Rogues, Thieves, and the Rule of Law: The Problem of Law Enforcement in North-East England, 1718-1800

By Gwenda Morgan; Peter Rushton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE

The character of north-east England

The region and its people

The North-East appeared remote and alien to people from the rest of England. For one thing, in the eighteenth century the region had only recently emerged from the Border lawlessness which had characterized it for centuries. Some picaresque accounts of eighteenth-century characters such as the famous piper James Allan suggest that this image remained both powerful and attractive. His wandering, musically creative, intermit-tently criminal, life was dramatized after his death in 1810 (in Durham gaol) by accounts which stressed the casual subculture of the marginal economy of the Borders, with a pattern of individual employment drifting in and out of crime. If even half the story is true, Allan was remarkably lucky to have respectable patrons who rescued him from transportation or even the gallows. 1 The problem of evaluating the myth of the wild, lawless and mobile Border people forms an enduring difficulty when confronting contemporary accounts of local north-eastern crimes (see Ch. 4), but it is important to note that locals as well as outsiders were attracted to the image. A second aspect of the North-East's reputation was simply its geographic location: it is close, perhaps too close, to Scotland. Culturally, in matters of language and religion in particular, north-east England resembled Lowland Scotland more than southern England. Some villages on the English side of the border contained more Presbyterians than Anglicans, as Bishop Chandler's survey in 1736 demonstrated, and the local dialect was notably more like Scots than English. In other aspects, too, though visitors would have been surprised to know it, north-easterners were closer to their Scottish neighbours: for example, in their

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