HISTORY: 18th Century crime statistics revealed in new book
A NEW book examining crime figures from the late 18th century reveals a familiar set of problems across West Essex.
A spate of burglaries in Chigwell, pub fights in Epping and muggings in Waltham Abbey are all documented in ‘Rogues and Rebels’ a study of lawbreaking in the area between 1779-1789.
Author Dorothy Paddon, from Forest View Road in Loughton, wrote the book after being asked to take a look at historic crime figures as part of her Open University history course.
Mrs Paddon, 75, a former Loughton Residents Association councillor, started the course after retiring from her job as a Quality Manager with the NHS.
She said: “I am fascinated with the 18th century and local history and took this as an opportunity to combine the two.
“It started out as something of a statistical exercise but in the course of the research I found a wealth of human detail.”
Mrs Paddon stumbled upon magistrates books for the area in Chelmsford Record Office and spent hours poring over old cases to compile her set of crime figures.
Her book shows that Epping, with a population approaching 2,000, had become something of a crime hot spot as its ‘numerous inns’ often erupted in drunken confrontation.
But elsewhere crime patterns varied enormously.
“I found it interesting that the different towns and villages had such differing patterns of crime,” said Mrs Paddon. “For example there are records of a number of burglaries in Chigwell where successful merchants and professional men had moved to grand houses.
“Whereas in Loughton, for example, crime tended to be associated with people breaching Forest Law.”
Her book details four cases where men from Epping were sentenced to hang for Highway robbery, but there were also executions for stealing horses and sheep.
Elsewhere convicted criminals were sent to Australia or sentenced to hard labour on the Thames dredgers – a fate which Mrs Paddon says was often a death sentence due to the atrocious conditions they were forced to work in.
On the whole, it is the poor who are sentenced in the cases Mrs Paddon studied.
“Many poor victims of crime must have found it almost impossible to bring a case before the magistrates, but I did find a few examples,” she said. “One case where two poor women were beaten by a local farmer in Chigwell for ‘gleaning’ (collecting leftover crops from fields after harvesting) stands out.
“Gleaning was viewed as a traditional right of the poor, but this farmer clearly didn’t see it that way.
“It must have been a shock to him that his poor victims would dare take the matter further.”
Sadly we do not know if the women secured a successful prosecution.
Mrs Paddon explained: “There is not always a clear record of the outcome and I don’t have the energy or the eyesight to keep on looking I’m afraid.
“I hope someone else will take on the research because there are some fascinating stories to be told.”
Rogues and Rebels can be bought for £4 from The Bookshop in Loughton, the Epping Bookshop or from the District Museum in Waltham Abbey.