If servants and apprentices constitute the largest single group of arson defendants in the Proceedings, the next most prominent group consists of people from the ‘middling sorts’. And in many cases, this represents the use of arson as a weapon or tool – often one wielded in the course of disputes and quarrels with neighbours or business rivals. This included the use of false accusations of arson, and juries may have been particularly concerned about this; acquittal rates seem particularly high in cases that had quarrelling neighbours as their backdrop.
Arson was infrequently prosecuted in the Old Bailey in eighteenth-century London. There are fewer than 100 reported trials in the Old Bailey Proceedings Online database for the period 1674-1834, out of a total of more than 100,000 trials (including, for example, more than 4900 burglaries and 2300 homicides). This might at first seem surprising, given just how seriously arson was viewed within early modern societies.