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A delightful morning of murder and buggery

hogarth judges

Oh, man, I love the internet. They’ve put the proceedings of the Old Bailey online! And it’s searchable!

It’s an excellent website, too: in addition to the 200,000+ documents (both scans and transcriptions) covering trials from 1674 to 1913, there’s a ton of good London history (and not much more politically correct than it absolutely has to be).

The Old Bailey is London’s Central Criminal Court and has been since…forever, amen. The current building (built in 1902) is on the site of the old Newgate Prison, but the two were originally side by side for the sake of convenience.

There is no better primary source of information about the lives ordinary people than trial transcripts. Where else can you learn what a murder victim had in his pockets in 1810, what a Victorian innkeeper keeps in the till, what timeless drunken ladies of the evening shout as they whale away on each other with a rum bottle and a tin teapot? Treasure, I tell you!

Naturally, murder trials are the besteses (the advanced search helpfully allows you to sort by crime). But permit me to draw your attention to sodomy offenses prior to 1790, where you will encounter what the site describes as “a vibrant, even joyful, world of men who pursued both homosexual experiences and a distinct lifestyle” — i.e. lots and lots of cross-dressing and buggery. (After 1790 the courts got squeamish and censored the transcripts).

If you have any pasty English genes floating around in your gene pool, I highly recommend plugging your surname into the thingie and seeing what your ancestors got up to. Hey, it’s England! There’s probably a coat of arms for cross-dressers!

See also: the complete Newgate Calendar, London’s Past Online. You can still visit the Old Bailey and attend a trial. I’ve always wanted to. But I made Uncle B take me to the Houses of Detention, the Old Operating Theatre and a fancy rat show so I’m not pushing my luck. I’d just as soon not be the subject of a trial at the Old Bailey, thenkyewverymuch.

June 10, 2008 — 10:23 am
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