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Leeds Metropolitan University


Dr Heather Shore offers a module entitled Crime, Disorder and Popular Culture, c.1750-c.1850 as part of the level 3 history programme. It is concerned with developments in criminal justice and law enforcement in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, focusing on transformation that occurred between 1750 and 1850. Students consider a range of historiographical issues, with which they are able to engage proactively using primary materials. These mainly comprise documents recording details of criminal lives, along with court records, especially the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913, which are available on-line.

 Teaching approach

In week 5, a lecture is held to familiarise the students with the basic features of the Old Bailey material and to show them the different ways it can be searched. At this stage they are encouraged to think about what sort of crime (or punishment) they want to research and the best ways to select the evidence they require in so doing, perhaps starting to gather some from the Old Bailey material. This part of the tuition essentially focuses on qualitative material.

A practical seminar session follows, that gives students the opportunity to familiarise themselves with using the Old bailey records and other on-line sources. At this stage, the students begin working on the evidence they will use as part of their assessed coursework.

In week 6, a further lecture is given on the Old Bailey records, exploring the nature and typology of crimes that were held at the Old Bailey.


Students submit two pieces of coursework, each of which count for half the module marks. One is an 2,000-word essay drawn from a list that explores a range of historians views and debates about the chosen topic. The other is a 2,000-word essay based significantly on quantitative and qualitative evidence taken from the Old Bailey records and on the complementary reading of secondary sources.

Guidance given to the students in preparing the second essay includes:

1. Content

One of the following criminal offences has to be selected:

  • Infanticide
  • Rape or sodomy
  • Robbery, murder or manslaughter

2. Compiling primary evidence

The primary evidence must be drawn from the trial transcripts and statistical data contained in the Old Bailey records. Students are expected to integrate primary evidence with secondary reading in order to thoroughly investigate their topic.

At least three statistical tables and two criminal trials from the Old Bailey records must be used.

3. Referencing

Each trial, for which a number is given in the Old bailey records) must be fully referenced as follows:

Eg: OBP, Trial of John Rann, William Collier, Eleanor Roache, Christian Stewart, Highway Robbery, Receiving, 19th October 1774 (t17741019-50)

4. Questions to ask

The following are examples of some of the questions that students might ask in preparing their essays:

  • What was the legal definition of the offence?
  • How did the definition of the offence change (if at all) over the period?
  • How were those individuals charged with this offence sentenced and punished?
  • To what extent did the punishments for these sorts of crime change over time? For example, these crimes were all felonies; does this mean that those individuals were always sentenced to death and executed?
  • How many women compared to men committed this crime? Were men and women found guilty of these crimes treated in the same way?
  • To what extent were representations of the crime (e.g. highway robbery, infanticide) gendered? Is this reflected at all in the examples you have chosen?
  • How common was this crime? Did the incidence of this crime increase or decrease over time? Explain any changes
  • To what extent did public attitudes to this crime shape the way in which it was prosecuted and punished?

5. Contextualising with secondary evidence/reading

In relation to a chosen theme, the student must devise the questions needed to interrogate the data, draw on the secondary literature for contextual material, such as the passage of legislation relating to the theme, and select examples of Old Bailey trials (the qualitative evidence) to support the analysis.

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey website can be viewed at