Wednesday, September 28, 2011 publishes 1.3 million Manchester family history records, including prison and school registers

The following is from FindMyPast.

  • Manchester prison and workhouse records included
  • Charges include: indecent relations with a pig, and driving a contagious cow along a highway
  • Victorian law and order likely to have punished today’s rioters more severely
  • First execution listed at New Bailey and Strangeways prisons

Fascinating Victorian prison and workhouse records for Manchester have gone online for the first time ever at leading UK family history website ‘The Manchester Collection’ is a rich series of records provided by Manchester City Council's Libraries, Information and Archives, highlighting criminals whose crimes number murder, stealing, and even bestiality. Scanned images of the original copperplate handwritten registers can now be viewed and searched online by the public.

The Manchester Collection consists of eight record sets with nearly 1,300,000 records that cover Manchester and some parts of Lancashire, due to boundary changes over the centuries. The full series on the site comprises prison registers spanning 1847-1881, industrial school admissionand discharge registers, c1866-1912, school admission registers c1870-1916, apprentice records ranging from 1700-1849, baptism and birth registers covering 1734-1920, cemetery and death records for 1750-1968, marriage registers covering 1734-1808 and finally, workhouse registers, which include admission registers, creed registers and discharge registers. Today’s rioters and criminals get away lightly compared to many of the characters in the industrial schools and prison records.

The Prison Registers
The prison register records are some of the most fascinating within the collection giving details of the crimes committed and full particulars of the prisoners, including a description of what they looked like. This index contains 247,765 records for the period 1847-1881. The records cover Belle Vue Prison, New Bailey Prison and Strangeways.

A number of crimes can be found within the records, including murder, stealing as little as a lump of coal, being drunk and riotous and casually knowing (a Victorian euphemism for rape). The oldest felon discovered in the records was 91 years old and the youngest just seven. Repeat offenders were common and it is possible to trace their criminal careers. One woman was recorded 20 times over 14 years - she was blind in her left eye and had a pockmarked face, making her easily identifiable in the records.

Casually knowing a pig
In the prison records one Mr John Alty, aged 21 was charged on 6th March 1866 that he ‘having on the 30th January 1866 feloniously wickedly + against the order of nature did casually know a certain pig + then feloniously did perpetrate an unnatural crime at Manchester’. He was sentenced to 15 months’ hard labour. The record, as many do, includes details of his height, complexion, hair, weight and eyes and describes his occupation as a labourer. Also provided are his last known address, religion, education, marital status, distinguishing marks, nationality, previous committals and release date.

First execution at HMP New Bailey
James Burrows on May 31st 1866 was accused and charged that he ‘wilfully + malice aforethought killed + murdered one’ John Brennan at Hopwood on the 21st May 1866. He was sentenced to death and executed on August 25th 1866, aged 18. This case was widely covered in the newspapers at the time as James Burrows was the first person to be executed at the New Bailey Prison.

Moooove your ‘contagious’ cow!
In June 1870, Joshua Lomas, aged 36, was charged with driving a cow along the highway with a highly contagious lung disease. He was sentenced to one month in prison or the fine of £2. Joshua appears in the records again in 1877 charged with being drunk; he was sentenced to one day’s hard labour. Many of these criminals can be found more than once in the records.

Industrial Schools Indexes
Industrial schools were set up in the middle of the 19th century to provide lodging for destitute children. They were intended to prevent vulnerable children from falling into criminality; children would be educated and taught a trade and could be there for a set period or throughout their education. They were also ‘youth detention centres,’ where Victorian children were sent following anti-social acts for rehabilitation. 

Five years detention for truancy
On October 3 1901, Joseph Marsh aged 10 was convicted for associating with bad companions and truancy. He was sentenced to a period of five years and four months detention in one of Manchester’s Industrial schools, Ardwick Green. In his record he is described as being 4’5” tall, 65lbs, with a fair complexion, broad nose, having very light hair with blue eyes. He had five vaccination pits on his left arm. Previously, he had been given three or four years schooling and could read, write and calculate to grade III standard. His mental capacity was said to be good. Like many boys, upon completing his time at the school he enlisted in the army. The records show he joined the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment, which was then based in Palace Barracks, Holywood, Belfast and went on to have a successful army career. His strict discipline at the school clearly helped him stay on the straight and narrow and he went on to have a very successful army career.

Debra Chatfield, marketing manager at commented: “These records are a fascinating insight into the crimes of the Victorian era and provide so much more detail than census records. Many of the crimes carried out and their subsequent punishments are quite shocking, and are far removed from what we are familiar with today. For example, stealing one lump of coal could get you seven days hard labour. Imagine what the recent rioters would have faced if they had been under Victorian law and order. Even if you do not live in Manchester now, you may have had ancestors there 100 or more years ago and these records will prove to be an essential resource in tracing your family history. Manchester is one of the largest cities in the UK, and by making these records available online people will be able to discover even more about the lives of their Mancunian ancestors.”

The records have been published online by following a two year project to scan and transcribe the original records after the website was awarded a contract by Manchester City Council Libraries, Information and Archives.

Councillor Mike Amesbury, Manchester City Council's executive member for culture and leisure said: "We are continually developing our library and archive services to make them much more accessible and easy to use. We're really excited to be working with to digitise these records so that they are easily available to everyone at the simple click of a button."

You can search the Manchester Collection now at

Further details on the prison registers
This index contains 247,765 records for the period 1847-1881 and covers:
Belle Vue Prison was opened in 1849 by the Borough of Manchester. It was a short term jail but it proved inadequate and some prisoners were still sent to the New Bailey. It became a government establishment in 1877 and was demolished in 1892. The majority of prisoners would have been tried at the Assize Court or the Manchester Quarter Sessions.
The prison registers cover admissions for April 1850-November 1879. There are, however, some gaps for May 1853-March 1859, June 1867-May 1868, June 1871-April 1872, October 1874-July 1875 and September 1877-June 1878. Some pages in the registers have been water damaged.
New Bailey Prison, Salford, which opened in 1787 and closed sometime in the second half of 1868. As the Borough of Manchester had no gaol in 1839, agreement was made with the county magistrates of Lancashire that persons sentenced for up to six months should be housed in New Bailey Prison, Salford, while longer-term prisoners went to the County Gaol at Lancaster.
Strangeways Prison opened in June 1868. It was built to replace New Bailey Prison in Salford. It acted as the County Gaol for the Hundred of Salford (south-west Lancashire). It was renamed Her Majesty's Prison, Manchester in the 1990s and is sometimes known as Cheetham Prison.
The prison registers consist of four types:
  • Female Registers 1868-1875
  • Female Description Books 1867-1879
  • Male Registers 1869-1879 (with gaps May 1871-April 1873)
  • Felony Register - Bolton and Salford Sessions (Male) & Manchester Assizes (probably New Bailey Prison and Strangeways Prison) January 1863-October 1876

The registers usually give:
  • Register number
  • Prisoners names
  • When and by whom crimes were committed
  • How committed
  • On what charge
  • Summary conviction
  • Sentence
  • Age last birthday
  • Personal description: height, complexion, hair, eyes, marks upon person and remarks
  • Professional trade or occupation
  • Place of birth
  • Last or usual residence (and address of friends, if to be advised of prisoner's discharge)
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Married or single (and number of children)
  • Parents living
  • Number of previous committals
  • References
  • Register in last and next cases
  • Record book
  • Letter book
  • How disposed of at trial
  • Letters received and out
  • Date of discharge
Industrial school record details Manchester Collection covers Manchester Certified Industrial Schools, Ardwick Green from June 1866 - February 1912, Barnes Home, Heaton Mersey from January 1867-February 1908 and Northenden Road School for Girls, Sale from January 1867-February 1908
Registers will most likely include:
·         Name
·         Age
·         Date of birth
·         Date of admission
·         Where & by whom ordered to be detained
·         With what charged
·         By what school board sent
·         Period of detention
·         Previous character
·         Religion
·         Name of parents
·         Occupation of parents
·         Address of parents
·         Height, figure, complexion and weight
·         Educational attainment
·         Character of parents

Leading UK family history website (formerly was the first company to make the complete birth, marriage and death indexes for England & Wales available online in April 2003.

Following the transcription, scanning and indexing of over two million images, the company launched the first website to allow the public easy and fast access to the complete indexes, which until then had only been available on microfiche film in specialist archives and libraries. The launch was instrumental in creating the widespread and growing interest in genealogy seen in the UK today. has subsequently digitised many more family history records and now offers access to over 750 million records dating as far back as 1200. This allows family historians and novice genealogists to search for their ancestors among comprehensive collections of military records, census, migration, occupation directories, and current electoral roll data, as well as the original comprehensive birth, marriage and death records.

In November 2006 launched the microsite in association with The National Archives to publish outbound passenger lists for long-distance voyages departing all British ports between 1890 and 1960.

In April 2007,’s then parent company Title Research Group received the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation 2007 in recognition of their achievement. was acquired in December 2007 by brightsolid, the company who were awarded The National Archives’ contract to publish online the 1911 census, which it launched in January 2009.

In 2010 in association with The National Archives launched the British Army Service Records 1760 - 1913.

Manchester City Council – Libraries, Information and Archives
Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives holds a wide range of archives relating to the history of the Manchester area, its people and communities. It is part of Manchester City Council. Archive collections are currently based at the Greater Manchester County Record Office and the Manchester Room @ City Library whilst Manchester Central Library undergoes a major programme of renovation and refurbishment. When Manchester Central Library re-opens in December 2013 it will include a wonderful, purpose-built showcase and repository for the region's archive and family history.

1 comment:

Henry Mantell said...

As I grew up as a family historian and genealogist in the Manchester Archive it is wonderful to see digital images online for the Archive records. Also highly useful is Andrew Davies's book "Gangs of Manchester" see meticulously researched from the Archive and other records. The digitisation of all of the Archive records is moving forward and this is an important step for Mancunian research for those who use online research..