How were the Metropolitan Police expected to deal with ‘suspicious persons’?

In my previous post, I explored the ways in which the policing agents before the Metropolitan Police were expected to deal with ‘suspicious persons’. I suggested that policing agents were granted a range of powers under the Vagrancy Acts to arrest those whom they recognised as previous offenders, ‘bad characters’, or saw behaving suspiciously on the streets of the metropolis. I also hinted that these ideas of ‘suspicious persons’ became much clearer under the Metropolitan Police. The Metropolitan Police force was established in 1829, and provided for a hierarchical policing structure covering much of the metropolitan area. I am mostly interested in Metropolitan Police Constables, since these individuals were responsible for most day-to-day patrolling.

Metropolitan Police Constables patrolled set beats in shifts, and there was a particular emphasis upon night-time patrolling, as 2/3 of the force were deployed at night. In 1838, the City Police was established for the City of London along very similar lines. Policing ‘suspicious persons’ was at the heart of the role of the Metropolitan Police; it was stated at the outset that the principal object of the force was ‘the Prevention of Crime’.[1] The instructions said further that ‘officers and Police Constables should endeavour to distinguish themselves by such vigilance and activity, as may render it extremely difficult for any one to commit a crime within that portion of the town under their charge’.


Victorian Police Constable, by Unknown

The instructions issued to the new Metropolitan Police Constables in 1829 set out in detail their powers to arrest those who were suspected of being about to commit a felony, those with housebreaking tools, those carrying ‘a bundle or goods’ after sunset and before sunrise that are suspected to be stolen, and also vagrants, ‘loose, idle, and disorderly persons’. The Metropolitan Police Commissioners also issued later instructions in response to specific experiences of crime; for example, in 1836, constables were directed to be careful to examine courtyards, gates and areas on their beats, as it was feared that offenders hid there until the constable passed by on his beat, and then continued their criminal activity.[2] The instructions given to the Metropolitan Police Constables reflect that they were expected to be concerned with policing ‘suspicious persons’, but also recognise that this was an area in which individual constables needed to use their discretion. The instructions state that in all cases, ‘the Constable must judge, from the situation and behaviour of the party, what his intention is’, before taking the suspected offender into custody. As I explained in previous blog posts based on evidence from the Old Bailey Proceedings and newspaper reports, discretion was always an important aspect of policing practices on the streets.

We can see here that the responsibilities of the Metropolitan Police do not seem radically different from those of their predecessors. There was certainly a clarification of what constituted a ‘suspicious person’, and clearer guidelines on making these arrests, but the underlying concern about the threats of criminal activity at night-time, and among a sub-section of the lower classes of society, remained constant. As we have seen, those liable to be suspected included those carrying bundles or objects, particularly at night, those with tools that could be used to break into houses, those who appeared idle or aimless (‘loitering’ or ‘lurking’), and those who were perceived to be intending to commit a felony or misdemeanour. These characteristics reflect the ways in which the authorities and the police created and fostered a distinctive and suspicious group of individuals, a sub-class of the lower orders of society, who were liable to be arrested and often re-arrested. I’m going to be exploring case studies of particular policing agents, and the repeat offenders they policed in the next stages of my research. I think these relationships between the police and the policed will shed light on the ways in which criminality was constructed and discussed in the early nineteenth century.

[1] The National Archives (TNA): MEPO 8/1: Metropolitan Police: Office of the Commissioner: Confidential Books and Instructions, ‘Instructions to the Force’ (1829), p. 1.

[2] TNA: MEPO 8/2, Metropolitan Police: Instructions, Orders etc (1836), p. 15.

How were the police expected to deal with ‘suspicious persons’?

This material is drawn from the chapter that I am currently writing, which explores the roles and responsibilities of the various different policing agents in Metropolitan London between 1780 and 1850, as set out by the authorities. By ‘the authorities’, I mean their employers, the government and those who set out official roles and descriptions: what were the policing agents expected to do? In particular, I’m interested in how they were expected to police the ‘suspicious persons’ who I identified in the Old Bailey Proceedings and newspaper reports, and who I have discussed in previous blog posts. My evidence suggests that throughout this period, policing agents were expected to identify and pursue ‘suspicious persons’, but that the definition of a ‘suspicious person’ became clearer and more specific over time, particularly through the Vagrancy Acts and later under the Metropolitan Police. I believe that this reflects a growing perception that there was a ‘criminal class’, who were believed to be responsible for the majority of criminal activity.

To briefly recap, I am using the term ‘policing agents’ to refer to all those whose official duties included a responsibility for detecting and arresting anyone who contravened the criminal law, both before and after the Metropolitan Police. Before the Metropolitan Police, London was policed by a variety of parish constables, watchmen, patrols, and other officers. Under the Vagrancy Acts, these agents were empowered to arrest a range of ‘suspicious persons’. The term ‘Vagrancy Acts’ encompasses various statutes passed on vagrancy, of which there were 28 passed between 1700 and 1824.[1] ‘Vagrants’ were not only the homeless or displaced, but also those with unusual itinerant occupations, such as travelling actors, and the legislation was used more widely to criminalise the poorest sections of society, who were without work and believed to be a threat to social stability. They were convicted as ‘idle and disorderly persons’, or as ‘rogues and vagabonds’ if this was a repeat offence, and could be punished through short sentences in the House of Correction, and removal to their parish of settlement.


Fig. 1: Marcellus Laroon, from ‘Cries of London’ ©City of London: London Metropolitan Archives

According to the 1752 Vagrancy Act, policing agents were ‘required to apprehend and secure all suspicious persons they shall find lurking and loitering about the Streets, Alleys, Passages, or other Places within their respective Districts, at unseasonable Hours’, and those under ‘Suspicion of Felony (although no direct Proof be then made thereof)’ could be held for a week while evidence was gathered.[2] In 1783, the definition of idle and disorderly persons was extended to include anyone who was found with ‘any Picklock Key, Crown, Jack, Bit or other Implement whatever, which may be used for the purpose of breaking and entering’. The 1792 Middlesex Justices Act provided for ‘ill-disposed and suspected Persons, and reputed Thieves’, who ‘frequent the Avenues to Places of Publick Resort, and the Streets and Highways, with Intent to commit Felony’ to be convicted as rogues and vagabonds, if witnesses confirm that they are a ‘reputed Thief’ or of ‘evil Fame’.[3] Finally, the 1824 Vagrancy Act permitted the arrest of ‘every person being found in or upon any dwelling-house, warehouse, coach-house’ ‘for any unlawful purpose’.[4] These statutes explain that definitions of ‘suspicious persons’ related to their character, behaviour, supposed intention, and where they were found. This language is really interesting, as it is very similar to that used in Old Bailey and Police Court trials by policing agents to explain why they made arrests.

In metropolitan London, parish constables were expected to police these ‘suspicious persons’. The roles and expectations placed upon these constables, who were the core policing force, were set out in published guides for constables. For example, Hallifax’s ‘The Constable’s Sure Guide’, published in 1791, stated that constables should arrest ‘all suspicious persons that go abroad in the night, and sleep by day, or resort to bawdy-houses, or keep suspicious company’.[5] Suspicious behaviour was very closely related to night-time activity, and the guides explain that constables may arrest those suspected of carrying stolen goods at night, or merely strangers who pass through the neighbourhood. As I have already discussed in a previous post, contemporaries feared that the majority of criminal activity took place at night, and much policing rhetoric was directed to this concern.

Night watchmen, as the title suggests, were specifically appointed to deal with the dangers of criminal activity at night-time. The Watch Acts stated that watchmen were authorised and required ‘to apprehend all Night-walkers, Malefactors, Rogues, Vagabonds, and all disorderly Persons, whom they shall find disturbing the public Peace, or shall have just Cause to suspect of any evil Designs’.[6] The 1751 Act explained further that watchmen are ‘authorised to apprehend and secure all suspected Persons, that they shall find lurking and loitering about the Streets, Alleys, and other Passages, at unseasonable Hours, who shall not give a satisfactory Account of themselves’.[7] These Acts demonstrate that, upon their establishment, watchmen were expected to take proactive roles in apprehending ‘suspicious persons’ whom they encountered in the areas of the metropolis that they were responsible for. In addition to watchmen and constables, there were patrols and other officers who were expected to monitor the presence of ‘suspicious persons’ on the streets of the metropolis.

As we have seen, those liable to be arrested and suspected as ‘suspicious persons’ included those carrying bundles or objects, particularly at night, those with tools that could be used to break into houses, those who appeared idle or aimless (‘loitering’ or ‘lurking’), and those who were perceived to be intending to commit a felony or misdemeanour. These characteristics reflect a contemporary belief that there was a ‘criminal class’, a sub-class of the lower orders of society, who were characterised by itinerant behaviour and suspicious appearance, and were responsible for the majority of criminal activity. In my next blog post, I will explore how the Metropolitan Police dealt with ‘suspicious persons’, and the clarification of ideas of a ‘criminal class’ into the 19th century.

[1] See N Rogers, ‘Policing the poor in eighteenth-century London: the vagrancy laws and their administration’, Histoire Sociale / Social History, 24 (1991) and T Hitchcock, ‘The London vagrancy crisis of the 1780s’, Rural History, 24:1 (2013) for further discussion of vagrancy legislation in this period, and also the London Lives background pages:

[2] 1752 Vagrancy Act.

[3] 1792 Middlesex Justices Act.

[4] 1824 Vagrancy Act.

[5] Charles Hallifax, The Constable’s Sure Guide; or, Every Constable his own Lawyer (London, 1791), p. 14.

[6] 1737 City of London Watch Act.

[7] 1751 Westminster Watch Act.

‘An unseemly hour’: time of day for arrests

In a previous blog post, I briefly mentioned the role that the time of the day played in arrests and detection of ‘suspicious behaviour’ on the streets of London. Policing agents explained that their suspicion was aroused when they saw individuals ‘lurking’ or ‘loitering’ at an ‘unseemly hour’ or ‘at that time of the night’.[1] I was interested to explore these ideas further. It has long been acknowledged that contemporaries feared that the majority of criminal activity took place during the night, and policing reforms reflect this concern. In the 18th century, there were extensive reforms to the night watch and street lighting provision, and when the Metropolitan Police force was established in 1829, the majority of resources were devoted to night time patrolling, with 2/3 of the force employed between 10pm and 6am.[2] However, there has been little systematic work on the time of day that criminal behaviour was detected, and arrests were made. Were these contemporary fears of the night justified?

I examined the time of day recorded for the detection of ‘suspicious behaviour’, or the arrest of the offender in my set of policing cases from the Old Bailey. This is a selected group of cases, reflecting ‘proactive policing’ or the occasions on which a policing agent made an arrest because they saw the offender behaving suspiciously, or actually committing a crime (rather than acting based on information), which I have discussed in previous posts. Eventually, I would like to compare the time of day reported for arrests in these cases with a wider sample from the Old Bailey Proceedings, but these cases are revealing of certain policing practices. I have plotted a graph showing the cases (represented by blue dots) where a precise time and date was given, with overlaid lines showing the times of dawn, sunrise and sunset and dusk.[3] The time of arrest or detection was not given in all of my selection of cases, but I have the data for about 70% of my cases, 466 cases. The first point to note is that it shows that the majority of crimes took place in what can broadly be defined as ‘night’; after sunset and before sunrise.


Looking beyond this, it is striking that a high number of arrests took place between 5pm and 8pm. These cases account for 30% of the total number with recorded times. This could represent criminal activities and practices; perhaps that many of these offenders were opportunistic, and stole at the end of the working day. Hans-Joachim Voth has suggested, using evidence from the Old Bailey Proceedings, that the average working day in the early 1800s was from about 6:30am to 7pm.[4] In the winter months, many poor petty thieves were motivated by need.

However, I believe that this evidence is really reflective of policing practices, more than criminal practices. Policing agents systematically arrested ‘suspicious characters’ at this time of day. As you can see from the graph, most of these evening arrests took place in the winter months, when it would have been dark at this time. The data that I used for the times of dawn and dusk are the times for ‘civil twilight’, after which time in the evening it is difficult to make out objects without artificial light. This falls only about 40 minutes after sunset, and so not many cases fall within the bracket between sunset and dusk. Using this data suggests that most of the cases took place when it was dark outside.

I am still working on establishing the connection between these arrests and policing practices. Watchmen, for example, generally did not commence their duty until 9pm or 10pm, depending on the time of year, and so cannot have been responsible for these arrests. Under the Metropolitan Police, beats began after sunset, but I am still researching the precise times. Constables and other officers were perhaps more likely to make arrests at the end of their daytime shifts, at 6 or 7pm, because they would not have to neglect their beat in order to take the offender before a magistrate or to the police office. It seems clear that the arrest of ‘suspicious characters’ in the evening was a significant part of policing practices for some policing agents. Next, I am going to explore the policing agents responsible for these arrests, and look at the language of the trials; how did policing agents explain these arrests, and did they include the time of day as a factor? This is an area of research that I am only just beginning to explore fully, and so I would really appreciate any comments or ideas for new approaches!

[1] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.0, 26 October 2016), October 1790, trial of Edward Lowe, William Jobbins (t17901027-17); OBPO, September 1788, trial of Ann Berry (t17880910-26).

[2] See JM Beattie, Policing and Punishment in London, 1660-1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror (Oxford, 2001); C Emsley, The English Police: a Political and Social History (Hemel Hempstead, 1991).

[3] The data for the times of sunset, sunrise, dawn and dusk for London in 1815 was obtained from ‘Sun or Moon Rise/Set Table for One Year’, Astronomical Applications Department of the US Naval Observatory, [accessed 24 October 2016].

[4] Hans-Joachim Voth, ‘Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London’, The Journal of Economic History, 58:1 (1998), p. 33.

Proactive policing: some evidence from newspapers

Since my previous blog post, I have been working on adding to my analysis of Old Bailey cases through analysing police court reports in newspapers. I presented some of this material at the British Crime Historians Symposium in Edinburgh at the weekend (6th-9th October 2016). In these newspaper reports, I am continuing to focus upon proactive arrests, or the occasions on which police made arrests based on suspicion that an offender had, or was about to commit a crime.

Seven Police or Magistrates’ courts with stipendiary magistrates were established in London in 1792; before this, magistrates were not paid, and made money from fees and rewards. Reports in newspapers of the proceedings of these courts detail both misdemeanours, which were dealt with summarily by the magistrates or heard at quarter sessions, and felony cases, where the magistrate examined the evidence before the offender was committed for trial. By synthesising these accounts with those from the Old Bailey, I will be able to analyse the reactions of policing agents to a range of different offenders. By ‘policing agents’, I am referring to all those whose official duties included a responsibility for detecting and arresting anyone who contravened the criminal law; not merely the Metropolitan Police officers, but also the watchmen, constables and officers who went before them.


Bow Street Magistrates’ Court. The court closed in 2006, and there are plans to convert it into a museum.

I have started to analyse police court reports in newspapers in a similar way to the Old Bailey Proceedings, which I discussed in a previous blog post. Starting with the sample period 1815-1850, I have chosen to examine reports in The Times and the Morning Post only. Reports were often duplicated across multiple newspapers, and I have found that these publications reported on proceedings at police courts most frequently and consistently across this period. Using online newspapers, I have been able to search for reports entitled ‘Police’ or ‘Police Intelligence’, in combination with terms for policing agents, and terms relating to the reasons for arrest in order to find relevant reports. Many of these reasons for arrest terms are the same as those that I identified in the Old Bailey Proceedings, but I think that newspaper reporters felt freer to use more pejorative and judgmental terms to comment on the character of offenders. I’m particularly interested in cases that appear both in a newspaper police court report and in the Old Bailey Proceedings, as this will enable me to establish how the reporting style varies directly. I have so far only come across a few examples of these, and they do not seem to offer strikingly different commentary, but I am sure I will come across more examples. I cannot yet offer any statistical discussion of the data but newspaper reports do not offer the same details as the Old Bailey Proceedings on offenders; ages are very rarely given, and so the nature of my analysis will be different. However, from the cases that I have gathered so far, a picture of mainly men being arrested on suspicion of theft by proactive policing agents has emerged.

I have found that many of the reasons given for arrests by policing agents in newspaper reports are similar to those given in the Old Bailey. For example, policing agents refer to how they knew the offender previously. In 1826, it was reported in The Times that before officer Marchant arrested Thomas Watkins, Thomas Coles and Richard Napp for pickpocketing, ‘he observed the prisoners in Newgate-street and knowing them to be bad characters, watched them’.[1]

In a report in the Morning Post in 1825, a Mr Laust complained that his pocket was picked in a large crowd at the ceremony for the opening of an Orphan Asylum, and while there were Bow Street Officers stationed around, they seemed reluctant to take any action. Mr Laust was surprised at this; he remarked that ‘if the Police reports were to be relied on, it was a very common occurrence for men of bad character to be apprehended as reputed thieves when found in a crowd’.[2] Although this was a rather flippant comment, it is very true that language such as ‘reputed’, ‘notorious’ or ‘noted thief’, and ‘infamous’, ‘bad’ or ‘suspicious character’ was frequently used in police court reports to explain the reasons why an offender was arrested. This comment is also interesting as it hints at the wide reach of such reports, and the ways in which they affected public perceptions of criminal justice and the roles of policing agents.

Police court reports in newspapers help to illustrate further the relationships between policing agents and offenders. In particular, these reports enhance my arguments about the criminal class, and the roles of policing agents in shaping wider contemporary perceptions of a criminal class. Police court reports in newspapers contain many references to criminal gangs such as the ‘Forty Thieves’ and the ‘swell mob’, and comments from magistrates on the ‘depravity’ and ‘depredation’ of those brought before them.[3] These reports provide more explicit commentary on contemporary fears of deviant behaviour in the ‘sinks of infamy’ of the metropolis than the Old Bailey Proceedings.[4] I will be tracing these ideas through as I continue the research, and will definitely find more examples of this kind of language. I will also be examining case studies of particularly proactive policing agents, and tracing their activities through the Old Bailey and police courts. Eventually, I will be synthesising my analysis of police court reports with my work on the Old Bailey Proceedings, so that I can examine the actions of policing agents towards offenders accused of a range of different offences. I would really welcome any suggestions or comments on my research and ideas, as I am in the very early stages of my analysis of newspaper reports.

[1] The Times, 16 Mar. 1826.

[2] The Morning Post, 18 Jun. 1825.

[3] See The Times, 22 Sept. 1835; The Morning Post, 15 Oct. 1803; The Morning Post, 23 Mar. 1803.

[4] See The Times, 5 Nov. 1821.

‘It is my duty to watch persons about London, and find out, as far as I can, suspicious characters’: preliminary research findings

My PhD research explores changing policing strategies, and how these affected who was arrested, and why. The period between 1780 and 1850 witnessed extensive changes to the English criminal justice system, and London was at the forefront. The Metropolitan Police force was established in 1829, and is viewed by many as the first recognisably ‘modern’ police force. However, the older local policing systems such as the night watch, parish constables, the Bow Street Runners and magistrates changed considerably over the course of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in response to the needs of the communities that they served. This is why I repeatedly refer to ‘policing agents’, a term which encompasses not only the new Metropolitan police officers, but also watchmen, constables, marshals, patrols, and the officers attached to magistrates’ courts.

I am also particularly interested in those who were arrested by these policing agents. The idea that a subset of society was responsible for the majority of criminal activity; a ‘criminal class’, was emerging as a powerful contemporary perception in late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century London. Historians have examined how contemporary commentators expressed and shaped this idea, but there has been little focus on the roles that policing agents played by choosing who to arrest and re-arrest. My research examines the relationships between policing agents and the communities that they policed, and how these changed according to different policing agents and strategies.

As a case study, I have been using the Old Bailey Proceedings Online to examine ‘proactive’ arrests made by policing agents. The majority of trials at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1850 did not feature policing agents at all, and of those that did, policing agents were mainly responding to information given to them. Proactive arrests were those made based upon the suspicion that an offender had, or was about to commit a crime. I developed a searching strategy to find a collection of these cases, searching terms for policing agents in combination with terms relating to the reasons for arrest. So far, I have identified a collection of 680 cases featuring policing agents in proactive roles; I am continually adding to this collection as I find more cases.

Fig. 1 Rowlandson the Old Bailey

Fig. 1: Thomas Rowlandson, The Old Bailey, from Microcosm of London (1808) ©London Lives

The vast majority of offenders in the dataset are male – (90%), higher than the proportion of males in all the Old Bailey trials in this period (78%) (see fig. 2). This confirms my supposition that those who were viewed as ‘suspicious’ by those who policed the streets of London were disproportionately male.

Fig. 2 Gender in my dataset and OBP overall

Fig. 2: bar chart showing proportions of male and female defendants in the Old Bailey Proceedings overall, 1780-1850, and in my collection of cases

The age profile of my set of offenders is broadly similar to the age profile of defendants in the Old Bailey Proceedings overall, with the majority aged 18, and the next most commonly-occurring ages clustered around that (16, 17, 19 and 20). Comparing the recorded ages in my cases with the recorded ages of defendants for all Old Bailey cases, it is clear my collection of cases contains a disproportionate number of offenders aged between about 15 and 21 (see fig. 3). Young men, therefore, were disproportionately viewed as suspicious by policing agents.

Fig. 3 updated defendant ages OBP overall and my dataset

Fig. 3: bar chart showing the ages of defendants (grouped at 3-year intervals) in my dataset, compared with the ages in all cases in the Old Bailey Proceedings (number of cases divided by 100 to scale)

The vast majority of cases in my set are trials for theft, since theft was probably the most straightforward crime for policing agents to detect and notice on the streets. For example, the policeman who arrested Lazarus Hart in 1830 stated ‘the prisoner had got a bundle, and I thought it my duty to see what he had’.[1] Merely carrying a large or unusual-looking object was sufficient grounds for a policing agent to stop and question a suspect, and often to make an arrest. Offenders were stopped for carrying stoves, firkins of butter, sides of bacon, and even a tart stolen from a pastry shop.[2] However, clearly not all goods being carried were stolen; so other factors contributed to the suspicious appearance of these individuals. Not only were young men disproportionately suspicious, but their behaviour, or the circumstances they were found in, could arouse suspicion.

Policing agents were generally expected to know the residents of the area that they policed, and knowledge of a defendant was often used to explain the arrest. Metropolitan Police Constable John White stated at the trial of Lydia Prior, Martha Eldridge and Mary Davis in 1846 that ‘I have seen the prisoners associating together before’, and so ‘suspected’ and watched them until Eldridge came away from a shop with a print concealed under her apron.[3] Policing agents often explained they knew defendants because of their bad character; in the trial of Robert Ransom in 1813, a constable stated that ‘knowing the prisoner to be a reputed thief, I followed him’.[4]

Even if the policing agent did not know the prisoner, they often made arrests because they saw them behaving ‘suspiciously’. This was often either because they believed that the offender had recently, or was just about to commit a crime. For example, John Christmas was arrested by Henry Crocker, a Bow Street patrol in 1794, who stated that ‘if I see a man lurking in the fields, I always go to him’.[5] He discovered some iron next to the prisoner, and took him into custody to investigate.

Suspicious behaviour was sometimes exacerbated by the time of day at which it took place. A constable saw Edward Lowe and William Jobbins in a passage at an ‘unseemly hour’ in 1790, and explained that ‘it would have been decent in the day, but at night there was no such necessity’ for them to be there; he took them into custody and they were later found guilty of arson. Loitering, running, or carrying objects late at night was viewed as more suspicious than if these activities were carried out during the day, when they could be part of legitimate working practices.

Fig. 4 Rowlandson Arrest of a Woman at night

Fig. 4: Thomas Rowlandson, Arrest of a woman at night, ©The Courthauld Gallery

Policing agents who proactively arrested those whom they recognised and saw behaving suspiciously, fostered and shaped the emerging contemporary perception of a criminal class. Although it was not explicitly expressed in such terms until the mid-nineteenth century, the young men whom policing agents arrested and re-arrested were clearly viewed by them as a distinctive and ‘suspicious’ group. The majority of policing agents’ work involved investigating and arresting offenders based on information provided to them by witnesses or victims, but proactive policing of ‘suspicious’ persons, albeit a small proportion of the total number of arrests, had important implications for policing, criminal justice, and individual offenders. In the rest of my PhD research, I will examine these themes in different sources, including newspaper reports, and use case studies of particular repeat offenders to explore their relationships with policing agents over time.

[1] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 10 June 2016), May 1830, trial of LAZARUS HART (t18300527-6).

[2]OBPO, December 1827, trial of JOHN ALDGATE HENRY JOHNSON (t18271206-76); OBPO, October 1796, trial of JEREMIAH VANDESPUNCH, alias VANDERPUMP (t17961026-27); OBPO, September 1836, trial of RICHARD HARDY (t18360919-2134); OBPO, April 1830, trial of JAMES JONES CORNELIUS HAYES (t18300415-50).

[3] OBPO, May 1846, trial of LYDIA PRIOR MARTHA ELDRIDGE MARY DAVIS (t18460511-1175).

[4] OBPO, January 1813, trial of ROBERT RANSOM (t18130113-52).

[5] OBPO, January 1794, trial of JOHN CHRISTMAS (t17940115-32).

Short bibliography:   

John Beattie, The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750- 1840 (Oxford; New York, 2012)

Gregory J Durston, Burglars and Bobbies: Crime and Policing in Victorian London (Newcastle, 2012)

Andrew T Harris, Policing the City: Crime and Legal Authority in London, 1780-1840 (Columbus, 2004)

Elaine Reynolds, Before the Bobbies: the Night Watch and Police Reform in Metropolitan London, 1720-1830 (Basingstoke, 1998)

Heather Shore, London’s Criminal Underworlds, c. 1720-c.1930: A Social and Cultural History (Basingstoke, 2015)

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My first two months

I am now two months into my PhD research: I have given my first talk, spent a day in the archives, submitted a conference abstract, sent lots of emails and read many books and articles. Most importantly, I feel that I am beginning to get to grips with my topic, although I’m sure that will change again in the coming months and years! Tentatively, my PhD project aims to examine how changing policing strategies impacted on patterns of repeat offending; how did those responsible for policing the streets choose who to arrest and re-arrest, and how did this change between 1780 and 1850?

As well as reading the secondary material in preparation for writing my literature review, I have begun to think about the sources that I will be using for my research, and the first substantial chapter that I will produce. I am extremely fortunate to be working as part of the Digital Panopticon Project, since it provides access to a range of datasets concerning the history of crime and punishment. This is a collaborative project which brings together existing and new datasets  to explore the impact of different types of punishments on the lives of 90,000 people sentenced at The Old Bailey between 1780 and 1875. Initially, I am seeking to collect and work on a group of individuals who were tried more than once at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1850. Being part of this project enables me firstly to access this data, but also to be part of the process of digitisation by liaising with those responsible for the data linkage at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield, and evaluating some of the initial links that they make to test out the process. I feel extremely privileged to be playing my own small part in this process. I am hopeful that I can begin to work on constructing a database from this information in the new year. I am aiming to produce an analysis of this data for a paper at the Digital Panopticon project conference in Tasmania in June!

For the policing aspect of my project, I have already spent a day in the London Metropolitan Archives, looking at the vast range of records detailing the activities of the watchmen and constables of the City of London. These are merely the tip of the iceberg; I will also be looking at the material for the Westminster parishes, and reading reports of police court trials in the British Newspapers collection.

On Wednesday, I gave a 3 minute presentation on my initial outline of my research at the Institute of Historical Research’s British History in the Long 18th Century Seminar, as part of their ‘Lightning Talks’ for PhD researchers. Not only was this a great opportunity to tentatively present my research ideas, but the questions from eminent scholars there have suggested new directions and important considerations for my research. It was also fascinating to hear the variety of research that fellow PhD students are currently undertaking.

I have also been busy teaching first year undergraduate students; as an Associate Tutor, I lead seminars once a week and mark essays for a group of students on a module about Early Modern Europe. This has been very hard work, but also extremely rewarding when a seminar goes well, and I feel that the students are engaging with the topic. In the new year, I will be leading an outreach session for Sixth Form students considering applying to the University of Sheffield for History, which I am very much looking forward to. This session will be based around the Digital Panopticon project, and I will be engaging the students with tracing criminal lives, by comparing and contrasting those who were imprisoned and those who were transported, as well as exploring some of the challenges of linking records about individual criminals.

Overall, it has been a very busy, but also very exciting couple of months. I hope to continue to take all the opportunities offered to me as a PhD researcher, both in terms of immersing myself in fascinating research, and in terms of undertaking other activities to inspire and encourage those interested in history.