Old Bailey Online: now from 1674 to 1913

Tomorrow it all goes public (and we kind of expect it to crash at some point), and today there is a pretty nice feature in the Observer:

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online 1674-1834 is now the Proceedings of the Old Bailey and Central Criminal Court 1674-1913.

This doesn’t only mean that you can now search for 200,000 trials held at the Old Bailey over a period of 2 and a half centuries. The other new set of goodies of special interest to 18th-century scholars is the full text of (almost) every Ordinary of Newgate’s Account between 1690 and 1772 (in the next few months this should expand to a full archive of every known surviving Account from c.1674 onwards).

I’ve posted before about these grimly fascinating pamphlets. They’ve been used by a number of historians, including Andrea Mackenzie and Peter Linebaugh, but the surviving pamphlets have been scattered across a number of different libraries and archives. From now on they’ll be together in one fully searchable digital archive. Plus, I’m in the process of completing a database that links every convict mentioned in the Accounts to their trial, providing it has a surviving report (perhaps 3/4 of the links have already been made).

This should make for some interesting research possibilities. For example, historians often argue that women who successfully ‘pleaded their bellies’, ie had their death sentence postponed on grounds of being pregnant, usually escaped hanging. In fact, we say that in our own background section. But I’m not so sure. Through the process of cross-referencing trials and Ordinary’s Accounts, I’ve already discovered several women whose sentences were respited for pregnancy but subsequently carried out (eg in September 1695. So what I’ll be asking (once I’ve finished making the damned links) is: how many were executed and how many were permanently reprieved? Have we historians been getting it wrong? Answering those questions wasn’t impossible before now, but it would have been extremely difficult. And there will, no doubt, be many more possibilities like this.

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The other news, because I haven’t been plugging it enough and you’ve probably all forgotten, is that we’re holding a conference in July to celebrate the relaunch: The Metropolis on Trial, in the throbbing metropolis of… Milton Keynes. If you’d like to attend, registration is open and you can download a booking form at the website.

X-posted at EMN.

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3 responses to “Old Bailey Online: now from 1674 to 1913

  1. Dave Mazella

    Hey Sharon,

    These links bring out the junior-high school geek in me: as gruesome as this material is, it’s mighty cool what you’ve put together here, and I can only imagine the amount of work it took.

    And, I might add, it’s a fabulous teaching resource that I’ll be using it in future courses.

    So, kudos to you and everyone else responsible for the project. Is there a comment box we can fill out somewhere, to tell the Funding Bodies to keep the money flowing?

    Best,

    DM

  2. Well, we were hoping to set up a community wiki for the launch, though it’s been delayed – that could have space for any praise people might want to give us.

    But actually the way we’re planning to keep the money going from here is, I’m afraid, more pragmatic – we’ve signed up with Google Ads. (Although if you use Firefox with Adblock you probably won’t see them anyway.)

  3. Sharon,

    This is wonderful news!

    I have my students using the Old Bailey for analyzing digitized archives, and the extension is fantastic.

    I also like your questions about women who pleaded their bellies. One of the things I tell my students is that history writing is dynamic. When evidence is looked at in a new way, or we compile evidence together in ways we hadn’t been able to in the past, our story can change, just as your argument about female convicts suggests that our old stories may in fact be wrong–or at least rather imprecise.

    I wish I could attend the conference. Part of my new research deals with women at the Old Bailey, but I only had funds for one conference and I opted for the World History Conference just a week before this. I hope it’s exciting and please keep us posted on the outcome of the conference.