Tuesday, 10 September 2013

10th September 1813: The trial of Simeon Beston & James Renshaw at Chester Lammas Assizes, for burglary

At Chester Lammas Assizes in 1813 two trials took place which have not, up until now at least, been deemed relevant to the chronicles of Luddism in the north of England. Upon reading about them, one may ask why this should be any different. However, two factors demand their inclusion.

The first is the involvement of the Stockport solicitor, and Luddite-baiter, John Lloyd. He seems to have been behind the prosecution of the three men. The second factor is that the local press, chiefly the Chester Chronicle, focused on the fact that one of those on trial was (regarded as) a Luddite, and had been before the court at the Chester Special Commission nearly 16 months previously. In fact, they named the wrong man: William Beston. It was in fact James Renshaw who had been charged with riot and robbery in Stockport in April 1812, and had pleaded guilty, but had been discharged on recognizances.

The trial of Simeon Beston and James Renshaw took place approximately on Friday 10th September. The Chester Chronicle's report of it follows:

The former aged 26, a weaver from Ringway; the latter aged 30, a weaver, from Wilmslow, for a burglary and felony in the house of Joseph Harding, of Henbury, in the night of the 28th of April last.

Joseph Harding stated, that on the night of the 28th April last, he went to bed about 9 o'clock; about a quarter of an hour afterwards, his wife followed, having previously secured the doors and windows.—He never heard the robbers till they came to his bed,—He awoke, and perceived "two men, one at each side of the bed with a candle in one hand and a Pistol in the other!" They had "black faces, and were disguised in shirts over their clothes!" Another man was guarding the door; One only spoke; he demanded my money, and said "if I did not deliver he would blow my brains out in a minute!" The other man then spoke a good deal, he demanded where my money was? I said I could not tell. They then went down stairs, leaving the other man guarding the door with a pistol in his hand—Those down stairs, opened the door, and whether any others came in or not, I do not know. They were in the house a long time, having plundered every place, and taken the windows out before I knew. I had two clocks in the house, both going, but they stopped them. They took the clothes off the bed to look for money, and broke open a box. They forced my wife to unlock all the drawers and cupboards, and they took a 40l. bill. They brought the money up stairs, and looked it over; and whilst they were bending down opening a box on the stair landing, I cropped under his arm, and jumped through a window. One of the men, Beston, put the note in his breeches pocket; I said it would do him no service; he replied "You don't know that." On getting out of the window, I went to Peter Gaskill's, and we got some other of the neighbours up, in all seven. As soon as the robbers missed me, they ran away. We went in search, and after a while we found them, Beston and Renshaw, sitting under a hedge, about 5 miles from my house. This was about 5 or 6 o'clock. We started in pursuit about 3. They lay as if asleep, one of them reading a piece of paper; I said they must go with us to Butley Ash. They had a very large bundle. We told them the house had been broken open. When a little way from Butley Ash, one of the men (Beston) jumped aside of the road, and pointed a pistol at me, saying, "Stand-off! " I had a pikel in my hand, and immediately knocked him down, got hold of his foot, secured him, and took him to Butley Ash with the other prisoner; they were searched there, and on Beston was found a lot of silver, and some copper. I discovered 2 shillings that were mine, one a lettered shilling, the other a Queen Anne’s shilling; on Renshaw was found the 40l. bill; I've seen it about a week before, when I locked it up in a drawer; it was the same I saw upon the box—I found some tax papers and mill bills—In the bundle were found a black crape, which belonged to one of the Prisoners, some sugar, soap, &c. I said at the time, ‘look for a shirt in the bundle and you will find it, torn a little on the left side,’ they had shirts over them. It was Beston who had on the torn shirt. The Bundle were examined at Mr. Downes’s. The house window was cut across the casement, which was taken out, large enough a man to get through—the iron stauchions were broken.

On his Cross-examination by Mr. Barnes,—We slept up two pair of stairs—my family consists only of myself and wife. I could not call them by name at first, I was so fluttered at the time. We had traced steps along the dew; the men were found about 5 miles from the house.

Examined by Mr. D.F. Jones—the men were dressed in shirts—there were three in all as I saw. I was much alarmed; so much so, that I sprang out of the window. Could not name the prisoner to the men at the time, but recollected afterwards. I saw a little of one of their cheeks when he stooped down. Cannot say what they did in the house place, as I was not there. We pursued the men as far as Hollingsworth’s-smithy, about two miles from which we found them—we went that far, having overshot them. We saw two more men up in the field, and pursued them, they dropped some sugar. I lost some sugar, and sugar was found there.

Re-examined by Mr. Benyon—No doubt every thing was fast. The night was very rough; but had any body taken the window out before we went to bed, I must have heard them. Was very much frightened when the men were in the room; but am quite positive Beston was one.

To questions by Judge Richards—I knew Beston before, but he spoke in a feigned voice. I said to the men, I thought it was Beston who had the torn shirt on, and told him where he lived and every thing else.

Isaac Woodall, I live about 6 miles from Beston’s house—I get up early to work; about a mile and a half off, saw two men sitting under a hedge. I stopped and looked at them, wished them good morning, and asked whether they were resting themselves? told them a house had been robbed, and that we had a suspicion of them. Renshaw was reading a paper. The other turned round, and said "What's the matter?" They came with us. Renshaw, when we came to a gate, drew a pistol from his pocket; I heard a snap—and then Harding knocked him down. The other I got and secured, and took him in custody, but in a little while he privately drew a pistol from his side, and snapped it at my groin! We then got possession of the pistol, and they became quiet. They were handcuffed.—Beston dropped two half pounds of sugar, which I picked up.

Cross examined by Mr. D.F. Jones—At this time it was quite light. The pistols were loaded within three quarters of an inch of the muzzle.

John Oldham—picked up a steel to strike a light, which fell from the pocket of one the prisoners. Wm. Robinson corroborated the testimony of the preceding witnesses.

The pistols, crape, sugar, silver, &c. were here produced in court.

The articles were identified. The prisoners were asked what they had to say in their defence?

Renshaw—My Lord, we found the bundle.

Beston—My Lord, I'm innocent of the robbery, as God is my judge!

An attempt was here made by Renshaw's father, Joseph Beston, (the prisoner's brother,) and James Worsencroft, to prove an alibi. We think we are consulting decency and propriety, by withholding from the public the tissue of inconsistencies, and falsehoods, which were disclosed by these witnesses.—Renshaw, the father, said, that he had slept at his son’s the night of the robbery, and that he was not out of the house till the following morning at four o'clock!—Beston's brother stated that the prisoner had slept at his house also the night of the burglary, and did not leave till four o'clock in the morning! Worsencroft was called to corroborate the last witness; whilst the examination of Beston, taken before the Magistrates, stated, that he had left home about 6 o'clock at night, and went to Macclesfield—that he found his brother in bed; that he went into a field, and fell asleep under hey till morning, &c. !

To the the production of this document, Mr. D.F. Jones objected, on the ground of impropriety, the evidence for the prosecution being closed.

Mr. Attorney General combatted what had been advanced by Mr. Jones; he said he had equal rights to produce the examination, as to produce another witness to invalidate what the last witness had stated. If such a proceeding was not to be allowed, Justice would indeed be shut out from our Courts.

Mr Jones, in support of his argument, cited a case of child murder, tried before Mr. Justice Buller, in which it was refused to receive evidence as to the sex of the child (stated in the indictment) because the case for the prosecution was closed.

Judge Richards—I think the evidence admissible—it has nothing to do with the case set up by the prisoners. The prisoners have both attempted to put up an alibi, and surely the crown has a right to answer such evidence.

His Lordship then addressed the Jury, recapitulating the whole of the evidence adduced; and observed, "With the result of your verdict, you have nothing to do—you are before God and your country, and I have every confidence you will do justice to both."

After a few seconds deliberation, the Jury found a verdict of GUILTY–against both the prisoners.

This trial commenced at two o'clock, and was above half-past eight before the Court adjourned.
The Chester Courant noted that Renshaw also stood trial for another matter during the Assizes, and commented on John Lloyd's role:
Renshaw was tried for another burglary, in company with others, in the dwelling-house of George Burgess, at Colshaw, Fulshaw, and was convicted on the clearest evidence. Renshaw and the two Beston's appear to have been the principals of a most desperate gang of robbers, who infested the neighbourhood of Stockport and Macclesfield, last winter; and too much praise cannot be given to that respectable gentleman Mr. Lloyd, solicitor, of Stockport, to whose indefatigable exertions the county is indebted for the conviction of these desperate wretches.
Renshaw and Simeon Beston were later sentenced to death.

The account of the trial appears in the Chester Chronicle of 17th September 1813, and the further comments are taken from the Chester Courant of 28th September 1813. The trial date is not stated anywhere, but an account of the third man on trial, William Beston, states that this trial took place on a Friday. Given that the Assizes opened on Wesnesday 8th September and all those convicted had been sentenced by Friday 17th, I have surmised the trial took place on Friday 10th.

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