Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Horse thieves Part 2: Recording Data

As a result of my earlier blog on female horse thieves, a friend called to me in Sainsbury's car park and asked, 'Why did they all take place in March, was it to do with horse fairs?' So, a fairly typical conversation when grocery shopping.

The act of horse theft was only a minor part of a much wider investigation into crime during the eighteenth century for my PhD thesis and I hadn't picked up on this point as being particualry relevant but of course it is. Also relevant was the fact that all the horses stolen by Anne Nightingale were mares.

The regularity of Ann Nightingale’s thefts suggests that she had a specific outlet in mind and markets and fairs were commonly used as outlets to sell horses. While the Spring and Autumn peaks in the timing of horse fairs, March comes at the beginning of the breeding season so mares might be targeted.
Playbill for Early Touring Circus, Kingston-upon-Hull Market Place, England, 1798. Museum no. S.211-1978, httpwww.vam.ac.ukcontentarticlesvvictorian-circus, accessed 30 Aug 2013

However, none of the depositions in Nightingale's case mention horse fairs, so the evidence implies that sales were made privately to individuals. A toll book system operated in fairs and markets but, as Peter Edwards notes in his book on the subject, it was hard to police. Even private sales had to be entered in the toll book at a nearby town but few people bothered.
What this case study also raises is the issue of data collection. What information do we extract from indictments and depositions, how is that stored in a data base, and how do we retrieve the data for relevant analyis. My data base had a column for dates of theft and a column for type of theft and a column for individual descriptors - but I hadn't picked up on the March or mares issue because Ann Nightingale was indicted for only one offence, but it is possible that her other alleged crimes were taken into account when sentencing her - information I had but didn't recognise.
Yet another revision before thesis becomes book - but highlights the relevance of careful data collection and analyis, and the benefit of information sharing.
See: Peter Edwards (1988) The Horse Trade of Tudor and Stuart England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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