Files never before available to the public are now online. Transcripts of 210,000 trials from across four centuries are now available.
The site is the largest single source of searchable information about everyday British lives and behavior ever published, said co-director Professor Tim Hitchcock. 'Besides the desperate drama of crimes punished, the proceedings give us a new and remarkable access to the everyday. History is full of information about kings and queens and wars, but there isn't much that tells us about the everyday life of ordinary people.'
The web site contains the transcripts of every trial heard at the Old Bailey from 1674 to 1913, a total of more than 210,000 criminal trials. Sadly, it includes the biographical details of around 3,000 men and women executed at Tyburn.
The web site, published by the Humanities Research Institute, is a collaboration by the Universities of Sheffield and Hertfordshire and the Open University. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the trials run to more than 110,000 pages of text and some 120 million words. In addition to the text of the trials, the website provides 195,000 digital images, as well as contemporary maps, images of the courtroom and information on the historical and legal background to the Old Bailey court.
The site also enables people to search for criminal ancestors. Joan Brewer, a researcher, found her husband's great-great-grandmother, Phoebe Douglas, had been transported to Australia in 1829. Douglas's trial details how she and two friends distracted the owner of an east London draper's shop, allowing them to steal 30 yards of printed cotton, valued at 19 shillings.
Brewer said discovering the criminal history of her relative had made her proud of her heritage. 'It was a huge surprise but wonderful to be able to read the transcript of Phoebe's trial,' she said. 'Life for her was clearly very hard: her husband had been transported to Bermuda as a convict, then she was transported to Australia for what we would consider to be a very small crime in today's society.
'What made it even sadder was that she had a child she wasn't able to bring with her to Australia,' Brewer added. 'Phoebe was a remarkable lady, one we are proud to have in our family history.'
You can access this free and remarkable web site at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org.
My thanks to John Ralls for letting me know about this site.