iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for Highwaymen

Sorry, this episode is not currently available on BBC iPlayer Radio


45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 15 July 2010

Historians struggle to decipher letters and diaries - but what about those who left no record? The poor, those who couldn't write? There is one fantastic source, and it is now online: the Old Bailey Archives.

Through court cases, we can hear the voices of the 18th century. Thanks to the speedy court shorthand writers, everyone's speech is recorded, from the posh to the poor. It's the nearest thing we have to a tape recording of the past.

In this new series Professor Amanda Vickery presents dramatised extracts from gripping court cases and discusses with fellow historians what they reveal about 18th century society and culture. Amanda Vickery was the presenter of the highly successful "A History of Private Life" on BBC Radio 4 last year.

The series begins with the voices of highwaymen in court.

Highwaymen were celebrities, with hordes of adoring women, their executions a great public show. Some of them are revealed as charismatic, while some can hardly stutter out a sentence.

Amanda listens to what they have to say as they face the gallows, with fellow historians Bob Shoemaker, Helen Berry and John Mullan

Throughout the series there are popular ballads - about crime, or written by criminals - recorded for the first time, on location in one of Dick Turpin's hide-outs.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

  • The Old Bailey online archive

    All the cases discussed in this programme can be found in the Old Bailey online archive – a fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.

    The website makes available a fully searchable, digitised collection of all surviving editions of the Old Bailey Proceedings from 1674 to 1913, and of the Ordinary of Newgate's Accounts between 1676 and 1772. It allows access to over 197,000 trials and biographical details of approximately 2,500 men and women executed at Tyburn, free of charge for non-commercial use.

    The Old Bailey online archive
  • Guest: Professor John Mullan

    Professor John Mullan (University College London) is a specialist in eighteenth-century literature and is at present writing the volume of the Oxford English Literary History that will cover the period from 1709 to 1784.

    Professor John Mullan
  • Guest: Dr Helen Berry

    Dr Helen Berry (University of Newcastle) is a historian of early modern Britain interested in the dynamics of social, cultural and economic relationships during the time period that bridged the medieval and modern world.

    Dr Helen Berry
  • Guest: Professor Robert Shoemaker

    Professor Robert Shoemaker (University of Sheffield) is Professor of Eighteenth-Century British History at the University of Sheffield. With Tim Hitchcock, he is co-director of the Old Bailey Proceedings Online, and a new project which expands the scope of that website, London Lives 1690-1800, launched on 28 June.

    Professor Robert Shoemaker
  • Useful Link: London Lives

    A fully searchable edition of 240,000 manuscripts from eight archives and fifteen datasets, giving access to 3.35 million names.

    London Lives
  • Recording details

    The programme was recorded on location at the Flask Tavern, an iconic pub in Highgate Village, rumoured to have been a favourite spot of highwayman Dick Turpin.

    The Flask Tavern


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss