NO FRIEND IN HEAVEN
Before those committed could be tried by the Special Commission they first had to be conveyed from Newbury to Reading. "Harrowing and heart-rending was the scene that took place when the vans that were to convey the main body of the prisoners drew up in the Market Place." A troop of Lancers and the Yeomanry, with sabres drawn, were "the imposing military escort responsible for seeing the prisoners safely lodged in the county gaol." The men were brought out in batches while "Women fought their way through the surging throng praying for a parting word with their husbands or relatives before they took leave of them perhaps for ever." A particularly distressing sight was witnessed when "a poor woman with eight children and an infant at the breast rushed forward to press the manacled hands of her husband as he took his seat in one of the vehicles.". Newbury has not witnessed a sadder procession through its ancient streets. (1)
The first of the two Berkshire Commissions to try the rioters was opened at Reading on Monday,27th December. The judges appointed to the commission were Sir James Alan Park, Sir John Patteson and Sir William Bolland. It must have given Baron Bolland much satisfaction to preside over such an important trial in the town in which he was educated and of which he had once been Recorder. The two lay commissioners were the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Abingdon, and one of the county M.P.s, Mr. Charles Dundas, of Barton Court, Kintbury. (2)
One hundred and thirty eight persons were to be prosecuted at this Special Assize. mostly on indictments of machine breaking or robbery ; there was only one indictment for arson and one for sending a threatening letter (NOT signed "Captain Swing") and in both cases the prosecution withdrew its case. Almost exactly a half (70) came from the south-western corner of the county. Most were very young, only 18 being forty or over; three quarters of those from the Kintbury/Hungerford area were under 35 years of age. The average age of the Kintbury men convicted was thirty. 55% of the prisoners were illiterate ; only 25 could both read and write, while 37 more could read only. (1 and 2) Of the 35 convicted who could read 60% (21) came from west of Newbury.(3)
Though the commission was formally opened shortly before noon on the 27th it was immediately adjourned in order that the commissioners could attend Divine Service. They returned at two o'clock when Mr. Justice Park began his address to the Grand Jury, in which he repudiated with indignation the "impudent and base slander that the upper ranks of society cared little for the wants and privations of the poor." (2) He would no doubt have approved of what his colleague, Mr. Justice Taunton, had said at Lewes Assizes - that there were persons who exaggerated the labourers' distress, raised up barriers between the different classes and who represented the rich as the oppressors of the poor ; and that only lack of knowledge or deliberate mis-representation could depict the gentry of England "as not sympathizing in their distress, and as not anxious to relieve their burdens and to promote their welfare and happiness."(4) Judge Park certainly believed that the distress had been exaggerated, but that, even if it was in fact as bad as some commentators had suggested, it would, in the normal course of things, "Be mitigated or relieved by the powerful and the affluent either of high or middling rank." His Lordship also referred to "this our happy land which, for its benevolence, charity and boundless humanity has been the admiration of the world." (2)
The Berkshire labourers had little to hope for from a man who held such opinions. As the law stood there was not much doubt about their guilt ; there was equally no doubt what sentence was applicable in most cases; their only hope was that their distress, which had been made worse "by the illiberality of masters and parishes," (5) would be recognised and accepted as mitigating circumstances, on the basis of which justice might be tempered with "heaven's distinguishing mark", mercy. (6) When, like his fellow judges elsewhere, Mr. Justice Park refused to admit evidence about wages or distress, even this slight hope vanished. The approach of the judges who sat on the Special Commissions was summed up neatly by one of their number, Mr. Justice Alderson, at Dorchester - "We do not come here to inquire into grievances. We come here to decide the Law." (4) His Lordship preached a special homily on the duties incumbent upon the gentry, who were urged to go home and educate their poorer neighbours and to improve their conditions. The conditions to which he referred were not, as might have been expected in the circumstances, material, but moral. Poverty, and the misery attendant on it, said His Lordship, though inseparable from the state of the human race, "would no doubt be greatly mitigated if a spirit of prudence were more generally diffused among the people, and if they understood more fully and practised btter their civil, moral and religious duties.". (4)
Unfortunately for them the agricultural labourers had arrived at the precipitate conclusion that neither a spirit of prudence nor more regular attendance at church would transform 7s. (or less) a week into a living wage. By arrogating to themselves the power of redressing their own wrongs they had in most cases risked the forfeiture of their lives. Recent consolidating Acts of Parliament (of 1827 and 1828) had made it a capital offence
(i) to riotously or tumultuously assemble for the purpose of destroying machinery, or
(ii) to rob any person of any chattel, money or valuable security.
Judge Park took up nearly the whole of the afternoon of the first day of the commission in addressing the Grand Jury. There was just sufficient time left to deal with one particularly pitiful case. "As soon as the learned Judge had concluded his charge, the Grand Jury retired, and returned in a few minutes with a true bill against Charles Symonds for rape. The prisoner was brought into court in a state of the most fearful and outrageous madness. He was put upon his trial pro-forma ; a jury was hastily sworn, and without hesitation returned a verdict of 'insanity' and the unhappy prisoner was instantly conveyed out of court." (2)
Normally on the evening of the first day of an Assize the judges invited the Grand Jury and the local magistrates to dinner, but, being anxious to free the administration of justice "from the slightest appearance of partiality in the eyes of the lower classes", they decided, after consulting with and obtaining the approval of the Lord Chancellor, Brougham, and the Home Secretary, Melbourne, not to extend such an invitation on this occasion. The composition of the Grand Jury - 1 baronet,2 knights, 3 M.P.s, 1 Major-General and 16 "esquires" - and of the Commission itself, was hardly likely to reinforce any slight appearance of impartiality which the omission of the dinner invitation might have created.(2) There had also been some difficulty in finding satisfactory petty jurors. All farmers were challenged by defence counsel and matters were at a deadlock until the judges ordered the bystanders to be empanelled. (4)
The first two cases dealt with on the first effective day of the assize "arose out of the assembling on 22nd November of two mobs from Kintbury and Hungerford who united at the latter place and proceeded to the destruction, of Mr. Gibbons' iron foundry and afterwards to the Town Hall of Hungerford where Mr. Willes, a magistrate, and several gentlemen were met and, by threats and violence, were induced to part with five sovereigns," (7) The four men indicted for robbing Mr. Willes were Daniel Bates, William Oakley, William Smith (alias Winterbourn) and Edmund Steel, all members of the five-man Kintbury deputation. "Oakley, a young man of about twenty-five.... was somewhat better dressed than is usual among members of the class of working tradesmen." One reporter described him as " a pale, sinister looking person," and the same phrase was used to describe Winterbourn. [According to the more objective convict records Oakley's complexion was described, like those of most of his comrades, as "ruddy".]. Both Winterbourn and Oakley, whose bold language, full of class hostility, probably marked him out for exemplary punishment, were found guilty of the capital charge of robbery. Bates, who also had a verdict of guilty recorded against his name, was recommended to mercy. In view of the extremely violent and threatening stance which he adopted during the confrontation in the Town Hall this leniency can only have been due to an extremely good character reference. (See Judge Park's homily on passing sentence.)
An analysis of the verdicts where mercy was recommended suggests that only in those cases where local gentry were prepared to give evidence of good character was this moderation shown. Fairly obviously any labourer, such as Winterbourn, who had demonstrated a spirit of independence in the past was unlikely to be favoured in this way. Steel's acquittal of the charge of robbery was almost certainly due to the evidence proffered by Mr. Willes himself in which he drew attention to Steel's emphatic comment that the hatchet he was carrying would never be used to harm the venerable magistrate.
An interesting omission from the reports of the Hungerford Town Hall negotiations is the name of Francis Norris, treasurer and second-in command of the Kintbury "congregation". although one report does refer to the Kintbury delegation as consisting of the four men charged with robbing Mr. Willes "and one other". Neither was Norris one of the Kintbury men charged with assisting in the destruction of Mr. Gibbons' machinery. He was, however, indicted on the Tuesday on two other charges, one of breaking a threshing machine, the property of Richard Goddard, at midnight on 21st/22nd of November. and another of robbing the Rev. J.G. Thomas of two sovereigns. Norris was found guilty of breaking machinery, but was acquitted of the more serious one of robbery. This was in line with the general policy of the prosecution which was to offer no evidence in cases of robbery thus avoiding death sentences, but was contrary to the approach usually adopted towards men from the Kintbury area.
Seventeen men were charged with "tumultuously demolishing machinery" at Richard Gibbons' foundry, on Monday, 22nd November. They included seven from Kintbury - Daniel Bates, David Garlick, Timothy May, William Oakley, Edmund Steel, James Watts and William Winterbourn. All but one were sworn as being present though five of the Kintbury men, Bates, May, Oakley, Steel and Winterbourn said that "they were never on the premises in their lives.". This may have been a true claim for those who confirmed their presence at the foundry were Hungerford men and it is feasible that they were not known to them.
The jury, however, thought otherwise and all five were found guilty as were ten of the remaining twelve. Two Hungerford men, Charles Smith and William Haynes, were acquitted, the latter because he "was not seen to assist in the work of destruction", but Israel Pullen's plea that he had been forced to go with the mob fell on deaf ears. The other prisoners had nothing to say. Two other Hungerford men, Charles Rosier and Thomas Willoughby, were later charged with the same offence. Both were found guilty, though the latter was recommended to mercy. The business of the first full day of the special assize was concluded by a case of machine breaking by a Bradfield labourer.
According to Mr. George Maule, the legal adviser to the Home Office, the whole of Wednesday was occupied in trying 25 machine breakers from the Aldermaston area. The twenty-five cases arose out of "an insurrection which took place on the 18th and 19th November, covering many parishes in this neighbourhood, viz., Bradfield, Beenham, Aldermaston, Wasing, Woolhampton and Brimpton. The mob assembled on the evening of the first day and were out all night collecting members and going from farm to farm breaking threshing machines and levying contributions for having done so upon the owners and other inhabitants. This was continued the next day until the afternoon when the mob was met and dispersed at Brimpton and many of the ring-leaders secured and committed.". (7) Seventeen of the twenty-five were found guilty of breaking a threshing machine belonging to Mr. Kenwick Hickman. The same men were also indicted for assaulting Mr. Hickman and forcibly taking two half-crowns from his person. Mr. Gurney,for the prosecution, said that he would offer no evidence in support of the latter indictment, and, in the absence of such evidence, it would no doubt be the jury's pleasing duty to acquit the prisoners. Mr. Justice Park commended the judicious and lenient course adopted by the gentlemen who were engaged for the Crown, and the prisoners were acquitted of the capital charge of robbery.
The first case dealt with on the morning of Thursday involved six men from the Hungerford area (John Aldridge, Elijah Baker, James Grant, David Hawkins, John Jennaway and George Whiting), and seven others from in and around Lambourn who were indicted and found guilty of breaking threshing machines. The second group were also indicted for robbery and assault of Mr. John Hawkins of Welford, but no evidence was offered. Most members of the Lambourn "mob", which was led by a shepherd, Thomas Mackrell, were tried at Abingdon. This included three of this latter group. Of the other four, three, Isaac Burton, Jason Greenway and William Waving, were later sentenced at Reading to seven years transportation, while the fourth, James Deacon, was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour.
Daniel Bates, Alfred Darling, John Gater, George Liddiard, Richard Nutley and William Pearson (alias Brazier), all of Kintbury, were found guilty of breaking a threshing machine belonging to William Webb, also of Kintbury, but were recommended to mercy because they had used no violence.
Five men from the Thatcham area and six from the eastern part of the county were also indicted for breaking threshing machines ; two of the former and all six of the latter were found guilty. The case of the last six is worth noting in view of the attitude adopted later by the prosecution towards Kintbury men. In her evidence "Martha Davis, an old and infirm woman, said that, on Saturday, 20th November, she and her son's wife, who had been lately put to bed, the husband of the latter who was attending her, a nurse, and a little girl were in the house. About ten or eleven at night she was alarmed by the strokes of a sledge-hammer on the kitchen window. She went to the bedroom window to see what was the matter. She saw six men and immediately afterwards they had broken in the back door. She asked what they wanted and they said that they were 40 sworn men come out of Kent, and they were going to drive the country before them. They demanded victuals and drink, and asked her if she would have her ricks and buildings set on fire about her ears, or her threshing machine broken. She desired them to break the machine in 500 pieces if they liked but for God's sake not to harm the staff of life. One had a sledge-hammer and another a sword or cutlass which he flourished about. They had victuals and drink out at the window, but they still kept thumping at the door, and finally broke it." Her son Thomas said that one of those present said that "they were going to break all the machines round, for they were to regulate the country for six months." (2)
The prosecuting counsel, Mr. Gurney, observed that this case was attended with greater ferocity than those which had hitherto occupied the attention of the jury, and it was entirely owing to forbearance that the prisoners were not placed at the bar under a capital charge. Addressing the prisoners Mr. Justice Park said that had it not been for the remarkably lenient course pursued by those who conducted the prosecutions they would all have stood at the bar under indictments which, if proved, would have subjected them to the forfeiture of their lives. Mr. Gurney added that he and his learned coadjutors had anxiously considered the cases of many of the prisoners and it would not admit of a doubt that in most cases where persons were charged with robbery capital convictions would follow. They had, however, pursued in this and many instances the milder course and submitted to verdicts of acquittal on the capital charge, when the parties had been convicted of the minor offence. He concluded on an ominous note ; Justice would not admit them to follow this course in every instance.
On Friday, the fourth effective day of the assize, the first case to be heard was that against six men from the Aldermaston area who were indicted for destroying the machine of one Gabriel Lamb, "who obtained a livelihood by working the machine" for others. He had sent his machine, a portable one, for safety to a neighbour's farm where the mob came and destroyed it. Only one man was found guilty, Mr. Gurney offering no evidence in the cases of the other five.
The second case heard on the Friday concerned two Kintbury men, Robert Page and William Carter, who were found guilty of breaking a threshing machine belonging to Joseph Stanbrook of Enborne, but who were acquitted of robbing Mr. Stanbrook of two sovereigns. If we except the rather special case arising out of the Hungerford Town Hall confrontation, the policy of the Crown prosecutor of refraining from pressing the more serious charge of robbery had been applied indiscriminately to all, irrespective of the part of the county from which they came.
The main case considered on the Friday was the first exception. It involved seven Kintbury men (William Carter, Alfred Darling, Joseph Nicholas, Thomas Radbourn, Edmund Steel. William Westall and William Winterbourn) charged with assaulting Joseph Randall and robbing him of one sovereign. "Mr. Gurney said that it had been observed that they had been in most instances contented to proceed on the minor charge, but it would be impossible in this instance to accede to that course, the enormity of the case rendering it imperative to proceed on the capital charge." (2) It is inexplicable, except on the basis suggested later, why this particular case was chosen as the exception to the policy of leniency on the capital charge. Its "enormity" was certainly no greater, and the leadership much more moderate, than in the case of those labourers who had violently attacked the house of an infirm old lady and forced her to provide them with food and drink, while one of them flourished a sword or cutlass and others, by persistent battering, broke down the door. Though it must be admitted that, in the Randall episode, some members of the Kintbury "congregation", which usually acted as an orderly and disciplined group, had threatened to get out of hand, the evidence of Joseph Randall and his sister Elizabeth brings out quite clearly that they were restrained more than once by the resolute but moderate leadership of the "Captain", William Winterbourne. (See Chapter 2.) Darling, who was found guilty of attempted rape while a convict in Australia, may well have had violent criminal tendencies, and, though we have no other evidence to support this, it may be that this was also true of Nicholas, but even if the "enormity" of both men had been such as to warrant the decision to proceed with the prosecution on the capital charge against them , there would appear to be no reason for pressing the same charge against the remaining five men other than that the counsel for the Crown and the members of the commission (which included "the King of Kintbury", Charles Dundas) were determined to make an example of the Kintbury men.
"The Times" was later to comment that the Berkshire Commission was a "merciful contrast" to those which sat at Winchester and Salisbury. (9) This contrast may be true in general, but it was certainly not true of the punishment meted out to the men of Kintbury. The "uneven severity of the law" as demonstrated by the different commissions was remarked by the "Brighton Gazette" (9) ; this unevenness was also demonstrated over the period during which the Reading Commission sat. That there was a definite tendency to "throw the book" at some of the Kintbury men is supported by the outcome of subsequent cases.
James Annetts, Charles Bates, Alfred Darling, Francis Norris, William Page and William Simms. all of Kintbury, were charged with robbing Dundas's game- keeper, William Clarkson, of 40s. Annetts alone was acquitted. The other five had "Death" recorded against their names ; Bates only being recommended to mercy because of his previous good character.
Five more Kintbury men, Thomas Darling, William Oakley, James Randall, Edmund Steel and William Winterbourn, were indicted for robbing Frederick Webb of one sovereign. "Mr. Gurney observed that as it was probable that the mob had gone to the prosecutor's with another object than that of robbery, namely with a view to destroy threshing machines, and as Darling and Randall had not been connected with the robbery, he would not press a conviction against them." (2) These two were acquitted but the other three were found guilty.
Why this case, any more than the Randall one, was chosen as an exception to the general policy of leniency it is difficult to determine. Admittedly, according to Farmer Webb's testimony, Winterbourn had used language which might have been considered by some to be violent. Webb affirmed that Winterbourn, holding up a sledge-hammer, had said, "If you don't give me a sovereign, I will spill blood in your house.", but this kind of language was typical of working- class bluster which was never intended to be, and by a fellow worker would not have been taken, literally.
The records contain several examples of such exaggerated use of language. A Wantage man, William Champion, threatened the "specials" in the following uncompromising terms ; "Blast my eyes, I will smash the bloody bugger's heads, six at a time." (9) A Wiltshire shoemaker, William Wilmott, was accused of having followed James Blackridge into the Bell at Ramsbury, where he took off his coat and said, "Damn you ! I am come here to make you a head shorter. There are five more who would do it at the Castle ". (10) The Stanford Dingley "congregation" was reported as having shouted out "Blood for breakfast !" and as having threatened that anyone who failed to join them "should have his head chopped off." (11)
Hobsbawm and Rudé, in their extensive study of the "Swing" riots, stress that verbal violence was rarely matched with commensurate violence to persons ; in fact not a single life was lost in the whole course of the revolt as a result of action taken by any of the rioters. (9) The Home Office legal adviser, George Maule, reporting to Lord Melbourne's secretary on the trials at Reading, stated that, "None of the cases of robbery have been attended with personal violence, though in two or three there have been menaces to the person and violence done to the house.".(7) As W. Money so poetically expressed it -
"Though great threats were used in no instance were those brown arm'd sons of labour guilty of personal violence to any one." (12)
That the violent language of the labourers was largely discounted by those more closely in touch with them, namely the local magistrates, is indicated by the treatment of Thomas Willoughby of Hungerford, who had publicly threatened to take the life of John Stevens of Anvilles Farm. He is reported as having said that he owed Stevens a grudge, that the mob was coming, and that he "would have blood for supper." (10) At one stage only the lack of £50 or of someone to stand surety for this amount prevented Willoughby from going scot-free.
Even Judge Park eventually had his eyes opened "to the true perspective of the rhetorical language that had assumed such terrifying importance" to himself at Reading and to his fellow judges sitting on other special commissions. During the trial of the remainder of the Berkshire men at Abingdon, he was impressed by the reaction of the mob to a display of firmness on the part of a Mrs. Charlotte Slade, wife of an Aston Tirrold farmer. When asked for beer she answered, "Not a drop !", and when asked why she refused to give it said, "I cannot give beer to encourage riot." When the leader of the mob, named Bennett, asked her if she would be afraid or daunted if her premises should be set on fire, she admitted that she would be, but added that she did not suppose that they intended any such thing. The result of this dialogue was that Bennett and his followers went home without beer, and without giving any further trouble. (4)
Judge Park's change of attitude was also reflected in the sentence which he passed at Abingdon on a young labourer named Richard Kempster. When arrested Kempster was carrying a red flag and exclaimed, "Be damned if I don't wish it was a revolution, and that all was afire together." (6) As the Hammonds point out such language would have called forth a grave homily from the judges of the Hampshire Commission on the necessity of cutting such a man off for ever from his kind.(4) If Master Kempster had been tried by the same judge at Reading he might have considered himself lucky if he had been sentenced to transportation for life. In the event he received a sentence of only twelve months imprisonment.
To return to the case out of which this digression arose - that of the indictment of William Winterbourn etc. for having robbed Frederick Webb of one sovereign. Winterbourn said nothing in his defence, but Oakley, as always, was much more voluble. Though "he had nothing to say about Mr. Webb's business" (2), he said that he lived with his grandmother at Kintbury where they had a foundry ; the mob destroyed all he had and forced him to go with them. (His presence among the Kintbury delegation at the Hungerford Town Hall, and his outspokenness at that time, which was the day preceding that on which his grandmother's foundry was attacked, hardly supports this claim.) Oakley produced a petition signed by several respectable persons in his favour, and he even anticipated Cobbett's tactic (at his trial in the following summer) by calling one of the lay members of the commission, Mr. Charles Dundas, the "King of Kintbury", to the witness stand. Mr. Dundas confirmed that Oakley did work for his grandmother, but said that he could not say from his own personal knowledge that their foundry had been destroyed. This was unfortunate for Oakley because the judge's comments suggest that had it been otherwise he would have been acquitted. He, Steel and Winterbourn were found guilty of the capital charge of robbery, though only Winterbourn was refused a recommendation to mercy.
The uneven treatment meted out to the prisoners from different areas was further demonstrated in the last case dealt with on the Friday. Cornelius Bennett, "Captain" of the West Woodhay "mob", together with a blacksmith, Thomas Goodfellow, were indicted on two charges, one of breaking Matthew Batten's threshing machine, and another of robbing his person. They were found guilty of the minor charge but, unlike their Kintbury comrades, were acquitted on the capital one. The leniency shown in this case is all the more remarkable because it provided a clear example of perjury on someone's part. "Several working people deposed that they heard Batten invite the mob to destroy his machine, and said he would give them two sovereigns for their trouble as he wished to annoy his landlord." (4) This, said Batten, was a conspiracy against him and denied saying what he was alleged to have said ; his denial was supported by the testimony of his son. Apparently the judge assumed that the perjury had been committed by the farm workers (though no case was brought against them) for he referred to this "scandalous attempt to blacken the character of a respectable farmer; 'It pleased God, however, that the atrocious attempt had failed.'" (10)
The first case dealt with on the Saturday morning also involved Bennett who was indicted on three more charges of robbery. In two cases no evidence was offered, and the third case was abandoned, though the evidence provided in contemporary documents appears strong enough to have convicted him.
John Aldridge and George Whiting, both of Hungerford, were next found guilty of breaking a threshing machine belonging to William Barnes of Sanham Farm, and Charles Rosier and Thomas Willoughby, also of Hungerford, were found guilty of participating in the destruction of machinery at Richard Gibbons' iron foundry. Willoughby was later indicted on three charges of robbery for which no evidence was offered. Again documentary evidence (e.g. threats upon the life of a farmer, and a statement on oath that he had threatened to set fire to another farmer's premises and to murder him (10)) suggests that, had he been a Kintbury man, he would have been found guilty on a capital charge. Three other Hungerford men, Charles Green, Joseph Smith and George Sturgess were charged with breaking two threshing machines ; one the property of Richard Harben of Welford, and another at Oakhanger Farm. Smith and Green were found guilty, but Sturgess was acquitted.
A Benham labourer, William White, was next charged with breaking a machine belonging to John Porter, and with violently assaulting and robbing him of 10s. White was found guilty of the former charge, but the discrimination against the Kintbury men was once again emphasised when the second charge was withdrawn.
The rest of Saturday was taken up with the cases of a group of men from the Yattendon area, who must have roamed far afield in search of machines to break for their indictment include breaking machines at Basildon and Streatley. Five of this group were also arraigned on two indictments which combined machine breaking with robbery, but, no evidence being offered, the jury were directed to acquit them. It was 6.30 p.m. when the commission finally adjourned.
The proceedings recommenced on the Monday morning with a group of eleven indictments of felonious assault and robbery committed in various parts of the county. Of the eleven men concerned one was from Aldermaston, six from the Lambourn valley, one from Inkpen (John Burgess), one from Hungerford (James Wilkins) and two (Barlow Page and George Dopson) from Kintbury. Three other Kintbury men were arraigned at the same time for destroying threshing machines. All fourteen men being placed in the dock together, Mr. Gurney, counsel for the prosecution, addressing the jury, said that he had now arrived at that stage of the proceedings at which he found that he could, consistently with his duty to the country and to the government, abstain from any more prosecutions for felony. It would appear that a bargain had been struck between the opposing counsels, for there exists a hand-written note which states that it was -
"Proposed on the part of the prisoners" that the Crown would offer no further evidence as to those already convicted; that those in the dock were "to be discharged on recognizances to be of good behaviour for one year"; and that those not yet tried were "to plead guilty on condition of their lives being spared." (11)
The prisoners at the bar were then acquitted and discharged upon entering into the appropriate recognizances to keep the peace.
Ten more Kintbury men - Thomas Arnold, John Carter, John Casbourn, Thomas Edwards, George Gaby, Henry Gater, Jacob Gater, Peter Knight, William Randall and Jonathan Sandford - were next indicted for conspiracy to riot and for riotous assembly on the 21st November. Mr. Gurney offered evidence against Jacob Gater only, probably because it was he who led the attack on the Kintbury lock- up or Cage, which was the spark which ignited the revolt in the Kintbury area ; all of the others were acquitted.
The last two cases tried were those of riot against an Aldermaston man, and of robbery against Frederick Gater of Kintbury. No evidence was offered on either of these charges and both men were acquitted.
The work of the prosecution having been completed Mr. Rigby. chief of the defending counsel, made an impassioned plea for clemency. He began by quoting from a speech made to the Berkshire Quarter Sessions in the previous January by one of the lay members of the commission, Mr. Charles Dundas. Mr. Dundas had "expressed his belief that the alarming increase in crime was largely due to the cruel pressure on the poor by the illiberality of masters and parishes in beating down the wages and reducing the parochial relief which was so low as scarcely to afford them the means of existence." Mr. Rigby also referred to the representations which Mr. Dundas and other gentlemen of the county had made at that time to the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, as to the general distressed state which pervaded all classes of people. "If these representations had been attended to at the time", declared Mr. Rigby, "what misery would have been prevented. Berkshire gentlemen would have been spared the shocking spectacle of so many unfortunate fellow creatures at the criminal Bar." (6) "It has been said", Mr. Rigby continued, "that some of the persons who perpetrated these outrages were artisans who had not the excuse of poverty or low wages." He argued that these men would have been devoid of feeling if they had been able to contemplate their neighbours, their relatives and their associates "who were starving and whose penniless families were without food" without wishing to do something to alleviate their distress. While approval could not be given to the way they had set out to do this, surely understanding of the nobility of their motives would call forth moderation in any condemnation of them. "I trust", he concluded, "that mercy will be extended to all ; that public policy will not require any victims on the scaffold ; and that the severity of justice will yield to soft-eyed compassion, for mercy was ever Heaven's distinguishing mark, and he who has it not has no friend there. " (6)
Like Cobbett's trust in the members of the new "liberal" government, Mr. Rigby's trust in the compassion of the members of the special commission was misplaced. The legal adviser to the Home Office, Mr. George Maules, in his daily report, wrote that though he was "not able to state whether any or how many would be left for execution", he hazarded a guess, from what had passed in court, "that two or three would probably be in that unhappy condition". He added that he had passed on the Home Office views respecting imprisonment to Mr. Justice Park, who had said that "he was obliged by the communication... and would communicate it to his Brother Judges, but... he seemed to doubt whether these were the sort of convicts adapted to the penitentiary." (7)
The Commissioners entered the court at ten o'clock on the morning of the final day of the Special Assize, and Mr. Justice Park immediately proceeded to pass sentence on those prisoners who had been convicted. The first two prisoners to be sentenced had been guilty of riotous assembly ; Jacob Gater, of Kintbury, was sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour, but Thomas Dance, of Hungerford, had his sentence increased to twelve months because he was the elder and one who ought to have known better.
When the next group of prisoners from the Yattendon area had been disposed of, two more Hungerford men, Charles Green and Joseph Smith were placed in the dock. Both had been found guilty of feloniously breaking threshing machines and were sentenced to transportation for seven years. Smith who, according to one newspaper report, was suffering severely from rheumatism, had to be helped into and out of the dock. His ill-health - he was later to have to endure the pain and discomfort of a hernia - was to prevent the transportation order being carried out. Instead Smith was to linger on for six long years in the hulks at Portsmouth until he died there in January, 1837. ( 13 and 14)
Eight more machine breakers were next placed at the bar. Of these three were from Kintbury : George Holmes, whose youth and good character outweighed the fact that he was a blacksmith, and William White, a labourer, were sentenced to twelve months hard labour, while Robert Page, a carpenter, was sentenced to be transported for seven years. The next three were from West Woodhay Robert Gibbs was sentenced to twelve months hard labour, while Cornelius Bennett and Thomas Goodfellow, who had taken a more prominent part, received sentences of seven and fourteen years transportation respectively. The last two of this group of eight were from Hungerford : George Whiting, against whom there were two convictions, was nonetheless sentenced to only eighteen months hard labour because "he had not taken a very active part in the proceedings", while John Aldridge, a blacksmith who had, found himself sentenced to seven years transportation.
The next group of eight prisoners to be sentenced was divided into equal parties, one from the Lambourn valley, the other from Kintbury. Three of the former ( Isaac Burton, Jason Greenway and William Waving) were sentenced to serve seven years transportation. The judge commented that Burton, as a tailor, had no pretence for mixing in these transactions but a desire for mischief ; he had demanded money and the offence was aggravated by being committed at night. Though it was true that Greenway was a labourer he, in addition to demanding money at night, had used threatening language. The fourth man from the Lambourn area, James Deacon, had committed no excess beyond the guilt of joining in such outrages consequently he would be given the much lighter sentence of twelve months hard labour. Three of the Kintbury party (John Gater, Richard Nutley and William Pearson) were sentenced to twelve months hard labour because all three were agricultural labourers, had committed only one offence, and there were no circumstances of aggravation. The fourth member of the group, George Liddiard, had his sentence increased to 18 months because he was a blacksmith.
All but three of the nine men next placed in the dock were from Bradfield. Elijah Baker, James Grant and John Jennaway were from the Hungerford area. Mr. Justice Park was happy to announce to all of them that, in the judgement of the court, their cases were favourable and that it was not necessary for the ends of justice that any of them should be sent out of the country. As a labourer who had received a good character Grant was sentenced to only six months hard labour, but both Baker and Jennaway, who had not, were sentenced to twelve months. The prisoners left the dock considerably affected by the learned judge's address, particularly Jennaway who was a very young lad.
The twenty-six men who made up the next three groups arraigned at the bar were all from the south-western corner of the county; all of them had a sentence of "Death" recorded against their names. Seven of the first group of eight were from Hungerford - William Chitter, John Cope, John Field, David Garlick, David Hawkins, Israel Pullen and George Rosier. Mr. Justice Park told all eight prisoners that they had each been convicted, and many of them in more instances than one, of offences that had forfeited their lives to the offended laws of their country. He added that though he meant to recommend them to mercy as far as the sparing of their lives was concerned, with respect to some of them it was only after deep and painful consideration that the court had come to this decision.
The eighth man, Daniel Bates, of Kintbury, was singled out for a lengthy homily by the learned judge. His crimes were of a very deep dye and the Court assured him that the scale had long been balancing as to whether death should not be the almost immediate consequence of them. Nothing had saved him but the strong recommendation of the jury in one case, the very good character which he had received in another, and, as the Court must add, his own demeanour at the bar on the first day of the trial. His conduct in his domestic relations had produced a very strong impression upon it ; not that kindness to a widowed mother alone would have influenced its decision. However, the tenderness of disposition in him which that fact evinced, coupled with other things, had induced the court to interfere in his case. His Majesty would be recommended to spare the lives of all the prisoners at the bar, but what terms might be imposed upon them in commutation of the awful punishment of death it was not for the Court to say; in all probability many of those in the dock must leave the country never to return. Sentence of death was then recorded by the Registrar in the usual manner.
"Death" was also recorded against the names of Joseph Nicholas of Kintbury for robbery, and against Timothy May, Edmund Steel and James Watt, also of Kintbury, and Jeremiah Dobson, Charles Rosier, Joseph Tuck and Thomas Willoughby, of Hungerford, for breaking fixed machinery. As the prisoners were quitting the dock Steel paused and said, "I never received any money and Page knows that it was so," which remark called forth from Judge Park the comment that his was a very bad case and the Court had anxiously considered whether it was not deserving of death.
The final group of seven prisoners to have a sentence of death recorded against their names were all from Kintbury ; they were Charles Bates, William Carter, Francis Norris, William Page, Thomas Radbourn, William Sims and William Westall. Addressing the prisoners Mr. Justice Park said that the Court, desirous not to carry the effusion of human blood farther than the interests of justice absolutely demanded, had determined to recommend them also to the mercy of the Crown. On what terms that mercy would be granted he would not presume to say; he could only observe that, with the exception of Bates, those who advised His Majesty would say that they had unfitted themselves by their offences to be allowed ever again to enjoy the blessings of this happy land.
The last act of the drama confirmed the accuracy of Mr. Maule's prediction of how events would turn out, and showed also how mis-placed was Mr. Rigby's trust in the "soft-eyed compassion" of the Court ; public policy did require that there should be some sacrificial victims placed on justice's altar, the scaffold. Those chosen to pay the ultimate penalty were, of course, Kintbury men, Alfred Darling, William Oakley and William Winterbourn. Addressing Oakley, Mr. Justice Park said that he had been foremost in the robbery of the Hungerford magistrates, and had taken an active part in other such acts. In the former case he and his companions had been armed with dangerous weapons and when asked to lay them aside had refused to do so in a menacing manner, accompanying that refusal with oaths.
"As for you," said the judge, turning to William Winterbourn, "you took an alarming part in some of these outrages as leader of the mob. You acted as captain of the band, dictated what was to be done, and received money or not according to your will and pleasure. In each of the indictments upon which you have been convicted, you have borne an active and prominent part." (6) Having made the point that Oakley, being a carpenter had no business or pretence to mix himself up in these transactions, and that Darling, being a blacksmith by trade, had no concern in them, and could not have had a shadow of a right to take the part he did, the learned judge, "who was considerably affected", proceeded to pass the sentence of death upon all three of them in the usual form, but named no day or place of execution.
Winterbourn and Darling wept while hearing the sentence, but Oakley appeared little, if at all, affected ; he shook his head and, on quitting the dock, spoke to a person standing at the table near which he passed.
Thus concluded the proceedings under the Special Commission, which one who was present described "as far beyond acting tragedy as truth is beyond fiction." (1)
On the same evening that the Reading Special Commission concluded its business a public dinner, attended by some fifty of the most substantial men of property in the Reading area, was interrupted by the intrusion of two Quakers, who reported that they had been informed that the judges had ordered that the execution of the three condemned men should take place within the next five days, which was a much shorter period of time than they would have been allowed if they had been murderers. This announcement aroused much indignation among those present, and it was agreed that one of their number, W.S. Darter, should seek the advice and assistance of Mr. Monck, of Coley Park. (15)
Some little time later the delegate returned from his mission with letters of introduction to the Earl of Abingdon and Lord Amesbury (sic ; actually Mr. Charles Dundas, who had not then been elevated to the peerage). After further discussion it was agreed that Mr. Darter and a companion should immediately take the post-chaise to Abingdon, where he was to obtain an interview with the judges and try to persuade them to issue instructions at least to delay the executions. Although their journey was made as expeditiously as possible, because the post- boys were in the closest sympathy with their objective, they arrived too late to interview the judges. Instead they presented their letters of introduction to the aforementioned peers, who provided them with further letters to the judges themselves.
Having learnt at what hour it was their lordships intention to rise, they waited on them at breakfast time. On being informed of the purpose of their visit Baron Bolland said, "Before we left Reading we gave the most anxious consideration to these cases, and we selected only three of the worst offenders for capital punishment." Any hopes the intermediaries may have had of succeeding in their objective were dashed when Baron Park interposed and, with emphasis, said, "If His Majesty allows these fellows to escape I would recommend him to open all the gaols in the kingdom." (15) To the argument that no personal violence was sustained by anyone, Baron Park warmly replied, "They held bludgeons over people's heads." Strong pleas for some secondary punishment were met with a blank refusal, their lordships stating that having passed sentence what happened afterwards was no concern of theirs.
Lord Melbourne was the proper person to whom they should apply. Having failed in their task the two delegates left, convinced that Baron Park was determined, if possible, that the executions should take place. (15)
Within thirty-six hours of the sentences of death without recommendation to mercy having been passed on Winterbourn and his two comrades, a petition had been signed by 15,000 persons in the Reading area. The signatures included those of several magistrates who were firmly of the opinion that hanging "instead of repressing crime, promotes insensibility and frequently, by exciting sympathy for the sufferer, diminishes the abhorrence of his guilt." They argued that there were a variety of circumstances which supported the call for the infliction of a punishment short of death ; Among these were the following :-
that the offence for which the prisoners had been convicted was one which in the common opinion of uneducated men was not considered as capital, and though ignorance of the law might be no legal defence, in all moral feeling it must and ought to have great weight ;
that, although by the evidence produced at the trials the prisoners had used great threats, in no instance were they guilty of personal violence to anyone ;
and that, if the lives of these men were spared, the feelings of the lower classes were more likely to be conciliated, and the peace of the county placed on a sure foundation. (6)
Another petition, signed by 950 persons from the Newbury area, was headed by the signature of the Mayor, Mr. J. Satchell, and included the signatures of many persons whose property had been injured and who had otherwise suffered by the conduct of the prisoners. Petitions, equally numerous and respectably signed, were received from Hungerford, Henley etc. (6) The campaign for clemency was supported by petitions drawn up in parts of the country unaffected by the labourers' revolt, e.g. the Birmingham Political Union, chairman Thomas Attwood, submitted a petition to the King on behalf of the prisoners convicted by the special commissions.
J.S. Monck, Esq., of Coley Park, and James Wheble, Esq., of Woodley Lodge, who had earlier shown their sympathy for the prisoners in the county gaol in a concrete manner by donations of money,(16) waited on the Secretary of State and lay all the local petitions before him. Mr. Monck reported that Lord Melbourne had received them very kindly and had listened to them very patiently for half an hour. "He promised that the petitions should be presented both to the King and to the Queen and that time should be allowed for the reception and for the due consideration of them". Mr. Monck though not without hope hardly dared entertain much. (6)
Mr. Monck's extremely cautious optimism was to be justified by events, but not before a second deputation, consisting of the High Sheriff of Berkshire, John Walter, Esq., (the proprietor of "The Times" newspaper) and the Rev. D. Williams, chaplain of Reading Gaol, who were determined to make another effort to have the death sentences commuted, had waited on Lord Melbourne at the Home Office. They met His Lordship just before the meeting of the Privy Council which was to be held on the afternoon of Sunday, the 9th of January. The Council decided on a respite for Oakley and Darling during His Majesty's pleasure, but for Winterbourn there was to be no reprieve. (17)
REFERENCES. CHAPTER 5.
(1) W. Money, Newbury Weekly News., 3rd February, 1898.
(2) Reading Mercury. 3rd January, 1831.
(3) Berks. R.O. Calendar of Prisoners in the County Gaol,Epiphany Sessions,1831.
(4) J.L. & B. Hammond, op.cit.
(5) Berks R.O., Q.S. Order Books.
(6) Reading Mercury. 10th January,1831.
(7) P.R.O. H.O. 40-27
(8) P.R.O. T.S. 11-851.
(9) H.& R. op.cit.
(10) Berks R.O. D/EPg.01/4.
(11) P.R.O. T.S. 11-849
(12) W. Money, Newbury Weekly News, 6th January, 1898.
(13) P.R.O. H.O. 8-27
(14) P.R.O. H.O. 8-51
(15) W.S. Darter, op.cit.
(16) Reading Mercury, 20th December, 1830.
(17) Reading Mercury, 17th January, 1831.
Part 1 - Berkshire:
Part 2: To "Botany Bay"