STRATTON & other poachers, St Albans area, 19th century

April 1999 - reposted November 2002

(Edited repost from the "old" Genealogy in Hertfordshire site)

I asked a question: As part of my research into Bernard's Heath, St Albans, (See A Short History of Bernards Heath) I am interested in the petty criminals who poached and stole crops from the farms around the Heath. I would be very interested to hear from anyone whose ancestors were petty criminals in the area during the 18th or 19th century in this area. In particular I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has researched the Stratton family, who at various dates appear to have lived at Snatchup End and Christopher Yard, St Albans. I will be happy to provide further information on their criminal activities in return for information on how the members of the Stratton family were related.

In 1873 James STRATTON and Joseph STRATTON were charged with stealing two bushels of potatoes, value 6s 6d, the property of Mr. James PEPPERCORN, in the parish of St Peter, St Albans, Herts, in a field adjacent to one farmed by my great grandfather, Jacob Reynolds, on the 12th September. James STRATTON (then aged 67) pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years penal servitude. Joseph (37) pleaded not guilty. He claimed that as he now had a job he had no need to steal. His "wife" [not named] was called and gave evidence that he was in bed at the time of the theft, and as the identification evidence was somewhat uncertain the jury of GOUGH (foreman), BALDWIN, BOWEN, BRUTON, BULLOCK, CHAPMAN, COLE, DIXON, HARFORD, HILL, HEY, HUNT, KING, MEAD, OLDFIELD, REYNOLDS, SMITH, WEBBER, WILLIAMS, and PATEN found him not guilty.

The very many previous convictions are given on the page Crime on the Heath (so are not repeated here), and a complete copy of the press report of the Magistrates Hearing are given on the page  Theft of Potatoes at St Albans, 1873

Joseph's major prison conviction was in 1865 when the Bedford Times reported:

 "THE LATE POACHING AFFRAY. Joseph STRATTON was brought up in custody, charged with being concerned in a poaching affray, on the grounds of the late Sir Thomas SEABRIGHT [presumably Sir Thomas Gage Saunders SEBRIGHT, of Beechwood, near Dunstable], in November, 1863, when a murderous attack was made upon a keeper named BURGESS. It will be remembered that in March, 1864, four prisoners, named Levi WELCH, George BONE, Wm. STEVENS, and Thomas POTTON, were convicted at the Beds. Assizes for this offence, and that this man (the prisoner), who had taken the most prominent part in the attack upon the keeper, was not to be found, he having absconded. The evidence of BURGESS was again taken, as also was that of another keeper named HAWES, both men positively swearing to the prisoner. He was committed to take his trial at the Assizes. The man was apprehended by Police-sergeant NEVILLE at St Albans on Tuesday, the 28th ult."

I have not yet located the account of the trial of Joseph, and I would be interested to know if any of his accomplices came from the St Albans area.

George Mead wrote: I've just seen your posting this morning about poaching on the late Sir Thomas Sebright's land (Beechwood Park). The names mentioned in it, all are common to Markyate area, in particular, Bone, Stevens, Potton & Burgess, I was wondering if they were related to my family.

Bone, Stevens & Potton are my great grandparents. It seems a coincidence, but, you have emailed me about Joseph Walker also in trouble with the law

Question: Where can I find information as to where they came from, ie Markyate

The best easily accessible source of information on the other criminals in the Beechwood case would be the Bedford Times, assuming that there is a microfilm copy in the Luton Central Library. If not you may have to try the Bedford Records Office. They may have something, but I don't think they have the assize court records for that period.

The crime occurred in November 1863 and there is almost certain to be an account of it in the paper. It is not clear when the offenders were arrested but they will have appeared before the magistrates (in Dunstable?) - again probably another press account, and finally they will have appeared before the Assize court in March 1864 - again leading to a press report.

I don't know the policy of the Bedford Times at the period, but if it is like the Herts Advertiser you can expect to find evidence such as age, place of residence and possible occupations. You can also expect some information on previous convictions - although almost certainly not in the detail of my original posting. If you can find out who they are I would be most interested - particularly if they tie in with members of the Stratton family.

By the way, Beechwood Park is now in Hertfordshire but there have been some county boundary changes in the area since the time of the offence. Would it have been in Hertfordshire in 1863 - and if so it is interesting that the trial took place in Bedfordshire.

Finally I am envious. All my many ancestors appear to have been (officially at least) disgustingly honest. When they appear in court it is either to sue someone who owes them money, or to give evidence.

See series of web pages The STRATTON Family of St Albans

If you can add to the information given above tell me.