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A Dangerously Empty Space: Crime and Punishment on English Wastelands

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Sarah CollinsORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


This article examines instances of criminal activity and capital punishment occurring on English wastelands, such as commons, heaths, moors, and forests, between 1730 and 1830. A broad range of information drawn from newspaper reports, assize records, court proceedings and local histories enables comparison of human experience on wastes when encountering criminal activity and/or any resulting punishments. Detailed accounts of crime and punishment on historic wastelands are sparse, with the majority of information relating to public perceptions concerned with safety and place-making. This article considers the extent to which those perceptions were accurate, identifying entanglements between three discrete processes: elite desires to ‘improve’ wastelands; the use of wastes to reinforce ritualised punishments; and increased media reporting of crime that was often coupled with sensationalism. Examination of the sources above demonstrates a variable and highly localised place-making founded on negative emotions, which popularised tropes of wastelands being places of fear and lawlessness.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Collins S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Landscapes

Year: 2022

Volume: 23

Issue: 1

Pages: 48-66

Online publication date: 16/11/2022

Acceptance date: 07/09/2022

Date deposited: 15/06/2023

ISSN (print): 1466-2035

ISSN (electronic): 2040-8153

Publisher: Taylor & Francis Group


DOI: 10.1080/14662035.2022.2144256


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Funder referenceFunder name
AH/S001824/1Arts & Humanities Research Board-AHRB (now AHRC)