Explore Your Archive: A book of criminal photographs from Edinburgh City Archives

By Rosemary Collins, 22 November 2017 - 10:36am

Rosemary Collins talks to Vikki Kerr of Edinburgh City Archives about a volume of Victorian criminals' photographs

A page from the Rogues Gallery album. Credit: Edinburgh City Archives

Explore Your Archive is a campaign coordinated jointly by The National Archives (UK) and the Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland), with and on behalf of the archives and records sector, across the UK and Ireland which aims to raise awareness of archives, their value to society and the impact they have, every day, on individual lives.

The campaign runs from Saturday 18 November to Sunday 26 November with archives all around the country putting on exhibitions, having open days, hosting seminars and talks and allowing communities to "explore" the amazing things they hold.

As part of the campaign, Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine has teamed up with The National Archives to bring you a week of interviews with some of the archivists taking part around the country to discover just a few of the fascinating historic gems they hold.

Today, Vikki Kerr, records and archives officer at Edinburgh City Archives, tells us about a police album of photographs of West Lothian criminals from the late Victorian age.

What gem have you chosen?

Edinburgh City Archives (ECA) has chosen a volume entitled Rogues Gallery, which is a collection of photographs of criminals, from petty thieves to murderers, either apprehended or notorious in the West Lothian area. The leather-bound volume covers the period 1875 to c. 1900 and includes a range of fascinating mugshots of Victorian and Edwardian offenders.

The volume is not part of a wider series, although similar albums exist for Mid Lothian and East Lothian Constabularies, albeit dating from slightly later periods.

Each mugshot is accompanied by a handwritten description of the individual’s physical appearance as well as notes on their offence and subsequent punishment.

Why did you choose it?

The photographs are a wonderful record of the appearances of Victorian and Edwardian men, women and children as well as being evidence of the early use of photography by the police.

The existence of the volume itself is testament to the investigative police procedures of the time. Some of the individuals included were not apprehended in the West Lothian area. It would appear that the police were compiling an early database of known criminals.

In addition, the physical descriptions and photographs of offenders taken on their release from prison indicates the police were keen to maintain and possibly circulate likenesses of criminals in their area.

The crimes committed and the occupations of the offenders also serve to paint a picture of semi-rural life in Victorian Scotland.

Nurses with a guy
The cover of Rogues Gallery. Credit: Edinburgh City Archives

Tell us more about your archive...

ECA is responsible for preserving the official records of the City of Edinburgh Council and its predecessor bodies.

It also collects private historical records of businesses, societies, other organisations and individuals relating to the history of Edinburgh. Its aim is to permanently preserve and make the records available to the public.

Spanning the centuries, ECA maintains records from the 12th through to the 21st century. The earliest record preserved at ECA is a David I Charter of 1124, whilst the first surviving Town Council Minute Book in the collection dates from 1456. You will also find records from council meetings held yesterday!

Readers can access collections within the public searchroom, as well as interact with the archives via the Edinburgh City Archives Facebook page.

The Rogues Gallery volume highlighted above forms part of an exciting exhibition at the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh, running from 25 October to 1 December 2017, called ‘Rogues Gallery: Faces of Crime 1870-1917’. The exhibition is free and exhibits records from both ECA and the NRS, showing previously unseen mug-shot albums and trial papers bringing Victorian and Edwardian crime to life.

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