Historians searching for Victorian crimes

COOK FAMILY Image copyright Preston Park Museum & Grounds
Image caption The Cook family from Middlesbrough were arrested after breaking into two homes

Historians have been handed hundreds of mugshots of Victorian criminals. Now, armed only with the pictures and names, they are searching for the stories behind the stares, putting a crime to the face.

Their pictures may be more than 120 years old but the crimes the Cook family from Middlesbrough committed are still familiar.

The family of four were arrested and photographed in 1894 after breaking into two homes and stealing - among other things - jewellery and a pair of boots.

Image caption Historians at Preston Park Museum are now trying to find out the stories behind each mugshot

The offence was enough to see John and Sarah Cook immortalised in the local police force's mugshot book along with their sons John, 19, and 16-year-old Frank.

It is believed the book was compiled by the old North Riding force but it has been in the hands of the modern-day Cleveland Police. And it is one of the key exhibits at the Victorian police station that has opened at Preston Park Museum in Stockton.

Image copyright Preston Park Museum & Grounds
Image caption Historians know the names of the people, in this case Jane Graham and Joseph Wilson, but nothing more about them

But of the hundreds of headshots ranging from 1878 to 1896, the Cooks are the only four about whom anything is known - at the moment.

"It's intriguing to see these faces from the past but not know their stories," said Charlotte Barron, the museum's collection access assistant.

Image copyright Preston Park Museum & Grounds
Image caption In the older pictures the subjects had to hold a blackboard with their name and the date written on it

"Sadly we only have the pictures, not the notebooks that would have accompanied them, but by looking back at old newspapers and records we might be able to piece the stories together, that's what we did with the Cooks."

According to newspaper reports, the Cook family were captured by the long arm of the law in April 1894.

Image copyright Preston Park Museum & Grounds
Image caption In later years individuals were photographed with their hands across their chests and profile reflected in a mirror, as seen in the mugshots of Mary and Edward Mangan, who were arrested on 24 November 1893

The Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough reported the Cooks had broken into a house and stolen goods worth £8 17s 4d (about £807 in today's money) including a lady's gold watch.

The theft was reported by homeowner John W Mitchell, an engine driver.

Image copyright Preston Park Museum & Grounds
Image caption Mugshots were taken for a variety of offences, the most common being theft and larceny

Mrs Dilworth, of Somerset Street, also testified against the Cooks, claiming her house was ransacked in her absence, with goods to the value of £2 stolen, including a pair of boots.

"It's fascinating to see a whole family committing crime together," said Ms Barron.

"We believe there are siblings and couples among the other faces and we will start with trying to find them and their backgrounds.

Image copyright Preston Park Museum & Grounds
Image caption The photos range in date from 1878 to 1896

"There is a real range of people in this book, from young children up to the elderly."

The term mugshot originated in the early 1840s with the onset of photography, and their use became standardised by regional police forces in the 1870s, Ms Barron said.

"Someone could have their photo taken for one of any number of crimes.

"The most common would have been crimes like theft or larceny, like the Cook family, but there will be murderers and all sorts in this book.

Image copyright Preston Park Museum & Grounds
Image caption Hundreds of mugshots have been handed over to the historians

"It is going to be really interesting finding out their stories."

Each image shows the arrested individual with their name written in chalk either on a board held in front of them or, in later years, on a slate above their heads.

The later pictures also feature the arrested with hands raised to the chest to capture any identifying marks, tattoos or missing digits, and a mirror to reflect their profile.

Image caption Preston Park Museum has a Victorian style street patrolled by volunteers from the attraction's police station dressed in uniform

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