Skip to main content Accessibility help

Gender, Criminal Opportunity and Landscape in Nineteenth-Century Wales



In the nineteenth century, the old county of Montgomeryshire in Wales was mainly rural, with some industrialised towns. This article looks at the most prevalent crime dealt with in the county's Quarter Sessions, namely theft, and considers the gendered nature of law breaking. In particular it investigates the rural and urban landscapes and how they affected offenders’ activities and draws conclusions on the implications for policing.



Hide All


1. Newtown and Welshpool Express; Montgomeryshire Express; Quarter Sessions Records held at Powys County Archives.

2. King, P., Crime, Justice and Discretion in England, 1740–1820 (Oxford, 2000); Davis, J., ‘A Poor Man's System of Justice: The London Police Courts in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century’, Historical Journal, 27 (1984), 309–35; Phillips, D., Crime and Authority in Victorian England: The Black Country, 1835–1860 (London, 1997), pp. 96109 ; Hay, D., Linebaugh, P., Rule, J. G., Thompson, E. P. and Winslow, C., Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-century England (London, 1975), p. 13 . For class-based analysis of rural crime, see Reed, M. and Wells, R., eds, Class, Conflict and Protest in the English Countryside, 1700–1880 (London, 1990).

3. Walker, G., Crime, Gender and Social Order (Cambridge, 2003), p. 159 .

4. King suggests that ‘Historians working on major indictable crimes were, like most criminologists, slow to pick out gender as an important variable’. See King, P., Crime and Law (Cambridge, 2006), p. 196 . See also Arnot, M. L. and Usborne, C., eds, Gender and Crime in Modern Europe (1999, London, 2003), pp. 143 ; Feeley, M. M. and Little, D. J., ‘The Vanishing Female: The Decline of Women in the Criminal Process, 1687–1912’, Law and Society Review, 25 (1991), 719–57; Jones, D. J. V., Crime in Nineteenth-Century Wales (Cardiff, 1992), p. 171 ; Barrett, A. and Harrison, C., eds, Crime and Punishment in England – A Sourcebook (Keele, 1999), pp. 190–2. For the period 1740–1847 in various English counties (and for England and Wales, 1805–1853) see Tables 6.1–6.5 and Figure 7.1 in King, Crime and Law, pp. 201–6. For Surrey 1666–1802 see Beattie, J. M., ‘The Criminality of Women in Eighteenth-Century England’, Journal of Social History, 8 (1975), 81 .

5. Walker, Crime, pp. 159–209.

6. The county receives scant attention in David Jones's classic work, Crime in Nineteenth-Century Wales, (note 5) and even less attention in Jones’ essay on the experiences of the plebeian Welsh, ‘The Welsh and Crime: 1801–1891’, in Emsley, C. and Walvin, J., eds, Artisans, Peasants and Proletarians, 1760–1860 (Beckenham, 1983), pp. 81103 . In Jones’ book, Crime, Protest, Community and Police in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Boston, 1982), the Welsh dimension concentrates on industrialised Merthyr Tydfil in the south. Jones does, however, use 300 cases from early 1860s Montgomeryshire for a paper presented to Llafur, the Welsh People's History Society, which studies history from below. In this, he concentrates on rural offences, mainly arson, poaching and vagrancy, with a decided leaning towards men's experience of crime, see Jones, D. J. V., ‘Crime, Protest and Community in Nineteenth-century Wales’, Llafur, 3 (1974), 110–20. Melvin Humphreys devotes a chapter to the subject of crime in Montgomeryshire in The Crisis of Community (Cardiff, 1996), pp. 217–52, although his focus is on the eighteenth century. Nicholas Woodward considers the county in his studies of rural crime and infanticide from the early eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. See Woodward, N., ‘Burglary in Wales, 1730–1830: Evidence from Great Sessions’, Welsh History Review, 24 (2008), 6091 ; Woodward, N., ‘Horse Stealing in Wales, 1730–1830’, Agricultural History Review, 57 (2009), 70108 ; Woodward, N., ‘Seasonality and Sheep Stealing in Wales, 1730–1830’, Agricultural History Review, 56 (2008), 2347 ; Woodward, N., ‘Infanticide in Wales, 1730–1830’, Welsh History Review, 23 (2007), 94125 . Carl Griffin has analysed the protest aspect of rural crime in Griffin, C., Protest, Politics and Work in Rural England, 1700–1850 (Basingstoke, 2014).

7. Phillips, P., A View of Old Montgomeryshire (1977, Swansea, 1978); Roberts, J. E. and Owen, R., The Story of Montgomeryshire (Cardiff, 1916). The rise and fall of the flannel industry in mid Wales is well documented, see for example Jenkins, J. G., ‘The Woollen Industry in Montgomeryshire’, Montgomeryshire Collections, 58 (1963–64), 5069 ; Pearson, J. M., ‘The Decayed and Decaying Industries of Montgomeryshire’, Montgomeryshire Collections, 37 (1915), 1530 . See also an excellent discussion in an editorial ‘The Population in Newtown, 1871’, Newtown and Welshpool Express, 23rd April 1871.

8. See discussions on the link between culture and environment in Short, B., ‘Conservation, Class and Custom: Lifespace and Conflict in a Nineteenth-century Forest Environment’, Rural History, 10 (1999), 127–54; Short, B., ‘Environmental Politics, Custom and Personal Testimony: Memory and Lifespace on the late Victorian Ashdown Forest, Sussex’, Journal of Historical Geography, 30 (2004), 470–95. King, Peter has identified the spatial dimension of crime as being neglected in his ‘The Impact of Urbanization on Murder Rates and on the Geography of Homicide in England and Wales, 1780–1850’, Historical Journal, 53 (2010), 671 .

9. Goodman, G. and Mathieson, C., Gender and Space in Rural Britain, 1840–1920 (Abingdon, 2014).

10. Jones, Crime, p. 32. See also Gattrell, V. A. C., ‘The Decline of Theft and Violence in Victorian and Edwardian England’ in Gattrell, V. A. C., Lenman, B. and Parker, G., eds, Crime and the Law: The Social History of Crime in Western Europe since 1500 (London, 1980), pp. 238370 . Crime was declining over much of Europe at this time. See European Committee on Crime Problems, Crime and Economy: Reports Presented to the 11th Criminological Colloquium, 1994 (Strasbourg, 1995), p. 25 .

11. See Jones, Crime, pp. 37–45 for a detailed discussion.

12. Emsley, Crime and Society in England, 1750–1900 (1987, Harlow, 2005), pp. 114–36.

13. Emsley, Crime and Society, p. 114.

14. Thomas Plint (1851) quoted in Emsley, Crime and Society in England, p. 114. The railways provided access to criminal opportunities and a quick getaway. See Ireland, R., ‘An Increasing Mass of Heathens in the Bosom of a Christian Land: The Railway and Crime in the Nineteenth Century’, Continuity and Change, 12 (1997), 5578 for a discussion on railway crime and increased mobility.

15. Quoted in Emsley, Crime and Society in England, p. 115.

16. Quoted in Emsley, Crime and Society in England, footnote 3, p. 136. Biography of Reach, Dictionary of National Biography.

17. Emsley, Crime and Society in England, p. 120 and footnote 28, p. 139.

18. Population figures obtained from Census of England and Wales, 1871, population tables, Volume 1 (Counties), p. 11; Volume 2 (Registration or Union), pp. 551–2.

19. ‘Other’ includes items such as animal bedding, coal and umbrellas.

20. Jones, Crime, pp. 171–6.

21. In cases where the defendant pleaded guilty, no trial followed and therefore the exact location of the offence is unclear. The data for Figure 7.8 is from the forty-nine cases where the woman pleaded not guilty thus a trial ensued and more details were given.

22. MacKay, Lynn, ‘Why They Stole: Women in the Old Bailey, 1779–1789’, Journal of Social History, 32: 3 (Spring, 1999), 623–39, 629.

23. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 5th July 1870. The present study found allegations of sexual assault in the workplace, private homes, on the street and in isolated areas. The lone woman was clearly vulnerable in any place. Louise Jackson briefly discusses the relation of social space and sexual assault in Jackson, L. A., ‘Women Professionals and the Regulation of Violence in Interwar Britain’, in D'Cruze, S., Everyday Violence in Britain, 1850–1950: Gender and Class (Harlow, 2000), pp. 119–35, pp. 128–30. D'Cruze herself devotes a section to space in Crimes of Outrage: Sex, Violence and Victorian Working Women (London, 1998), pp. 30–36.

24. Montgomeryshire Express, 12th March 1878; Newtown and Welshpool Express, 6th July 1869.

25. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 8th July 1873.

26. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 22nd August 1873.

27. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 10th March 1874.

28. Information given in Ann Lloyd's witness statement, Powys County Archives, M/Q/SR Midsummer 1869, and the deposition of Police Constable John Gregory, Powys County Archives, M/Q/SR, Easter 1869.

29. Wilson, E. and Taylor, L., Through The Looking Glass: A History of Dress from 1860 to the Present Day (London, 1989), pp. 21–2.

30. Lemire, B., ‘The Theft of Clothes and Popular Consumerism in Early Modern England’, Journal of Social History, 24 (1990), p. 256 .

31. Exhibition in Newtown Flannel Museum, summer 2011; Rose, C. and Richmond, V., Clothing, Society and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain (London, 2010), Volume 1, p. 129 .

32. Rose and Richmond, Clothing, pp. 141–2.

33. Toplis, A., ‘A Stolen Garment or a Reasonable Purchase? The Male Consumer and the Illicit Second-hand Clothing Market in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century’, in Stobart, J. and Van Damme, I., eds, Modernity and the Second-Hand Trade: European Consumption Cultures and Practices, 1700–1900 (Basingstoke, 2011), pp. 5960 .

34. Wilson, Through the Looking Glass, p. 26.

35. ‘Parramatta’, (viewed 23rd March 2012). Zedner writes about the Parramatta tweed factory in Zedner, L., Women, Crime and Custody in Victorian England (Oxford, 1991), p. 175 . The factory, ironically, was operated by female convicts. See also Beddoe, D., Welsh Convict Women: A Study of Women Transported from Wales to Australia, 1787–1852 (Cowbridge, 1979), pp. 135–42.

36. See Whitlock, T. C., Crime, Gender and Consumer Culture in Nineteenth Century England (Farnham, 2005) for a discussion on nineteenth-century consumerism encouraging thefts from retail outlets especially market stalls and bazaars.

37. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 11th March 1873.

38. Jenkins, G., Life in the Countryside: The Photographer in Rural Wales, 1850–2010 (Talybont, 2010). See also Navickas, K., ‘Political Clothing and Adornment in England, 1740–1840’, Journal of British Studies, 69 (2010), 540–65; see for example Laver, J., Costume through the Ages (London, 1963).

39. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 4th April 1876.

40. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 4th July 1871.

41. Montgomeryshire Express, 12th March 1878.

42. Phillips, D., Crime and Authority in Victorian England: The Black Country, 1835–1860 (London, 1997), p. 198 .

43. For a comment on this issue see Jones, Crime, p. 127. See also Godfrey, B. S. and Locker, J. P., ‘The Nineteenth-Century Decline of Custom, and its Impact on Theories of Workplace Theft and White Collar Crime’, Northern History, 38 (2001), 261–73.

44. Walker also found that livestock featured much more heavily as a proportion of men's thefts than women's. Walker, Crime, p. 162. Reduced opportunity as a reason for women's smaller range of crimes is discussed in Godfrey, B. S., Cox, D. J., and Farrell, S. D., Criminal Lives: Family Life, Employment and Offending (Oxford, 2007), p. 36 .

45. Godfrey discusses gendered opportunities in Criminal Lives, pp. 35–8.

46. See for example, Alice Roberts’ theft of a bag, Newtown and Welshpool Express, 22nd October 1878; for the pick-pocketing activities of Richard Trow and Edward Phillips see Newtown and Welshpool Express, 9th January 1872 and 6th July 1875 respectively.

47. Montgomeryshire Express, 6th July 1869.

48. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 11th January 1870.

49. Walker, Crime, p. 179.

50. Newtown and Welshpool Express: Susannah Francis, 24th October 1871; Jane Jones, 14th March 1871; Frances Evans, 22nd October 1872; Fanny Robinson, Mary Edwards, 8th July 1873; Jane Jones, 11th January 1876; Elizabeth Williams, 9th July 1878; Elizabeth Lewis, 12th March 1878.

51. Newtown and Welshpool Express: Thomas Vaughan, 16th March 1869; William Jones, 12th January 1869; Edward Jones, 26th October 1869; Thomas Brown, 6th July 1869; Moses Williams, 6th July 1869; George Middleton, 10th January 1870; Edward Mason, 14th March 1871; Thomas Davies, 9th July 1872; Thomas Turner, 11th March 1873; Edward Hughes, 27th October 1874; Edward Jones, 12th January 1875; David Thomas, 19th October 1875; Tudor Williams, 12th January 1875; Thomas Jones, 11th January 1876; John Jones, 11th January 1876; Edward Jones, 11th January 1876; Arthur Williams, 4th April 1876. For background information see B. S. Godfrey, ‘Law, Factory Discipline and ‘Theft’: The impact of the Factory on Workplace Appropriation in Mid to Late Nineteenth-Century Yorkshire’, British Journal of Criminology, 39 (1999), 56–71.

52. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 6th July 1869 and 25th October 1870.

53. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 15th March 1870.

54. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 7th January 1873

55. Brian Short identifies the mobility of males in Short, ‘Environmental Politics’, pp. 484–5. Barry Godfrey highlights men's mobility providing them with opportunities for theft in factories. Godfrey, B., ‘Workplace Appropriation and the Gendering of Factory “law”’ in Arnot, M. L. and Usborne, C., eds, Gender and Crime in Modern Europe (1999, London, 2003), p. 140 .

56. Phillips, Crime and Authority, p. 197.

57. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 24th October 1871.

58. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 8th July 1873

59. See Zedner, Women, Crime and Custody, p. 25 where she argues that women's mobility was restricted by confinement to home.

60. For discussions of the handicaps imposed by menstruation see Strange, J.-M., ‘The Assault on Ignorance: Teaching Menstrual Etiquette in England, c. 1920s to 1960s’, Social History of Medicine, 14 (2001), 247–8. Advice given to women was that they should ‘avoid sudden exposure to cold or wet and avoid mental agitation’ during menstruation, see Showalter, E. and Showalter, E., ‘Victorian Women and Menstruation’, in Vicinus, M., Suffer and be Still (Indiana, 1973), p. 39 . See Jane Thomas's theft of six waistcoats, Newtown and Welshpool Express, 21st October 1873.

61. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 11th January 1870.

62. For this analysis, a populated area was one where people were likely to congregate, such as towns and villages, while isolated areas are country lanes, fields away from habitation, farms with few or no near neighbours, etc.

63. Mary Ann Hearne (two charges): Newtown and Welshpool Express, 25th October 1870; Elizabeth Clarke and Louisa Wilson: Newtown and Welshpool Express, 11th January 1870.

64. Anne Francis: Newtown and Welshpool Express, 10th January 1871; Anne Goodall: Newtown and Welshpool Express, 24th October 1871; Frances Evans: Newtown and Welshpool Express, 22nd October 1872; Mary Edwards: Newtown and Welshpool Express, 8th July 1873; Elizabeth Williams, Montgomeryshire Express, 9th July 1878.

65. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 9th January 1872.

66. Montgomeryshire Express, 9th January 1877.

67. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 8th September 1874 and 27th October 1874.

68. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 11th January 1870.

69. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 9th January 1870 and 5th July 1876. See R. Ireland, ‘An Increasing Mass of Heathens’ for explanatory comments.

70. They were being held at Dale Street in the city. Old maps show the police courts, bridewell and detective department situated there.

71. Shakesheff, T., Rural Conflict, Crime and Protest: Herefordshire, 1800–1860 (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 6972 .

72. Nason's and Vaughan's cases were both heard at the Easter 1869 Sessions, Newtown and Welshpool Express, 10th March 1869.

73. Elizabeth Gough, Montgomeryshire Express, 8th January 1878; Mary Ann Kinsey, Newtown and Welshpool Express, 25th October 1870.

74. Phillips, Crime, p. 237.

75. Woodward, ‘Burglary’, p. 67.

76. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 10th March 1874.

77. Newtown and Welshpool Express, 12th January 1869.

78. Even in trousers the two sailors were captured during their attempted getaway across the hillside. It would have been easier for them to make their way west, across the flood plain. Witness testimony, however, reveals that labourers were working in that area, and the sailors tried to avoid them. Note Nicholas Blomley's analysis of the environment in Blomley, N., ‘Making Private Property: Enclosure, Common Right and the Work of Hedges’, Rural History, 18: 1 (2007), 121 .

79. For discussion see Kerber, L. K., ‘Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman‘s Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History’, Journal of American History (1988), 939 ; Ross, C., ‘Separate Spheres or Shared Dominions?’, Transformation (2006), 228–35; Ryle, R., Questioning Gender: A Sociological Exploration (Thousand Oaks, 2012).

80. For comment and analysis of women's work, see Verdon, N., Rural Women Workers in Nineteenth-Century England: Gender, Work and Wages (Woodbridge, 2002) and Steedman, C., Labours Lost: Domestic Service and the Making of Modern England (Cambridge, 2009).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Rural History
  • ISSN: 0956-7933
  • EISSN: 1474-0656
  • URL: /core/journals/rural-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed