One of the people I follow on Twitter has done a ton of research and written several books about Victorian London. Back in August, you may have seen a couple of his photos that I retweeted: then-and-now images of a coaching inn.

A few days ago, he posted a link to the online Proceedings of the Old Bailey. According to the site’s home page, it is a “fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing [the records of] 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court” from 1674 to 1913. Talk about a treasure trove of interesting historical details!

Consider, for instance, this transcript from a trial on 10 October 1677, in which two men — noted as J.S. and W.F. — were tried for highway robbery.  


“The most considerable Tryal was of two Highway-men apprehended at Westminster upon suspition, and in one of their pockets a Watch and silver Tobacco-box, in the others three Rings; of which notice being given in the Gazet, the Owners now came in and prosecuted. The occasion and manner of their being taken was thus: Lodging with others of the Gang, not yet taken, at an Inne at Westminster, some Gentlemen took notice of their often riding out and coming in at unseasonable hours, and inquiring who they were, ’twas pretended they were bound for Ireland very speedily; but suspitions dayly encreasing, the said Gentlemen finding them abroad one Saturday, resolved to watch them all night.

“About ten or eleven a clock the two that were now Prisoners at the Bar, came in, and going to bed, early in the morning they broke in upon them and secured them. There were here preferred two Indictments against both of them for several Felonies, which appeared to be Robberies in other Counties, and consequently excluded them from the benefit of the Clergie; and a third against one of them for stealing three Rings.

“For proof against J. S. it was plain, a Watch and silver Tobacco-box being taken upon him, which were respectively owned by two Gentlemen , one robb’d on Horse-back neer Blackheath by five persons; the other robb’d the day before in a Stage-Coach by a like number; and both of them swore they verily believed J. S. to be one of the Thieves.

“Against the other the Evidence was not so direct: ’Twas prov’d they rod out together on the Saturday-morning, came home again at night together, and were taken on the Sunday morning in bed together; that one of the Thieves was on a white horse, and he rid out on a Nag of that colour, &c. However he was brought in not guilty on both these Indictments, as likewise on the third for stealing of Rings. It seems he meets with a silly old woman one evening in drink, and perceiving she had good Rings, carries her first to a Confectioners and gave her Sweet-meats, then to a Tavern, where he laid her to sleep, and so went off with her three Rings: But he insisting that she gave him them, and she, by her own confession, appearing to have been insensible, the Jury did not think fit to finde the Felony against him.

“As for J. S. he was convicted on both the Indictments charged upon him. Nor could W. F. escape so: for there was soon after exhibited an Indictment against them both for a Robbery committed on the Highway Sep. 8. in the Parish of Southwine, neer a place called Potters Bar in the County of Middlesex: Upon which a Gentleman’s Servant gave evidence that his Master was robb’d of a Watch, Riding-scarf, Sword, Belt, &c. and swore positively that the said F. was one of the Highway-men: whereupon he was found guilty; but no certain proof appearing of his Companion’s being in this Action, he was brought in not guilty.”