Hist4115 Crime and Punishment in 18th and Early 19th Century England

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Crime and Punishment in 18th and Early 19th Century England
The course will consider the creation of the "bloody code" of capital laws in the English criminal law, in the course of the 18th century, against a background of physical punishment of the body, and the dismantling of this terror based system of law enforcement during the 19th century. The 18th and 19th century criminal legal system and its administration will be situated historically in relation to the structure of the early-modern state and the changing requirements of an urbanising and industrialising society. The ideological significance of the administration of justice and the symbolic importance of punishment to the maintenance of ruling class power will be considered as will the role of "middling" people in the workings of the law at a local level.
We will examine and evaluate differing and competing explanations of these legislative and administrative trends. We shall also investigate the relevance of some radical criminology to the understanding of crime and punishment historically and the theoretical and methodological problems presented, to social historians of crime in our period, by the nature of the sources and records available to them.
The course will be taught in a seminar format over ten sessions and students will be expected to undertake sufficient reading to present oral reports to the group, as the basis for discussion, and to be able to take an active part in class discussion when others do so. I shall allocate key readings to those who are to report on them, well in advance. It is essential to the success of the class that those expected to report do in fact do so! If for any reason a designated reporter should be unable to obtain the set reading they must let me know as early as may be. I would also ask that they let me know as soon as possible if they are to be unable to attend class due to sickness.
Questions which we shall consider in our seminars are to be found on the weekly reading list. These should also serve as essay questions for your second essay. You may answer other questions, if you wish, but only with my express agreement and approval of the exact wording of your question.

  • Your first essay will be a critical review of the first chapter of Albion’s Fatal Tree, which you shall be given access to. This is due before the start of the fourth class. We will discuss many of the questions that you might wish to raise in your essays, during the third class.

  • Your second essay is due by the First day of the next term.

  • Essays should be about 3,000 words in length.

  • Two copies of essays should be placed in the class teacher’s pigeonhole in the Departmental Office and students should have them date stamped by a secretary. The class teacher will make arrangements to return marked essays to students individually and to talk about them.

Seminar Programme

Session 1

Introduction: An Examination of the Major Historiographical and Methodological Problems which will be Dealt with During the Course.

The problem of the "dark figure" of unrecorded crime

Ditton, J. Controlology: Beyond the New Criminology, (London, Macmillan, 1979)

Emsley, C. Crime and Society in England, 1750-1900, (London, Longman, 1987) Ch. 4.

Hameed, A. "The Met's numbers racket", in New Statesman Society, (7th April 1989) p. 32. [p/c]

Session 2

Judicial records. The problems of the sources for social historians of crime, in our period.

Beattie, J.M. Crime and the courts in England 1600-1800, (Oxford, Ox.U.P, 1986) Ch. 1 "Introduction", pp. 3-32.

Hay, D. "War, Dearth and Theft in the Eighteenth Century", in Past & Present, No.95 (1982)

Innes, J. & Styles, J. "The Crime Wave: Recent Writing on Crime and Criminal Justice in Eighteenth Century England", in Journal of British Studies, 25, 4, (Oct. 1986)

Old Bailey on line: http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/

Questions: Are eighteenth-century judicial records an adequate source for the uses to which they are put by social historians of crime? What are their virtues? What are their faults?

Crime waves? Prosecution waves and newspaper crime reportage.

Davis, J. "The London Garrotting Panic of 1862: a Moral Panic and the Creation of a Criminal Class in Mid-Victorian England", in Gatrell, Lenman & Parker (eds) Crime & the Law: the Social History of Crime in Western Europe Since 1500, (London, 1980)

King, P. "Newspaper Reporting, Prosecution Practice and Perceptions of Urban Crime: the Colchester Crime Wave of 1765", in Continuity & Change, 2, 3, (1987) pp.423-454.

King, P. "Urban crime rates and borough courts in eighteenth century Essex ...", in Essex Journal, Vol.22, 2 (Summer 1987) pp.39-42.

Pearson, G. Hooligan: a history of respectable fears, (London, Macmillan, 1983) Especially chapter 6. "A new variety of crime".


1) How might a "moral panic" affect the apparent incidence of crime? Why is this important?

2) What effect might the discovery of a new variety of crime have upon public perceptions of criminality?

Session 3

Debates in the Social History Crime in Eighteenth Century England. Differing explanations of the relationship between "Class" and "Crime".

Questions to ask whilst reading:

1) What are the politics of the writer?

2) Does this affect their practice of history? If so how?

3) Is there an unstated agenda?

4) Is evidence viewed critically?

Hay, D. et al, Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth Century England, (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1977)

Especially Chapter 1, Hay, D. " Property, authority and the criminal law"

King, P. "Decision-Makers and Decision-Making in the English Criminal Law", in The Historical Journal, 27, 1, (1984) pp.25-58. (http://uk.jstor.org/search)

Langbein, J. "Albion's Fatal Flaws", in Past & Present, No.98 (1983) pp.96-120. (http://uk.jstor.org/search)

Linebaugh, P. "(Marxist) Social History and (Conservative) Legal History: A reply to Professor Langbein", in N.Y.U. Law Review, 60, 2, (May 1985) pp.212-243.


1) Was the criminal law of eighteenth-century England functional to the English ruling class? If so, how?

2) "... laws and governments may be considered in this and in every case as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor and preserve to themselves the inequality of goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor ..." Adam Smith. Discuss with regard to English criminal law in the eighteenth century.

Prosecution, Pardons and Patronage. The role of patronage, deference and authority in the 18th century criminal law.

Beattie, J.M. Crime and the Court in England 1660-1800, (Oxford, 1986)

Hay, D. "The criminal prosecution in England and its historians", in Modern Law Review, 47 (1984) pp.1-29.

Innes, J. & Styles, J. "The Crime Wave: Recent Writing on Crime and Criminal Justice in Eighteenth Century England", in Journal of British Studies, 25, 4, (Oct. 1986) (http://uk.jstor.org/search)

Manchester, A. A modern legal history of England and Wales 1750-1950, (London, Butterworth, 1980)

Radzinowicz, L. A History of the English Criminal Law and its Administration from 1750, 5 vols, (London, 1948-1986)

Session 4

Reform of the criminal law. Ideology, the image of justice, paternalism and the state.

Anon.Hanging not punishment enough for Murthers, High way Men, and House-Breakers, [1st Published 1701]

Carson, W.G. "Symbolic and Instrumental Dimensions of Early Factory Legislation: a Case Study in the Social Origins of Criminal Law", in R. Hood (ed) Crime, Criminality and Public Policy, (London, 1974)

McGowen, R. "The Image of Justice and Reform of the criminal Law in Early 19th Century England", in Buffalo Law Review, 32, (1983)

Paley, W.The principles of moral and political philosophy, [1st published 1785]

Radzinowicz, L. A History of the English Criminal Law and its Administration from 1750, (London, 1948->)

Questions: To what extent were changes in the prevailing ideology of the ruling elite responsible for changes in the administration of criminal justice in England? What other reasons might have contributed to the change?

Session 5

Capital laws and capital punishment, transportation and the rise of the penitentiary.

Campbell, R. "Sentence of Death by Burning for Women", in Journal of Legal History, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Sept. 1984)

Cornish, W.R. "Criminal justice and punishment", in W.R. Cornish et al. Crime & Law, (Dublin, Irish University Press, 1978) pp.7-65

Foucault, M. Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1978)

Garland, M. Punishment and modern Society: a study in social theory, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990)

Henriques, U. Before the welfare state, (London, Longman, 1979) Especially chapters 8 & 9.

Ignatieff, M. A Just Measure of Pain: the Penitentiary in the Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850, (London, Macmillan, 1978)

McConville, S. A History of English Prison Administration, Vol.1, (London, Routledge, 1981)


How might we best explain the rise of the prison as a replacement for other punishments?

Session 6

Ideology, reformation and the evolution of the prison

Emsley, C. Crime and society in England, (Harlow, Longman, 1987) Ch. 9.

McConville, S. A History of English Prison Administration, Vol.1, (London, Routledge, 1981)

Sim, J. Medical Power in Prisons: prison medical service in England, 1774-1988, (Buckingham, Open University Press, 1990)

Weiss, R. "Humanitarianism, labour exploitation, or social control? a critical survey of theory and research on the origin and development of prisons", Social History, 12,3, (October 1987)

Zedner, L. Women Crime and Custody in Victorian England, (Oxford, Oxford U. P.,1994)

Session 7

Police, old and new. The reduction of the policing of London under Peel?

Brogden, M. "'All police is conning bastards'- policing and the problem of consent", in B. Fryer et al. eds, Law, State and Society, (London, Croom Helm, 1981) pp. 202-227.

Emsley, C. Crime and Society in England 1750-1900, (London, Longman, 1987) Ch. 8.

Paley, R. "An Imperfect, Inadequate and Wretched System'? policing London Before Peel", in Criminal Justice History, Vol. 10, (1989,)

Phillips, D. "A Just Measure of Crime, Authority, Hunters and Blue Locusts: the 'Revisionist' Social History of Crime and the Law in Britain, 1750-1850", in S. Cohen & A. Scull (eds), Social Control and the State, (Oxford, 1983)

Radzinowicz, L. A History of the English Criminal Law and its Administration from 1750, (London, 1948->)

Reiner, R. Politics of the Police, ( Hemel Hempstead, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992)

Question: Why was hostility to the new police so widespread?

Session 8

"What is crime?" and "Who is criminal? " Perks and theft: popular protest, moral economy and disorder.

Bohstedt, J. "Gender, Household and Community Politics: Women in English Riots 1790-1810", in Past & Present, No.120 (August 1988)

Charlesworth, A. & Randall, A. "Morals, Markets and the English Crowd in 1766", in Past and Present, No.114 (Feb. 1987)

Randall, A. & Charlesworth, A.(Eds) Markets, Market Culture and Popular Protest in Eighteenth-Century England,(Liverpool U.P., 1996) Paticularly chapters 1 & 6.

Thompson, E.P "The moral economy of the English crowd in the eighteenth century", in Past & Present, No.50 (Feb. 1971)

Marx, K "Proceedings of the Sixth Rhine Province Assembly: Debates on the theft of wood", in Marx, K. and Engels, F. Collected Works, Vol.1, (London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1975) pp.224-263

Question: What is meant by "moral economy"? How might this concept help us to understand popular involvement in riotous demonstrations, in our period?

Session 9

The Moral Economy and Industrial Organisation.

Linebaugh, P. The London Hanged: crime and civil society in the eighteenth century, (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1991)

Randall, A. "The shearmen and the Wiltshire outrages of 1802: trade unionism and industrial violence", in Social History, Vol. 7, (1982)

Session 10

Overview and summary.

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