Getting to Grips with Criminal Histories…

Me enjoying the Gaolers' journals
Me enjoying the Gaolers’ journals

Hi, I’m Jenny McGarvey and I’ve been here at York Explore doing a part-time placement for the past 10 weeks. I am currently studying an MA in Public History at the University of York, and have been lucky enough to do this placement as part of the course.

Today marks the end of my 10-week placement with York Explore and I can honestly say that I could not have asked for a more exciting, enjoyable and informative experience.

The aim of my placement was to research and get to grips with the court records held at York Explore, and produce outreach tools to encourage public interest. My final products will be used once the court records are available for public use- and believe me; once they are people should form an orderly line as there are some real gems to be discovered in the records, as I have quickly come to learn!

Books, books... and even more books!
Books, books… and even more books!

Originally knowing absolutely nothing about the history of crime and punishment, I arrived on my first day feeling a mixture of excited and daunted, unsure about where my journey would take me. But the welcome I received soon put my mind at rest and I eased into the task in front of me. For the first week of placement, I immersed myself in books, websites and anything I could find that would teach me about crime and punishment. It was a topic that I began to love.

Delving into the archive boxes...
Delving into the archive boxes…

I then set about trawling through the many (and I mean many!) boxes full of archive material relating to the court records. As I opened box after box, it became clear to me how fascinating the records are. Having initially become too immersed in the detail and stories covered by the records, I took a step back and focused on the task in hand; to create a resource discovery report to outline the contents of the records.

One of the documents I enjoyed reading
One of the documents I enjoyed reading

Another task was to create some form of ‘window’ on to the records as a way of introducing them to the public. After getting a glimpse at the wonderful collection of maps held here at the archives, I knew straight away that I wanted to use them in some way for my resource. I finally settled on the idea of creating a presentation based on old maps of York to tell personal stories of people I had come across in the court records.

One of the maps included in the presentation
One of the maps included in the presentation

I would use PowerPoint to create my presentation on “A Brief History of Crime and Punishment in the City of York”, and the finished product will be displayed on the screens that are dotted around York Explore and the local libraries.

Just some of the extraordinary maps help at York Explore
Me enjoying the extraordinary maps help at York Explore

Creating my presentation took me back to the archive boxes, excited to discover intriguing stories to include. I unearthed petty thefts, servant girls heading down dangerous paths, elaborate prisoner conspiracies to escape and even murderous crusades of revenge.

The Gaolers' Journals
The Gaolers’ Journals

My favourite part of my research process has to have been discovering the Gaoler’s journals (Y/ORD/1/2). These were absolutely captivating reads and were effectively diaries kept by the Gaolers of their everyday activities within York Castle Prison. They detailed many prison goings-on; from intakes of prisoners, executions, and prisoner punishments, to female prisoners giving birth (a surprisingly regular occurrence!), inmate rivalries and of course, the story that has come to be one of my favourites- that of a prisoner conspiracy to tie up the prison guards and escape in the dead of night. These fabulous reads have provided me with many a moment’s entertainment throughout my time here!

The finished resource is a 91-page interactive PowerPoint that both teachers and pupils can use.

The opening slide of the presentation that will be displayed on the screens around York Explore
The opening slide of the learning resource that will be used as an aid to the teaching of crime and punishment

Another outcome of my placement was the creation of a learning resource that could be used to aid the teaching of crime and punishment. I did this by adapting the original presentation designed for the screens at York Explore, with a view to it being used for Key Stages 2 and 3. This was a very thought-provoking process as I had to take into account lots of different factors, such as how to adapt my writing style to suit this new audience, and how to develop it so that it reflects the National Curriculum. I have thoroughly enjoyed the process involved in creating the resource, and it has certainly taught me a lot more than I ever thought it would.

From the initial opening up of archive boxes...
From the initial opening up of archive boxes…

Having begun my archive journey with no knowledge whatsoever about crime and punishment, and very little experience of archives besides a bit of research for essays, I have come out the other side of my placement with a passion for both criminal histories and archives.

The court records have had me hooked. I hope my resources show this passion, as they are the reason behind what will most likely be a lifelong interest in criminal histories. For anyone considering accessing the records once they become available, be warned: once you’ve started reading them you won’t be able to stop! reading about prisoner conspiracies!
…to becoming a criminal history enthusiast!

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