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Dartmoor Misdemeanours

Petty

 

Back in the days when Britain was ‘Great’ and before the act of Human Rights life was a lot more ordered and what made this possible were the harsh sentences for the numerous petty crimes. The other major difference was that the police in those days were not governed by such strict restrains as today and were literally not a force to be reckoned with. At first sight many of these misdemeanours seem quite laughable today if not ridiculous. Certainly compared with modern times the sentences doled out are at best harsh and a times barbaric. Forget the serious offences that were dealt with by the main courts it’s the minor ‘crimes’ that makes one think; “wow, in those days they called that a crime?”.

Petty Sessions came into being during the early part of the 18th century. These were where various minor offences were dealt with, these included minor thefts, larceny, drunkenness, foul language and cases which needed arbitration and decisions as to whether the case needed referring to the Quarter Sessions. These courts were presided over by volunteer justices of the peace or paid arbitrary judges, there was no involvement by a jury. From 1872, they were also responsible for approving licences to sell alcohol in ale houses and public houses. The areas or divisions under the jurisdiction of the petty sessions were based on the old administrative units known as Hundreds. Petty Sessions were abolished in the early 1970s and replaced by Magistrates Courts. There are numerous records of these sessions printed in the various local newspapers and today make interesting reading. Below are most of the reports for the Moretonhampstead Petty Sessions which took place between January 1900 and December 1900. It is worth remembering that the area covered by these sessions is very much a rural one as was reflected in many of the offences such as allowing livestock to stray, cutting sticks from hedges, leaving carts and wagons unattended on the highway etc. Clearly this is just a snapshot at a single year in just one of several Petty Sessions that were held on and around Dartmoor but it does give an insight into life at such a time.
It is interesting to see in comparison of how much the fines would equate out to in these modern times. So by using historical inflation rates it is suggested that £1 in 1900 would the equivalent of £119 today. There were 20 shillings to the old pound which would make 1 shilling in 1900 worth £5.95 today. In 1908 the Labour Department of the Board of Trade prepared a report on the Rates of Wages and Hours of Labour for ordinary labourers in agriculture which suggested an average weekly wage of 14s. 10d. As can be seen below the average fine for all minor offences was 10s. which would represent around 70% of their income.

January 1900. Before Messers. A Guy Whipham (in the chair), C. J. Hayter-Hames and  J. Stevens Neck.
Thomas Johns – charged with being drunk and disorderly – fined 10s.
Albert Wallington – charged with being drunk and disorderly – fined 12s. (not first offence).
William Gillard – charged with using obscene language – fined 10s.
William Garrish – charged with not having a lamp in his cart – fined 10s.
George Wescott – charged with allowing twelve sheep to stray – fined 14s.
John White – charged with allowing four pigs to stray – fined 10s. 6d.
John White – additionally charged with driving a cart without a light – fined 10s.
William Forward (horse slaughterer) – charged with carrying the undressed carcass of a horse on the highway – fined 10s.
February 1900. Before Messers. A Guy Whipham (in the chair), J. Stevens Neck and W. Ponsford.
William Vigers (of the Union Inn, Whiddon Down_ – charged with keeping open his licensed premises during prohibited hours – case dismissed.
Reginald Harris (butcher of Northlew) – charged with breach of the 9th by-law at (not having a light on a cart during night hours) Whiddon Down – fined 10s.
William Wills – charged with breach of the 9th by-law at (not having a light on a cart during night hours) at Bridford – fined 7s.
Frederick Smallridge – charged with breach of the 9th by-law at (not having a light on a cart during night hours) at Bridford – fined 7s.
John Wills – charged with breach of the 9th by-law at (not having a light on a cart during night hours) at Drewsteignton – fined 10s.
(in all of the above four cases it was pointed out that holding a light in the hand as opposed to it being fixed was not what the law required).
Mary Dunning – charged with being drunk on the highway for the third time – case adjourned as defendant failed to appear.
Robert Hutchings – charged with drunkenness on the highway – fined 10s.
George Aggett (labourer) – charged with game trespass – fined 20s. a request was also made for the confiscation of  of two ferrets, no such order made.
Willaim Hill – summonsed by the Inland Revenue for carrying a gun without a license – find 27s.
March 1900. A Guy Whipham (in the chair).
William Hill Jnr. – charged with trespassing in the pursuit of conies – fined 10s.
John French – charged with not sending his child regularly to school – fined 5s.
April 1900. Before J. Stevens Neck (in the chair), A Guy Whipham, W. Ponsford, and Commander E. S. Evans, R.N.
Samuel Jackman (farmer) – charged with working a horse-powered chaffcutter without having the flywheel and the knives securely fenced – fined 12s.
Samuel Partridge (labourer) – charged with drunkenness, found lying in the road calling for someone to keep him up – fined 10s.
Harry Underhill (mason) charged with cutting sticks from a private hedge valued at 1s. =- fined 20s. 6d.
May 1900. Before Messers. A Guy Whipham (in the chair), C. J. Hayter-Hames, W. Ponsford and Commander E. S. Evans, R.N.
William Parkin charged with driving a cart without lights – fined 10s.
John Endecott charged with driving a cart without lights – fined 10s.
Frank Clarke – charged with allowing his horse to stray home by itself – fined 5s.
Thomas Taylor – charged with leaving a horse cart unattended on the highway so that it strayed away – fined 10s.
James Cann – charged with using obscene language – fined 5s.
Edmund Causey (labourer) – charged with using obscene language – fined 5s.
Thomas Dyer – charged with failing to send his children regularly to school – fined 5s.
Daniel Bourne – charged with failing to send his children regularly to school – fined 5s.
James Enderson (trapper) – charged with setting traps in the open – fined 10s.
June 1900. Before Messers. W. Ponsford (in the chair), A Guy Whipham, C. J. Hayter-Hames, and Commander E. S. Evans, R.N.
Samuel Holman (baker from Soutyh Zeal) – charged with cruelty to a mare by working it when unfit. The horse had twelve wounds including its mouth caused by severe jagging. When P. C. Hutchings saw the horse it was embarking on a ten mile bread round – fined £3 8s. 6d.
Henry Harris (butcher) – charged with tethering a horse on the highway – fined 5s.
John Oakes – charged with driving without lights – fined 7s. 6d.
John Northcott Jnr. – charged with setting traps in the open – fined 28s.
John Harvey – charged with allowing a pony to stray at Drewsteignton – fined 5s. 6d.
Charles Hooper (cartman) – charged with damage to the highway to the extent of 2s. 6d., caused by the chain attached to the skid pan being too long and tearing up the road – fined 27s.
July 1900. Before Messers .J. Stevens Neck and C. J. Hayter-Hames.
Frank Zaple – charged with being drunk and disorderly – fined 15s.
August 1900. Before Messers. A Guy Whipham (in the chair), C. J. Hayter-Hames, and Commander E. S. Evans, R.N.
Ellen and Thomas Whiddon – charged with cruelty to a horse by working it in an unfit state – case dismissed.
William Addams – charged with trespassing in pursuit of game on land belonging to Torquay Town Council –  fined 17s.
William Hill – charged driving a bull on the highway without a ring through its nose which caused Mr. Holmes’ horse to swerve and throw the occupants from his trap – case dismissed.
John Tozer – charged with being drunk and disorderly – fined 15s. and costs.
Samuel Cooper – charged with carry a gun without a license – failed to appear. but fined 20s.
John Knapman – charged with cruelty to a horse – case dismissed as he had only briefly been working for Sampson
George Sampson – charged with cruelty to the same horse by causing it to be worked – fined £1, 9s. 6d.
John Hill Jnr. (baker’s lad) – charged with furious driving on a highway – fined 15s.
Benjamin Burrage – charged with driving without lights – fined 10s.
Samuel Holman(baker) – charged with selling bread without weighing and which proved to be of light weight – fined 10s.
John Wright (baker) – charged with selling bread without weighing and which proved to be of light weight – fined 10s.
Elizabeth Cousins – charged with driving without lights – fined 7s. 6d.
William and Emma Rowe – charged with using obscene language – fined 10s. each.
John Moore – charged with using obscene language – fined 10s. and costs of 25s.

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September 1900. Before Messers. A Guy Whipham (in the chair), J. Stevens Neck and Commander E. S. Evans, R.N.
Messrs. Mundell were prosecuted for fishing the Teign without a license – fined 12s each.
Edwin May, (Farmer) – charged with leaving hedge clippings on the highway at Lustleigh- fined 6s and 6d.
Count Androntzos – charged with driving without lights after sunset – fined 10s..
George Jones, Dunsford; Frederick Rice and Stephen Clark, Lustleigh and Samuel Cooper – charged with using obscene language on the highway – fined 20s. each.
George Pook, – charged with exposing his 10 year old son in such a manner as to cause injury – case dismissed for lack of evidence.
William Bunclark (aged 13), – charged with stealing beetroot – sentenced to six strokes of the birch rod.
October 1900. -No record.
November 1900. – Before Messers. A Guy Whipham (in the chair) and C. J. Hayter-Hames.
William Spear – charged with using obscene language – fined 7s. 6d. and costs.
William Aggett – charged with using obscene language – fined 7s. 6d. and costs.
Samuel Wellington – charged with using obscene language – fined 7s. 6d. and costs.
John Dodd – charged with using obscene language – fined 7s. 6d. and costs.
William Endacott – charged with using obscene language – fined 7s. 6d. and costs.
Henry Francis – charged with using obscene language – fined 7s. 6d. and costs.
Charles Clapp (farmer) ordered to pay Ernest Cursons for a months wages, having stopped payment in lieu of notice – 16s.
Arthur Bennett (farmer) – charged with having an unjust spring balance – fined 16s.
John Harvey – charged with having an unstamped balance – fined 10s.
December 1900. Before J. Stevens Neck (in the chair), A Guy Whipham, and C. J. Hayter-Hames.
John Dodd – charged with not sending his children regularly to school – fined 5s.
William Aggett – charged with not sending his children regularly to school – fined 5s.
William Lang – charged with assaulting J. Rowe and Harold Perry outside a chapel whilst ta revivalist service was being held and using obscene language – fined 11s. and costs
William Burch and James Brazil (gypsies) – charged with offences against the Highway Act – did not appear but were fined 17s. each.
Mark Knowles (drayman) – charged with sleeping whilst in charge of his dray – fined 10s.
William Manning (labourer) – ordered to pay 2s. and costs for leaving his employer without notice.
William A. Jewell – charged with using obscene language at the Union Inn, Moretonhampstead – fined 10s.
William Stanbury – charged with allowing 20 sheep to stray- fined 23s.

Then as today the offence of drunkenness and disorderly conduct is a common occurrence and, as mentioned above, back in 1900 could equate to about 70% of an agricultural labourers wages. Today that same offence can attract a fine of anything between 125 and 175% of a persons relevant weekly income.

Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act states; “It is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour which is threatening, abusive or insulting within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.” In other words similar to that of using obscene language in 1900, back then the average fine was 10s. or the equivalent today of £119, now the maximum fine for such offences can be as much as £1,000.

It is perfectly clear that the most serious offences  above were those of cruelty to animals, in most cases overworked and neglected horses. The majority of these would be work hoses used for pulling various wagons and carts which at the time were the normal means of transportation. Such cruelty was attracting double the fine, if not more, that the less serious misdemeanours. Another interesting point was that for carrying a gun without a license came under the jurisdiction of the Inland Revenue whereas today it is the county police force who oversee firearms licensing. The other punishment that really makes one think was that of the thirteen year old boy who received six strokes of the birch rod just for stealing some beetroot. Perhaps things would be currently different if such sentences were around for the youth of today?

 

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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