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It’s Criminal: Old Bailey Trials Online

Archive of trials dates back centuries

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Trial documents dating back as far as 1674 recorded for cases heard at London’s Old Bailey arrived online thanks to the work of a group of universities.

If you sought something through search and found a document stamped with that date, you might think your search engine of choice developed time travel. Modern technology and effort made the Old Bailey Online site possible.

As Resource Shelf noted, nearly 200,000 cases have been indexed and archived for visitors to the website. It’s a remarkable achievement:

Professor Robert Shoemaker, head of the Department of History at the University of Sheffield, and co-director of the project, said: “It is now possible to search records of 197,745 individual trials, running to 110,000 pages of text and some 120 million words.”

“Up until now this treasure trove of social, legal and family history has only been available to a few dedicated historians who were prepared to spend months peering at microfilm.”

One entry from the earliest day we could find for the records, April 29, 1674, showed Old Bailey lived up to its reputation as The Hanging Court. “There was another had Judgment to be hanged for Robbing one Thomas Feild in the Kings High-way near Enfield , and taking from him 4 pound [Text unreadable in original.] Shillings,” it reads.

Theft and burglary seemed rife in Jolly Olde England. Punishment existed in equal measure; instead of a revolving door jail system, the only revolving was done by the cooling corpse of the hanging prisoner, at the end of its noose.

To our amazement, we found something in the earliest Ordinary Account we could locate that looked almost modern. At the end of the Account after the condemned are hanged, there are advertisements, one of which comes from a doctor claiming a deafness cure.

Sounds almost like something you’d see in spam, doesn’t it?

It’s Criminal: Old Bailey Trials Online
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