Delivering Justice in Hull: 1835-1879

Carr, Laura (2019). Delivering Justice in Hull: 1835-1879. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


This dissertation addresses two research questions derived from Gatrell’s account of the development of the criminal justice system nationally during this period as a disciplinary ‘policeman-state’ - the extent to which national policy and regulation shaped the workings of the criminal justice system Hull during this period and whether the delivery of the system locally was focused on imposing social discipline on the working-classes. Police court, quarter sessions and Town Council records and reporting in the local press are used to investigate these questions.

The study concludes that local decision-making was important throughout this period, although by 1877 the government had decided to centralise control of the nationally poor quality prison service. The Town Council was proud of its police force and fiercely defensive of local control. Whilst working-class defendants charged with drunkenness and disorder dominate the police court records, the severest punishment was reserved for those whose crimes went to the heart of the concerns of a mercantile and commercial city – such those who refused to support themselves and their families, prostitutes and servants who stole from their masters. The working-class used the courts to meet their needs, bringing cases against employers, deserting husbands and for theft and assault.

The dynamics of a port town with a mercantile and commercial economy did not result in a mass working-class in Hull, nor a police-man state imposing discipline upon it. The port was important to the prosperity of the town and shipowners and merchants used their power and influence to support their commercial interest in their roles in the criminal justice system.

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