Our recent crop of England and Wales crime records have revealed the prevalence of some of the most taboo crimes across the South East of England. Having analysed 44,000 historic court records, we've gained a unique insight into the types of crimes that were tried in court in areas of London and the surrounding counties between 1779 and 1935...

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Stealing was the most common crime across the region, and bestiality and bigamy were not unusual! Middlesex had an especially high crime rate, and after stealing, the crimes most commonly appearing in the court records across the boroughs in the South East are:

  • Larceny in Middlesex
  • Shop lifting in London
  • Burglary in Essex
  • Felony in Surrey
  • Arson in Buckingham
  • Breaking and entering in Kent

Other peculiar crimes in the records...

Unnatural crime on a donkey, William Ewer, Harpenden

The records also show William Ewer, aged 19, was charged with having committed an unnatural crime on a donkey in June 1847. The event was reported in various newspapers, however details were limited as they were “ unfit for publication".

William Ewer was charged with having committed an unnatural crime on a donkey in June 1847, however details regarding the incident were limited as they were " unfit for publication"

The Jury returned a guilty verdict, but recommended Ewer to plead for mercy, expressing their belief that he was not right in his mind. The judge informed the court the crime would be punishable by death, however Ewer's life was spared as there was good grounds for believing he was suffering from some mental instability. Consequently Ewer was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Bigamy, John William Speed, Surrey

Army pensioner & former Lieutenant Colonel John William Speed was tried and found guilty of bigamy in 1809. The defendant was described as an 'Elderly Man + a Shrewd One', while his second wife was considered to be 'both in her person, and Countenance, much favoured by Nature' over his first wife.

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Despite claiming he had been unfairly represented and his wife was a 'brutal and unfeeling monster', Speed was sentenced to 7 years transportation.

Destroying trees, Charles Thomas Williams, Middlesex

In 1826, Charles Williams, aged 24, was convicted of maliciously destroying nine trees in Middlesex. The records show that Williams damaged the trees after a confrontation with another man whilst drunk, and was goaded on by a friend who then turned him in.

Williams damaged the trees after a confrontation with another man whilst drunk, and was goaded on by a friend who then turned him in

The mother of the defendant disliked Williams as he had been pursuing one of her servants, and pushed the courts for a heavy sentence. Williams was tried at the Old Bailey and received a prison sentence of seven years.

Cutting hair from a mare, Richard Ayres, Surrey

In 1820, Richard Eyres from Newington was sentenced to seven years transportation for “having feloniously cut and stolen a quantity of hair from the mane and tail of a mare." Eyres pleaded not guilty to the offence, but was found guilty on trial.

Reporting on the conviction, The Glasgow Herald, said: “A Constable, Benjamin Cole, saw the prisoner emerge from White Post Lane; his pockets seemed bulky. Suspecting he had committed robbery, Cole stopped him and found six manes and eight tails along with a sharp clasp-knife well suited to the purpose."

More unusual and harrowing crimes...

  • Killing four donkeys in Essex
  • Despite being a notorious location for executions, one criminal was found guilty of firing a musket at a sergeant in the Tower of London
  • Robbing a Chapel in Middleton
  • Destroying accessories, throwing a knapsack into the Thames and assaulting a corporal with a poker in London
  • One gentleman in Hertford found a special affinity with the local farm animals after being tried for an 'unnatural crime with a sheep'
  • Administering drugs to procure abortion in Middlesex
  • Taking a child with intent to steal its clothes in Middlesex

Our crime records reveal many ordinary and extraordinary stories of criminals, victims and law enforcers from the criminal history books. The records include mugshots and colour images of historical records, as well as detailed accounts of Victorian serial killers, notorious executioners, and the only assassination of a British Prime Minister.

Start exploring the records now, and see whether you discover any more weird or wonderful tales from your family history! Let us know if you do at testimonials@findmypast.com