Crime rates and the argument over punishment vs. rehabilitation of offenders are much in the news these days. 200 years ago there was no such uncertainty- punishment was swift and severe! Despite what we would regard as grinding poverty by today’s standards, the people of Sunbury and Shepperton were largely untroubled by serious crime. Some local cases did however make it to the Old Bailey, which was then the main Court for London and Middlesex.

On 6th May 1813, Thomas Rosewell of Shepperton (a distant relative of mine), was tried for stealing lead on 2nd March from Shepperton House, the home of George Winch, in Chertsey Road. Rosewell had been employed as a labourer on renovations to the house, but aroused suspicion when he tried to sell 200 lb of lead to Thomas White of Laleham, described as a ‘hawker’ (pedlar). When White made enquiries, it was found that 400 lb of lead was missing from Mr. Winch’s house. Rosewell was arrested by Daniel North, Constable of Shepperton (at that time a post subject to annual election) and taken to the watch house (presumably the old lock-up by the Three Horseshoes pub). When the lead was checked against the house ‘it fitted in every respect’. Rosewell admitted his guilt, and aged only 19, was sentenced to be transported to Australia for 7 years. While he was in exile, Rosewell’s wife received Poor Relief of 5 shillings per week from the parish, but after the sentence was served (no early release then), he made the long journey back home.

Later the same year, on 27th October, William Bishop (aged 50) and Thomas Turner (26) were tried for stealing on 10th September, one sheep valued at 21 shillings from Thomas Wood, Lord of the Manor of Littleton. James Seers, of Halliford, testified that as he walked from Charlton towards Staines, through Littleton, he saw Bishop herd a flock of sheep into the corner of a field, truss the legs of one sheep, and pass it to Turner who put it in a wheelbarrow. Bishop then wheeled it off towards Sunbury. Daniel Neens, Mr Wood’s bailiff, testified that Turner was a shepherd employed by the Wood estate, but that he had no authority to dispose of any sheep, and that seven sheep in total were missing. Although Bishop argued in his defence that he had bought the sheep in good faith, and Turner that the sheep was his own and not Mr. Wood’s, both were found guilty and sentenced to death. Harsh as it may seem, this was the usual penalty in cases of stealing animals. Having received several testaments to their good character however, and because the witnesses had not come forward sooner to testify to the loss of the sheep, the jury recommended both men for mercy.

The next meeting of the Sunbury and Shepperton Local History Society is on Tuesday 16th April at Halliford School, when David Hassard will be speaking on ‘The Great Aircraft Factory at Kingston’. The talk starts at 8pm and all are welcome, £2 admission for non-members