Display captures the county’s criminal past

Sue Dalton,  Head of Ripon Museums, preparing one of the displays.
Sue Dalton, Head of Ripon Museums, preparing one of the displays.

Pictures showing a cross-section of Yorkshire’s criminal classes spanning the Victorian and Edwardian eras have gone on display in Ripon.

The collection of previously unseen criminal records has been gathered from the archives at Ripon Museum Trust and went on display at the Police and Prison Museum in St Marygate on Thursday, August 15, in an exhibition entitled Mug Shots.

North Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Dave Jones, who opened the exhibition, said: “This is a truly fascinating insight into how police investigations and methods of tracing suspects have evolved over the past 130 years or so.

“Preserving and bringing to life the rich history of the police service is very important to demonstrate how we, as a society, have developed our modern day system of law and order.”

Although many of the convicts’ offences reflect the harsh economic realities of the times – such as vagrancy or stealing food or clothes – other crimes of our ancestors appear timeless, including murder, drunkenness and assault.

The records cover North Yorkshire between 1877 and 1930, and staff would like the offenders’ relatives to set aside any familial embarrassment to tell them more about the person if they recognise a name or face.

The drawings, photographs, and descriptions of the offenders reveal much about them, and the society against which they transgressed.

The weatherbeaten and grimy face and clothes of the unfortunate Thomas Jolly, labelled simply “tramp” from a photograph dated June 1, 1916 – a month before the beginning of the Battle of the Somme – tells its own story.

As does the similarly unkempt appearance of fellow tramp James Stewart, captured by a police photographer on February 17, 1917.

Other mugshots in the collection pre-date photography and were drawn instead.

These include a fairly flattering portrait of Edward Cass Adames, wanted for stealing three clocks and other items, and who, in contrast to Messrs Jolly and Stewart, is described as being “of good appearance”.

He was also “believed to be American” and “accompanied by his wife, a glass embosser”.

There are cases appearing to involve a degree of cunning and subterfuge, including espionage and embezzlement, but other offenders who were brought to book were clearly not criminal masterminds.

Farm labourer Harry Eyeington would have been about 18 when he appeared before Ripon Liberty Court on February 2, 1920.

After gaining work at a farm with a friend named Payne, Eyeington waited until the farmer and his 
family were at church to climb through a bedroom window to steal a watch and cash.

He fled to Birkenhead but returned home to Thornaby-on-Tees after spending the money and pawning the watch.

His crime is likely to have alarmed his parents, who were described as “very respectable”.

But the justice system spared little in listing his own characteristics.

According to the record, Eyeington had a slight stammer, was of “slouching” gait, “very sulky”, and was described as “very simple and easily led”.

Sue Dalton, head of museums at Ripon Museums Trust, said she felt sympathy for many of the offenders in the files.

“If you look at the exhibition as a whole, one of the things I’ve picked up is a lot of the records are a reflection of the times, “ she said.

“These people were absolutely desperate – there was a lot of poverty and a lot of people picked up were proper vagrants or tramps.

“They just don’t look like people do today, they look desperate.

“Some of it is really sad. If it is written in red it means they have died and I have found some people who have gone through the whole system and they have died in the workhouse.

“It’s a reflection of what a hard life it was. Things are better now. A lot of people may say they are too soft but they were desperate times.”

The exhibition runs every day until November 30, from 10am-4pm until September 2 and from 1-4pm from September 3 onwards.