The right to trial by jury has been traditionally acknowledged as a pillar of the English legal system. Under the principle of ‘twelve good men and true’, juries had been trusted for centuries with the responsibility of dispensing justice impartially and according to evidence. Defendants had the right to be tried ‘by their peers’, but juries had always been composed entirely of men. In 1919, reforms in the law allowed women to take their seats as jurors in a criminal trial for the first time. The trial took place here in Bristol in 1920, and not everyone was entirely happy about it.
"In the summer of 1826, the local and national press was thrilled by the story of the Wickwar Gang... Only days before, ‘in consequence of some suspicious circumstances’, an ‘old man by the name of Mills, his wife, and their 4 sons’ were taken into custody and ‘immediately after their apprehension... disclosed the history of the lawless community with which they had been connected'". Rose Wallis provides in an insight into crime and disorder in Gloucestershire in the early 19th Century.
"The trade which made Bristol prosperous was also valuable to the English government. About half the Parliamentary revenue of the Crown came from Customs duties and Bristol contributed around £50-60,000 of it, perhaps up to ten percent of the whole". Jonathan Harlow looks at smuggling through Bristol's port, and various attempts made to lessen the amount of criminal activity".
"Three civil defence exercises covering Bristol – in 1939, the 1950s and 1960s – not only have an eerie fascination for their word-pictures of a city plunged into imaginary wars; the written scenarios also throw light on what concerned the scenario writers. As the likely damage in war became more than the authorities could handle, so the planners’ responses took a sinisterly authoritarian turn"
"Though we have long boasted of having fewer robberies committed here than in any place of equal size, yet it is impossible to be entirely exempted from lawless plunderers’, according to a sober assessment from 1786. Indeed, by the later eighteenth century, there were few places so full of temptations and opportunities as Bath,with all its well-to-do residents and visitors,opulent shops, fine houses and well-stocked gardens. In this article,Trevor Fawcett examines the record of the city’s prosecution society in the constant fight against property crime".
‘Shortly after midnight on 3rd October 1730, a series of brilliant 'fire balls' or hand-made grenades were seen arching through the air on St Augustine's Back, Bristol, and over the back wall of George Packer's large and opulent mansion house. There was 'a noise like the report of several guns', followed by quickly spreading flames. Within minutes, the merchant's home was ablaze, his household in full flight, and it was only a favourable wind that prevented the flames spreading to nearby warehouses and the dense flotilla of wooden ships crowding the adjacent quay.’ In this article, Steve Poole uncovers a story of organised extortion by arson at Bristol, and the ethnic and religious prejudices which it exposed.
'If the maintenance of order on the streets of early nineteenth century Bristol was never a simple matter, the constantly shifting presence of large visiting communities of seafaring Europeans cannot have made it any easier. With inns, lodging houses, streets and quays frequently awash with colourfully vibrant but uncustomary sights and sounds, social tensions and conflicts between host and 'outlandish' communities were rarely far beneath the surface. Often the detail of these cultural tensions went unrecorded but, as Steve Poole shows here, papers from a coroners inquest kept at the Bristol Record Office, bring them vividly back to life'.
The village of Slad in Gloucestershire is best known as the childhood home, and final resting place, of the poet and author Laurie Lee (1914-1997). His early years were captured, famously, in Cider with Rosie,a series of evocative tales of village life. Bond focus in this short article, on the mysterious death of a local person, and the series of events which transpired in pursuit of the cause.
'What follows is a kind of murder mystery, but not a whodunit. The identity of the man who carried out the crime, while indeed a mystery, is probably unknowable and actually unimportant. There is little room for doubt as to the identity of the man who gave him the order. The real mystery lies with the identity of the victim. In attempting to solve the mystery, we shall enter the kaleidoscope of faction and violence that was high politics during the Wars of the Roses, and make the acquaintance of one of fifteenth-century England’s foremost alchemists'.
In 1821, John Horwood was charged with the murder of Eliza Balsam. The sentence followed an Act of Parliament which required the body of those convicted of murder be dissected and anatomised following the death sentence. In this article, John Lyes uncovers the curious and gruesome story of John Horwood’s body.