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Everyday Offending in the Three Towns 1850-1920

As a maritime city Plymouth has a unique heritage as until 1914, when there was a need to combine resources to respond to the threat of the Great War, it was not one but Three Towns. Plymouth and East Stonehouse were the oldest, with Devonport, formerly known as Plymouth Dock, evolving in the early eighteenth century to serve the expanding naval defence base. By 1850 each of the Three Towns had its own separate police force and Magistrates’ Court with an adjacent police station. There were two combined prisons , Plymouth borough prison at Greenbank and Devonport and Stonehouse prison at Pennycomequick. Plymouth was not an Assize town, so the management of crime was essentially focused on the Magistrates’ Courts and on local policing initiatives.
Map Disected2The history of everyday offending in Plymouth is therefore a prime topic for research; not least because from an academic perspective that history remains a largely under-investigated and untapped resource. More significantly, from a local and regional perspective it is important to develop the historiography as a means of informing and engaging with the public and local communities on how to deal with offending at local levels today, by understanding what worked, and what did not, in the past.

This involves building on, and working in partnership with, associated projects including Our Criminal Past and the South West Police Heritage Trust.

The Everyday Offending in Plymouth research team based in Plymouth Law School, are now developing a research project that will examine the incidence, policing and prosecution of everyday offending and minor crime in the Three Towns 1850 -1920.  It aims to establish the shifts and patterns in such offending during this period, how the Three Towns managed and made their communities safe, and assess the longer term legacy and impact of their practices and initiatives, so that lessons from the past for the future management of offending in the city can be derived from this study.

Some of our key research questions include:

  • What behaviours were regarded as ‘immoral’ activities? How were they regulated?
  • Who were the key figures and organizations in targeting such conduct?
  • Were there any differences in approach across the Three Towns?
  • What evidence is there of military/navy personnel committing offences and how were they dealt with?

The Project’s logo image is of Devonport Guildhall built in 1822 by renowned Regency architect John Foulston, it was one of his ‘picturesque buildings’ at the heart of Devonport.