508. Six True Crime Stories from Victorian England, Told by My Dad

Learn English by listening to Rick Thompson telling some true stories of petty crimes committed in an English town in 1851.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello everybody, and welcome to this brand new instalment of Luke’s English Podcast – a podcast for learners of English.

In this episode my dad is going to tell you some true crime stories from England’s history. There are six stories in total and they all involve curious crimes and their punishments which can tell you quite a lot about what life was like in England in the mid 19th century.

We have established the value of listening to stories on this podcast before, right? Listening to stories can be a great way to improve your English, especially when they’re told in an interesting, clear and spontaneous way and of course I’m always happy to get contributions from my dad on this podcast – so I’m feeling good about this episode. I think it should be a good one.

These days my dad is semi-retired but he keeps himself busy doing various things, including some volunteer work for an organisation based in the town where my parents live – Warwick, in the midlands, in England.

The organisation is called Unlocking Warwick and it is a volunteer group based in a restored building in the centre of town.

This building used to be a court-house – a place where, in the past, people who had been accused of committing crimes were sent to be tried and possibly sentenced to various punishments, and back in the Victorian times those punishments could be quite harsh. The building operated as a court room from the early 16th century all the way through to the 1970s when it eventually closed. Then, a few years ago the building was fully restored to its former glory and is now a cultural centre for the town of Warwick. The volunteer group that my parents belong to, Unlocking Warwick, does various events and activities in this building as a way of helping people to explore the history of the town, which is also the site of one of the UK’s best medieval castles. Warwick is a place that’s worth visiting if you’re into English history and it’s only about 30 minutes away from Stratford Upon Avon – the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

Last year you heard me talk to my Mum about the Unlocking Warwick project and she mentioned the regency ballroom in the building, where they organise events like dances with historical themes, and since the building used to be the location of a court room, the group also presents dramatic reconstructions of real court cases that happened there.

These are like plays based on real records of the court proceedings which are stored in local archives, and my dad is the one who writes these dramas. He reads the details of old cases from the archives, picks the ones that sound interesting and then turns them into plays which are performed for the public by volunteer actors. They even get members of the audience to shout things out and generally play along, a bit like they would have done during the real trials back in the 19th century.

So, because he’s written these plays, Dad has a few stories at his disposal and I thought it might be fun, interesting and good practice for your English to hear him describe these stories in an episode of the podcast, so that’s what you’re going to get; six true stories of crimes that actually happened in Warwick, told to you by my dad – and almost all of it is told using past tenses – so straight away, there’s some grammar and pronunciation for you to look out for. I’m not going to go into all the details of those narrative past tenses here, but if you’d like to listen to episodes in which I explain those tenses, give examples and help you to pronounce them then you can check out episodes…

Other episodes dealing with Narrative Verb Tenses in more detail

29. Mystery Story / Narrative Tenses 

372. The Importance of Anecdotes in English / Narrative Tenses / Four Anecdotes

176. Grammar: Verb Tense Review 

They’re all (also) in the episode archive on the website. 

But right now, let’s jump into this conversation that I had with my dad just the other day when my parents were visiting us. So, without any further ado – let’s get started.


The Six Stories

I’d like to summarise those six stories again now, just to make sure you got the main details and to help reinforce some of the language that you heard in the conversation.

You can find the notes I’m reading from here, written on the page for this episode on the website.

  1. The Case of the Notorious Window Smasher
    A woman who would go up and down the high street in Warwick and also in Birmingham, smashing shop windows (cutting up her arms in the process) and stealing goods, including a roll of top quality French material – and she was sentenced to time in the house of correction where she probably had to do hard labour all day, including walking in the treadmill – a kind of human-powered machine for grinding corn or wheat. Imagine being a sort of hamster in a wheel all day long – like going to the gym, but doing it for 10 hours or more and I’m sure the conditions were very dusty and awful. The Victorians, being sort of puritanical and protestant had a strong work ethic, and believed that hard work was the right remedy for people’s problems. You can see how this went together with a certain industriousness that marked that period of British history.
  2. What Happened to the Extremely Drunk Man?
    He was brought into the court by a policeman simply for being very very drunk, and was sentenced to 6 hours in the stocks.
  3. The Story of the Poor Lunatic Woman
    Her husband took her to the authorities claiming she was hysterical and completely impossible to live with, and she was promptly taken to the local lunatic asylum where she probably spent the rest of her life – but was she really mad, or did her husband just want to get rid of her?
  4. The Woman Who Ran Away from the Workhouse
    There were different places you could end up if you were found guilty of a crime, or simply didn’t have the means to look after yourself. The worst would be Australia, which was probably a very tough place to try and survive back in those days and the long boat journey would probably kill you anyway. Then there was prison, and I’m sure 19th century prisons would have been full of disease and all kinds of hideous misery. You heard about the hulks – these broken old ships that were moored on the river Thames in London, which worked as prisons. I expect the ones on the land weren’t much better. Then there were the houses of correction – essentially prisons where you did hard labour all day long. Then there were workhouses – not exactly prisons, but places that would house people who had no money. They’d give them accommodation and food in return for work. Honestly, I think places like this still exist in many parts of the world and it’s really sad and terrible, especially when we realise that some of the products that we consume might have been made in places like these – we call them sweatshops these days – places where people work long hours in awful conditions. The woman in this story ran away from her workhouse because, as she claimed, they weren’t feeding her. I expect that could be true. I think the food given to people in workhouses was often just very weak and watery soup (called gruel) which probably contained next to no nutritional value, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were denied food as punishment in a workhouse. There was so much cruelty in those days. This woman ran away, and was caught – but she hadn’t really committed a crime, had she? A workhouse wasn’t a compulsory place to stay. It’s not a jail. She ran away of her own free will. But they caught her and charged her with theft of the clothes she was wearing. I expect the clothes were provided for her by the workhouse – so that’s how they got her. It makes me wonder if there wasn’t some sort of personal revenge or some kind of personal vendetta against this woman, or some kind of conspiracy against her. Her sentence? 3 months hard labour in the house of correction. I’m sure some people profited from all this free labour.
  5. Why did Joseph Smith Break a Lamp in the Market Square?
    Just to get arrested and put in the house of correction – because he had no money and no food. So he did it just to get fed and housed, even if it meant having to do menial work. It sounds like he was pretty desperate. There was no such thing as welfare or social security in those days. That didn’t arrive for nearly another 100 years, after WW2.
  6. What Happened to the Shoemaker’s Rabbit?
    It was stolen – and footprints were found in the garden of the house where the theft happened. Emmanuel Cox was charged with the theft – and accused of stealing the rabbit and cooking it in a pot.  The police officer that arrested Cox seems to have been tipped off by someone. The constable mentioned “Information received” – so did someone tip him off about Emmanuel Cox? Was someone trying to set Cox up, or did they have genuine information about Cox? In any case, when Cox’s place was searched they found a rabbit skin hanging up in the kitchen, which the shoemaker identified. It looked like an open and shut case. The evidence was a dead giveaway! But during the trial a woman in the audience defended Cox (she turned out to be someone he lived with – so probably not a great witness) and it was claimed that there was a witness who could testify to Cox’s innocence – but he couldn’t be found. In the end Cox was acquitted – the magistrate let him go without a charge, because he said the evidence was not sufficient. I wonder what the punishment would have been, for stealing and eating a pet rabbit? I’ll hazard a wild guess at 3 months in a correctional house, because it seems that doing pretty much anything would land you in the correctional house for 3 months, if you were a petty criminal and you lived in Warwick.

Well there you have it, the case of the shoemaker’s rabbit and 5 other stories.

I hope you enjoyed it, that you learned some English or at least you had some nice and nourishing listening practice – yum yum yum.

You can find notes and some transcriptions on the page for this episode on the website, where you can see some of the words and phrases used in this episode.

Don’t forget to download the LEP app for your smartphone. It’s free – that’s where you’ll find the entire episode archive on your phone and there are various app-only episodes and other bonuses for you to check out.

Join the mailing list on the website to get an email whenever I upload new content. That email will contain a link that’ll take you straight to the page for that content – usually a new episode and sometimes some website-only content, like when I’m interviewed on someone else’s podcast or if I want to write to you about something in particular that I think might interest you.

Sometimes episodes arrive on the website a day earlier than everywhere else, so being an email subscriber might be the fastest way to find out about new episodes when they’re released.

So, be an email subscriber, be an app-user and if you enjoy my episodes and find them useful and if the spirit moves you – please recommend this podcast to at least one person who you think might like it, leave LEP a review on iTunes or the Google Play store, and you could consider sending a donation to the podcast to help with running costs and perhaps as a sincere way to say thanks for my work.

In any case, I’d just like to say thanks for listening and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Bye! 

Luke

  • Orion team (Antonio)

    Hi people this transcript 508. Six True Crime Stories from Victorian England, Told by My Dad

    Is finished.

    docs.google.com/document/d/1oPk2GY88eia5xmZNMZ6sK2d1xPV-Ku18CTJJvoEw_50/edit?usp=sharing

    It needs to be improved and we hope any of you could help. We’ve done the hard part so it is up to you.

  • paul

    One of the best episodes of Luke’s English Podcast!

    The lady, madam Elisabeth, was really mad, lunatic!

    Luke, I think Oliver Twist has been in a Workhouse, before running away! I’ve listened to several books of Charles Dickens, and one of them, and my favorite, was Oliver Twist.

    There’s a lady, with a wanderful voice, who reads Dickens books, unfortunately, not Oliver Twist. You can check Mil Nilcholson at Librivox.org.

    Once again, great episode!

  • Cat

    As I was a 6 grader, a boy in my class challenged me once:
    – What are you talking about? You even didn’t read Oliver Twist yet. So, shut up!
    The same day after school I went to the local village library and asked for that book. I got immediately hooked by the first chapter, a scene in the workhouse. I loved the book, but David Copperfield I loved even more.
    Thank you, my dear classmate, and rest in peace. (He got killed by an accident, unfortunately, at a very young age).

  • Cat

    The Sorrows of the Young Lepster. Part I.

    Lepster: Please, Sir, I want some more (vocabs)!
    Teacher: More?!!!!
    Lepster: Please, Sir, I want some … more.
    Teacher: MORE?!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Lepster faints, twisted with stomach ake (from all that starving during homework).

    To be continued.

  • Adam

    Hi Luke,

    I have started my journey today from new episode – nice one.
    You have mentioned about recommending your podcast.

    I would like to summarize my efforts over 2 years.
    I have proposed it to: Piotr, Artur, Laszlo, Emre, Cristian, Laurentiu and just one month ago to Peter.
    I am afraid that I was not successful with anyone of them except with Peter, who got from me about 495 episodes. He decided to listen one by one from the beginning. Today he was hearing the episode 57.

    • Thanks for trying to spread the word Adam. I’m glad Peter has become hooked. Let’s see if he’s still with us by episode 100.

  • Agnes

    The next outstanding episode in the LEPland! Wonderful!

    I love crime stories, even petty crimes were interesting to listen to! Particularly when they are told by your dad!

    Twice is decisively not enough! have to listen to more and more!

    cheers

    • Agnes

      Another one which lives up to my expectations:-) As I promised I listen to it over and over:-)

      Guys where are you? Where are our leading commentators? Only six posts here so far. Guys come on@!

  • Jack

    This episode is like a rainbow shining brightly in the sky. It’s meant to be listened to again and again and again and again.

    King, covey my regards to uncle Rick, please and tell him that he is a very consummate and eloquent speaker and presenter.

    Here’s some juicy vocab that I plucked out of the episode :

    Manuscripts
    Vaults
    Reenactment
    Medieval
    Sanitation
    Autobiographical
    Magistrate
    Petty
    Trinkets
    Cheeky jewelry
    Moored
    Prospect
    Schelling
    Mash
    Oat
    Corn
    Stocks
    Unsavory
    Catapulted
    Austerity
    Recklessly
    Lunatic
    Asylum
    Confined
    Assessed
    Pauper
    Nicky-Nacky
    Workhouse
    Absconding
    Apprehended
    Unsympathetic
    Plack cards
    Penultimate
    Destitute
    Vandalism
    Booming
    Thriving
    Testify
    Summon
    Convicted
    Acquitted
    Prompted

    • ptholome/Antonio

      you can had hulks which lead me to the word moored

      • Jack

        Good one Sir :)

      • ptholome/Antonio

        potatoe blight perhaps…

  • Rahul Shagrithaya

    What? Is Charles Dickens’ books difficult to understand even by native speakers? I remember picking up “The Old Curiosity Shop” by C Dickens that my brother had brought from a book store and losing track of the story line when I was around 2 or 3 chapters through it. After that experience I decided never to read a book written in old English and worrying about not getting round to what the story is even though I’ve read Shakespeare’s plays in high school. I still wonder how my brother could read through the whole book.

  • Poverty is a reality of life. For many, it is a matter of life and death. It’s a doggie world that we’re all living in. Slavery is all around us. The poor have been through a lot. Take this journey to help better the lives of others. A true human being should put more emphasis on living a life of use to others rather than himself/herself. Interested to see/hear your take on a classic. LEP App is the King’s name. I’ve really got to hands it to LUKE. Also, share All Ears English App to gear up your American English. Download for free!!!

    • ptholome/Antonio

      Sorry, a true human being is anybody the worst and the best. to be a good human baing is not the same than a true one. Hitler was a true human being but the worse we have known in the 19 century. Stalin is anothe true human being who has left a big souvenit of terror in his country.