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Guide reference: Legal Records Information 27
Last updated: 8 October 2012

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you find records of trials that have taken place since 1674 at the Old Bailey, which became the Central Criminal Court in 1834. It will help you to find details of:

  • defendants, criminals and prisoners
  • victims of crime
  • jurors and judges

2. Essential information

The Old Bailey became the Central Criminal Court in 1834 but continued to be known popularly as the Old Bailey.

You will need to know the approximate year in which the trial took place as most of these records are only searchable by date or year. The most notable exceptions are the proceedings, which can be searched by name.

2.1 Areas covered

The court's area of jurisdiction until 1834 covered crimes committed in:

  • City of London
  • Middlesex
  • but NOT any part of London south of the Thames

Its area of jurisdiction from 1834 until 1964 covered:

  • London
  • Middlesex
  • certain parts of Essex, Kent, and Surrey
  • offences committed on the high seas or elsewhere abroad previously tried at the Admiralty sessions

From 1964 the area of jurisdiction was redefined as:

  • the Greater London area

2.2 Crimes covered

Trials for people accused of felonies (serious crimes) and the more serious cases of misdemeanors (crimes less serious than felonies) were held at the court. This included the following crimes:

  • theft
  • murder
  • rape
  • arson
  • certain types and instances of riot and assault
  • treason
  • perjury
  • forgery and counterfeiting
  • offences committed on the high seas or abroad, previously tried at the Admiralty sessions

3. Proceedings since 1674

Proceedings offer summaries of trials and accounts of what was said in court. They vary in length and detail, from reports of a few dozen words to detailed testimonies of:

  • prosecutors
  • witnesses
  • defendants
  • along with accounts of judges' comments and questions

Search by keywords for Old Bailey proceedings online (1674-1913).

For trials after April 1913, consult contemporary newspapers, which often recorded proceedings in great detail. They can be consulted at the British Library's Newspaper Library.

Browse additional records of proceedings in:

  • PCOM 1 - printed proceedings or narrative accounts of trials for London and Middlesex sessions for 1801-1904 (duplicates for 1834-1912 in CRIM 10)
  • DPP 4 (1846-1958) and TS 36 (1812-1963) for transcripts of proceedings in cases where the Treasury Solicitor or Director of Public Prosecutions had an interest
  • J 82 for shorthand notes for cases that were referred to the Court of Criminal Appeal (after 1945)

The Chadwyck Healey microfiche collection of British Trials 1660-1900 (includes a few trials from 1901-1908) is available in some major libraries and at The National Archives at Kew. These unofficial contemporary accounts of trials were originally published as pamphlets and sold to the general public. They are accompanied by separate name indexes.

4. Other pre-1834 records

Most pre-1834 records are held in other archives, most significantly at the London Metropolitan Archives.

Records from a number of archives have been brought together and digitised on the London Lives website including Quarter Sessions records for City of London, Middlesex and Westminster.

4.1 Pre-1834 records and finding aids at The National Archives

As well as records of proceedings (see Section 3), The National Archives also holds the following:

  • lists of prisoners awaiting trial at the Old Bailey 1815-1849 in HO 16 - browse by reference in our catalogue
  • calendars and lists of prisoners awaiting trial at Newgate Gaol 1782-1853 in HO 77 - browse by reference in our catalogue
  • criminal registers 1791-1892, listing those charged with indictable offences at Middlesex Sessions, giving verdict and sentence - search by name at Ancestry.co.uk (the original records are in HO 26 and HO 27).

The National Archives library holds the following printed and published calendarscalendar - a list, usually in chronological order, in which a detailed summary of individual documents is provided for records held at the London Metropolitan Archives:

4.2 Pre-1834 records at the London Metropolitan Archives

The London Metropolitan Archives holds various Quarter Sessions records for London and Middlesex, including the Sessions of Gaol Delivery for the City of London and Middlesex held at the Old Bailey until 1834 as well as City of London Sessions, Middlesex Sessions, Westminster Sessions and the County of London Sessions.

Search ARCHON, The National Archives database of contact details for record repositories in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the world, to see where other pre-1834 records are held.

5. Details of prisoners in after-trial calendars 1855-1971

After-trial calendars of prisoners include some or all of the following details:

  • name and age of prisoner
  • previous convictions
  • date of trial
  • charges on the indictment against them
  • verdict and sentence
  • details of magistrates and jury

Browse through the record series of after-trial calendars by clicking on the links below to find details of prisoners tried within the following year ranges:

  • 1855-1949 in CRIM 9 (some records closed for 75-100 years)
  • 1868-1971 in HO 140  (some records closed for 75-100 years). Records for London and Middlesex cover Quarter Sessions as well as the Central Criminal Court cases, and for 1868-1897 have separate sections for the City, Middlesex, Essex, Kent, Surrey and Admiralty jurisdictions. After 1898 they have separate sections for London (North of the Thames), London (South of the Thames) and Middlesex.

6. Depositions since 1839

Use our catalogue to search deposition records by name of defendant and date. Either restrict your search to the following record series or browse by reference by clicking on the links:

  • CRIM 1 for 1839-1971
  • J 267 for 1972-1978
  • CRIM 2 for 1923-1966 - there are alphabetical indexes of depositions in cases sent up from coroners and police courts

They cover all trials for:

  • murder
  • sedition
  • treason
  • riot and political conspiracy trials
  • those held to be of historical interest

A 2% random sample was kept for other trials. Some depositions include plans and photographs. Some are closed for 75-100 years.

For more recent records, not held at The National Archives, contact the Ministry of Justice. See their advice on Freedom of Information requests.

7. Indictments since 1833

Indictments are the formal statements of the charge against the accused.

You can search by surname of the accused by consulting the alphabetically arranged calendars and indexes of indictments. You will need to know the approximate date of the trial to find the right calendar or index.

Browse through the appropriate record series by year range for the following periods:

  • 1833-1971 in CRIM 5 (for a reference to CRIM 4 - see below)
  • 1972-1980 in J 336 (for a reference to J 268 - see below)

Though primarily an index, CRIM 5 does also provide the following information:

  • charge
  • date of conviction and sentence
  • results of any appeal

Use the reference obtained through the calendars and indexes listed above to access indictments within the following periods:

  • 1834-1971 in CRIM 4 (these records can also be browsed by date)
  • 1972-1974 in J 268
  • 1974-present - apply for access to court records through HM Courts and Tribunals service. See the Ministry of Justice website

For more recent records, not held at The National Archives, contact the Ministry of Justice. See their advice on Freedom of Information requests.

8. Court books 1834-1949

Court Court books contain the following information:

  • names of the accused and, in many cases, the victim
  • plea, verdict and sentence
  • jurors' names

Browse through the court books in CRIM 6 (1834-1949). You will need to know the approximate year in which the trial took place as these books are arranged in ranges of years.

Court books from 1950 to 1971 have not survived.

9. Appeals and criminal petitions 1848-1990

Appeals, against verdict or sentence, for the following period can be found in the record series listed:

  • 1908-1990 in J 81 (searchable by date only)
  • 1848-1893 in CRIM 11 (searchable by name in our catalogue)
  • 1848-1908 in CRIM 12 (searchable by name in our catalogue)

See also our research guide on Appeal cases in the Supreme Court after 1875.

10. Background information

Under the Central Criminal Court Act of 1856, the court could also hear cases outside its ordinary jurisdiction to ensure a fair trial where local prejudice existed or where, due to its frequent sessions, it could offer an early trial and so avoid the delay in waiting for the next assizes.

When crown courts replaced assize courts in 1971 the title Central Criminal Court was retained for the crown court sitting in London.

11. Further reading

The following publications are available at The National Archives library at Kew:

Clive Emsley, The Newgate Calendar (Wordsworth, 1997)

W Eden Hooper, History of Newgate and the Old Bailey (Underwood Press, 1935)

A Knapp and W Baldwin The Newgate Calendar (4 vols) (J. Robins and Co., 1824-1828), describing 'notorious' cases 1700-1825

Guide reference: Legal Records Information 27

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