Crime and Punishment Living gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
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Crime in 1901

Finger-printing was introduced in 1901, and the following year would see the first conviction on finger-print evidence - of Harry Jackson at the Central Criminal Court (the 'Old Bailey') in London. While stealing billiard balls from a house, he had left his thumb print on a window-sill that had just been painted.

According to official statistics, there were 55,453 trials and 45,039 convictions for serious ('indictable') offences in 1901, figures which showed no significant rise in the numbers of such types of crime. There had been, however, a steady increase since 1886 in the number of lesser ('non-indictable') offences which were tried without a jury before summary courts, roughly equivalent to today's magistrates' courts. Such lesser offences included petty larceny, for which Alberta Wood was convicted, and drunkenness, with which 210,342 people were charged in 1901.
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Violent crime was not as much of a concern in 1901 as it is today and was seen as falling. A report by the Criminal Registrar, published in 1901, noted that the period had 'witnessed a great change in manners: the substitution of words…for blows…an approximation in the manners of different classes; a decline in the spirit of lawlessness'. This was partly due to policing: the historian V.A.C. Gatrell has argued, in his article in The Cambridge Social History of Britain, that the Edwardian working classes were heavily regulated and that the falling indictable crime rate between 1860 and 1914 reflected a period when policing was able to obtain 'a peculiar and transient advantage…over ancient forms of popular lawlessness visible on the street'.

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Alberta Wood - link to an enlarged version

In 1901, imprisonment was the commonest form of punishment; at the time this could involve hard labour. 199,875 people were sent to prison in 1901, nearly 75% of whom were men. Statistics for 1900 show that 52% of those convicted of indictable offences were sent to prison, a proportion that would fall to 18% by 1950, but rise again to 23% in 1998. Fines were imposed on 22% of such offenders in 1900 and a further 9% were punished by whipping.

In 1901, juvenile offenders could be sent to reformatories or industrial schools (replaced by borstals in 1908). Stockport Industrial School admitted 32 children aged between 9 and 13 in 1901 for offences such as 'frequenting company of reputed thieves'; 'beyond [parental] control; 'larceny'; 'found habitually wandering and not under proper control'; 'stealing rabbits'; 'non-attendance [at school]'; and 'refractory in workhouse'.