Articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

The life and confessions of a burglar

chelmsford gaol from an old postcard
Chelmsford Gaol. Postcard date unknown.

Enter the Essex underworld: an account of an Victorian burglar and robber.

The Essex Herald Newspaper in December 1827 gave a fascinating account of the life and times of a burglar and robber by the name of John Turner, alias Hardy, alias Harris, alias Newman, who was executed on 21 December 1827 at Springfield Prison.

Born in Finchingfield, he later moved to Toppesfield where he married and had four children. He lived and worked as honest labourer until 1822 when he stole wood and was sentenced to Halstead Prison. Shortly after release from prison, he was caught by a police officer in the act of stealing some hop-poles. A struggle ensued and he struck the officer with a bill hook. He was again sentenced to prison.

Back out of prison, in March 1824 with a gang of men, he broke into the hen house of a Joseph Glasscock at Castle Hedingham and stole turkey and chickens. The others in the gang were quickly caught and transported, but Turner remained on the run.

Ten months later he was arrested at his grandmother's house in Finchingfield. He tried to escape by climbing out of a window, but was thwarted by getting himself tangled in a window hook.

He was committed to prison to await his trial but managed to escape. He remained at large for two and half years during which time he married twice: first to a woman in Bristol by whom he had two children, and the second who lived in Woolwich.

Turner then returned to Essex and fell in with James Salmon. Turner had been working as a labourer in a brick-yard at Grays and Salmon was his fellow lodger in some lodgings. He also befriended his brother George, together with James Philpot and John Argent, labourers from South Ockenden.

James Salmon indicated that he knew of a farmer in Runwell by the name of Samuel Robinson who always had bank notes and would pay his labourers out at his parlour window. Salmon continued to say that he knew where he kept his money. All of agreed to break-in and steal the money.

Two weeks later they commenced their conspiracy. Nearing the house they were challenged by two farm dogs which then ran off scared. They approach the house and broke a downstairs window and then the inside shutter. Two of the men entered the house while the others kept watch.

Once the deed completed they left the immediate area. Over £15 in cash was stolen which they divided among them, and nine bottles of gin and brandy which they quickly began to consume. They then made their way to Ockenden and from there to Romford stopping off at various public houses where they spent their ill-gotten gains. They then split up.

Turner was arrested for the Castle Hedingham matter when he was recognised at a fair at Little Thurrock. Fortunately for Turner, the witness for the original offence did not give evidence at court so the charge was dismissed and therefore, by default, he could not be charged with his escape. Also at that time, his involvement in the Runwell matter was not known.

Released again from prison Turner failed to grasp the opportunity to remain honest and was to commit a final offences which would lead him to the gallows and his death.

After his release from prison, Turner committed a robbery at Ramsden Crays on a William Dale and a burglary at Laindon at house belonging to Giles Wakeling. It is not clear how Turner was arrested, but on 21 December 1827, he was executed at Springfield Prison.

Place links: Castle Hedingham | Finchingfield | Runwell | Toppesfield

Sources:
Essex Police Executions at Springfield Prison
Times 27 December 1827 quoting the Essex Herald

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