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Activities for Students

Key Stage 2 tasks (ICT, History, English, Literacy)

Detective work

You can find out more about crime by using the internet.

  • Ask your teacher about search engines. A good one is:
  • With the Advanced Search on Google you can put in three words at a time.
  • Type in words like "Old Bailey", "history", "London".
  • See what crimes and pictures you find.
  • Compare them with the pictures you find in the primary sources page.

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Children and crime

Again, using the internet to start off with,

  • Use a good search engine, like the one you have just been told about, to find out more about "children", "crime", and "history".
  • See what you can find out about the story Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens.
  • Also, see if you can find out anything about the old film, "Oliver Twist", by David Lean, made in 1948.
  • Finally, do an internet search for "the Artful Dodger", one of Charles Dickens's characters.
  • According to the evidence you have produced, what types of crimes did children commit?

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Empathetic exercise: what did people feel like on that journey to the gallows?

This can be done as a group exercise. Brainstorming about feelings with words compiled for use in a final diary.

  • Read the story about the Journey from Newgate to Tyburn.
  • Look carefully at the pictures in that section.
  • Discuss with others what your feelings might have been like then. Brainstorm together to produce words that describe those feelings. Remember that you should try to imagine that you actually come from that time in history. So, for example, the idea of having your body cut up after death might be the very worst thing about it, whereas now giving your body to science after death is more normal.
  • Write an account in the form of a diary. Make it no more than 200 words in length. Make sure that you include all the relevant words produced in the brainstorm.

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Reconstruction of the courtroom

Imagine you are a reporter for a newspaper in the eighteenth century. Your job is to write about what the courtroom of the Old Bailey and the various people inside it look like.

  • Find as many pictures of the courtroom as possible - there are many on this website. (For an example, click here.)
  • Read through the information in this website to remind yourself what sort of people would have been in the courtroom - judges, the accused, etc.
  • Choose any sessions in 1750 and search the Proceedings to find out what some of the trials might have been about.
  • Write a brief description of the courtroom in the mid-eighteenth century. Make your account about 150 words. Remember to write in a journalist's style - you need to make the account lively for your readers! If you word process it, then cut and paste a picture to illustrate your account.
  • Find descriptions of twenty-first century courtrooms. How do they compare with the Old Bailey? What technology is now sometimes used in them?

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Timeline (History, Maths, ICT)

Look at the simple timeline on this website.

  • Look for information elsewhere in the site about how people were punished. Throughout this period, for example, many people were transported to other countries as a punishment.
  • Create your own timeline with information about how punishments changed and developed.

Searching the Proceedings using the Keyword Search

Nowadays, there is a great deal of car crime - people either steal cars or take items out of them. In this task you are going to search the Proceedings to find out about a similar crime in the eighteenth century.

  • You will need to use the keyword search for the Proceedings. When you click at the bottom of this task, you go straight to that page.
  • Put the word "horse" into the space for "Keyword(s)".
  • In the box underneath called "search in", highlight "offence descriptions (NEEDS UPDATING? - custom search?)".
  • For the date, highlight 'From' 1720 'To' 1730 in "Time Period" (UPDATE).
  • Press "search".
  • You should find that cases which involved horses in the 1720s come up.


  1. make a note of how many cases there are for the 1720s;
  2. open the cases of Edward Hale (April 1720), Stephen Walker (December 1722), and George Wood (October 1724).
  3. See if you can read their cases. How many lines are given to writing down each case?
  4. What was Stephen Walker accused of stealing? What did the others steal?
  5. What were the verdicts or results of each case?
  6. By clicking on the thumbnail sketch of the original page in the Proceedings for these cases, say what you think it looks like. Can you read it easily?
  • Why do you think horses were stolen in those days? (Can you think of more than one reason?)
  • Using find out what you can about one of the most famous horse thieves of the 1720s and 1730s - Dick Turpin. Can you find pictures of him? Can you find him in the Proceedings?
  • Look in your recent local newspapers at home. Can you find reports about stolen cars? How long are the reports, if you can find any?

Go to the keyword search page.

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Key Stage 3-4 tasks

Reconstructing the past: a newspaper article (History, English, Geography, and ICT)

Imagine you work for one of the broadsheet newspapers of the eighteenth century and that you live in one of the parishes of London.

  • Choose a parish.
  • Search the Proceedings in the period 1750 to 1759 for crimes of theft in that parish, and choose one interesting crime. Hint: you will need to use the Advanced Search page, and you may need to try different spellings of your parish name. (UPDATE?)
  • Write a newspaper article about the crime, the trial, and its outcome. Make your account no more than 200 words. Word process the account. (For extra information, see if you can find examples of eighteenth-century newspapers on the web).
  • Look at all the trials for theft in your parish during the 1750s. Write a brief set of comments about theft in the parish during that decade.

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Data analysis: gender and death sentences (History, Maths, ICT and Sociology)

This task asks that you do your own investigation about the different ways in which men and women were treated by the law.

  • Using the statistical search create a bar chart showing how many people were sentenced to death at the Old Bailey each decade between 1720 and 1759.
  • Using information found in this website and elsewhere write brief notes on how the numbers vary in that period. Give explanations, if you can, about these variations.
  • Now try the same type of search by gender: how many men and how many women were sentenced to death in this period. Create a pie chart, bar chart, or table displaying this information.
  • Give explanations, if you can, for the differences between men and women.

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The debate about the death sentence (History, PSHE, Citizenship)

This task can be informed by your reading of some of the cases in which people were sentenced to death. It is also about whether you believe that the death sentence should be used in today's world.

Note: for this task, you are advised to work in small groups, preferably with an odd number of people in total. Hopefully someone you work with will take a different opinion to you and perhaps make you work harder to justify your own views.

  • See if you can find out which countries still use the death sentence today. For what sort of crimes?
  • Search the Proceedings for examples of people sentenced to death. To make it manageable, choose a limited period, maybe one or two sessions. Make a note of their offences. How harsh do you think the sentence is for these offences?
  • Make two lists: one list of reasons for using the death sentence; one list for not using the death sentence. Decide which list provides the strongest basis for your decision whether to use the death sentence in the modern world.
  • In a small group, put your arguments to each other. Decide between you what the most convincing arguments are. Take a vote on it!

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Cultural diversity and identity in eighteenth-century London (History, Citizenship, and Sociology)

The aim of this task is to find out more about the many different types of people with roots outside London who gave evidence at the Old Bailey.

  • Use the tips for searching in the main site to find out how many different types of people are recorded as giving evidence at the Old Bailey. Make a list of the different types that you find.
  • Note the different ways in which black people and the Irish, for example, were described in the Proceedings. What special words were sometimes used?
  • Look at the way their evidence is recorded. Note any distinctive features. (Were translators ever needed? Was their testimony ever recorded phonetically?)
  • Were they treated differently from other Londoners in any ways that you notice from reading the evidence?
  • What conclusions can you come to, having searched the Proceedings, about cultural diversity and identity in London in the eighteenth century?

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Key Stage 5 (AS and A level) (English, History, History of Art)

Attitudes towards prostitution in the eighteenth century

Use the four sources below as prompts to investigate attitudes and values held in the eighteenth century towards prostitution. For relevant reading you are advised to go to the bibliography.

Make a note of the problems and also the advantages associated with reconstructing the attitudes and values of people in the past using sources such as these. What do you learn about gender and "class" relationships?

Source 1

'The idle 'prentice return'd from sea & in a garret with a common prostitute' by William Hogarth (1747).  Reproduced courtesy of Tim Hitchcock

'The Idle 'Prentice return'd from sea & in a Garret with a common Prostitute' by William Hogarth (1747).

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Source 2

The Ordinary of Newgate, being a clergyman, was moralizing and prejudicial in his use of the term (prostitute), applying it to most of the women he interviewed before their hanging. He did not explore the social, conjugal or sexual relations of those people he chronicled. That a variety of social/sexual relations did exist is suggested by the large number of names for those called prostitutes: 'bunter', 'smut', 'trum-pery', 'crack', 'mawkes' at the poorer end of the trade; 'buttered bun', 'buttock', 'squirrel', 'mackerel', 'cat', 'moll', 'froe' or 'vrow' at the richer end.

Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1991), pp. 145-6

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Source 3

More than sex, slander was about gender. Women who used the language of insult claimed for themselves responsibility for the definition of honest femininity. And, as women's unchastity had implications for their whole character, so defining sexual honesty meant defining womanhood. The constant repetition of the word whore, and its associated terms 'jade', 'bawd' and 'queen', presented femininity through the terms of honesty, distributing blame so as to differentiate men from women and honest women from whores.

Laura Gowing, ‘Language, Power and the Law: Women’s Slander Litigation in Early Modern London’, in Jennifer I. Kermode and Garthine Walker, eds, Women, Crime and the Courts in Early Modern England (London, 1994), p. 36

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Source 4

On Monday last several Bailiffs were busily employ'd in besieging some nymphs of Drury, in their castle in Colson's Court, who defy'd them for some hours from their windows, with a great deal of sharp raillery and good humour; but were, at last, basely betray'd by a next door neighbour, who, 'tis suppos'd, ow'd a spite to some of the poor defendants, and therefore privately let two of the Officers through her house, and so getting over a party-wall, storm'd the castle backwards and got in, bringing all the ladies down, who still kept their good humour, for they sung and danc'd all along Drury-Lane to the Spunging-House [temporary lock-up].

Mist's Weekly Journal [A popular newspaper], 16 October 1725

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Source 5

The trial of Susan Brockway and Mary Gardner for pick pocketing, 27 Aug 1725.


  • Look for other instances in the Proceedings where light is shed on attitudes and values on this subject.
  • Make a note of the problematic nature of using contemporary accounts and pictorial representations as historical sources.

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Defending yourself in court

Unless they had consigned themselves completely to the worst fate, the main aim of the defendant standing in the dock in the eighteenth-century Old Bailey was to try to prove their innocence, or, as a way of getting convicted on a reduced charge (with a milder punishment), their relative innocence.

They may have used pleas of mitigating circumstances or brought witnesses to give evidence about their good character. Nowadays, if people are in the same situation in a courtroom they may dress in a certain way and modify their behaviour and language, acting in a deferential way towards the judge.

  • In this task you will need to search the Proceedings to find out what types of claims were made by defendants in their trials and how they tried to substantiate them.
  • Go to the relevant reading and see whether your findings are supported by the work of historians.
  • Write a discussion piece about the nature of defending yourself in court in the eighteenth century. Remember to take into account the different types of crime and also how differing types of defence may have affected the outcomes of trials.

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Using linked records to build a mini-biography

Choose one of the following three people who were executed in the eighteenth century:

  1. Martin Bellamy, executed 27th March 1728
  2. Sarah Malcolm, executed 7th March 1733
  3. William Udall, executed 14th March 1738
  • Use the Proceedings to find out about one of the cases.
  • Use the internet to find out more about the case. You may even, for instance, be able to find a contemporary picture of the execution. (Try the Newgate Calendar, Vol. III at
  • Write a mini-biography of the convict's life and death. Illustrate it if you can with maps and other relevant pictures. Take account of factors which may have influenced the course of the convict's life: poverty, migration, etc.

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Key Stage 6 task (undergraduate)

The referencing game

So you think you know your stuff about London history and crime? Read the description of the journey from Newgate prison to Tyburn which is in this section for schools.

  • Though written to engage children, rather than an academic piece, this "essay" is actually based on academic research and writing.
  • Find appropriate and exact references for both the text and pictures and insert them as footnotes in the text correctly.

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Canting language

Throughout history there has been a language associated with crime and criminal activity.

  • Take two "snapshots" of canting language. First, use the Proceedings search tools to investigate canting language. Tip: if you find it difficult to start, try finding out the various names used for the tools used by thieves in the eighteenth century or, more simply, the different words used for theft. Second, try finding the same kind of information for the present day.
  • In researching the topic, remember the importance of going across disciplines (and of 'nicking' ideas from cultural studies!).
  • Explain the continuing presence of cant language. What are its historical roots and its cultural significance?

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