Hello again readers. Just a few days from my book being uploaded to Amazon. Herewith another blog about how the book was created and some of the resources I used….
In Victorian times criminals were tried in three types of court, Petty Sessions, Quarter Sessions and Assizes. The first two were for lower categories of crime and were decided by magistrates also known as justices ( of the peace.) Petty sessions could be held every day or as and when needed. The Quarter sessions as the name implies were held four times a year.The more serious crimes here were things like petty theft, assault and wounding and sometimes rape. These sessions could decide to refer up the most serious cases to an Assize court. The Assizes were held just twice a year before a judge and jury. These were organised into circuits around the country and Nottingham formed part of the Midland Circuit. They formed a major spectacle when they arrived in town and usually had two judges, often nobles and knights. You can find records for the first two types in your local record office and most of the Assize Court details post 1818 SHOULD be available at the Public Record Office in Kew. These records are an amazing resource and a superb reference for any crime writer. My story involves an Assize trial.
I found good information about the trial in the Nottingham Review and Nottingham Mercury in 2011. In Spring 2012 I planned to visit Kew to look at the original deposiitions but fate intervened. Our neighbour put her semi-detached up for sale in February and my wife and decided it was time to sell up and move too. 2012 was a blur of house renovation and looking for and then buying a new house. No work whatsover took place on my book that year. By April 2013 I was ready to go to Kew but thought it worth ringing first to make sure the material was there. I rang. It wasnt there! It had “disappeared”! I was advised to use old newspapers instead but pointed out I had already done that. Very disappointed by this turn of events I started browsing through the resources available in Nottingham Central Library again. Then I saw something new – the Nottingham Journal newspapers were available on microfilm! I knew that the Journal was read by the cream of Nottingham society and had to be worth checking out.
I started back on the research trail in May 2013 making three day long visits to Nottingham by train just to go through the Journal details. It was well worth it. The Journal added a number of very very important details to my story and included information not printed by the other two papers. This was especially true of the Trial. Only the Journal gave details of the cross-examination by defence counsel of key witnesses. Only the Journal hinted at some kind of controversy concerning at least five witnesses who were called, all of whom were supporting prosecution evidence. Indeed it is the Journal that really hints that the prisoner did not receive a fair trial despite this being the paper of the high-born who cared little about the poor people of Nottingham. Only the Journal actually printed a letter post -trial complaining bitterly about many aspects of a trial which was to cost a man his life. This proved a very very important part of my story and taught me an important lesson about research; you MUST use every available resource.
Now back to the trial in my story. The accused pleaded not guilty. He was sentenced on the evidence of testimony of 40 witnesses. The defence counsel, paid for him by an Ilkeston doctor put up a spirited defence but key evidence was withheld before the trial began. The jury took just 18 minutes to decide he was guilty. The judge put on his black cap to deliver the death sentence. Throughout the trial and indeed during and after being sentenced the acccused remained calm and composed. After the trial he complained that the testimony of at least eight witnesses was not correct. Surely a man could not be sent to the gallows for circumstantial evidence or hearsay? Werent the murders witnessed by that boy up the tree? Didnt this boy identify him? Soon, very soon now you will be able to find out……
This neatly leads me on to the subject of my next blog – the public execution….. and more about that tomorrow.
Until another day reader……………………