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Research into the history of prisons leads to exhibition on Old Bailey Convicts


The troubled lives of convicts in 18th- and 19th-century London are providing the focus of a free exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA).

Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts, which opened this week and runs until May 2018, looks back to when imprisonment was in the process of becoming the dominant method of punishing offenders.

It traces the impact of punishment on convict lives during a time when the purpose of punishment shifted from retribution inflicted on the convicts’ bodies to attempts to reform their minds.

Produced in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Digital Panopticon Project, Criminal Lives uses documents, prints and Victorian photographs from the LMA’s extensive collections.

Visitors can view original documents from the Old Bailey archives as well as items including a policeman’s truncheon, a reproduction Millbank Prison uniform, and convicts’ photographs drawn from collections in Britain and Australia.

The exhibition highlights the lives of convicts from the Gordon Riots in 1780 to the early 20th  century, including prostitute and pickpocket Charlotte Walker; Ikey Solomons, the notorious receiver of stolen goods; and serial thief Thomas Limpus, who was transported to Africa, America and Australia.

Thought-provoking and unsettling

The LMA is owned by the City of London Corporation. Graham Packham, Chairman of the Corporation’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, said: “Thought-provoking and unsettling in equal measure, this new exhibition at LMA focuses on a pivotal period for crime and punishment in London and features some particularly interesting characters. The range of visual materials and original items on display will certainly engage visitors.”

Three members of the Digital Panopticon project co-curated Criminal Lives: Professor Bob Shoemaker and Dr Larissa Allwork at the University of Sheffield, and Professor Tim Hitchcock from the University of Sussex.

Professor Shoemaker said: “This exhibition brings together a fascinating set of records from the LMA’s collections and other archives to show how the reformatory prison became the chief form of punishment in our judicial system.

“By using convict life stories to explain the origins of the modern prison, we hope that ‘Criminal Lives’ will help viewers see punishment in a new light.”

Men and women at the sharp end

Professor Hitchcock said: “In just 100 years, hanging, whipping and branding, and transportation to Australia, were replaced by imprisonment. This exhibition tells the story of that transition through the lives of the men and women at the sharp end of the criminal justice system.”

Dr Allwork is Public Engagement and Impact Officer at the University of Sheffield and she added: “We hope the exhibition will provide an opportunity for people to engage with this fascinating history and its contemporary legacy in all of its dimensions.

“Criminal Lives is complemented by our free public engagement programme, which includes an education pack for schools, FindmyPast workshops for family historians, and an event with Ikon Gallery in Birmingham about the convict artist, Thomas Bock.”

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Digital Panopticon project is studying the impact of punishment on the lives of 90,000 felons who were convicted at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1870. The collaborative project, which is led by the University of Liverpool and supported by the Universities of Sheffield, Sussex, Oxford, and Tasmania, draws evidence from 50 datasets. Its free website allows users to search more than four million records. For information about the project, please see the Digital Panopticon website: https://www.digitalpanopticon.org/.

Exhibition details

Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts runs from 11 December to 16 May at London Metropolitan Archives, EC1.

Admission is FREE.

View here for more visitor information.

A schools’ education pack and a programme of FREE public events will accompany this exhibition. The events programme is on the London Metropolitan Archives EventBrite page at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/london-metropolitan-archives-2913691059

For more, follow Twitter accounts @ahrcpress @cityoflondon @LdnMetArchives @digipanoptic

Notes to editors

For further information, please contact:

Andrew Buckingham, Media Officer, City of London Corporation
Tel: 020 7332 1452; Mob: 07795 333060; Email andrew.buckingham@cityoflondon.gov.uk

About the London Metropolitan Archives:

London Metropolitan Archives is a public research centre which specialises in the history of London. LMA cares for, and provides access to, the historical archives of businesses, schools, hospitals charities, and many other organisations in, and around, London. With over 100km of books, maps, photographs, films and documents dating back to 1067 in our strong rooms, it is proud to provide access to one of the finest city archives in the world. Its users have a wide range of research interests, including family, community and local history, and LMA also works with students, artists, producers, and architects. www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma

London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB

Admission FREE, check websites for opening times. Nearest underground stations are Farringdon and Angel.

About the City of London Corporation:

The City of London Corporation invests more than £100m every year in heritage and cultural activities of all kinds. It is the UK’s largest funder of cultural activities after the government, the BBC, and Heritage Lottery Fund.

It is also developing Culture Mile between Farringdon and Moorgate – a multi-million pound investment which will create a new cultural and creative destination for London over the next 10 to15 years. This includes £110m funding to support the Museum of London’s move to West Smithfield and £2.5m to support the detailed business case for the proposed Centre for Music.

The City of London Corporation provides local government and policing services for the financial and commercial heart of Britain, the 'Square Mile'. In addition, the City Corporation has three roles:

• We support London’s communities by working in partnership with neighbouring boroughs on economic regeneration, education and skills projects. In addition, the City of London Corporation’s charity City Bridge Trust makes grants of around £20 million annually to charitable projects across London and we also support education with three independent schools, three City Academies, a primary school and the world-renowned Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

• We also help look after key London’s heritage and green spaces including Tower Bridge, Museum of London, Barbican Arts Centre, City gardens, Hampstead Heath, Epping Forest, Burnham Beeches, and important ‘commons’ in south London.

• We also support and promote the ‘City’ as a world-leading financial and business hub, with outward and inward business delegations, high-profile civic events and research-driven policies all reflecting a long-term approach.

See www.cityoflondon.gov.uk for more details.

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