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Crime in Exeter - some interesting cases

Back to Historic events of Exeter

Exeter is no different to any other place with respect of crime, criminal activity and villains. There have been many cases of murder, theft, fighting, rioting, drunkenness and more, over the last two thousand years. There are many tragic cases, and many nasty incidents, but for every tragic crime, there are several that in retrospect, owe more to a Monty Python scriptwriters imagination than anything else. People have been mad, bad and evil over the ages, but above all, many have just been plain unlucky or even daft.

Enjoy this look back at Exeter's more notorious past, and amongst the tragedy, there are some that elicit a wry chuckle. All cases are from the Trewman's Exeter Flying Post unless otherwise stated.

1950 The Stolen Cross

On Saturday 1 July 1950, a silver altar cross weighing 50 kilos, and valued at £20,000, was stolen from the Cathedral. It was found abandoned in a field at Fenny Bridges, minus the diamonds and other gems, that had been prised off the surface. A week later, Charles E Ware and Son of Richmond Road offered a £450 reward for the diamonds in an advert in the Times. A stolen car was traced to London, but the perpetrators were never caught. (sourced from the Times)

1861 Guildhall

Seven Similar Charges

Elizabeth Farley was brought up by P.C. Trapnell, charged with using obscene language in Fore-street, on Sunday morning about one o'clock. Defendant admitted the offence and said she was insulted first and then she returned it. On referring to the index book Mr Superintendent Steel found seven charges against her for similar offences. Sentenced to twenty-one days' imprisonment.

1874 Guildhall - Pitch and Toss

William Worth, charged with playing at pitch and toss on the Quay on Sunday and was rescued from the custody of P.C. Mortimore by Attwood and other roughs. Fined 5s. to include expenses.

1836 Guildhall 

Drunk in Charge of a Waggon

Taylor v. Tucker, Hart, and Cann - This was a charge of inebriety brought by Taylor the officer, against Elias Tucker, John Hart and Joseph Cann; and from the evidence it appeared that on the previous Saturday afternoon, Taylor being on duty in the East quarter, noticed a waggon standing in front of a public-house, apparently in want of an owner. Having passed several times with things still in the same state, Taylor at length, at the expiration of more than an hour, saw the three persons complained against issue from what had evidently been to them a most pleasant domicile, and in the most uncouth, but still the best manner they were able, to tumble themselves into the waggon. Tucker, as the master man, undertook the office of steersman; but Sir John Barleycorn being in, the wit (if he had any) was gone out, and nothing could be of a more unscientific description than his pilotage, since after various curvets and the most strange manoeuvres, to the imminent danger of his Majesties good and loyal subjects, he brought up - horse vehicle, and cargo - in (a) butcher's shop, the whole economy of which, by so forcible and strange an entry, had become deranged - noble sirloins, ribs, rounds, and rumps of beef, and saddles of mutton, being mingled in the most glorious confusion. They had now, therefore to answer for the violation of the laws as respected the public only, and Joseph Cann had foolishly made himself scarce.

The pilot Tucker was the spokesman, and he would fain have the Bench believe that two pints of stingo was all the worthies had taken. His worship, however, was a much better judge, and told them it must have been capital beer if two pints of it would make three persons of their description tipsy. Elias, who although no prophet would appear to be of the monastic tribe, cadaverous as to his hue, and thin as a gridiron, seemed astonished that his rhetoric had not prevailed, and appeared half inclined to try what effect would be produced by "piping his eye." This doubtless is a most forcible argument, but ere it could be contrived to be carried into effect, or the big tear brought into its appropriate position, the matter was cut short by a conviction, Elias being fined 7s. and 2s. 6d. expenses, for drunkenness, as well as his unskilful essay in the way of pilotage; Hart, 5s. for drunkenness, or his option of exhibiting himself for space not exceeding six hours in the stocks; and a warrant was directed to issue against Cann, the recreant.

1834 Guildhall 

A Spell in the Stocks

Wednesday, Mary Ann Heal, a person of ill fame, and 17 years of age only, who had failed to pay a fine of 5s. imposed on her drunkenness, was exposed for one hour in the stocks, in front of the Guildhall, Exeter.

1867 Guildhall 

A Pauper Destroys his Clothes

Charles Evans, a casual pauper, was sentenced to 21 days imprisonment with hard labour, for destroying his clothes and refusing to do the work allotted to him at he Workhouse on that morning. (Woolmers Exeter and Plymouth Gazette)

1837 Guildhall 

Two Wet Policemen

CHRISTENING A CHARLEY. - John Strout, who was on crutches, attended to answer a complaint preferred against him by John Taylor and Burnett, of the night police. The defendant resides on Fore Street Hill, and the complainants being on duty, and on the beat, on the night of 18th inst., and in deep cogitation were making their rounds, they were saluted with the liquid contents of some vessel, which descended from an upper window on their heads, gave rather an unpleasant turn to the current of thought, which was further heightened by a hearty laugh raised at the Dogberys' expense. On the part of the defendant it was contended that this christening was purely accidental, but the act itself being illegal he was fined in the mitigated penalty of 2s. with expenses, which brought the amount up to a crown.

1836 Guildhall 

The Treadmill for a Bible Salesman

Thomas Kinsman, a pretender to the enlightenment of mankind by the sale of "godly books," was, an idle and disorderly person, sent to the treadmill for 14 days.

1851 Guildhall 

Theft from Mr Tree's Garden

Henry Mayne, a brickmaker, was charged by P.C. Ford for stealing four quarts of gooseberries and 10lb of potatoes, from a garden occupied by Mr. Tree. He was sentenced to a month's imprisonment with hard labour for stealing the potatoes.

1853 Guildhall 

Illegal Sleeping

EDWARD PIKE and JOHN WARREN, two ragged-looking juveniles, about twelve years of age, were charged by P.C. Denning with sleeping in the Cattle Market the previous night. The boys were well-known to the Bench, and the former had been frequently brought before them and punished. They were both sent to prison until Monday, and to receive a whipping. Pike was ordered to be sent to the Workhouse on his delivery from prison, as he had no parents to take care of him..

1853 Guildhall 

She was "haggravating on the temper."

TAKING IT LITERALLY, - ELIZABETH THORN and HARRIET HOLMAN were charged by Mrs. Tregale with using abusive language towards her on Tuesday morning. The parties live near each other & something having arisen to excite ill-feeling, a quarrel took place. Holman called complainant an old cat, embellishing the epithet with an expressive adjective; and the other defendant also applied to her some disagreeable names. Complainant admitted that she was not slow to retaliate, but justified herself by saying that the conduct of the defendants was "haggravating on the temper," The Chairman told her she ought not to have retaliated herself and brought a complaint also; she should have come before them with clean hands. Complainant; Well, I believe my hands are generally clean. - (Laughter) - Case dismissed.

1853 Guildhall

Deaf and Dumb Runaway

THOMAS HOOKWAY, a dumb and partially deaf lad, was charged with absenting himself from the employment of his master, a tailor named Jones. It was stated that the defendant had been induced to leave in consequence of the ill-treatment of a Mrs. Borrough, a lodger of his master's. The Magistrates ordered him to return to his work, and pay the expenses.

1852 Guildhall 

Whipped and Discharged

WILLIAM KEETH, a lad about 13 years of age, was charged with stealing a pocket handkerchief, from the person of a man, named Falkland, a minor, residing in St. Thomas, on Sunday afternoon last, in St. Mary Steps Church. The case was proved against the prisoner, and as he wished to be dealt summarily with, he was sentenced, under the consent of his father, to be once whipped and discharged.

1863 Guildhall 

Wilfully Damaging Trees

CAUTION TO BOYS. - JOHN BOYER, a little boy, was charged with wilfully damaging the trees in Northernhay. William Baker, one of the keepers, caught defendant carving a name on one of the trees, and he found the bark of seventeen others more or less damaged. Defendant said he was not aware he was doing any damage to the tree. The Bench said they must make an example of defendant in order, if possible, to deter other boys from committing a similar act, and fined him 2s. 6d. and expenses or three days' imprisonment.

1833 Guildhall

Dodgy Plumber

Mr John Rouse, plumber, against whom it was complained, that pipes of the Water Company which are in his charge, had been left in such a way in Paris-street that several persons had fallen over them, was recommended to give four of these a half crown each, and pay for the summons, and take care that nothing of the kind occurred again.

1823 Guildhall 

Two Minor Cases

PAINTED WINDOW BLINDS, - This was an information exhibited against William Wood, for the forfeiture of three painted window blinds, seized for not being marked with a stamp to denote that the proper duty had been paid. - Blinds forfeited.
UNDER PROOF OF SPIRITS. - Mr. Brutton next applied for the forfeiture of one gallon and two quarts of foreign brandy, (in the possession of a respectable innkeeper) as a lower strength than seventeen per cent. under proof by Syke's hydrometer. - Brandy forfeited.

1879 Guildhall 

A Runaway Boy

William Page, 13, was charged with sleeping in a court in Frog-street. About four a.m. on the 25th, P.C. Stokes discovered the lad, who told him that he had left his home in Plymouth without his father's knowledge, and was without employment or friends. The Bench remanded the lad until his father is communicated with.

1867 Guildhall 

Harry Hems the Hooligan

Henry Hems, a sculptor, employed at the Museum, was summoned for assaulting Chas. Lowe. Mr. Floud appeared for the defendant. The complainant said that about nine o'clock on Tuesday morning he was passing by the Museum when the defendant abused him, and threw a small stone at him, which struck him on the forehead. In cross-examination by Mr. Floud, the complainant admitted that the defendant used to lodge with him. - Richard Ley said he was passing at the time, and heard the defendant, who was working with his chisel abusing somebody. He did not see him throw a stone at anybody. Anyone passing would be liable to be struck by the chips which fell from the chisel. The Bench considered that there was no evidence as to throwing the stone, and dismissed the case. (Woolmers Exeter & Plymouth Gazette)

1862 Guildhall 

Throwing Entrails of a Hake

Jane Mardon, a fish-vendor, was brought up by P.C. Axford for committing a nuisance by throwing the entrails of a hake about the public street. He told her of the offence when she became abusive, and in answer to the officer, said she was, "Mrs. Come-and-go-again," and afterwards"Mrs Straw-mot." He then took her into custody, when she gave her correct name. defendant said the officer told her of it, and she then went and picked it up again. She had been a vendor of fish many years and this was the first charge ever produced against her. Fined 2s 6d., and expenses, or a week's imprisonment.

1824 Guildhall 

Only Breaking Windows

Samuel Strong, charged with breaking the glass in the shop window of Mr. William Hooper, grocer, St. Sidwells, and it being his third offence in different parts of the city, was committed to prison for three months, and ordered to be kept to hard labour at the tread-mill.

1833 Guildhall 

Juvenile Depravity

Juvenile depravity - A ragged, dirty, and wretched looking little fellow, 9 years of age, of the name of Phare, was brought upon a charge of having stolen several of the ornamental brass knobs that are affixed to the modern elegant fences for shop windows. And this the Bench observed, should be made known and operate as a caution to all persons having such appendages. These are purchased by tradespeople at no small cost, but re-purchased of these urchin plunderers by persons far more dishonest than themselves, at a very low price as old brass. The father of the young thief, who is one of a gang of this description, had been directed to attend the Magistrates, but had failed to do so, and the Mayor said, that so young, so ignorant, and apparently so wretched, they were lothe to proceed to extremities, and he was therefore remanded to Monday, in order that the attendance of his unnatural parent be enforced.

1837 Guildhall 

A Case of Witchcraft

At the Guildhall. Exeter, on Saturday, a girl named Shapland summoned another girl, named Dymond, on a charge of assaulting her. The defendant totally denied the assault, but said that plaintiff had often accused her of "being a witch," and used some very personal and violent language towards her, to show her dislike for sorcery! The plaintiff on being asked by the magistrate if she really thought the defendant a witch, said, "Yes: she had been obliged to draw a circle round her door to prevent defendant from coming in. This, however, had not succeeded, for she had taken the shape of a black cat, and had come in and run over the room; she had than changed into the 'Jack of Hearts,' on which the plaintiff was so frightened that she fainted away! Several times the plaintiff had endeavoured to catch the cat, to put its head on the fire, and had procured a long needle to draw its blood, which would have dissolved the charm; she had also applied to a conjurer named Baker, to charm it, but it was of no use! ! !" The magistrates dismissed the complaint.

1837 Guildhall 

A Plumbers Accident

Mr. Thomas Hucklebridge, butcher, attended on summons issued at the instance of Wm. Sercombe, a labouring man, whose statement was that his son, a lad, being in the employ of the plumber having the contract for laying pipes for the New Gas Company, and being engaged in attending to the melted lead in the Butcherow, three sheep belonging to Mr. Hucklebridge were driven by, who forcing themselves on abreast, the molten lead was upset, the lad throwndown, and his legs severely scalded. In this no blame appeared to attach to the person having the care of the sheep, and Sercombe was told that however deplorable this accident might be, he could make out no case against Mr. Hucklebridge; but the Mayor said, he would speak to the Chairman of the Gas Company, and see if any pecuniary recompense could in that way be obtained for him.

1917 Guildhall 

Dressed in Women's Clothes

At Exeter yesterday, CHARLES WEBB STONE, who was staying at a hotel in the town, pleaded "Guilty" to a charge of being an absentee.

The Chief Constable said that the defendant. who had been a jeweller's manager in London, went to Exeter on August 15. With his wife he arrived at a hotel dressed as a female, and on the registration form described himself as a British subject, giving the name of Florence Budd. Later he was seen by detectives, who ascertained that he was a man. When asked for his registration card he said that had destroyed it. He was passed for general service, and had been an absentee since March 3.

The defendant asked for a lenient view to be taken of the case, and said that he would do his very best to fulfil his duty in the Army. He added that he was on his way back to London to give himself up when he was arrested.

The MAYOR said that it looked as if the defendant was trying to evade service.

The defendant said that he only put woman's clothes on on this one occasion.

The MAYOR. - It is a very serious and silly offence. You will pay £5.

On a further charge against the defendant of not producing his certificate of registration when requested to do so, the prisoner was fined 10s.

The defendant was subsequently taken to barracks under escort. His wife, who had been in Court, walked him and shielded him from photographers.

1852 Guildhall 

A Lost or Stolen Dog?

FRED SIMMS was charged with stealing a dog, the property of Richard Darke, of Stoke Cottage, Heavitree. On Monday week complainant was in St. Sidwells, and his dog with him, while he was in a house he missed his dog, and heard Mr Simms had got it.
Mr. Simms admitted he had the dog, and said it was his own, and that he lost it two years ago.

The Magistrates decided they could not hear the case, as it was of disputed ownership, and the parties left the Court; before the complainant did so, however, he was informed that there was three and sixpence to pay, at which he looked quite queer, and entertained but a sorry opinion of British jurisprudence; having forked out he left the Court, in the belief that "ourt to ha more than that vur dree an six."

1866 Guildhall 

Hardened Criminals!

WILLIAM WARREN, HENRY WESTCOTT, NATHANIEL HANNAFORD, and EDWIN RICE, between seven and eight years of age, were sentenced to be imprisoned till six o'clock that evening and soundly flogged, for stealing 12s. from the till of Mrs. Western, of St. Sidwells.

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