Publishing History of the Proceedings

What an awesomely great, interesting online resource! If I were to ever work on a screenplay set in The Age of Enlightenment, in Victorian England (or other eras), having access to such a compendium of names and events would be spectacularly useful.

The Proceedings contain accounts of trials which took place at the Old Bailey. The first published collection of trials at the Old Bailey dates from 1674, and from 1678 accounts of the trials at each sessions (meeting of the Court) were regularly published. Inexpensive, and targeted initially at a popular audience, the Proceedings were produced shortly after the conclusion of each sessions and were initially a commercial success. But with the growth of newspapers and increasing publication costs the audience narrowed by the nineteenth century to a combination of lawyers and public officials. With few exceptions, this periodical was regularly published each time the sessions met (eight times a year until 1834, and then ten to twelve times a year) for 239 years, when publication came to a sudden halt in April 1913.

[From The Proceedings – Publishing History of the Proceedings – Central Criminal Court]

I was reading an old issue of The Smithsonian Magazine1, and found mention of Old Bailey and its chronicle, The Proceedings, and the digitization project found at Old Bailey Online.

Thanks to Google, I found the article by Guy Gugliotta, which begins:

By the time the hangman finished him off, Jonathan Wild had few friends. In his own way he had been a public servant—a combination bounty hunter and prosecutor who tracked down thieves and recovered stolen property, a useful figure in 18th-century London, which had no formal police force of its own. Such men were called “thief-takers,” and Wild was good at his work. But along the way, he became more problem than solution.

He called himself the “Thief-Taker General of England and Ireland,” but he became London’s leading crime boss, specializing in robbery and extortion. He frequently encouraged or even set up thefts and burglaries, fenced the booty for a relative pittance, then returned it to its owner for the reward. If his cronies tried to double-cross him, he had them arrested, to be tried and hanged—then collected the bounty. It was said that he inspired the term “double-cross,” for the two X’s he put in his ledger beside the names of those who cheated him.

Daniel Defoe, a journalist as well as the author of Robinson Crusoe, wrote a quickie biography of Wild a month after he was hanged, in 1725. Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews, satirized him in The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great. John Gay took him as his inspiration for the villainous Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera.

But by the time that work had morphed into the Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill hit The Threepenny Opera two centuries later, Wild had all but faded from memory. And when Bobby Darin made a hit out of “Mack the Knife” 30 years after the play opened, Wild was largely a forgotten man.

But thanks to a pair of expatriate Americans fascinated by the way England’s other half lived during the Age of Enlightenment, anyone with a computer can now resurrect Jonathan Wild and his dark world. The original record of his trial is in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, the digest that described and often transcribed the more than 100,000 trials that took place in the criminal court of the City of London and the County of Middlesex between 1674 and 1834. Working with grants totaling some $1.26 million, historians Robert Shoemaker of the University of Sheffield and Tim Hitchcock of the University of Hertfordshire have digitized the 52 million words of the Proceedings—and put them in a searchable database for anyone to read on the Internet.

[Click to continue reading Digitizing the Hanging Court | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine]

More details of the publishing history from

In October 1678 the first edition which described all the trials at a single session appeared. In December 1678 a particularly detailed account was published with a more objective tone. Perhaps in recognition of what such publications could achieve, and in order to have some control over their content, in January 1679 the Court of Aldermen of the City of London ordered that accounts of proceedings at the Old Bailey could only be published with the approval of the Lord Mayor and the other justices present. At this point a more or less standard title was adopted: The Proceedings of the King’s Commission of the Peace and Oyer and Terminer, and Gaol-Delivery of Newgate, held for the City of London and the County of Middlesex, at Justice-Hall, in the Old Bailey. With some minor variations, this title remained unchanged for decades. Although sometimes referred to as the “Sessions Papers”, this project has adopted the short title of Old Bailey Proceedings, or just Proceedings.

The fact that publication had to be approved by the Lord Mayor, and London Lord Mayors serve yearly terms of office from November to November, explains why later editions of the Proceedings were bound together and paginated in annual volumes, from the first sessions in the Mayoral year (November or December) to the last (October). Until the late eighteenth century printers had to pay an annual fee to the Lord Mayor for the privilege of printing the Proceedings.

Early editions of the Proceedings were between four and nine pages long, included brief summaries of trials, and were not necessarily comprehensive. Nonetheless, by the mid 1680s most trials seem to have been reported. Around 1712 the Proceedings began to include some verbatim testimonies, especially in trials which were thought to be salacious, amusing, or otherwise entertaining.

Click to see a sample of the original page, here’s some of the text from that page:

WILLIAM RICHARDSON . I am a police Inspector. I was at Fairlop fair on the 6th of July, about six o’clock in the evening—William Gibson was charged with felony, and brought into the Crown and Anchor booth, where the Magistrates were sitting—after the examination he was committed to Ilford gaol for re-examination—the warrant was given into the hands of Pope, the constable who apprehended him, and the Magistrates ordered a sufficient force to see him safe to Ilford gaol—they departed with Gibson in their custody—I followed for safety through the crowd in the fair—I observed a crowd following us—I got the assistance of two other police-constables—when we got about one hundred and fifty yards through the fair, I observed a large mob assembling—several people rushed forward in an outrageous manner, and the cry was, “Go in and take him away”—” Don’t go”—”Give it to the b—s”—the mob made several attempts to come and take him away, but were kept back by the police—there were about six of us, and three or four parish constables—we continued in that state for about twenty minutes—it took that time to go a quarter of a mile—Gibson at last said he would not go—I turned round, and saw the whole of the police attacked by the mob, which was two or three hundred people—those who were not engaged in combat with the constables flew on me—I was forcibly thrown off my legs on my back, and Gibson was taken from us, and taken away—I could not myself swear to the prisoner being one of them

HENRY PARKER . I am a policeman. I was at Fairlop fair, having charge of Gibson—the Inspector’s evidence is correct—a large mob followed us, which we were one hour contending with—(the prisoner, before we could get Gibson to the booth before the Magistrates, had held a stick in his hand, brandishing it, and threatened to strike me several times)—the mob said, “Go in and give it to him”—he immediately up with his stick, and struck me across the shoulder—I closed on him—he struck me on the nose, and made it bleed—he was within three or four feet of the Inspector when he was knocked down, and was very active—he was about the wont.

Prisoner. Q. Did you strike me first, or I you? A. You struck me three times—here are the dents in my hat, where you struck me with the stick.

WILLIAM SAWYER . Q. I am a policeman. I was at Fairlop fair—I have heard the witness’s evidence—it is true—the prisoner was active in the mob—I saw him in contest with Parker.

Prisoner. Q. In what part did you see me? A. About five yards from the Inspector.

WILLIAM SHAW . I am a policeman. I was on duty at the fair—Gibson was charged with felony—we were endeavouring to take him to a place of confinement—a mob of two or three hundred attempted to rescue him—the officers were attacked and very much ill-used—the prisoner was close to us at the time Gibson was rescued—he got quite off with his handcuffs on, and has not been taken since—he was charged with stealing a gentleman’s coat—the prisoner was very active, calling, “Go in, you in—I saw him strike Parker across the shoulders and over the nose—the blood flew over the prisoner’s foot, and he bit a piece, flesh and all, out of the sergeant’s thigh—we were an hour with him in the forest, endeavouring to secure him.

CHARLES SMITH . I was at the fair. The evidence of the officers is true.

Prisoner’s Defence. I was at the fair—the prisoner was being taken away—I did not know him—I ran to see what was going on, and when I came up, the prisoner was a hundred yards before me—I was shoved against Sergeant Parker—he struck me on the chin with his staff, and another policeman struck me on the back of my head, and made me senseless.

GUILTY . Aged 20.— Confined Two Years.

Some things never change.

For fun, I searched the surname, Murphy

At this Sessions the 5 persons burnt in the Hand were

John Wickham, Thomas Hoskins, John Clark, Emm Sanbie, and Mary Toulson.

The 5 persons ordered to be Transported were
John Harrock, William Finchman, Richard Scot, Frances Abraham, and Richard Scarlet.

The 9 Persons that Received Sentence of Death were
Abraham Biggs, Richard Caborn, Christopher Redman, Phileman Adams, Dorcas Morgan, Dorothy Waller, Jane Langworth, Elizabeth Stoakes, and Katherine Cotterel.

The 11 Persons Sentenced to be Whipped , were,
Richard Williams, David Roberts, Thomas Murphy, George Clarke, Jacob Clark, Margaret Shipley, Joseph Lawrence, George Laurence, Nicholas Dun, Ambros Hog, and William Cole.

Andrew Craford being convicted and brought to the bar, was ordered confinement in the Goal of Newgate, during the KING’S pleasure.

Thomas Murphy’s offense?

Thomas Murphy and Charles Doyle Indicted, the former as principal, and latter as accessory, for stealing a Golden cross, a Handkerchief, and a Leaden Meddal, inlayed with Gold , from Justin MacCartis Esq , of St. Martins in the fields, on the 19th of November, it was proved against Murphy, that he had stollen the goods specified, and delivered them to Doyle, in order to expose them to sale , nor did he deny the Fellony, in Court, only alledging that his Companion was Innocent, and knew not that the goods were stole; whereupon Murphy only was found Guilty to the value of 10d and his companion acquitted .

  1. April, 2007, if you want to know []

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.