Juvenile Crime and Punishment in the 19th Century

Quarter Session minutes, part one

The former lock up in the cellar of Warwick County Asylum (the first reformatory in Warwickshire)
Image courtesy of Anne Langley

The age of criminal responsibility in England has always been low. In the 18th century it was seven years old (and even today it is only 10, whilst in almost all other countries it is higher). The age of offenders was not often recorded in the quarter session minutes (which are currently being indexed by volunteers at Warwickshire County Record Office).

Interesting example from 1874

However, we found one interesting entry; this was ‘A return of all cases of Children under 14 years of age committed to the Prison during the past Quarter. January, February and March 1874’ (presumably in response to a request for information from central government). The chart showed the offence, the age and the punishment given (transcribed below). You can see the children ranged from 9 to 13 years old and the punishments were severe for very minor offences (stealing pigeons, a coat or an umbrella). Several children were sent to prison briefly and then on to a reformatory for five years; some were whipped and one (aged 13) was sent for trial at the Assizes, where he could have received the death penalty if found guilty of murder.

  • Age 11: 14 days gaol + 5 years Reformatory for Stealing a Coat
  • Age 12: 14 days gaol + 5 years Reformatory for Stealing Boots
  • Age 11: 1 day gaol and whipped, for Stealing Pigeons
  • Age 9: 1 day gaol and whipped, for Stealing Pigeons [three boys]
  • Age 13: Trial at the Assizes, accused of Murder
  • Age 12: 21 days gaol + 5 years Reformatory, for Stealing Money
  • Age 13: 14 days gaol, for Stealing an Umbrella.

Source: Warwickshire County Record Office Quarter Session Minutes QS39/24 pages 245 and 246.

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