Category Archives: resources

Resource: John Howard’s The State of the Prisons

The first comprehensive account of the prison system in England and Wales was John Howard’s “The State of the Prisons”, published in 1777. It went through four editions over fifteen years, each based on his own visits to the gaols, and expanded to take in Scottish and Irish institutions, as well as some across Europe. Predating the first governmental surveys, he has been credited with starting the movement for prison reform, indeed even re-envisaging the role of prisons, how they should be designed, built and managed, and what rights and restrictions the prisoners whould have. As such, it is both a unique source on eighteenth century prisons, and an important artifact in its own right.

Debtors feature throughout; by his counts, in 1779 47.½% of the prison population were debtors (2078 men and women), and in 1782, 49.½%, 2197 people. (Source: 4th ed.) From prison to prison, he describes the debtors, their conditions, the charity due to them, and sometimes their cases. Although he does not seem to have ever criticised the principle of imprisonment for debt – his proposed improvements include separate wards for male and female debtors, and segregation from the criminal cells – he exposed their mistreatment and defended their particular rights as civil prisoners.

Each edition published during Howard’s life was different, and sometimes published in other formats. Various reports were serialized in the newspapers and magazines of the time; the third edition was published by the Proclamation Society as a series of pamphlets, one per Assize circuit. A fourth volume was published posthumously, in 1792, two years after Howard contracted typhus in a Russian prison; it is identical to the third. There was also an appendix published in 1780, and then republished in 1784, seemingly revised to go by the page counts in the ESTC entry, but that second version is as yet undigitized. Howard also wrote ‘An Account of the Principal Lazarettos in Europe’, which included British gaols, and went to two editions, the second being augmented by an appendix, which was also published separately.

Because of this multitude of formats, it is worth cataloguing each of his works. Unfortunately, some of the freely available copies are in poor condition; for this reason I’ve included links to the copies held by JISC Historic Texts. (The copy of the fourth edition was digitized by the Wellcome Institute, and is accessible to all.)

The State of the Prisons in England and Wales:

First edition, 1777: Google. Internet Archive. JISC Historic Texts.

Second edition, 1780: Google. JISC Historic Texts.

Third edition, 1784: Google.* JISC Historic Texts.

Fourth edition, 1792: Google. Internet Archive. JISC Historic Texts (free).

Appendix to The state of the prisons, 1780: Internet Archive. JISC Historic Texts.

* Google’s copy of the 1784 edition is bound in with a pamphlet on the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford.

An Account of the Principal Lazarettos:

First edition, 1789: Google. Internet Archive. Jisc Historic Texts.

Second edition, 1791: Google. JISC Historic Texts.

Appendix, 1791: Internet Archive. JISC Historic Texts.

Resource: Cobbett’s Parliamentary History

As with many records I’ve been using to discover debtors both imprisoned and escaping, parliamentary debates both constitute elite discourse and preserve plebian traces. Imprisonment for debt was frequently dicussed in the Houses, legislation regulating it and relieving insolvents continually proposed and often passed, and petitions from prisoners regularly received and acknowledged.

The official record of the proceedings, Hansard, began in 1803, and is now available online. It has an interesting companion website Hansard at Huddersfield, allowing linguistic investigation of the debates. The following graph traces the use of the term ‘Imprisonment for debt’ across the nineteenth century: the 1869 peak being when civil imprisonment for debt was abolished. (This was something of a sleight of hand: default was criminalised and substantial numbers of debtors continued to be incarcerated. See Rubin’s article “Law, Poverty and Imprisonment for Debt” in Sugarman and Rubin, Law, Economy and Society, 1750-1914.)

The term 'Imprisonment for debt' as recorded in Hansard, 1803-1899

The term ‘Imprisonment for debt’ as recorded in Hansard, 1803-1899

Hansard at Huddersfield (2019). “Imprisonment for debt, 1803-1899” [Figure]. University of Huddersfield. Available from:

However, the modern digital Hansard’s coverage starts with 1803, and then only intermittently for the early nineteenth century. Previously, the publication of the debates was punishable by law; popular campaigns for the freedom of the press to report them came to fruit in 1771, after which there were various private publishing initiatives, until the government stepped in to produce an official account. (A potted history of this can be found on Wikipedia.)

For eighteenth century debates, aside from the Journals of the House of Commons and Lords, a useful resource is Cobbett’s Parliamentary History. Cobbett was an important figure in the fight for a free press and for reporting parliament, and in the early nineteenth century he set about compiling earlier proceedings, to complement his contemporary reporting. All 36 volumes are online, scattered thoughout Google Books, with the usual terrible metadata, foul OCR, and occasional page images blurred beyond comprehension. Below I list them, with links to the best available copy I could find.

For present purposes, volumes 5 and 8 have the debates and reports on ‘pretended privileged places’ and the Mint; the 1705 debate on the Mint recorded in the Journals of the Houses is absent from these volumes. There is of course much other material on imprisonment for debt throughout.

Cobbett’s Parliamentary History of England, from the Norman Conquest, in 1066, to the Year, 1803.

Volume 1: 1066 – 1625.
Volume 2: 1625 – 1642.
Volume 3: 1642 – 1660.
Volume 4: 1660 – 1688.
Volume 5: 1688 – 1702.
Volume 6: 1702 – 1714.
Volume 7: 1714 – 1722.
Volume 8: 1722 – 1733.
Volume 9: 1733 – 1737.
Volume 10: 1737 – 1739.
Volume 11: 1739 – 1741.
Volume 12: 1741 – 1743.
Volume 13: 1743 – 1747.
Volume 14: 1747 – 1753.
Volume 15: 1753 – 1765.
Volume 16: 1765 – 1771.
Volume 17: 1771 – 1774.
Volume 18: 1774 – 1777.
Volume 19: 1777 – 1778.
Volume 20: 1778 – 1780.
Volume 21: 1780 – 1781.
Volume 22: 1781 – 1782
Volume 23: 1782 – 1783.
Volume 24: 1783 – 1785.
Volume 25: 1785 – 1786.
Volume 26: 1786 – 1788.
Volume 27: 1788 – 1789.
Volume 28: 1789 – 1791.
Volume 29: 1791 – 1792.
Volume 30: 1792 – 1794.
Volume 31: 1794 – 1795.
Volume 32: 1795 – 1797.
Volume 33: 1797 – 1798.
Volume 34: 1798 – 1800.
Volume 35: 1800 – 1801.
Volume 36: 1801 – 1803.

Addenda: The Bodleian Digital Library also has a full set of Cobbett. But with a completely unnavigable interface, easily the worst I’ve ever had the misfortune to run into, that renders the entire project useless. Tip of the hat to Paul Seaward for the reminder.

Resource: Journals of the House of Lords

As a follow up to my previous post on the Journals of the House of Commons, a list of freely available volumes of its companion,  the Journals of the House of Lords. Truth be told, this is a far less interesting record than those of the Commons, being mainly procedural. I haven’t found a great deal to do with debtors, save for the occasional mention of a petition, and the nodding-through of the various relief bills. That said, there’s pages of testimony concerning a private bill for divorce, so there may be some substantive material within, or at least some good gossip.

British History Online has volumes 1 to 39, covering 1509 to 1793, and volumes 62 to 64, for 1830 to 1832, in well transcribed text. The Parliament website hosts volumes for 1997 on. Below are links for volumes 40 to 65, 1794 to 1833, save for three missing volumes. After 1833, the number of digitized volumes is very sparse indeed.

Apparently, a complete run up to 1835 is available on the proprietary ‘Parliamentary Papers’ database. But as is always the case for such collections, the interface is appalling, the curation sloppy, and without academic affiliation it is difficult to access.

Vol. 40, 1794-1796: Google Books
Vol. 41, 1796-1798: Google Books
Vol. 42, 1798-1800: Google Books
Vol. 43, 1801-1802: Google Books
Vol. 44, 1802-1804: Google Books
Vol. 45, 1805-1806: Google Books
Vol. 46, 1806-1808: Google Books
Vol. 47, 1809-1810: Google Books
Vol. 48, 1810-1812 : Bayerische Staatsbibliotek
Vol. 49, 1812-1814: Google Books
Vol. 50, 1814: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek
Vol. 51, 1817: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek
Vol. 52, 1818-1819: Google Books
Vol. 53, 1820. Bayerische Staatsbibliotek
Vol. 54, 1821: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek
Vol. 55, 1822: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek
Vols. 56 & 57, 1823 to 1825, not found.
Vol. 58, 1826: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek
Vol. 59, 1826-1827: Google Books
Vol. 60, 1828: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek
Vol. 61, 1829, not found.
Vol. 62, 1830: British History Online.
Vol. 63, 1830-1: British History Online.
Vol. 64, 1831-2: British History Online.
Vol. 65, 1833: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek

An Index to volumes 53 to 64: Google Books

Resource: Journals of the House of Commons

William Blake said, “Nothing can be more contemptible than to suppose Public RECORDS to be True.” And I am bemused that I spend so much time sorting out ‘high’ texts, like the statutes, when my interests and sympathies are very much with the ‘poor, unfortunate’ debtors lying in prison or sheltering in the sanctuaries. Again, Blake: “For the facts are such as none but the actor could tell.”

But official records can contain, however refracted, a great many traces of the plebian world. For example, the twenty relief acts passed between 1712 and 1812, that released thousands of debtors from prison, produced, in the pages of the London Gazette, lists of these prisoners, giving names, places of residence and trade. A goldmine of social historical data, allowing the historian to build up a picture of the indebted population across a century.

Parliamentary records also preserve traces of the life of commoners, notwithstanding the obstacles to reporting, a desire to keep governance shrouded, the priviledging of grandiloquent performances and the distorting lens of supplication to, and investigation by, higher authorities. With relief acts being passed on average twice a decade, and many more proposed but not passing, the Journals of the House of Commons contain a wealth of information relating to the politics of debt: many debates on legislation, two investigations of the sanctuary of Southwark Mint, in 1705 and 1722, and countless petitions of debtors from prisons all over the country, campaigning for release from prison.

But as with the statutes, the Journals of the House of Commons are strewn about the internet, the digitization and transcription of varied quality and the metadata just chaotic. So I present here the fruits of hours of googling, a nearly complete set of the Journals for the ‘long eighteenth century’, from the restoration of 1660 to the reforms of the 1830s.

Volumes 1 to 12, from 1547 to 1699, are available in hand-transcribed text as webpages from British History Online, and an almost complete set of volumes from 1835 (vol 90) to the present day, with numerous indexes, can be found as PDFs on For the eighteenth century, a complete run can be found on Google, and for the early nineteenth, most volumes (7 missing) can be found through Google, the Bavarian State Library and British History Online. Note also that historic accounts from Hansard are now online as part of the official Parliament website, dating back to Hansard’s origins in 1802, skimpy coverage at first but ever more comprehensive as the nineteenth century runs on. And an important supplement to these volumes are ‘Grey’s Debates of the House of Commons‘, in 10 volumes covering 1667 to 1694, all online in hand transcribed text courtesy of British History Online.

v.8, 1660-1676: via Google.
v.9, 1677-1687: via Google.
v.10, 1688-1693: via Google.
v.11, 1693-1697: via Google.
v.12, 1697-1699: via Google.
v.13, 1699-1702: via Google.
v.14, 1702-1704: via Google.
v.15, 1705-1708: via Google.
v.16, 1708-1711: via Google.
v.17, 1711-1714: via Google.
v.18, 1714-1718: via Google.
v.19, 1718-1721: via Google.
v.20, 1722-1727: via Google.
v.21, 1727-1732: via Google.
v.22, 1732-1737: via Google.
v.23, 1737-1741: via Google.
v.24, 1741-1745: via Google.
v.25, 1745-1750: via Google.
v.26, 1750-1754: via Google.
v.27, 1754-1757: via Google.
v.28, 1757-1761: via Google.
v.29, 1761-1764: via Google.
v.30, 1765-1766: via Google.
v.31, 1766-1768: via Google.
v.32, 1768-1770: via Google.
v.33, 1770-1772: via Google.
v.34, 1772-1774: via Google.
v.35, 1774-1776: via Google.
v.36, 1776-1778: via Google.
v.37, 1778-1780: via Google.
v.38, 1780-1782: via Google.
v.39, 1782-1784: via Google.
v.40, 1784-1785: via Google.
v.41, 1786: via Google.
v.42, 1787: via Google.
v.43, 1787-1788: via Google.
v.44, 1788-1789: via Google.
v.45, 1790: via Google.
v.46, 1790-1791: via Google.
v.47, 1792: via Google.
v.48, 1792-1793: via Google.
v.49, 1794: via Google.
v.50, 1794-1795: via Google.
v.51, 1795-1796: via Google.
v.52, 1796-1797: via Google.
v.53, 1797-1798: via Google.
v.54, 1798-1799: via Google.
v.55, 1799-1800: via Google.
v.56, 1801: via Google.
v.57, 1801-1802: via Google.
v.58: – not found.
v.59, 1803-1804: via Google.
v.60, 1805-1806: via Google.
v.61, 1806: via Google.
v.62, 1806-1807: via Google.
v.63, 1808: via Google.
v.64, 1809: via Google.
v.65, 1810: via Google.
v.66, 1810-1811: via Google.
v.67, 1812: via Google.
v.68, 1812-1813: via Google.
v.69, 1813-1814: via Google.
v.70, 1814-1816: via Google.
v.71, 1816: via Google.
v.72, 1817: via Google.
v.73, 1818: via Google.
v.74, 1818-1819: via Bavarian State Library.
v.75, 1819-1820: via Google.
v.76, 1821-1822: via Google.
v.77: – not found.
v.78: – not found.
v.79, 1824-1825 via Bavarian State Library.
v.80: – not found.
v.81, 1826: via Google.
v.82, 1826-1828: via Google.
v.83, 1828: via Google.
v.84, 1829: via Google.
v.85, 1830: via British History Online.
v.86, part 1, 1830-1831: via Google.
v.86, part 2, 1831: via Google.
v.87: – not found.
v.88: – not found.
v.89: – not found.


Index for 1547-1659.
Index for 1667-1697.
Index for 1697-1714.
Index for 1714-1774.
Index for 1774-1800.
Index for 1801-1820.

Resource: Statutes of Ireland to 1800

As a quick appendix to my previous post on English statutes, here are the Statutes of Ireland from 1310 up to the Act of Union in 1800. I know little of Irish history, but as I’ve come across some very interesting material about debtors, prisons and even sanctuaries there, I’ve been drawn towards it, hence my sifting through the legislation.

There were three collections of the Irish statutes published in the eighteenth century. I haven’t found the first, dating from 1734, anywhere on the open internet. The second was edited by one J.G. Butler, published in 1765, and is incomplete in Google’s holdings. It appears that this series was continued up to 1800; the last volume I have found is numbered 19 and dated 1799. The third set was published from 1794 to 1801, goes right up to the Act of Union, and all volumes are to be found in Google Books. To wit:

For the record, here are those volumes I have located of the 1765 series, The Statutes at Large, Passed in the Parliaments Held in Ireland, edited by James Goddard Butler, with the volumes continuing it to 1800.

Other sources: There is a very little pre-1800 Irish legislation on the UK legislation portal, and similarly a little at the Irish Statute Book. The Irish Legislation Database has detailed information concerning each act, but not their texts. A useful website from the University of Minnesota covers the anti-catholic Penal Laws. Wikipedia has two pages listing the acts, up to 1700 and from 1700 to 1800.

Update, 4 October 2015: 2 more volumes added to the 1765 series, nos. 5 and 9; and nos. 14 to 16 and 18, continuing this series after 1765. The latter are from the Hathi Trust archives; they allow full view of the digitization, but not downloading it.

Update, 4 October 2015: I have found some volumes from the first series, mentioned above. Going under the title Acts and Statutes Made in a Parliament begun in Dublin, it seems to have been published from the 1720s up to Butler’s consolidation in the 1760s. Being set in gothic type, its utility both for OCRing and plain reading is somewhat limited.

Resource: The Acts of Parliament

Notice: I’ve now taken up the task of scanning these volumes, proofing the OCR and organizing the statutes. Watch for progress.

The law is an important historical source, and especially so for the history of debt. Over the 200 years from Restoration to the abolition of incarceration for insolvency in 1868, there was a constant flow of acts directed at debtors, whether as defaulters, frauds, prisoners, fugitives, pitiable creatures or “evil-disposed and wicked persons.” Hundreds of acts were passed, releasing prisoners, offering amnesties to fugitives, establishing ‘Courts of Conscience’ and regulating debtor prisons. I have transcribed and published some of these statutes, and more will follow. (I’ve re-organized the site to make them easier to find: check the Statutes page for links to the various acts).

These laws have posed two problems: firstly in finding them, and then in understanding their tortuous prose. For the first, quite simply there is no free and complete repository of the legislation. The Official Home of U.K. Legislation has none of the material I require. Much as I appreciate what the National Archive has achieved – and it is a great deal – their remit has been to put current legislation online, not the historic. So although they have published everything in force from 1988 onwards, the vast majority of historic, meaning repealed, legislation is not available. The various proprietary legal databases have either been beyond my reach and pocket, or provide little more than the digital scans available elsewhere.

Which means to find old laws one has to turn to the magnificent libraries and awful metadata of Google Books and Internet Archive. There one can find many different collections of the statutes, albeit of varying quality and completeness, and in the usual disorder that results from mass, indiscriminate digitization.

These digital copies are images of the original works, pictures of books rather than transcriptions of the text, which mean they may be readable by the human eye, but not by the machine. This brings us to the second problem, of the law’s labyrinthine prose. Part of the very nature of law is that it is constantly rewritten, by parliaments and courts, who go about renewing, repealing, interpreting and clarifying, without any guarantee of consistency. The resulting vast, unwieldy corpus is difficult to navigate, full of linguistic peculiarities, tangled and convoluted. To make ones way through this maze would be far easier if one could use the computer to do some of the heavy lifting: searching, digesting, comparing, cross-referencing and so on.

The nascent field of Computational Legal Studies has produced some interesting digital research into law; for example, the Legal Language Explorer, (now dead, but preserved on producing ngrams from U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and the attempts to measure the complexity of the U.S. law by Katz and Bommarito (article and slides). If such explorations imply greater spaces to be discovered, and beyond the legal profession, they also show that useful data is an essential prerequisite. In the case of English and British statutes, that requirement is not met by the volumes scanned by Google and the Internet Archive.

It is of course a fundamental right that everyone should have access to the laws governing them; that’s not only the inevitable corollary of the principle ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’, but also an essential check on state power. This means more than just publishing laws and judgements; they must be published freely, openly, useably and re-usably. A number of organizations are campaigning to open up the law: for example the Free Access to Law Movement, the Law.Gov campaign, and the Open Knowledge Foundation’s legislation working group.

I personally believe that this right to the law should encompass the entirety of the legislation to include the historical, the repealed, for three reasons:

One: Repeal does not mean reversal. Every enclosure bill shows this, for when struck from the book the land did not revert to common ownership. The effects of laws persist beyond their lifetimes.

Two: Repeal does not mean disappearance. The law is historically constituted and continually refers back to itself. Revoked acts and their related judgements remain a part of the legal record.

Three: Repeal does not mean forgetting. We do not live in an eternal present. We have a capacity, a need and a right to memory.

It is in this spirit that I list here all the various freely-available editions of the statutes. They may not be adequate, they may not even be accurate, but it is a gesture towards making this legislation accessible.

The next step will be to transcribe the statutes; a great and arduous task that requires collaboration and infrastructure. Happily, Wikisource have taken the digital copies of Ruffhead’s Statutes At Large, covering 1225 to 1763, and inserted it into their open transcription system. If little of it has actually been transcribed yet, it does at least show the potential for crowdsourcing legal texts, and the usefulness of Wikimedia’s infrastructure for supporting such a project.

Legislation to 1800

There are many collections of statutes; some bibliographic details can be found on Wikipedia. As they have different editorial policies and selection criteria, and as none are fully comprehensive, I’ve listed a number of sets here.

For laws up to 1811, one place to start is with the 4 volumes of The Statutes: Revised Edition from 1870. It is far from complete, as legislation repealed by 1870 is absent, but there is a handy chronological table in each volume to indicate what is present and what is not. The first four volumes of this are online at, the first three also at Google; I haven’t been able to locate any further, freely available volumes, and I’m not even sure there were any more.

Update 9 May 2015: I have located a handful of  volumes beyond the first four, and from the metadata we can see that there were at least 13 volumes.

Volume 1: Henry III to James II: 1235 – 1685:   Internet Archive   Google
Volume 2: William & Mary to 10 George III: 1688 – 1770:   Internet Archive   Google
Volume 3: 11 George III to 41 George III: 1770 – 1800:   Internet Archive   Google
Volume 4: 41 George III to 51 George III: 1801 – 1811:   Internet Archive
Volume 7: 2&3 William IV to 6&7 William IV: 1831 – 1836: Internet Archive
Volume 9: 6&7 Victoria to 9&10 Victoria: 1843 – 1846 : Internet Archive
Volume 12: 17&18 Victoria to 19&20 Victoria: 1854 – 1856: Hathi Trust
Volume 13: 20 Victoria to 24&25 Victoria: 1857 – 1861: Hathi Trust

Ruffhead’s series covers 1225 to 1763, the whole run being digitized by the Internet Archive, and is in Wikisource’s transcription system, as described above.  In 9 volumes, there is a supplementary volume with a subject index.

Volume 1: 1225 – 1460
Volume 2: 1461 – 1601
Volume 3: 1604 – 1698
Volume 4: 1699 – 1713
Volume 5: 1714 – 1729
Volume 6: 1730 – 1746
Volume 7: 1747 – 1756
Volume 8: 1757 – 1762
Volume 9: 1762 – 1763, Index and Appendix
Complete Index to the Statutes At Large

Perhaps the most often cited collection is that of Danby Pickering. The first 24 volumes were historical, going  from 1225 to 1760. After that, it became a contemporary series, publishing the legislation as it was passed. I am deeply indebted to the pseudonymous contributor on the Paradox forums for finding all the google links; I’ve added links to those volumes I’ve found on

vol. 1 – 9 Henry III to 14 Edward III (1225-1340);
vol. 2 – 15 Edward III to 13 Henry IV (1341-1411);
vol. 3 – 1 Henry V to 23 Edward IV (1412-1482);
vol. 4 – 1 Richard III to 31 Henry VIII (1484-1539);
vol. 5 – 32 Henry VIII to 7 Edward VI (1540-1553)
vol. 6 – 1 Mary I – 35 Elizabeth I (1553-1593);
vol. 7 – 39 Elizabeth to 12 Charles II (1597-1660);
vol. 8 – 12 Charles II to 1 James II (1661-1685)
vol. 9 – 1 William & Mary to 8 William III (1688-1696);
vol. 10 – 8 William III to 1 Anne (1696-1701);
vol. 11 – 2 & 3 Anne to 8 Anne (1703-1708);
vol. 12 – 8 Anne to 12 Anne (1709-1711);
vol. 13 – 12 Anne to 5 George I (1713-1717);
vol. 14 – 5 George I to 9 George I (1718-1721);
vol. 15 – 9 George I to 2 George II (1722-1728);
vol. 16 – 2 George II to 9 George II (1729-1735);
vol. 17 – 9 George II to 15 George II (1736-1741);
vol. 18 – 15 George II to 20 George II (1742-1746);
vol. 19 – 20 George II to 22 George II (1747-1749);
vol. 20 – 23 George II to 26 George II (1750-1752);
vol. 21 – 26 George II to 30 George II (1753-1756);
vol. 22 – 30 George II to 32 George II (1757-1759);
vol. 23 – 33 George II to 1 George III (1760);
vol. 24 – Index to all Volumes

The continuation of the Pickering series gets rather confusing. Some books appear to be split into parts, others have ‘Part 1’ on the title page but don’t appear to have a sequel. Volume 44 (1802) doesn’t appear to have been digitized. Update 25 November 2015: Volume 44 part 1 can be found through Hathi Trust. Update 28 September 2016: Located the volume on Google Books.

vol. 25 2 George III to 3 George III (1761-1763);
vol. 26 4 George III to 5 George III (1764-1765);
vol. 27 6 George III to 7 George III (1765-1766);
vol. 28 8 George III to 10 George III (1767-1769);
vol. 29 11 George III to 12 George III (1770-1772);
vol. 30 13 George III to 14 George III (1773-1774);
vol. 31 15 George III to 17 George III (1775-1777)
vol. 32 18 George III to 19 George III (1778-1779)
vol. 33 20 George III to 21 George III (1780-1781);
vol. 34 22 George III to 24 George III (1782-1784)
vol. 35 25 George III to 26 George III (1785-1786)
vol. 36 27 George III to 29 George III (1787-1789)
vol. 37 30 George III to 32 George III (1790-1792)
vol. 38 General Index from 1 George III to 32 George III;
vol. 39 Pt. 1: 33 George III to 34 George III (1793-1794)
vol. 39 Pt. 2: 34 George III (1794);
vol. 40 35 George III to 36 George III (1795);
vol. 41 37 George III to 38 George III (1796-1797);
vol. 42 Pt. 1: 39 George III (1798-1799);
vol. 42 Pt. 2: 39 Geo III (Local & Personal) (1800)
vol. 43 41 George III (1801);
vol. 44 Pt. 1: 43 George III (1802-1803); Hathi Trust
vol. 45 44 George III (1803-1804);
vol. 46 46 George III (1806)

Nineteenth Century Legislation

Although my main focus is on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I’ve also needed to find various nineteenth century laws. The following list is incomplete, composed of at least two different series, mainly found in the Internet Archive, but with some from Google. Links to years and volumes I’ve missed will be very much appreciated; please leave them in the comments.

1807 47 Geo 3
1808 48 Geo 3
1809 49 Geo 3
1810 50 Geo 3
1811 51 Geo 3
1812 52 Geo 3
1813 53 Geo 3
1814 54 Geo 3
1815 55 Geo 3
1816 56 Geo 3
1817 57 Geo 3
1818 58 Geo 3
1819 59 Geo 3
1820 60 Geo 3 & 1 Geo 4
1821 1 & 2 Geo 4
1822 3 Geo 4
1823 4 Geo 4
1824 5 Geo 4
1825 6 Geo 4
1826 7 Geo 4
1827 7 & 8 Geo 4
1828 9 Geo 4
1829 10 Geo 4
1830 11 Geo 4 / 1 Will 4
1831 1 Will 4
1832 2 & 3 Will 4
1833  3 & 4 Will 4
1834  4 & 5 Will 4
1835  5 & 6 Will 4
1836  6 & 7 Will 4
1837  7 Will 4 / 1 Vic
1837-8  1 & 2 Vic
1839  2 & 3 Vic
1840  3 & 4 Vic
1841  4 & 5 Vic
1842  5 & 6 Vic
1843  6 & 7 Vic
1844  7 & 8 Vic
1845  8 & 9 Vic
1846 9 & 10 Vic
1847 10 & 11 Vic

1847-8 11 Vic / 11 & 12 Vic
1849  12 & 13 Vic
1850  13 & 14 Vic
1851 14 & 15 Vic & on Google
1852 15 & 16 Vic
1853 16 & 17 Vic
1854 17 & 18 Vic
1854-5 18 & 19 Vic
1855-6 19 & 20 Vic
1857  20 Vic
1858  21 & 22 Vic
1859 22 Vic
1860 22 & 23 Vic
1861  24 & 25 Vic
1862 25 & 26 Vic
1863 26 & 27 Vic
1864 27 & 28 Vic
1865  28 & 29 Vic
1866  29 & 30 Vic
1867  30 Vic / 30 & 31 Vic
1867-8 31 & 32 Vic
1869  32 & 33 Vic  Another ed.
1870  33 & 34 Vic
1871 34 & 35 Vic
1872  35 & 36 Vic
1873 36 & 37 Vic
1874  37 & 38 Vic
1875 38 & 39 Vic
1877  40 & 41 Vic
1881  44 & 45 Vic
1882 45 & 46 Vic
1884 48 & 49 Vic
1892  55 & 56 Vic
1896  59 & 60 Vic
1902  2 Edw 7
1904  4 Edw 7
1906  6 Edw 7

Update 6/5/2014

I have found some more volumes from the early nineteenth century, many of which I have added to the list above. I’ve also found that there were two related series – the Statutes at Large of England and Great Britain, and The Statutes at Large of Great Britain and Ireland –  published at that time, edited first by Tomlins and then Raithby, and then Simons. The former goes up to 1800, and so there’s considerable overlap with all the other editions listed above. Raithby also produced a three volume index, covering the period from the Magna Carta to 49 George III.

Raithby, Statutes At Large of England and Great Britain, in 20 volumes.

Volume 2: 1 Richard II 1377 to 19 Henry VII 1504: Archive  Google
Volume 3: 1 Henry VIII 1509 to 7 Edward VI 1553: Archive  Google
Volume 4: 1 Mary 1553 to 16 Charles I 1604: Archive  Google
Volume 6: 8 William III to 6 Anne 1707: Google
Volume 7: 7 Anne 1708 to 1 George I 1715: Google
Volume 8: 3 George I 1716 to 13 George I 1726: Google
Volume 9: 1 George II 1727 to 15 George II 1742: Google
Volume 10: 16 George II 1743 to 23 George II 1750: Google
Volume 12: 1 George III 1760 to 7 George III 1767: Google
Volume 13: 8 George III 1768 to 14 George III 1774: Google
Volume 14: 15 George III 1775 to 19 George III 1779: Google
Volume 15: 20 George III 1780 to 24 George III 1784: Google
Volume 17: 28 George III 1788 to 32 George III 1792: Google
Volume 18: 33 George III 1793 to 35 George III 1795: Google
Volume 20: 39 George III 1798 to 41 George III 1800: Google

Raithby’s Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland:

Updates 28/8/2016 and 11/10/2016: A set of these volumes, annoyingly without volume 10, has been uploaded to the Internet Archive by the University of Southampton. But hallelujah, the elusive Volume the Tenth has been located on Google, as has the 14th through to the 18th, which appears to be the last of this series. Note that later volumes are edited by one N. Simons, rather than Raithby.

Volume 1: 41 George III 1801 to 43 George III 1803: Google
Volume 2: 44 George II 1804 to 46 George II 1806:
Volume 3: 47 George III 1807 to 49 George III 1809: Google
Volume 4: 50 George III 1810 to 52 George III 1812: Google
Volume 5: 53 George III to 54 George III 1814: Google
Volume 6: 55 George III 1815 to 56 George III 1816: Google
Volume 7: 57 George III 1817 to 59 George III 1819:
Volume 8: 60 George III 1820 to 3 George IV 1822:
Volume 9: 4 George IV 1823 to 5 George IV 1824: Google
Volume 10: 6 George IV 1825 to 7 George IV 1826: Google
Volume 11: 7 & 8 George IV 1827 to 10 George IV 1829: Google
Volume 12: 11 George IV 1829 to 2 & 3 William IV 1832: Google
Volume 13: 3 & 4 William IV 1833 to 5 & 6 Willian IV 1835:
Volume 14: 6 & 7 William IV 1836 to 1 & 2 Victoria 1838:  Google
Volume 15: 2 & 3 Victoria 1839 to 5 Victoria 1841: Google
Volume 16:  5 & 6 Victoria 1842 to 6 & 7 Victoria 1843. Pt 1: Google Pt 2: Google
Volume 17: 7 & 8  Victoria 1844 to 8 & 9 Victoria 1845. Pt 1: Google Pt 2: Google
Volume 18: 9 & 10 Victoria 1846 to 10 & 11 Victoria 1847: Google

Raithby’s An index to the statutes at large: from Magna Carta, to the forty ninth year of George III inclusive:

Volume 1: Abatement to Inrolment. Google
Volume 2: Insane Persons to Roly Poly. Google
Volume 3: Roman Catholics to Zouch (Souche) and Seymour (Lord). Google

Other Sources

British History Online has two sets of legislation, available under somewhat restrictive terms of use: the complete Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, from 1642 to 1660, and volumes 5, 6 and 7 (out of 11) of  Raithby’s Statutes of the Realm, covering 1628 to 1701. Various copies of the Interregnum collection are available, readable but not downloadable without a partner account, at Hathi Trust; the final volume, containing the introduction, chronology and index, is freely available at Similarly, Hathi Trust has a complete set of Statutes of the Realm available for reading online, but downloadable only by a select few.

Update 28/8/2016: The University of Southampton has uploaded some volumes of Raithby’s Statutes to the Internet Archive.

The National Archives’ offical government repository site, as mentioned above, has all legislation from 1988 onwards, and some  historic material. For laws before the Magna Carta, there is the Early English Laws project, although I’m not sure whether it is still active.

As mentioned above, Wikipedia have a great many useful entries describing, listing and classifying the laws and their attendant structure. The best entry page for these, containing links to lists of statutes by parliament and period, is the List of Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

Acknowledgements: Big tip of the hat to Andrew Gray of Wikipedia for introducing me to the crowd-sourced transcription on WikiSource, and for other wikipedia help. Likewise to the pseudonymous Abdul Goatherd, who did most of the legwork gathering Google’s Danby Pickering editions, and published it on this old forum.

Resource: The Harleian Miscellany

Once again, a post on the disorganized digitized, this time the Harleian Miscellany (Wikipedia entry), a selection of pamphlets and texts from the archive of the first two Earls of Oxford. First published in the mid eighteenth century, two new editions were simultaneously published in the early nineteenth century, one augmented and one reorganized.

It truly is a miscellany, comprising many and various “small tracts and fugitive pieces” as Samuel Johnson describes them, covering a wide range of subjects over two centuries. Johnson defends these apparently ephemeral texts as central to English freedom:

There is, perhaps, no Nation, in which it is so necessary, as in our own, to assemble, from Time to Time, the small Tracts and fugitive Pieces, which are occasionally published: For, besides the general Subjects of Enquiry, which are cultivated by us, in common with every other learned Nation, our Constitution in Church and State naturally gives Birth to a Multitude of Performances, which would either not have been written, or could not have been made publick in any other Place.

and goes on to make a case for their intellectual and literary values as well. He also offers a novel explanation for the lack of organization in the compilation:

Of the different Methods which present themselves, upon the first View of the great Heaps of Pamphlets, which the Harleian Library exhibits, the two which merit most Attention, are to distribute the Treatises according to their Subjects or their Dates …. By ranging our Collection in Order of Time, we must necessarily publish those Pieces first, which least engage the Curiosity of the Bulk of Mankind …. By confining ourselves for any long Time to any Single Subject, we shall reduce our Readers to one Class, and, as we shall lose all the Grace of Variety, shall disgust all those who read chiefly to be diverted.

The original series comes in 8 volumes published between 1744 and 1746 and was ‘printed for T. Osborne in Gray’s Inn’. The second set, re-typeset with the same texts but in (nearly) chronological order, was issued in 12 volumes between 1808 and 1811, by Robert Dutton of  Gracechurch Street. The third edition was issued between 1808 and 1813 in 10 volumes, the texts printed in the same order as the original, two supplementary volumes providing some new material, and was published by Messrs White, Cochrane and Murray of Fleet Street, and Harding of St. James’s Street.

For the original and reissue, I’ve given links to both Google and copies, for each interface has its own advantages. With Google books, search works far better, but for reading and for downloading I prefer the interface. The third, revised  edition is, as far as I can tell, only on, as it was digitized by them from the copies held by Brigham Young University.

The Original Series, 1744-1746

The Second Edition, 1808-1811

Contents and index to the second edition digitized at and transcribed with linkage.

The Third, Revised Edition, 1808-1813

All digitized by, and hosted at,, from copies at Brigham Young University. The last volume has an index to the entire series.

Resource: The Somers’ Tracts

Continuing with the sifting of the voluminous and chaotic sources available on the web, having previously codified Luttrell,  I now present the  Somers’ Tracts. This is a collection of texts and pamphlets from the library of Baron John Somers, first published in the mid eighteenth century, then re-ordered and revised in the early nineteenth century, by no less than Walter Scott. I’ve linked to the latter series, as it is ordered chronologically, the page images easy on the eye, and every volume can be found online on the ‘open web’, rather than stuck behind a paywall. The difficulty with it is that there is no consolidated index, just those in each individual volume, nor a machine-readable text version. This reduces serendipity, but does not prevent it.

The Somers’ tracts focus on high politics and serious matters; there is little that is light-hearted. Scott compares them to the other great collection of the time thus:

[T]he tracts upon all controversies, civil and religious, are so numerous and well selected, that, if the Harleian Miscellany afford most amusement to the antiquary, it may be safely said, that Somers’ Tracts promise most information to the historian.

Market differentiation perhaps. But it is worth noting that I first came across the earliest use of Alsatia in print via the mid-1700s collection of these tracts, and that text – H.C.s The Character of an Honest Lawyer – is not included in Scott’s version. Scott, of course, was the author of The Misfortunes of Nigel, partly set in  Whitefriars, albeit a good 60 years before it became a sanctuary, and so introduced Alsatia to a nineteenth century audience. Scott refers to his literary pursuits in his introduction to the first volume:

The editor has only further to hope, that the circumstance of his name having been prefixed to works of a lighter and more popular nature, will not be objected to him as a personal disqualification for his present task. The Muse (to use the established language) found him engaged in the pursuit of historical and traditional antiquities, and the excursions which he has made in her company, have been of a nature which increases his attachment to his original study.

This makes the absence all the more suprising.

The Somers Tracts, in 13 volumes, edited by Walter Scott.

Volume 1, 1809: From King John to Elizabeth I.

Volume 2, 1809: James I, Ecclesiastical and Historical tracts.

Volume 3, 1810: James I, Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 4, 1810: Charles I, Ecclesiastical, Historical and relating to the earl of Strafford.

Volume 5, 1811: Charles I, Historical and Military tracts.

Volume 6, 1811: Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil tracts.

Volume 7, 1812: Commonwealth, Military and Miscellaneous tracts; Charles II, Ecclesiastical and Historical tracts.

Volume 8, 1812: Charles II, Civil and Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 9, 1813: James II; William III, Ecclesiastical tracts.

Volume 10, 1813: William III, Historical tracts.

Volume 11, 1814: William III, Historical, Military and Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 12, 1814: William III, Miscellaneous tracts; Queen Anne, Ecclesiastical and Civil tracts.

Volume 13, 1815: Queen Anne, Civil and Military tracts; George I.

Resource: Narcissus Luttrell’s State Affairs

Luttrell's Brief Relation flyleaf

Luttrell caressed

I’ve previously commented on some of the difficulties with the voluminous digital archives available on the web. Google Books and offer an extraordinary amount of material, but the curation – meaning the organization and metadata – is often deficient. Finding a complete series of a publication, or just a specific volume, is far more difficult than it should be; choosing the best digitization from the many copies turns the labyrinth into a maze.

Sifting and sorting  documents is part and parcel of the historian’s task. I hope that sharing the results will become standard practice too, for not only does a gift produce a rosy glow, but it prevents an arduous task being repeated.

This post is the first of three such siftings, dealing with Narcissus Luttrell’s Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs. (Also sifted are The Harleian Miscellany and The Statutes At Large.) Luttrell was a minor political figure, being an MP twice, a JP. His posthumous importance is due to his book collecting and political diary-keeping, the Brief Historical Relation…., first published very posthumously in 1857, being a product of both.

It is a somewhat chaotic compilation of news from home and abroad, jumbling up accounts of military campaigns, political manoeuvres, criminal charges and births, deaths and marriages. One thing follows another, the only connection being the date. A single page carries news of the Ottoman Empire and Flanders, the sailing of the West India fleet, a patent for the preservation of “fish or foul a considerable time after ’tis killed”, a bookseller sent to Newgate for publishing libels, and more besides. But it gives a sense of the great business of government, sometimes has information unavailable elsewhere, and is useful for establishing chronologies.

I’ve put links to both the and Google Books versions as each has its own advantages. Google has more reliable search and better OCR, but offers more formats and has a better online presentation. I hope I have found the cleanest and clearest versions, but cannot say I’ve checked every page.

Volume 1: Sept 1678 – Dec 1689.  Google Books

Volume 2: Jan 1690 – Jan 1st 1693.  Google Books

Volume 3: Jan 1693 – Dec 1695.  Google Books

Volume 4: Jan 1696 – Dec 1700.  Google Books

Volume 5: Jan 1701 – Dec 1705.  Google Books

Volume 6: Jan 1706 – April 1714, and index to the whole series.  Google Books

Further reading: Luttrell on Wikipedia  Luttrell in History of Parliament Online

Resources: Canting Dictionaries

To round off this series of posts on canting language, here are links to those pre-Victorian cant, slang and jargon vocabularies freely available on the internet. More are to be found in various subscription archives; these are not listed here both because they are not open to the general public, and because it is important to show that there are alternatives. The digital vaults should not be the first resort, as much for ethical as economic reasons.

The difficulty with using and Google Books, from whence much of the material below can be obtained, is that the metadata, being generated by machine, is generally patchy and frequently erroneous. This makes it all the more important that what the historian does in the course of writing history – compile reference material – is made public, for all to benefit from, as well as allowing the story to be checked.

Three other resources of note are: Pascal Bonenfant’s database of cant, drawn from three dictionaries dating from 1737, 1811 and 1819; LEME, the Lexicons of Early Modern English, is an ingenious resource, although partly behind a paywall so of limited use to non-subscribers; and finally, I have started a list of canting dictionaries through the facilities provided by the Open Library.

Finally, throughout this series of posts, I have drawn on the first volume of Julie Coleman’s excellent History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries.

Thomas Harman, A caveat or warning for common cursetors, vulgarly called vagabonds, (1567). The first of the glossaries, compiled through interrogating suspected rogues. A reprint from 1814 is available from Open Library.

Samuel Rowland, Martin Mark-all Beadle of Bridewell, (1610). In Volume 2 of his collected works. Open Library.

Thomas Shadwell, Glossary to The Squire of Alsatia, (1688). Subject of my previous post.

B.E., Gent., A new dictionary of the terms ancient and modern of the canting crew, in its several tribes, of gypsies, beggers, thieves, cheats, &c. with an addition of some proverbs, phrases, figurative speeches, &c. First published in 1698, the Internet Archive has a scan of an 1899 reprint. Open Library.

Nathan Bailey, Canting Dictionary, (1736), extracted from Bailey, The New Universal Etymological Dictionary, (1727). Transcribed at From Old Books; the fifth edition of the  full dictionary is available via Google.

Bampfylde-Moore Carew, The life and adventures of Bampfylde-Moore Carew. Picaresque account of the ‘King of the Beggars’, the edition of 1750 contained a canting glossary. Open Library.

Francis Grose, Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, first published 1785 and frequently reprinted and re-edited. Transcribed at From Old Books and also available at Gutenberg and Open Library