This week, Ancestry has put online lots more criminal records – this time relating to prisoners in Gloucestershire. Although the records cover the period from 1728 to 1914, it is the later records that have received the most publicity, and for one key reason. Dating from the late 19th century, after the mandatory introduction of the criminal mugshot, Ancestry’s records include images of the men, women, girls and boys who came before the local police in a largely rural county.
Not only is this of interest to family historians, who might be able to see, for the first time, what their black sheep ancestors actually looked like (for many were from poor families, and might not have been able to afford to have their photograph taken professionally in any other context), it is of interest to the criminal historian, too, putting a face to a name; and a crime to a face.
Some of those detailed are very young at the time of their first surviving conviction; it is also possible to follow the pattern of offending for a repeat offender. One such pattern can be established for Edgar Leopold Kilminster.
Edgar was born in 1863 in Chalford Hill, near Stroud in Gloucestershire. He was the son of bootmaker William Kilminster – who was originally from Cricklade in Wiltshire – and his wife Harriet (nee Gardiner), born and bred in Chalford. William and Harriet had married locally two years prior to Edgar’s birth.
The Kilminsters were a large family; Edgar had several siblings, including older brother Joseph William, who followed his father into bootmaking, and younger siblings Harriet Florence Melinda (known as Florence), Annie Elizabeth, Alexina Laura, George Ernest, Percy Stanley, Amy Nella, Elsie Mabel, Della May and Gertrude*. Harriet Kilminster appears to have been pregnant on a regular basis from the age of 21 to 45.
Perhaps with such a large family, it was hard to keep an eye on the children all the time. They needed to go to work at an early age – at 9, Joseph Kilminster was working in a silk mill (possibly St Mary’s, a textile mill in Chalford) and also attending school part-time, along with 8-year-old Edgar. It was a lot for two young boys; maybe they were bored in their little rural community, having such a rigid structure at such an early age; or perhaps they simply wanted to be able to get things that their parents couldn’t afford to buy them. Certainly, the two older boys were soon being noticed by the local police.
The first entry relating to the Kilminster family from the Gloucestershire Calendar of Prisoners is for seven-year-old Edgar, who was committed on 17 June 1870 for ‘stealing sweetmeats’, along with his brother Joseph, aged 9. The boys were found guilty and sent to the house of correction for seven days.
Edgar at the time was just 3’10”, an inch shorter than his hare-lipped brother, a brown haired, blue eyed boy with no prior convictions. But it was not his only conviction.
On 7 November 1876, by now aged 14, 4’12” and working as a factory hand near to his home in Chalford Hill, near Stroud, Edgar was again arrested by the police, and in December, appeared before the local magistrates at the local petty sessions. He was accused of having been ‘found on an enclosed garden of William Farmer at Bisley‘ – having been unable to give a good account of being on someone else’s property, Edgar was given the punishment of a month’s hard labour in the house of correction.
His record at this time notes that he had been known to local policeman PC Packer for 11 years, ‘has been here for stealing and once fined for stealing’; he was charged with, and convicted with, a local friend, George Mills.
Edgar’s offending now progressed to a more serious level, and in July 1879, now aged 16, 5’7″, and working as a labourer, he appeared at the Gloucester Assizes, charged with burglary. He was found guilty, and sentenced to nine months’ hard labour. It was noted by this time that he had four prior convictions; he was released on 30 April 1880.
Edgar lived with his family in Chalford Hill until his late 20s, with his brother Joseph, now married and with a family of his own, living next door. In 1892, he married Mary Elizabeth Griffin in Bisley, and had a family of his own. However, a final surviving entry notes that Edgar Kilminster was convicted in 1897 of assaulting his wife of five years, and given 14 days’ hard labour. This was not his only offence between 1879 and 1897, though, as this final entry recorded eight prior convictions for the now strapping 34-year-old six footer.
One might expect Edgar to continue offending, and to continue living near his family in Chalford, working as a labourer. But instead, the next record for Edgar shows that he instead enlisted in the army – the deformed right thumb he now had being no barrier to service. He signed up for two years’ service in the Royal Artillery, at Pembroke Dock, claiming on his attestation papers that he had never been sentenced to imprisonment.
In 1906, Edgar appeared before the magistrates again. Although this appearance is not listed on Ancestry’s records, it survives in a mention in the Gloucester Citizen newspaper. Edgar and Jesse Gardner (possibly a relative on his mother’s side, but with a different spelling of his surname recorded) appeared at Stroud Petty Sessions, charged with having refused to leave the Bell Inn in Chalford one night, after the landlord, George Brown, had repeatedly asked them to.
Edgar had already been drunk when he went to the pub, and so the landlord had refused to serve him. But Edgar refused to leave for over an hour, instead using ‘abusive language’. The following day, the two men had visited the pub to try and get George Brown to settle the case away from the magistrates, but he seems to have refused. At Petty Sessions, each man was fined five shillings, and ordered to pay another 4s costs. (Gloucester Citizen, 7 September 1906)
In World War 1, Edgar served in the Army Service Corps. He was now living in Glamorgan, and had been working as a timberman. He served despite being 50 when he signed up.
Mary Elizabeth Kilminster died in 1921, and two years later, Edgar married again, this time to Gertrude Mary Hirons. She outlived her husband, for 71-year-old Edgar died on 3 September 1934 at the General Hospital in Stroud, having been taken there from his home on the High Street in Bisley. He had had a long and eventful life, but his birth and death both took place in his home area, where the police and the magistrates had known him so well.
* These children’s names are taken from census records and cross-referenced with FreeBMD information; however, there may have been more Kilminster children, including Thomas William (born and died 1870), and Louisa Minnie (born 1871, died 1875).