Blog - Building Beginnings

A life of crime

apple pieA week in a Worcester magistrate’s court in 1847 revealed a cohort of petty criminals whose activities seemed to focus more on acquiring food, tools and clothing than hard cash. Charles Chess, for example, stole six pounds of cheese for which he was imprisoned for six weeks with hard labour, one week for each pound presumably. Martha Priest on the other hand, was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour for stealing some buns, gingerbread, puddings, pies, custards, biscuits and cakes and one wonders how she carried it all or whether she ate some en route out of victim William Hickling’s house. Martha got off lightly, because a different magistrate sentenced another woman to three months with hard labour for stealing two cakes and ½lb of sugar, and two women to twelve months with hard labour for stealing ¾lb of bacon and ¼ peck of apples. Twelve months was also the punishment for stealing two tame ducks.

coalMary Ann Blewitt, 25, was found not guilty of stealing 65lbs of coal, not least one would think because of the difficulty of carrying it. Iron was also a hot commodity with one man getting a month in prison for stealing 11lbs of the stuff. William Trehern was summoned for a second offence of felony – stealing an axe – for which he received twelve months in jail, but the man charged with stealing two shovels was found not guilty.

ribbonClothing was a popular target for petty crime. Seventeen-year-old Mary Pearson pleaded guilty to stealing sundry pieces of net, ribbon and wearing apparel, but although she was said to be of good character she nevertheless got six months imprisonment. By contrast, a widow who stole a shirt in Kidderminster was sentenced to only one month but with hard labour. One victim was enjoying listening to a song at Dudley races when Isaac Garner Wells aged 24 picked his pocket and attempted to steal his silk handkerchief but was caught in the act. Fourteen days solitary confinement followed. James Stephens got quite creative and ordered a velveteen coat and a pair of trousers claiming to be a servant of Mr Quarrell of Fladbury, surely not a man to pick a fight with, who said he had never heard of Stephens who got four months imprisonment as a result.

You have to admire the ingenuity of Phoebe Smith and Elizabeth Hackett who contrived to steal a gown from the house of Joseph Pritchard by stuffing it into the floor boards ‘to stop a hole to keep the wind away’ then pulled the dress into the room below and carried it away. Their defence managed to persuade the bench that they had taken the gown as a joke and they were released without charge.

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