Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Month: October 2015

How Judge Maule was sent to Coventry for saying it stank

Coventry: smelly?

Coventry: smelly?

In 1845, Judge Maule was sent to Coventry – twice.

Sir William Henry Maule (1788-1858) was a Cambridge-educated lawyer from Middlesex, who was known for his ‘fine judicial sense of humour‘. However, his sense of humour appears to have failed him when he was told to go to Coventry to preside over the Assizes.

He and his fellow learned gentlemen were provided with lodgings in the town, where they would stay for the duration of the Assizes, but Maule was not impressed.

On entering the house, he was ‘struck with the intolerable stench which met him’.  The whole house smelled bad, he said; both upstairs and downstairs were so smelly that it was ‘impossible to remain’.

Someone, possibly the landlord or lady, tried to explain the smell by saying it could be a mouldy carpet; but Maule was not having it. He removed himself to the more pleasant environs of Warwick, where he promptly complained to anyone who would listen that it was both inconvenient and expensive to hold an Assize at Coventry, and that it was therefore pointless to do so.

Having been sent to Coventry once, he was now sent again – by the townspeople. Offended by his attitude, they regarded him as having insulted both them and their home.

They held protests, slandering the judge by making their opinions on his own personal character known; and then gathered together some statistics relating to local mortality, publicising them to show that ‘Coventry is in fact a delightfully salubrious region’.

In an era where cholera regularly struck urban communities, and was believed to be the result of miasma, or ‘bad air’, Maule’s comments about the ‘stench’ of Coventry had an extra significance. The protesting inhabitants argued that

“Judge Maule’s airs were not attributable to the air of Coventry, but to some other cause”

In addition, they argued that Assizes had been held at Coventry for at least 500 years; but the press noted that it was likely, due to Maule’s complaints, that ‘it is not unlikely the result will be to remove altogether the Assizes to Warwick.’

Source: Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 10 April 1845


London Lives: Talking about poverty and crime in the capital

UnknownI’ve had the pleasure of reviewing Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker’s new book, London Lives: Poverty, Crime and the Making of a Modern City, 1690-1800 (CUP, 2015) – and interviewing Tim about it – for the November issue of Your Family Tree. I can highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of crime or the history of London.

Here are the authors themselves talking about the publication, from outside the London Metropolitan Archives (thanks to @ourcriminalpast for the hat-tip!):


The November issue of Your Family Tree will be out at the end of October.

Book review: The Crime Museum Uncovered

9781781300411First things first – this is a beautifully designed book. It’s a good slab of a coffee-table book for its £12.99, and is visually striking. That’s not just the front cover, but throughout – the page design is lovely, the choice of black/white/orange works extremely well, and I’d be proud to have written a book that is presented so well by the publisher.

It’s also a bit of a page turner. There’s not that much text on each page – the focus is on the images throughout, which are artefacts and documents taken from the exhibition, and that is absolutely the right approach. Yet it is still difficult to put down. Because there is only a relatively short amount of text per story or theme, the temptation is to ‘just’ read another page or story before you finish.

There is a mix of cases presented here – both famous crimes (or infamous), and those that were once famous but are now rather forgotten about, or those that were always seen as less newsworthy than others, because of their mundanity or commonality. Therefore, there’s something for everyone (as long as you have an interest in crime in the first place, that is).

Those are the good points – and they far outweigh the bad. There are a few typos, which is a shame (for example, one of the murderers mentioned in the book has his name spelled two different ways); an index would have been useful to look up individuals or particular case.

The timeline that the exhibition itself uses would have been good to have more clearly in the book. Although there is a fairly short one that whizzes through the key developments, I would have liked a more comprehensive, slightly more detailed timeline, using a larger font and clearer design for dates. There is always an emphasis here on the criminals and their victims, but I am curious about the detectives themselves, some of whose names are listed, but whose work and lives are ignored or glossed over.

But if you have your interest whetted in a particular case, individual, or artefact, this book will give you the information you need. The photography is very good, and so the book acts as an aide memoire after visiting the exhibition, as well as a standalone introduction to one of the most secretive museums in London’s history.

The Crime Museum Uncovered: Inside Scotland Yard’s Special Collection, by Jackie Kiely and Julia Hoffbrand, is on sale from 9 October 2015, at the price of £12.99. It is published by IB Tauris.

The Crime Museum Uncovered, Examined

IMG_9761This morning, I was able to attend the press preview of The Crime Museum Uncovered, the Museum of London‘s major new exhibition, which opens to the public this Friday.

I have previously written about the exhibition on this blog and on the History Today website, where I had expressed concern about how the exhibition might end up mythologising criminals, through its publicity focus on the likes of the Krays and the Great Train Robbery.

So did the exhibition allay my fears? Mainly, yes.

IMG_9737There has been a concerted effort on the part of the curators to keep in mind that every crime has a victim as well as a perpetrator. Where possible, they have included photographs of both offender and victim(s), so that the visitor is always reminded of those who have suffered as a result of violence.

This has been particularly well done in the case of the display about the Great Train Robbery. It is easy to forget, given the fact that a movie was made about one of the robbers, and another was made out almost to be a folk-hero, that there was a victim – Jack Mills, the train driver. In the exhibition, in the middle of an array of artefacts, is a striking black and white image of the injured Mills, bandaged and bruised. There is no detailed commentary about this – there is no need. He is at the centre of the display, where he should be.

And the uneasy questions that might arise from an exhibition of crimes, criminals and criminal artefacts are not evaded – they are faced straight-on. The final room of the exhibition is an area for contemplation, where visitors can submit their views on computer screens, or sit and listen to talking heads discuss issues around the exhibition – including the key one:

“Should this collection be open to the public?”

Here, the likes of Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove and KCL Chair of Philosophy Law Leif Weinar join individuals from the Met, the Crime Museum and the London Mayoral office, as well as Jackie Keily, co-curator of the exhibition, to talk about the exhibition and the issues it raises.

Perhaps the main problem of the exhibition lies in the sheer amount of information it presents – through items rather than words. There is so much to look at that more than one visit may be needed to do it justice.

There is also the problem of emphasis. The emphasis is not on the Crime Museum’s early history; at the long-lead press preview, I was told this was because of a relative lack of artefacts from its early period – all of the Crime Museum’s early material was going to be included, which suggested there wasn’t that much. But there is – and it has been crammed into too small a space.

The recreation of the Crime Museum room to house these earlier artefacts is a great idea, and the room has been designed well as a space. But it is too crammed with stuff, meaning that it is difficult to view everything clearly. The prime example is that of the criminals’ death masks, which are fascinating – but they are placed round the room on a high shelf, making it difficult to see them very closely.

Too high, m'lud!

Too high, m’lud!

Criminal records are all put together under the glass of a table, too many for the space. For those of us particularly interested in the early history, it is frustrating not to be able to see everything clearly.

IMG_9723To get from this space to the more spacious room that details themes and individual cases, visitors make their way through a corridor where the nooses used to hang notorious figures line one side.

This is done well; each noose, with a small label detailing who it was used on, against a backdrop of a Victorian image of a crowd baying at an execution.

The first room in the exhibition, which leads into the ‘recreation’ of the Crime Museum is also a perfect way to start, with its introduction to the museum and its timeline of key events in policing history. If anything, I would have liked more of this history and context.

The only thing I didn’t like was the first thing you see when you come down the stairs to the exhibition space – a modern police car, all brash and well-lit. It seems to sit incongruously with the darker tones of the exhibition and its primary focus on a prior history.

But the Museum of London has an incredible pedigree of producing absorbing, informative, yet interactive and easy to follow exhibitions, such as its Dickens and Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men ones, both of which I enjoyed.

IMG_9745This doesn’t fail either; a lot of thought and research has gone into uncovering the Crime Museum.

Although I may have liked to see more input from criminal historians (not just me!), it’s still a thoughtful, and careful, exploration of crime and those involved in it – criminals, victims, policemen, and others within the criminal justice system who have had to deal with often disturbing or upsetting cases, but who have, till now, been neglected.

The Crime Museum Uncovered opens on 9 October and continues until 10 April 2016; tickets can be purchased from the Museum of London here.

Tomorrow, on this blog, I will be reviewing the book that accompanies the exhibition – The Crime Museum Uncovered: Inside Scotland Yard’s Special Collection.





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