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May 17, 2016

The First Mugshots Ever Taken in Britain Date From More Than 150 Years Ago

These haunting vintage portraits of of thieves, poachers and murderers were indeed shot more than 150 years ago, between 1859 and 1876 in the Bedford prison, Bedfordshire, England.

While their crimes may vary – from stealing spades to conning people while dressed as a vicar – what links them is that the majority are sharply dressed, with ties and buttoned up shirts and neatly combed hair.

The mugshots were the idea of prison governor Robert Evan Roberts, who believed photographs were a better way of tracking serial criminals than written descriptions. He was “ahead of his time,” said Nigel Lutt, of Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service, which is holding the collection. “The pictures show us what life was like for the working class at that time and drive home just how hard life was for these people. They bring the prisoners to life in a way that the written word alone cannot do.”

These images offer a rare insight into the lower classes of the late 19th century, who were rarely photographed. Photographic portraits were expensive so the portraits which usually survive from this time are mainly of the gentry and middle classes who could afford them.


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