The Great Legal History Bake Off: a survey of Old Bailey pies

The Great Legal History Bake Off: a survey of Old Bailey pies

It is a question which has, no doubt, been on everyone’s mind this week, as the Great British Bake Off ‘did’ pies: what sort of pies featured in the legal cases of the past? Obviously, that’s one to put through the Old Bailey database  ( ) …

There are many pie references. Pie shops, often eel pie shops, are mentioned with some frequency in descriptions of crimes, and in 80 cases, a pie, with its filling, forms part of the narrative.

So here is the pie chart:

Type of pie Frequency References
Pork 17 t18200112-3, t18400203-682, t18490409-852, t18520405-405, t18570615-676, t18600507-445, t18620922-996 t18630608-856t18650111-157, t18690503-492, t18751122-39, t18820109-225, t18860308-338, t18880227-379, t18910309-275, t19030720-626, t19051113-19
Mince 9 t17410116-40, OA17500516, t17530221-47, t17540424-60,

t18070114-5, t18380226-699, t18510407-841, t18540227-416, t18920307-320

Apple 7 t17190903-11, t17550515-22, t17691206-43, t17730217-29,

t18241202-93, t18381231-465, t18490917-1807

Pigeon 6 t17200427-27, t17320705-17, t17480706-45, t17610625-19



Eel 4 t18190526-103, t18520202-226, t18570406-547, t19101115-78
Giblet 4 t17320114-12, t17581206-24, t17661217-56


Mutton 4 t17190903-11


t18211205-99, t18280529-39

Fruit 3 t18360919-2123, t18510818-1734, t18850727-731
Meat 3 t18490917-1830, t18600402-330, t18660226-282
Currant 2 t18110918-51, t18380820-2009
Veal 2 t18130407-153, t18680706-590
Lamb 2 t17480526-11


Rhubarb 2 t18680608-567 t18740112-139
Rabbit 2 t18450303-784 t18891216-113
Damson 2 t17860111-2


Cherry 2 OA17420113


Beef steak pie 1 t18150405-18
Gooseberry 1 t18300916-305
Steak and giblet 1 t18350921-1984
Kidney 1 t18520202-226
Greengage 1 t18571123-43
Meat and potato 1 t18790805-737
‘fowls’ 1 t17380222-28
Duck 1 t17580222-22
‘Cooper and pork pie’ 1 t18661119-38


It is clear, then, that pork pies are the type most frequently encountered in these crime narratives.  Comiserations to nineteenth century pigs.

But what role did the pies play in the episodes described? Often, they were just mentioned as part of the circumstances, or description of a scene. On occasion, however, they took a more central part.

The most pie-centric case is probably an embezzlement case of the 1880s, in which the whole thing turned on whether or not a pork pie had been ordered (t18820109-225).

In several coinage offence cases, the item bought with a false coin was a pie: often a cheaper variety of pie, suggesting some degree of desperation on the part of the attempted purchaser: (mince pie – t18380226-699; pork pie  t18490409-852 ; penny mince pie – t18510407-841; eel pie, kidney pie t18520202-226 ; eel pie, t18570406-547 ; penny meat pie t18600402-330; Pork pie,t18650111-157; Twopenny meat pie, t18660226-282; Veal pie t18680706-590; Fruit pie t18850727-731; Pork pie, t18910309-275; Penny mince pie, t18920307-320; penny eel pie – t19101115-78).

A pie was also one of the things stolen by burglars in a number of cases (e.g. t18130407-153). Some of these were pies of considerably greater value than in the coining cases (e.g. pork pie, value 2s, 1820 t18200112-3; gooseberry pie price 2s 6d –  t18300916-305). Sometimes the pie itself was not the thing stolen – the spoon used to eat it being rather more valuable (t18360919-2123).

A pie might be evidence of an offence – so when a considerable quantity of eels (70 lbs) were stolen from a boat in 1815, they were found in a ‘very large’ pie (t18190526-103) in the prisoner’s house (along with a slimy sack and eel skins and guts). Similar pie-related attempts at disposal of stolen animals can be seen in cases involving sheep, pigs and ducks (t17480526-11, t17580222-22, t18220417-149; t18280529-39; t18520405-405).

No poisoned pies feature in the records: the closest to this is the beef steak pie in a non-fatal poisoning case of 1815 (t18150405-18). In this case, however, it is the dumplings which are suspected of having been laced with arsenic by a disgruntled employee. The presence of a mouldy pie is part of the case for child neglect in an 1865 case (t18651023-946), while the regular provision of ‘pie with potatoes and meat in it’ is taken as evidence against mistreatment in a workhouse (t18790805-737). The health-giving properties of pies are suggested by the mention of sending mutton and apple ‘pyes’  to somebody who was unwell (t17190903-11) and sending a fruit pie to a hospital patient (t18510818-1734). The most grisly pie-related tale is the infanticide case in which the dead baby’s body was found in a pie dish (t18610408-344) – though this sounds like concealment rather than attempted cannibalism.

Pies, then, clearly have an important place in legal and social history. The world of those caught up in Old Bailey trials of the 19th and early 20th centuries was a world stuffed full (as a pie) of pies, pie-shops and pie-men. So legal history and pastry have more in common than pie powder (and the fact that there is a major living legal historian with the surname Baker …)

GS 18/9/2015