Tales from the Hanging Court draws on published accounts of Old Bailey trials from 1674-1834, a rich seam of social, political and legal history. Through these compelling true stories of theft, murder, rape and blackmail, Hitchcock and Shoemaker capture the early history of the judicial system and the colourful, vibrant and sometimes scandalous world of pre-industrial London: 'This was a time when an orphan could live for a week by stealing a single handkerchief, but be hanged for less; when stocks and pillories were still in use, duels were still fought, and the medieval punishment of 'pressing' to death -- spreadeagled on the ground and poled with heavy weights -- was still on the statute books; when your jailer could invite you upstairs for a beer or leave you in an airless dungeon with no water on a whim; when you might be murdered in your bed for some linen or a silver tankard ...' Time Out In its heyday the court was a soap opera of intrigue, sensation and murky goings on where authors such as Dickens and Defoe would go for inspiration. Thieves and murderers were often caught by members of the public and prosecutions brought by victims.
Hitchcock and Shoemaker chart an increasingly sophisticated society taking crime and punishment away from the anarchy of the London mob to put it into a court where a judge and jury meted out justice. The authors paint a vivid picture of a flourishing city where market capitalism and Enlightenment thinking battled to impose order on the chaotic crime that accompanied Britain's economic miracle.