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

Monday, 12 December 2011

Repeat Offenders : James Negus

Whilst working on this project, there are some names we're starting to become very familar with. It's not unusual for the volunteers on the project to announce "oh no...Mr X is back again".

James Negus looks likely to become one such man. The cataloguing of the Bedford Gaol database is an ongoing project but already Mr Negus appears more than once! Negus was a journeyman Brickmaker by trade. On this occasion, the facts suggest he may have got lucky considering he had 8 previous convictions to his name.

George Graves was keeper of The Cock public house in All Hallows, Bedford and also a Rag Merchant. He had employed Negus for 3 weeks to carry out goods and exchange them for rags and bones. It was Negus's duty to come home every night and give an account of what he had done in the way of exchanges. He was paid 15 pence a day and some ale, bread and cheese. The prisoner lodged at the house too. On 24 April 1852 he sent the prisoner to Marston and Liddlington with a cart drawn by 3 dogs. He had with him 9 shillings worth of crockery to exchange for rags and bones, a wicker basket, 2 canvas bags and a weighing machine. Negus failed to return when he should and this made Graves uneasy and he stayed up until 1 o'clock waiting for him. At 6 o'clock the next morning he set off in search of him.

He made enquiries of him at Marston and was directed to Newport Pagnell. At Newport Pagnell he was informed the prisoner had sold some rags and gone in the direction of Woburn. On the way to Woburn, he heard Negus had sold a wicker basket at the Leathern Bottle at Wavendon and offered 3 dogs and a cart for sale.

He found Negus at Leighton Buzzard and gave the information to the police. He went with Constable Worsley to Negus’s lodgings and the prisoner was taken into custody. On the premises he found the dogs and cart (which was broken) and the police constable produced 2 canvas bags and a weighing machine. Graves identified them as his property. Negus said he was sorry for what he had done and would not have done it had it not been for the drink. The value of the property was 40 shillings. Not an insignificant sum.

In his defence, Negus said he had started to go home from Newport Pagnell about 12 o'clock but as he jumped on the cart it overbalanced and broke. He did not like to return with the broken cart and so thought he had better go away altogether.

Unfortunately despite George Graves colourful journey following Negus around Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, it was decided there was No True Bill to answer. However, it looks like we'll be coming across James Negus again very soon (in Epiphany 1853 to be precise...).


Progress so far ......

The Paths to Crime project will catalogue the QSR (Quarter Session Rolls) from 1831 - 1900. As the project employs 2 part-time cataloguers, it was decided that it made sense for the cataloguers to begin at different points on the timeline.

Therefore, Kathryn is currently working on 1839-1848, and Sharon on 1849-1858 (with 1831-8 being left until the end as the documents are currently held in a different form). So far, the following years have been completed:


Therefore, if your interest is in a particular year or date range, it is worth checking back. Please don't assume that because 1851 had been catalogued that all years prior to that have been.

The earlier years contain a larger number of cases per quarter, and so are more time consuming to input. However, the Volunteers report that the number of cases dealt with at the Quarter Sessions drops dramatically in the 1860s, so we expect progress to be much quicker once we reach that point.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Punishment in the 1840s

Punishments handed out at the Quarter Sessions ranged from transportation for life to a fine or being bound over to keep the peace. The main source for finding out what sentences were imposed by the justices is the 'Return of all persons committed, or bailed to appear for trial, or indicted' at the Quarter Sessions. This document lists the defendants for the quarter, gives their name, age (sometimes omitted), a very brief summary of the crime (often just 'simple larceny') and a note of the sentence or acquittal if the case came to trial, or a brief explanation of the reason if it did not. This return can be found in the file category 'Prisoners', with a reference in the form QSR1841/1/3/10, where 1841 is the year, 1 is the quarter, 3 is the file (prisoners), and 10 is the item number.

In the early 1840s transportation was still being used quite frequently for more serious crimes or repeat offenders, and most Quarters would see at least one offender transported. The most common sentence was a term of imprisonment in the House of Correction with hard labour. Young offenders aged under 18 were usually ordered to receive one or more whippings during their term of imprisonment, with this to be carried out in private. Some offenders were sentenced to spend specified periods of their sentence in solitary confinement, for example in October 1841 John Houghton was to 'be imprisoned and kept at hard labour in the House of Correction for this county four calendar months, two weeks of the said term to be solitary at different intervals'. Prison sentences ranged in length from a couple of days to one year. Where an offender was sentenced to a prison term further information about the individual may be found in the Gaol Database for Bedfordshire. Further records for Bedford Gaol and House of Correction are found under collection references QGE, QGR and QGV, for which more information can be found here.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Festive theme from BLARS

The Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service have just published a very festive document of the month for the Paths to Crime project.

We won't spoil it for you but here's a clue ...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Bank of Elegance

At the Easter 1842 Quarter Sessions William Colson of the parish of St. Mary in Bedford was prosecuted for obtaining five pounds under false pretences from baker Susannah Skevington, by pretending he had been asked to get change for his master George Dilley and giving her note a purporting to be a five pound note from the Bank of England which was in fact a "flash note" of the Bank of Elegance. A tracing was taken of the false note and has been retained in the file.

The note read "I Promise to Pay on Demand the Sum of Five Pounds if I do not sell Articles cheaper than any Body else in the whole universe". Not very convincing to anybody who actually read it, but the lady - who regularly gave change for George Dilley to pay his men - assumed it was genuine and put it in her purse without looking. She then used it to pay the butcher, Thomas Kingston, who also took the note without checking and only noticed an hour later that it was a fake, or "flash note". Even then Kingston sent his son William to Barnards Bank with the note for confirmation that it was not genuine. The jury was not convinced by Colson's explanation that his small boy found the note in the Ampthill Road and did not know it was not a real one. He was found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

"Bank of Elegance" notes were produced as promotional material during the nineteenth century - this site shows a number of examples dating from 1821 to 1869. Inevitably their realistic appearance meant that they were often passed off to the unwary or the illiterate as genuine bank notes. In at one example reported in the Carlisle Patriot newspaper, however, the principle was turned on its head. A London policeman was carrying £55 in bank notes, which he accidentally left in the house of a Mrs Plowright. Being illiterate, she assumed the money that had mysteriously appeared must be Bank of Elegance notes, as did her neighbour and his friend Short, a dock porter. Unfortunately by the time the confusion was resolved, one £10 note had been first used to mark tallies by Short, then trampled underfoot and lost in the vaults where he worked. The hapless three were arrested but the authorities soon recognised the note was lost through ignorance not ill intent, and they were simply bound over to produce it should it turn up.

References:  QSR1842/2/5/7/a (depositions against William Colson; QSR1842/2/5/7/b (traced copy of Bank of Elegance note); QSR1842/2/5/7/c (examination of William Colson).

Friday, 2 December 2011

Henry Wybrow & the Leighton Buzzard community 1851

The 1851 census shows the Wybrow* family of Leighton Buzzard living in Jeffs Lane. However, son Henry is missing from the family fold. Sadly poor Henry, just 14 years old, was residing in the County Goal in Bedford at the time. Although not uncommon, at the time of the 1851 census, taken on 30 March, Henry was one of only two inmates under 16 in the prison.

The QSR1851 shines more light on Henry plight. It appears that young Henry needed to raise money to play ‘pitch and hussle’ (a gambling game based on ‘chuck farthing). In order to do this, he stole a small quantity of lead off of the local Baptist chapel. He was seen on the roof. Later he sold on the lead for the sum of 2 pence halfpenny to a marine merchant.

The unusual feature of Henry case was that the local community rallied round him. A petition of 21 signatures was laid before the justices of the peace. It described their sympathy for his parents, Thomas Wybrow and Mary, and their concern at Henry, at just 14 years old, being confined in the County gaol for stealing a very small quantity of lead. In the opinion of the petitioners “he had been led into this evil through the influence of bad example”.

Henry Wybrow, did confess to the crime, and was sentenced by the Justices be imprisoned and kept at hard labour in the House of Correction for 2 weeks.

So, did young Henry deserve the faith of the residents of Leighton Buzzard? The Bedford Goal database shows that just less than year later Henry was charged with stealing wheat in his home town. However, he was given a conditional pardon and removed to The Philanthropic Society’s Farm School near Reigate in Surrey, at the time a relatively new reformatory school.
Henry’s life beyond this point is unclear, but I guess in an ideal world, we’d like to think Henry thrived on these opportunities and went on to prove himself worthy of the faith of the Leighton Buzzard residents.

*Transcribed as Whybrow
1851 census = Henry Wybrov
Source Citation: Class: HO107; Piece: 1751; Folio: 630; Page: 9; GSU roll: 87674-87675.

QSR1851/2/4/2 : QSR1851/2/5/2 : QSR1851/2/6/2 : QSR1851/2/3/4 : QSR1851/2/3/5