Posted on 12/07/2010
Real-life courtroom drama will provide a window into the past in a new BBC Radio 4 series being presented by Professor Amanda Vickery, from the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London.
In the new four-part series, which starts at 9am on Thursday July 15, Professor Vickery presents dramatised extracts from gripping court cases and discusses with fellow historians what they reveal about 18th century society and culture.
The Old Bailey was the principal court for London and Middlesex, but it tried cases from much further afield. London doubled in size over the eighteenth-century from half a million to a million. The metropolis drew people like a magnet, from all over Britain, from Ireland, but also from Africa, America and South Asia, as well as continental Europe. It was Europe`s biggest capital, a heaving city of migrants, particularly young women looking for work. The whole country flowed through the city: half of the entire urban population experienced London life at some point in their lives.
Historians use the records of the Old Bailey to study criminal justice and the criminal underclass, but they can be used to recreate work and play, relationships and attitudes, street-life and family-life.
Professor Vickery, who was the presenter of the highly successful ′A History of Private Life′ on BBC Radio 4 last year, said, "Through court cases, we can hear the voices of the 18th century. Thanks to the speedy court shorthand writers, everyone's speech is recorded, from the posh to the poor. I am awed by the magical access they give to a world we have lost – and could recapture in no other way. I use them in this series, to offer pin-sharp impressions of ordinary people – under pressure, acting out the most dramatic episode of their existence, sometimes arguing for their very lives."
Professor Vickery listens to what these characters have to say as they face the gallows, with fellow historians Bob Shoemaker, Helen Berry and John Mullan. Throughout the series there are popular ballads - about crime, or written by criminals - recorded for the first time, on location in one of Dick Turpin's hide-outs.
The series begins with the voices of highwaymen in court, followed by wicked women, children and finally conmen. All the programmes will be repeated the same evening from 9.15pm