"Deep mystery surrounds the trial of Archibald Bolam": a microhistorical study of a most peculiar case

Helen Rutherford, Clare Sandford-Couch

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Connections may be drawn between ‘microhistory’ - which takes a specific focus on a place, person or event to illustrate or explore larger themes - and its possible antecedents in nineteenth-century compilations of crimes, trials and other ‘strange-but-true stories’. These factors make it an appropriate methodology for addressing the case of Archibald Bolam. On 7th December 1838, Bolam was found unconscious, alongside a dead body, in a burning room at the Savings Bank, Newcastle upon Tyne. Bolam claimed he had been attacked by an intruder, yet the room showed no evidence of a struggle. Bolam’s story was doubted and he was tried for Wilful Murder in Spring of 1839. Bolam’s arrest and trial captured the public imagination; pamphlets were published, and wild speculation in the press led to the editor of a London newspaper being imprisoned and newspaper publishers fined the huge sum of £10,000. Bolam’s case was included as a precedent in legal manuals addressing the role of circumstantial evidence and contempt of court and the highly unusual circumstances in which a trial may be postponed. Our paper draws on contemporary newspaper accounts and images to explore this peculiar case, which could be mistaken for high Victorian crime fiction.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2017
EventCriminal Heritage: Crime, Fiction, and History - Leeds, UK
Duration: 5 Sept 2017 → …


ConferenceCriminal Heritage: Crime, Fiction, and History
Period5/09/17 → …
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of '"Deep mystery surrounds the trial of Archibald Bolam": a microhistorical study of a most peculiar case'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this