Number 65 – April 2013

From Walsham le Willows to Bury Gaol (Part 2)

Part one of this article was shown in the April 2011 issue of the Review. This is the last of the existing records of offenders who were taken from Walsham to the jail house in Bury St Edmunds. The mid 19th Century was a time of great poverty in England particularly in agricultural areas such as Walsham. It was not surprising that crime had risen, but it was also not surprising that the authorities found it necessary to follow a zero tolerance policy to prevent total anarchy.

A report in the Bury Free Press in February 1854 titled ‘Death from want’ shows how bad life had become for some of Walsham’s inhabitants.

‘At the inquest into the death of Susan Finch of Walsham her neighbour Sarah Fakes told the court ‘I went into her house and found the deceased sitting in a chair trembling with cold. Her speech was much alterred and there was but a little fire in the grate. She told me that she was sadly with a bad cold I gave her some gruel and baked apple that night. She wore nothing but a piece of old flannel. Her other clothes were covered in vermin. Another witness Hannah Read said that she heard George Finch threatening his wife saying *rsquo;D— you I’ll knock you down if you don’t get out of the way.’ and heard her crying. ‘Please leave me alone.’ George Finch deposed that he had not struck his wife. ‘I am a carrier but I do not have sufficient work to keep us. We have not enough food and I applied to the Relieving Officer and we received an order for the House. (The Workhouse) but we objected to go.Rsquo; Mr. Walton Kent, the village surgeon, said, ‘ I found the deceased in a delirious and very filthy state. Congestion of the heart and lungs were the cause of death but this was accelerated by insufficient food and clothing. Even the bed she slept in was very damp.’

The verdict was that she died of natural causes caused by want.

The Relieving Officer was reprimanded for not making sure that things were well.

Those convicted of crime were recorded in the Bury St. Edmunds Receiving Books.


‘Age 16. 5ft 3in. Fresh complexion. Dark brown hair. Grey eyes. Round visage. Parents dead. He can do some reading. Charged with having feloniously broken and entered the dwelling house of George Goldsmith of Ingham and stolen three pieces of bread of the value of one shilling. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

For a previous conviction he had received His Majesty‘s Free Pardon.

In 1848 he stole a peck of Windsor beans from George Finch of Walsham. He was put on a prison ship bound for Van Dieman‘s Land. Although pardoned in 1855 it was here he was to remain. He married in 1866 and brought up a young family after the early death of his wife.


‘Age 20. 5ft 6in. Light complexion. Brown hair. Eyes Grey. Visage oval. Father James Sharman. (labourer)

Offence — as James Tydeman above. – 18 months in prison. Nine previous convictions.’

November 1846 ROBERT DAVEY

‘Age 29. 5ft 6in. Fresh complexion. Dark brown hair. Grey eyes. Round visage. Married with four children. Father is Samuel Davey (labourer).

Charged with stealing two packs of peas the property of Philip Parker of Walsham le Willows. Sentenced to six months in jail.

The 1841 census shows Robert, a labourer, and family living in some rooms in Sand Pits House.


‘Age 22. %ft. Freckled. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Round visage. Single but with two children. Father is John Burroughs a labourer in Wattisfield.

Charged with stealing two loaves of bread from Joseph Turner of Wattisfield. One month in prison.’

The next surviving gaol admission book is dated some years later.

January 1863 MARY WEAVERS

‘Age 41. Complexion sallow. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Visage oval. Married with 5 children. Born Langham. Father is John Woods a Walsham labourer.

Charged with stealing some coal at Walsham. – Six weeks in prison.’


‘Age 29. 5ft 9in. Born in Westorpe. Married with one child aged 6 months. Olive complexion. Brown hair.. Grey eyes. Oval visage. Father dead.

Charged with stealing some wheat at Walsham the property of Robert Nunn. – 6 weeks in prison.’

October 1864 PHILIP SHARMAN alias WEAVER

‘Age 40. 5ft 7in. Labourer. Married with one child aged 12. Fresh complexion. Brown hair. Grey eyes. Oval visage. Father dead.

Charged with having in his posession a hare and a net coming unlawfully from land in Walsham le Willows. – 3 months prison.

He has 16 previous convictions.

As an habitual offender he was lucky not to have been transported. However the 1871 census shows him, aged 46, living in Clay Street at Walsham, with his wife Lucy. He is described as an agricultural labourer and a corporal in the West Suffolk Militia. Sometimes prisoners were given the choice between transportation and the military. His son although only aged 13 is also described as being in the Militia. Perhaps Phlilip was trying to keep his son off the unfortunate path that he had taken. The Militia had been formed over 100 years before and comprised of men who were trained and thus could be called up in times of conflict. In 1881 it was transferred to the Suffolk Regiment becoming the 3rd battalion.

March 1865 JOHN BAKER

‘Age 40. 5ft 11in. Married with five children. Fresh complexion. Brown hair. Grey eyes. Oval visage. Father is John Baker (labourer) .

Charged with leaving his family chargeable to the parish of Walsham le Willows. – 3 months prison. He had four previous convictions for like offences.

The report describes him of being ‘dirty’ and written alongside are the words ‘itch room’ which suggests that the jail had a delousing room for those in need.

March 1868 JOHN BAKER

‘Age 41. 5ft 11in. Fresh complexion. Brown hair. Grey eyes. Oval visage. Has rupture. Cannot read or write. Labourer. Married, 5 children. Of dirty appearance and in rags.

Charged with leaving his family to the common fund of the Stow Union. (The Workhouse). Two months prison. Five previous convictions for like offences.’

March 1868 WILLIAM RAY

‘Age 19. 5ft 5in. Olive complexion. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Father is John Ray.

Charged with stealing some fowls, turkeys, and ducks at Walsham le Willows. Sentenced to 9 months in prison.’


‘Age 18. 5ft 5in. Sallow complexion. Brown hair. Grey eyes. Long visage. Father is shoemaker Thos. Fairweather.

Charged with an assault against Margaret Jaggard. – 14 days in prison. One previous conviction for obstruction.

The 1871 census shows Wiiliam living in the main village street with his parents and seven younger offspring. Margaret Jaggard was the daughter of another shoemaker who lived nearby.

January 1869 SARAH BAKER

‘Age 12. Fresh complexion. Brown hair. Grey eyes. Oval visage. has had 3 years schooling in Stow Union. (The Workhouse near Stowmarket.) Father is John Baker of Stow Union.

Charged with stealing a pair of slippers from Thomas Nash. (A Walsham shopkeeper.) – 21 days in prison.’

February 1869 WILLIAM BAKER

‘Aged 49. 5ft 8in. Fresh complexion. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Oval visage. Married with nine children.

Charged with stealing some wood and some oil from William Newson. (A Walsham shopkeeper.) – 14 days in prison.

About a month after his release his wife Elizabeth died. In the 1871 census William is shown living in Palmer Street with six of his children and his mother-in-law.


‘Age 36. Fresh complexion. Brown hair. Grey eyes. Oval visage. Born in Flempton. Married with six children. Father Landimore from Flempton.

Charged with assault in Walsham le Willows against Mary Death. – 14 days in prison.

The census of 1871 shows her living with husband Robert and her children in a cottage near the Swan Inn.


‘Age 42. 5ft 11in. Sallow complexion. Brown hair. Grey eyes. Oval visage. Ruptured. Dirty and in rags. Cannot read or write. Married with 5 children. Father dead.

Charged with breaking a tea cup belonging to Hannah Rainham? – 7 days in prison. (He had several previous convictions mainly for not supporting his family. See January 1867 and his daughter January 1869.)’


‘Aged 40. 5ft 3in. Fresh complexion. Brown hair. Grey eyes. Oval visage. Single.. Clean appearance. Cannot read or write. Father dead.

Charged with vagrancy at Walsham le Willows. – 2 months prison. Previous conviction in 1867 of drunkenness.’

Next to the entry for Thomas Moore in the 1871 census it is written…

‘ No residence – sleeps anywhere.’


‘Age 32 4ft 11in. Sallow complexion. Brown hair. Grey eyes. Went to school in Hepworth for 6 years. Married with 4 children. Father is Richard Francis, a labourer of Hepworth.

Charged with stealing a flannel petticoat and two pinafores from Samuel Fenn. – 14 days in prison.’


‘Aged 19. 5ft 4in. Fresh complexion. Light hair. Grey eyes. Oval visage. Mole spot on upper shoulder. Two anchors on left arm. and an anchor on right arm. Single. Father dead.

Charged with refusing to quit a public house in Walsham. – 14 days hard labour.’

November 1876 GEORGE WALES

‘Aged 56. 5ft 4in. Fresh complexion. Hair turning grey. Grey eyes. Round visage. Works as gardener. A widower. Can read. Father is John Wales.

Prosecuted by Stow Union (The Workhouse) for refusing to assist in the maintenance of his father and mother. – 1 month in prison.’

As his elderly father John and mother Charlotte were unable to cope they had to enter the workhouse. It was law that working family members had to contribute to their upkeep. There is an entry for Charlotte in Walsham‘s burial records. She died in 1883 aged 85. There is no entry for John who may have died in the workhouse and been buried in a pauper‘s grave.)

The last existing entry Bury Gaol Receiving Book is dated January 1877 when a Walsham man was charged with stealing a quantity of braid, silk, and twist, from village tailor Thomas Wright Colson who was possibly his employer.

January 1877 MANNING MOORE

‘Aged 56. 5ft 11in. Sallow complexion. Hair turning grey. Grey eyes. Oval visage. Works as a tailor. Married. Went to school in Woolpit. Father dead.

– sentenced to one month hard labour.’

Two months before this, his 18 year old daughter had died. He went on to become a Master Tailor and when he died in 1912 he was the oldest person in the village at the age of 92.

James Turner
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