Friday, 23 December 2011

A Young Witness

Children occasionally appear in the Quarter Sessions Rolls as the accused, as victims or as witnesses. In a recent case I came across the youngest witness I have seen so far. At the Michaelmas Quarter Sessions of 1842 John Crouch, the son of Christopher Crouch of Harrold described how he saw a certain John Allen go into William Stevens’ butchers shop, put some pickled pork into his pocket and leave without paying for it. In his deposition young Crouch says he does not know how old he is. The 1841 census gives his age as five and the Harrold baptism register shows John Arnold Crouch, son of Christopher and Hephzibah Crouch to have been baptised on 13th September 1835, meaning he had probably just turned seven at the time the deposition was taken on 30th August 1842. The record describes him as an “infant” and he was not examined under oath, being considered too young to be sworn in as a witness. Stevens had asked young Crouch to keep a watch on a sheep hanging up outside his shop while he was absent for an hour, and the boy clearly took his task seriously. Despite considerable circumstantial evidence - Allen had been seen in the shop, his pocket was wet with brine and marked with grease and salt, and the constable found in his house a frying pan recently used to cook salt, fat meat - Allen was acquitted of the charge.

The Crouch family lived next door to William Stevens’ shop in Harrold High Street and were well known local blacksmiths. The picture below shows the Old Smithy at 49 High Street where the family carried on their trade for at least three generations until the death of John’s nephew Frederick George Crouch in 1941. You can read more about the smithy and the Crouch family in the Community Archives section of the BLARS website.

The Old Smithy in the late 19th century [Z50/54/23]

Reference: QSR1842/4/5/30/a

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