October was awfully quiet in London. Parliament is most often adjourned. Anyone who was anyone had wrangled an invitation to a house party or a shooting party somewhere in the country. Most of the theatres are closed, as are the amphitheatres like Astley’s. The weather is starting to turn gray and dripping. Ho, hum--what’s a young lady or gentleman to do for entertainment?
Perhaps take in a trial at the Old Bailey.
The Old Bailey was the central criminal court serving London and the county of Middlesex as well as crimes committed at sea. Located next to Newgate Prison, it held sessions several times a year, including October. You could pay to be a spectator and stand in the gallery to watch the trials. Prices ranged from a shilling for a lesser known offender to a guinea or more for big cases. Seats were limited, but if you couldn’t get in, you could have read the published Proceedings to see what had happened.
And the judges were more free to interpret the law then they would be today. For example, in May 1816, John Mackarel was indicted for river piracy, but the prosecutor didn’t show up on the day of the trial so he got off as not guilty. Wonder what happened to the prosecutor, hm?
In 1830, Sir John Gibbons had to prosecute a particularly vicious gang of poachers who were found with guns and bludgeons on his Stanwell Park estate. One of them had actually shot at him, and witnesses testified he would have been killed if it weren’t for the fact that the gun misfired (flash in the pan). Most of the men either pled guilty or were determined guilty and were sentenced to transportation for 14 years. One, a 17-year-old, asked that Sir John recommend him to mercy, which he did. The judge had him transported for seven years. I’m sure that made such a difference-ahem.
Bet you didn’t see that on CSI recently.
Curious to learn more? Look at the Old Bailey online, where you can search the records and read trial information from the 1600s to the early 1900s as well as details about the court’s history and legal proceedings in general.