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Jailed for scrumping pears in 1833 - night watchman's book reveals how times have changed

Posted on 04/09/2018 in Press Coverage

In a year when street crime has soared across the UK with stories of moped gangs, stabbings and shootings, a newly discovered Night Watchman’s Reports book has revealed what was happening in our streets nearly 200 years ago, writes Charles Hanson.

A Derbyshire Watchman’s Reports book from 1833 has been unearthed by Hansons Auctioneers. Each page is signed by W Bamford who dutifully details each incident he came across during his nocturnal duties.

And rather than armed moped gangs stealing a £15,000 Rolex watch off the wrist of the likes of comedian Michael McIntyre, misdemeanours seem gentle in comparison – though punishments were not.

For example, at 3am on August 31, 1833 Herbert Spencer was caught stealing apples from Mrs Toplis of Holly Street, Shottle.

The book reports, ‘Spencer was seized and found to have pears in a bag – was locked up and taken before magistrates where he was sentenced to three months imprisonment’.

Alcohol-related fights and noisy disturbances were common two centuries ago. For example, on May 27, 1833, at 11pm, he spotted ‘Josh Winson and Josh Nightingale, coming from Turners, made a great noise’. On the same night Anthony Smith was making a ‘great noise’ on King Street, Belper.

On November 3, 1833 at 2am on a Sunday morning, ’a party left the Millwards and proceeded across the bowling alley throwing stones etc at one another until they came to Mrs Marshall’s back door when a regular fight began. The most conspicuous of the party were Street, Tim Smith’s son, Mailer from Common Side, Watson, son of Mr Watson… Will Hatfield from Common Side, Benj Gregory, son of Ged’.

Anti-social behaviour seemed commonplace – sometimes fuelled by gin. The book states that Smith, Sam Spencer and Benjamin Mather were ‘making a disturbance in Long Row’. Then, at 2am, Sam Pounder, Josh Cullen and Watson, coming from the gin shop, were ‘making a great noise’.

Then, on May 28, the books states: ‘At 3am, a great disturbance at gin shop occasioned by W M Minton pulling a man downstairs and, on Sam Windward saying that it had served him right, was immediately knocked down by a person (unknown) who ran away as soon as he had done it’.

Later the watchman came across, ‘Rich Naiden lying drunk on pavement at Turners at 11pm’ and Sam Marsh ‘who came to work beastly drunk and behaved very inappropriately, in consequence of which he was turned away’.

But it wasn’t just alcohol-related incidents that demanded the attention of the night watchman. On March 7, 1833 at midnight there was ‘a disturbance in Birkin’s Court at the house of Jacob Smith (ginger) who had a gentleman’s daughter ‘secreted for the purpose of going off to Manchester with Eliza Buckley and Elizabeth Taylor’.

The report continues: ‘Smith denied her being there and would not open the door. I went to fetch assistance and, in the interim, he let her out and she ran into Henry Lilley’s house. Her brother followed her and took her home. Part of her clothes were taken from Smith’s … but it is said that a shawl and some other articles are still missing’.

The Night Watchman’s Reports book will be sold at our October 15 Gentleman’s Library Auction, estimate £200-£300. Entries invited for our next library auction.

Jim Spencer leads our library department and welcomes antiquarian books, quirky curiosities of, objects of study, ethnographica, grand tour items, photographs, manuscripts, autographed letters, library furniture, desk lamps and desk stands, shaving stands, snuff boxes, chess sets, parlour games, top hats, canes, microscopes and barometers.

The emphasis is on good examples in original condition with provenance - perhaps previously owned by museums or eminent explorers, scientists, politicians, authors and royalty. If you have any of these items or paintings, furniture, silver, works of art or collectors’ items you would like to place into our specialist auction,email [email protected] or call 01283 733988. Alternatively, enjoy free valuations at Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, on Wednesdays, 5-7pm; Fridays, 10am-4pm, and Saturdays, 9am-noon.