Stealing Turnip Tops near St Albans

From the Herts Advertiser, 19th March 1864

Some of the poor of St Albans regularly raided the fields of the nearby farmers - sometimes collecting vegetables on a scale that suggests they were planning to sell them. Two of these cases involve members of the notorious Stratton family collecting large bundles of turnip tops. The case of William Cramphorn, of not assisting the police, is far more unusual, and I suspect that the police thought he was involved  in the theft and as they had no evidence tried to get him on another charge.



William Stratton and George Constable, both of St Albans, pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing a quantity of turnip tops (about 12 bushels) from lands of Edward Brown, Esq., of Oaklands, near St Albans, on the morning of that day (Saturday) the 12th inst.

Mr Blagg, who appeared for the prosecution, called the attention of the Bench to the desperate encounter, which had occurred on police-constables Randall and North tracing the sacks of turnip tops to the cottage of Stratton, in Dog yard, St Albans.

North appeared in court with several scars and bruises on his face; the prisoner Stratton a frightful figure, with blood still flowing from his temples.

Police-constable Randall exhibited an axe with which Stratton threatened to strike him.

The Magistrates said they could not then dealt with the assault, but only with the charge of stealing the turnip tops, for which they would award the highest punishment the law recognised for the first conviction in such cases — one month’s imprisonment with hard labour, but if ever again convicted it would be much heavier.

 [It is likely that the assault charge was heard at a higher court - and reported in the paper - but was not picked up by my incomplete search of the newspaper microfilms.]


Present: H. Parsons, Esq. Mayor; T. Kinder, Esq; and W H Evans, Esq.


William Cramphorn, of St Albans, was charged with refusing to assist police constable North in the execution of his duty on Saturday last, the 12th inst. whereby he had incurred a fine not exceeding 40s.

Police constable North said — on Saturday morning he was concerned with police constable Randall in apprehending two men named Stratton and Constable for stealing turnip tops, for which offence they were afterwards convicted. The apprehension took place in the Dog Yard. The defendant, William Cramphorn, was present and he was called upon to assist. He neglected to do so, and did not come near. John Hunt was next called on and he assisted.

By defendant: I never saw you come near and did not give you the turnip tops to mind.

Police constable Randall corroborated North’s testimony, and said that Mr. Hunt took charge of the tops.

Defendant said he did help, and called a witness.

John Hunt, who said he was at his stable in the Dog Yard at the time. Cramphorn, who worked for him, was present, and was putting his horse into the cart. Defendant was called upon to assist. The men were handcuffed, and defendant but the turnip tops into a barrow and a boy wheeled them up to the police office.

The Mayor [H. Parsons] said every one in this country had a duty to assist constables in their arduous work, but the magistrates did not think that the offence in this case was proved, and it would therefore be dismissed.

 From the Herts Advertiser, 2nd April 1864


Magistrates present:– W H Solley, Esq, in the chair; Revs Dr Nicholson and W S Wade; H H Toulmin and T Kinder, Esqrs; and Captain Toulmin.


Charlotte Fray, Sarah Warboy [sic - Warby elsewhere in article], Mary Peacock, Martha Hartley and James Stratton, all from the locale of the Christopher and Dog Yards, St Albans, were charged with stealing a quantity of turnip tops, value 10s, the property of Mr Robert Smith, from Cheapside Farm, near St Albans.

It appeared from the evidence of Mr Edmund Smith, that on Friday the 18th March, he saw some of the defendants going along the road towards Long Field, on Cheapside Farm, where his father had turnips growing. On the evening of the same day he saw all five of them coming in the direction away from the field to the town, on the Harpenden Road. Each of them had a quantity of turnip tops of the same description as those growing in the field. He stopped them. Stratton said he had found his lot, and immediately dropped them and ran away. Peacock and Hartley sat down on the bank, threw down their lots, and begged to be forgiven. Warby and Fray walked on, and two of his father’s men, that he had fetched just before, to assist him in intercepting the party, stopped them. All five came to him the next morning, and also on the Monday following, to beg to be forgiven. He went to the field on the Saturday morning and found that a large quantity of tops were gone, and there were numerous footsteps of women’s shoes. He believed the tops stolen were worth 10s at least.

Joseph Catlin and Thomas Gray, labourers in the employ of Mr Smith, gave confirmatory evidence.

The chairman said that farmers must be protected against such wholesale depredations, and as there were three former convictions recorded against Fray, she would be imprisoned for three months; Peacock, against whom two former convictions were recorded, also for three months; and Warby, Hartley and Stratton for one month each; all with hard labour.

Warby treated the bench and auditory with a specimen of her powers of elocution; and the whole party was escorted to their new habitation by several members of the Herts constabulary.

For further information on the Cramphorn family see:

CRAMPHORN, St Albans, late 19th century

Poaching Rabbits at Sandridge in 1860

Trespass in search of Conies in St Michaels, St Albans in 1866

Fraudulently dealing in Straw Plait, St Albans in 1882

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