Liverpool's St George's Hall - former location of the Assizes

Liverpool’s St George’s Hall – former location of the Assizes

On 26 and 27 September, criminal historians from across the UK – and indeed from around the world – gathered at the University of Liverpool’s Foresight Centre for the 2014 British Crime Historians Symposium.

It was an incredibly enjoyable and friendly conference, with several people commenting on how quickly the time went, listening to a wide variety of papers and talking to people working in diverse areas of criminal history.

The only downside, as usual, was choosing which panel to go and listen to; often, several equally interesting panels took place at a time.

The Digital Panopticon team were there, talking about data visualisation and other aspects of this project, which aims to study the impact of punishments on the lives of thousands of people sentenced at the Old Bailey in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Meanwhile, legal historian Richard Ireland gave a hugely entertaining paper about Welsh criminal justice which was later also looked at by Rachel Jones, who studied how Welsh magistrates’ local knowledge was used in their decision making.

Interesting things learned here included the fact that although English was the official language of the Welsh courts until 1942, matters were sometimes subverted by evidence being given in Welsh, without translation, or even by magistrates conducting affairs in Welsh themselves, leading to some rather brief reports in the press – the English-speaking reporters being unable to say what had happened in court. Magistrates might also be related to prosecution or defence lawyers, leading to some rather biased – but also strangely intimate – court cases.

In another panel, I was particularly interested in Louise Falcini‘s paper on the impressment of naked male bathers in London in the late 18th century and Guy Woolnough‘s on rural policing in Victorian Cumbria, which linked the Temperance movement and Methodism in the area to the nature of arrests by the local police.

On Saturday, I listened to a fascinating panel about a project, After Care, that sets out to document the life histories of children who were sent to reformatories in the late 19th century. Pam Cox, Heather Shore and Zoe Alker spoke about the challenges of the project, which is trying to find out what happened to these children – did they go on to lead successful lives, and how do we measure success?

I then took part in a panel with Cardiff University’s Cath Horler-Underwood about women’s involvement in crime in the eighteenth century – I spoke about the representation of female defendants in property offence cases heard by rural magistrates, and Cath about women’s involvement in coin uttering cases – which included some great detail about women who hid coins in their underclothes, which had to be ‘retrieved’ by searchers.

Here’s my Storify of the conference (my tweets were sadly limited as I couldn’t get onto the wifi – despite much trying). If you weren’t there, you missed out on a criminally interesting, entertaining, yet informative, conference that proved that criminal history is where it’s at!