Crime

Blacks in the Gordon Riots

Marika Sherwood trawls contemporary reports of the anti-Catholic protests that rocked London in June 1780 to reveal the black men and women who took part, exploring their motives and punishments for doing so.

'The evident Decay of Trade, the enormous Increase of Taxes to carry on a ruinous War against our Colonies, joined with a Perfect Hatred against the secret Advisers and Promoters of it... the Ministry has laid too many Burthens on the People to be borne with Patience. I only wonder they have been quiet so long...'

So wrote 'A Detester of ill-grounded Accusations' to the Public Advertiser on Ju1y 24th, 1780. The 'they' were the Londoners who had rioted during the first week of June 1780.

The poor of London, as well as the not-so-poor, had many other reasons for discontent. For them the city was an unsavoury, unsanitary and grossly overcrowded place, where footpads and robbers were a constant menace and 'justice' was often meted out on the evidence of paid informers. The many gaols housed the bankrupts, the criminals and the political discontents: some 200 'crimes' merited capital punishment. There was resentment against war-profiteering and against the numbers of the Government's 'placemen' and pensioners. Those not liable to taxes were liable to impressment, into both the army and the navy, whose thirst for men seemed unquenchable. Employment was insecure and irregular and 'combining' to attempt to obtain better wages and conditions was illegal.

Glasgow on Show and the Boys in Blue, 1888-1938

Alistair Goldsmith describes how Glasgow's police force endeavoured to preserve the city's standing as it played host to a series of international set-pieces.

The spate of international exhibitions held in Glasgow from 1888 to 1938 endeavoured to underline the economic importance of the city. Their organisation as examples of large-scale sustained events linked Glasgow to international projects going back to the Great Exhibitions of London (1851), New York (1855) and Paris (1855). The Empire Exhibition in 1938, for example, far from being seen as a parochial imitation compared with the magnificence of Wembley in 1924-25, was likened in the most positive terms, particularly architecturally, to the Paris exhibition of 1937. In addition, the Glasgow Exhibition authorities welcomed visiting organisers from the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco and the New York World's Fair held the following year.

Traditionally, the reaction of the authorities to large assemblies of people has been one of suspicion. Crowds could be, and were, seen as potentially seditious and as disruptive magnets for criminals, to be con- trolled at all costs. This anxiety was echoed by the City of Glasgow Police when the first exhibition was staged in 1888, coming at a time when fears of social unrest were widespread. The predisposition of the Glasgow police to the four exhibitions held in the city, while not overtly hostile, was guarded, apprehensive even.

Piracy in Early British America

Simon Smith questions our image of buccaneers as bloodthirsty opportunists claiming they were often highly organised and efficient businessmen in the waters of the Caribbean.

Pirates are one of history's most colourful gifts to literature: around a few certain facts, myths and legends have been woven by story-tellers. The lives of the most notorious pirates of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century attracted attention from contemporary writers, such as Daniel Defoe, and in the next century inspired artists as diverse in range as the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, the poet Lord Byron, and the composer Hector Berlioz. Pirate tales encompass the timeless and highly marketable themes of escapist adventure and rebellion against authority, motifs equally adaptable to both blood- thirsty and comic interpretations.

Tracing the different representations of pirates it is fascinating to see how the pirate persona has changed over time. The images pirates chose for themselves, epitomised by the symbol of the Jolly Roger, emphasised violence and menace so as to strike fear into the hearts of victims. These psychopathic leanings are a world apart from the romantic image generated by writers such as J.M. Barrie, reinforced later by Hollywood, of pirates as either gangs of ruffians led by civilised gentlemen with a sense of honour or bands of rough diamonds led by cads.

Serial Killers in 17th-century England

At one level the conviction of Rosemary West has drawn a line under the grim story of life and death in Cromwell Street, Gloucester. At another, the issue remains wide open. How, we wonder, can apparently ordinary people commit such deeds? Are there really 'natural born killers', or should we look for answers in terms of the alienation of late twentieth-century society? Surely, we feel, such things could never have happened in earlier times?

Crime and Punishment in 1930s Barcelona

Did Andres Aranda Ortiz die for his crimes or his anarchist beliefs in a Barcelona prison just before Christmas 1934? Chris Ealham considers an episode that lays bare the social and political tensions of a Spain on the eve of civil war.

On December 21st, 1934, Andres Aranda Ortiz, a twenty- year old anarchist, was garotted in Barcelona prison. Before the executioner ended Aranda's short life, the condemned youth launched a final passionate call of 'Viva la anarquia' (Long live anarchy!), the favoured cry of anarchists condemned to death. Like many anarchists before him, Aranda faced his executioner with stoical contempt. However, Aranda was not executed for killing traditional anarchist targets, such as tyrannical politicians or hated employers. Instead, Aranda went to the executioner for his part in a bungled robbery on a tailors' shop which left a fellow worker dead.

Aranda represented the sum total of bourgeois fears in 1930s Catalonia. During these years, both the local authorities and business interests – what can be called 'Official Barcelona' – were alarmed at the regularity of armed robberies which earned the city the title, 'the Catalan Chicago'. At Aranda's trial, and in the conservative press prior to his execution, 'Official Barcelona' forcefully articulated its accumulated neuroses regarding law and order. In fact, it was the deafening clamour of politicians, businessmen, and military, legal and religious personalities, rather than any conclusive evidence, which provided the basis for the prosecution case that led Aranda to his death.

The Birmingham Coiners, 1770-1816

John Powell chronicles the activities of a Midlands ring of counterfeiters whose activities open a window on the economic and social ambiguities of late Georgian England.

Almost any kind of rubbish used to pass as copper money...button tops, tokens or any round bit of metal. And all this made the trade of the false coiner more easy. The trade was carried on so openly that I have often wondered at people's hardihood considering the severity of the punishment on detection. They imitated the old copper half-pence of George II and fried them in brimstone to give them an antique appearance. If anybody was derected in imitating gold or silver coinage, it was called a 'spiritual' business because it touched his life; but if it were for copper money only, it was called 'temporal' because he was in no danger of the gallows for that...I have known as many as three and four people strung up together at one time for that offence...

These recollections first appeared on February 10th, 1851, in the Morning Chronicle. This was the era of Mayhew's inquiries, and not allowing London to take sole place amongst the investigated, men from this paper journeyed into the countryside and into the large cities. What is surprising is not the similarity of industrial nineteenth-century experiences, but their differences. On questioning the elderly artisans of Birmingham, the Morning Chronicle's correspondent unearthed a local tradition which by 1851 was becoming a part of history. At the beginning of the century the coining and forgery of money in Birmingham was of virtually epidemic proportions.

Juvenile Delinquency in the Graeco-Roman World

Bovver boys in Athens and Rome? Apparently so, according to Robert Garland, who uncovers tales from life and legend to show how high jinks could turn to blows in the classical world.

Some of the most engrossing questions which we can put to the ancient world are precisely those which are of current concern to our own society, whether or not we are able to obtain a very precise answer. The fundamental questions of this investigation are: firstly, did juvenile delinquency exist in the Graeco-Roman world? Secondly, what factors might have contributed towards it? Thirdly, what form did it characteristically take? And fourthly, how was it dealt with?

Discussions of juvenile delinquency in contemporary society have failed to produce a consensus as to what kind of behaviour should be so classified, but the one which is perhaps least contentious is 'any act committed by a juvenile which – according to our legal system – is punishable by law'.

Gentlemen & Thugs in 17th-Century Britain

Keith M. Brown questions the extent to which humanism and Renaissance courtliness had weaned the Stuart aristocracy from random acts of violence and taking the law into their own hands.

The 'taming' of the nobility is one of the major themes of the early modern histories of England and Scotland. There are a number of well known explanations: the growing disapproval of the crown, especially under James VI and I, who was persuaded from 1598 to tackle feuding in Scotland, and after 1613 to discourage duelling in England; the critique Of the honour code by Christian humanism, Renaissance courtliness, and Protestantism; the rapid development in litigation which still satisfied the taste for confrontation and revenge; and the prevalence of domestic and international peace from 1604-25.

These factors all account for the observable decline in aristocratic violence in most of Britain by c.1620, and yet in a period as violent as the seventeenth century there is something incomplete in the now prevailing picture of noblemen with their courtly manners, bulging libraries and pious regard for Christian civility. It would of course he a mistake to suggest that under the skin of every gentleman-aristocrat there was a robber baron waiting to get out, but the continuing importance of violence to the honour culture, and the extent to which aristocratic status was used to indulge in privileged violence has been understated.

Crime in Tudor and Stuart England

Timothy Curtis and J.A. Sharpe delve into the country's criminal past.

After some fifteen years of serious academic research and publication, the study of crime in England in the early modern period has reached the point where historians can begin to disagree fruitfully. Various methods of research have been followed, results published, broad pictures offered, fine, detailed, microscopic studies etched, and suggestions for future lines of thought formulated. The purpose of this present essay is to present the findings of historians of this subject as they now stand, to comment upon their strengths and weaknesses, and to offer some thoughts on the future development of the field.

Faces of Crime in Later Medieval England

J.B. Post builds a rich image of the world of criminality and justice at the end of the Middle Ages.

In History Today (August 1984) Nigel Saul told a story of violent death and ruthless ambition among the landowning gentry, when murder, mayhem, and protracted litigation were used to settle the territorial inheritance left by Sir Edmund Pashley in 1327. Perhaps no case can ever be described as typical, but the elements of dynastic ambition, private or public violence, and ready recourse to the courts of law are familiar ingredients of many true tales from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Indeed, much of the recent research on crime in this period has been contained in studies of local and regional power politics. So Dr Saul's conclusion is hardly surprising: 'it is preferable to approach the study of medieval crime by looking at particular episodes... than by attempting to measure it statistically'.