Explore the collection: a criminal record book

The grim exterior of the Police and Prison Museum in Ripon Prison & Police Museum
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Arrest records

February’s object of the month is a book containing photographs and information about criminals arrested in Scarborough.

‘Photograph Book No. 8’ originates from the Scarborough Borough Police Force and contains ‘mugshots’ of approximately 700 arrested persons, along with the personal details about each individual and his or her alleged offences. The volume dates from the 1920s, but also records information dating back to the late 1800s and forward to the 1930s.

From 1871, the Prevention of Crime Act had made it a legal requirement in England and Wales for arrested persons to be photographed, and the volume was clearly designed and produced for the specific purpose of compiling these. Attached to the inside front cover is a bookplate labelled ‘WH Smith & Son, Account Book Manufacturers, 31 St Nicholas St, Scarborough. When ordering please quote number and date, No….. Date…..’; added in handwriting to this line is Aug 5/1928.

On each double page spread, the three mugshots fixed on the left-hand page are accompanied with handwritten details such as the person’s name, aliases and place and date of birth, as well as their height, complexion, hair, eyes, build, trade, peculiarities and marks. In some cases, the person is holding a small board showing their name and the date of their arrest. The entries under ‘Peculiarities’ are comments such as ‘Slovenly gait’, and ‘Well educated but addicted to drink’, whilst those under ‘Marks’ detail physical characteristics such as ‘Scar inside left forearm’ or may give detailed descriptions of tattoos.

Each right-hand page of the volume is headed ‘Convictions’, and shows a list of the person’s previous convictions, up to 20 in some cases, and not just those committed in Scarborough. Evidently, police forces at the time had a system in place to share the information about the individuals convicted of crime in their area.

The majority of the alleged crimes appear to be relatively petty offences which would have been dealt with at the Petty Sessions court – in one rather poignant example, a woman was arrested for stealing a turkey a few days before Christmas. There are also some more serious cases such as assault which were heard at the Quarter Sessions.

We are in the process of digitising and transcribing this volume, and plan to use the wealth of information it contains as a basis for further research into the history of crime in Scarborough and the lives of the subjects portrayed in the ‘mugshots’. The book has also been used an inspiration for a contemporary artwork by Faye Claridge, which opened at the Prison & Police Museum on 8 February 2020.

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