How to look for records of... Criminal court cases: Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court)

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide for advice on how to find records of trials held at the Old Bailey (later known as the Central Criminal Court) since 1674, as well as records of prisoners and convicts tried and held there.

The Old Bailey is a law court where cases against people accused of serious crimes are tried by a judge and jury. These include amongst other crimes:

  • theft
  • murder
  • rape
  • arson

This guide will help you to understand the kinds of records that Old Bailey trials produced and what information you can expect to find here and elsewhere. There is also advice on how the records were organised and filed, and how this affects how you search for records to this day.

Not all records have survived as clerks sometimes destroyed them when they ran out of space. Earlier records are less likely to have been kept than later ones. 

2. What is the Old Bailey?

The Old Bailey (referred to after the street on which it stands), later known as the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, is a criminal court building in central London which is home to the Crown Court of England and Wales.

The Court deals with major criminal cases within Greater London. In exceptional cases, trials have been referred to the Old Bailey from other parts of England and Wales.

2.1 Cases dealt with by the court

The Old Bailey has historically dealt with the following crimes, among others:

  • theft
  • murder
  • rape
  • arson
  • certain instances of riot and assault
  • treason
  • perjury
  • forgery and counterfeiting
  • offences committed on the high seas or abroad (from 1834)

A trial at the Old Bailey in London as drawn by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin 1808-1811 (source: Wikimedia Commons).

2.2 Counties and districts covered by the court’s jurisdiction

Located in the City of London, the court’s area of jurisdiction until 1834 covered crimes committed in:

  • City of London
  • Middlesex
  • but NOT any part of London south of the Thames

Its area of jurisdiction from 1834 until 1964 covered:

  • London
  • Middlesex
  • certain parts of Essex, Kent, and Surrey
  • offences committed on the high seas or elsewhere abroad previously tried at the Admiralty sessions

From 1964 the area of jurisdiction was redefined as:

  • the Greater London area

Under the Central Criminal Court Act of 1856, the court could also hear cases outside its ordinary jurisdiction to ensure a fair trial where local prejudice existed or where, due to its frequent sessions, it could offer an early trial and so avoid the delay in waiting for the next assizes. To this day, criminal cases from other parts of England and Wales are occasionally dealt with by the court.

When crown courts replaced assize courts in 1971 the title Central Criminal Court was retained for the crown court sitting in London.

2.2 Counties and districts covered by the court’s jurisdiction

Located in the City of London, the court’s area of jurisdiction until 1834 covered crimes committed in:

  • City of London
  • Middlesex
  • but NOT any part of London south of the Thames

For trials of crimes committed in London south of the Thames before 1834 you need to look at the records of assize courts for Surrey.

Its area of jurisdiction from 1834 until 1964 covered:

  • London
  • Middlesex
  • certain parts of Essex, Kent, and Surrey
  • offences committed on the high seas or elsewhere abroad previously tried at the Admiralty sessions

From 1964 the area of jurisdiction was redefined as:

  • the Greater London area

Under the Central Criminal Court Act of 1856, the court could also hear cases outside its ordinary jurisdiction to ensure a fair trial where local prejudice existed or where, due to its frequent sessions, it could offer an early trial and so avoid the delay in waiting for the next assizes. To this day, criminal cases from other parts of England and Wales are occasionally dealt with by the court.

When crown courts replaced assize courts in 1971 the title Central Criminal Court was retained for the crown court sitting in London.

3. Records from the last 50 years

The most recent records we hold for this court are between 30 to 50 years old. Access to these records may be closed or restricted.

Records from the last 6 years are still held by the Central Criminal Court itself.

For records from the last 20 years, you will need to contact HM Courts & Tribunal Service.

You can locate documents in the following collections by clicking on the links below and following the advice in our ‘How to search’ section

Appeals and criminal petitions, up to 1990 in J 81 (for more information see section 9).

Witness statements: depositions, up to 1971 in CRIM 1 and 1987 in J 267 (for more information see section 6).

Shorthand notes from trials, up to 1986 in J 82 (for more information see section 5.4).

Charges, verdicts and sentences up to 1971 in CRIM 5 and 1980 in J 336 (for more information see section 7).

Details of prisoners in after-trial calendars, up to 1971 in HO 140 (for more information see section 10.2).

If the court records you are looking for fall outside of these dates, contact HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, you have the right to request this information from HM Courts and Tribunal Service. To do this you will need to submit a Freedom of Information request (see the HM Courts and Tribunal Service pages on GOV.UK for more guidance).

4. How to search and what to expect

Some of these records have been digitally copied and made available online but many have not been copied and to see these you will need to consult them at our building in Kew. The search for records held at Kew can, however, begin online, using our online catalogue. 

4.1 How to search

A search for documents at The National Archives usually begins in our online catalogue. The catalogue contains short descriptions of the records and a document reference for each – you will need the document reference to see the record itself. You can search the catalogue using keywords and dates.

Use the advanced search option to restrict your search results to records of a specific government department or court, using the letter code for each department/court. For records of Old Bailey cases the code will usually be one of the following: 

  • CRIM – Records of the Central Criminal Court itself 
  • J – Records of the Supreme Court of Judicature and related courts 
  • HO Records of the Home Office 

Every record we hold is represented in our online catalogue by a title, a reference and a brief description. When you use our catalogue to search for records you are actually searching across these titles and descriptions, rather than the contents of the records themselves. By clicking on any item in your search results you can see what the options are for viewing that record.

Some of these records have been digitally copied and made available online but many have not been copied and to see these you will need to consult them at our building in Kew. The search for records held at Kew can, however, begin online, using our online catalogue.

4.2  What to expect: records of defendants

The most detailed records of people involved in Old Bailey trials are invariably records of defendants. 

Typically you will find the defendant’s name, occupation and place of abode However, this information can sometimes be unreliable as aliases were often used and other false details were given. The place of abodementionedis often where the crime took place rather than where the defendant lived. 

5. Summaries of trials: proceedings and other accounts

The most detailed records you are likely to find for any trial are known as proceedings or sometimes sessions papers. They provide summaries of trials and what was said in court. They vary in length and detail, from reports of a few dozen words to detailed transcripts.

5.1 Published and printed proceedings, 1674-1913

The first published account of trials held at the Old Bailey dates from 1674 and from 1678 to 1913 accounts of trials were regularly published. These published proceedings were produced for public consumption. Published proceedings ceased in 1913 by which time they had become largely redundant in the face of newspaper reports of trials.

Proceedings usually contain, as a minimum, details of:

  • prosecutors
  • witnesses
  • defendants
  • charges
  • sentence and verdict

The original proceedings are held at a variety of libraries and not at The National Archives but they are available to search and view online at the Old Bailey Proceedings Online website.

The Chadwyck Healey microfiche collection of British Trials 1660-1900 (which also includes a few trials from 1901-1908) is available in The National Archives reading rooms and in some major libraries. These unofficial contemporary accounts of trials were originally published as pamphlets and sold to the general public. They are accompanied by separate name indexes.

The National Archives does hold some printed proceedings and you can search by date for Old Bailey sessions papers 1801-1904 in PCOM 1. You can also search the printed shorthand notes of proceedings 1834-1912 in CRIM 10, containing duplicates from PCOM 1.

5.2 Accounts of trials in newspapers

Accounts of trials held at the Old Bailey after 1913 are most likely to survive only in newspaper reports. Often newspapers recorded proceedings in great detail. The National Archives does not hold newspapers – instead you should visit the British Library’s Newspaper Library.

5.3 Transcripts of proceedings, 1812-1963

You can search by name of defendant, type of crime or date for transcripts of proceedings 1846-1958 from a small selection of trials, in DPP 4, and transcripts of proceedings 1812-1963, again from a selection of trials, in TS 36. The cases are mainly serious crimes such as murder, robbery, treason and sedition.

5.4 Shorthand notes from trials, 1945-1986

Search by name of defendant or type of crime for shorthand notes from selected cases, in J 82. These are trials that were referred to the Court of Criminal Appeal, mostly after 1956 though there are a few files from 1945.

6. Witness statements: depositions, 1839-1987

Depositions are statements given in court as evidence in a trial.

Use our catalogue to search deposition records by name of defendant and date. Either restrict your search to the following record series or browse by reference by clicking on the links:

  • CRIM 1 for 1839-1971
  • J 267 for 1972-1987 (note that the dates in the series description for J 267 stretch up until 2007 – in fact, the most recent case currently held in this series dates from 1987 and the 2007 end-date reflects the most recent date for records of a case that was heard in 1986)
  • CRIM 2 for 1923-1966 – there are alphabetical indexes of depositions in cases sent up from coroners and police courts

They cover all trials for:

  • murder
  • sedition
  • treason
  • riot and political conspiracy trials
  • those held to be of historical interest

A 2% random sample was kept for other trials. Some depositions include plans and photographs. Some are closed for 75-100 years.

Image of Central Criminal Court deposition case file 1883 (catalogue reference: CRIM 1/1/1)

7. Charges: indictments since 1833

Indictments are the formal statements of the charge against the accused.

You can search by surname of the accused by consulting the alphabetically arranged calendars and indexes of indictments. You will need to know the approximate date of the trial to find the right calendar or index.

Browse through the appropriate record series by year range for the following periods:

  • 1833-1971 in CRIM 5 (for a reference to CRIM 4 – see below)
  • 1972-1980 in J 336 (for a reference to J 268 – see below)

Though primarily an index, CRIM 5 does also provide the following information:

  • charge
  • date of conviction and sentence
  • results of any appeal

Use the reference obtained through the calendars and indexes listed above to access indictments within the following periods:

  • 1834-1971 in CRIM 4 (these records can also be browsed by date)
  • 1972-1974 in J 268
  • 1974-present – apply for access to court records through HM Courts and Tribunals service. See the Ministry of Justice website

For more recent records, not held at The National Archives, contact the Ministry of Justice. See their advice on Freedom of Information requests.

8. Court books, 1834-1949

Court books contain the following information:

  • names of the accused and, in many cases, the victim
  • plea, verdict and sentence
  • jurors’ names

Browse through the court books in CRIM 6 (1834-1949). You will need to know the approximate year in which the trial took place as these books are arranged in ranges of years.

Court books from 1950 to 1971 have not survived and beyond 1971 they were not produced.

Image of court book from the Central Criminal Court 1834-1837 (catalogue reference: CRIM 6/1)

9. Appeals and criminal petitions, 1848-1990

Appeals, against verdict or sentence, for the following period can be found in the record series listed:

  • 1908-1990 in J 81 (searchable by date only)
  • 1848-1893 in CRIM 11 (searchable by name in our catalogue)
  • 1848-1908 in CRIM 12 (searchable by name in our catalogue)

See also our research guide on criminal appeal cases.

Image of Central Criminal Court draft pleading from 1848 case (catalogue reference: CRIM 11/1)

10. Records of prisoners, 1782-1971

The Old Bailey contains a network of cells used to hold prisoners awaiting trial and those convicted of crimes.

10.1 Lists of prisoners awaiting trial and criminal registers, 1782-1892

The National Archives holds:

  • lists of prisoners awaiting trial at the Old Bailey 1815-1849 in HO 16 – browse by reference in our catalogue
  • calendars and lists of prisoners awaiting trial at Newgate Gaol 1782-1853 in HO 77 – browse by reference in our catalogue
  • criminal registers 1791-1892, listing those charged with indictable offences at Middlesex Sessions, giving verdict and sentence – search by name at Ancestry.co.uk (£) (the original records are in HO 26 and HO 27).

Image of returns of convicted prisoners for trial at the Central Criminal Court, including charges against them and results of trials 1815 -1818 (catalogue reference: HO 16/1)

10.2 Details of prisoners in after-trial calendars, 1855-1971

Records of convicted criminals held prisoner at the court exist in the form of after-trial calendars.

There are no after-trial calendars after 1971. Something similar called memorandums of convictions have been kept since 1971 but they are supposed to be destroyed after 20 years and therefore do not get transferred to The National Archives.

After-trial calendars of prisoners include some or all of the following details:

  • name and age of prisoner
  • previous convictions
  • date of trial
  • charges on the indictment against them
  • verdict and sentence
  • details of magistrates and jury

Browse through the record series of after-trial calendars by clicking on the links below to find details of prisoners tried within the following year ranges:

  • 1855-1949 in CRIM 9 (some records closed for 75-100 years)
  • 1868-1971 in HO 140  (some records closed for 75-100 years). Records for London and Middlesex cover Quarter Sessions as well as the Central Criminal Court cases, and for 1868-1897 have separate sections for the City, Middlesex, Essex, Kent, Surrey and Admiralty jurisdictions. After 1898 they have separate sections for London (North of the Thames), London (South of the Thames) and Middlesex.

11. Records of London and Middlesex Quarter Sessions

The London Metropolitan Archives holds various Quarter Sessions records for London and Middlesex, including the Sessions of Gaol Delivery for the City of London and Middlesex held at the Old Bailey until 1834 as well as City of London Sessions, Middlesex Sessions, Westminster Sessions and the County of London Sessions.

Records from a number of archives have been brought together and digitised on the London Lives website including Quarter Sessions records for City of London, Middlesex and Westminster.

Though there are no records from quarter sessions courts at The National Archives, our library contains the following printed and published calendars for records held at the London Metropolitan Archives:

12. Further reading

A range of books can also be purchased from the National Archives’ shop.

The following publications are available at The National Archives library at Kew:

Clive Emsley, The Newgate Calendar (Wordsworth, 1997)

W Eden Hooper, History of Newgate and the Old Bailey (Underwood Press, 1935)

Caroline Jowett, The History of Newgate Prison (Pen & Sword, 2017)

A Knapp and W Baldwin The Newgate Calendar (4 vols) (J Robins and Co, 1824-1828), describing ‘notorious’ cases 1700-1825