This has been around a while, but I’ve only just started exploring it. An excellent site for the proceedings of the Old Bailey central criminal court in London:
“The Old Bailey Proceedings Online makes available a fully searchable, digitised collection of all surviving editions of the Old Bailey Proceedings from 1674 to 1834. It allows access to 100,000 trials, free of charge for non-commercial use. In addition to the text, accessible through both keyword and structured searching, this website provides digital images of the 60,000 original pages of the Proceedings …”
It’s an utterly compelling rendering of London, organised by crime. Desperately bleak, all of human vice is here. A random, er, cutting from 1677:
“Here was expectation of the Tryal of a Midwife for taking up a Childe out of its Grave, &c. but for some reasons it was put off. Also a horrid murder was in Easter week committed in the Hay-market by Charing-cross, where a Hackney-Coachman falling out with his Wife about their Horses going to work, in his devilish fury got up a Fire fork, and therewith stabb’d her into the head and several parts of the body, of which wounds, after neer a weeks languishing, she died, and by the Coroners Inquest on the 26th instant it was found wilful Murther; but the Husband immediately after the blows given, made his escape, and is not since heard of. There were in all Nine persons, Six men and Three women, Condemn’d; Nine Burn’d in the Hand; and Six, for petty Larceny, to be Whip’d at the Carts Tayl.”
Ghoulish I know. But given the quotidian horror contained therein, the site is produced with calming matter-of-factness, foregrounding the all-too-raw materials appropriately. These digital facsimiles speak for themselves. Using Peter Ackroyd’s voice.
Every pixel contains pain: the glossary provides an inadvertent history of London in words, yet the real contextual data is covered too, colouring in the demography of crime – “Almost two-thirds of the defendants in this sample were between the ages of fourteen and thirty” – or some fascinating reflections on gender, plus a gruesome array of punishments.
There are numerous browsing options, such as searching by place, or via maps, such as Christopher and John Greenwood’s Map of London (1827). The “On This Day…” section is surely a contender for an RSS feed a la Pepys’ Diary? With the place search, it’s possible to discover that some poor soul – or rotten scoundrel, your choice at this distance – was transported in 1827 (probably to Australia, given the year) for 7 years, having been caught stealing 3lbs of horse-hair from carriage cushions on the street in which we now live. (Glances out of window into darkened wintry Mews and hears the dizzying rush of a centuries-displaced Neighbourhood Watch scheme sweep past …)
Kudos to the team, who achieved a 99.8% accuracy by manually typing the original documents. In fact “(t)his was performed by the process known as ‘double rekeying’, whereby the text is typed in twice, by two different typists, and then the two files are compared by computer. Differences are identified and then resolved manually”. Now that’s metadata input.
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