Category Archives: Legal History

Theft and Homicide in Late Anglo-Saxon Law 

In a post on Medievalists.net, T. B. Lambert looks at Theft, Homicide and Crime in late Anglo-Saxon Law.

Lambert says:

“It is a startling but infrequently remarked upon fact that for five centuries English law, which prescribed the sternest penalties for theft, contained only a relatively minor royal fine for homicide. Whereas the first clear statement that the death penalty applied to thieves is found in the late seventh-century West Saxon laws of Ine, we have no equivalent statement with respect to homicide before the text known as Glanvill, composed in the late 1180s…”

To read more visit Theft, Homicide and Crime in Late Anglo-Saxon Law – Medievalists.net

Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England

A post on Medievalists.net looks at archaeological evidence challenging the long-standing belief held by legal historians that in Anglo-Saxon times criminals were executed for major criminal offences or faced punishments such as amputations for lesser crimes.

To learn more about crime and punishment in Anglo-Saxon England visit Capital and Corporal Punishment may have been rare in Anglo-Saxon England, researcher suggests – Medievalists.net

Werrington Industrial School

Despite the harsh sentences imposed on young offenders, juvenile crime increased dramatically during the 1850s.

Neither birching nor imprisonment deterred. Realising that a new method of dealing with juveniles was needed, Parliament created residential industrial schools for boys and girls likely to become professional criminals. Magistrates’ Courts were given the power to send children under 12 who had committed criminal offences and young persons under 14 who were homeless or who had been found begging in the streets or who were beyond parental control to industrial schools where they received an elementary education and were given vocational training.

An industrial school for boys opened at Werrington, a village on the outskirts of The Potteries, in January 1870. Benjamin Horth was the superintendent, and his wife was the matron. Boys worked on the school farm or in a workshop where they made shoes. Farm produce and shoes were sold commercially, and the boys were paid wages. The money they earned was put into a savings account and given to them when they were released.

Discipline at Werrington was maintained by a system of rewards and punishment. The boys were divided into three divisions – first, second and third. Good conduct marks were given for good behaviour. After six months at the school, a boy was placed in the third division and given a farthing for every 12 marks awarded. Continued good behaviour enabled him to progress to the second division, where every 12 marks gained were worth a halfpenny. When promoted to the first division, boys received a penny for every 12 marks obtained. After they had been in the first division for six months, boys, who had not been punished for breaking school rules, were put in the merit class which entitled them to an extra 24 marks a month.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the maxim of Victorian parents and teachers. Punishments at Werrington were just as severe as those imposed by the courts. A list giving details of the punishment a boy would receive if he misbehaved was displayed in the classroom. For the first offence of dishonesty or falsehood, he forfeited 18 good conduct marks and was given six strokes of the cane, for a second offence he lost 36 marks and received four strokes of the birch and for a third he lost 144 marks and was given 8 strokes of the birch.

Absconding was the most serious offence. The first time a boy absconded, he forfeited 36 marks and was given six strokes of the birch. Those who absconded a second time lost 72 marks and received eight strokes of the birch. Boys absconding a third time lost all the good conduct marks they had earned and were given 12 strokes of the birch.

Despite the severity of these punishments, less than 5% of the boys who had been sent to Werrington got into trouble with the police when they left at 16.