The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

October 20, 2005

Oh my name it is Sam Hall chimney sweep / Oh my name it is Sam Hall and I’ve robbed both great and small / And my neck will pay for all when I die, when I die /And my neck will pay for all when I die”
-Irish folk song

Today I bring you The Old Bailey. Their version of “On This Day” is why they are one of my favorite websites:

On This Day in 1714…
Mary Randal was found murdered and tied up on a bed with a clout stuffed down her throat

Think of it as a modern People’s Court. I found it a couple of years ago when I was searching for information on the Bailey name. For anyone that is curious, it’s either someone who lived near the Bailey of the castle, or “a crown official or officer of the king in county or town. Keeper of a royal building or house. A person of high rank. From the Old French for ‘bailiff’ and/or the Scottish term ‘bailie,’ a municipal officer corresponding to an English alderman.” Probably boring to anyone who isn’t a Bailey and to many Bailey’s alike. Anyway, the Old Bailey, otherwise known as The Central Criminal Court, is a court house in London, named so because of its positioning…where the Bailey (outer wall) of the castle used to be.

The interesting thing about the website is that they have court documents dating back to 1674, proving that people have been fucked up for ages. There are perverts sexually abusing 11 year olds, spoon thieves, and nipple-stabbers, some of which I will cover in a moment.

Here’s one example of theft:

Anne Hughes of the Parish of St. Dunstans in the West, was tryed for stealing a quarter of an ell of Holland value 18 d one yard of Cambrick 3 s. one Scarf 6 d. one pair of Shoes 12 d. the Goods of Gabriel Collins . It appeared that the Prisoner had been a Servant to Mr. Collins, and took away the Goods, which were found in her Box; which matter being fully prov’d against her, and that when she was apprehended she made an attempt to cut her own Throat, but was prevented by some in the House; she was found Guilty 10 d.

Sentence: Public Whipping

So you can imagine in January of 1690, on a cold winter’s day, a servant in a household stole a scarf and a pair of shoes among other things and was then caught. Confronted with it, she rushed to find a knife to slit her throat, but was stopped before she could go through with it. She was sentenced to public whipping and undoubtedly lost her job and became a dirty whore of sorts, selling her body on the mean streets of London. See? It’s like a soap opera, only a lot more interesting. And it actually happened one day, long ago.

Now for a killing:

N – Y – was Indicted for killing one B – S – with a Rapier giving him a Wound near to his right Pap, of which he died . The Evidence deposed, That the Prisoner was found lying upon the ground sorely wounded, and making further search, there was found a dead Man, but no one could tell who kill’d him: The Prisoner made a good Defence, and called some Witness, who declared that the deceased had threatned very often to be the death of him, and that he had no malice against him, but that he set upon him, and he was forc’d to stand in his own defence, yet being not able to prove it, he was found guilty of Manslaughter

Sentence: Branding

Guy A threatens guy B over something or another, maybe he’s a stalker, who knows. Finally he comes after guy B, who in turn stabs A’s nipple and kills him. That’s the Pap, Ye Ole Dictionary says so. The killer was sentenced to branding for manslaughter rather than murder, although I’m not sure why, seeing as the court says there is no proof of self defense. Old Bailey on branding:

Convicts who successfully pleaded benefit of clergy, and those found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder, were branded on the thumb (with a “T” for theft, “F” for felon, or “M” for murder), so that they would be unable to receive this benefit more than once. The branding took place in the courtroom at the end of the sessions in front of spectators. It is alleged that sometimes criminals convicted of petty theft, or those who were able to bribe the executioner, had the branding iron applied when it was cold.

For a short time, between 1699 and January 1707, convicted thieves were branded on the cheek in order to increase the deterrent effect of the punishment, but this rendered convicts unemployable and in 1707 the practice reverted to branding on the thumb. It is possible to search separately to find those sentenced to be branded on the cheek.

The last convict sentenced to branding at the Old Bailey was in 1789.

Sounds much like the modern branding – the permanent record – except a little more embarrassing.

For a common occurence, I give you a tankard theft. People really liked stealing tankards, I’ve seen quite a few references to them. It makes sense. I suppose if you’re going to steal something, you might as well be able to drink alcohol out of it. Good thinking!

Michael Hall was Tryed for stealing a Silver Tankard from one Martha Parnel , widow, value 5l. on the 28th July last, the Matter was plain against him; how that he came to the House of Mrs Parnel, and after having staid a small time there he Run away with the Tankard: So he was found Guilty.

Sentence: Branding

I hope he got a few good drinks in.

This one is kind of sad:

William Carter was Tryed for Picking the Pocket of Matthew Deane in Smithfield, whilst he stood there selling Cattle , on the 19th of August. The Prisoner Confest it before Sir William Turner , that he took it out of Mr. Deane’s Pocket, but he denied it at his Tryal; yet he was found guilty of Felony.

Sentence: Death

I don’t know if Carter was executed or not. The Old Bailey says that most executions were not carried out. But, just because I couldn’t find his name on an execution list doesn’t mean he wasn’t killed for snatching something from a farmer’s pocket.

Here’s some spoon theft with a little bit of marriage drama:

Jane Browne was Indicted for stealing a Silver Spoon value 10 s. from one Mr. Thomas Allum . The Evidence for the King was, That the said Browne being taken on suspicion and carried before a Justice of Peace, she confessed the Fact saying, That her Husband told her, that he would knock her on the Head, unless she would steal something from the said Allum. Which being fully and positively proved against the Prisoner, the Jury brought her in Guilty of Felony, to the value of Nine shillings .

Why the hell you would steal a spoon and then blame it on your husband is beyond me, but it sounds like something that you would see today on Cops, only the spoon would be stolen for crack and the woman would be found wearing a neon pink tanktop and stained daisy dukes.

Finally, here is a long story featuring a murdered hunchback bird keeper who lived in a cellar with his family. A tale of sorrow, if ever there was one. You can read the full version here, which is really interesting. Here are some excerpts:

John Girle was indicted for the wilful murder of Thomas Roberts , Aug. 16, 1755.*

At the request of the prisoner the witnesses were examined separate.

Sarah Roberts . The prisoner came to sell my husband, the deceased, some birds, on the 16th of August last, about six or seven o’clock in the afternoon.

Q. Where do you live?

S. Roberts. I live next door to the Bishop of Ely’s Head , in a cellar in Holbourn. My husband was in the cellar, and I was sitting at the door. The prisoner asked my husband if he wanted any birds, and he said no.

Q. What was your husband’s business?

S. Roberts. He dealt in birds, being a cripple. The prisoner said, D – n you, you hump-back son of a bitch, if you was up stairs I’d punch both your eyes out. I said, sure you would not, take your answer and go about your business, we do not want any birds. He directly put a crab tree stick down into the window, and broke a cage that hung there. I went to push him away from doing farther damage. My husband came up stairs, and the prisoner made no more to do but put the crab-tree stick over my shoulder, and push’d his eye out.

Q. What did you do to him?

S. Roberts. I only push’d him away from the window.

Q. How long was the stick?

S. Roberts. I believe it might be about two yards and a half long.

Q. How near was your husband to you?

S. Roberts. He was pretty near me.

Q. Which eye did it go into?

S. Roberts. His left eye. My husband said, Stop the rogue, my eye is out. I directly turn’d my head, and saw the blood and jelly of his eye running down his cheek.

The cripple’s eye poked out, his wife attended to him with egg white, which I can only assume created an infection. I don’t see how it could do any good. He lingered for some 6 months enduring convulsions before dying a monstrously shitty death.

S. Roberts. I don’t know that. I dressed my husband’s eye with white of eggs and rose-water, for having a great family, and great rent to pay, I could not afford to go to a surgeon. From that time he never was well, nor ever held up his head; be was always complaining of his eye, and a shooting in his head.

Q. When did he die?

S. Roberts. He died the last day of March last. A few hours before he died he said to me, My dear, hang that rogue, for he is the death of me; he never could do any thing after, but I maintained him.

Q. What did he mean by that rogue?

S. Roberts. That was Jack Girle .

Q. What do you think was the occasion of his death?

S. Roberts. I think the blow on his eye was. He never had a convulsion fit till the time of the hurt of his eye, and after that he had such strong convulsion fits that several people were obliged to hold him.

Q. What state of health was he in before?

S. Roberts. He was in a very good one before that.

Prisoner. The deceased ran up stairs, and struck me two or three times

Q. Did your husband strike the prisoner at the bar?

S. Roberts. He never struck him, nor gave him a word in anger.

Q. Did your husband punch him?

S. Roberts. No, nor touch him neither.

Prisoner. He follow’d me 9 or 10 yards.

S. Roberts. My husband was not two yards from the door, when it was done.

I love how the killer shifts from claiming that he was punched, to that he was followed, and then later, he claimed the following:

Q. from prisoner. Had he no other distemper about a fortnight before he died?

Brown. No. none.

Prisoner. They say he had a fever.

Court. That will do you no service at all, if this injury occasioned it.

Basically the court intervened and told him he was an idiot. Then, they sentenced him to death. The clincher was probably when the owner of the cellar, the shop keeper above, spoke as a witness to the murder of the “hump-back son of a bitch.”

Q. How did it appear to you?

Powel. It was very bloody, and the sight appeared to be out. He had such strong convulsions with the agony, that several people could hardly hold him.

Q. Did you see the deceased offer to strike or push the prisoner?

Powel. No, I did not; he did not the least in the world.

Q. How long did he live after this?

Powel. He lived I believe five or six months afterwards, and then died.

Q. What sort of a stick was it done with?

Powel. It was a long crab stick, five foot high, with knots upon it.

So, how is that for a life? Ridiculed for being a cripple, living in a cellar with your wife and children, peddling birds because you have no other trade, then being stabbed in the eye with a crab stick by some lunatic bastard who wanted to pawn off some birds to you, only to linger in pain and agony for six months until your death because you couldn’t afford a surgeon.

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