Friday, 16 March 2012

Letter from Bedford Gaol

At the Epiphany Quarter Sessions of 1871 James Drage of Harrold was tried for being found at night in the dwelling house of William Bithrey at Turvey with intent to commit a felony. He was found by Bithrey's lodger Thomas Shelton on a sofa, hidden under the cover. While in Bedford Gaol waiting for his trial Drage wrote a letter which was not addressed, but was presumably intended for the Justices of the Peace who would hear his case. In the letter Drage claimed that he did not know what he was doing as he had had "a little too much drink". It was a wet afternoon on the day in question amd he had started drinking early. By the late evening he had no idea what he was doing and says "if I was a going to be hung for it I can't tell how I got in that house". He claims that if he had his wits about him he would have made his escape when discovered but he was too drunk. When Shelton and other men called in to help tried to restrain him they pulled him about which had the effect of sobering him up. Eight years earlier he had suffered from a very bad neck for 14 months which caused him to be discharged from the army. Since that time whenever he had too much to drink it went to his head. He ends by saying that when released he will join the teetotal society. The letter is beautifully written in a clear, even script, but his spelling leaves something to be desired: "it shall be a warning to me it shant be drink that shall get me into haney trubel haney more Gentlemen I jine the teatotle sursitety the very day I get my liberty".

Unfortunately for Drage the constable George Mardlin said he did not appear drunk; he had also previously been convicted at the Northampton Quarter Sessions of June 1869 for stealing more than £5 from the house of Elizabeth Copson at Wellingborough (Northants), for which he had served 12 months in the House of Correction at Northampton. This time he was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment with hard labour, to be followed by 7 years supervision by the police. 

The letter is written on a standard form issued by the Gaol to prisoners awaiting trial which includes printed instructions on the front cover:
  Persons writing to Prisoners are to TAKE NOTICE that the permission to write and receive Letters is not given to Prisoners for the purpose of hearing the news of the day, but to keep up a correspondence with their Relatives, and to address them on the subject of their trials; they will not be allowed to give or receive any improper advice or hints, or use or receive any unbecoming language.
  As all Letters sent into the Prison are read by the Governor, they ought not to be of unnecessary length.
  Visiting days are Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 to 12 in the morning and from 2 to 4 in the afternoon; the visits must not exceed twenty minutes.
QSR1871/1/5/3/b; QSR1871/1/6/3/b

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Joyriders of 1880

The Midsummer Session of 1880 was full of a variety of cases. However, 2 cases show some crimes are timeless. On 17 July 1880, Charles Goode went to the Wheatsheaf public house at Houghton Regis with friends Edward Stevens and Austin Bourne. After spending some time drinking together, he noticed Stevens and Bourne had gone missing. He went outside to find his pony and cart had gone. He watched Stevens and Bourne, both rather drunk, driving the cart up Chalk Hill. He spent the night looking for it, until at 3am he saw Stevens looking out of his bedroom window, and was told where to find the pony and cart.

Just 2 months later, the Charles Goode was again involved in the theft of a pony and cart. This time he was the offender, not the victim. After a few drinks with his friend Alfred Ayres he borrowed a pony and cart from Mr Cannon in Luton, as he fancied a bit of a drive. The cart was due back by 3pm but the journey took them to The Half Way House in Luton, and on to Houghton Regis, Markyate Street, Redbourn and St Albans. They ate at St Albans and then went to London Colney and stayed the night. Goode ends up selling the pony and cart in King Cross pub, so he could go on to Barnet fair. He is accompanied by his brother Henry, who the police describe as “an associate of thieves and prostitutes in Kings Cross”.

Charles Goode was found guilty of stealing the pony and cart and sentenced to 5 years penal servitude with further 3 years police supervision. The 1881 census shows him serving his time in Pentonville. It was perhaps a suitable sentence when you consider, not only did he have past form, but he had also appeared in 3 of the 4 Quarter Sessions in 1880. In the Epiphany Session he had been accused of stealing flour and at the Easter session he was found not guilty of stealing a coat from his own brother, Frederick.

You’ve got to wonder if that the last we’ll see of Charles Goode, or whether we’ll see him cropping up again in 5 years time. I’ll keep you informed.

QSR1880/1/5/15 : QSR1880/2/5/1 : QSR1880/4/5/3 : QSR1880/4/5/6-7

Extract from the Bedfordshire and Luton Archive and Records Service catalogue

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Typical Bedfordshire Crime?

When you think about Bedfordshire occupations, straw plaiters are one of the first that spring to mind. The Epiphany Session on 1880 saw a large scale theft operation from Mr Charles Hollingsworth Hewett, a straw plait merchant. He operated from a shop in George Street, Luton and also had a bleaching and dying warehouse situated in Castle Street. Mr Hewett and his wife were never present when these dealing went on, instead having yet to arrive at the premises or having already left to take tea.

It appears, although I must say upfront most of those involved were eventually found Not Guilty, that a couple of inside men were selling off straw plait cheaply to pretty much anyone who cared to ask. A crafty system was set up between one of the shop workers, who was in charge of the inventory, and a foreman at the warehouse. The foreman would be short on the amount delivered to the shop and the shopman would cover his tracks, in return for a cut of the profits. Even after arrest, further interesting conversations took place in the yard at the police station, seeming trying to decide who was to blame.

The straw plait industry was at its peak between the 1870’s and 1880’s. To read more about the Straw Plait Industry, we would recommend the following sites.

For more information on the straw plait thefts, visit the Bedfordshire and Luton Archive and Record service catalogue - QSR1880/1/5/3 through to QSR1880/1/5/9

Monday, 5 March 2012

A quick bit of self promotion

Our very own Kathryn will be giving a talk titled "Poor Law Unions - was it all grim?"

Friday 9th March
at Bedfordshire & Luton Archive Service

The talk is open to members of the public, so should you be interested simply email or contact the service on 01234 228833

We look forward to seeing some of you there.