Monday, 23 July 2012

23rd July 1812: The trial of Robert Grymshaw at York Summer Assizes

The Leeds Mercury of 25th July 1812, carried the details of the trial of Robert Grymshaw, accused of arson at Armisteads Mill at Clapham on 20th May 1812. It is not clear on what day the trial took place, although it was likely to be before sentencing on 24th July.

ROBERT GRYMSHAW was charged with setting fire to a Cotton Mil at Clapham, in the West Riding, on the 20th of May last.

This was a very singular case. About 11 o'clock at night on the 20th of May, a light was observed in the Cotton-Mill occupied by Messrs. Armisteads, which, on enquiry, proved to have been occasioned by a fire, which was clearly proved to have been wilfully occasion; a considerable quantity of burnt straw was found on the spot where the fire originated, and which, though it had communicated to the floor and part of the machinery, was extinguished, without doing any material damage. No great suspicion fell upon the prisoner until some days after, when declaration was made by the son of the prisoner, a boy about 14 years of age, to one of his fellow work-people employed in the same mill; this led to the apprehension of the prisoner, and the testimony of this boy was the only actual material evidence against the prisoner.

Robert Grymshaw stated, that he was the son of the prisoner, and was near 15 years of age; lived with his father at Clapham in May last, and worked at Mr. Armistead’s mill; remembers the fire. On the night before it happened, his father said Jonathan and Fell had wrought him out of work at the mill, but he would go that night to the mill; this was said before the witness went to bed, which was about seven o'clock. His father called the witness up about ten o'clock at night, and they set off to go to the mill; when they had got a few yards from the house, his father desired him to go to Mr. Armistead’s stable and get some straw. Witness, before he left home, saw a great fire in the house, and a large stick. Witness got as much straw as he could carry in his arms, which he took to his father, who was at the back of the mill. His father tried to open the back window with his knife, but not being able to do it he took a spade and forced it open. His father then put the witness through the window into the mill, and gave him the straw, and told him to carry it into a dark place in the spinning-room. Witness took it into the spinning-room but it in a dark place near the frame; witness then went back to his father, who was in the inside of the window, he had a fiery stick in his hand, covered with a little brat, (a child’s apron); his father gave him the brat, which he told him to put into the engine cylinder, which he did; it was on fire. His father then asked him where he had put the straw; witness told him in the spinning-room; his father then went into the spinning-room, and took up two oil tins; he went to the place where the witness had placed the straw and gave him the fiery stick, and said he was to hold it until he poured a little oil upon it, which he did; his father then took the fiery stick from the witness, and put it under the straw; his father then took the stick and oil cans and put them in the window, near the clock; the straw was then on fire. His father then poured some oil upon the straw, and put two spinning handles upon it; his father then told him he might go home; in going he was afraid of some noise he heard, which he thought proceeded from Mr. Armistead’s house; witness went out by the window he had entered; he left his father in the mill. He came home in about five or six minutes; when he returned, he told him if he (the witness) told any person what they had been doing, he would flea him to the skin. Witness said he told Mary Wildman, a girl who worked in the mill with him, the same story he had been relating to the Court. Witness could not say at what time he told her this, but it was after there had been some talk about the Bow-street Officers coming down to find out the persons who had set the mill on fire.

The burnt stick and the child’s brat, were found in the mill in the place stated by the witness, and were produced in Court.

The Prisoner had no Counsel, but the Judge examined the Witness at great length, with the view of ascertaining whether there was any motive in the mind of the boy which could have induced him to fabricate this charge against his father. Witness, in answer to a number of questions put by the Judge, said, his father treated him unkindly, was very crabbed to him, beat him much, and did not let him have as much food as he could have wished to have; he treated him more harshly than he did his brothers and sisters.—His mother was very kind to him. Witness said he was treated kindly at the mill, and liked his employment. His Lordship also questioned him as to his capacity of understanding the obligation of an oath, to which he gave satisfactory answers.

The Judge, in his charge to the Jury, said, if they could place full confidence in the testimony of the son, they must find the Prisoner guilty; if they thought they could not safely rely upon it, they must acquit him, as his testimony was not materially corroborated by any other evidence; and in cases of real doubt, it was better that a guilty person should escape, than that a man, who might possibly be innocent, should suffer.

The Jury retired for about half an hour, and returned with a verdict of—NOT GUILTY.

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