Crime In Brentford

by Neil Chippendale, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 15, 2006

Mayhem at the 1768 hustings in Brentford

Brentford’s most famous murder is undoubtedly that of George Clark which occurred in December 1768. From 1701 the Parliamentary elections for the County of Middlesex were held in The Butts, Brentford. The most tumultuous elections were those contested in 1768 and 1769 by John Wilkes, the famous political agitator. On 12 January 1769 Laurence Balfe and Edward Quirk, Kirk or Mac-Quirk, both of Hanwell, were tried for the murder of George Clark during the 1768 hustings.

Balfe and Quirk were said to be supporters of Sir William Beauchamp who was opposing John Wilkes – although in reality they were just hired thugs. Both were accused of provoking the riot during which Clark was killed. They were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. However, they were granted a reprieve of seven days, during which time the wardens and examiners of the Surgeons Company reviewed the evidence of the surgeon who performed the autopsy on Clark, and they decided that he did not die of blows, wounds and bruises, as stated in the indictment. On 10 March 1769 Balfe and Quirk were pardoned. Because they received a Royal Pardon speculation soon arose as to whether the men were part of a conspiracy designed to discredit Wilkes and his fellow radicals.

Other murders
An early Brentford murder listed in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey occurred at the Red Lion pub, Market Place. On 11 February 1725 Robert Cook of Hanwell was in an upstairs room of the pub in the company of Colonel Emely, Captain Percival, Lieutenant Shipton, and the deceased, George Merrick. By about 11 o’clock Cook and Merrick were the only ones left. They ordered a bowl of punch and a box of dice. Shortly afterwards a commotion was heard in the room. A servant rushed upstairs to find both men with swords drawn fighting each other. The servant rushed down to get help but by the time he returned George Merrick was lying on the floor mortally wounded and the accused was seen to have two wounds to his side. Before dying Merrick is said to have said to Robert Cook, ‘I freely forgive you.’ Robert Cook had a number of people speak on his behalf including the Duke of Richmond, the Duke of Montague, the Earl of Essex, the Lord Mansfield, the Lord Albemarle, and the Lord Walgrave. The verdict was Se Defendendo (self defence), and Cook was released.

On 23 September 1741 during a cricket match on Staines Moor, between the men of Staines and Brentford, John Herne was assaulted by Christopher Shotten who was later charged with his murder. Both men came from Brentford. It was alleged that Shtten assaulted Herne on the ‘Head Back, Breast, Belly, and Ribs . . . did strike and beat, giving him several mortal Bruises, of which from the said 23rd of Sept to the 14th of Oct he languish’d and then died’. Shotten is said to have attacked Herne in an attempt to persuade him to play in the cricket match as Shotten had money laid on the game. The umpire saw him being dragged along by his collar as ‘He seem’d to be unwilling to go in to play’. Other witnesses said that Herne did play ’till he was bowl’d out’.

Upon his return to Brentford, he is said to have complained that ‘he had been used so barbarously at the cricket-match, that he was murder’d.’ A witness, William Banks, also said that ‘He went with me to my House, and my Servant drew him some Beer, but he could not drink it. He said he knew one of the Persons that had used him ill, and mention’d the Prisoner’s Name.’ Shotten claimed that he didn’t hit Herne. He stated that ‘I took hold of his Coat very inoffensively, as I thought, and desired him to go in’. He also said that he thought Herne was going to hit him as ‘He lifted up his Hand, and I thought he had been going to strike me, and so I left him, and saw him no more’. Shotten, who had a number of good character witnesses speak on his behalf, was eventually acquitted.

Another case involving a death at Brentford was heard at the Old Bailey on 15 January 1823. Timothy White was accused of the wilful murder of Michael Flood who was assaulted by the accused outside the shops in Old Brentford on 6 October 1822. On 14 October Flood was admitted to St George’s Hospital. The surgeon, Mr John Morris Banner, said in evidence that ‘he had a contused wound over the left eye – it was bleeding at the time. He had repeated haemorrhage from the wound; I examined it and found a coagulation of blood – I removed it and stopped the bleeding; he went on favourably for two or three days, and then became rather delirious, and had more bleeding from the wound. On the 20th he became still more delirious, and on the 21st he died . . . I think the blow he received was the cause of his death; but if he had had proper medical assistance at first, he might have been saved.’ In his defence the accused claimed that he had met Flood in Brentford and that he was asked to ‘come and have something to drink,’ ‘I said no, he had affronted me once or twice before; he said, I might go to hell, I was in liquor, and dare say I might have struck him; I am sorry to have been the cause of his death.’ Timothy White was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. He served one year in prison.

Other crimes
Highway robbery was always a great cause of concern for people living on the road to Bath. The Old Bailey proceedings record five cases of Highway Robbery in and around Brentford between the years 1740 and 1793. Only one of the highwaymen was found not guilty. The rest were hanged. The most common crime committed in Brentford was Simple Grand Larceny which was the legal term for stealing. Of those found guilty the majority were transported although approximately one-third were found not guilty. None were hanged.

Transportation had been a favoured option of punishment for petty criminals during the Georgian and Victorian periods. After the American Revolution Britain had to stop sending convicts to America and a new dumping ground had to be found. Joseph Banks advocated sending convicts to the newly discovered land of ‘Terra Australis’. This idea was accepted and the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay during January 1788. Transportation finally ceased in 1868.

The first criminals convicted of a crime in Brentford, and transported to Australia, were Richard Ridge, Gilbert Baker, William Lloyd, William Shaw and James M’Cauley, McCawley or McFauley. These five were convicted on 9 September 1789 ‘for feloniously and burglariously breaking and entering the dwelling house of Susannah Dewell’. They stole various items of clothing from the house/shop. All five were transported on the third fleet which left England on 27 March 1791 and arrived in Australia between August and September 1791. Ridge, Baker, Lloyd and Shaw were aboard The Atlantic and McCawley was aboard The Active. Upon arriving in Australia they were assigned to convict gangs. After being pardoned or given their ‘Ticket of Leave’ their lives went in different directions. Nothing is known about William Lloyd and James McCawley. It is possible that they died, or returned to England after completing their sentence. Richard Ridge was the most successful, becoming a constable, pub owner and large landholder. He married twice, first to a convict, Jane Poole, and secondly to a Margaret Forrester. He had 14 children and died in 1842. Gilbert Baker was free by 1804 and became a constable in Sydney. He died in 1824, unmarried. William Shaw became a farmer and married a convict, Catherine Neale, in 1796 and had two children. He died in 1815.

These are two of the author’s favourite ‘crimes’, which are not listed in The Proceedings of the Old Bailey. Anne Dowe, a resident of Brentford, was the first of many offenders to be imprisoned, in August 1560, for declaring that Queen Elizabeth I was carrying Lord Robert Dudley’s child. During the 1899/1900 season Brentford Football Club was fined £10 and banned from playing for a month for the crime of ‘Shamateurism’ – paying its players, which amateur clubs were not allowed to do. Because of this the club was forced to turn professional.

This article is primarily based on information which can be found in The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London 1674 to 1834. This can be accessed on-line at

Neil Chippendale was local studies librarian for the London Borough of Hounslow for 12 years. He moved to Australia seven years ago and is now the Local Historian and Archivist for Hornsby Shire Council in New South Wales.

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