For centuries, the City of London's Lord Mayor and Aldermen have headed various courts and tribunals as part of their official obligations. In the City's Guildhall, Londoners from all walks of life could appear before an alderman sitting as a magistrate in the "justice room" and initiate a criminal complaint when they were the victims of crime. But what actually happened in those initial hearings between the accuser, the accused and the magistrate has remained largely obscured to history.
These records shed light on the earliest phases of a criminal prosecution and reveal the routines of criminal justice administration in the eighteenth-century metropolis. From the fragmentary minutes of the proceedings conducted before London's aldermen, who sat for a part of every working day as Justices of the Peace, we learn of the petty squabbles of the City's poor with parish officials, the ready resort to physical violence in public and private spheres, the steady campaign against prostitution, and the growing professionalism of the parish constables who policed London before the arrival of the Metropolitan Police.The records will be of interest to historians of London, social historians of crime, genealogists and scholars interested in summary or pre-trial procedures in early modern England; they are presented here with introduction and explanatory notes.
Greg T. Smith is Associate Professor of History at the University of Manitoba.