Tuesday, 16 August 2016

16th August 1816: The trial of the Feltwell & Downham Market rioters, at Norfolk Assizes

The Norfolk Chronicle of 24th August 1816, carried an extensive report about the trials of those charged with rioting in Feltwell and Downham Market during the 'Bread and Blood' disturbances of the previous May. The trials covered two days, Friday 16th & Saturday 17th August 1816:

Before Lord Justice Lord Chief Justice Gibbs.

Wm. Bell, Amelia Lightharness, and Hannah Jarvis were indicted for having, on the 20th of last May, together with various other persons, riotously into and tumultuously assembled at the parish of Southery, in Norfolk, from whence they proceeded to acts of theft and violence in the town of Downham Market, which were specified by the evidence.

Francis Wiseman stated that she kept a pork and sausage shop in Downham Market; that in the afternoon of the 20th of May, a mob was assembled in the front of her house; that she observed the prisoner, Amelia Lightharness, looking in at the shop window, and that immediately afterwards the same prisoner opened the latch of the door, and brought in several of the mob, telling them, "this was the shop for good pork." The witness further stated, that her shop formed a part of her dwelling-house; that the prisoner Lightharness was the first that entered, and that at her instigation the mob ransacked the shop of the witness, taking away forcibly a quantity of pork sausages. The shop window was broken by the violence of the people.

Maria Palmer, Wm. Buxton, and Zachariah Stebbing severally corroborated the first witness, and the latter proved that all the above named prisoners entered the shop of Mrs. Wiseman, and concurred in the acts of violence there committed.—Bell and Jarvis severally produced evidence of good character. Verdict—all Guilty.

Thomas Thody, Charles Nelson, Daniel Harwood, the same Hannah Jarvis, Elizabeth King, Margaret Jerry, and Elizabeth Watson.

These prisoners were indicted as forming part of the same unlawful riotous assembly at Southery, as before mentioned, and for proceeding to assault Wm. Spinks, at Downham aforesaid, and stealing from his person certain quantity of meal and flour.

Williams Spinks stated that he was apprentice to Mr. Baldwin, a miller, at Downham, and at the time of this riot had the charge of his mill. That on the said 20th of May last, at about two in the afternoon, he saw a large number of persons approach the mill, whilst he was on the road about a furlong off; that upon is coming up to them he they demanded of him the key of the mill, which he delivered to them through the impulse of fear; that the persons so assembled had sticks and cudgels; that upon his delivering them the key the mill, they proceeded to lay violent hands upon the meal, flour, and sacks found therein, some part of which they threw about and destroyed, and other part they carried away with them.

This witness, together with George Gillingham, Susan Stebbing, Pleasance Laws, and Wm. Baldwin, or some of them, identified the persons of all the prisoners, and proved that Charles Nelson was the first to enter the mill. Verdict—All Guilty.

The same Thomas Thody, the same Daniel Harwood, Lucy Rumbelow, the said Amelia Lightharness, Wm. Youngs, Edward Mellon, and William Galley were indicted as parties to the same unlawful and riotous assembly at Southery aforesaid, and having proceeded to Downham, for breaking open the dwelling-house and shop of Samuel Bolton, a butcher there, and stealing therein and carrying away a certain quantity of pork, the property of the said Samuel Bolton, the said Samuel Bolton and another being in the house and being put in fear.

Samuel Bolton stated, that he had on the said 20th of May given to the mob some meat, in the hope of pacifying them; that about five o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, they came in a large body to his house and demanded more, which he said he was unable to give them. Upon this occasion, the prisoners, Thody, Harwood, and a man named Fendyke, who is still at large, appeared to be the ringleaders. Harwood said, if witness did not give them more they would have all there was in the shop.—The shop was shut and witness was standing at the door of his house. To this menace, uttered by Harwood, the witness replied, "he would be damned if they should," and immediately close and bolted the door, and went towards the kitchen, for the purpose of loading two guns, with which he meant to defend his property. Before he had reached his guns, however, the mob forced open the door, and stripped the shop of meat to the value of 5l. or 6l.

These prisoners were all identified as taking an active part on this occasion, by the concurrent testimony of the last-named witness, and Thomas Bolton, Zachariah Stebbing, and Ann Springfield.—Verdict—All Guilty.

The same Thomas Thody, the same Daniel Harwood, Frances Porter, John Bell and John Blogg were indicted as parties to the same unlawful and riotous assembly, and for breaking open the dwelling-house of John Parkinson, in Downham aforesaid, no person being therein, and feloniously stealing and carrying away a quantity of flour, and various articles of wearing apparel, found therein.

Hannah, wife of the said John Parkinson, who is a tailor and baker, and keeps a general shop at Downham, stated, that being terrified at the appearance of the mob, they had, on the said 20th of May last, shut their shop, and retreated to the house of a neighbour. The mob did proceed to Mr. Parkinson’s house and shop, as was expected, and after they were gone away the witness, with her family, returned, upon which they found the house had been broken open, and they missed from the shop hats, waistcoats, shawls, shoes, flour, and other articles.

The evidence of the last witness, corroborated by her daughter Charlotte Parkinson, Richard Gamble, Thomas Mallet Bailey, Wm. Gamble, Charles Smith, and James Weston, was sufficiently clear to establish the charge against all the prisoners except John Bell, who had not been seen in the house, but had been afterwards met with hats under his arm.

The latter prisoner was therefore acquitted, and the others found—all Guilty.

John Sterne was indicted for larceny only, he having on the said 20th of May demanded cheese of Wm. Oakes, at Downham.

Wm. Oakes stated that the prisoner came with a mob and demanded cheese, which he delivered to him through fear, observing at the same time that he himself wanted it as much as they did. Samuel Johnson, the landlord of the Crown Inn, at Downham, stated, that on the same day the prisoner Sterne brought a cheese to his house, and divided it among the mob, who were there assembled. Verdict—Guilty.

The same John Sterne, the said Thomas Thody, and John Pearson were indicted for breaking open the Crown Inn, at Downham, together with other persons, for assaulting the said Samuel Johnson, the landlord, and stealing from his person meat, beer, and other provisions. Mr. Johnson identified the persons of the prisoners Thody and Pearson as having been foremost of the party who first broke in by force, but the prisoner Sterne was not observed by him until he (Sterne) produced a cheese, which was sometime after the forcible entry. Sterne was therefore acquitted upon this indictment. The other prisoners were found both found Guilty.

In addressing the Jury upon the several indictments for riot, the Chief Justice very clearly explained the law to them, that in tumultuous assemblies of this nature, not only the parties which commit any acts of violence are answerable to the law, but likewise all persons who, by joining a mob, give a sanction to their unlawful proceedings, were in the eye of the law equally guilty of any outrage which was committed by any of such mob, with the party by whose hand the fact is actually done. In directing the verdict of the Jury respecting the attack made upon the dwelling-house and shop of Mr. Bolton, his Lordship observed, that if, by any act of the mob, murder had been committed upon the person of Mr. Bolton, or of any of his family, all the persons composing that mob would have been equally guilty; but on the other hand, if Mr. Bolton, in defending his property, had killed any of the persons who made this attack, he would have been justified in doing so. In allusion to the good characters which most prisoners adduced in their own favour, with respect to the honesty and peaceable habits of their former lives, the Judge emphatically observed, that nothing could more clearly shew the necessity of suppressing such disorderly and mischievous proceedings as were subjects of these trials. Persons who had heretofore acted honestly, and had been good members of society, had now, by deluding one another in the vain hope of addressing those grievances which their proceedings only tended to aggravate, evinced their peaceable dispositions by unlawfully assembling to the terror of well disposed persons, and their honesty by forcibly seizing the property of others.

His Lordship further stated, there where facts were so clearly proved as they had been in most of the above cases, the character of the parties ought to have no weight in the verdict of a Jury, although in measuring the punishment of the offenders, their respective characters would not be forgotten. It was in cases of doubt only in which the former characters of prisoners should weigh in the minds of Juries.

John Cracknell, Jeremiah Lawrence, and Thos. Pleasance, were indicted for having, on the 18th of last May, feloniously assaulted Thomas Willett, a shopkeeper, and Feltwell, and having at the same time stolen from his person two Bank notes, of the value of one pound each.—Mr Willett stated, that on the morning of the said 18th of May, he saw a body of people, to the number of from 50 to 100, including boys, collected together in Feltwell; that they stated their intention of proceeding to destroy the Dam, which the witness stated he himself, and, he believed, the whole parish deemed a very desirable measure, as the Dam was considered injurious to the inhabitants. That on the return from the Dam, at about five in the afternoon, they assembled in the front of his house, and on his coming out, he saw the prisoner Cracknell amongst them, who pulled off his hat, and said, "I hope, Sir, you’ll please to give us something." The witness then asked what his neighbour, Mr. Fuller, had given them, and was answered, that he had given twenty shillings. The witness, therefore, gave them a one pound bill; upon which some persons from the back of the mob cried out that they must have two pounds. Mr. Willett then gave another.—In answer to some very pertinent questions from the Chief Justice, Mr. Willett said, he considered the first one pound as an encouragement to the people for their day's work in destroying the Dam; but he admitted that he gave the second through a fear that his windows might be broken if he did not.

John Place stated, that he saw the prisoner Pleasance amongst the mob before Mr. Willett’s house, which he described as a company of people.

John Thorpe saw Cracknell and Pleasance amongst the company of people before Mr. Willett’s house, and saw the notes given by Mr. W. to Cracknell.—On his cross-examination he said, some of the people called at Mr. Willet’s house to know if he thought it right that the Dam should be destroyed; to which Mr. Willett had replied, that "it was a thing that was necessary." That the company of people then said, they should call to be paid for their job on their return.

The Judge then stated to the Jury, that as the counsel for the prosecution did not press this case, they might acquit the prisoners, which was done accordingly.

He then desired that Mr. Willett might not go out of Court, and enquired whether or not the Grand Jury were discharged, and appeared disappointed at being answered in the affirmative.

Upon Mr. Willett being again called before his Lordship, the latter stated, that he should refrain from mentioning names, but there had been few persons in the bar before him, on the several charges for rioting, who had incurred more, in so much blame, as the persons who had been concerned in encouraging the measures of those who had destroyed the Dam at Feltwell. Those were the persons who had given rise to the mischievous consequences that had followed two days after at Downham.

Mr Serjeant Blossett, as the leading Counsel on the part of the Crown, then stated to the Jury, that it was now that he first learned the real complexion of the late disturbances at Feltwell. If such persons as Mr. Willett gave encouragement to the mob, as has been shewn by the evidence, that which followed amongst the lower orders could excite no surprise.—Having convicted the ringleaders at Downham, sufficient had been done to answer the purposes of the prosecution on the part of the Crown, which could only be to shew persons who were disposed to join in such tumultuous proceedings, that those transactions cannot take place with impunity, for that a day of reckoning must come sooner or later.


The Chief Justice now proceeded to pass sentence of transportation for seven years on John Sterne, who had been indicted and convicted of larceny only, in stealing a cheese from Mr. William Oakes, of Downham, the charges against him not having been laid capitally.

This being done, the following prisoners, who had been capitally convicted of rioting, 16 in number, (viz. William Bell, Amelia Lightharness, Hannah Jarvis, Thomas Thody, Charles Nelson, Daniel Harwood, Elizabeth King, Margaret Jerry, Elizabeth Watson, Lucy Rumbelow, William Youngs, Edward Mellon, William Galley, Frances Porter, John Blogg, and John Pearson), were called before his Lordship to shew cause why Sentence of Death should not pass against them to die according to law. The Chief Justice, then, in a very impressive manner, passed that solemn sentence upon them. His Lordship stated, that on account of the good characters which some of them had borne, it would afford him high satisfaction if circumstances should appear to justify him in recommending their cases for a relaxation in the severity of their punishment. Nevertheless, he wished them not to be deluded into any ill founded security. There were amongst them some who had excelled their fellows, and had stood foremost in the execution of their misguided and wicked actions. To these he could hold out no hope. His Lordship concluded by exhorting them all to use well the short time which might remain to them in this world, and to make their peace with Him before whom they must soon appear in the next.

Of the above 16 prisoners who received sentence of death, two only are left for execution, viz. Harwood and Thody. All the others were reprieved.

After the ringleaders had been tried and convicted, the following minor offenders were discharged on giving security for their good behaviour, viz. John Jerry, Harrison Bone, and John Bowers.

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