Victorian Crime & Punishment

Ref: C2337241

This 8-week course uses local case studies to investigate how legislation and social attitudes affected criminals, changed the treatment of prisoners, both adult and juvenile, and introduced the new police force in 19th-century England and Wales.

Additional information about this course

Explore the life of the Victorian criminal - crimes, courts and punishments, from transportation to penal servitude, together with changing attitudes towards crime.

Course aim

Using local case studies, to investigate how legislation & social attitudes affected criminals, introduced a new police force and changed treatment of prisoners, adult and juvenile, in 19th-century England & Wales.

Who is the course for?

What topics will this course cover

The course will use local case studies wherever possible. We start with a look at the development of the police force from the parish constable up to to the county police forces. Having ‘collared’ our criminal, we will then look at the various types of law court, how they worked and the types of case heard ranging from the local Petty Sessions right up to the Court of Chancery, with a slight detour via debt and divorce. Once our criminal has been convicted we need to think about punishment so our next topic is transportation. We need to consider how juveniles were punished and, using first-hand accounts, will experience life inside one of the new Victorian gaols. We finish the course with a look at how contemporary crimes influenced authors in Victorian Britain, from the ‘Penny Dreadful’ to classic authors such as Wilkie Collins. Handouts will be provided each week, listing key events, and weekly weblink pages will available to anyone with an email address to enable students to investigate further topics of specific interest.

What will it be like?

WEA classes are friendly and supportive. You will be encouraged to work together with your fellow students and tutor. You will be asked to share your ideas and views in the class and work with the group to give and accept feedback in a supportive environment. The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you to be actively involved in your learning. You may be asked to undertake work to support your course outside of your class.

By the end of the course I should be able to:

1. Identify key legislation affecting crime & punishment in Victorian England; 2. Distinguish between the different Victorian law courts in England & Wales and describe the type of business handled; 3. Explain how and why punishment for criminals changed in 19th-century England; 4. Discuss the growth of popular crime fiction in Victorian times.

How will I know I'm making progress?

Each session will start with a quick recap Q&A which will identify areas that need revision and all paired or group activities will receive feedback from the tutor. The construction of a timeline will help students review their learning and provide opportunity for discussion about progress.

What else do I need to know, do or bring?


Reading and information sources

No preparation for the course is required. The tutor will bring a book box to be used as a lending library during the course and weekly 'weblink' pages will be available to anyone with an email address to provide opportunity for further, personal research into linked topics.

What could the course lead to?

Students may wish to visit the gaol at Lincoln Castle which is open to the public and the course naturally leads on to a further study of Victorian social history. The tutor offers other courses in this area ranging from Female Suffrage through to the Victorian Household. The Australian Government has extensive material both online and in situ in Australia relating to transportation and convicts. The course is especially useful for anyone studying genealogy or tracing their own family history. The tutor will provide a 'What Next' handout at the end of the course with details of related courses both within and without the WEA.

Download full course outline

Victorian Crime & Punishment Course Outline


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2016
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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