Crime and Punishment - Sophia Constable

Further Evidence and Activity

The first document shown here gives evidence from Fanny Goodchild and Sophia Constable.


The second and third documents are a letter concerning the well-being of Sophia Constable, from John Ryder to the Governor of Northallerton Gaol, where the plaintiffs were held in custody during December 1872 before their court appearance in January 1873.


We know from the Calendar of Prisoners (on page 2 of this Learning Journey) that Sophia Constable, although only 11 years old, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to three months in Northallerton Gaol with hard labour. However, the letter from John Ryder to the Governor of the gaol should have been significant in Sophia’s Constable’s life after she had served her sentence.


In the letter John Ryder states that Sophia’s mother has previous convictions for prostitution and theft and that she lives with another thief, 'José', whom Ryder also describes as a 'drunken, worthless fellow.'


Ryder also recommends that 'The best thing that can be done is to send the girl to the Reformatory School - if she is allowed to come back, there is nothing to save her from turning out to be a prostitute or a thief.'


The final document on this page is the 1881 census of Whitby – what has happened to Sophia since her time in Gaol and Reformatory School?




This crime and the punishment for it took place in the 19th Century in North Yorkshire.


Taking all the evidence into account – witness statements, Sophia and Fanny’s evidence, census records and the letter from John Ryder (transcripts available to download from the Worksheets section) - what would happen to Sophia today if she had committed the crime of stealing a loaf of bread?


What changes have taken place in society between 1872 and today, which would change the way in which Sophia’s case would be dealt with?

In what ways have these changes been beneficial to British society?

Are there any ways in which these changes have not been beneficial to British society?

The map below shows the distance between Northallerton (where Sophia spent time in gaol) and Whitby (where she was living in 1881) in North Yorkshire.

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Document icon Learning article provided by: North Yorkshire County Record Office | 
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