Lon­don Lives: Poverty, Crime and the Mak­ing of a Mod­ern City 1690-1800

by Tim Hitch­cock and Robert Shoe­maker (Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press, 461 pages, £21.99)

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - THE GUIDE -

This com­pre­hen­sive s tudy of crime in the 18th cent tury is made pos­si­ble by pains stak­ing work in digi­tised arch hives, link­ing up dif­fer­ent records so we can trac ck those who were moved d by “ex­tream poverty” [sic] to com­mit crimes, and those who did so for sheer bravado and went unr re­pen­tant to the gal­lows.

The au­thors are di­rec­tors of the ground­break­ing dig­i­tal projects the Old Bai­ley Pro­ceed­ings, which cov­ers 200,000 tri­als, and Lon­don Lives with ac­cess to more than three mil­lion names ( old­bai­ley­on­line. org and lon­don­lives.org).

By tran­scrib­ing in full the pro­ceed­ings of the Old Bai­ley and a large sec­tion of the ar­chives of parishes, a new re­source has been cre­ated that al­lows for the first time a record of ‘ple­beian’ life – those with­out a ma­te­rial stake in so­ci­ety such as pub­lic of­fice or prop­erty for which there are en­dur­ing records.

‘Ple­beian’ Lon­don had its own agenda and as­pi­ra­tions. It awarded celebrity sta­tus to high­way­men like the Hawkins Gang and famed jail­breaker Jack Shep­pard; but re­coiled with hor­ror at the story of El­iz­a­beth Brown­rigg who tor­tured and killed ap­pren­tices she had taken from the foundling hos­pi­tal.

They were peo­ple at the sharp end of crim­i­nal jus­tice and poor re­lief. Data­base searches al­low a match be­tween poverty and crime: John Askew’s wife was recorded as giv­ing birth in the work­house in 1782 when she sent him a mes­sage that she needed a few shillings. He duly went out and stole a pair of linen sheets worth seven shillings and ended up be­ing trans­ported.

More than 1,000 dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pa­tions have been iden­ti­fied among those ac­cused of crimes. Ser­vants made up a third of the de­fen­dants, fol­lowed at a long dis­tance by labour­ers, porters and sol­diers. Fewer than three per cent were iden­ti­fied as ‘gen­tle­men’, who were more likely to be ac­cused of mur­der than theft. Lon­don Lives is a bril­liant anal­y­sis of an out­stand­ing re­source.

Jad Adams is a writer and Fel­low

of the Royal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety

Wil­liam Hog­a­rth’s Beer Street de­picts Lon­don drinkers in 1751

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.