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Informal Justice in England and Wales, 1760-1914

Informal Justice in England and Wales, 1760-1914: The Courts of Popular Opinion

Stephen Banks
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Informal Justice in England and Wales, 1760-1914
    Book Description:

    This is a study of law, wrongdoing and justice as conceived in the minds of the ordinary people of England and Wales from the later eighteenth century to the First World War. Official justice was to become increasingly centralised with declining traditional courts, emerging professional policing and a new prison estate. However, popular concepts of what was, or should be, contained within the law were often at variance with its formal written content. Communities continued to hold mock courts, stage shaming processions and burn effigies of wrongdoers. The author investigates those justice rituals, the actors, the victims and the offences that occasioned them. He also considers the role such practices played in resistive communities trying to preserve their identity and assert their independence. Finally, whilst documenting the decline of popular justice traditions this book demonstrates that they were nevertheless important in bequeathing a powerful set of symbols and practices to the nascent labour movement. This book will be of interest to scholars and students of legal history and criminal justice as well as social and cultural history in what could be considered a very long nineteenth century. Stephen Banks is an associate professor in criminal law, criminal justice and legal history at the University of Reading, co-director of the Forum for Legal and Historical Research and author of A Polite Exchange of Bullets: The Duel and the English Gentleman, 1750-1850 (The Boydell Press, 2010).

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-324-9
    Subjects: History, Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  5. Introduction: Inventing Law and Doing Justice
    (pp. 1-19)

    Many years ago, I found myself on a school trip to the now long-departed but not much lamented Soviet Union. Eager to further the cause of a history project I took advantage of some permitted shopping time in the state-owned GUM department store to purchase, for a remarkably small sum, an English translation of the 1936 Soviet constitution. For those unfamiliar with it, this was an astonishingly benevolent document guaranteeing universal suffrage, secret ballot and so forth. Even as a schoolboy, a moment’s reflection that this was a constitution written by a committee headed by Joseph Stalin was enough to...

  6. 1 Law, Symbolism and Punishment
    (pp. 20-32)

    Much of what was accounted in the nineteenth century as illegitimate and unwarranted popular punishment had its antecedents in the orthodox modes of chastisement observable in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; a time when, if communities did not own their justice systems, they nevertheless remained very interested shareholders. Given the rather vestigial nature of the government, some rough accommodation with general opinion was a necessity. William Paley warned in 1785:

    Let them, [civil governors] be admonished that the physical strength resides in the governed; that this strength wants only to be felt and roused, to lay prostrate the most ancient...

  7. 2 Localism, Justice and the Right to Judge
    (pp. 33-61)

    It is surely no coincidence that the places in the first half of the nineteenth century where we see the penitent still exhibited and the scold still ducked or bridled are those small market towns or parishes away from the babble of metropolitan politics and reform. These were also the places where rituals of popular justice were most firmly entrenched. Popular justice could only be delivered where it was possible to mobilise a crowd, where the offence was adjudged sufficiently egregious and where the participants were endowed with their own sense of entitlement. It was from a sometimes ferocious sense...

  8. 3 The Forms of Rough Music
    (pp. 62-82)

    This chapter and much that follows thereafter concerns itself with the phenomenon widely distributed throughout European society into the twentieth century and known broadly as charivari in France, katzenmusik in Germany or shivaree in North America. In Britain the broadest term employed was ‘rough music’, the essence of which was the staging of a shaming procession through a community in response to some alleged turpitude. The term ‘rough music’ derived from the hullabaloo made by the participating crowd on pots and pans and anything else that came to hand. These processions had close affinities with earlier judicial ridings – indeed...

  9. 4 Sex, Gender and Moral Policing
    (pp. 83-106)

    The examples of rough music already cited have probably already indicated to the reader that such practices were often inspired by irregular gender behaviour or sexual practice and it is these offences that I intend to explore here. Before pursuing the causes of the music, however, it is appropriate to first say something further about the performance itself insofar as gender symbolism and gender reversal seem to have themselves played an important part in the punitive enterprise.

    The 1744 edition of Samuel Butler’sHudibrascontains a depiction of a skimmington (by William Hogarth) that contains two interesting gender elements. Two...

  10. 5 Defending Economic Interests
    (pp. 107-126)

    In the previous chapter I considered those instances of rough music that were mainly said to have been inspired by inappropriate conduct in the fields of sexual or gender relations. Wife-beaters, wife-sellers, husband-beaters, adulterers, old men who snatched away young women – these were the people who offended the parish. However, the case of the Westonbirt ‘groaning’ has already suggested that manifestations of rough music might not always have been the result of disinterested moral outrage. In this chapter I intend to focus more on rough music or street justice employed not so much as an expression of general sentiment,...

  11. 6 Political Resistance
    (pp. 127-153)

    The previous chapter has shown that it was not merely the disenfranchised that employed rough music rituals. All classes operated in the context of ‘a society thoroughly drenched in ceremonial and celebration’¹ and acted out the issues of the day to the discomfort of their opponents. However, the enthusiasm of the better classes for using communal justice practices to penalise individual wrong-doing declined during the nineteenth century. It became apparent that rough music not only could provide the cognitive tools to mobilise crowds against morally deficient individuals but also against their betters and against what they believed was morally deficient...

  12. 7 Resistive Communities
    (pp. 154-174)

    If we are looking for a model of the type of community that policed itself, administered its own punishments, was capable of acting collectively to protects its interests and, to a degree, was able to resist the intrusion of outside authority, then we could do worse than start with the profile of the type of village disposed to riot offered by Hobsbawm and Rude:¹

    It would tend to be above average in size, to contain a higher ratio of labourers to employing farmers than the average, and a distinctly higher number of local artisans; perhaps also of such members of...

  13. 8 Performance and Proscription
    (pp. 175-199)

    Thus far I have employed several broad categorisations in my exploration of punitive performance. I have observed it as one facet of the life of rural or semi-rural communities wherein it was applied to the punishment of general moral offences and I have suggested that there were particular types of ‘resistive’ community in which it was most strongly entrenched. I have noted it as a tool employed to advance the very particular interests of social subgroups such as smugglers and I have also considered it as a feature of particular occupational groups, usually semi-skilled or skilled, semi-autonomous, who were endowed...

  14. Aftermath
    (pp. 200-204)

    In 1979 Theo Brown reported inFolklorea rather curious incident that had happened some six years previously to two of her acquaintances, a vicar and his wife, who had at that time been living in a village in Devonshire. Brown described the cleric as an Oxford graduate who ‘had worked most of his ministry in a suburban parish and knew nothing of country life’.¹ His wife was ‘artistic, very well-meaning and nervous’. Eager to fulfil her role in the community the aforesaid wife had been active in the community but had unknowingly offended a portion of the village by...

  15. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 205-217)
  16. Index
    (pp. 218-228)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-229)