Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Month: September 2014

Criminally interesting: the British Crime Historians Symposium 2014

Liverpool's St George's Hall - former location of the Assizes

Liverpool’s St George’s Hall – former location of the Assizes

On 26 and 27 September, criminal historians from across the UK – and indeed from around the world – gathered at the University of Liverpool’s Foresight Centre for the 2014 British Crime Historians Symposium.

It was an incredibly enjoyable and friendly conference, with several people commenting on how quickly the time went, listening to a wide variety of papers and talking to people working in diverse areas of criminal history.

The only downside, as usual, was choosing which panel to go and listen to; often, several equally interesting panels took place at a time.

The Digital Panopticon team were there, talking about data visualisation and other aspects of this project, which aims to study the impact of punishments on the lives of thousands of people sentenced at the Old Bailey in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Meanwhile, legal historian Richard Ireland gave a hugely entertaining paper about Welsh criminal justice which was later also looked at by Rachel Jones, who studied how Welsh magistrates’ local knowledge was used in their decision making.

Interesting things learned here included the fact that although English was the official language of the Welsh courts until 1942, matters were sometimes subverted by evidence being given in Welsh, without translation, or even by magistrates conducting affairs in Welsh themselves, leading to some rather brief reports in the press – the English-speaking reporters being unable to say what had happened in court. Magistrates might also be related to prosecution or defence lawyers, leading to some rather biased – but also strangely intimate – court cases.

In another panel, I was particularly interested in Louise Falcini‘s paper on the impressment of naked male bathers in London in the late 18th century and Guy Woolnough‘s on rural policing in Victorian Cumbria, which linked the Temperance movement and Methodism in the area to the nature of arrests by the local police.

On Saturday, I listened to a fascinating panel about a project, After Care, that sets out to document the life histories of children who were sent to reformatories in the late 19th century. Pam Cox, Heather Shore and Zoe Alker spoke about the challenges of the project, which is trying to find out what happened to these children – did they go on to lead successful lives, and how do we measure success?

I then took part in a panel with Cardiff University’s Cath Horler-Underwood about women’s involvement in crime in the eighteenth century – I spoke about the representation of female defendants in property offence cases heard by rural magistrates, and Cath about women’s involvement in coin uttering cases – which included some great detail about women who hid coins in their underclothes, which had to be ‘retrieved’ by searchers.

Here’s my Storify of the conference (my tweets were sadly limited as I couldn’t get onto the wifi – despite much trying). If you weren’t there, you missed out on a criminally interesting, entertaining, yet informative, conference that proved that criminal history is where it’s at!




The Ullingswick Murder, Part Five: On trial for rape and murder

This is the final part of my series this week on the Ullingswick Murder. Click on the links for Parts One, Two, Three and Four.

The trial of William Hope took place on 28 March 1863 at the Herefordshire Assizes.

Entry for William Hope at the Hereford Assizes in 1863, from Ancestry.

Entry for William Hope at the Hereford Assizes in 1863, from Ancestry.

The circumstantial evidence – William’s presence at the beershop, his attempts to get Mary to drink with him, his sudden absence from the shop when Mary left, and his failure to return back to his lodgings – was combined with the evidence of marks in the clay and mud matching his poorly mended cord trousers, and the teethmarks in his skin.

Particular emphasis was placed on this physical evidence, and the fact that the trousers had been found bloody and muddy. The newspapers reported that these were ‘damning proofs of the prisoner’s guilt’, and there was little surprise when the jury found Hope guilty of wilful murder, and he was sentenced to death.

In reality, Hope’s previous convictions virtually signed his death warrant. He was known locally as a bad character, a man with a criminal past, who was unable to get steady employment, who liked his beer a bit too much.Even his looks were perceived to be criminal.

He was the obvious suspect, and there is little evidence that the local community saw him as anything other than a bad apple. The press saw him likewise, stating that:

‘he displayed not the slightest feeling while sentence was pronounced, and seemed to be indifferent to the death that awaits him.’

It was reported that Hope was ‘sullen’ between his conviction and the execution, and that when the High Sheriff of Hereford had visited him in his cell two days before his death, he had admitted the murder, but blamed Mary for her own death.

He turned her second visit to the beer-shop as an invitation, a suggestion that she was interested in him – and so he followed her intending to ‘gratify his lustful passions’. He said that if Mary ‘had not returned a second time to the village beerhouse and shop, and waited for him in the road, it would not have happened.’

condemnedOn the night before his death, Hope had been unable to sleep, only getting two hours’ sleep between 3am and 5am. He ate the usual prison breakfast at 7am. He was then pinioned, and helped onto the scaffold. He then knelt down to pray with the chaplain for a few moments, before the noose was adjusted round his neck, and the white cap placed over his head.

On Wednesday 15 April 1863, at exactly 8am, William Hope was executed by hangman Smith.

‘He was assisted to the drop, gazed for an instant with a wild look on the thousands of persons who had assembled to witness a murderer’s end, and the next instant was launched into eternity, life passing away with scarcely a struggle.’

His hanging was reported in far less detail than the original offence. This is, perhaps, what he deserved; it also reflects a desire by the press not to turn this hanging into entertainment, given contemporary concerns over the point of such executions.

But it also shows how the focus of the press was on the juxtaposition of good versus bad; the goodness of the loyal servant and the evil of her death at the hands of a criminal who had been given a second chance by the judicial system.

Sources for these blog posts: The Standard, London, 23 October 1862, The Leeds Mercury, 24 October 1862, The Standard, London, 25 October 1862, Berrow’s Worcester Journal, 28 March 1863,  The Bury and Norwich Post, 31 March 1863, Bristol Mercury, 18 April 1863, Criminal Registers, 1851 census, 1861 census, 1871 census via Ancestry.

The Ullingswick Murder, Part Four: The Criminality of William Hope

The penultimate part of my story of the Ullingswick Murder. Catch up on Parts One, Two and Three by clicking the links.

William Hope's entry in the criminal register for 1850, from Ancestry.

William Hope’s entry in the criminal register for 1850, from Ancestry.

William Hope was not a character with a blameless record, and so it was perhaps inevitable that he would be the first person on whom blame for Mary’s death would fall.

He was a local – born in Ullingswick in 1833 to agricultural labourer George and his wife Ann, at their house at New Bridge, Ullingswick. He was well-known to the other villagers, evne lodging for a while with Mary and John Bevans.

But although he was known by name, face and family, this did not stop him abusing his neighbours. In 1850, he had broken into Mrs Skerrick’s house in the village, this being before her husband had died. He stole fowls from the house and was duly tried at the Hereford County Sessions of 30 December 1850.

He was found guilty of housbreaking and robbery, and was sentenced on the first offence to a week’s imprisonment, but for the second, was sentenced to be transported for seven years.

He never made it to Australia, but instead was sent to Millbank prison in Pimlico, London, which was designed as a ‘holding’ prison where prisoners would be kept before they were transported.

William, though, served a whole three years of his sentence at Millbank. This was usual by the 1860s, as transportation had greatly reduced, with most people being sentenced in this way simply serving a prison sentence.

He then obtained a ‘ticket-of-leave’ and returned to Herefordshire, but ‘resumed his old habits and associations’.

Millbank Prison, 1867

Millbank Prison, 1867

The press reported that he had since been convicted twice for various misdemeanours, including the use of threatening language, and had been twice imprisoned for 14 days. However, the records of the Trinity Quarter Sessions held at Hereford in July 1861 also show that a William Hope was convicted of assault on that date and sentenced to six months in prison.

By 1861, he had found lodgings with a sawyer, Mr Proper, at Ullingswick, but was dependent on occasional labouring odd jobs to maintain himself. He was well known for his regular drinking in the Ship Inn.

He was a stout, thick-necked, burly man, and the Victorian press, in its usual way, decided that ‘his physiognomy tends to a low estimate of his moral character.’ He was also described as ‘a man of known bad character’.

The press also noted that he had previously been in the army and the Herefordshire Militia, clearly associating his criminal nature with his involvement in the armed forces. [The Bristol Mercury, 18 April 1863].

This was not a new association; as Clive Emsley has noted, the armed forces in England have long had a negative image, being associated with complex images of masculinity relating to aggressiveness, drink and violence [Clive Emsley, ‘Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman, Thief: Crime and the British Armed Services since 1914’, Oxford, 2013, p.11]

In short, William Hope had all the characteristics of a Victorian baddie. He was working-class, a drifter, with a long criminal record. He was just as much a stereotype, as he was depicted in the press, as any Dickensian character.

The final part of the Ullingswick Murder: On trial for rape and murder, will be published tomorrow.

The Ullingswick Murder, Part Three: How the press reported Mary Corbett's murder

The third part of my series on the Ullingswick Murder of 1862. Catch up with Parts One and Two by clicking the links.

Entry for Mary Corbett in the 1861 census for Ullingswick, via Ancestry.

Entry for Mary Corbett in the 1861 census for Ullingswick, via Ancestry.

The coverage of Mary Corbett’s death in the newspapers was unusual in one respect – the media all focused on her reputation as a ‘well conducted, modest young woman’. This was unusual because Mary came from a background that Victorian England disapproved of – she was an illegitimate child, one of five, drawn from the rural labouring class.

As far as I have been able to work out, Mary was probably the illegitimate daughter of Jane Corbett, variously described as an agricultural labourer and a servant, presumably meaning she was an agricultural servant.

She had been born when her mother was between 15 and 18 years old (Jane was baptised on 27 May 1832, but in the census returns is listed as being born between 1829 and 1832).

Jane was, in turn, the daughter of a mason’s labourer, Richard, and his wife Sarah. In 1851, Jane and her father, sibling and 6 month old son had all been paupers living in the Bromyard Union Workhouse. In 1861, Mary was living with her family at Stone House, Ullingswick.

Her family are recorded in a way to make them ‘respectable’ in the census; Sarah Corbett, a 66 year old widow, is listed as the mother of Elizabeth and Jane, aged 35 and 32 – but also mother of 14 year old Mary – with Jane’s other four children – Elizabeth, Emma, Vincent and Fanny, aged between 2 and 12 – listed as grandchildren.

By 1871, Jane was back in the workhouse, together with her 12 year old son Vincent and a younger child, eight year old Eliza.

Yet despite this very humble background, Mary was seen as a good girl, and a rarity – a loyal, hard-working servant, who instilled the compassion and respect of her employers.

Berrow’s Worcester Journal, reporting the trial, noted that “the atrocity of the crime caused great excitement throughout the county of Hereford at the time, which, judging from the crowded state of the court this morning, has not yet subsided.”

Part of this excitement was reflected in the press coverage. The violent sexual death of a pretty 16 year old girl; the offence allegedly committed by a prior offender, who met the Victorian stereotype of the callous labouring class man whose previous criminal convictions should have led to hanging rather than a transportation from which he could return and commit new offences; the bucolic rural setting – all helped make this a story that the newspapers could sell their copies on.

The innocuous nature of Mary Corbett’s errand that October evening – an innocent trip to buy candles that led to her death, and the fact that she had only walked yards to a local shop yet did not return – added to the drama of the story.

There was a reluctance from the press to report the details of Mary’s post-mortem, and this continued at the trial. The detailed evidence of rape was glossed over, apart from the fact that there was bruising to the right side of Mary’s groin.

Dr Bull, who carried out the post mortem, had found evidence of a violent rape on Mary’s body, but Berrow’s Worcester Journal simply commented that ‘The doctor then detailed the appearances presented by other parts of the body, from which it was evident that violation with much violence had taken place.’

Apparently, it was alright for Victorian readers to learn about Mary’s struggle with her attacker, and the exact mode of death – but sexual violence had to be glossed over.

As was usual with press reports of deaths, some details were wrong or the result of Chinese whispers, with some reports naming William Hope as his brother George, and others reporting that Mary had been strangled, not suffocated.

But Mary’s death – and the subsequent trial of William Hope – was also news because it was unusual. It was noted by the Bristol Mercury that it had been some 30 years since the last execution in Hereford. In that case, too, in 1832, a man – named Gammond – had been hanged after raping a young girl.

The fact that Hereford rarely saw offences that resulted in executions was newsworthy in itself – the city papers stressing the rural, bucolic nature of the county. Added to this was the fact that at this time, the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment had been established, and two years later would recommend the end of public hangings.

The last public hanging took place in 1868, six years after Mary’s death. The debate as to whether public hangings were an educational experience for onlookers, or simply a form of entertainment, is evident in some of the press coverage about this case. It was noted after Mary’s killer was hanged that:

‘the conduct of the occupants of the houses opposite the place of execution deserves a passing word of praise. They either went from home or closed their houses, neither viewing themselves nor permitting others to view the execution from their premises.’ [Bristol Mercury, 18 April 1863]

It can be seen, then, that Mary’s murder was a chance for various issues to be explored in the press – and that it also demonstrate how the Victorian press reported violent crimes, depicting such events as a simplistic fight between good and evil and choosing the facts that best suited their chosen narrative.

Part Four of the Ullingswick Murder: The Criminality of William Hope, will be published tomorrow.

The Ullingswick Murder, Part Two: Local policing, forensics and the discovery of the body

Part Two of my series this week on a notorious 1862 murder. Catch up with part one here.

Victorian policeman, by Antony McCallum

Victorian policeman, by Antony McCallum

The next morning, a thatcher, William Weaver, who lived in Ullingswick with George Hope, William Hope’s brother, woke up at his usual time of 7am, to find it raining heavily. He went into the garden, and saw something lying in the meadow behind. He called to George, who walked with him up to the gate.

They saw that the object he had seen was the dead body of a young woman, sitting up against an apple tree. A black cloak had been thrown over her body, and the grass all around the body was trampled down.

It was Mary, and she was very obviously dead. Her face was covered in mud and blood, and there was a pool of blood under her, as though she was sitting on it. A pail full of turnips was resting nearby.

The men ran back to the house, and told George’s wife, before going to notify the local constable, Frederick Pugh. Pugh, together with other local men, went to carry Mary onto a cart. She was on her back now in the Waterside meadow, her bonnet still on but hanging back off her head.

Thomas Simpson, another constable who had been notified of William Hope’s suspicious behaviour the night before by Herbert Skerrett, took possession of the pail, and went out in search of the labourer.

He found him halfway up a pear tree nearby, shaking down fruit for his employer, a Mr Wood. Hope was promptly arrested, but Hope’s only comment was to say, “I will say nothing.”

However, on reaching the Prince of Wales inn, Hope admitted that it was his turnip pail that had been found by Mary’s body. He was then conveyed to the gaol at Bromyard.

In the meantime, a search of the local area found evidence of a struggle some 100 yards away from where the body had been discovered. It was halfway between the meadow and Mrs Bevan’s shop, which lay on the parish road that ran between Hereford and Bromyard.

Mud and material were fundamental in the case against Hope. Daniel Harwood, the superintendent of police at Bromyard, examined the ground where signs of a struggle had been spotted with Thomas Simpson. They found that there was an impression in the clay of a person lying on her back, with the marks of buttocks and the back of a head clearly visible.

Facing towards that shape were marks as though someone had been kneeling by her. The marks were made by ‘a peculiar sort of ribbed stuff’, and when impressions were made of the clay indentations, it looked as though the person kneeling had been wearing cord trousers where part of the material had been worn through.

When Hope’s trousers were seized, it was found that they were made of a twill ribbed cord, were worn, and very muddy around the knees. Patches on the trousers also matched marks in the mud.

This was not the first time such methods had been used in a criminal investigation: in a similar case in 1816, a Warwick farm labourer was convicted of murdering a servant after the impression of corduroy cloth with a sewn patch, found in damp earth at the crime scene, was matched to the suspect’s breeches. [S Kind and M Overman, ‘Science Against Crime’, New York, 1972, pp.12-13]


Memorial to Henry Graves Bull, MD, at Hereford Cathedral

Memorial to Henry Graves Bull, MD, at Hereford Cathedral

Surgeon Henry Graves Ball – who was also later a Hereford magistrate – conducted the post-mortem on Mary’s body, and found that she had died from being suffocated, two hands having squeezed her nose, mouth and throat.

However, she had also been raped ‘with very great violence’, and he was unsure whether she was raped before or after her death. Her face, body and clothes had all been bloody, indicating the level of violence with which she had been attacked.

He noted that Mary was a ‘healthy, well-developed young woman’, but that in death, the marks of fingernails around her mouth and jaw were clear. Her hands were clenched, and also noted that when he had later examined William Hope, Mary’s teeth marks were visible on Hope’s fingers, showing that Mary had tried to fight off her alleged attacker.

At the inquest, the jury ‘without hesitation’ returned a verdict of wilful murder, and William Hope was committed for trial at the next assizes.

Part 3 of the Ullingswick Murder: How the press reported Mary Corbett’s murder, will be published tomorrow.

The Ullingswick Murder, Part One: Mary Goes Missing

This week, I am writing about a notorious murder case that took place in rural Herefordshire in 1862. A post each day this week will look at a specific aspect of the case, taking in sex, the media, policing methods, and debates around public hangings.

On Thursday 23 October 1862, an inquest was held at the Prince of Wales Inn, Hereford, before Nicholas Lanwarne, the county coroner, on the body of 16 year old Mary Corbett.

Ullingswick, by Philip Pankhurst, from Geograph

Ullingswick, by Philip Pankhurst, from Geograph

Described as ‘a remarkable specimen of the ruddy-complexioned damsels of Herefordshire’, Mary was a native of Ullingswick, a small village six miles south of Bromyard in Herefordshire.

Since she was 14, she had been employed as the live-in servant of a local widow named Elizabeth Skerrett, who had found her to be a ‘very good little girl’. Elizabeth was a respected member of the community, who on her husband’s death had taken over his farm, The Gobbets, in the village.

On 20 October, about 8pm, 70-year-old Mrs Skerrett had sent Mary to the Drainers’ Arms, also known as the Half-way House, about 300 yards away, to ask the owner, Mrs Bevan, for some candles, pins and beer.

Mary duly arrived there a few minutes later. Mary Bevan, who was married to drainer John Bevan – presumably the reason why her beershop was known as the Drainers’ Arms – also kept a grocer’s shop, which was attached to her beer house, and knew Mary Corbett from previous errands.

To go to the shop, like any customer, she had to walk through the kitchen, where the beer was sold and supped. There that night were William Hope and John Prosser. The latter was asleep, but Hope, who was already tipsy, asked young Mary if she would like to have some beer with him.

Reports conflict over whether she did have some; one earlier report stated that she replied, “I do not want any tonight,” and left, flurried by the request. A later report stated that she had a quick glass of beer but then left.

On reaching Mrs Skerritt’s house, they realised that she had forgotten to get the candles, and at around 9.30 or 9.45pm – Mrs Skerritt was later confused about the time, as she said her clock was fast – Mary was asked to return to the shop and get the needed three candles.

Mary duly trotted off again, and on reaching Mrs Bevan’s, was again asked by Hope if she would have a drink. Mary refused; Hope ignored her and poured her a glass. Mary again refused to drink, bought the candles, and left the shop, apparently at ‘a bit of a run’, as the night was now dark and stormy. Hope, leaving a half-full jug of beer, got up and left immediately after, without saying anything to. Mrs Bevan.

Mrs Skerrett saw Mary as akin to a daughter; when she did not return home, she waited up for her till four o’clock the next morning – but she never came home.


Earlier that evening, Mrs Skerrett’s son Herbert, who still lived at home, had come home from Bromyard about 7.30pm and, after a spell at home, went off to Mrs Bevan’s about 9.30pm to fetch half a gallon of beer to take back to his mother’s.

Herbert stayed ten minutes, noting the sleeping Prosser and William Hope drinking. He also noted a pail of turnips at the end of the room, with a cord attached to it. On leaving the Half-way House, he saw Mary Corbett on her errand – but she did not say what errand she was on.

That night, Herbert stayed up until 3am. By midnight, worried about Mary, he traversed the hosue with a candle and lantern, to seeing if she was hiding anywhere. He did the same at 2am, but heard and saw nothing.

But someone else DID hear something. Richard Mapp, a labourer, lived about 100 yards from Mrs Bevan’s. He had done to bed about 10pm, and immediately after getting into bed, he heard two screams.

He got out of bed, ran to the window, and heard a female voice, in distress, calling out, “Oh! Oh dear!” He opened the window and listened for about ten minutes, but heard nothing else. It was very windy that night, and he struggled to hear anything other than the wind.

William Hope did not come back to his lodgings that night. Nobody heard anything of him, either, until the next day.

Part 2: Local policing, forensics and the discovery of the body will be published tomorrow.

A class case: did Captain Belstead make a mockery of the law?

800px-G_Pagliei_-_Au_jardinIn 1842, the Spectator [1] noted an anomaly “in the courts of justice”, and presented it to its readers in wonder. It was a case that should have caused bad feeling against the defendant – but didn’t. The rather polite case, heard at the Surrey Quarter Sessions, was, indeed, an anomaly.

Captain Henry Belstead [2] had been the secretary of a savings bank in Richmond, Surrey. He turned out not to have been a good choice for the job, and had given in to temptation by committing forgery and embezzling his customers’ money.

He was charged with several indictments, one of which involved some 15 counts of forgery, and another with embezzling £13. The charges related to various trustees and customers of the Richmond Savings Bank, including Sir Charles Price, Fanny Paisse, William Wheeler and John Capon.

This might have been to help support his family; Henry had a wife and four children between the ages of four and 11 to feed; but the newspapers did not believe that his offence was “one of those dishonesties which a needy man in circumstances of pressure may be tempted to commit.” [3]

On coming before the court, the Bradford Observer noted that “it might have been supposed that to violate the sacred deposits of parsimonious industry would excite the bitterest rancour against the delinquent” – in other words, the people who had had their savings plundered might have been a bit naffed off with Belstead.

But, much to everyone’s surprise, they were not angry at all; instead, those sitting in the public gallery had “an overflow of kindly feeling”. In addition, Henry’s counsel “commenced the mockery of justice by making a sort of apology for the prosecution, and by throwing some of the blame on members of the Managing Committee [of the bank], who had failed to watch the Secretary as closely as they might and should have done.”  [4]

The outcome of Henry Belstead's trial at Surrey Quarter Sessions (via Ancestry)

The outcome of Henry Belstead’s trial at Surrey Quarter Sessions (via Ancestry)

Perhaps Henry had earned respect through his long association with the area. Although not born in Surrey, and married in Dover [5], he had lived in Richmond since at least 1830, and his children had all been born and baptised there. [6] His army background also made him a local figure of respect.

Among those who spoke in his defence were two men whom Belstead had served in the King’s Own Light Infantry between 1813 and 1827 – a Colonel McDougall and a Colonel Fox, who both “testified to the high character borne in the army by Captain Belstead”. [7]

A friend of Belstead’s – ironically, a magistrate at Richmond, Mr Garrick – also spoke highly of the prisoner, stating that they had been acquainted for eight years, and that Belstead had always conducted himself well.

Despite having brought the prosecution in the first place, Henry’s former customers now pleaded with the judge for Belstead to be treated with mercy, with the recorder stating that the court would “acquiesce” in any application made to the Home Secretary for mitigation of the sentence.

As a result of all this, “the judge all but apologised in passing sentence”, suggesting that if he had been able to, he would have “passed over” the indictment for forgery – but his “hands were tied” by the need, as The Examiner put it, “administer some measure of justice, scanty and inadequate as it was.” [8]

But sentence him, the judge finally did. The much loved Henry was given two years in the local house of correction for his crimes. [9]

"Norfolk Island jail" by Steve Daggar - originally uploaded to Flickr as part of the Norfolk Island set.

“Norfolk Island jail” by Steve Daggar – originally uploaded to Flickr as part of the Norfolk Island set.

Although the Spectator and the Bradford Observer viewed the case with humour, taking a kind of pleasure in Belstead’s lenient treatment by the courts, The Examiner was more critical.

It felt that Belstead had been treated well purely because he was a former army captain with long service behind him; that this was a class issue. It warned people not to place “gentlemen who have served in the army” in positions of trust, for if they commit crimes in that employment, they would not be punished properly. In short,

“Let it be at once understood that no punishment, or half-punishment, goes with half-pay, and that the community will know how to protect itself against that singularly privileged class, for whom a relaxation of the criminal law is so flatteringly reserved. […] How indecent, how disgraceful, is such an example!” [10]

It seems as though The Examiner was wrong in its belief that there would be no lasting punishment for Captain Belstead, however. On leaving prison, he returned to the army, where he was stationed at Norfolk Island, in the Pacific Ocean – a small and isolated convict penal settlement. [11] How apt.


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Committing perjury for your master

William Hogarth's "Servants"

William Hogarth’s “Servants”

One case that came before magistrate William Bromley in Warwickshire in the late 17th century showed the pressure that servants could be placed under by their masters.

In 1695, Anne Wilcox, servant to Thomas Avery in Kenilworth, had appeared as a witness at a trial. The initial prosecution had been brought by Avery against a local surgeon, Mr Smith, although the reasons for the prosecution do not survive.

The trial, at the Warwickshire Lent Assizes, had involved Anne positively identifying Smith as a man she had met on an earlier occasion, whilst out on her own.

However, on 27 July 1695, Anne approached William Bromley and admitted that she had committed perjury at the trial.

She said that Avery had put her under substantial pressure to identify Smith, even though she had never met him.

She had told Avery that “she durst not do it, nor would not”, arguing to her master that she risked ruining her reputation by saying in court that she had been alone with Smith – “many wifes’ heads would turn and wind her”.

Avery, though, told Anne that it was “no sin” and pressured her until she gave in – presumably she feared that she would lose her job if she refused her master his request.

Her conscience had soon afterwards pricked her, though, and she had subsequently reported her master – and herself – for falsely swearing against Smith.

On 9 August 1695, the magistrate formally discharged Anne from her service with Avery, noting that she was leaving her employment having accused her master of making her commit “wilful and corrupt perjury”.

Anne was not punished by Bromley for committing perjury, but perhaps he was being charitable, seeing that she was being punished in other ways – her position was untenable and she had lost her job as a result of her conscience.

Avery also refused to pay Anne the wages he owed her – and later had to appear at Quarter Sessions to be forced to settle with her.

He, however, appears to have got away with his attempts to frame the surgeon – apart from the loss of a servant who had been loyal enough to him to risk losing her reputation.

Source: The notebook of William Bromley of Baginton, Warwickshire Record Office CRO103.

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