Crime & Punishment in Chiswick

By Gillian Clegg, Journal 17, 2008

Turnham Green, c1790, by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, the scene of 17th & 18th century highway robberies

What was it like to live in Chiswick during Stuart and Georgian times? The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674 to 1834, provide an intriguing glimpse into Chiswick’s early appearance and its inhabitants, as well as their nefarious activities. And, even better, these Proceedings can now be consulted on the web.

The early Proceedings were a commercial operation and selective in the trials they chose to publish, inevitably just the most juicy. Like modern day tabloids the Proceedings were read enthusiastically by Londoners seeking entertainment. By the middle of the 18th century the Proceedings became more or less an official publication; more cases were reported and in greater detail. There are well over 100 recorded cases containing the word ‘Chiswick’ but some of these concern people with the surname Chiswick or just passing references to Chiswick.

Chiswick seems to have been reasonably law abiding but there were a few murders and the first recorded case concerning Chiswick was a ‘murther’ in 1678. A foot soldier marching to Brentford ‘had it seems drunk too much and lay asleep in Chiswick-fields’. A ‘countryman cutting pease’ noticed him and asked three soldiers passing by to wake him and take him with them. This they tried to do, very civilly, but the sleeping soldier, most uncivilly, woke, drew his musket and shot and killed one of his would-be helpers. He was sentenced to death. The following year, Thomas Laurence, a waterman, killed Thomas Palmer at Chiswick with a blow on the head with a ‘flattchet in a fray’ and was punished by branding. Poor Lydia Stockwell, spinster of Chiswick parish, was killed by William Walker’s gun when she went into an orchard to steal apples in 1794, and Mary Wilson, who worked for the Barker family at Grove House, was tried for the murder of her female bastard child in 1727, but acquitted. In 1730 David Murphey of Chiswick was found guilty of the manslaughter of Ulysses Lynch, Gent, by giving him a mortal wound with a sword, after a duel in a Chiswick field.

Highway robbery
Many reported cases concern highway robberies, almost all of which took place on or around Turnham Green. In 1678, a robber, described as ‘a lusty fellow’ (no name given) jumped out of a hedge and knocked a soldier off his horse, which he stole. In 1695 the Earl of Banbury was assaulted by William Burton of Chiswick. However, his lordship managed to shoot Burton in the head. The coach to Worcester was robbed in 1692; the Salisbury Flying coach in 1750 ‘betwixt the five and six mile stone in the parish of Chiswick’. When the mail coach was held up in 1717, the perpetrators took the horses as well as the post. At his trial Matthew Chessey, one of the accused, refused to plead and the Executioner was called to force him to do so ‘by tying his thumbs together and so drawing the noose hard by violent pulling’.

September 1750, Old Bailey online

A chest of drawers, clothes, shoes and jewellery were taken from a wagon on its way from Reading to London and pistol-toting footpads stole money from William Collier returning from Kingston Market in 1740. Despite the fact that their total haul was only 6d, the accused were sentenced to death.

The majority of recorded cases concern burglary and robbery. Besides the usual run of the mill thefts – gold and silver items, food and money – thieves made off with clothes hanging on a washing line, sheets, live ducks, horses, sheep, rabbits, ferrets, fish, guns and malt from a barge. In 1704 a Chiswick man called Zacariah Fitch stole periwigs from Corbet Gun’s shop in Brentford and in 1786 the church plate from St Nicholas Church was taken. Chiswick’s great and good were not exempt as victims. A black mare was stolen from Lord Burlington in 1739; books and other possessions from Henry Barker of Grove House in 1729; Thomas Mawson, brewer, was deprived of iron links from a chain in 1724 and Joshua Kirby Trimmer, (the son of Brentford educationalist Sarah Trimmer) who lived at Strand on the Green, lost candlesticks and silver spoons in 1827. Applethwaite Frere, proprietor of Stamford Brook House, was robbed of lead from another house he owned. There was one case of bigamy but Nicholas Baker, the accused, who denied both the marriages, was acquitted on the grounds that only one marriage could be proved.

Punishment was harsh – death for those indicted for murder, highway robbery and burglary with violence. Transportation for other thefts but for some lesser thefts imprisonment, whipping or branding. Chiswick had a cage where accused felons were taken. It was by the workhouse in Chiswick High Road (where Waterstone’s bookshop is today). In 1739 the cage was referred to as the Round House when Richard Sedgewick, accused of stealing five horses, was imprisoned there. Sedgewick agreed to tell John Goring, servant to Lord Burlington, what had become of Lord Burlington’s black mare, if he could be taken out of the Round House and go with Goring to a public house. In court Sedgewick said ‘I have nothing to say. I am as innocent as the child unborn. I was led into this thing very innocently’. Goring said he would be happy to have Sedgewick’s life spared as he was ‘a very weak simple fellow’. But, to no avail, he was sentenced to die.

When Thomas Simpson, accused of stealing malt from a barge, was taken to the Cage in 1826 there seems to have been more than one place of confinement since John Reynolds, Constable, was seen to move the prisoner from one cage against the wall, put him in another and lock him up. Since the parish constable was usually called as a prosecution witness we know some of the names of the constables (and more could be traced from the minutes of the Chiswick Vestry who appointed them) – Richard Eden in 1798, Mr Featherstonehaugh in 1825, Charles Dear in 1826 and Benjamin Snell in 1829. As well as constables there were the watchmen who patrolled at night and called out the hours. John Walker 1787, Joseph Lock, Watchman at Turnham Green, 1820, Richard George 1826, and Thomas Pipper, Watchman at the Duke of Devonshire’s premises in 1828.

By the early 19th century when policing was becoming more organised we have Abraham Orton and George Huntley describing themselves as Bow Street patrol men in 1826 and William Boneval Church as police sergeant in 1831 (Chiswick police became part of the Metropolitan Police Force in 1830).

Night Patrolmen’s Notebook
Preserved in Chiswick Library is a notebook kept by the men who patrolled the parish of Chiswick between 8pm and 6am. It covers the period 1827 to 1828 when the patrolmen were paid £1 3s 6d a week. The patrolmen had a rather dull time of it since Chiswick was quite a peaceful place; most entries merely record which other night watchmen they met, and at what time, and conclude with the phrase ‘all was well through the night’.

However, some suspects were apprehended and taken to court: Samuel Pearson with some red cabbages, the property of Mr Dancer, was discharged after a note from Mr Dancer; a man called Savoy in possession of a watch he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, account for – the Bow Street magistrate concluded that ‘the man is out of his mind’. John King, convicted for breaking gas lamps, was given the choice of paying a £2 fine or going to prison for three months hard labour. He chose the fine. Another man was apprehended for stealing a horse, and Stephen Ginning was prevented from killing another man. A Charles Warren stole broccoli and when the patrolmen called to apprehend a James Warren for burglary ‘we was compelled to take him out of bed by force’.

The patrolmen also monitored the late opening of public houses. The worst offenders, which sometimes stayed open until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, were the Bell and Crown, the Duke of York, the City Barge and ‘the further Pack Horse’.

Patrolmen worked every night so perhaps an entry for 25th December 1827 should come as no surprise: patrolman Peter Shields was ‘so intoxicated was obliged to go home before a quarter to 10 o’clock.’

Fields and pubs
As the Proceedings show, Chiswick was a very rural place in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. Stolen horses had been put out to graze on Manor House fields, fields at Stamford Brook and on Turnham Green itself. Stolen washing had been hung out to dry on Home Field, perpetrators of crimes ran off through fields, highway robberies took place on the wild expanse of Turnham Green and in 1828 one accused person was seen to throw his pipe into the pond on Turnham Green.

The pubs were important too, goods were stolen from them and criminals prised out of them. The Red Lion on Chiswick Mall, the Barley Mow, the Star and Garter, the Pack Horse, the Feathers and the Crown (which used to be by what is now Chiswick Roundabout) all feature in the Proceedings.

In 1834 the Old Bailey changed its name to the Central Criminal Court and the Proceedings, kept until 1913, likewise changed their name. The Proceedings of the Central Criminal Court are in the process of being put online and should be available by September 2008

Sources; Night Patrolmen’s Notebook 1827-28 (LB Hounslow, Chiswick Local Studies Collection)

Gillian Clegg is the author of Chiswick Past (1995), Brentford Past (2002), The Chiswick Book (2004) and Brentford and Chiswick Pubs (2005).

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