Alberta Wood, aged 39 and a charwoman
of Lee Street in Leicester, was charged at the Leicester petty
sessions (roughly equivalent to a magistrates' court) in April
1901 with stealing a cape belonging to a Mrs Annie Bird from
her house in Middle Street. Wood had gone there to beg for
a halfpenny to buy half a pint of beer. According to the account
of her trial in the Leicester
Chronicle, Mrs Bird decided
to treat her to a drink, although Wood was unknown to her,
and they went to a public house together. Wood later returned
to Mrs Bird's house and was let in by a servant girl, whom
she told to join Mrs Bird at the pub. Later on it was noticed
that the cape was missing and, when Alberta Wood was spotted
in the market place, she admitted that she had pawned the
garment. She pleaded guilty, saying she was very sorry indeed,
but was sentenced to one month's hard labour.
Wood was again convicted in October 1901, this time for stealing
a pair of trousers and a vest, and sentenced to nine months'
hard labour. In February 1903, she was sentenced to a further
six months' hard labour for stealing another pair of trousers
and a vest. Clearly, in this instance, prison had not proved
to be a deterrent, but would more of the same medicine work?
The 1908 Prevention of Crime Act would introduce sentences
of 5 to 10 years' preventative detention for those having
three or more past convictions who led a 'persistently dishonest
life' and who had been sentenced to prison. This provision
of the Act would be little used, however.
Follow this link for more on tracing
criminals. Local newspapers, held in local record
offices or local studies libraries, can also be a very good
source of information.
Petty crime was on the increase in 1901, but of the 638,508
people convicted of such offences, the vast majority - 548,182
- were fined. Nearly 16% of those sentenced to pay a fine
could not, or would not, do so however and so went to prison.