Blog by David Holding, author of 'The Dark Figure' and other local history and non-fiction titles published by Words are Life / Scott Martin Productions.
Historians who seek to use crime figures have to face certain challenges. Historical evidence is, by its very nature, fragmentary and requires interpretation. However, these statistics used with caution can provide a starting point, a hypothesis for patterns of both criminal activity and responses to perceptions of that activity The establishment of the ‘new’ police forces in England during the 1830s, invariably produced ‘local’ increases in arrests. These were mainly for ‘public order’ offences, e.g. drunk and incapable, drunk and breach of the peace, common assault and theft. These offences were essentially ‘public’ and arrests relatively easy. Directives at both national and local levels issues to police forces to clamp down on such offences could produce sudden ‘peaks’ in local crime figures. Also, changes in chief constables could produce changes in annual crime figures.
To confirm these general observations, analysis of crime figures covering the period from 1855 to 1895 for Bolton, reveals that these trends were reflected locally.
OFFENCE % OF TOTAL ARRESTS
Common Assault 23
Breach of Peace 14
Drunk /Breach of Peace 13
Source: Chief Constables’ Annual Reports to the Watch Committee of Bolton, 1855-1895.
“The Dark Figure” – Crime in Victorian Bolton
This book provides an absorbing overview of crime in the Lancashire town of Bolton over the period 1850 to 1890. It is primarily based on documentary survey and analysis of court and police records covering the period. It assesses changes in crime over time and asks whether these relate to economic, social or political changes taking place at the same time. The reader is left to reflect on whether crime in all its many forms, has actually changed over time.