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Rural and Urban Crime

As we have seen, throughout the long nineteenth century the detection, sentencing, and punishment of criminal behaviour became increasingly centralised throughout the nation. To what extent did regional differences affect crimes committed and sentences passed? What political motives affected crimes between rural and urban areas? In this seminar we will compare the treatment and extent of crimes in rural and urban locations in Britain.

Optional introductory material:

PODCAST: 'The Luddites', Stuff You Missed in History Podcast (2013)

Essential seminar preparation:

Primary reading:

Secondary reading:

  • John E Archer, 'Poaching gangs and violence: the urban-rural divide in nineteenth-century Lancashire', British Journal of Criminology, 39 (1999)
  • Peter King, 'The impact of urbanisation on murder rates and the geography of homicide', Historical Journal, 53 (2010)
  • Katrina Navickas, 'Luddism, Incendiarism and the defence of rural "task-scapes" in 1812', Northern History, 48 (2011)

Seminar preparation questions:

  • Why did contemporaries consider crime was mainly a problem for industrial cities in the Victorian period?
  • Is it possible to map a 'geography' of crime?
  • What is the relationship between crime and environment?

Further reading:



  • John E. Archer, By a Flash and a Scare: Arson, Animal-Maiming and Poaching in East Anglia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).
  • J P Dunbabin, Rural Discontent in Nineteenth Century Britain (London: Holmes and Meyer, 1974).
  • B J Davey, Lawless and Immoral: Policing a County Town (Leceister: Leceister University Press, 1983)
  • Catherine Denys, 'Geography of Crime: Rural and Urban Environments', in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Crime and Criminal Justice, ed. by Anya Johansen and Paul Knepper (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2016).
  • Clive Emsley, Crime and Society in England, chapter 5
  • Drew Gray, London's Shadows: The Dark Side of the Victorian City (London: Bloomsbury , 2010).
  • Carl Griffin, 'The mystery of the fires: Captain Swing as Incendiarist', Southern History, 32 (2010)
  • Carl Griffin, 'The violent Captain Swing', Past and Present, 209 (2010).
  • Eric Hobsbawm, 'The Machine breakers', Past and Present, 1 (1952).
  • Eric Hobsbawm and George Rude, Captain Swing (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1969)
  • David Jones, Crime, Protest, Community and Police (London: Routledge, 1982).
  • Simon Joyce, Capital Offenses: Geographies of Class and Crime in Victorian London (University of Virginia Press, 2003).
  • Peter King, 'Urbanisation, rising homicide rates and the geography of lethal violence in Scotland', History, 96 (2011).
  • Harvey Osborne and Michael Winstanley, 'Rural and urban poaching in Victorian England', Rural History, 17 (2006).
  • David Philips, Crime and Authority in Victorian England (London: Croom Helm, 1977).
  • Steve Poole, 'A lasting and saluatory warning: incendiarism, rural order and England last scene of crime execution', Rural History, 19 (2008).
  • John Rule, 'The manifold causes of rural crime', in John Rule (ed.), Outside the Law (University of Exeter Press, 1983).
  • J J Tobias, Crime and Industrial Society (London: Penguin, 1972).
  • Timothy Shakesheff, Rural Conflict, Crime, and Protest: Herefordshire, 1800-1860 (Boydell Press, 2003).
  • Chris Vickers and Nicholas L. Ziebarth, 'Economic Development and the Demographics of Criminals in Victorian England', Journal of Law and Economics (2016), pp. 191-223.
  • R A E Wells, 'Sheep-rustling in Yorkshire in the age of the industrial and agricultural revolutions', Northern History, 20 (1984).