About the project
‘Beyond the Bailey’ was a creative writing project set up through the University of Sheffield Arts Enterprise in conjunction with Writing Yorkshire. Creative writers were invited to attend two workshops in April 2014. In these workshops, participants learned about the vast swathes of historical archives now available online, and their potential use for creative writing. Our central stimulus came from the digitised records of the London court of the Old Bailey, all available freely at www.oldbaileyonline.org.
We focused in particular on the 1726 murder trial of husband-killer Catherine Hayes. Catherine’s case was as dramatic as anyone could wish for: working with her son, with whom she had an incestuous relationship, and a fellow lodger, she murdered her husband John Hayes in the spring of 1726. To try and evade justice, the three chopped up John’s body and hid the parts across London. They threw his head in the Thames, where it was fished out and identified and they were arrested and executed.
We explored Catherine’s story through a rich variety of sources found across the internet. Each participant then each devised their own creative reaction to the case. The poems which follow were all inspired by these workshops. Some have stuck closely to Catherine’s story, while others think more broadly about experiences of eighteenth-century justice. I hope you enjoy them,
Creator, Beyond the Bailey