Posts Tagged ‘Old Bailey’

British History in the Long eighteenth century seminar
24 October 2012
Adam Crymble (King’s College, London University)
Profiling Irish Crime in London, 1801-1820

Through a combination of close and distant reading of the online Old Bailey Proceedings in conjunction with the Middlesex criminal registers and the 1841 Census of England and Wales, Adam Crymble had been able to discover a seasonal pattern to crime committed by Irish immigrants in the London area between the years 1801-1820.  The conclusion that Irish immigrants tended to commit crimes more often in the Autumn is in contrast to what Adam has found for most other criminals in London.  Crime is generally less prominent in the summer, we are told, when there is more resources available but more prevalent in the deep winter when resources become scarce.  The Irish, however appear different because many of them return home for the winter months (amongst other reasons).

Illustration from book about the trial of Helen Duncan Image of the w:Old Bailey

Illustration from book about the trial of Helen Duncan Image of the w:Old Bailey

The primary aim of Adam Crymble’s talk to the British History in the Long Eighteenth Century seminar is to give a picture of Irish life in London in the first two decades of the nineteenth century.  He is particularly interested in crime and whether there were differences between the types of crime Irish settlers were likely to be prosecuted for than with other criminals of English or other nationality.  The difficulty here, however, is identifying someone who is Irish in the trial proceedings.  Keyword searching of the records brings out very poor, uneven, and inaccurate results.  It is rare that nationality is recorded.  Therefore, a comparison to the Middlesex criminal records, which record birth place, helps to identify and confirm some of their identities.  Bringing in the 1841 census enables further cross-linking to surname.  Whilst, Adam would not claim that these methods bring out complete accuracy, he believes that the results are enough to form accurate conclusions about the nature of crime committed by Irish immigrants in this period.

This paper draws out some interesting and new themes and patterns in regards to criminal activity as recorded in the Old Bailey trials further adding to our picture of life and crime in eighteenth century London.

For more on Adam Crymble’s research see his profile at King’s College London.


To listen to this podcast click here.

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Digital History
Digital landscapes and Archaeology
Peter Rauxloh (Museum of London Archaeology)
6 December 2011

Internationally known as a leading expert on using databases in archaeology, the Museum of London’s Peter Rauxloh is the perfect person to talk about using digital technologies to understand the landscape.  Peter’s talk was live streamed by the IHR on 6 December and also recorded as a podcast. 

The talk centres on several case studies including Spitalfields Medieval Augustinian Cemetery in London.   The central question that he poses for this paper is what could not be done without digital technologies in archaeology?  Looking at tools ranging from Geo-referencing to three-dimensional modelling and more basic digital assets such as databases for recording large amounts of data (such as 11,000 skeletons at Spitalfields) it becomes immediately obvious just how important digital is to our understandings of archaeological remains and landscapes.  Take for instance the desire to know the orientation of all 11,000 skeletons and partial skeletons.  In the case of Spitalfield this information was not recorded for all finds but using GIS and other digital tools it was possible to work out the orientations from geo-referenced skulls and bone fragments.  It was also possible to map these against other landscape features such as to show how the burials related to the church or a line of wall.  From that data it was possible to show how people moved around the churchyard. 

Primarily Peter Rauxloh talks about the development of three digital technologies that have transformed the archaeological profession: 

  1. Databases (to handle and analysis large chunks of data)
  2. GIS (spatial distribution) 
  3. 3D Technologies (stratigraphic investigation)

Overall this is a highly useful introductory talk for anyone creating or making use of data obtained through digital means which examine archaeology and the landscape.

 To listen or watch this podcast please click here.

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Digital History seminar
21 February 2012
Magnus Huber (Giessen)
The Old Bailey Corpus: Spoken English in the 18th and 19th Centuries

The Old Bailey Proceedings Online is a heavily used resource by historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who want to look at social and cultural history, particularly of the ordinary people.   The ‘from below’ perspective that the proceedings can provide especially due to its mark-up online has truly moved the discussion forward.  However, as the project was originally underway at least one person saw another possibility for the resource. 

Magnus Huber is an historical-linguist and he viewed the Old Bailey corpus as a largely untapped resource for rediscovering spoken English in a period before audio or visual recordings.  Huber has analysed the texts for long variations and change in spoken English as expressed in the court trials.  He has asked and attempted to answer how accurate such a study can be.  Does the written record accurately record spoken English?  Even where the scribe has noted down direct speech, can we be sure that this is correct?  What about the problem of summarising or changes in word-forms such as “can’t” rather than “cannot”?  From an historians point of view some of this is not important to gaining an historical sense of what the resource is telling us.  However, from a linguists point of view there are important differences and the records cannot entirely be trusted to tell us everything that we would like to be able to assume.  A lack of internal consistency in the text is a problem and even comparing to other parallel documents cannot necessarily tell us the entire story. 

Nevertheless, Huber’s study of the Old Bailey records has enabled him to reconstruct much more than would otherwise be possible.  The quantity of material of the same form over a lengthy period of time that the Old Bailey records provide is a gold mine of information.  Now marked-up with the latest digital technology and using digital tools to analyse and ‘mine’ the evidence, the Old Bailey proceedings are continuing to provide almost endless possibilities for research.  

 To listen or watch this podcast click here.

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Digital History
14 June 2011
Professor Tim Hitchcock (Hertfordshire)
Text Mining the Old Bailey Proceedings

"The Old Bailey, known also as the Central Criminal Court"

The Old Bailey Online is probably one of the most successful web-based projects produced in Britain thus far.  Based on the proceedings from London’s central criminal court this is a fully searchable edition containing some 197,745 criminal trials detailing the lives of non-elite people.  One of the originators of the project, Tim Hitchcock is looking at how to use text mining tools to examine the proceedings and discover new things about them.  Text mining is the derivation of meaningful data from a large body of unstructured data, using automated methods to reveal structure and associations.  Through text mining Hitchcock is able to compare patterns of persecution over time and further examine changes in court behaviour and procedure. 

Did you know, for instance, that the shortest trial on the Old Bailey proceedings is just eight words in length whilst the longest is 320 pages and over 150,000 words?  Hitchcock believes  that previous attempts to average trial lengths per year to show trends disguises the mix of long and short trials contained within each year and also the fact that the accounts are not entirely complete, that some trials are purposefully reduced in length for very interesting reasons.  Through text mining Hitchcock shows that changes in the nature of the jury trial (and which trials would reach a jury) are vital to understanding the trends especially when looking also as the number of non-guilty verses guilty pleas and verdicts.  Hitchcock argues that plea-bargaining became increasingly important. 

At the heart of Hitchcock’s paper is an argument that data/text mining represents the beginning of a new methodology for historians studying data and that we are very much at the beginning of an exciting process of using digital tools for new historical research.  All we have to do is rise to the challenge.

For more details about text mining have a look at one of the IHR’s other projects Historie, where we will be presenting various case studies and training modules on various digital tools, including text mining.

To watch/listen to this podcast click here.

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Yesterday was the first Digital History seminar this term and, as what has become a continuing thread for many of the papers, the focus was again on the Old Bailey Proceedings.  However, this time the topic was rather different – at least from an historian’s perspective – Magnus Huber (Gissen) is a linguist and his area of investigation was to look at what – if anything – the proceedings can tell us about spoken English in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.   

If anyone would like to watch the recording it is currently available on the ‘past live streamed events’ section of History SPOT.  Over the coming week’s I will be reviewing the video and audio to produce a smoother edited edition which will then be archived in the Digital History seminar section of History SPOT.   So watch this space!

As per usual I was sat in one corner of the room monitoring the live stream for the session while seminar conveners Peter Webster (IHR) and Richard Deswarte (History Data Service, University of Essex) entered the ‘Twitter-sphere’ to keep the digital world abreast of what was happening in the room and to field any questions from the online audience that were not directed through my ‘chat’ pop-out. 

Those who were watching, either in the room or online, will have been aware that we started with a few technical issues, however – thankfully – I was able to resolve these fairly quickly.  The problem amounted to the failure of the wired internet connection (either the cable or the connection itself).  We were therefore reliant on wifi which was far from ideal but did nonetheless seem to withstand the high broadband usage I was chucking at it. 

The next session promises to be something of an interesting experiment for us as the speaker, Dan Cohen – will be speaking from his home institution of George Mason University in Washington DC.  Dan will be using the same live stream system that we use while we in the room will maintain a skype connection with Dan in the background to deal with any technical hitches and for the post-paper questions.  Those of us in the room, therefore, will be joining our other online viewers by watching the seminar on the computer screen (via a projector in our case).  I’m quite excited by this prospect as I have not yet had the opportunity to watch any of our live streams in real-time for obvious reasons. 

Digital History Seminar
Dan Cohen (George Mason)
Finding Meaning in a Million Victorian Books

The next session will be live streamed at approximately 5.15pm GMT on Tuesday 6 March 2012.  For those of you who would like to attend the event in person we will be gathering in S261 on the second floor of Senate House (a slight change from normal).  This can be reached either through the Senate House North Block stairs or via Stewart House (instead of turning left towards the usual room (ST276) keep on going forward.

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Locating London’s past: a geo-referencing tool for mapping historical and archaeological evidence, 1660-1800
21 October 2011
Robert Shoemaker, Tim Hitchcock, Matthew Davies, David Green, Peter Barker, Ian Gregory


This workshop looked at the Locating London’s Past project (LLP) which launched earlier this week.  As a digital project LLP is actually a re-launch, of sorts, of digital projects already available in other forms elsewhere.   By making use of various datasets including the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, Hearth tax data, plague deaths records and more, LLP gives the researcher the opportunity to ask new questions from old data.  The project is based around an interface that makes use of geo-referencing tools allowing users to map the datasets across London as it appeared in the early modern period (and as it appears today).  Researchers can therefore locate crimes, wealth, distribution of ale houses, plague deaths, taxes and much more across London and use it as an analysis tool aggregated by parish, population density and various other options. 

In this first video, Professor Robert Shoemaker walks us through the website and gives various examples of how it can be used and what we might learn from doing so.  The video is in part taken from the raw footage recorded from our live stream of the workshop itself back in October alongside images and video borrowed from the website.  In addition, the second video offers an account of the roundtable session that ended the day.  Unfortunately the video quality is poor but the discussion itself was interesting.   

So, to the Locating London’s Past website.  Is it any good?  I decided to look at the extent of fire insurance in any given area.  To do this I first selected basic population data and choose to look at it by density in the 1740s (being the closest in time to the fire insurance data which covers the range 1777-1786). I then added fire insurance data (total) to my search and came up with these results.


Of course there are strong limitations to this search.  For starters the fire insurance data only looks at the Sun and Royal Exchange insurance companies, who primarily operated in the South East and largely monopolised insurance of industrial properties.  That explains the strong density in the east end.    

Afterwards I tried adding data from the Hearth Tax records to see if there was a correlation between wealth (roughly found by higher amounts of hearth tax paid in a parish) and the taking up of fire insurance.  From the results it would seem not.  Indeed the opposite appears to be the case which would make sense considering that Sun and Royal Exchange largely insured in one particular area and often industrial properties.


So what did I learn from this brief exercise?  This is a fantastic resource but it is one where you need to think carefully about the data that you are using and combining.  Of course, that is true with any data used to come to a conclusion but more so here I think.  The mapping of fire insurance against population density and hearth tax confirms not only that the Sun and royal Exchange operated largely in one region of London, but also that it bears little relation to the hearth tax data which covered the 1660s (approximately 100 years earlier). 

It is probably safer to start by mapping something simpler.   For example various types of crime across London checked against population density, wealth or poor relief.  Alternatively start simply by looking at the number of killings by parish (moderated by the 1801 census population data).  I tried that and compared that data to female victims with the same selection.  It was not that unexpected that most killings of women were in the east end.  However, what is interesting is the apparent lack of female killings elsewhere in London (except for a bunch that cross over the Themes between Covent Garden and Lambeth Palace).


At the moment I’m still pretty new at trying to work this out and my knowledge of early modern London is perhaps not as good as it should be, but thankfully the people at Sheffield and London have made the website pretty user friendly with a lot of useful information regarding each data set.  Nevertheless, to make proper use of the site would require sitting down for a day with a large cafeteria of coffee or pot of tea and carefully working my way through the site and experimenting.   Once worked out I think a lot can be gained from this site and some genuinely exciting and useful information discovered.  I look forward to seeing what research does appear in the near future as a derivative of work from Locating London’s Lives and, perhaps, at some point I’ll have a spare afternoon to make a proper stab at it myself.

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