If on returning from a walk around town you discovered you had lost your purse, keys or some other prized possession, you might retrace your steps to try to find it or, if it was valuable, report its loss to the police in the hope that an honest citizen might have handed it in. In the mid-19th century newspapers were full of appeals for the return of lost or stolen goods. Most offered rewards to the extent that it may have been worth spending a good part of the following day scouring the town for the items in question.
The citizens of Shropshire were either careless or unlucky if the ‘Lost’ columns of the local newspapers are anything to go by. Jewellery of all descriptions apparently lay in the streets of Shrewsbury: ‘a heart shaped locket of blue enamel with a cluster of pearls and a small ruby in the centre’ lost at the Clive inauguration in 1860 (5s reward), ‘part of a gold Albert chain and seal with bright yellow stone’ (7 shillings reward) in 1863, and ‘a small brooch containing hair and surrounded with brilliants’ in 1872 (10s reward).
While some announcements of lost items such as ‘a gentleman’s scarf or neck muffler shawl of wool description’ (1863) were so vague or of little value as to be hardly worth searching for, others were so specific that there could hardly be any doubt of their identity if you had stumbled upon them. ‘Lost on Friday morning, March, 29th, 1872, in the River Severn, near Mr. Burr’s Ferry, by the capsizing of a boat, three portmanteaus, a black leather bag, and a bundle of rings’ (£5 reward).
Offering a reward of less value than lost cash might seem pointless, although some of the rewards were unspecified: ‘1 reward. Lost, on Saturday evening last, a five pound note’ (1872), and ‘1 reward. Lost – a dark purse with two clasps, containing a 5 note (Ross Bank) four sovereigns and some silver’ (1857).
Lost dogs of every description were sought by their anxious owners: ‘Ten shillings reward. Lost at Wroxeter, a white terrier answering to the name of Vic’ in 1872, and anyone detaining ‘A white fox terrier pup with tanned ears about 8 months old’ after February 10th 1873 was to be threatened with prosecution by Mr Barlow of Belle Vue.
Most poignant of all was the ultimate loss described in an advertisement placed in August 1863: ‘Missing a youth about 15 years of age wearing a blue day jacket, light claret trousers etc. information to brother… or to the Chief Constable..’.