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The Criminal Upper Class vs Underclass

So far we have explored social class differences in crimes and sentencing: but what happens when we look at specifically financial crimes? In this seminar we will explore the 'Criminal underclass' of the truly destitute in city streets compared with the specifically middle and upper-class crimes and criminals which rely on access to information and professionalised spaces.

Additional intro material:

PODCAST: 'London Labour and the London Poor: An Audio Guide', Oxford Academic (2015).

Essential seminar reading:



  • Sarah Wilson, 'Law, Morality and Regulation : Victorian Experiences of Financial Crime', British Journal of Criminology, 46 (2006)
  • A. L. Beier, 'Identity, Language, and Resistance in the Making of the Victorian "Criminal Class" : Mayhew's Convict Revisited', Journal of British Studies, 44 (2005)

Seminar prep questions:

  • How widespread was white-collar crime in Victorian England?
  • What was the response of the courts to class differences in crimes and criminals?
  • Do fraud and theft cases reflect anxieties of the newly industrialised nation?
  • How influential are ideas of degeneracy in contemporary understandings of the causes of crime?

Further reading:


  • Gregory Anderson, Victorian Clerks, chapter 3
  • D. Andrew and R. McGowen, The Perreaus and Mrs Rudd: Forgery and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century London
  • Victor Bailey, 'The fabrication of deviance: dangerous classes and criminal classes in Victorian England', in John Rule and Robert Malcolmson (eds), Protest and Survival
  • Kenneth Brown, 'Nonconformity and trade unionism : the Sheffield outrages of 1866', in Eugenio Biagini and Alastair Reid, Currents of Radicalism
  • Kellow Chesney, The Victorian Underworld
  • Robert Colley, ‘The Shoreditch tax frauds : a study of the relationship between the state and civil society in 1860’, Historical Research, 78 (2005), pp. 540-62.
  • Jason Ditton, 'Perks, pilferage and the fiddle: the historical structure of an invisible wage', Theory and Society, 4 (1977), pp. 39-71
  • David Englander, 'Henry Mayhew and the Criminal Classes of Victorian England : The Case Reopened', Criminal Justice History, 17 (2002)
  • Margot Finn, Michael Lobban and Jenny Bourne Taylor (eds), Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Nineteenth-Century Law, Literature and History, especially chapters 4-7
  • Phil Handler, ‘Forgery and the End of the 'Bloody Code'; in Early Nineteenth-Century England’, Historical Journal, 48:3 (2005), pp. 683–702.
  • Michael Jones, Creative Accounting, Fraud and International Accounting Scandals, chapter 7
  • Peter King, 'Gleaners, farmers and the failure of legal sanctions in England, 1750-1850', Past and Present, 125 (1989), pp. 116-50
  • John Locker, '"Quiet thieves, quiet punishment": Private responses to the "respectable offender"', Crime, History and Societies, 9 (2005), pp. 9-31
  • R. McGowen, ‘From Pillory to Gallows: The Punishment of Forgery in the Age of the Financial Revolution’, Past and Present, 165 (1999), pp. 107–140.
  • Randall McGowen, 'Getting to know the criminal class in nineteenth century England', Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 14 (1990)
  • D. Melossi, 'Changing representations of the criminal', British Journal of Criminology, 40 (2000)
  • Preeti Nijhar, 'Imperial Violence : the "Ethnic" as a Component of the "Criminal" Class in Victorian England', Liverpool Law Review, 27 (2006)
  • David Philips, 'Three "moral entrepreneurs" and the creation of a "criminal class in England, c.1790s-1840s', Crime, Histoire et Societes, 7 (2003)
  • Nicola Phillips, 'A Case Study of the Impact of Crime on the Criminal Justice System', Crime, Histoires et Societe, 2013
  • George Robb, White-collar crime in modern England
  • Rob Sindall, 'Middle-class crime in nineteenth-century England', Criminal Justice History, 4 (1983), pp. 23-40
  • James Taylor, 'Watchdogs or Apologists', Historical Research, 2012
  • Martin Wiener, Reconstructing the Criminal (especially Introduction and chapter 1)