Friday, 28 June 2013

and now the end is near........

To mark the end of the 2 year Paths to Crime cataloguing project we aim to establish a series downloadable walks.  These trials will visit the places which have featured in the Quarter Session Rolls and help you imagine the crimes and criminals of the day.

To celebrate the launch of our first trail we will be undertaking a guided walk through Harrold, Odell and Sharnbrook on Sunday 30 June.

We invite you to join us for all of or just part of the walk.  The complete walk is a little under 7 miles. Along the way, we will share with you some of the characters and stories which have emerged from the cataloguing of the Quarter Session Records.

We start off in Harrold at 11.30am  (please meet at the main car park in Harrold Country Park).  After a picnic break we will commence the second stage of our walk from Odell to Sharbrook at 1.30pm (meeting at the Odell end of the Country Park by the otter) and our finally leg, around Sharnbrook, will start at 2.30pm (from the High Street/Church Street in Sharnbrook)

We hope to see you there, but if you can't make it, don't forget the walk will be downloadable from the website for you to do at your leisure.

For more information visit

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Beware of those bearing good news

Repeatedly the Quarter Sessions make clear some things are timeless.

In 1864, Mark Clark, a widow of Luton received a visit from George Howard.  George Howard bore exciting news for her; he said he was there on very important business.  Firstly he ran through some routine questions with Mrs Clark, asking her if her husband was dead and if he had died in the asylum.  Mrs Clark confirmed he had, at which point Mr Howard revealed a legacy was due to her.  Howard initially stated a sum of £48 a year was due to her and £850 for each of her husbands children.  Wisely, Mrs Clark sought the advice of her neighbour, and Howard explained there were 6 cottages, 160 acres of land, a mansion and furniture at Wellingborough and further property at Wootton.  He went into more detail explaining the property was due to be auctioned at Bedford and that his boss, the solicitor Mr Middleton, anticipated her share to be £48,000.   He told her that there was certain paperwork necessary for the claim such as her children’s birth certificates, her marriage certificate and her husband's death certificate.  All she need to do was [here we go....] give him the small sum of 11s 2d 1/2 , which would in the longer term save her £6 10s 0d.  She gave him the money in the presence of her neighbour and Howard left to catch his train back to Bedford.  Mary had fallen for a scam.

Mary and her husband John, had both been born in Wootton and moved to Luton with their family.  John was a gardener whilst Mary was a laundress.  The 1861 census shows Mary, in Albert Street, Luton and her husband listed as being in the Alms Asylum.

The con man was captured by local police whilst drinking in the Engine public house.  He confessed to his crime and was sentenced to 2 months imprisonment.


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Bedfordshire Reformatory

The Quarter Sessions dealt with more than just criminal matters; they also dealt with other judicial business.  For example, 1864 included a committee report about the Bedfordshire Reform School at Turvey. This poorly handwritten report (possibly just a draft version) provides us with some valuable insights into the School, its aims and how it operated.

Here’s a brief summary of its contents:  

- last report was 3 years ago and provided for the period from the opening of the school in May 1857 to the end of 1860. 

- the total number of boys admitted since opening is 85.  39 have been discharged. 8 were transferred to other reformatories. 6 had died.  2 absconded. 30 were currently at the institution.

- the committee met on 3rd Wednesday in each month and weekly visitation are made.

- 45 1/2 acres of land was held, the land having been drained by the boys under expert tuition.

- a bake house and dairy had been erected.

- a medical officer visited at least once a fortnight.  The health of the boys was satisfactory.

- instruction in reading, writing & arithmetic was given 3 times a week and religious instruction was given by neighbouring clergymen.

The report concluded the institution was fulfilling its brief and that with divine blessing, best results could confidently be hoped for!


Thursday, 4 April 2013

The boy, the wagon and the level crossing.

The safety of unmanned level crossings is frequently in the news. 1863 has thrown up a case of a young man of 12 years being charged with negligently driving 2 horses and a wagon across a level crossing on the Leicester & Hitchin Railway.

Joseph Eckersley was a locomotive engine driver in the service of the Midland Railway Company. On 24 August he left London for Leicester with the 7.20am passenger train. The train as a government train and stopped at all stations on the Midland line between Hitchin and Leicester.

The journey was made without interruption to Sharnbrook. Irchester was the next station from Sharnbrook. It was a distance of about 6 miles and there was a rise in the line from Sharnbrook for about 3 miles and then the gradient went in the other direction. About 2 miles before Irchester station, he saw 2 horses, drawing an empty wagon, coming upon the railway at a distance of about 200 yards from the engine. The team came from the right or East of the line on which they were travelling. He could see the team was in the charge of a boy who appeared to be on the wrong side of the horses. There was private occupation crossing on the level where the wagon was going. The train was running at about 30 miles an hour and he used all his endeavours by reversing the engine and getting breaks put on to stop the train. He whistled. They were unable to stop the train before reaching the place over which the wagon was passing and the wagon was not through the gate posts when the engine came abreast of it. The hind wheels of the wagon were about half way through then gateway. However a collison was just avoided. This was tale of events was supported by his fireman, William Needham, who had been riding on the footplate of the engine. Eckersley stated that if it had been a fast train nothing would have prevented a collision.

 The travelling inspector for the south district of the Midland railway, John Jeffery, ascertained that an engine chimney could be seen a mile from the spot and the engine clearly seen from the gate for half a mile. Therefore, the young accused, James Mackness, would have know a train was approaching.

Charles Gilbert also worked for the Midland Company on the railway as a labourer in a local gang. On 24 August he was working about quarter of a mile to the North of the crossing. He saw a wagon and 2 horses crossing the level before a government train came down and heard the train whistle. He witnesses the near miss. On going back to the crossing he met Gilbert Church, a lad in the employment of Mr Lathom, owner of the land on qhich the level crossing was placed. Church was driving a cart and a horse to the same crossing. He stopped Church and asked if he was the boy with the wagon and the 2 horses. Church said it had been young Jem Mackness. He saw Mackness afterwards and asked if he was the boy who had gone through the line with an empty wagon and 2 horses and Mackness replied he was. Church asked Mackness if he went to see if there was a train coming and Mackness replied “No I never thought nothing about it”.

Mackness was lucky on this occasion, both to save his own life and to be found not guilty by the court.


Monday, 11 March 2013

Progress Update

We are pleased to tell you that we have now completed the following years:

1839 through to 1862
1870 through to 1890

The cataloguing continues at a rapid pace.  Catalogued Quarter Sessions records appear instantly on the Bedfordshire and Luton Archive and Record Service online catalogue.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Our prisoner pin ups

Daily Mail Online has posted a fabulous article about some of our prisoners.

We love the comments posted below the piece, especially about the Clark Gable look-a-like George Bennett.  He seems to have set a few hearts a flutter with a number of ladies seemingly willing to ignore his missing little finger, moles, letters G.T.G.B.P. pricked in left arm, his bad front teeth and his truss!

Friday, 8 February 2013

A Ding Dong in Toddington

The obtaining of 2 pence by false pretences from a Toddington shopkeeper didn't sound the most fascinating of cases on initial inspection.  However, the cheeky Toddington pair supplied us with an interesting insight into the customs of the village.

On 29 May, Sarah Smith, widow and shopkeeper woke to find an Oak bough on her doorstep.  She had lived in the village for 23 years and knew it to be a local custom.  Every Whitsun week it was tradition for an oak bough to be left on the doorstep of inhabitants.  Later on collectors would visit for a donation.  When the prisoners, George Holmes and James Lawson came to ask for money she parted with 2 pence and the men went on their way.  

However, it was the 10 Bell Ringers of St George's in Toddington which staged this annual tradition.  It was customary in Toddington that once a year the bell ringers would take round an oak bough to the inhabitants and afterwards collect a subscription.  The bell ringers would have a supper with the money collected.   The Bell Ringers met on 28 May at the Sow & Pigs public house and made arrangements that the boughs should be taken round the following morning.  Thomas Smith and Samuel Brewer were appointed to go up town, where Mrs Smith lived.  They left the bough at her door and called for a contribution on 30 May.  However, Mrs Smith said she had already paid it.  The Bell Ringers were far from happy and made a complaint that they had been robbed.  

George Lawson wasn't a newcomer to crime.  The always useful Bedfordshire Gaol Database describes George Lawson as quite a distinctive figure.  He was blind in his right eye, had a cut mark on left cheekbone, apparently he bit his nails and the nail of little finger left hand was disfigured from a cut.

Despite the case ending up at the Quarter Sessions, George Holmes and James Lawson were let off, the case being regarded as a No True Bill.  It would be interesting to know if the inhabitants of Toddington were quite so forgiving!