Monday, 26 September 2011

More on FindmyPast's Manchester records

Here's the official press release on the Manchester records that FindmyPast ( placed online a few days ago.


Manchester prison and workhouse records included
Charges include: indecent relations with a pig, and driving a contagious cow along a highway
Victorian law and order likely to have punished today’s rioters more severely
First execution listed at New Bailey and Strangeways prisons

Fascinating Victorian prison and workhouse records for Manchester have gone online for the first time ever at leading UK family history website ‘The Manchester Collection’ is a rich series of records provided by Manchester City Council's Libraries, Information and Archives, highlighting criminals whose crimes number murder, stealing, and even bestiality. Scanned images of the original copperplate handwritten registers can now be viewed and searched online by the public.

The Manchester Collection consists of eight record sets with nearly 1,300,000 records that cover Manchester and some parts of Lancashire, due to boundary changes over the centuries. The full series on the site comprises prison registers spanning 1847-1881, industrial school admission and discharge registers, c1866-1912, school admission registers c1870-1916, apprentice records ranging from 1700-1849, baptism and birth registers covering 1734-1920, cemetery and death records for 1750-1968, marriage registers covering 1734-1808 and finally, workhouse registers, which include admission registers, creed registers and discharge registers. Today’s rioters and criminals get away lightly compared to many of the characters in the industrial schools and prison records.

The Prison Registers

The prison register records are some of the most fascinating within the collection giving details of the crimes committed and full particulars of the prisoners, including a description of what they looked like. This index contains 247,765 records for the period 1847-1881. The records cover Belle Vue Prison, New Bailey Prison and Strangeways.

A number of crimes can be found within the records, including murder, stealing as little as a lump of coal, being drunk and riotous and casually knowing (a Victorian euphemism for rape). The oldest felon discovered in the records was 91 years old and the youngest just seven. Repeat offenders were common and it is possible to trace their criminal careers. One woman was recorded 20 times over 14 years - she was blind in her left eye and had a pockmarked face, making her easily identifiable in the records.

Casually knowing a pig

In the prison records one Mr John Alty, aged 21 was charged on 6th March 1866 that he ‘having on the 30th January 1866 feloniously wickedly + against the order of nature did casually know a certain pig + then feloniously did perpetrate an unnatural crime at Manchester’. He was sentenced to 15 months’ hard labour. The record, as many do, includes details of his height, complexion, hair, weight and eyes and describes his occupation as a labourer. Also provided are his last known address, religion, education, marital status, distinguishing marks, nationality, previous committals and release date.

First execution at HMP New Bailey

James Burrows on May 31st 1866 was accused and charged that he ‘wilfully + malice aforethought killed + murdered one’ John Brennan at Hopwood on the 21st May 1866. He was sentenced to death and executed on August 25th 1866, aged 18. This case was widely covered in the newspapers at the time as James Burrows was the first person to be executed at the New Bailey Prison.

Moooove your ‘contagious’ cow!

In June 1870, Joshua Lomas, aged 36, was charged with driving a cow along the highway with a highly contagious lung disease. He was sentenced to one month in prison or the fine of £2. Joshua appears in the records again in 1877 charged with being drunk; he was sentenced to one day’s hard labour. Many of these criminals can be found more than once in the records.

Industrial Schools Indexes

Industrial schools were set up in the middle of the 19th century to provide lodging for destitute children. They were intended to prevent vulnerable children from falling into criminality; children would be educated and taught a trade and could be there for a set period or throughout their education. They were also ‘youth detention centres,’ where Victorian children were sent following anti-social acts for rehabilitation.

Five years detention for truancy

On October 3 1901, Joseph Marsh aged 10 was convicted for associating with bad companions and truancy. He was sentenced to a period of five years and four months detention in one of Manchester’s Industrial schools, Ardwick Green. In his record he is described as being 4’5” tall, 65lbs, with a fair complexion, broad nose, having very light hair with blue eyes. He had five vaccination pits on his left arm. Previously, he had been given three or four years schooling and could read, write and calculate to grade III standard. His mental capacity was said to be good. Like many boys, upon completing his time at the school he enlisted in the army. The records show he joined the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment, which was then based in Palace Barracks, Holywood, Belfast and went on to have a successful army career. His strict discipline at the school clearly helped him stay on the straight and narrow and he went on to have a very successful army career.

Debra Chatfield, marketing manager at commented: “These records are a fascinating insight into the crimes of the Victorian era and provide so much more detail than census records. Many of the crimes carried out and their subsequent punishments are quite shocking, and are far removed from what we are familiar with today. For example, stealing one lump of coal could get you seven days hard labour. Imagine what the recent rioters would have faced if they had been under Victorian law and order. Even if you do not live in Manchester now, you may have had ancestors there 100 or more years ago and these records will prove to be an essential resource in tracing your family history. Manchester is one of the largest cities in the UK, and by making these records available online people will be able to discover even more about the lives of their Mancunian ancestors.”

The records have been published online by following a two year project to scan and transcribe the original records after the website was awarded a contract by Manchester City Council Libraries, Information and Archives.

Councillor Mike Amesbury, Manchester City Council's executive member for culture and leisure said: "We are continually developing our library and archive services to make them much more accessible and easy to use. We're really excited to be working with to digitise these records so that they are easily available to everyone at the simple click of a button."

You can search the Manchester Collection now at

(With thanks to Amy at FindmyPast)


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