Category Archives: Legal History

Faculty Friday- Trentham

The Bawdy Courts of Lichfield

This month’s faculty not only shows details of proposed changes to a church but also hints at a local status power play. The 1843 faculty for Trentham requests confirmation of rebuilding work already completed and remaining work to be done. This includes re-pewing the main church, after taking down the old galleries, with reserved seats for the Pilkingtons of Butterton Hall and building a new west gallery containing pews for the Duke of Sutherland. The architect for this project was Charles Barry.

What’s of note in these papers is that as part of the replacement of the galleries, the Pilkington’s lose their reserved gallery and are instead allocated pews on the ground floor whilst the Sutherland’s (of…

View original post 63 more words

SPOTLIGHT ON BURSLEM: When dressing up as a ghost could land you in front of the Church Courts

The Bawdy Courts of Lichfield

In September 1627 Robert Simpson donned a white sheet and walked around Burslem, Staffordshire, pretending to be the ghost of a recently deceased local man. Was this, as Simpson claimed, a simple case of trying to frighten an individual or, as the church courts claimed, was it the sign of something much more sinister?

All sides agree that on the 12th September 1627, the same day that local potter John Turner was buried, Simpson ‘in the dark of the night’ put on a white sheet ‘with a knott on the topp or head thereof in the manner of a windinge sheete’ for the purpose of looking like Turner’s ghost but the burning question is why.

Winding-sheet containing corpse, 15th century.
Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The church court, in a case promoted by William and John Blore of Audley, accuses Simpson and his friend William Edge of…

View original post 613 more words

Spotlight on Crime and Punishment – The Stocks

On October 6th, 1680, Tunstall Court Leet ordered the High Constable of the Manor of Tunstall to repair the stocks in Burslem within six weeks or pay a penalty of six shillings and eight pence.

From Anglo-Saxon times until the middle of the 19th century, the stocks were used to punish minor offences.

Criminals Were Punished by Their Victims

The Stocks were designed to humiliate and degrade petty criminals by putting them on display in a public place where their victims and members of the community could impose their own punishments on them.

Stocks were erected on village greens, in market squares and at crossroads. Most were made of wood, although a few were made of iron. Offenders sat on a wooden bench with their ankles placed through holes in moveable boards. How long a person spent in the stocks depended on the gravity of the offence. Some were there for a few hours. Others were put in them for two or three days and fed on bread and water.

In 1350, the Second Statute of Labourers compelled every town and village to erect stocks in a public place.

Having its own set of stocks conferred status on small communities. A settlement that was too small to have a set was regarded as a hamlet and could not call itself a village.

Men and women in the stocks were a source of entertainment for the crowds that flocked to see them punished.

Members of the public were allowed to whip offenders who were in the stocks until their backs were bloody and to throw stones, broken pottery, dead dogs and cats, rotten fruit and vegetables, bad eggs and excrement at them.

Innkeepers, Peddlers and Market Traders

Dishonest shopkeepers, innkeepers, peddlers and market traders were put in the stocks. Housewives poured the contents of chamber pots over the heads of traders who had given them “short weight”. Butchers who had sold rotten beef, lamb, pork or poultry sat in the stocks surrounded by maggot-infested meat. Fishmongers convicted of selling fish that had passed its sell-by date were placed in the stocks with stinking fish hung around their necks. Innkeepers and alewives who were in the stocks for selling watered-down beer had jugs of stale ale poured over their heads by customers they had cheated.

Rogues, Vagabonds, Beggars and Drunkards

Towards the end of the middle ages gangs of rogues and vagabonds made their way from town to town begging, robbing and stealing everywhere they went. To deal with these gangs the government brought in new laws with draconian penalties for vagabonds who infringed them.

In 1388 an Act of Parliament (12 Rich. 2) was passed making it illegal for labourers to give up their jobs and leave the district where they lived without the King’s permission. The statute gave borough mayors, manor stewards and town constables authority to put labourers who had run away from their employers in the stocks, until they found sureties who guaranteed that they would go home and return to work.

A statute, passed during the reign of Henry VII (1457-1509), allowed constables to place vagrants in the stocks.

Passed in 1494, the Vagabonds and Beggars Act gave the courts power to put “vagabonds, idle and suspected persons” in the stocks for three days and three nights.

Under the provisions of a statute (22 Hen 8, c. 12) passed in 1530, magistrates could give “the impotent poor” permission to beg at specified places in the town or village where they lived. If they were found begging anywhere else, they were put in the stocks for two days and nights.

A law passed in 1605 made the punishment for getting drunk six hours in the stocks and made the penalty for being a drunkard four hours in the stocks or a fine of three shillings. Shortly afterwards, Parliament made the punishment for swearing in a public place one hour in the stocks or a fine of one shilling.

Spotlight on Hanley: The Old Swan Inn

Swan Inn


In volume two of his series Romance of Staffordshire, published in 1878, Henry Wedgwood describes the interior of the Swan Inn, an old coaching inn which was demolished in the 1840s.

The Swan Inn

“It is wonderful how soon public buildings pass from memory with all their associations, and, may be, usefulness. How completely the Old Swan Inn, Hanley is now buried in the past, and with it the memory of those who used to meet there.

“The old inn was a large building, with strange looking wings and gable ends. It had square built chimneys and gothic windows mullioned by heavy stonework. There were iron palisades at the front of the building and an extensive bowling green at the rear. Its front entrance was covered with a flat canopy supported by stone pillars. Inside there were queer, odd, little rooms with chimney nooks and ancient screens from bygone days. The one large room was used for social functions and town celebrations when speeches were made about King, Country and the Pottery industry.

“One of the back rooms had a large bay window that looked out on to the bowling green. This was the room where Justices of the Peace held their petty sessions (Magistrates’ Court). The court tried summary offences and sent men, women and children who were accused of committing felonies to the Assize Court or Quarter Sessions for trial.”

Thieves were not deterred by whipping and transportation

The Swan Inn

During the 18th century, Hanley and Shelton became the most important towns in The Potteries.

Between 1762 and 1801 their populations grew from 2,000 to 7,940. Hanley’s first church, St. John’s, erected in 1738 was enlarged during the 1760s. Stagecoaches called at The Swan, an old inn in the town centre. Pack horses and wagons carried ware from Hanley and Shelton to the Weaver Navigation’s wharves at Winsford and brought back ball clay and household goods. A covered market designed by architect James Trubshaw was built in Town Road during 1776.

The Trent & Mersey and the Caldon Canal stimulated economic expansion and population growth.

Entrepreneurs opened factories and iron works. People from the surrounding countryside came to Hanley looking for work and new houses were constructed.

In 1791, a trust was formed to acquire the market hall and build a town hall. The trustees leased land in Market Square from John Bagnall, the Lord of the Manor, where they erected a town hall.

Markets were held in the square on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A fortnightly cattle market was established at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1813, Parliament gave the trustees power to regulate the market place and make by-laws. The trustees demolished the old town hall and built a poultry market and a stone lockup where prisoners were held until they were brought before the Magistrates’ Court which sat in a room at the Swan Inn.

Punishments in the 18th century were severe and intended to deter the offender by degrading and humiliating him.

Men found guilty of being drunk and disorderly were put in the stocks and pelted with bad eggs, rotten tomatoes and potato peelings by jeering crowds. Women convicted of street fighting or brawling were placed on the ducking stool and dipped in Clementson’s Pool until they begged for mercy. Men and women caught stealing from market stalls were tried at the county Quarter Sessions and received a public whipping or were transported to Australia for seven years.

Despite these draconian penalties, law and order broke down. The annual wakes turned into a drunken orgy which was followed by rioting and looting.

Fearing for their own safety, Hanley’s unpaid constables turned a blind eye when serious crimes were committed. In the evenings, robbers lurked in doorways waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims walking home through narrow, unlit streets.

Having no confidence in the constables, residents employed watchmen to patrol the streets and protect their property. A society for the prosecution of felons was formed and in 1825 a professional police force was created.

Copyright Betty Cooper and David Martin 2013


Werrington Industrial School

Despite the harsh sentences imposed on young offenders, juvenile crime increased dramatically during the 1850s.

Neither birching nor imprisonment deterred. Realising that a new method of dealing with juveniles was needed, Parliament created residential industrial schools for boys and girls likely to become professional criminals. Magistrates’ Courts were given the power to send children under 12 who had committed criminal offences and young persons under 14 who were homeless or who had been found begging in the streets or who were beyond parental control to industrial schools where they received an elementary education and were given vocational training.

An industrial school for boys opened at Werrington, a village on the outskirts of The Potteries, in January 1870. Benjamin Horth was the superintendent, and his wife was the matron. Boys worked on the school farm or in a workshop where they made shoes. Farm produce and shoes were sold commercially, and the boys were paid wages. The money they earned was put into a savings account and given to them when they were released.

Discipline at Werrington was maintained by a system of rewards and punishment. The boys were divided into three divisions – first, second and third. Good conduct marks were given for good behaviour. After six months at the school, a boy was placed in the third division and given a farthing for every 12 marks awarded. Continued good behaviour enabled him to progress to the second division, where every 12 marks gained were worth a halfpenny. When promoted to the first division, boys received a penny for every 12 marks obtained. After they had been in the first division for six months, boys, who had not been punished for breaking school rules, were put in the merit class which entitled them to an extra 24 marks a month.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the maxim of Victorian parents and teachers. Punishments at Werrington were just as severe as those imposed by the courts. A list giving details of the punishment a boy would receive if he misbehaved was displayed in the classroom. For the first offence of dishonesty or falsehood, he forfeited 18 good conduct marks and was given six strokes of the cane, for a second offence he lost 36 marks and received four strokes of the birch and for a third he lost 144 marks and was given 8 strokes of the birch.

Absconding was the most serious offence. The first time a boy absconded, he forfeited 36 marks and was given six strokes of the birch. Those who absconded a second time lost 72 marks and received eight strokes of the birch. Boys absconding a third time lost all the good conduct marks they had earned and were given 12 strokes of the birch.

Despite the severity of these punishments, less than 5% of the boys who had been sent to Werrington got into trouble with the police when they left at 16.