Britain's oldest police mugshots show Birmingham criminals arrested more than 150 years ago

West Midlands Police archive reveal people charged for murder, habitual drunkenness and one of the earliest recorded joyriders

Wednesday 13 June 2018 14:33 BST
Isaac Ellery's mugshot is said to be Britain's oldest ever recorded
Isaac Ellery's mugshot is said to be Britain's oldest ever recorded

The world’s oldest police mugshots have been revealed showing criminals caught more than 150 years ago – including the earliest joyrider jailed for stealing a horse and cart.

The fascinating custody shots were unearthed in the West Midlands Police archives, and tell the lost stories of criminals from the past.

The photos were taken at the Moor Street public office in Birmingham between the 1850s and 1870s, and were accompanied with scrawled notes about their crimes.

Police in Birmingham were the first force in the country to start taking mugshots of offenders with the first criminal photographed in 1853.

Some criminals were photographed wearing their top hats

Many of the criminals appear expensively dressed in top hats in their mug shots, which were taken by police following their arrest more than 150 years ago.

One of those arrested include John Williams who was charged with "warehouse breaking" in 1864 and sentenced to four months hard labour.

A female crook, Sarah Ann Cooper, was snapped for her mugshot wearing a hooded cloak and clutching her hands together after she was caught stealing bells and door knobs on 9 September 1861.

Another lady, Ann Vickers, was charged with stealing a pocket watch in 1862.

One of the most common crimes was habitual drunkenness

One of the earliest recorded joyriders, John Dale, was jailed in July 1862 after being convicted of stealing horse-drawn wagons in the city.

William Smith was one of Britain’s earliest murderers who posed for a mugshot after he was charged with killing his wife in August 1866.

His charge sheet simply read: “Murder of wife in Hurst Street”, while he sat with an emotionless expression for his custody snap.

Samuel Crowley was charged with “having skeleton keys” in October 1862.

Sarah Ann Cooper was charged with stealing bells and door knobs in September 1861

Habitual drunkenness was one of the most common reasons for arrest.

If people were caught drunk three or more times in a 12 month period. their name would be put on a blacklist banning them from ordering an alcoholic drink for two years.

Police heritage lead Corinne Brazier has spent painstaking hours cataloguing and sorting the hundreds of century-old mugshots.

She said: "Birmingham was the first police force in the country to start photographing its offenders, only beaten in the world by the Swiss police.

Birmingham was the first police force in the country to start photographing its offenders

"It could well be the case that the West Midlands Police Museum holds the oldest surviving police custody photos in the world – some dating back to the 1850s.

"At this time Birmingham was using the Moor Street Public Office to hold many offenders before they appeared in court.

"Suspects would be marched round to a new photographic studio that had opened up down the road where they would have their picture taken.

She added: "The poses make it hard to identify these individuals as people held in custody – bar the tell-tale handcuff on one of the images.

"In the 1870s it was legislated that all police forces had to take photographs of people in custody, and this is when the first ledger of the Birmingham Police collection starts.

"These images show some sad characters – all in black, many in bedraggled clothing. They held a chalk board for the reference number identifying their record, which also identified the year the image was taken."

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