Many websites and blogs dealing with the Regency and Georgian eras link to the Proceedings of The Old Bailey, which features transcripts from courts between 1674 and 1913. Or as one man put it, “the best accounts we shall ever have of what transpired in ordinary English criminal courts before the later eighteenth century.” These transcripts make the past come alive in the citizens’ own words, evoking the era. Trial transcripts selected for inclusion into the Proceedings worked much along the same lines as inclusion of articles in popular magazines today:
Early editions of the Proceedings did not report every trial held at the Old Bailey, and considerations of marketability meant that the most fully reported trials were those which involved sex or violence, or were thought to be entertaining or amusing.” The accounts, which were sold to the public, were held to be accurate, for the Old Bailey Courthouse was a public place and the reputation of the Proceedings would have quickly suffered if the accounts had been unreliable. The proceedings required the approval of the Lord Mayor of London and by the eighteenth century began to be treated as a legal record of the trials heard at the Old Bailey. They formed the basis of the reports by the City Recorder to the King on prisoners convicted of capital offences so that they could be considered for a pardon. Even when coverage became more systematic (the length of the Proceedings was extended in 1729 to twenty-four pages and later increased further), however, the Proceedings only provided partial transcripts of what was said in court. To have published complete transcripts would have rendered the Proceedings considerably longer and uneconomic to publish*
Sample transcript from the Proceedings, in which ELIZABETH CHARLESWORTH and ANN PRITCHARD were indicted for feloniously stealing on the 5th of August , a duck, value 2d. a hen, value 2d. and four chickens, value 9d. the property of Thomas Miller:
I live at Bowesfarm, near Southgate ; I farm a little land, and my wife keeps a shop. On the 5th of August, I had seen the property mentioned in the indictment running about the yard; I saw them again about three o’clock in the day; I was sent for, and told that two women had been stopped with them; I went to Mr. King’s a farmer, about half a mile from me; I saw the duck, four chickens, and the hen; I had had the hen these five years, the hen I am very sure of, the duck and the chickens I cannot be sure of; the hen was dead when I found it, but quite warm; the duck and the chickens were alive, they were taken to the Magistrate’s, and from there I took them home; the two prisoners had been employed about me as hay-makers; the weather had been bad, and I believe they were very much distrest; they lodged in a rick-yard close by me.- Read the rest of the transcript here – reference #t17990911-48
Pritchard’s defence: We were coming to London between twelve and one in the night, and a man sold them to us for three-pence half-penny; Mrs. Charlesworth gave him the money. The prisoner, Charlesworth, called two witnesses, who gave her an excellent character. The women were found Not Guilty.
*Text from About the Proceedings, Old Bailey Online