Fascinating facts from the Garrow’s Law blog archive

November 15, 2011

Hi everyone,

Here is a re-post of something I put up for the first series, Garrow’s London and how it worked from Crime to Punishment.



Garrow’s law is set in London at the end of the 1700s.  It was quite a time to be alive:  the American Revolutionary War had just ended, leaving thousands of disgruntled British soldiers looking for work; there was revolution in France, and back in England there winds of change were starting to blow.  People were starting to talk about rights, and about democracy. The movement to end slavery was getting going, women, like Mary Wollstonecraft, were asserting themselves and talking about the rights of women.  And reform was in the air, people were getting frustrated with the corruption in parliament and were hungry for change.

And all this was being played out in a new public arena.  There had been an explosion of newspapers and journals:

  • In 1770, London has 5 daily papers;
  • In the 1780s, it had 9 dailies, 8 tri-weeklys and 9 weeklys;
  • In the 1790s, it had 14 dailies, 7 tri-weeklys and 2 weeklys.

But whilst there was change on one side, on the other the ruling classes were battening down the hatches and steeling themselves.  They were quite happy with things as they were thank you very much!

From Crime to Punishment

A common way for crimes to be detected is that a Night Watchman would hear or see something.  Have a look at the case of Henry Morgan 15 September 1784, we hear from a Watchman examined by Garrow in the Old Bailey.


If there were no watchmen around, there was no choice other than to run after the criminal yourself.  If you discovered a felony, you were legally obliged to apprehend those responsible and notify the constable.  Also, if a constable was trying to catch a felon, he could require people to join the ‘hue and cry’.

In this case, a man explains the steps he took to catch the highwayman:

This isn’t a Garrow case, but it shows you just how swift and harsh the justice was.  No defence counsel, not even a prosecution.  Basically, the judge was in charge and played all the parts …


Next step

OK, so the crime has happened. How else would the suspect be brought to court?  A common option was to use a Thieftaker.  As you’ll know if you’re read the outline for this Sunday’s episode, Garrow defends Peter Pace, who is accused by renowned thief-taker Edward Forrester of robbing a man at gunpoint.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nsp4s Thieftaking was most notorious in the 1720s – 50s, but carried on as long as there were rewards paid.  The Times newspaper was writing against the corrupting effects of the reward system well into the 1780s.  Thieftaking didn’t stop finally until 1818 when the reward system was abolished by Parliament.

The core idea is that Thieftakers are driven by the reward money.  They will do anything to get it.  However, they were not all bad, and many performed useful functions.   These included,

1) Recovering stolen property and claiming any private reward that was offered from the victim eg man’s horse stolen.  He offers a reward and puts an advert in the paper. You find it, bring it to him and claim the reward.

2) Apprehending criminals:  Often, private citizens would go to a Thieftaker and ask them to intercept a criminal.  Basically, the Thieftaker is like a private policeman. The Thieftaker is paid by getting some of the reward money offered by the state for successful conviction of criminals.

That’s it, let’s wait and see what happens in Episode 1 (series 1) !!!

If you are interested in learning more about Thieftakers, have a look at the historical section of the Old Bailey Proceedings Online.  It gives you a great overview of the development of policing over a long period – much longer than just Garrow’s time.

We have a crime, we have a suspect, but we’re not ready for the Old Bailey just yet.

Here is a nice example, with Garrow for the defence, where a victim of crime obtains a warrant from the magistate, and then, with the warrant in hand, goes and gets a constable to accompany him to the suspects’ house.  The accusation was that someone has stolen some meat.  … But when they got there, the cats had already gnawed it!!




Fascinating fact: William Garrow

November 11, 2009

Someone asked me whether we had made up Garrow’s aggressiveness.  It’s certainly true that you can’t tell tone of voice from the proceedings but check this out.  This is taken from an 1832 article about Garrow.  The author is talking about Garrow’s cross examination style:

“He seemed every now and then to destroy, almost to annihilate, an adverse witness; and often he would, without effort and unperceived, be winding about him, throwing a net round, gradually contracting it into a noose … and then he would on a sudden pounce forth upon him and tear him to pieces.”

That was one of the things that we used to help get a sense of what Garrow was like in Court.

Mark Pallis

Episode 2: Some inspirations from my research

November 9, 2009


I hope you enjoyed Episode 2.

Before I get to the monster, I want to mention the first case that was featured – about the guy that had nicked the brass harness the guy in the employment of William Champion Crespigny.   This is inspired by a real case. The guy was a gent from Cavendish Square.  One of the things that was so striking was that Garrow really laid into him.  He didn’t approach him with any deference, or care about his rank or position, he saw everyone as being equal before the law.

The other thing that was striking about the case was that it showed Garrow putting the idea of everyone being presumed innocent until proven guilty into practice  – he doesn’t put the defendant on the stand and the defendant doesn’t say anything.  Everything is about testing the prosecution case.   Garrow wins, without the defendant having to speak and a new legal precident is on the way to being established.

If you are interested in reading more about this case, you can find the records of it on the Proceedings of the Old Bailey online, here:


Now, the Monster.  Again, this was inspired by a real case.  One of the things that I thought was interesting was that the press played a key role in whipping up a storm. The Monster was a real cause celebre at the time, maybe the first celebrity criminal.  It had london in a fever.  I was excited by the case because I thought that I gave a good window onto the role of the press, as well as on the topic of prosecutions for reward, rather than by by police.  The other reason was that it allowed us to touch on what’s known as the ‘cab rank rule’ .   This is the rule that says that barristers have to take whatever case they’re asked to do, regardless of how they feel about it.  In the words of the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg,

‘The “cab rank” rule is one of the glories of the Bar. It underscores that every member of the Bar is obliged, without fear or favour, to represent clients who offer themselves, regardless of how unpopular they may be in the community or elsewhere.’


As to the stuff that inspired the case, well, there really was a Monster who terrorised the streets of London, stabbing women in the bum, and also, and this really not nice, stabbing them in the face with a sharp implement disguised in bouquets of flowers.  For more info on the Monster, there are a few good sources of information. One is a book by Jan Bondeson:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/London-Monster-Sanguinary-Tale/dp/0812235762 This is really really thorough.  Of course, nothing beats going down the British Library and seeing the real stories as they were reported in the newspapers! It involved a number of legal complexities (all the stuff about the cutting of cloth etc) and the actual case was indeed respited for the 12 judges.

Here are some links that you might find interesting:

Also, Tony Marchant, writer and Co-creator was interviewed on Start The Week today.  It’s available on Iplayer.