart or table).

3) I'm doing research on the role of judges in 18th century trials? Can you help me?

We're glad that you've found the Proceedings of the Old Bailey website and we hope that you will find it a useful research tool. You can find a discussion of the value of the Proceedings as an historical resource here. In addition to trial transcripts, there is information.

If you can't find the information that you need in these places, or elsewhere on the site, and you feel it is something that could or should be added to the site, please let us know as we are continually considering improvements to the site. However, if you need information that is beyond the scope of the Proceedings of the Old Bailey or you would like information on other resources that might assist your research, we are unlikely to be able to help.

4) Can you help me find court records in Portsmouth / information about prisons in Scotland / burial records in Shropshire.

We receive lots of queries asking us to direct people to other resources. Increasingly, these sorts of resources are becoming available online and it is impossible for us to keep track of what is available and how it can be accessed. We are happy to answer questions on the Proceedings of the Old Bailey and provide advice on searching the site in order to find out if any of the information it contains is useful for your research but we are unlikely to be able to help you identify other websites / resources that you might find useful.

Copyright Questions

1) I want permission to use an image / transcripts from the site / link to the site.

All material on the Proceedings of the Old Bailey website is made available free of charge for individual, non-commercial use only. For information concerning the copyright ownership of all images on the site see the Copyright Information and Citation Guide. Please contact the relevant archive or library directly. For permission to reproduce text from the transcribed text of the Proceedings, or the historical background pages, please contact us. We consider all requests on an individual basis and will respond to your request as soon as possible.

User Accounts

1) I'm trying to register but I can't make out that gobbledygook in the form and it won't let me through. Please help!

The distorted text in the registration form that you're asked to type is known as a CAPTCHA and is designed to prevent spam registrations. Unfortunately, these have become so difficult to read that they defeat many human readers. We're very sorry about this and will be looking into possible alternatives in the future.

In the meantime you have two alternatives. To the right of the CAPTCHA text there is a column with three blue buttons: the top button allows you to refresh the CAPTCHA so you can try again; eventually it will usually produce something readable; or, the middle button is an audio alternative to the text which you might find easier to use.

2) I've lost my password. What can I do?

You will need your username and the email address you used when you signed up in order to retrieve a lost password. If you have these, there is a form here. This will email you a new password. If you can't remember those pieces of information or the email address is no longer accessible, you may have no alternative but to open a new account.

Contact Us

We hope that you have found the answer to any questions that you may have about the Proceedings of the Old Bailey website. If you still have a question about the Proceedings of the Old Bailey that you feel we may be able to help you with, or if you want to give feedback on the site or report an error, please email us at oldbailey@sheffield.ac.uk.