Criminal injustice in the North East

PUBLISHED: 16:00 22 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:04 20 February 2013

The Old Gaol at Hexham - the first recorded purpose-built prison

The Old Gaol at Hexham - the first recorded purpose-built prison

Jo Haywood sifts through the evidence presented by an arresting new book about 'criminal injustice' in the North East

Break the law now and youll be brought before an independent judge or an impartial jury of your peers all charged with seeking out the truth. In 1650, a chap in a daft hat pricked you with a blunt pin.

If you bled you were free to go about your business. If you didnt, you could well have found yourself dangling limply by your neck on Newcastles Town Moor.

This is precisely what happened to 16 women in 1650 when they were accused of witchcraft and dancing with the devil (I imagine hes more of a quick-step man than a waltzer). There was no judge, jury or judicial process for them. Just a witchfinder with a faulty pin and a job-lot of rope.

Lorna Windham highlights this case among numerous others in her grippingly grizzly new book Crime and Punishment in the North East (4.99, Summerhill Books).

Many people believe we live in a time of rising crime and that its no longer safe to walk the streets of our inner cities, she said. They compare what happens now unfavourably with an imagined past.

In fact in the 13th to16th centuries the English-Scottish border was a no-go area for all the warring raiders. And the 18th to 20th centuries had a volatile mix of upper, middle and lower classes divided by low pay, poor education, grinding poverty, overcrowded slums, poor health and bad sanitation on a scale that we in the 21st century can hardly comprehend.

It was a breeding ground for unrest and crime.
Her book recalls the days of press gangs, witch-hunts and public executions, when the stocks, whipping and branding were regularly handed down for seemingly trivial transgressions.

Lets just say you only stole a sheep once if you knew what was good for you.

Historic novel based on Linden Hall

Gordon Taylor paints a very different picture of life in the North East during the 19th century, creating a world of privilege rather than privation.

Cometh the Man (7.99, Austin & Macauley), the debut novel from this 53-year-old advertising executive from Newbiggin, tells the colourful and intriguing story of Nathaniel Davidson, the 16-year-old son of an aristocratic North Northumberland family.

When the firebrand teenager falls out with his father, Sir Toby Davidson MP, he sets out to make his fortune in South Africa by turning his hand to horse-breeding and wine-making (as you do).

The gripping saga sees him progress to middle age, by which time his father has lost his fortune and family estate, Thistlebrough, leaving Nathaniel to wrestle it back from its American owner and restore it to its former glory.

The house is based on Linden Hall, which is now a beautiful Northumberland hotel, said Gordon, who has written numerous magazine articles and ghost wrote the autobiography of Terry Miller, the North East chef who won ITVs Hell Kitchen in 2005.

Cometh the Man is intended to be the first of a trilogy of books about the Davidson family, so Ill have to start working on the sequel soon.

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