Criminal Lives explored by City archives

The troubled lives of convicts in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London provide the focus of a free exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) next month.

Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts opens at the City of London Corporation-owned LMA on 11 December and looks back to when imprisonment was in the process of becoming the dominant method of punishing offenders. It traces the impact of punishment on convict lives during a time when the purpose of punishment shifted from retribution inflicted on the convicts’ bodies to attempts to reform their minds.

Produced in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council Digital Panopticon Project, Criminal Lives uses documents, prints and Victorian photographs from the LMA’s extensive collections. Visitors can view original documents from the Old Bailey archives as well as items including a policeman’s truncheon, a reproduction Millbank Prison uniform, and convicts’ photographs drawn from collections in Britain and Australia.

The exhibition highlights the lives of convicts from the Gordon Riots in 1780 to the early twentieth century, including prostitute and pickpocket Charlotte Walker; Ikey Solomons, the notorious receiver of stolen goods; and serial thief Thomas Limpus, who was transported to Africa, America and Australia.

Graham Packham, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, said:

“Thought-provoking and unsettling in equal measure, this new exhibition at LMA focuses on a pivotal period for crime and punishment in London and features some particularly interesting characters. The range of visual materials and original items on display will certainly engage visitors.”

Bob Shoemaker, Professor of History at the University of Sheffield, who co-curated Criminal Lives with Tim Hitchcock and Larissa Allwork (see below) said:

“This exhibition brings together a fascinating set of records from the LMA’s collections and other archives to show how the reformatory prison became the chief form of punishment in our judicial system. By using convict life stories to explain the origins of the modern prison, we hope that ‘Criminal Lives’ will help viewers see punishment in a new light.”

Tim Hitchcock, Professor of Digital History at the University of Sussex, said:

“In just 100 years, hanging, whipping and branding, and transportation to Australia, were replaced by imprisonment. This exhibition tells the story of that transition through the lives of the men and women at the sharp end of the criminal justice system.”

Larissa Allwork, Public Engagement and Impact Officer at the University of Sheffield, said:

“We hope that the exhibition will provide an opportunity for people to engage with this fascinating history and its contemporary legacy in all of its dimensions. ‘Criminal Lives’ is complemented by our free public engagement programme, which includes an education pack for schools, FindmyPast workshops for family historians, and an event with Ikon Gallery in Birmingham about the convict artist, Thomas Bock.”

This exhibition has been produced in association with the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded Digital Panopticon Project, a collaborative project led by the University of Liverpool, and supported by the Universities of Sheffield, Sussex, Oxford, and Tasmania.

The City of London Corporation invests over £100m every year in heritage and cultural activities of all kinds. It is the UK’s largest funder of cultural activities after the government, the BBC, and Heritage Lottery Fund. It is also developing Culture Mile between Farringdon and Moorgate – a multi-million pound investment which will create a new cultural and creative destination for London over the next 10 to15 years. This includes £110m funding to support the Museum of London’s move to West Smithfield and £2.5m to support the detailed business case for the proposed Centre for Music.


Notes for Editors:

Criminal Lives, 1780-1925: Punishing Old Bailey Convicts runs from 11 December to 16 May at London Metropolitan Archives, EC1. Admission is FREE. A schools’ education pack and a programme of FREE public events will accompany this exhibition. The events programme will be published on the London Metropolitan Archives EventBrite page at

For further information, please contact:

Andrew Buckingham, Media Officer, City of London Corporation

Tel: 020 7332 1452 / Mob: 07795 333060 / Email

An exhibition launch event will take place at 5.45pm on Thursday 14 December at London Metropolitan Archives. This will be an opportunity to view the exhibition, meet the curators, and see a short performance by Matthew Crampton, the narrator of the 2017-2018 production of Peter Bellamy’s The Transports. For further information and to reserve a place, please email:

About the London Metropolitan Archives:

London Metropolitan Archives is a public research centre which specialises in the history of London. LMA cares for, and provides access to, the historical archives of businesses, schools, hospitals charities, and many other organisations in, and around, London. With over 100km of books, maps, photographs, films and documents dating back to 1067 in our strong rooms, it is proud to provide access to one of the finest city archives in the world. Its users have a wide range of research interests, including family, community and local history, and LMA also works with students, artists, producers, and architects.

London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB

Admission FREE, check websites for opening times. Nearest underground stations are Farringdon and Angel.

About the City of London Corporation:

The City of London Corporation provides local government and policing services for the financial and commercial heart of Britain, the 'Square Mile'. In addition, the City Corporation has three roles:

• We support London’s communities by working in partnership with neighbouring boroughs on economic regeneration, education and skills projects. In addition, the City of London Corporation’s charity City Bridge Trust makes grants of around £20 million annually to charitable projects across London and we also support education with three independent schools, three City Academies, a primary school and the world-renowned Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

• We also help look after key London’s heritage and green spaces including Tower Bridge, Museum of London, Barbican Arts Centre, City gardens, Hampstead Heath, Epping Forest, Burnham Beeches, and important ‘commons’ in south London.

• We also support and promote the ‘City’ as a world-leading financial and business hub, with outward and inward business delegations, high-profile civic events and research-driven policies all reflecting a long-term approach.

See for more details.

About the AHRC Digital Panopticon Project:

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Digital Panopticon project is studying the impact of punishment on the lives of 90,000 felons who were convicted at the Old Bailey between 1780 and 1870. Drawing evidence from 50 datasets, its free website allows users to search more than 4 million records. For information about the project, please see the Digital Panopticon website:

Keep up to date with our latest news through Twitter: @digipanoptic