Cardiganshire Criminals

Collections - Posted 13-05-2020

In an old manuscript at the National Library of Wales is a treasure trove of criminal profiles and mug-shots which give us a fascinating insight into life in Mid-Wales during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Whilst we are used to seeing portrait photography from this period, the adoption of photography by the police in their records means we are given a rare glimpse into the world of some of the poorest, most desperate and occasionally treacherous in society.

Here are my top ten profiles.

19 year old Walter Chambers described himself as a gardener from Nottingham. Living homeless, he stole a coat from a draper on Great DarkGate Street, Aberystwyth in November 1904 . An hour later he approached a policeman, admitted his crime and gave himself up. He received little sympathy though, and was imprisoned and sentenced to 21 days hard labour.

Anne Williams of Swansea was committed at Lampeter to one month of hard labour for handling stolen money in 1905, and she doesn’t look impressed.

Thomas Taylor was a labourer by trade. He was committed to 2 months hard labour in 1907 for stealing a pair of slippers. Despite the petty nature of the crime, the police wrote up a detailed description of Taylor. He was 5ft 3 ⅜ inches, with brown hair and blue eyes. He has several anchor tattoos and scars on his hands, along with a mole above his left nipple and a scar from a boil below his left buttock.

This moving picture captures a Gipsy woman named Elizabeth Boswell, who was fined for stealing from an Aberystwyth Hotel in March 1900.

James Harries had a string of convictions for petty theft spanning over a decade. His trial at Llanilar Petty Sessions in 1903 is notable for being the first time fingerprints were used as evidence in a Cardiganshire, after local police worked with Scotland Yard to connect a Harries to a number of thefts around he country.

18 year old Sarah Mary Edwards of Pennal had hazel eyes and brown hair and stood at just 4ft tall. She was sentenced to hard labour for stealing several items of clothing.

John Edward Davies of Fourcrosses, worked as a porter on the Cambrian Railway in 1899. Being in charge of the luggage carriage he stole ‘a large amount’ of jewelry on the journey between Aberystwyth and Birmingham during September 1899. He was soon caught and sentenced to 6 months of hard labour.

Kate McCarthy of Liverpool and two accomplices were sentenced to 14 days hard labour for stealing clothes from Aberystwyth.

One of the toughest punishments recorded in the register was handed to 22 year old William Jarvis. Sentenced to 12 months hard labour in 1899 for theft, he had been free for only a few months when he was found guilty of burglary at Lampeter and sentenced to 3 years penal servitude. The register shows that he offended again after his release being sentenced to hard labour on a number of occasions.

John Smythe, a 65 year old painter was committed to 7 days hard labour in 1879 for stealing a duck from Llanychaearn.

The Cardiganshire Constabulary Register of Criminals has been digitised and can be explored in full on the National Library of Wales website. All the mug-shots from the manuscript have also been shared openly on Wikimedia Commons and can be explored here.

Jason Evans
National Wikimedian

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