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Moreton Sessions

If you search the online UK Crime Statistics for Moretonhampstead in the February of 2019 you will see that there were three types of crime reported; one case of shoplifting, 1 case of other theft and 1 case of undefined violence/sexual offence. So one could say that in the centre of Moretonhampstead there is very little crime. What is interesting is to look at the numerous past reports of the Moretonhampstead Petty Sessions. What soon becomes obvious is the evolution of so-called crimes and the types over the ages. For example if you go back to the late 1800s there are numerous reports of people being fined for vehicular offences related to carts and carriages, a few years later the vehicular offences are for cars, motor cycles and bicycles. It is also noteworthy to see the number of people appearing for drunkenness, obscene language and in a lot of cases assaulting a police officer. One would expect there to be a number of theft related cases but what today seems petty all ended up at the Petty Sessions. For example there are theft cases involving; chickens, ferrets, vegetables,fruit, hedgerow wood, items of clothing, household utensils etc. There are also many cases involving animals such a sheep, horses, cattle, and dogs. There are then a new set of offences that occurred during the First and Second World Wars which today would not be applicable.
Courts of Petty Sessions were first established in the 1730s and primarily dealt with cases of minor theft, burglary, school absence, vehicular offences, larceny, assaults, drunken behaviour, bastardy examinations, trespass, poaching, animal cruelty, and fraud. After 1872 they were also charged with the approval of licenses for selling alcohol in public houses and hotels. They were also responsible for deciding which cases should be referred to the Quarter Sessions. Today such courts are simply referred to as Magistrate’s Courts which have replaced both the Petty Sessions and Quarter Sessions. Most of the larger moorland towns held Petty Sessions related to their locality such as Crockernwell, Ashburton, Chagford, Newton Abbot, Tavistock, Roborough, Okehampton and Moretonhampstead. To list the entire cases which appeared at these Sessions would take an entire book but just to give a flavour of the types of crime committed on and around Dartmoor from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. The examples that follow all appeared at the Moretonhampstead Petty Sessions.

September 1880 – Two men were apprehended at Moretonhampstead and charged with sleeping in two pig styes – one was sentenced to 14 days hard labour and the other fined 4 shillings.
A man was charged with being drunk and disorderly at Chagford and assaulting a police officer in the execution of his duty found guilty and fined 5 shillings for each offence plus costs.
A labourer from Sandypark was charged with assaulting his daughter-in-law – found guilty and fined 5 shillings plus costs.
A man was charged with allowing his 43 sheep to stray in the parish of Cheriton Bishop – found guilty and fined 5 shillings plus costs.
A road contractor from South Tawton was charged with stealing turf to the value of 9 pence from a common in Throwleigh – case dismissed.
An apprentice was summoned by his master who was a blacksmith for absconding from work -found guilty and cautioned that the next time this happened he would be imprisoned.

September 1885 – Three man were charged with allowing their dogs to be at large in the parish of Drewsteignton when they killed a sheep valued at 40 shillings – found guilty  fined 40 shillings and £1 7 shillings and 8 pence costs.
Three farmers from Spreyton were separately charged with keeping dogs without licenses – found guilty and fined £1, 15 shillings and 15 shillings plus costs respectively.
A man was charged with not having proper control of a horse drawing a cart on the highway – found guilty and fined 1 shilling plus costs.

December 1885 – A labourer from Crockernwell was charged with stealing a goose. A cattle dealer from Tedburn had purchased a number of geese from Okehampton Market. On the way home he stopped at the Royal Hotel at Crockernwell to partake of refreshment.  Whilst there he mentioned that he had several fine geese and asked the defendant to help him bring one into the hotel to show the customers. Having done so he assumed the defendant had replaced the goose back in his vehicle, on getting home he saw there was one goose missing and informed the police. They then went to Exeter railway station where they discovered the defendant in a carriage along with the goose – found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour. His defence was that he found the goose hanging in an elm tree at Crockernwell.

January 1886 – An agricultural labourer  was summoned under the Poaching Prevention Act with having in his possession certain nets and a ferret.  He was apprehended by a police constable near the Moretonhampstead turnpike house. When asked what he had in his pockets he said there was nothing, on being searched he was found to be hiding eight nets and a ferret – found guilty and fined either £1 4 shillings. and 6 pence. or seven days imprisonment, he chose prison.
A man was charged with obstructing the highway at Chagford by leaving a heap of mortar by his door between the hours of 7.00pm until the next morning. The constable also claimed that several people had fell over it during the night with one person getting injured – found guilty and fines 2 shillings and 6 pence plus costs.

June 1887 – A travelling tinker was charged with assaulting a policeman at Chagford, whilst awaiting trial in the police cell he ripped up his trousers. He appeared before the bench wearing an old sack which reached below his knees – found guilty and was sentenced to  three months hard labour and was sent to Exeter goal wearing the sack.

September 1887 – The wife of a tramp was charged breaking a front window of another woman’s house and using disgusting language in the street – found guilty and send to prison for 21 days.
A miner from South Zeal was charged with trespassing on land in possession of rabbit nets and a dog – found guilty and fined 30 shillings plus costs. His defence was that he had been out of work for some time and was trying to catch some rabbits with which to feed his eight children.
A farmer from Dunsford was charged with allowing 8 bullocks to stray on the highway – found guilty and fined 10 shillings.

June 1891 – A farmer from South Tawton was charged with assaulting another man when he along with a policeman went into his field inquiring about some stolen mangol wurzels. The defence was that at the time the two men were interfering with his dealings with some gypsies and merely pushed the man out of his field – found guilty and fined 20 shilling and 6 pence plus costs.

September 1891 – Two boys aged 13 and 11 years old were charged with stealing a chicken – found guilty and sentenced to 4 and 2 strokes of the birch respectively.

July 1893 – A pregnant woman from Moretonhamstead was charged with stealing four fowl and for damaging the bedding belonging to the County whilst in the cells – found guilty and fined £1 18 shillings and 2 pence for the first account and 90 shillings for the second

January 1894 – A man from Christow was charged with scaring or disturbing the salmon below Bridford Weir – found guilty and fined 10 shillings.

March 1894 – The well-know Dartmoor guide James Perrott was charged with allowing three horses to stray in the churchyard – found guilty and fined 3 shillings

November 1894 – A man from Moretonhampstead was charged with having unjust and unstamped scales at his shop and bakehouse – found guilty and fined 20 shilling on both accounts.
A man from Cheriton Bishop was charged with furious driving – found guilty and fined 10 shillings plus costs.

September 1895 – A man from Bridford was charged with fishing without a license at Bridford Mill leat – found guilty and fined 10 shillings plus £1 9 shillings and 6 pence costs.

January 1897 – Two men from Moretonhampstead were charged with wilful damage. It was stated that a hay rick to the value of 20 shillings on one farm was overturned and on other farm a cart loaded with turnips was also overturned – one man was cleared of the charges and the other – found guilty and fined 10 shillings for both charges plus costs or seven days imprisonment, the defendant elected for imprisonment.

March 1897 – Two navvies from Plymouth were charged with stealing two fowls from a farm at Dunsford – found guilty and each sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour.

October 1898 – A man was charged with stealing a watch and chain from a boy working in a field at Murchington, the lad had taken his coat and waistcoat in a hedge whilst working and when he had finished he found the watch and chain missing – found guilty and sentenced to three months hard labour. The defendant stated that he saw the watch and chain lying in the hedge and thought the boy’s dog had put it there.

January 1900 – One man was charged with being drunk and disorderly and using obscene language – found guilty and fined 10 shillings.
One man charged with being drunk and disorderly and for driving a cart without a lamp – first charge dismissed but fined 10 shillings for the second offence, his excuse was that his wife was holding the lamp.
One man from Chagford charged with allowing 12 sheep to stray – found guilty and fined 14 shillings.
One man charged with allowing 4 pigs to stray and for driving without a lamp – found guilty and fined 10 shilling and 6 pence plus and 10 shillings plus cost respectively.
A horse slaughterer was charged with carrying an undressed horse carcass on the highway at Dunsford without it being properly covered up – found guilty and fined 10 shillings.

April 1900 – A man from South Tawton was charged with working a chaff cutter driven by horse power without having the cutting knives and fly wheel securely fenced – found guilty and fined 12 shillings and 6 pence.
A labourer from Cheriton Bishop was charged with drunkenness and lying in the road calling for help to get up – found guilty and fined 19 shillings.
A man from Moretonhampstead was charged with cutting and stealing sticks from a hedgerow valued at 1 shilling – found guilty and fined 10 shillings plus costs. The local policeman found the sticks on the defendants allotment and took them back to the hedge in question where they exactly fitted the cut stumps.

April 1902 – A farmer from Dunsford was charged with allowing his cart to be used without his name or place of trade displayed on it – found guilty and fined 3 shillings and 6 pence plus 6 shillings and 6 pence costs.
A man from South Tawton was charged with carrying a gun without a license – found guilty and fined 50 shillings plus costs of £3 6 pence. It was stated that he was in the habit of walking around with his gun and threatening different person, some of which were “very timid.”

January 1903 – Two farmers from Cheriton Bishop were charged by the District Council for not pruning their field hedges – case adjourned for a fortnight during which time the hedges had to be pruned.

March 1907 – An application was made under the Dog’s Act for an exemption of a working dog which the farmer contended was vital for driving upwards of 1,000 ducks from their pond back to the farm. As the act only allowed dogs used for cattle and sheep work were exempt from licenses the application was refused.

September 1907 – A gypsy was from Dunsford charged with stealing some sheaves of oats valued at 4 shillings and 3 pence – found guilty and sentenced to 14 days hard labour.

July 1908 – A man was charged with gaming on a public field at Spreyton The local constable testified that he saw the defendant with a crowd around him at Spreyton sports day, He had an upturned box on which was a piece of canvas painted with six different coloured squares along with a small container in which sat a dice  painted with the corresponding colours. He was offering 3 to 1 that people could not name the colour turned up on the dice. Although the occasional punter did win the man always did as it was reckoned that his odds were 5 to 1 in his favour – found guilty and fined £1 with the gaming equipment being destroyed

April 1909 – Two gypsies were charged with wilfully damaging a fence at Coombe Farm, North Bovey to the extent of 20 shillings.  The farmer’s son said he saw the two cutting sticks from his father’s hedge and when challenged they ran away. Both the son and his brother chased the gypsies back to their camp at Moorgate and asked for their names at which point one of the men threw a bucket of water over the two boys and then drove away in a pony trap. Finally the man was stopped by a policeman at Princetown where he denied all knowledge claiming he business was buying and selling ponies. When later served with a summons the man said it was the other gypsie who cut the sticks and he in fact put them back – both gypsies were found guilty and charged 15 shilling each.

July 1910 – A man was charged with assault – found guilty and fined 10 shillings. His defence was that “I had a drop of drink and must have been ‘mazed’.”

October 1910 – Two men were charged with obstructing the highway by leaving a large pile of faggots on the roadside for several days – both found guilty and each fined 10 shilling plus costs.

April 1912 –  A man was charged with shooting a buzzard at Cheriton Bishop by the R.S.P.A. inspector who said buzzards were a protected species for the year. The defendant claimed that he shot the buzzard which had an 15 inch long adder in its beak and that he didn’t realise the bird was protected.  He also stated that in the previous year between 50 and 60 chickens had been killed by buzzards in the local area – found guilty and fined 10 shillings.

December 1912 – A farmer form Gooseford who it was claimed “was not of ordinary intellect,” was charged with placing filth in a letterbox at Wayecroft, Throwleigh. It was claimed that on the 12th of October the local postman had to clean out the letterbox but the next morning he found that more filth had been placed in the box thus damaging some of the letters and in one cae the address was made unreadable – found guilty and fined £2.
A labourer from North Bovey was charged with continually neglecting his wife and four children. It was stated that the family had been forced to sleep in the linhay (barn) during cold nights as the father had failed to provide a habitable home. It was also noted that the mother and children had been admitted to Newton Abbot workhouse. – case dismissed.

January 1913 – A cattleman from Withycombe Farm, Chagford was charged with being drunk on Factory Hill, Chagford, the local policeman stated he was lying in the road being unable to stand up or walk – found guilty and fined 5 shillings 6 pence plus costs. His defence was that he had taken some National Insurance papers to Chagford and met some people with whom he had drinks.

May 1924 – Two men were charged with riding a bicycle without lights, one at Moretonhampstead and the other at Christow – both found guilty and fined 7 shillings and 6 pence and 10 shillings respectively.
A cattle drover of no fixed abode was charged with stealing a pair of leggings at Throwleigh – Found guilty and bound over to keep the peace for six months in the sum of £25

July 1927 – A man from Clifford Bridge Farm was charged with setting traps in the open which had not been inspected for a fortnight and in one was  the carcass of a putrid cat and in another a rabbit in a similar state. – found guilty and fined £1 and £4.

September 1927 – Three farmers were charged with failing to obey the Sheep Dipping Regulations by not giving the necessary notice of intent to sheep dip to the police who would have had to inspect the operation – found guilty and fined £1, 7 shillings and 6 pence and 10 shillings respectively. It was noted that cases of the virulent sheep scab had occurred in the area and these measures were to stop it from spreading.

January 1929 – A man from Chagford was charged with driving a motor cycle without lights and a driver’s licence – found guilty and fined 10 shillings for each account.

February 1933 – A farmer from Dunsford and a farmer from Bridford were charged with moving cattle within a Foot and Mouth infected area without a licence – both found guilty and the Dunsford farmer was fined £5 plus costs and the Bridford farmer fined £3 plus costs. His defence was that he did not get an evening paper or own a radio and so did not know of the restrictions.

December 1936 – An artist from Cheriton Bishop was charged with driving a motor vehicle without due care thereby colliding with a constable’s bicycle – found guilty and fined £3 plus costs and his license endorsed.

June 1939 – A man was charged with being drunk whilst in charge of a pedal cycle – found guilty and fined £1.  A police sergeant found the man lying semi-conscious in a hedge with his cycle a few feet away from him. His defence was that he knew he had some drink but did not think he could have ridden three miles and passed all the traffic that was on the road  if he was drunk.

November 1940 –  A woman from Chagford was charged with not conforming with the wartime blackout regulations and for assaulting a policeman – found guilty and fined £3 and £2. respectively. It was stated that when the constable visited her house despite knocking on the door it was unanswered so he effected an entry and then had a jug of water thrown over him.

As you can imagine, today very few of the above offences would even reach a court although there still the recurring cases of drunkenness and assaults. It is also interesting to see the variation in fines associated with the different crimes which took place.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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