Crime and punishment in C19th Hathern
Below is the latest article by Dr. Andree Bagley :-
This survey examines crimes committed by or against Hathern people during the nineteenth century. The Newspaper Archives provide a valuable source of information that may be accessed elsewhere on our own website. News reporters attended criminal trials and recorded the names of the accused, their alleged offences, verdicts, and sentences imposed, together with comments that judges made. They were also present at inquests when Coroners deemed deaths to be accidental or non-accidental and deaths and recommended police action when appropriate.
This account avoids identifying guilty persons by name since many were related to present-day village residents. Some court fines might seem trivial to us today, but it must be realised that their impact was profound. To illustrate this point, the value of the pound in 1800 equated to £128 in today’s money, falling to £117 by 1900. In these pre-decimal days, each pound was divided into 20 shillings and 240 pence. A fine of 10 shillings (10s) therefore, was the equivalent of £64 today.
The Newspaper Archives record 81 cases of poaching during the 19th century, although it is likely that most culprits escaped justice. The legal term for these activities was “trespassing in pursuit of game by means of guns, traps, nets, dogs (such as terriers and greyhounds), snares, and ferrets.” Hathern men usually preferred to prowl around the Garendon Estate because of its proximity to the village, but some poachers raided land occupied by or belonging to notable Hathern residents, such as Mr. Harriman, Mr. Merriman, Thomas Draper, John Cooper, and William Pollard. They occasionally travelled further afield to Dishley, Thorpe Acre, Shepshed, Sutton Bonington and Prestwold. They worked alone or in the company of other men and boys. Gamekeepers were on the lookout for culprits by night and day and occasionally met with resistance, verbal abuse and even violence.
Game was an overall term that included various mammals, birds, and fish. Landowners owned the rights to land, rivers and brooks and the wildlife they contained. In the case of fish their species were often not specified in court. This was the case concerning three men who took ‘fish’ from the River Soar in 1882; two were fined £1 each, but the other paid £2 because of a previous conviction. In July 1854, a man was caught taking 13 trout from the Black Brook. He was fined 20s plus costs and 1s which was the estimated value of the fish. In a case heard in August 1892, five Hathern men were charged with taking perch, roach, bream, and dace valued at 5s from the River Soar. Their haul was deemed to be the property of Everard de Lisle who owned the sole right of access to the river. Their case was adjourned to a later date.
Many Hathern men earned poor wages as labourers or framework knitters and poaching could boost food supplies for their hungry families. For some it was also a past-time, a bit of sport or a vital source of income. Selling hares and rabbits, choice game birds and fish could be lucrative, especially when they were passed to legitimate butchers. Another consideration is that it was an opportunity to cock a snoop at rich landowners who ‘deserved to be robbed.’
Fines generally ranged from 5-20 shillings and the age of poachers was often taken into consideration. In 1851 four persons were found guilty of poaching hares. The two men among them received fines of £5 while the two boys paid £1 each. Sentences were also more severe when there was evidence of damage to property, and assaults on gamekeepers. Certain names crop up regularly in the court records. Offenders with several previous convictions tended to receive more severe sentences. One example was the “notorious” poacher who was sentenced to three months’ hard labour in November 1842. In cases heard in 1843 and October 1862, other old offenders received fines of £2 each. In July 1847, a Hathern man who had previously been a gamekeeper at Garendon Park was convicted of killing a hare on the estate, owned at the time by Mr. C.M. Phillips. A genuine example of a “gamekeeper turned poacher.” He and a companion in crime were both fined 50s and costs.
Over seventy cases of assault are recorded in the News Archives, the majority of which involved men attacking other males. Some were very violent affairs, such as one occurring in August 1828 when a man attacked his apprentice. The lad suffered profuse bleeding from his ears and his master was fined 5 shillings. When there was evidence of severe provocation, penalties were often more lenient. An example of this was an attack in 1828 which resulted in a fine of one shilling; witnesses stated that he had been “sorely provoked.” Neighbourhood disputes were extremely common. In 1860 a man’s assault on his neighbour was dismissed because both men were blameworthy. In contrast, a man who attacked another with a knife in 1833 was fined 10s. Alcohol fuelled many attacks in streets and public houses. In November 1894 six drunken men damaged jugs and glasses at the Kings Arms in Hathern. They also assaulted several persons, including a woman and the landlord, John E. Priestley.
There were some inconsistencies in court sentences. In August 1857 two Hathern men attacked PC Peberdy when he went to investigate noises in the street. They were fined 20s each. In 1959 the same unfortunate constable was assaulted by another villain. The magistrate described the latter as a “ringleader of worthless men, who won’t work” and who “lives on his wife’s small grocery business and gets drunk.” Despite this, he was reluctant to punish him “because his wife would suffer.” One might wonder why he failed to consider imprisoning the wretched man to give his wife and her housekeeping money some respite.
Courts recorded 17 cases of males attacking females during the 1800s. In March 1840, a Hathern man was convicted of assaulting the woman he “kept company with.” She asked him to marry her, but he refused. In retaliation she banned him from visiting her again. He later forced his way into her house and “laid violent hands on her.” He had to pay court expenses and the sum of £10 (£1,280 today) as sureties for good behaviour. In April 1844, after suffering from much marital abuse, a woman appeared in court seeking protection from her husband. He was compelled to find sureties amounting to £20 (£2,560) for his good behaviour for 3 months, but we do not know whether he continued to be a danger to his wife. Another woman was a victim of assault by her son-in-law in June 1844. He had been estranged from his wife and he attacked the grandmother because she refused to allow him to visit her granddaughter. He was fined 5s and costs. A unique case occurred at Hathern School in February 1882. An unruly boy assaulted an Assistant Mistress in her classroom. She reported his conduct to the Headmaster who chastised him. When school was over for the day the Head left for home but the boy lay in wait and attacked him with a wooden stick; in court he was fined 10s and costs.
It was not only men who exhibited violent and abusive behaviour: Courts in Loughborough dealt with around ten cases of women attacking other women in Hathern. One example such occurred in October 1837 when the guilty female was fined 2s 6d and costs. As with men, neighbourhood quarrels sparked many disputes between women. In 1837 a Hathern housewife subjected a woman next door to frequent threats and abuse, and finally assaulted her. As a result, she paid court costs and the sum of £5 in sureties for her good behaviour. Another woman was fined 20s and costs in 1852 following a long-standing conflict with her neighbour.
Occasional instances of men attacking girls and women appear in the Archives. A navvy of no fixed abode was found guilty of assaulting a girl of nine years in August 1895. No details of injuries are available, but he was sentenced to one month’s hard labour. In 1850, a Hathern man was convicted of indecently assaulting a female and fined 5s and costs. More details are available about the actions of a butcher from Wide Street who had previously appeared before the Bench for a variety of minor offences. He perpetrated his most serious crime in September 1899 after boarding a Midland Train at Barrow on Soar. He was the worse for drink and annoyed several passengers. As the train began to leave the station, he entered another compartment and indecently assaulted a young woman. She was greatly distressed. A platform official heard her frantic screams and alerted the guard who immediately stopped the train and apprehended the offender. The offender pleaded guilty in court and was fined £2 and costs.
Murder and suicide
A particularly harrowing tale came to light at an Inquest in 1857. A Hathern man was working in a field by the River Soar when he heard a child screaming. He noticed the body of a woman in the water close to the opposite bank. There was a small boy lying on top of her. As he himself was unable to swim he called some lads in a field across the river, and they pulled the body out of the water. Meanwhile the little boy managed to scramble to the bank. The body of a female child was tied to her mother by means of a shawl. Investigations revealed that the mother, aged 28, was separated from her husband, suffered from depression, had serious money worries and a stormy relationship with her mother. An Inquest recorded a verdict of murder and suicide due to temporary insanity. These days, thankfully, suicide is no longer classed as a crime and people suffering from depression and social problems are more likely to receive compassion and the help they desperately need.
These included several different crimes, such as “furious driving,” driving in an unsafe manner or under the influence of drink, highway robbery and allowing animals to stray on roads.
Furious driving was equivalent to today’s speeding or reckless driving in motor vehicles. An example of this came to light at an Inquest that took place in Loughborough on June 16th, 1855. It investigated the tragic death of Thomas Allen, a hawker and former stocking maker from Loughborough. His widow, Anne, stated that her husband, aged 59, left home to sell nuts at Belton fair. Later that evening she was called to Loughborough Union Workhouse to visit him as he had sustained a grievous injury on the way home. The Workhouse had a hospital wing where surgeons treated ill or injured inmates and local non-residents. The duty surgeon, Mr. William Grimes Palmer and his assistant, Mr. Hodder, attended Thomas who died the following morning.
The surgeon stated that when Thomas arrived at the Workhouse he was completely paralysed, “a hopeless case.” An autopsy revealed extensive fractures of the neck compatible with witness statements of extreme violence resulting from a collision with a horse. Two men in a cart and a further witness saw Thomas walking close to Oakley Wood on his way home from Belton. A horseman, to whom the victim would have been easily visible, whipped his horse which galloped at great speed and ran into the man, knocking him over. The rider failed to stop. The two men and the third witness carried Thomas into the cart and took him to the Hathern Turn Inn and then on to the Union Workhouse. The horseman was eventually apprehended, interrogated, and charged with manslaughter. He was brought to the Inquest where his testimony was at variance with witness statements. He maintained that he never saw the man and was unaware of knocking anyone down. The jury found him guilty of manslaughter and the Coroner committed him to prison and trial at the next Assizes.
A boy aged 14 years was charged with furiously driving a horse and cart on the wrong side of the road in 1857. He almost struck another cart and was fined 20s plus costs. PC Lockton witnessed a further case in 1882 when a Hathern man broke his whip in anger while beating his exhausted horse. This resulted in a fine of 30s and costs amounting to £1.2s.6d.
Assault on the Highway One example occurred in 1828 and the victim was a boy. The following day he recognised his attacker and reported this to the police who was promptly arrested him. The man was found guilty and sentenced to transportation for life. In another incident a Kegworth man was on his way home from Loughborough in November 1851. A gang of eight men, two of them, from Hathern, attacked him. They were charged with assault. One who was described as “no stranger to the Bench” was fined 30s; each of the others paid 20s and costs.
A case of highway robbery occurred in early January 1813. A carrier was travelling from Shepshed to Nottingham, and as he passed Oakley Wood two ruffians appeared. They knocked him down, cut his pocket and removed around £15 (£1,920 in today’s money). Worse still, one of the assailants tried to murder him by cutting his throat. They left him on the road, wounded and made their escape. They were never captured and so evaded justice. Another unsolved crime in 1857 crime involved a farm servant who collected part of his wages and set out for Hathern around 7pm. Halfway home two men attacked him and cut his purse, taking 35s.
In the early part of the 19th century death sentences were often handed down to highway robbers. On a moonlit evening in 1836, three assailants violently attacked a Hathern man as he was walking home from Loughborough. They took his silver watch, spectacles and 5 shillings. A third companion was lucky to be acquitted of the crime. It is likely that the two condemned men had their sentences commuted to transportation for life because their names are not included on the list of those hanged at Leicester prison.
In 1877 jurors at Leicester Assizes were told that a man posing as a detective accosted a man and robbed him of four gold watches. He had committed a long string of offences in the past; he was sentenced to penal servitude for 5 years. The following year two men were convicted of robbing a waggoner near Hathern Turn. Both were transported.
Unsafe driving seems to have been commonplace in Hathern. In 1839 a Hathern man was charged with driving on the wrong side of the road which resulted in damage to his cart. Three years later a Breedon man was fined 5s after his servants were caught riding their carts in a dangerous manner. In 1842 a servant from Hathern was found guilty of riding on the shafts of his master’s cart and was fined 10s. A waggoner committed a similar transgression in 1849 whilst in charge of a vehicle drawn by four horses and was also fined 10s.
Other highway offences
A Hathern butcher had two convictions for allowing his horse to stray at night in 1891 and 1894; he had to pay 5s on both occasions. He also pleaded guilty of driving at night without a light and was fined 7s6d. Another Hathern man was discovered asleep in charge of a horse at Sutton Bonington in 1883 and received a fine of 15s.
Theft of property
The News Archives list around 80 cases of theft. One example is of a woman who was convicted of stealing some men’s shirts that were drying on a hedge in Hathern in April 1827. She was sentenced to 3 months’ hard labour in the Leicester County Gaol. In 1830 a man who stole a large quantity of worsted material from a Hathern hosiery factory earned 3 months’ hard labour. A death sentence was handed down to another Hathern man in April 1828 for stealing a horse worth £7 (about £900 today), but he was almost certainly transported to Australia. In the same year three men stole a large pack of wool. Two of them were transported for 14 years while the third, an old offender, was sent away for life.
A curious case of felony occurred in 1841. A hardened stole a soot bag belonging to a master chimney sweep and was transported to for 7 years. This may seem to us a severe sentence, but the livelihood of chimney sweeps depended on selling soot which was a valuable commodity. A more malodorous, but valuable substance was manure. In 1844 a quantity of it was stolen from Henry Cooper’s field in Hathern. A man, aged 69, pleaded guilty to the theft and was sentenced to hard labour in prison.
Gardens, orchards, and fields were often targeted by thieves, sometimes to feed the hungry, but they were often sold on for cash. In 1846 turnips were stolen from Hathern fields, and Samuel Caldwell suffered the loss of 20 pounds of bacon when he was burgled. In January 1885, the deeply unpopular Rev. Edward Smythies was robbed of a cabbage worth 6d. The thief was caught and had to pay £1 and costs. Another thief, a village framework knitter, pleaded guilty to taking wood from the Rectory. He asked for mercy because he had a large family to support but was fined 30s.
In 1831 four valuable horses were stolen by persons unknown. They were the property of the Rev. March Phillipps, and Mr. and Miss Cooper of Zouch Mills. A foal belonging to licensed victualler, John Priestley was taken in 1890. A Hathern man was apprehended and served a 21-day sentence with hard labour.
Some children may have committed crimes just for fun. In 1861 four “little urchins” from Hathern, all under the age of 10, were found guilty of stealing beans valued at 3d. Their parents had to pay up in court and may have later punished the miscreants. A Hathern lad age 12 years was in a different class of offenders, having a long criminal record. in March 1896 he stole 10s from the landlord of the Regent Wharf Inn. He served 14 days in prison and afterwards he spent four years in a reformatory.
Sheep stealing and animal cruelty
The theft of fowls and other livestock was commonplace in the vicinity of Hathern. In 1828 A Hathern man who was convicted of stealing two fowls belonging to John Breedon was sent down for 6 months’ hard labour. A youth aged 17 was guilty of taking three that belonged to Mr. Harriman. He was given a whipping and served a month’s hard labour.
Around a dozen cases of sheep stealing are recorded in the Archives between 1829 and 1842. Mr. Harriman suffered the loss of a fat sheep in 1830: it was slaughtered by an unknown miscreant and carried away. The Harriman farm was the focus of two more attacks over the next four years; in neither case was anyone prosecuted. In 1835 John Keightley offered a reward of £35, worth around £1,600 today, when three of his lambs were taken.
A successful prosecution was obtained in 1837 after a man killed and butchered a lamb belonging to Mr. Hatton. He took the remains away, together with a gallon of potatoes. Several witnesses gave evidence against the accused, and Hathern Constable William Taylor apprehended him near Barrow. He was found guilty and was possibly transported for life.
Three Hathern lads were charged with cruelly breaking the leg of a dog in 1853. They were each fined 2s6d and costs. In 1856 a Long Whatton woman who was passing through our village saw two men in charge of a donkey and cart. They loosened the poor animal and beat it badly with a stick. She fetched a constable and the men were convicted of cruelty and fined 15s and costs.6
Damage to property
Over 40 incidents are recorded of damage to buildings, fences, hedges, gardens, and fields in and around Hathern. Sometimes it was accidental, but in many cases it was malicious. Households were the single largest target, often the result of long-standing ill-feeling between neighbours. In 1837 three Hathern men were found guilty of the malicious damage to a house door in the village and annoying the owner’s wife. They were each fined 2s6d and were obliged to fine sureties to keep the peace for three months. Two men were fined for breaking the windows of a house belonging to a single woman in Hathern in 1838. There had been previous confrontations between the two parties.
A man broke windows and damaged trees in 1828. He was fined £1.13s.6d or 2 months on the treadmill if he defaulted. He was an old man who had lived for some time in the property which belonged to Henry Cooper of Hathern, but he was evicted in 1839 for several episodes of wilful damage to the house and grounds. He repeatedly asserted that he had a continued right to the house and gardens and was entitled to do as he wished. He committed further offences of trespass and damage in 1939 and 1840. In 1845 he was sentenced to 3 months’ hard labour for destroying an elder tree, and in 1847 he was charged with cutting down a poplar tree valued at 10s. As a result he was sentenced to more hard labour.
Members of Hathern Band might be interested that know that in 1835 a Kegworth ropemaker broke into William Keightley’s house and damaged a trumpet that belonged to the Band. He was convicted and fined £3.12s. Youthful pranks were great fun for Hathern lads until they were caught. Two schoolboys had to pay 1s each after damaging milk buckets in 1890. Three youths aged 16 were fined heavily for throwing stones and causing damage to roof tiles at Hathern Lodge in 1894. Mr. Everard de Lisle pushed for a prosecution as he had suffered many such attacks and wanted to deter other vandals.
Drunk and disorderly
The News Archives record well over 100 convictions of persons being drunk and disorderly in the village during the second half of the 19th century. It is no wonder that Reverend March Phillipps wrote at length on the evils of drink and was an avid supporter of the Temperance movement. The Archives refer to many cases of fighting, damage to property and poverty when men spent family money on drink.
Magistrates outlined the career of one notorious drunkard that spanned over 35 years. By 1881 he had been convicted for the 40th time and his long-suffering wife paid his fine of £1. He continued to offend well into old age. In addition to fines he occasionally served time in prison with hard labour. The landlord of The Three Crowns, George Wells, ordered another persistent offender to leave his premises in 1889. He refused to go and abused customers who refused to give him money for more drink. PC Barsby stated that the man said he did not mind going to prison as he had been jailed 49 times already. He was fined 10s.
A small number of women appeared in court for drink-related offences. A female hawker from Deptford found her way to Hathern in 1889 and drank to excess. She turned up at the Rectory and demanded money from a female servant who refused to give her any. This led to a barrage of obscene language and she smashed a window with her fist. A large crowd gathered and someone summoned PC Barsby who arrested the woman and described her as being “beastly drunk.” Justices sentenced her to a fine of 10s or 14 days in prison.
Punishing the guilty
During the 1830s annual crime rates rose alarmingly from 5,000 to 20,000. This led to the establishment of a many new prisons across the country. A House of Correction existed in Loughborough, although its whereabouts are unknown. It was intended mainly for those who had committed relatively minor crimes. Other offenders were sent to the County Gaol on Leicester’s High Cross Street which in 1791 replaced the original prison had stood since 1297. This in turn was superceded by the present-day HM Prison built on Welford Road in 1828. Conditions within the High Cross gaol were appalling and many inmates died of starvation. Many Hathern residents who were convicted of serious crimes were incarcerated there. The following 3 pictures relate to the Highcross Gaol :-
Conditions were less intolerable in the HM Prison on the Welford Road Leicester which opened in 1828. Until the abolition of hanging in 1953, 23 executions took place there. For the first forty years they took place in public and attracted huge crowds. A few Hathern men received death sentences for their crimes, but these appear to have been commuted to transportation. The authorities often attempted to eliminate “the criminal classes” in Britain by sending convicts to Australia. The News Archives list 10 men who were transported for a range of crimes committed by or against Hathern folk. By the 1850s transportation has peaked, partly because of the resistance of settlers who resented the dumping of criminals in their vicinity.
Loughborough Magistrates, also referred to as Justices, dealt with minor offences in the new Courthouse on Woodgate which opened in 1860. Prior to that they heard cases in the Plough Inn on the Loughborough Market Place. The Woodgate building became too cramped and it ceased operating in 2007 when the current premises on Pinfold Gate became available. Professional judges heard more serious cases at Assize courts and Quarter Sessions.
Many historians emphasise the relationship between crime and poverty in Britain, especially during the first half of the 19th century. As time passed, life became harder again for village folk caused by unemployment resulting from agricultural mechanisation and the cruel exploitation of framework knitters. Many became impoverished, and stealing livestock, loaves of bread, fruit from orchards could mean the difference between survival and starvation for some families. Country people saw poaching as an acceptable activity which reached peaks around 1830 and between 1843 and 1851. It provided food for the table and was a source of valuable income for those who supplied regular butchers who asked no questions.
In the early 19th century children were often punished severely and sent to adult prisons where they often became hardened, habitual criminals. There is also evidence that some as young as 12-14 were hanged or transported to Australia. By the second half of the century there were changes in the handling of child offenders. As a result of the Juvenile Offences Act of 1847 young persons were dealt with in special courts. From 1854 many were sent to newly established reformatories where they were subjected to harsh discipline, often for several years, in the hope that they would eventually change for the better.
The London Metropolitan police force was established in 1829, but it was not until the 1850s that local authorities were compelled to institute full time policing in the counties. Village constables were drawn from working class communities. They often faced hostility and abuse from fellow villagers who felt they were the instruments of the ruling landlords. The National Newspaper Archives list the names of Hathern Parish Constables from 1851 onwards.
Trawling through the News Archives it is apparent that there was a great deal of crime in and around Hathern during the 19th century, much more than nowadays. The Reverend E.T. March Phillips commented that Hathern was the wickedest place in the world, although there is no evidence that it was worse than any of the neighbouring villages. He recognised that poverty and drunkenness were major contributary factors to crime and that many Hathern residents needed guidance and education. He instituted many measures to improve their lives at his own expense. These included adult night schools, a recreation field and allotments and a Temperance Hall, all of which are discussed elsewhere in this website.
This survey has not included some offences, for example licensing transgressions, the adulteration of bread by bakers and the sale of underweight loaves, the mistreatment of employees and apprentices.
 Jones, D. 2015. Crime, Protest, Community and Police in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Routledge; also see the BBC Website Crime and Punishment in Victorian Times.
 Jones, D. 1979. The Poacher: A Study in Victorian Crime and Protest. The Historical Journal 22.4: 825-860.
 Victorian children in trouble with the law.
 Jones, D.M. 1992. Aspects of the History and Structure of Leicestershire Constabulary 1839-1890.
 1851: William Fallows, John Harriman; 1852: William Fallows, John Keightly; 1853: Edward Savage, Thomas Groves; 1854: William Fallows, William Swift; 1857: Samuel Caldwell, William Pollard, PC Peberdy; 1865: T. Draper, William Swift; 1872 and 1873: William Swift; 1881: Silas Groves, Mr. Mills; 1882: PC Lockton; 1896: J. Ratcliffe, G. Brown, W. Pollard and G. Carrington.