Sunday, 26 March 2017

The case of Mrs Crowfoot's plum pudding ......... dark deeds at Well Hall in January 1870

I don’t often go looking at the Proceedings of the Old Bailey which are now online and cover the period 1674-1913 which is my loss.*

Well Hall Cottages, 1909
They are “a fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court.”*

So I am indebted to Colin Benford who drew my attention to the case of George Pritchett who broke into the home of Robert and Ann Crowfoot in January 1870.

Mr and Mrs Crowfoot lived in one of the cottages in Well Hall.

Now I have long been fascinated by these houses and have  written about them, and so was intrigued when Colin wrote that the Crowfoot’s were residents in 1851 and were still there in 1870 when George Pritchett broke in.

And that seems an appropriate point to quote from the records.

232. GEORGE PRITCHETT (27) , Burglariously breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Robert Crawfoot and stealing therein 4 lbs. of beef and a plum pudding, his property.

MR. PATER conducted the Prosecution.

ANN CRAWFOOT . I am the wife of Robert Crawfoot, of Well Hall Cottages, Eltham—on 3rd January, at 8 a.m., I went down stairs and found the pantry window open, which was shut and fastened when I went to bed at 9 o'clock—I missed from the larder a piece of beef and a very large plum pudding with a little piece cut out of it—I found the pudding in the shed, and saw a portion of the beef taken out of the prisoner's pocket.

ROBERT FAIRWEATHER (Policeman R 320). On Sunday night, 2nd January, about 10 o'clock, I saw the prisoner going down a path at the back of some houses, within 200 yards of Mr. Grawfoot's—I saw him again about 11.15 or 11.30 in a shed, covered up with horse litter—I searched him and found a piece of plum pudding, some suet pudding, and a quantity of beef—I asked what he had been doing; he gave no answer—I asked where he got the beef and pudding—he said, "From a servant girl"—I asked him who she was—he declined to tell me.

The original records 1870
JAMES PIPER (Policeman R 37). On the morning of 3rd January I went to the prosecutor's house, and saw footmarks there, which I compared with the prisoner's left boot and the impression was the exact model of the sole—half the heel was worn off, and half on top was left, and there was every nail, nail for nail—I did not make an impression by the side, I was satisfied without.

Prisoner. How can you swear to the footmarks when there had been three hour's rain? Witness. 

There was no rain from the time you were in custody till 10.30 or 11 o'clock.

GUILTY — Three Months' Imprisonment.***

In the great sweep of history it may not even count as a full stop but it offers up one of those opportunities to touch the past and bring you closer to the people who lived in Well Hall.
And as you do I went looking for the three of them.  Not unsurprisingly George Pritchett pretty much drew a blank.  The records are full of George Pritchett’s but none offered up a clue as to which might have been our man.

Robert and Ann Crowfoot were easier to trace. They were living in the cottage at Well Hall in 1851 and were from Suffolk, at the time of the burglary he was fifty eight and Ann a year younger and given that he was an agricultural labourer and she a laundress the loss of that food must have been serious.

In time I shall find out more if only to sort out the misspelling of their name which appears on the census record as Crowfoot and in the court documents as Crawfoot.

Pictures; Well Hall from the OS map of Kent, showing Eltham, 1858-73, Well Hall Cottages from The story of Royal Eltham,  R.R.C. Gregory, 1909 and published on The story of Royal Eltham, by Roy Ayers, and the original court document from The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

A thank you to Colin Benford who researched the story

Location; Well Hall, Eltham, London

* The Proceedings of the Old Bailey,

** A map a photograph and some old records, Well Hall cottages in the spring of 1844,

*** GEORGE PRITCHETT, Theft > burglary, 31st January 1870.

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