England Criminal Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Court Records-Criminal, Civil and Ecclesiastical  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Records of Prisoners and Convicts

Records of prisoners from 1770-1894 are at TNA. The most useful records for genealogy are:

Gaol Calendars

These calendars of prisoners awaiting trial will give the date and place of trial and court records may then be searched for details. TNA has registers for the Fleet debtors prison, and a card index of people in the London debtors’ prisons from 1775-1820 is at the Corporation of London Record Office now at LMA (London Metropolitan Archives). County gaol records are at county archives. There is a 75-year closure period from the date of the last item in the volume. In older records the calendar of prisoners is often used as the membrane that wraps together all the other documents in a roll. The Quarterly Returns in HO 24 and PCOM 8 are useful to find out where a prisoner is in gaol.

Gloucestershire Quarter Sessions Gaol Calendar 1825

Amelia Smith, wife of Joseph Smith, aged 37, committed May 13, 1825 by Henry Burgh esq charged on the oaths of Nathaniel Partridge the younger, and others, with having on the 6th day of May now instant, at the parish of Stroud, feloniously received of and from one William Armes, a truss of cloth, the property of the said Nathaniel Partridge the younger, well knowing the same to have been stolen. Bill Found. Guilty. Transported for 14 years.

William Butcher aged 15 committed May 18 1825 by Henry Burgh esq for want of sureties for his appearance at Trinity Sessions, 1825, being charged on the oath of Elizabeth Stephens with having on the 15th day of May instant assaulted the said Elizabeth Stephens at the parish of Stroud, with an intent to commit a rape upon her body. Bill found. Acquitted.

Prison Registers

Prison registers are in PCOM 2, HO 9, HO 23 and HO 24 and are in urgent need of sorting and provision of finding aids (Paley 2003). The registers of convicts in prison may include photographs as well as a physical description and the birthplace. TNA also has registers for the King’s Bench Prison. Newgate Prison Calendar lists prisoners from the time of Henry I to 1825 can be read at: Exclassics

See TNA research guide D78 for further information.

Criminal Registers

The annual criminal registers started in 1805; prior to this the best method of identifying them is through the Crown Minute Books for each circuit . In the period 1805-1892, including Middlesex from 1850, criminals can be identified from the annual criminal registers of England and Wales arranged by county. Some indexes are available, for example the Criminal Register Index in class HO27 (1805-1840 and continuing) by Tamblin. Information includes a physical description, place of birth, place of committal, the crime, where and when tried and the sentence. One can then follow up by getting the trial documents from Petty or Quarter Sessions, Assizes and so forth.

Petitions for Mercy

Also known as Applications for clemency or pardon, these are one of the best sources at TNA as they have so much family detail. They run from 1784-1960 in several HO series (see Paley 2001) and are presently being indexed by volunteers; they will eventually appear on TNA website.

Some individual prison records have been retained by prisons, whilst others have been deposited in county record offices who should be contacted in the first instance regarding local gaols and prisons where records are not at TNA. Cavell has an interesting smørgasbord of online records of prisons and prisoners, including some indexes.

Chart: Some Indexes of Prisoners

Criminal petitions 1819-1839 (books and fiches) Jill Chambers, 4 Quills, Letchworth, Hertfordshire SG6 2RJ [2001]
Criminal registers 1805-1840 (disks and fiches) Stuart Tamblin, 14 Copper Leaf Close, Moulton, Northampton NN3 7HS Family History Indexes
Prisoners pardoned 1782-1805 (disks and fiches) Stuart Tamblin, 14 Copper Leaf Close, Moulton, Northampton NN3 7HS Family History Indexes
Newgate Prison Calendar Exclassics


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Court Records-Criminal, Civil and Ecclesiastical offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.