Other Books and Documents about the Crimes Tried at the Old Bailey
The accounts of trials in the Proceedings are the most accessible information available about the crimes tried at the Old Bailey, but they often represent only the tip of an iceberg of surviving evidence about the case. This page describes some of these other richly detailed sources. They can be consulted to find more information about the circumstances of the case, the individuals involved, and the defendant's subsequent history.
Contents of this Article
- Introduction: The Literature of Crime
- Last Dying Speeches
- Criminal Biographies
- Compilations of Trials
- Court Records
- Petitions and Pardons
- Calendars of Prisoners
- Refuge for the Destitute
- Registers of Convicts in Australia
- Novels and Satirical Prints
- Using the Associated Records 1674-1834 Database
- Library and Archive Contact Links
- Introductory Reading
With rising literacy, combined with growing concern about crime, demand for literature about crime skyrocketed in the late seventeenth century, even before the expiration of press licensing in 1695 made such publications easier to produce. Stories about crime seemed to address many of the insecurities of the age, and not just fears about crime. Printed ballads, periodicals, reports of crimes and of apprehending criminals, pamphlets taking the side of defendants or prosecutors, last dying speeches, accounts of executions, and Ordinary of Newgate's Accounts, all became popular in the same years that the genre of trial reporting developed with the advent of the Old Bailey Proceedings. By the early eighteenth century, these genres had contributed to the development of criminal biographies, the novel and the satirical print. By comparing accounts of the same trial in these different publications, one can both discover additional details about the case and also identify the many different ways in which crime was perceived and interpreted in this period.
Over the course of the eighteenth century the market for this literature evolved. In addition to the Proceedings, accounts of individual trials and selected collections of trials were published. The expansion of detailed information about criminal cases available in newspapers and trial reports meant that the more sensationalist and didactic forms of this literature became increasingly implausible, as readers could compare the exaggerated and moralistic tales offered with the detailed accounts they read in other sources. Changing standards of morality led to a silencing of the more lurid sexual details found in early publications. Consequently, by the 1770s some of the more didactic and racy publications were in decline. Even so, throughout the nineteenth century crime, especially in its most violent and spectacular forms, continued to be a money-spinner and an audience-puller for authors ranging from the Chartist G.W.M. Reynolds, with his long-running serial novel The Mysteries of London, to the better-remembered, more respectable Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope.
Following the commemoration of Protestant victims of the Marian persecutions in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), the right of the condemned to speak before their execution (which had been denied to these “martyrs”) was celebrated in English society. The spiritual state of those facing death was widely believed to possess a special truth, even when their misdeeds merited death, and the public wanted to know about their words and actions as they approached death. The right to make a “last dying speech” was publicised at the executions for treason in the 1660s and 1670s, and taken up by those convicted of ordinary crimes.
So that the condemned criminal could face God with a clear conscience, convention dictated that convicts should make a full confession and repentance of their sins in their speeches at the gallows. These speeches were often published as short pamphlets or broadsheets, often including accounts of the behaviour of the condemned at their execution, and some of this material was also reported in the Ordinary's Accounts. The reliability of some of these reports is questionable, however, since some were published before the execution even took place, as appears in plate 11 of William Hogarth's Industry and Idleness (1747), where prominent in the foreground of the image is a woman who is already selling Tom Idle's "last dying speech".
In addition to preparing the criminal to meet his maker, these speeches arguably served to legitimate the criminal justice system to the spectators, since the speakers typically accepted the legitimacy of their conviction and sentence of death. But convicts did not always follow the expected conventions. Some, while confessing their sins, claimed they were innocent of the crime of which they had been convicted, and others complained of injustices in the way their case had been handled. In these ways at least some convicts were able to make their own voices heard.
These broadsides began to disappear in the early nineteenth century, not least because of the appearance of a popular press. By the time of the last public execution in London, that of the Fenian Michael Barrett in May 1868, the last dying speech broadside had given way to the newspaper report.
One of the most popular genres of criminal literature was the criminal biography. Ostensibly such books were meant to teach moral lessons by illustrating the slippery slope by which failure to attend church or engaging in any type of vice would invariably lead to a life of crime. They also purported to warn readers about the tricks criminals used to rob and defraud them (though there was concern that readers with a criminal inclination could also learn a few techniques). But the entertaining tone and titillating detail of some of these books betrayed the fact that these were more often a form of entertainment than of moral instruction.
Publishers seeking material frequently visited Newgate Prison looking for notorious criminals willing to sell their stories. Some attracted more than one biography, and some of the biographies went through multiple editions. Many were subseqently assembled into volumes of collected biographies. Some of these publications purported to be autobiographies. While this is questionable in the sense that it is likely that the texts were heavily edited by publishers, the fact that publishers consistently traded on the "authenticity" of these accounts meant that the voice of the criminal had in some degree to be reproduced.
A particular subset of this genre, which emphasised the religious and moral dimensions of these stories, was the Ordinary of Newgate's Accounts of the lives of convicts executed at Tyburn.
During the late eighteenth century, respectable readers' interests in the lives of ordinary criminals declined. The Ordinary's Accounts ceased publication, and criminal biographies were largely restricted to elite criminals (such as forgerers) or those whose crimes involved elite victims (such as Rhynwick Williams, the "London Monster"). This continued to be the case into the nineteenth century. However, especially towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, a number of middle-class, well-educated offenders – white-collar criminals, Fenians and suffragettes – published noteworthy accounts of their "crimes", trials and imprisonments.
In 1714 Captain Alexander Smith published the first collection of criminal biographies, The History of the Lives of the Most Noted Highwaymen. While this did not rely on trial accounts from the Proceedings, it was perhaps inevitable that publishers would also begin to republish the most interesting trial accounts from the Proceedings in collected volumes. The first was published in 1718-20, and new collections of Select Trials from the Old Bailey were published in 1734-35, 1742, and 1764. The early editions (up to and including 1742) are particularly useful as they often provide more complete transcripts of the trials than was published in the original Proceedings (due to limitations of space).
The trial accounts published in these compilations were often complemented by text taken from other sources, including the Ordinary's Accounts, last dying speeches, and criminal biographies, including Smith's Lives. Later editions of the Select Trials rely more heavily on the more colourful language of the Ordinary's Accounts than the increasingly staid Proceedings. In the 1760s and 1770s as the Proceedings grew longer and more comprehensive readers increasingly relied on publishers to select the most interesting trials for publication in these collections, notably in the Newgate Calendar, first published in 1773 and reissued (with additional cases) periodically throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. If one traces the story of a notorious criminal like the murderess Catherine Hayes (executed in 1726) through these successive compilations, one can see the story edited to focus increasingly on its entertainment value and the moral lessons involved.
Accounts of Old Bailey trials in the Select Trials (1742-43), Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals (1735), The Bloody Register (1764), and Tyburn Chronicle (1768) have been included in the Associated Records database.
From the early eighteenth century, an increasing number of daily, semi-weekly, and weekly newspapers were published in London, and over the course of the century these provided more and more local London news, including reports of crimes, trials, and punishments. There were reports of serious and threatening crimes which had recently occurred (especially murders and highway robberies); accounts of criminal suspects who had been apprehended; accounts of trials at the Old Bailey; and accounts of executions, especially those of notorious criminals or involving rare punishments such as burning at the stake. These reports were not systematic, but they do represent a useful additional source of information, from a non-judicial perspective.
By the late eighteenth century these reports became more extensive, undermining the commercial viability of the Proceedings, since the newspaper accounts were invariably published first. Nonetheless, except perhaps for some notorious cases, newspaper reports of trials were rarely as comprehensive as those provided in the Proceedings. Where the press reports are most useful, particularly in the nineteenth century, is in their increasing provision of descriptive information about the accused and witnesses, together with their reactions and responses in court.
Newspaper reports have not been included in the Associated Records database. The best collection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century London newspapers can be found at the British Library and its newspaper collection in Colindale. A wide range of these newspapers, fully searchable, are now available online via the Times Digital Archive and the Burney Collections in libraries that have signed up for these services.
When victims reported serious crimes, and suspected felons were arrested, Justices of the Peace were required to examine the parties and witnesses and make written records of these examinations. These records often formed the basis of the evidence presented to the grand jury, and subsequently at the trial. When trials were conducted by lawyers these preliminary examinations were also incorporated into prosecution briefs prepared before the trial took place. Other legal documents produced in the course of a trial include letters, affidavits, and warrants.
A remarkable number of these manuscript documents have been preserved, and many provide extensive additional details of the circumstances surrounding crimes as well as the judicial history of prosecutions. Most are located at The National Archives and the London Metropolitan Archives.
Few of these records survive after 1790, with the exception of some City cases from parts of 1818, 1825, 1828, and 1833, and Middlesex cases from 1792, 1796, 1800-12, and 1817-34.
Depositions taken for offences tried at the Old Bailey since 1839 have only been selectively preserved. Those for most of the major offences (e.g. murder, sedition, treason, riot and political conspiracy), together with a 2% random sample of other trials, are preserved in The National Archives.
There were occasions in the course of the legal process when defendants might wish to petition the court about the conduct of their trial. Most importantly, convicted criminals often petitioned for a pardon or to have their punishment reduced, particularly if they had been sentenced to death, and often their friends, relatives, and neighbours sent petitions in support of their case. This was an important exercise, and frequently successful: around 60% of those sentenced to death in the eighteenth century, rising to over 90% in the 1830s, were pardoned. Petitions for pardons and to remit sentences were typically addressed to the monarch in the eighteenth century, and later to ministers. Officials then asked for a report on the case before it was discussed by ministers. During the nineteenth century the developing bureaucracy within the Home Office played an ever-increasing role in these discussions and decision-making. These different processes through time generated some valuable records.
Petitions addressed to the courts may be found in the London Metropolitan Archives. Petitions addressed to the monarch or ministers, together with judges' reports on such cases, and records of decisions and pardons, are kept at The National Archives.
Keepers of Newgate Prison were required to keep records of the prisoners in their custody, from the moment they were committed to await trial to the time they were discharged, either because they had been exonerated or in order to undergo their punishment. Included in the database of Associated Records are references to the calendars for 1693 to 1707 and 1791 to 1834.
For the period 1693 to 1707 the calendars provide evidence of the prisoners' names, why they were there, and in which part of the prison they lodged (and how much the lodging cost).
For the period after 1791 much more information is provided, including some or all of the following:
- eye colour
- hair colour
- physical description
- place of birth
- by whom committed
- date of trial at the Old Bailey
- the sentence
- when and how the sentence was executed.
The information about sentencing is valuable since it includes evidence of pardons and conditional pardons issued after the Proceedings were published. There are annual name indexes and summaries of the total numbers of prisoners executed, pardoned, transported, whipped, etc.
All these records are kept in The National Archives.
Founded in 1806 as a charity for poor able-bodied men and women, in the 1810s and 1820s the Refuge was used by the Old Bailey judges as a reformatory for young convicts who they felt should not be corrupted by commitment to prison. Some convicts were sentenced directly to the Refuge (and can be found by searching for Imprisonment: Other Institution as a punishment type), while others were sent by a more discrete practice in which the convict was fined one shilling and then privately handed over to the Refuge (without this being documented in the Proceedings).
Upon application for admission to the refuge, the convicts were interviewed by a committee and their biographical details recorded. These short life narratives provide valuable details of the lives of the poor. Together with the committee's decision, they are recorded in the minute books of the Refuge and kept at the Hackney Archives Department. 495 cases from between 1812 and 1833 have been transcribed, linked to the relevant Old Bailey trial where possible, and included in the Associated Records 1674-1834 database.
Following the temporary suspension of Transportation during the American War in 1776, transportation resumed in 1787, but with a new destination: Australia.
There are numerous records dealing with convicts transported to Australia in various classes of document kept in The National Archives. Probably the most useful are the Convict Transportation Records that are arranged by ship and run in 19 consecutive volumes from 1787 to 1867. They often provide evidence of the following:
- when and where convicted
Each volume also includes summaries of the numbers of prisoners transported, sometimes broken down by sex and length of sentence. The last entry for the 1833-34 register is for the ship 'George the Third' which sailed for Van Diemen's Land on 12 December 1834. It has been annotated in red "This ship was wrecked by striking on a rock in the mouth of the River Derwent, 12 April 1835". Each convict's entry is annotated as to their fate: drowned, saved, or died on the voyage.
Male prisoners awaiting transportation were often kept in aging ships, known as the hulks, in English rivers and ports until their boat was ready for the trip to Australia. Some died on the hulks and some served their entire sentence on them and were never shipped to the antipodes. Registers of convicts on these ships often survive in Treasury papers in The National Archives since the hulks were run by contractors who who were reimbursed the costs of food and clothing for the convicts that they housed. The records of the hulks typically provide some or all of the following types of information:
- colour of eyes and hair
- description of eyebrows and lashes, nose, mouth, complexion, visage
- height and physical appearance (including tattoos)
- whether able to read and write
- place of birth
- marital status
- when and where convicted
- character (behaviour in gaol, evidence concerning previous convictions)
- how and when discharged (usually to be transported, but some were pardoned).
Records were also kept of convicts while they served their sentence in Australia.
Information is given under some or all of the following headings:
- date of arrival
- name of ship transported in
- master of ship's name
- whether died on the voyage
- where and when tried
- period for which transported
- how disposed of in Australia
In addition, censuses were kept of all convicts in Australia, even after their sentences had expired. Given that these records include those no longer serving their sentence, people convicted many years before the date of the census were included. These records include some or all of the following additional information:
- whether free or in servitude
- whether by absolute pardon, conditional pardon, or ticket of leave
- number of children
- size of farm and number of animals
Many of the volumes are organised alphabetically in surname order. They are kept in The National Archives.
For information on searching for convicts transported to Australia, see the Convicts to Australia website.
The detailed narratives of crimes found in criminal biographies, trial reports, and other published and unpublished records were important antecedents to the novel, which developed as a distinct and increasingly popular genre in the early eighteenth century. A surprising proportion of eighteenth-century novels include accounts of crime. While these works of fiction cannot be linked to individual trials (and are therefore not included in the associated records database), they can provide valuable evidence for historians. Some, most famously Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722), were partially based on real-life criminals and there was a cluster of such novels in the early nineteenth century. William Harrison Ainsworth’s Rookwood (1834, which recounts Dick Turpin’s mythical ride to York) and Jack Sheppard (1839) are the best known examples; and Charles Dickens’s character Fagin (in Oliver Twist, 1839) is often said to have been based on a noted receiver called Isaac "Ikey" Solomon who can been found in the dock of the Old Bailey once in 1810 and several times in the summer of 1830. These entertaining works provide evidence of contemporary ways of thinking about crime and remain well worth reading.
Crime was also a frequent subject matter of contemporary engravings and prints, as many of the illustrations on this website attest. There was a flourishing market in these works, particularly in London, which was their main focus. They could appeal to illiterate and semi-literate audiences, but the frequent inclusion of text suggests that their primary audience was educated. The representations of crime found in these prints are selective, but they are revealing of contemporary attitudes. The crimes of the rich and famous, and more sensational crimes, were depicted while the ordinary thefts which make up the vast majority of Old Bailey trials were ignored. Many prints were morality tales, but the rich details in some, notably those of William Hogarth (in particular Industry and Idleness, 1747), contained different levels of meaning, criticising the behaviour of the judicial authorities as well as that of the idle and immoral poor. Although many prints celebrated the virtues of English law, there were frequent criticisms of lawyers, watchmen, and the police. These sources provide a fascinating commentary on crime and justice in the metropolis.
For the period between 1674 and 1834 (and later for some printed ephemera), when we have been able to link associated records with specific trials this is indicated at the top of the page containing the transcription of the trial. Clicking on this link will take you to specific information about the associated records for that trial. Please be aware that the linkages between the trials and the Associated Records have been created by a largely automated process and are subject to a signficant degree of error. Some 25 per cent of the Associated Records have not been linked to trials.
It is also possible to search the associated records 1674-1834 database separately by name, offence, type of document, library or archive, and date.
It is important to note that this database of 25,000 records, while extensive and covering the most important classes of records and publications, is not comprehensive. We have not been able to identify all associated records, particularly at The National Archives, where parts of its vast collection of records have not yet been catalogued in detail. There will also be additional information available in other printed sources which we have not catalogued, notably newspapers.
Following up the references provided in this database should be the start of a process of research and discovery, not the end!
Further information about the types of records listed is provided on this page.
As indicated in the references provided, books and documents in the associated records database are located in one of the following libraries, archives, or microfilm/fiche collections. All are in London unless otherwise noted.
- All Soul's College, Oxford. You may have to pay a fee (unless you are an academic) and you will need a letter of introduction (unless you are an Oxford graduate). Access to pre-1800 books may be restricted.
- Bank of England Archives
- Bishopsgate Institute
- Bodleian Library, Oxford. You may have to pay a fee (unless you are an academic) and you will need a letter of introduction (unless you are an Oxford graduate). Access to pre-1800 books may be restricted.
- British Library. You will need to obtain a Reader's Ticket in order to use this library.
- Chadwyck Healey Microfiche Collection, "British Trials, 1660-1900". This collection is available in some major libraries, and The National Archives.
- Glasgow University Library, Glasgow
- Guildhall Library
- Hackney Archives Department
- Inner Temple Library. This Library is not open to the general public, but researchers may obtain access upon written application to use material not available elsewhere.
- John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. This collection is available online to subscribers. The original publications can be accessed at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. You may have to pay a fee (unless you are an academic) and you will need a letter of introduction (unless you are an Oxford graduate). Access to pre-1800 books may be restricted.
- John Rylands Library, Manchester
- Lincoln's Inn Library This Library is not open to the general public, but scholars may obtain access to the library upon written application.
- London Metropolitan Archives
- The National Archives (Public Record Office)
- National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
- Post Office Archives
- Research Publications Inc. Microfilm Collection, "The Eighteenth Century". This collection is available in some major libraries, including the British Library. These titles are also available in Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, available in libraries which subscribe to this service.
- Senate House Library, University of London. You may have to pay a charge to use this library.
- University Microfilms International, Microfilm Collection "Early English Books. 1641-1700". This collection is available in some major libraries, including the British Library. These titles are also available in Early English Books Online, available in libraries which subscribe to this service.
- Westminster Archives Centre
- Bell, I. A., Literature and Crime in Augustan England (London, 1991)
- Devereaux, Simon, "From Sessions to Newspaper? Criminal Trial Reporting, the Nature of Crime, and the London Press, 1770-1800", London Journal 32, no. 1 (2007), 1-27
- Gatrell, V. A. C., The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868 (Oxford, 1994), chapters 4-5
- Hawkins, David T. Criminal Ancestors: A Guide to Historical Criminal Records in England and Wales (Stroud, 1992)
- Gladfelder, Hal, Criminality and Narrative in 18th Century England: Beyond the Law (London, 2001)
- King, Peter, “Newspaper Reporting and Attitudes to Crime and Justice in late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century London’, Continuity and Change 22 (2007), 73-112
- McKenzie, A., Tyburn's Martyrs: Execution in England 1675-1775 (London, 2007)
- Rawlings, Philip, Drunks, Whores and Idle Apprentices: Criminal Biographies of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1992)
- Sharpe, J. A., ed., Crime and the Law in English Satirical Prints, 1600-1832 (Cambridge, 1986)
For more secondary literature on this subject see the Bibliography.