Rachael Jones introduces her new book, Crime, Courts and Community in Mid-Victorian Wales: Montgomeryshire, People and Places.
Montgomeryshire is a marvellous place in which to live. It has a stunning landscape and friendly and welcoming people. It has a fascinating history too – particularly, for me, around the nineteenth century when the rural and agricultural nature of the area and its inhabitants changed dramatically with industrialisation. I have an interest in biography, genealogy, landscape and women’s stories, and have brought these together in Crime, Courts and Community in Mid-Victorian Wales, painting a vivid picture of life in the 1870s.
My aim was to write a history enabling readers to step back in time and feel as if they had met the characters and got to know them. To that end, individuals are introduced and are followed, through their contribution to and participation in events – we hear personal testimonies as their experiences are recounted from witness statements and from newspaper accounts, and their motivations are assessed through analyses of their personal histories.
The topography of Montgomeryshire lends itself to agriculture and facilitated its industrialisation. The hillsides provided pasture, the many rivers and streams delivered waterpower and the Severn supplied the Montgomeryshire canal. The Severn valley provided a course for a railway. But the features of the land also facilitated crime, providing opportunities for offences and for getaway. Whereas many other historians have written histories solely of crime, I have produced a history of the landscape and crime, establishing particular focus on the links between the two.
At a time when women had very limited input to state authority, attention is given to their experiences of crime and the courts, and conclusions are drawn about how they viewed and made use of the arenas of legal proceedings that were open to the public and later relayed to the masses in newsprint.
This study was a pleasure to research and write.
Rachael Jones is an Honorary Research Fellow at Leicester University, resident of Montgomeryshire for over twenty years, teacher and local historian specialising in genealogy, gender and crime.