NOWADAYS seeing mugshots of criminals is very common as police forces and prosecutors release identities of those both wanted and convicted of some of the most serious offences.
But going back around 150 years photographing villans was much more unusual. In fact it was the governor of Bedford Prison Robert Evan Roberts who first came up with the idea.
He was apparently concerned that too many habitual criminals were getting away with offences so he decided that taking pictures of them would allow them to be more easily traced if they committed further crimes.
At the time he wrote: “Photography is an agent in discovering the antecedents of criminals, especially tramps and strangers, is unquestionably a very useful auxiliary and in my opinion should be brought into prison use generally.” The vintage portraits were shot in the jail between 1859 and 1876 and the whole collection is held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service - celebrating its centenary this year.
They reveal a gallery of almost 200 criminals - a very small proportion of those in Bedford Prison during the period. They included those imprisoned for more petty offences such as stealing spades to the most serious of murderers - most of whom were hanged for what they had done.
What is unique about the register is that it was started 12 years before a directive from the Home Office that prisoners should have their photographs taken.
Archivist for the service Nigel Lutt said: “The pictures have always been intriguing. What’s interesting is that Robert Evan Roberts, the governor of HMP Bedford, decided to start taking the photographs in 1859 which was a number of years before the Government practice to do so was brought in - that was in 1871. As far as we know it’s the earliest of its kind. Some of them are dressed in civilian clothing. These pictures are a small part of the collection - there are 192 in total. It’s interesting to note that this was the age of the railways and so criminals could move around a lot more. The pictures, as well as being a log, were passed on to the police in different areas if people were wanted for offences elsewhere.”
The portraits are very early examples of photography as it only became commercialised in Britain’s cities in the mid 1950s and only reached Bedford in 1864. Photographic portraits were expensive, often a shilling or more each, so the nineteenth century portraits which usually survive are mainly of the gentry and middle classes who could afford them.
Murder of William Frederick Budd in Bedford - 1863
On May 10, 1863, Bedford solicitor William Frederick Budd was attacked in Castle Lane and later died of his injuries.
Robert Jordan, 21, a smith, and William Craddock, 33, a carpenter, were convicted of his wilful murder on July 18 the same year.
During the trial at Bedford Magistrates’ Court, the prosecutor Mr Mills QC, told the jury that Mr Budd was ‘felled to the ground, beaten most cruelly, and died in a few hours afterwards from the injuries inflicted’.
Both Robert Jordan and William Craddock were sentenced to seven years ‘penal servitude’ at what was then known as Bedford County Gaol.
Craddock’s record states his identifying features as: “Two scars on right eyebrow, one on upper lip, scar on left thumb, two on left forefinger, face freckled very much.” It says he was born in Kempston, was married and lived in The Grove, Bedford.
Jordan’s describes him as having: “Several scars on left thight, shins and both arms, small round scars on forehead.” He’s stated as single, born in Bedford and living in the High Street.
Thomas Jenkins, 39, from Alabama in the USA, was convicted of ‘refusing to enter into a recognisance to give evidence against Robert Jordan and William Craddock for the murder of Frederick William Budd’ on May 15, 1863.
He’s described as a ships cook, married, born in Louisville and his identifying features were recorded as ‘has a hurl on the back, scar on the left eyebrow, high shouldered’.
The archive service was the first local record office in Britain and provided the blueprint for other offices which followed.
In 1898 Befordshire County Council formed a Record Committee but it achieved little until marine zoologist, pioneer skier and historian George Herbert Fowler, a county councillor became its chairman in 1913. Within six months Fowler persuaded the committee and the council to: appoint a clerk of records, fire proof the strongroom, introduce recrods management and introduce searchroom rules for users.
Today the service celebrates its centeneary in the knowledge that it’s following in giants’s footsteps but looking ahead to new horizons.
To find out more about what it does visit www.bedford.gov.uk/archive