- The Database
- Judicial Records
- The Literature of Crime
- Using this Dataset in London Lives
- Library and Archive Contact Links for Original Sources
- Introductory Reading
This dataset comprises detailed citations for books and documents related to trials reported in the Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP). It was created by Mary Clayton for the Old Bailey Project to provide information about judicial documents and printed materials which are directly linked to the trials recorded in the Proceedings. The database includes information about document locations and lists the trials to which they have been linked (for about 75 per cent of the documents). Except in the case of the Sessions Papers (PS) and Ordinary's Accounts (OA), transcripts of these documents are not provided in London Lives.
This page describes the database, provides background information on the richly detailed sources it includes, and lists contact details for the documents which are not included in London Lives website.
The database consists of approximately 25,000 items. Each entry includes the following fields:
- Trial Reference No: Reference number(s) of the trials in the Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP) to which this document has been linked. You can search for the relevant trial by typing the reference number into the search box on the Reference Number Search Page or the Old Bailey Online. About three quarters of the documents have been linked to trials. These linkages were created by an automated programme and are not completely accurate. Some links are incorrect, while others which should be there are omitted. If you detect any errors, please contact us.
- Date: Date, in the form of yyyymmdd, of the relevant Old Bailey trial, the crime, or when a deposition was taken.
- Surname: Defendant surname
- Forename: Defendant given name
- Surname Alias 1: Defendant surname alias
- Forename Alias 1: Defendant given name alias
- Surname Alias 2: Second defendant surname alias
- Forename Alias 2: Second defendant given name alias
- Offence: Offence, as indicated in the document. No attempt has been made to standardise offence descriptions
- Document Type: Document type
- Location: Library or archive where the document is currently kept (see contact details). In the case of published works this is the library (most often, in London) where the document was consulted when the database was created.
- Library/Archive Reference: Document reference (for manuscripts) or shelfmark (for books).
- Description: Description of document or book title.
- Author: Author (of books)
- Length: Number of pages (of books)
- Unique Project ID: Unique reference number created by this project
A typical entry (with the blank fields suppressed) looks like:
- Trial Reference No: t17300828-16
- Date: 17300828
- Surname: Watson
- Forename: Thomas
- Offence: theft of silver items
- Document Type: Examination
- Location: London Metropolitan Archives (ex CLRO)
- Library/Archive Reference: LSP/1730/5
- Unique Project ID: 63482
The database can be searched on the London Lives website by name, keyword, and date only. For a comprehensive search facility for this database, consult the Associated Records search page on the Old Bailey Online.
It is important to note that this database of 25,000 records, while extensive and covering the most important classes of records and publications related to Old Bailey trials, is not comprehensive. Many other associated records, particularly at The National Archives, have not yet been catalogued in sufficient detail to facilitate linkages to trials. Additional information is also available in other printed sources which have not been included, notably newspapers.
Every step of the judicial process produced records, from the initial accusation to the final punishment. Depositions were taken from witnesses, and arrested suspects were examined. Following their conviction, convicts submitted petitions seeking mitigation of their punishment, and occasionally pardons were issued. Some convicts were sent to the Refuge for the Destitute, which kept its own records. Citations for all these surviving documents which are potentially related to Old Bailey trials are included in this database.
Other surviving records not include in the database include calendars of prisoners listing those awaiting trial or punishment, registers of those kept in the hulks or transported, and censuses of convicts in Australia. For more information on these sources, see the relevant sections of the Associated Records page on the Old Bailey Online.
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.
Those which form part of the Sessions Papers (PS) are included on this website. In some years few of these survive, particularly during the 1790s, with the exception of some Middlesex cases from 1792 and 1796.
There were several occasions in the course of the legal process when defendants might wish to petition the court about the conduct of their trial or its outcome. 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 per cent of those sentenced to death in the eighteenth century were pardoned. Petitions for pardons and to remit sentences were typically addressed to the king. Officials then asked for a report on the case before it was discussed by ministers.
Petitions addressed to the courts may be found in the London Metropolitan Archives, and those which were part of the Sessions Papers (PS) are included in this website. Petitions addressed to the monarch or his ministers, together with judges' reports on such cases and records of decisions and pardons, are kept at 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, 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.
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. Thanks to Ben Bankhurst, 495 cases from between 1812 and 1833 have been transcribed, linked where possible to the relevant trial in the Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP), and included in this database.
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 publish. Stories about crime seemed to address many of the insecurities of the age, and not just fears about crime. Single page reports of crimes and of apprehending criminals, pamphlets taking the side of defendants or prosecutors, last dying speeches, accounts of executions, and Ordinary's Accounts (OA), all became popular in the same years that the genre of trial reporting developed with the advent of the Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP). By the early eighteenth century, these genres had contributed to the development of criminal biographies. Later in the century, accounts of individual trials and selected collections of trials and biographies were published. By comparing accounts of the same crime in these different publications, one can both discover additional details about the case and also identify the different ways in which crime was perceived and interpreted in this period. All these publications which include accounts of individuals tried at the Old Bailey are included in this database.
This does not exhaust the range of printed literature available. Other richly detailed sources about crime include printed ballads, newspapers, periodicals, and satirical prints. For more information on these sources, which are not in the database, see the relevant sections of the Associated Records page on the Old Bailey Online.
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 convicts' 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 condemned criminals could face God with a clear conscience, convention dictated that their gallows speeches should include a full confession and repentance of their sins. These speeches were often published as short pamphlets or broadsheets, and included accounts of the behaviour of the condemned at the execution (some of this material was also reported in the Ordinary's Accounts (OA)). 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 for 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.
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 they 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 criminals attracted more than one biography, and some of the biographies went through multiple editions. Many were subsequently assembled into volumes of collected biographies. Some 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 (OA) of the lives of convicts executed at Tyburn, which are included on this website.
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 forgers) or those whose crimes involved elite victims (such as Rhynwick Williams, the "London Monster").
It was perhaps inevitable that publishers would begin to republish the most interesting trial accounts from the Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP) 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 (OA), last dying speeches, and criminal biographies. Later editions of the Select Trials rely more heavily on the 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. If one traces the story of a notorious criminal like the murderess Catherine Hayes (executed in 1726) through these successive compilations, one can see how a complicated story was edited over time to focus increasingly on its entertainment value and purported moral lessons.
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) are included in this database.
The people in this dataset were accused of serious crimes, and are therefore likely to be found in the other criminal records included in London Lives. Since the database was created for the purpose of finding materials relevant to Old Bailey trials, most of the names of the accused in this dataset also appear in the Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP). While trial reference numbers in the Proceedings are included in the majority of entries (and can therefore be searched for using reference number search), inaccuracies in the record linkage process mean that where such references are missing it is still worth checking whether names appearing in this dataset, perhaps spelled differently, also appear in the Proceedings. The dataset also includes numerous references to the Ordinary's Accounts (OA) and documents in the Sessions Papers (PS), and, since all these records have been included in London Lives, you should be able to find the original documents using a simple name search.
Beyond this, some of the names in this dataset should also be found in the records of petty criminals committed to Bridewell and, from 1791, in the lists of prisoners in the Criminal Registers (CR). For more information on searching for sources relating to those accused of crime, see Researching Crime.
Many of the individuals in this database were paupers, and they may also appear in records associated with poor relief. They may have been subject to a Settlement Examination, sent to a workhouse, or arrested for vagrancy. See Researching Poverty.
As indicated in the references provided, the books and documents lilsted in the associated records database can be found in one of the following libraries, archives, or microfilm/fiche collections. All libraries and archives 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, 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. This collection is now available online to registered users.
- 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
- 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. 1991.
- Hawkins, David T. Criminal Ancestors: A Guide to Historical Criminal Records in England and Wales. Stroud, 1992.
- McKenzie, Andrea. Tyburn's Martyrs: Execution in England 1675-1775. 2007.
- Rawlings, Philip. Drunks, Whores and Idle Apprentices: Criminal Biographies of the Eighteenth Century. 1992.
- 1926 edition of the Newgate Calendar
For further reading on this subject see the London Lives Bibliography.