Offences against the person? Tracing hidden LGB histories through Berkshire court records and archives

This social history research project will cast light on the lives of ordinary LGB people in Berkshire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, by identifying those targeted by criminal prosecutions and tracing their lives through wills, census records and other sources.

Department: Classics

Supervised by: Katherine Harloe; Mark Stevens (Berkshire County Archivist)

The Placement Project

2017 marks 50 years since the passage of the Sexual Offences Act (1967), which partially decriminalised homosexual acts between men in England and Wales. The persecution of same-sex desire before this date means that LGB people left traces in the criminal law, yet little systematic research has been undertaken into using historic trial records, both to consider operational enforcement of the law but also what the records might tell researchers about LGB culture. This project will investigate the potential of such records by examining newspapers, original court documents and prison records held in the Berkshire Record Office and The National Archives, which give details of criminal prosecutions between the Offences Against the Person Act (1861) and the start of World War I. By identifying those convicted of homosexual offences, and tracing their lives before and after their convictions through wills, census records and other sources, it aims to cast light on the lives of ordinary, LGB people in the Berkshire area in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The work could form a pilot for further studies either in Berkshire or beyond.


Working under the guidance of Mark Stevens, the Berkshire County Archivist, and Dr Harloe, the student will work through the list of calendars of prisoners brought to trial at Assizes and Quarter Sessions, and registers of prisoners received at Reading Prison, looking for those detained under statute for homosexual acts. The student will then investigate any cases found in trial records and newspaper reports to find the story behind the person. The student will then use census records and other personal name resources to gain a sense of a wider history beyond the criminal charge.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Essential: Academic research skills appropriate to advanced undergraduate level; basic IT skills including researching portals, social media & other online resources; ability to write clear and fluent English; editorial skills. Desirable: Past experience of using archives and collections for research; knowledge of nineteenth-century social history.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

Use and interpretation of archival records for historical and cultural research Creating a dataset Creating narrative biographical prose Providing feedback on value of resources for research

Place of Work

The principal work site will be the Berkshire Record Office, though some research will be required at The National Archives in Kew. Broad, contextual research may also be carried out in the University of Reading Library and Special Collections Services. A full risk assessment for off-site working will be completed prior to the start of the placement.

Hours of Work

9:30am – 4:30pm, Monday to Friday (negotiable)

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Friday 13 July 2018 - Friday 24 August 2018

How to Apply

The post will be advertised centrally on the UROP website between 19th February and 29th March 2018. Submit a short CV and covering letter, explaining your interest in the placement and the relevant skills and experience you would bring to the project, to by the closing deadline. If several strong candidates apply, interviews will be held to determine award of the placement.

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