Monday, 5 August 2013

Crime and Punishment in Old Glamorgan

Part Two

Something that we would not be expected to do today is maintain our own roads, but until the advent of Turnpikes (toll roads) the residents of a given locality were expected to do just that. Take the residents of Llandaff and Leckwith when in 1703 they were ordered to repair the causeway which led from Leckwith Bridge to Canton- no doubt an arduous undertaking. There are records of such enforced road repairing going back to the 16th century up to the 18th century. In April of 1726 residents had to repair the road from the village of lower Penarth (Penarth was formally a village) to the church at Sully which even today is a considerable stretch and also a highway called ‘Hewl y Costin’ which was in Lavernock.

You might think that rouge traders are a recent phenomenon? Not true, although we doubt you would be the unfortunate recipient of a badly tarmacked drive in the previous centuries, but you might well fall victim to traders selling sub-standard goods or using dodgy weights (a lot of goods and coins were tested with weights to assess their true value – in fact we have found many trade weights whilst metal detecting in Glamorganshire. In 16th century Cardiff Thomas Herbert was prosecuted for selling beer without a licence and Thomas Phelipps, also of Cardiff was prosecuted for the unlawful selling of beer and games in his house. 

(Alcohol, like today was easily available and drunk in large quantities, hence offences related to its consumption or sale crop up frequently in the court rolls

Offences relating to beer seem to have been common in 16th century Cardiff as in 1558 John Evans, of Cardiff was brought to account for selling alcohol without a licence and incontinence within his own house! James Rosser in 1594 was caught selling ‘bad beer’ (watered down)? Whilst in 1698 Mary Griffiths, spinster, John Ffiledurst, ironmonger and Barbara, wife of Phillip Tanner, grocer were all caught using false weights. In 1619 one George Brodley, sailor of Penarth was selling beer unlawfully at a tavern in Penarth. We have from the year 1720 an example of an early 18th century ‘chancer’ as John Griffith, labourer was practicing as a cordwayner (a shoemaker) when he was not in fact qualified to do so. Taken as a whole a menagerie of dodgy dealings.

(A brass 18th century beer tap; designed to be hammered into a wooden barrel, the design of these taps has hardly changed in hundreds of years and a modern variant is still used on casked beer

Accidents in the workplace or death by misadventure is something we would recognise now, such as it was in times past. Ones place of work and domestic environment can and always have been a place of potential danger, even so in pre-industrialised Glamorganshire. There were no health and safety laws or remission for injuries sustained in a workplace, nor was there a National Health Service to help the needy; a serious accident could result in ruin and a life of begging or worse. Although this section does not involve crime, it does deserve a mention if nothing more than to highlight the strife and danger most people faced in simply trying to live out their lives in a day and age when death, poverty and disease were much closer than they are today.

In 1705 Steven Jones, a labourer was sitting on the wall to a mill-pond at Cardiff where he fell off and into the pond where he unfortunately drowned. In April of 1725 Elizabeth Moses of Coity rather tragically fell into a pan of ale and was drowned, she was only two years old. Another unfortunate Cardiff labourer was John George from the parish of John the Baptist who was killed on the ‘Little Heath’ when he was crushed by a bale of hay falling on him; agriculture it seems could be a dangerous business. An industrial fatality occurred in August of 1746 when Thomas James was killed by the wheel in a mill – he was just ten years old. Children went out to work at a very young age before education for all was compulsory (Fosters Education Act 1870) and they used to perform much of the most dangerous tasks.  Thomas Price, a sailor drowned whilst swimming in the river Taff ‘near Cardiff Key’. In 1750 Willima Llewelyn of Roath set fire to a hollow in an oak tree in a field called ‘Dwr Erw Coed’ where it fell and crushed him. Also in 1750 Christian Lewis of Cardiff died when she fell into a toilet (privy) at St David in the parish of St John the Baptist. In 1759 William Thomas was drowned riding on his way back from Barry Island to Cadoxton;  no  doubt he was heading toward Weston Square as before the docks were built this is where small boats used to land as the water formally came up to this point – he was clearly caught out by the fast closing tides. In 1760 a milkmaid was killed by a bull at Croft Castle in Leckwith.

Violence was and unfortunately always will be a part of life and it was no different in times past – in fact lawlessness was far more common in previous decades so to a certain degree we should consider ourselves fortunate. In Tudor Cardiff John Thomas Bengoh was imprisoned for assault and affray. Trespassing on someone’s property could earn you the displeasure of the owner as in 1711 Howell Williams, clerk of Penarth found out when he strayed onto land at Lavernock called the Croft and owned by Richard Hawkins, yeoman – Richard proceeded to assault Howell. In 1737 in Cardiff one John Price assaulted a young girl called Anne Plumly in his garden. Interestingly he made a series of threats including visitations from the ghosts of the monks when he said “the spirits would come out of the friars and take her away” and our personal favourite is a threat with a visitation from something called the ‘Bully dean’. I’m not sure what poor Anne had done to deserve such treatment or if she was gullible enough to believe the threats directed at her. In Cardiff in 1759 there was a full on riot at Homanby Street (now called Womanby Street) replete with crews of ‘Jolly Jack Tars’ armed with pikes, swords, pistols, muskets and cutlasses. This incident involved the crews of two different ships, namely the Eagle of Bristol and the Aldbrough, a man-of-war; this affray involved the death of one of the men, a sailor called Edmund Ffaharty.

The hoi polloi were often fond of engaging in casual acts of violence as they are today but, if a person of quality felt aggrieved he didn't head-butt you or throw a beer bottle at your head, he wrote you a rather eloquent letter inviting you to be shot at dawn. Our final example comes from the year 1770 and emanated from the aggrieved pen of Henry, Esq (knight) of Laleston in Bridgend. Henry, rather miffed at being roughly talked to by one Thomas Bennet, also of Bridgend, challenged him to a duel and his letter deserves to be included verbatim.

"Respect to the Company prevented my taking the Proper Notice of the Insolence of your Language yesterday at Ewenny, but it were Disrespect to myself not to resent it now. I therefore acquaint your self-Importance that you behaved like a Fool and spoke like a Liar—which I am ready to make good as a Gentleman ought, when and wheresoever you think proper to appoint.

Hen: Knight.
Tythegston, Dec. 30th 1769.
Send your Answer by the Bearer."

(Dueling was the preserve of gentlemen and was common in the 18th century, although the last duel fought in Britain was thought to be in 1852)

It is not known what the outcome was but hurt feelings and the notion of honour for the ruling classes were very serious matters in old Glamorganshire and indeed the western world.

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