Articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

What do N R W Sup and Imp mean on a criminal register?

Picking oakum at the House of Correction
Picking oakum at the House of Correction - PD.

A look at the classifaction of educational standards in 19th century prison records.

Reserching the story of a criminal ancestor may bring you to look at 19th century prison and court records created during their trial and imprisonment. One such record is a 'Criminal Register'. These were created during the processing of a person charge with a crime and appearing before the Assize Courts or Quarter Sessions. The registers provide information about the person charged, their trial, and sentence or other outcome.

The register was in the form of a lined and columned book which had a number of headings. Not all registers were the same but many of them had in the column next to the prisoner's name a column labelled 'Degree of Instruction'. This refers to the education standard of the prisoner and the degree or level of instruction they had received in their life. This information was compiled for the Commissioners of Prisons who were required to make an annual report to Parliament.

extract from parliamentary report showing statistics
Extract from a Parliamentary Report on Prisons, 1845 - PD.

These are the classifications used:

  • N or no: Neither read nor write
  • R or read: Read
  • Imp: Read and write imperfectly
  • W or Well: Both well
  • Sup: Superior education

In 1883 when reporting on Chelmsford Prison, the Commissioners of Prisons reported that '240 males and 25 females could neither read nor write. 494 males and 79 females could do one or both imprefectly; while 21 males and 2 females could read and write well.'

More articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

Find your Ancestors in the Newspapers

Essex Standard Newspaper

Newspaper archives are now a very important source of information for researching your family tree.

Try our example search to help you discover if your ancestors are in the British Newspaper Archive.

Help me find my ancestors

How about this for an unusual Christmas Present?

Until midnight 27th November Ancestry are offering their DNA Kits for only £49. You can buy the kit as a present for a member of your family and have it delivered to their door.

More details on

Looking for pictures to add to your family tree album?


Ebay is a good source of old images of Essex towns and villages. If you're looking for pictures to add to your family tree album, then try one of the auctions, or there are several 'Buy It Now' shops offering postcards which have been touched up and improved - so if you're unsure about bidding, try these. Link already formatted for Essex Postcards. Browse through or type the name of the location in the Ebay search box.