Old Bailey trial
Details of crimes, carried out by the likes of Oscar Wilde, the infamous Dr Crippen, suffragettes and Irish terrorists, can be viewed for the first time on the internet, thanks to a significant expansion of the innovative Old Bailey Proceedings Online website.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield, Hertfordshire and The Open University have doubled the size of the existing Old Bailey Proceedings Online 1674-1834 website, expanding its coverage to include details of criminal trials from 1674 to 1913, from just after the Great Fire to just before the Great War.
People from all over the world can visit the site and get a valuable insight into a diverse range of crimes from pick-pocketing and robbery, to abduction and murder. The addition of nineteenth and early twentieth century trials also highlights ‘new’ crimes, such as mothers convicted for neglecting their children, reflecting people’s attitudes at that time in history.
Co-director Professor Clive Emsley, of the Open University, says:
We think of street crimes as new, and yet it in the mid19th century, people will see that the term ‘to mug’ was even in use then.” (Police witness, November 1862).
Some of the most sensational cases ever to be tried at the Old Bailey are also now available for people to view, including the trials in which Oscar Wilde was convicted of indecency and the infamous Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen, who killed his wife, was bought to justice.
Trials involving robbery and murder, as well as desertion from the army and terrorism occupied the courts in historical London, just as they do today. But they reveal very different attitudes to crime, justice and punishment. One trial, for example, details a child as young as thirteen, who was sentenced to death for breaking into a house and stealing a number of goods.
"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 microfilms. Now everyone from schoolchildren and amateur historians to scholars working in a range of academic disciplines can have easy access to this wealth of information.
“The site’s use is widespread, with people as far away as Australia using it to trace their ancestry or find out a little more about British history. Without this invaluable resource these people wouldn’t have access to the innumerable fascinating snapshots of individual lives in the past contained in these trial accounts.”
Notes for Editors:
Examples of interesting trials, as well as case studies of people who have used the website to great success, are attached for press and media use.
The court records were obtained from scanned images of the original printed pages, using a combination of manual rekeying with optical character reading (OCR) technology. The results of the two processes were then compared by computer. Any differences alerted editors to a possible error, which was checked and corrected.
Digitisation of the text was performed via the Higher Education Digitisation Service at the University of Hertfordshire. The files were then marked up before being transferred to the University of Sheffield's Humanities Research Institute (HRI) where a search engine, specially adapted at the Institute, was developed to facilitate searching by keyword, name, crime and punishment, as well as compile statistics.
The project has been funded with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Big Lottery Fund.
In 2004 the website was selected as the overall winner of the 2003 Cybrarian Project Awards, in recognition of "outstanding effort and contribution towards the accessibility and usability of online information via their design". The Cybrarian Project was established by the E-Learning Strategy Unit of the Department of Education and Science.