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  • Writer's pictureSadie

Half Guinea Reward

When I read the above poster, my interest was immediately ignited.

What was the Liberty of Peterborough Association for the Prosecution of Felons and Protection of Property?


Who were Mr. Stephen W. Bamber and Mr. Vero, and what was their connection to Fletton?

Associations for the Prosecuting of Felons

Prosecution associations were a phenomenon of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To begin with the associations were organised by the church vestry. The church vestry pledged funds, from the parish purse, to pursue and prosecute felons who had committed a crime within the parish. The church vestry associations then developed into mutual subscription societies. The mutual subscription societies became increasingly popular as they covered a larger area than a parish. Property owners within a specified area, were eligible to subscribe and become a member. The association had a common fund from which prosecution fees and rewards were paid. The number of societies was huge. It is believed that 4,000 societies may have existed nationally, although not all at one time.

But why were these associations needed at all?

We must remember that prior to the advent of modern communication, communities, both rural and urban, could be isolated and their residents fearful of criminal activities. Before the ‘Peelers’ or ‘bobbies’ arrived, in 1829, the person appointed to be responsible for prosecuting criminals was the township or parish constable. The constable’s remit was wide ranging, including ensuring local statutes were enforced, taxes raised, the militia formed and armed, and the peace protected. However he was neither trained nor paid for such duties. As an example, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, prior to the establishment of the constabulary, forty nine parish constables had been appointed but they were farmers and labourers. Not experienced at all for the task in hand.

In towns the situation may have been a little better with the appointment of the town watch. This was a municipal force that patrolled the streets during the hours of darkness. In Manchester, in 1802, an advert appealed for forty five men to form a night watch. But in some districts, even this was considered insufficient, and a private watch was appointed. Unfortunately, the conduct of the private watch was debatable with reports that its members were often the worse for drink.

At the heart of the problem was that there was no provision for public prosecution. The onus was on the victim, at their own expense, to secure the perpetrator and bring him to court, not an easy task.

To tackle this problem was the stated aim of the associations, ‘to identify, pursue, apprehend, prosecute and obtain the conviction of anyone who committed a crime against the property of a member’. In this way members were protected from the high cost of prosecution. It was also hoped that being a member of such an association would make the property of a member less attractive as a target for felons. In reality the felons knew that their identification and prosecution was unlikely. The law existed but was largely ineffectual to protect the individual.

When a crime occurred, handbills were printed, distributed, and published in the local newspapers. The advertisement included details of the offence and, where available, of the perpetrator, together with the reward offered for information leading to conviction. Rewards ranged from a guinea for a lesser crime to £5 for the most serious. The associations were very serious about their ‘pursuits’. These were exactly what it says. Once the members were advised of where a perpetrator might be, they pursued them relentlessly, often travelling many miles and ‘throughout England and Wales’ if necessary. If the perpetrator was apprehended, then the association bore the burden of the cost of the prosecution. And the associations were successful. In Manchester between 1788 and 1805 there were 218 prosecutions. Sentences were wide ranging, of these 218 it was recorded that forty nine were acquitted, seventy were transported and three hung.

As time progressed, and with the establishment of a national police force, the associations that were initially founded for crime detection and prosecution became little more than members only dining clubs.

The Creation of Peterborough’s Association

In 1781 the citizens of Peterborough formed An Association for the Prosecution of all Persons Guilty of Felony. In Peterborough a beadle was also employed. The beadle’s job was to encourage vagrants, and the like, to leave the town. He had no powers of arrest and was paid by the number of individuals he was able to induce to leave.

The first mention of the association that I was able to locate in the newspapers was in 1810 when an announcement placed by Mr. W. Morley, solicitor, in Drakard’s Stamford News advertised that on Tuesday 4th December the Hundred of Norman Cross and Liberty of Peterborough Association for the Protection of Property would hold their annual general meeting at the home of Mr. Augustus Palmer, at the Wheatsheaf, Sibson. The meeting was for members to pay their subscription of 5s, (£11 in today’s money), to conduct any business that the members saw fit and to dine at 2pm. This was an exclusive association. All the fifty seven members were listed in the report, and these included The Right Honourable Earl Fitzwilliam. The only member from Fletton was John Henery.

Ten years later, on Friday 21st July 1820, a similar notice appeared in the Stamford Mercury. The membership of the association had increased to one hundred and thirty seven. The association were encouraging new members ‘Any person having property within the liberty of Peterborough, desirous of becoming a member of the Association, may do so, on paying the sum of five shillings entrance money, and five shillings subscription money’.    

In 1829 Sir Robert Peel’s ‘Peelers’ or ‘bobbies’ were appointed to act as police in London under the Metropolitan Act of 1829.  This forced many criminals to seek alternative locations, in the provinces, for their trade. There was widespread lawlessness throughout the country and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, and the County Police Act of 1839, made it possible for county justices to appoint their own police force. The Liberty Justices in Peterborough declined to do this until it was compulsory in 1856, by the County and Borough Police Act. What they did do, in 1831, was to swear in twelve men, not as policemen, but nightly watchmen.  

On Wednesday 15th February 1837, the association became The Peterborough New Association at a meeting at the White Lion Inn. Its aims  were to protect the persons and properties of the several members against incendiaries, housebreakers, horse and sheep stealers, other felons and depredators of every description. The subscription remained at 5s, but the area covered increased to include all persons resident within ten miles of Peterborough or possessing property within that distance. The area would later extend to fifteen miles.

Eight years later, on 10th December 1845, the Annual General Meeting was held at the Haycock Inn. The number of members from Fletton had increased to five. These included Reverend Edward Theed, George Wyman and William Odam who were both farmers, Edward Compton, and Charles Weston and Edward Pinckney who were both lime burners and coal, timber, iron and general merchants on the Fletton Wharf.

The 1865 rules of the association reveal more about the rewards that were offered, for information which led to a prosecution of various offences.

Burglary, Housebreaking, or Highway Robbery £5 5s 0d

Setting Fire to any Buildings, hay, Corn, or Effects £5 5s 0d

Stealing, or Maiming any Horse, Mare, or gelding £5 5s 0d

Stealing, Killing, or Maiming any Cow, calf, or Sheep £3 3s 0d

Receiving Stolen Goods £3 3s 0d

Cutting the Manes or Tails of, or Disfiguring any Horse £3 3s 0d

Cutting or Disfiguring any Beast, Sheep, or other Cattle £2 2s 0d

Stealing or Killing Pigs or Poultry £2 2s 0d

Stealing from the House, Building or Person £2 2s 0d

Cutting or Cropping trees, Stealing Wood, Underwood, Quick, Gates, Hedges, Posts, rails, Poles, or Iron Work, Coals or other fuel £1 1s 0d

Stealing any Wool or Locks, or Implements of Husbandry, Hay, Staw, or Corn, or Damaging the same respectively £1 1s 0d

Stealing in any Field or Garden, or any Fishery, and for every Felonious Act or Misdemeanour, not before specifically mentioned £1 1s 0d

Damage to a plate-glass window

With the formation of police constabularies most associations fell by the wayside as they became unnecessary. However, Peterborough’s continued. Advertisements, like the one at the start of this blog, appeared regularly in the newspapers.  Each gave a short summary of the crime and offered a reward.

In this case damage had occurred to the plate glass window at the property that Mr. Vero lived in, in 1906, and which Mr. Stephen Bamber owned. The property was 15 Fletton Spring, known as ‘Holly House’.

James Vero

James Vero was born in Atherstone, Warwickshire. He married Ellen Sneath on 10th March 1873 in St. Paul’s, Southwick.  Ellen Sneath was born in Swineshead, Lincolnshire in 1850. On the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses James was a hatter, hatter’s salesman, and finally he owned his own hatters in Islington. So, what attracted James to move his family north, to Fletton? The answer was Farrows Peas and Canning factory. James worked as Mr. Farrow’s agent. It was in the capacity of agent, that in May 1902 he brought a charge, against Robert Hobbs and Charles Jinks, who were general dealers, for releasing their horses on to the herbage near the Farrow’s factory. In 1907 Farrows was advertising for travellers to sell their wares, ketchup, and sauces, in Glasgow. The advert called for someone who had good connections in the hotel and restaurant trade. James was the contact for applications.

James died in 1920. Ellen moved, with their adopted daughter Florence, to 9 Milton Road. Florence was employed in the pea dispatch department at Farrows.

Stephen Bamber

Stephen Bamber, the owner of the property was born in Chelsea, in 1836. He married Clari Dakers in 1867. In 1871 the recently married couple were new parents. Their son Theodore was 2. They had made a home for themselves in New Street, Peterborough and Stephen was a grocer’s assistant. By 1881 the family had moved to 6 Albion Terrace, Fletton and Stephen had become a ‘grocer manager’, potentially at Mr. Barrett’s grocer in Long Causeway. The family moved to Old Fletton, to 1 Woodlands by 1891 and it was here that the couple lived into retirement.

Stephen was successful in his business life owning properties to let. These included ‘Holly House’ the property that James Vero lived in, and numbers 2 and 4 The Woodlands, Fletton Spring. Stephen was also an active member of the Fletton community. Until 1900 he paid for the oil to light the lamp at Fletton Spring. The cost of this was £3 a year or in today’s money about £234. He also had cause to complain of a smell from the sewer in 1902. A complaint that was upheld by the surveyor who agreed that ‘there was a stench at times’. He recommended a non-ventilating manhole to rectify the problem. Stephen was also part of a deputation of property owners who attended a meeting at the council concerning the taking over by the council of roads in Fletton. Each property owner was expected to pay a share of the overall cost to have the roads made up. The deputation who included Mr. Rowe, Mr. Farrow, Mr. Thurley, Mr. Rose and Mr. Gardener argued that most property owners owned just one cottage and that, as working men, the charge expected was a serious one. Both Stephen and Mr. Gardener and the residents of Princes Road were awarded reductions as the roads had been seriously ‘cut up’ after the installation of sewage pipes.  

Like James, Stephen also died in 1920, whilst Clari continued to live at Woodlands.

Other crimes

But this was not the first time that Stephen Bamber had used the services of the association. On 19th December 1905 reward bills were produced, on behalf of Stephen, for damage to the paint of doors and gates of a house in Fletton Spring.

Other Fletton residents had also used the services of the association.

On 11th August 1892 reward bills were produced, on behalf of Mr T. Samworth, butcher, for damage to thatch on a stack of hay at Fletton.

On 1st July 1903 reward bills were produced, on behalf of Mr. Marriott, for damage to fences of villas off Fletton Road.

On 12th August 1903 reward bills were produced, on behalf of Mr Henry Pank, law clerk, for damage to windows of his house on London Road.

On 11th December 1924 reward bills were produced, on behalf of Mr Henry Pank, for damage to shrubs and trespass upon the garden at number 82 London Road.

Other Fletton residents who were members of the association included grazing farmer Joseph Eyre, Brickmakers Hicks, Gardener and Co and solicitors clerk William Pettit.

Eventually, like the other associations, the Peterborough Association ceased pursuing felons in July 1926.

The Peterborough Archives holds a fascinating collection of handbills, minutes, letters, and records of prosecutions, which give a wonderful insight into crime in the city up to the early twentieth century.

The Lincolnshire Chronicle and General Advertiser, March 3, 1837

The Lincolnshire Chronicle and General Advertiser, Friday January 4th, 1839

The Lincolnshire Chronicle and General Advertiser, Friday December 5, 1845

Peterborough Advertiser, Wednesday 4 July, 1900

Spalding Guardian, Saturday 13th July 1901

Peterborough Standard, Saturday 24 May, 1902

Peterborough Standard, Saturday 19 July 1902

Peterborough Advertiser, 3 December 1902

Stamford Mercury, Friday 17 June, 1904

The Scotsman, Monday 25 March 1907

Commemorating 100 Years of Service of the Peterborough Police 1857-1957, Alan Swain.

Protecting privilege and property: Associations for the Prosecution of Felons J. Sutton, The Local Historian, May 2004, Vol 34, No 2.

Peterborough Archives, Buckles Collection 2008/53

Derek Smith for making me aware of the Bamber handbill

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