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Understanding the Information in the Prisoner Records

Datafile Structure

This page briefly explains the nature of each piece of information recorded in the datafile.

Entry date: Under the provisions of the Habitual Criminals Act 1869 (superseded by the Prevention of Crime Act 1871) it was necessary to keep a register of persons convicted of certain offences. Details were to be entered in the register when the person was within seven days of being released.

These have been entered into the datafile as separate fields to allow sorting and searching to be carried out on each element.

Age: The age of the person on their discharge from gaol.

Height: A limitation of most computer databases is that it cannot deal easily with numerical information that works on two different units (eg feet and inches). The heights have, therefore, been entered as if they were words. This can cause some strange results if you attempt to sort the heights (eg 4ft 11in comes before 4ft 1in because treated alphabetically 11in is nearer the beginning than 1in, numbers taking precedence over letters).

Hair: There are variations in the register in the way that hair colour is entered eg Dk. Brown, Dark Brown. To make searching and sorting easier these have been standardised.

Eyes: Variations in spelling (hazle, hazel) have been standardised.

Complexion: Self-explanatory

Where born: Different amounts of detail were entered in the registers at different times. Sometimes the county is given as well as the place name.

Married or single?: Occasionally widow or widower is found. Married or single are the usual descriptions.

Trade or occupation

Mark: The 'Any other distinguishing mark' entry was often very lengthy. As much as possible has been included in the datafile but occasionally there was insufficient room for the full description. The register often said 'None' or left the entry blank. This has been standardised as a blank entry.

Address (at time of apprehension)

Trial by Jury?: The two possible entries are 'Jury' or 'Summarily'. See the general glossary for their significance.

Place convicted: If the entry is simply a place name, then it was at a 'summary court'. The two types of jury court were the Huntingdon Quarter Sessions (entered as 'Huntingdon QS') and the Huntingdonshire Assizes (entered as 'Hunts Assizes').

Date convicted: This is the date on which the trial took place.

The original registers have one section which describes the offence committed. The majority of the offences were 'stealing'. In order to make the datafile easier to interrogate, a field ('Stole') was set up to hold separately the details of what was stolen in those cases where the offence was theft. It is, therefore, possible to search the 'Offence' field for 'stealing' and then analyse the things that were stolen.

In a limited number of cases a person was convicted simultaneously of two different offences. This is indicated in the 'Offence' column where necessary.

In the original registers the information in these two columns appears as one entry. The vast majority of the sentences were for a round number of Calendar Months of Hard Labour. All such entries appear in the 'Sentence' column. The entries are numerical, so may be averaged etc. However, some sentences were for less than a calendar month, for several years penal servitude, or were a mixture of hard labour and other punishments, such as strokes with a birch rod. Including these in the 'sentence' field would have restricted the analysis that could be done, because many would have had to be entered as words. The 'Punishment' column, therefore, records all these other types of sentence, whether instead of hard labour or in addition to it.

Date free: The date on which the prisoner was due to be released from gaol. In the cases of some children sentenced to a subsequent period in a Reformatory School the date is that on which they left Huntingdon Gaol, rather than the date on which they regained their freedom. There is some inconsistency in the original registers when dealing with persons convicted to Penal Servitude and transferred to a prison such as Pentonville. Sometimes the 'date free' is when they are transferred, sometimes when they are due to be freed. Different clerks treated the entry differently.

Previous: Where it was known, the registers record details of previous convictions. It was not possible to enter all the details of these into the datafile due to time and space restrictions limitations. This column records just the number of previous convictions that are entered.