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OU on the BBC: Breaking the Seal - Programme five - Legal records

Updated Sunday, 1st April 2007

Introducing an episode of the series Breaking the Seal, which explores how legal records can reveal the past

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From Saxon times to the present day, justice has been done and been seen to be done - and for the last thousand years, clerks have toiled away recording the sordid, sad and fascinating details of criminals and their crimes.

In this programme, Bettany Hughes scours the country's archives in a quest to get close to the true history of crime and punishment. In Hampshire, we discover there really were outlaws who held up travellers through the woods, in Essex we find that there were serial petty thieves in the sixteenth century, in London how burglars plied their trade in the seventeenth century and the story of the last aristocrat to be hung.

And as a young Australian traces the crimes committed by his transported ancestors, we see how Britain gradually replaced the harsh regime of flogging and hanging with the very modern world of prisons.

Discover more in the programme transcript.

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