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

Petty Crime

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.

Entry for Alberta Wood in the calendar of prisoners 1901, Lancaster-Lincoln - link to an enlarged version

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.

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.

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.