Court records from the Old Bailey give insights into criminals, crimes and the victims of crime. Nearly 200,000 trials from London’s central criminal court dating from 1674 to 1913 have been digitised. Three quarters of the cases are for theft.

Herbert Joseph Champion de Crespigny (1805-1881) was my second cousin five times removed, the second youngest child of Sir William and Lady Sarah Champion de Crespigny; younger brother of Augustus and Heaton, about whom I wrote recently.

Herbert was a lawyer, educated at Cambridge. In 1822 he was admitted to the Middle Temple, one of the four inns of court entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers. He was called to the bar in 1832.

In 1838 Herbert was driving his gig, a light two-wheeled spring carriage pulled by one horse, in Weymouth Street, London. This street links High Street, Marylebone, and Harley Street and Portland Place.

Herbert’s carriage overturned and Herbert broke his leg. He was carried into a nearby house. He alleged that during the incident one of his assistants stole a key and some money from him.

A gig, c 1815-1830 – a few years before Herbert’s journey along Weymouth Street.
Oil painting of a Stanhope gig carrying two well-dressed gentlemen, drawn by a white horse. Gigs were used by people who often needed to make short quick journeys with minimum fatigue to the horse. From Wikimedia Commons.

2313. WILLIAM LYONS was indicted for stealing, on the 7th of September, 1 key, value 3d.; 3 shillings, 1 sixpence, and 1 four-penny piece; the goods and monies of Herbert Joseph Champion de Crespigny, from his person.
HERBERT JOSEPH CHAMPION DE CRESPIGNY . I live at Ewell, in Surrey. On the 7th of September, I was driving my gig in Weymouth-street—my gig was overturned and I broke my leg in two places—I was carried on a shutter to a house, and when in the bed-room I saw the prisoner there—he helped to take off my things—I had a key and about three or four shillings in my waistcoat pocket—I looked very hard at the prisoner—he seemed to look as if I should know him—he wanted to take my pin out of my shirt—I would not let him—I asked if he was a tailor living near there who had done some things for me—he said he was—but he is not—he was taken for something else, and then my pockets were searched and this money was missed—there were two sixpences and a few-penny piece that I had marked, and this key of my writing desk—I had marked one sixpence and one fourpence, the other sixpence I had not marked, but I can swear to it.
ROBERT KEBRUNT . (police-constable D 56.) The prisoner was given to me—I found on him a sovereign and several shillings, sixpences, and four pence—I found these that are identified, and the key—he was taken on another charge.
Prisoner. I had been out drinking, and assisted to take the gentleman to the house—I did not know what I had about me then, but I did the next day—I said I had been taking various small change—I am a glove-cleaner—I picked up the diamond pin belonging to the gentleman, and gave it him—I was very much intoxicated when I was taken. Witness. He was drunk.
GUILTY . Aged 25.— Confined Six Months. (from Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2, 21 April 2016), October 1838, trial of WILLIAM LYONS (t18381022-2313).)

The coins, 3 shillings, 1 sixpence, and 1 four-penny piece [a groat], seem small in value. Using a measuring worth calculator, in 2014, the relative value of £0 3s 10d from 1838lies between £15.44 to £641.90. The “real price” of the value of the coins is £15.44, obtained by multiplying £0.19 by the percentage increase in an index of the average cost of things a household buys from 1838 to 2014.The economic power value of those coins in income or wealth is calculated as £641.90 ($AUD1187). The economic power value calculation is based on the value relative to the total economy.

The theft of a key and $1,000 would not result in imprisonment for six months in the present day.

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