Derek and Jane Lilly have kindly allowed us to publish their excellent overview of the story of the Kenn Hangings. We are very, very grateful.
This public execution at the scene of the crime at Kenn in 1830 is said to have been the last so held in England.. There were many public hangings held in after years but never one so barbaric as this one in which the criminals were carried a matter of some 40-50 miles sitting on their coffins for a six hour journey, to be hung finally, in a manner similar to a ‘wild west’ lynching.
The story of the Kenn Hangings has always fascinated me; I owe my interest in Local History and Archaeology to my late friends Judith and Gray Usher. I am sure that if they were still alive they would have been just as curious in ferreting out the facts as I have been.
Setting the Stage.
Felix Farley’s Journal July 1st 1829
Important to Cider Retailers
It appears from a case recently heard before the Justices in Exeter on an information, in selling cider without a licence, that no person can engage in the retail of excisable liquors, without being furnished with a Magistrates as well as an Excise Licence,.
Felix Farley’s Journal August 15th 1829.
Samuel Cox of Barrow Gurney was fined 10 pounds, for selling Cider for retail with no licence. The Justices in that division have expressed their determination to stop the sale of cider by un-licenced persons.
I have contented myself with quoting facts in this present account. My comments I have enclosed in brackets thus [ ]. The above two extracts from Felix Farley’s Journal, show that William Wall was indeed breaking the law knowingly, in selling cider without a licence, and could not blame anyone but himself for the fine which he incurred.
The Common Informers Act, which was only repealed in the 1950’s, rewarded all informers with a part of the fine made for the offence. In consequence he was open to anyone who wished to give information against him. Relative values, give a comparison for the 20 pound fine, equalling £4,000 to £5,000 today. Who would not inform, for a reward like that.
The importance of this small part of the history of Kenn, is that it is believed to be the last time, that a public execution was held in Great Britain at the scene of the crime. In the early 1800’s it was normal to do this; which is why so many highway-men and footpads were hung at crossroads. By the 1830’s it was customary to hang malefactors outside of the County Gaol, in the county in which they were tried..
The reader will find it monotonous perhaps, to plough through re-iterated statements from one paper after another. The reason I have constantly repeated them are as ex. Bath Journal says ‘Richard Clarke who was a youth of about 18 years of age offered no observations,’ Bristol Mirror states that he said “Cider has been my ruin, and the ruin of us all”. I leave the reader to check other discrepancies.
Kenn was the centre of a very troublesome series of crimes, committed not necessarily by the starving, but by those who were looking for easy living, and it would appear that Wall’s Cider House at the bottom of Duck Lane, was a place much frequented by this class of person. Their crimes it would seem, were not always for money for food, or food itself, but to allow them to obtain drink etc.
The country as a whole, was suffering a severe depression of agriculture. So much so, that many of the land-owners had given a ten per cent reduction, in the rents which they collected from their farming tenants. In the west, which was already the lowest paid of the agricultural areas, workmen were told that their pay would be lowered from 8/6d per week, to 7/6d. Unrest was general throughout the country, as the following examples show.
Bristol Mercury November 16th 1830
One when taken up near Canterbury on suspicion of being an incendiary told the officers that he did not care what happened to him as his condition could not be worse than it already was.
Another when he was tried and convicted blamed Cobbet; who had visited the area and addressed a meeting, telling them that he could understand why the fires were being started, and did not think they would stop if the farmers insisted on continuing to treat the men in the way which they were doing at present. These excerpts have not been quoted in full
Bristol Gazette 9th December 1830
Mr Charles Hardwick who suffered so seriously from the late murderous attack made upon him near Congresbury, is so far recovered, that he is able to walk out. Mr Hardwick visited our Commercial Rooms last Thursday.
Disturbance in Banwell.
A parishioners meeting in Banwell for approving special Constables. 100 were named and told to report to the Ship Inn for swearing in the day after, rioted and ran amok through the streets demanding Money, Bread, Beer and Tobacco. When a ringleader was arrested the remainder broke him free from the house wherein he was imprisoned and broke up the house, completely destroying it.
A sally was made by the Head Constable and others the following day and the leaders who were captured are now in Shepton Mallet Gaol awaiting trial. [Not quoted in full].
Crime was rewarded with very strict penalties; sheep stealing was a hanging offence, as was rick burning, and stealing potatoes. This the prisoners knew full well, but nevertheless, did not hesitate to commit the crimes. If today, we think such measures too severe, this does not mean that they were so regarded at the time in which this case was in court. That the offenders were guilty there is no doubt. There is doubt in the way some of the evidence was presented, in the opinion of the writer. Just how hard the sentences were in the law courts of the 1830’s, may be judged by the following case.
Felix Farley’s Journal 24th October 1829.
Somerset Quarter Sessions;
P Palmer an old offender, was sentenced to Transportation for Life, for stealing a hive of bees and approx 5lb of honey.
The local Land-owners were undoubtedly after the maximum penalty. In order to stamp out a small area of unrest and criminal activity, it would seem that they committed themselves to 100 per cent overkill.
The Crime and the Trial.
The arson committed and the betrayal by a gang member turning Kings Evidence leads to the conviction of the remaining participants.
Felix Farley’s Journal 14th November 1829
Incendiaries. 3 Wheat mows belonging to Farmer B Poole of Kenn, Somerset; were set on fire by some villain on Friday night the 30th Ult. when upwards of 50 Bushels of wheat were destroyed.
Bristol Mirror 14th August 1830
There are about 80 prisoners for trial at the Assizes for the County of Somerset which Commence this day at Wells; many of them charged with offences of a very serious description, Arson, Horse Stealing, House Breaking and Sheep stealing.
Extract from the Calendar
Lammas Assizes Wells 14th August 1830
Clark; Richard 19 labourer
On his own confession with stealing two pecks of potatoes from Joseph Griffin.
Also on suspicion of stealing two sacks of potatoes from Robert Bryant.
Also on suspicion of wilfully setting on fire three wheat mows, property of Benjamin Poole.
Also on suspicion of stealing two lambs property of Thomas Evans.
Old; Isaac 23 Labourer
On his own confession with wilfully setting on fire, three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole.
Also for stealing two lambs property of Thomas Evans
Also on suspicion of stealing two lambs property of Thomas Evans.
Old; James 19 Labourer
Suspicion of stealing two lambs property of Thomas Evans.
Wall; William 35 labourer
Stealing two lambs of Thomas Evans.
Also on suspicion of wilfully setting on fire three wheat mows, property of Benjamin Poole.
Also for feloniously receiving four sacks of potatoes property of Robert Bryant.
Old; John 21 Labourer
On his own confession with wilfully setting on fire, three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole.
Rowley; John 30 Labourer
Stealing a quantity of potatoes property of Joseph Griffin.
Also on suspicion of wilfully setting on fire three wheat mows, property of Benjamin Poole.
Also on suspicion of stealing two lambs property of Thomas Evans.
Cook; James 23 Labourer
Suspicion of stealing two lambs property of Thomas Evans.
Also with wilfully setting on fire, three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole.
Rowley; James 19 Labourer
Suspicion of wilfully setting on fire three wheat mows, property of Benjamin Poole.
Also on suspicion of stealing four sacks of potatoes property of Robert Bryant.
Felix Farley’s Journal 14th August 1830
John Old; James Old; James Rowley for wilfully firing three wheat mows.
William Wall for Stealing two Lambs.
John Rowley for stealing potatoes.
Bristol Mirror 21st August 1830
Somerset Assize Crown Bar.
John Old, James Old and James Rowley for wilfully firing 3 Wheat Mows of Benjamin Poole.
John Rowley for stealing potatoes from Joseph Griffin
William Wall for stealing lambs from T Evans.
Reprinted from the Bath Journal.
William Wall, John Old, John Rowley, Mary Wall, and Richard Clark were arraigned for having on Saturday the 31st of October last, having wilfully and maliciously set fire to three wheat mows, the property of Benjamin Poole a farmer residing at Kenn, in this County.
William Wall and Mary Wall were indicted as accessories before the fact, and the other prisoners as principals.
The whole of the case was confined in the testimony of Isaac Old, brother of one of the prisoners who had been an accomplice in the perpetration of the offence, and has since turned King’s Evidence. The facts were fully proved and originated in malice towards the prosecutor.
The learned Judge having summed up the evidence to the Jury, they returned a verdict of guilty against all the prisoners, who were immediately sentenced to be hanged. An intimation was subsequently made to the female prisoner that her life should be spared.
Bristol Mercury August 24th 1830
These assizes commenced Wednesday last. the following are sentences upon the prisoners.
William Wall, John Old, John Rowley, Mary Wall and James Rowley; for setting fire to three wheat mows.
Bristol Mirror August the 28th
John Rowley, Richard Clarke, John Old and James Rowley were indicted for having set fire to a stack of corn, the property of Benjamin Poole, of Kenn; and William Wall and Mary Wall were charged with having procured and aided and abetted the prisoners.
In a subsequent part of the indictment James Rowley was charged as an accessory before the fact with William Wall & his wife, instead of as a principal.
I am a farmer and have a field called Shortland, I had three stacks of wheat in that field, on the 31st October 1829.
James Clarke :-
lived about 140 yards from where the mows stood. He came to me about three o’clock in the morning of the 31st October and in consequence of what he told me I went to the field and found all the stacks on fire, and a noble fire it was. I called my neighbour Mr Baker and we extinguished the fire after some hours. The damage done amounted to about £50.
About a week after this Richard Clark, John Old, James Old and John Rowley were wheeling a cask of cider opposite my house about three O’clock in the afternoon. They stopped and sung a profane song, flung up their hats and gave a cheer. They remained about five minutes. I was afraid to go out.
Cross examined by Mr Erle.
“William Wall is a small farmer and has about 15 acres of land and a cow. I had a quarrel with James Old and had both Old and Rowley before the Magistrates about some hay”.
[The Western Flying Post in their account of the trial observes that Rowley seemed to be no sooner out of gaol than he was into trouble once more. Looking at the court records we find in the court calendar ‘Michaelmas 15th October 1827 from Shepton; John Rowley aged 28, want of sureties to keep the peace towards Thomas Walker.’
Q/AGi 15/2 Ilchester Gaol descriptions book.
October 20th 1827 John Rowley aged 28 5 Foot 4.5 inches tall dark complexion, dark brown hair, dark black mark on the left cheek & on the nose, cut on right cheek. Born Kingston Seymour, Labourer, living at Kenn nr. Yatton, single, can read.
It would appear that John Rowley had served a prison term for some dispute or other, and had been sentenced because he could not find any person who would act as surety for his consequent good behaviour. Unfortunately the Long Ashton petty Sessions records do not cover this period, and the exact circumstances cannot be found out]
James Miles a supervisor of excise laid an information against William Wall for selling cider without a licence. Parsons a servant of Poole’s was the witness. Wall was convicted and the penalty was 20 pounds which the witness received from Mary Wall. He said to her it was a pity those ricks were set fire to, She said it served Poole right and it was a pity he was not in one of them.
Ann Howe lived with Farmer Poole in September last. About a week before the fire as she was milking, Mary Wall overtook her. She said it was Farmer Poole’s fault they were informed on, and if it cost them £50 it should be more than £100 loss for Farmer Poole.
James Clarke [uncle to Richard]
On the night of the 31st I was awake, I saw a light on a sudden. I got up and I looked out of the window, and saw a light in the same direction as the wheat stacks.
I went out of doors and saw the three mows on fire, they were burning furiously; I alarmed Poole. The next morning as soon as it was light I saw some footsteps about 20 or 30 yards from the mows. They appeared to be the steps of two or three different persons.
They came out of Mitchell’s grounds and into Poole’s through a shard or gap in the hedge.
The last witness is my father. I saw the fire and alarmed the neighbours and in doing that I had to go near Wall’s House and I heard someone laughing towards it.
I went to Bristol with Wall on the morning of the fire. We saw the fire on the road, Wall asked me what I thought it was.
I was at Wall’s in October last, and am a brother of John Old the prisoner. I recollect Wall being convicted of selling Cider; the other prisoners were lodging with Wall at that time.
Parsons was a witness [On the cider licence affair} and I have heard Wall say that Farmer Poole was the author of his paying out £20, this was before the stack was burnt,
I heard Wall say on the Friday evening, that it would be a good night to set fire to Poole’s mows.
Rowley said ‘We’ll go and do it bye and bye’ William Wall said he had bought the brimstone on purpose, there had been a large roll in the cupboard for some time before.
I heard Wall say to Rowley and Clarke sometime before, that they were damned fools if they did not do farmer Poole some injury.
My brother James and Poole had had some words about some hay. Wall said if he was in my brothers place he would do him some injury. He would chop his horses legs off if they made him pay the money. I have heard Mary Wall say that she would not begrudge £1 to any one who would set the mows on fire.
Richard Clarke and John and James Rowley were present. About two o’clock on the morning of the fire Wall called me and my brother and Clarke and the Rowley’s to help him load some potatoes.
Mary Wall also got up; soon after Wall left for Bristol his wife got some paper and reached the brimstone and Richard Clarke got a spade and put on the fire, and she put the brimstone on the spade. She cut two or three pieces of writing paper and dipped in the brimstone and Richard Clarke dipped some.
She got some rags and made tinder and went upstairs and fetched a flint which Richard Clarke took with the matches, and put them into his pocket; and Mary Wall asked him if he wanted a steel but he said he should strike with his knife. John Rowley, James Rowley, Richard Clarke and James Old then went out of the house. It was about three o’clock, they went towards the mows. I went out in about ten minutes, and before I had gone ten yards I saw the three lights in the direction of the mows.
I went back into the house and they all returned. They had been absent about fifteen minutes. John Rowley said he and Richard Clark put light to the mows. William Wall came back about eight o’clock the same evening, I was in bed. Rowley came to me and said there was plenty of Tobacco and Cider for any who would have it that night.
I got up and went down the stairs, they had been drinking all the afternoon. William Wall said he supposed farmer Poole was now about 20 pounds out of pocket as well as he was. He said that as he was going to Bristol and two miles from home he saw the fires and knew what fires they were.
Cross examined by Mr Erle.
‘I did not eat a part of the lambs. I was examined about them. I was never examined about setting fire to the mows’.
‘I knew my brother and James Rowley were taken up for stealing potatoes. I did not give evidence to save my own life because I was not guilty. I did not expect to have my offences pardoned for giving evidence. I do not know for what I was committed. I lived in Wall’s service about six months the winter before last. I left his service 25th March 1829’.
‘I did not say to Wall “If thee doesn’t look sharp thee will have thy house set afire about thy ears” ‘.
‘ I never said I would as soon swear false evidence as right, and that taking a false oath was nothing. I never said I would swear that which would do it’.
‘I never heard of King’s Evidence in my life. Nor of the biggest rogue coming to give evidence against the others’.
‘I did not know till Tuesday evening I was to go before the Grand Jury. I did not see my brother after I was taken up. I was kept separate from the others in Prison’.
Mr James, clerk to the Magistrates was present when Isaac Old was examined before them. He was not then under any charge relative to the fire. He was present when John Old and James Rowley were examined, these are their examinations. Their examinations were then read in which they admitted a knowledge of the fact, but not that they were implicated [The statements were not printed in the Bristol Mirror.]
The prisoners said they knew nothing of it.
For the defence Mr Erle called:-
James Old; brother of John and Isaac Old.
‘I have seen Isaac Old at William Wall’s house. I have never heard him say that he would as soon swear false as right. I never heard him say anything about a false oath’.
‘ I lodged at Wall’s house when the ricks were burnt. I was in bed when Wall went to Bristol I don’t know where Mary Wall was’.
[This was in fact Henry Badman.]
‘I was at Wall’s in April last I recollect Isaac Old saying to William Wall “If thee doesn’t look sharp thee will have thee house set fire to about thy ears” ‘.
Joseph Poole and ??? Mitchell.
Said that ‘Wall had formerly had a good character, but not lately’.
The learned Judge summed up at great length, going minutely through the evidence, and pointing out the law as between principal and accessory; and also as to the wife being considered to act under the coercion and by desire of the husband, providing the husband was present when the act was done.
The Jury found all the prisoners guilty.
The learned Judge then in the most impressive manner urged the prisoners to employ the short time they had to remain in this world, in supplicating mercy at that throne where alone mercy could now be extended to them.
There were several other indictments against the prisoners, one of which was for stealing lambs; and others for minor offences, but in consequence of the above convictions the prosecutor did not proceed with them.
Trial Report the same as Bristol Mirror – – But after Sarah Clarke:-
[Actually Mary Gosling, wife of John Gosling.]
Saw the light of the fire; heard a noise but cannot say what sort of noise, whether it was a laugh or an alarm of Fire. Wall is her Uncle.
[Badham should be Badman according to Gazette.]
Felix Farley’s Journal.
28th August 1830.
John Rowley, Richard Clarke, John Old, and James Rowley were indicted for having set fire to a stack of corn property of B Poole of Kenn, and William Wall and Mary Wall were charged with aiding and abetting the same.
It appeared that an information had been laid against the Prisoner William Wall, for selling cider without a licence, and he had been fined £20. The chief witness for the prosecution was one Parker a servant of Poole’s, and the Walls were frequently heard to say they would revenge themselves.
Three ricks were found to be on fire at about three o’clock in the morning of the 31st of October. An accomplice Isaac Old stated that he had frequently heard the Walls say that they would have the £20 out of Poole. On the evening of the 30th October they said it would be a good night to set the ricks on fire; and Rowley said they would do it. Wall said that he had bought Brimstone on purpose. He had heard Mary Wall say she would not begrudge anyone £1 to set the mows on fire.
Wall called them at two o’clock in the morning to help load some potatoes, they all got up as they were lodging at Wall’s. Wall started off for Bristol and his wife got paper and reached the brimstone. Richard Clarke got a spade and put it on the fire and she got the brimstone and put it on the spade. She cut three or four pieces of writing paper and she and Richard Clarke dipped the pieces into the brimstone.
She got some rags and made tinder and fetched a flint which she gave to Richard Clarke and he put it and the tinder into his pocket.
James Rowley, John Rowley, Richard Clark and James Old then went out of the house towards the mows. Witness went out about ten minutes later and before he had gone ten yards he saw three lights in the direction of the mows.
After an absence of about fifteen minutes they all returned. John Rowley said that Richard Clarke had put light to the mows.
William Wall came back about eight o’clock the same evening, witness was in bed but Rowley came to him and said there was tobacco and cider for anyone that night.
William Wall said he supposed that farmer Poole was now 20 pounds out of pocket as he was. He said that as he was going to Bristol he saw the fires and knew what fires they were.
Other witnesses corroborated this accomplice in some parts and the examination of some of the prisoners were put in in which they admitted knowledge of the facts, but endeavoured to exculpate themselves.
The Jury found them all guilty. Mr Baron Vaughan then passed sentence of death upon them, imploring them to apply for mercy at that throne were alone mercy could now be extended to them.
[Noted in the paper.]
Admitted Evidence Isaac Old.
The six hour journey travelling with their coffins, John Rowley’s full confession. What happened to those transported for life.
September 4th 1830.
The Kenn Incendiaries.
We understand that the 3 men condemned at the late Somerset Assizes, for setting fire to the wheat mows at Kenn near Clevedon, are to be executed on Wednesday Next.
It was intended that the sentence of the law should take place at Kenn as an example to the numerous ill-disposed persons, who for some time past have infested that area and the adjoining parishes. But we learnt yesterday that they will be executed at Ilchester.
September 7th 1830
The five incendiaries from Kenn, convicted at the late Somerset Assizes are we understand to be hung on Wednesday next.
Both at the trial and since the culprits have betrayed the most hardened indifference and are apparently quite unmoved at the prospect of their approaching fate.
On Tuesday Night the house of Mrs Wyatt at Kingston Seymour near Kenn was feloniously entered, when a quantity of wearing apparel and a double barrel gun were stolen. The thieves are supposed to have been part of the incendiaries gang.
September 8th 1830.
This day three of the unhappy convicts who were found guilty of Arson at the late Somerset Assizes, were conveyed to the village of Kenn, the scene of the crime where a gallows was erected.
An immense crowd assembled to witness the exhibition. The execution took place a few minutes after 12 o’clock. The youngest of the culprits who did not appear above eighteen died very hard, but the others did not appear to suffer much. They all appeared penitent.
The High Sheriff assisted by a strong body of constables; and a detachment of the Bath and Somerset Yeomanry, assisted to keep the peace.
As Kenn has long been infested by a set of desperate characters it was hoped that the execution might be of use.
Felix Farley’s Journal.
September 11th 1830.
Execution of the Kenn Incendiaries.
The execution of three of the culprits (viz William Wall, John Rowley and Richard Clarke) lately convicted at the Somerset Assizes of the crime of arson, took place Wednesday last, and it having been determined to make a severe example; the village of Kenn; the scene of the deeds of this villainous gang, was selected as the spot for the expiation of their crimes, a gallows having been erected there for the purpose.
It was fully expected that all five would suffer, but an order arrived at Ilchester, from the Secretary of State for two of them.
From the lawless nature of the neighbourhood it was apprehended that a rescue might be attempted, and an express from J A Gordon the High Sheriff for the county, requesting that the Bath Yeomanry should immediately set out for the place of execution, arrived at this city and Bath, Tuesday.
On the Wednesday morning the culprits under the care of Mr Hardy was conveyed from Ilchester to the village, and about twelve o’clock they appeared on the scaffold, all three exhibiting a great deal of firmness, and being apparently resigned to their fate. The usual preparations having been completed a few minutes after twelve they were turned off.
The youngest of the culprits, who did not appear to be above 18 years of age, struggled hard for some time, but the others did not appear to suffer much, they all died penitent. After hanging the usual time the bodies were cut down and put into the prison cart, and conveyed back to Ilchester.
[I have seen a report in an anniversary issue of a local paper which stated that in fact, the executioners hung onto the legs of Richard Clarke to supply sufficient weight to finish him off, as an act of mercy. I have not seen it reported in any of the provincial papers of the day. Whether this is a surviving folk memory I do not know. I was told by a member of the audience, when I was speaking of this case during the course of a talk on crime in North Somerset, that his Grandmother, had been told by her Grandmother, that she had watched the prison caravan and escort go through Yatton. They passed under the window of the family’s house, with the prisoners sitting on their coffins in the cart. It is surprising the amount of local history which was passed down by word of mouth, in the days before reading & writing was general to all.]
The High Sheriff attended by a strong body of Constables as well as by the Yeomanry was present to keep the peace, but although fifteen to twenty thousand spectators were assembled everything passed off quietly. As Kenn has long been invested with a desperate set of characters it is hoped that the example which has been made will be of service.
September 11th 1830.
The awful sentence of the Law was on Wednesday last carried into effect on William Wall, aged 35, John Rowley, aged 32, and Richard Clarke, aged 19, Who were convicted at the last Somerset Assizes of setting fire, in October last, to three mows of wheat the property of Mr Benjamin Poole of Kenn.
These men were part of a numerous gang who have for a long time infested that neighbourhood, committing most daring outrages on every description of property.
The Elder prisoner Wall was in the habit of bringing potatoes to Bristol for sale; he was also the proprietor of a Cider Shop, where young men of idle habits and bad character usually resorted.
The other two prisoners were, we believe, lodgers in Wall’s house. Since the apprehension of these incendiaries, the neighbourhood of Kenn has still been the scene of frequent plunder; and, in the hope that the fate of the unfortunate men might have a more salutary effect upon such of the gang as are still at large, it was determined that the execution should take place near the spot where the crime had been committed.
The culprits were therefore, taken from their cells in Ilchester Goal, at an early hour on Wednesday morning, and arrived at Kenn, a distance of nearly forty two miles, about half past Ten o’clock.
The following is the order in which the procession arrived.
The Chief Constable George Emery Esq; on horseback.
One hundred Special Constables on foot, with staves.
The High Sheriff [J A Gordon Esq] and Under Sheriff [E Broderick Esq] on horseback.
Thomas Roworth Esq.; H S Pigott Esq.; W H Harford Esq.; Magistrates; and the Revd Mr Valentine, Chaplain; in an open carriage
A party of Javelin men with Halberts; on horseback.
The Prison Caravan
Drawn by four horses, in which were the three culprits; guarded by Mr Hardy, Governor of the County Goal, the Executioner and his assistants.
A party of Javelin men, tenants of the High Sheriff.
Fifty Constables on Horseback.
On entering the village, the funeral knell commenced tolling. The procession halted in front of the house where the Magistrates had assembled, and Rowley was taken before them, where we understand he made a full confession of his guilt. In the course of his confession he said Wall was aware that the wheat was to be burnt; he also knew of Mr Evan’s lambs having been stolen; a quarter of one had been dressed for dinner.
Wall said that they were fools if they did not set the mows on fire; that would never have been done but for Wall; upon Wall’s return from Bristol, on the day of the fire, he said he supposed Mr Poole was about twenty pounds out of pocket as well as him, alluding to a fine which had been imposed upon Wall for selling Cider without a licence so to do.
The firing of the mows appears therefore to have originated out of revenge to Mr Poole, from the supposition that he had been the cause of Wall’s having been fined. Rowley appeared to possess considerable fortitude, and walked to and from the van with a tolerably firm step
Upon the arrival of the cavalcade an application was made to Mr Gordon, the High Sheriff, by the sisters of Wall and Rowley to speak with their brothers, but that gentleman in a most feeling manner, assured them that though he deeply sympathised with them, he could not, out of consideration to the feelings of all parties, grant their request. Such a course, he feared, would draw the minds of the prisoners from the contemplation of the solemn ordeal they were about to undergo.
Mr Gordon also informed them that the bodies of their brothers would be taken back to Ilchester, where they would be decently interred.
After the necessary arrangements had been concluded, the cavalcade moved on to the place of execution, which was a field of about seven acres in extent, and directly opposite to that in which the mows were consumed. On the gallows was the following inscription:-
For Firing Stacks.
The culprits having been released from their fetters, ascended the platform, and were followed by the Revd Mr Valentine, who since their condemnation has been un-remitting in his endeavours to impress them with a due sense of their dreadful situation, and to direct their minds to the throne of Divine Grace, where alone they might hope for mercy. At the request of the rev gentleman, they all knelt with him on the platform, and each holding a prayer book, repeated after him the whole of the Litany, and several appropriate prayers. The conduct of the prisoners was to all appearances truly devout.
Their attention seemed solely to be directed to the solemn act in which they were engaged, not appearing to take the least notice of the immense multitude.
The responses of the Litany, and more especially those towards the conclusion, “Oh Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us” and “Oh Christ Hear us” they uttered with great emphasis.
Wall was the first pinioned, and when rising from his kneeling posture he looked towards the Magistrates and others near the platform and said in a very earnest manner “I hope, gentlemen, you will please to forgive my poor dear wife and children. Lord have mercy upon me. Christ redeem my soul” He then repeated the Lord’s Prayer, in which he was joined by Clarke and Rowley. Wall again exclaimed “Pity my poor dear wife and family”
During the time occupied by the executioner in pinioning the culprits adjusting the ropes &c., they all read aloud from the prayer book which they continued to hold. Previously to the caps being drawn over their eyes, the Rev Mr Valentine asked if they had any wish to address the multitude, when Rowley replied “I have nothing more to say – I hope they will take warning by us”.
Wall in a very distinct voice said “I should not have been here if I had not opened a Cider Shop. If I had harkened to my wife I should not have come to this; she always persuaded me not to keep the Cider Shop. Lord forgive me for all my sins”.
The young man Clarke then said “Cider has been my ruin, and the ruin of us all”.
About twenty minutes past Twelve O’clock the caps were pulled over the faces of the malefactors, who incessantly ejaculated, “Lord have mercy upon us”. “Christ have mercy upon us”. &c., and the waggon on which the platform was erected being drawn from under them, they were launched into eternity. Their sufferings appeared but of very short duration. The lad Clarke being lighter than the others, did not probably receive so violent a shock from the removal of the platform, and seemed slightly convulsed.
The spectators were kept at a convenient distance by the tenantry of the late High Sheriff J H S Pigott Esq., and those of Sir Abraham Elton, Bart. who, together with some respectable yeomen of the neighbourhood, were sworn in as special constables for the occasion. In the rear of these were stationed the Bath and Bedminster Troops of the Yeomanry Calvary under the command of Capt. Wilkins; whilst the constabulary force was placed under the immediate direction of G Emery Esq.
After the bodies had hung the usual time, they were cut down and placed in coffins, which had been brought with them in the caravan. The awful ceremony being concluded, and the High Sheriff and Magistrates having returned thanks to the different parish constables and more particularly to their chief G Emery Esq. of Banwell for the very judicious arrangements of the police upon so short a notice; to Capt Wilkins and the troops of cavalry under his command; and to all others who had supported them in the unhappy ceremony which they had witnessed, and which had fallen to him, in his official capacity to perform that day; the cavalcade moved off the ground escorting the caravan about a mile on its return to Ilchester, at which place the bodies were ordered to be interred, as is usual in such cases.
During the whole of this solemn and affecting scene, which was witnessed by nearly fifteen thousand persons; the greatest order and decorum prevailed. The judicious arrangements which had been made for conducting the execution reflected great credit on the High Sheriff, James Gordon Esq., who was assisted in his painful duty by the following magistrates:- Thomas Roworth Esq., of Combe Lodge; J S Pigott Esq., of Brockley Court; and W H Harford Esq., of Barley Wood.
In consequence of the indisposition of Lovell Lovell Esq., Edmund Broderick Esq., officiated as Under Sheriff on the melancholy occasion.
We are desired by J H S Pigott Esq., to contradict an erroneous statement which has been inserted in several newspapers, relative to the indifferent conduct of the culprits since their conviction. That gentleman assured us that he called at Ilchester Goal two days after their condemnation, and found them making every possible preparation to meet their fate with becoming resignation.
It is understood that the sentence on James Rowley brother of John Rowley, and that on Mary Wall, wife of William Wall, will be commuted to transportation. Wall, we understand. has left seven children, the eldest of whom is only thirteen years old.
After the departure of the Cavalcade, the Revd John Leifchild ascended to the platform, and, amidst the most profound silence, addressed the immense concourse.
When Mr Leifchild had concluded, J H S Pigott, Esq., stepped forward and said “As one of the magistrates of this district, I beg to express to you my thanks for your truly appropriate address, and I trust it will have had its effect upon those who have heard you”.
The High Sheriff also complimented Mr Leifchild upon the good effects his address was likely to produce.
14th September 1830.
Execution of the Kenn Incendiaries.
On Wednesday last William Wall, John Rowley and Richard Clarke, three of the unfortunate men convicted at the late Somerset Assizes for setting fire to three wheat mows, the property of Benjamin Poole of Kenn, underwent the dreadful sentence of the law in the immediate vicinity of the spot where the crime of which they had been found guilty was perpetrated.
The selection of this place as the most appropriate on which to carry the sentence into effect was determined on in consequence of the district being infested with a considerable number of lawless characters; and it was hoped that this solemn and awful spectacle would have a salutary effect in checking the excesses.
The prisoners having been brought from Ilchester arrived about 10 o’clock. They appeared much dejected but ascended the scaffold with a firm step. After standing for a short time with Revd Mr Valentine the prisoner Wall came forward and confessed that the crime for which he was to suffer was his own seeking, and that his wife who was now in prison was innocent; and he implored that some assistance would be rendered to her.
Rowley next observed his ruin might be dated to the association which he had met at cider shops, and that he was guilty of the offence for which he was about to suffer.
Richard Clarke who was a youth of apparently about 18 years offered no observations. Immediately after this the hangman performed his last office on them and they were launched into eternity.
After the bodies had been removed the Revd John Leichfield of this city ascended the scaffold and delivered a most energetic address to the multitude assembled on the occasion, which was listened to with great attention and which appeared to make a due impression on their minds.
The sentence of James Rowley brother of John Rowley and Mary Wall wife of William Wall is understood to be commuted to transportation. Wall has left seven children the eldest of whom is under thirteen years of age. Rowley and Clarke were un-married.
The late execution – – further particulars.
On Wednesday pursuant to their sentence at the late Wells Assizes. Rowley, Wall and Clarke, convicted of setting fire to several wheat stacks at Kenn Moor, suffered the awful penalty of the law.
Contrary to the usual custom of executing prisoners in front of the County Gaol, it was deemed expedient by the High Sheriff that the above unfortunate individuals should suffer near the spot where their crime was committed; but fearing that an attempt might be made to rescue he took every precaution to guard against such a procedure.
[Follows on a description of calling out the Yeomanry.]
They were started out at four in the morning with Mr Hardy and his assistants in the gaol van. At Axbridge they were met by the Javelin Men who escorted them to Kenn Moor where they arrived about ten o’clock. The gallows had been previously erected and an immense concourse of some twelve to fourteen thousand people had assembled to witness this horrid scene. The prisoners upon being taken from the van appeared much dejected but ascended the scaffold with a firm step. After spending a short time in devotion with the Revd Mr Valentine, William Wall came forward and confessed that the crime for which he was about to suffer was his own seeking, and that his wife who was now in prison was innocent, and he implored that some assistance might be rendered her.
Rowley next observed that his ruin might be dated to the associations which he had formed at cider shops, and that he was guilty of the offence for which he was about to suffer. Richard Clarke who was a youth of apparently eighteen years of age made no observations. Immediately after this the hangman performed his last office on them, and they were launched into eternity.
Wall has left seven children, but Rowley and Clarke were un-married.
During the day an elm tree on which a great number of persons had assembled fell, from the preponderant weight on the top, but fortunately no accident occurred.
The greatest order was kept during the day in consequence of the excellent arrangements of the High Sheriff and his assistants.
Printed in Taunton Courier Sept 15th 1830.
The Execution of Three criminals at Kenn Moor, who were condemned at Wells Assizes, for setting fire to several mows of Wheat.
Contrary to the usual practice of executing criminals in front of the County Goal, It was deemed expedient by the High Sheriff that the unfortunate individuals should suffer the extreme sentence of the law near the spot where their crime was committed; Accordingly at four O’clock Wednesday Morning they left Ilchester accompanied by Mr Hardy and his assistants in the Goal Van. At Axbridge they were met by the Javelin Men who guarded them to Kenn Moor where they arrived about ten o’clock.
The Gallows had been previously erected, and an immense concourse of between twelve to fourteen thousand persons had assembled to Witness this horrid scene. The Prisoners being taken from the van appeared much dejected, but ascended the scaffold with a firm step. After spending a short time in devotion with the Rev Mr Valentine, the prisoner William Wall, came forward and confessed, that the crime for which he was to suffer was his own seeking, and that his wife who was now in prison was innocent; and he implored that some assistance would be rendered her.
Rowley next observed that his ruin may be dated to the associations which he had met at cider shops. Richard Clarke who was a youth of about 18 years of age offered no observations, Immediately after this the hangman performed his last office on them, and they were launched into eternity.
Wall has left seven children, but Rowley and Clarke were un-married. Rowley was a considerable time in the prosecutors house, with the High Sheriff, where it is said, he made a full confession of his guilt. A troop of Calvary and 200 Constables Attended. The prisoners were dressed in the style of Labourers. During the day an Elm tree on which a great number of persons had ascended, fell from the preponderating weight on the top, but fortunately no accident occurred.
The Greatest order prevailed during the day, in consequence of the excellent arrangement of the High Sheriff and his assistants. From the lawless character of the neighbourhood it was apprehended that a rescue might be attempted, and an express from J A Gorden Esq., the High Sheriff for the County, requiring that the Bath Yeomanry should immediately set out for the place of execution, reached this city on Tuesday. The troop was accordingly put under arms and left Bath for Kenn.
Bristol Gazette & Bristol Mercury.
16th November 1830.
Attempt at robbery or murder.
On Tuesday evening about 6 o’clock as Mr Joseph Poole of Kenn, Somerset, was travelling from Bristol he was attacked by two men between West Town and Chelvey. One of the men gave him a a violent blow to the head which knocked him off the cart into the road. Both fellows then beat and kicked him in a most brutal manner, without uttering a word. On hearing the approach of horses the villains made a precipitate retreat.
It is suspected that they were connected with the Kenn incendiaries who were executed a few weeks ago for firing the wheat stacks of Mr Poole.
S.R.O. Q/AGw 14/2.
Wilton Gaol receiving book.
May 6th 1830 James Old.
aged 19 Charged on suspicion of being accessory to the wilfully and feloniously setting on fire of three wheat mows.
May 19th James Cook.
aged 23 Suspicion of having been accessory to the stealing of two lambs the property of James Evans.
S/R/O number. Q/AGi 15/3.
Ilchester Gaol descriptions Book.
12th May 1830 John Rowley
age 30, height 5ft 5inch, stout build, Dark Complexion, Oval Faced, Dark Hair, Dark eyes, Black mark on left cheek and cut left eye, freckled in face, Born Kingston Seymour Labourer, last resident in Kenn, single, able to read, Executed 8th September.
12th May 1830 John Old.
age 21 Height 5ft 6inch, stout person dark Complexion, oval shaped face, Dark hair, Dark eyes, 3 cuts on the forefinger of left hand, Born in Nailsea, Labourer, last resident in Kenn; single, able to read; Transported for life.
20th August 1830 Richard Clarke.
age 19, height 5ft 7inch, stout person, Sallow complexion, Round faced, Dark brown hair, Dark eyes, large full eyes, Born Kenn, Labourer, last resident in Kenn, single, can read, Executed 8th September.
20th August 1830 James Rowley.
age 19 Height 5ft 4inch, Stout person, Dark complexion, Round faced, Dark brown hair, Dark eyes, no distinguishing marks, Born Kingston Seymour, Labourer last resident in Kenn, single, able to read and write, Transported for life.
20th August William Wall.
age 35, Height 5ft 8« inch, Stout persons, fresh complexion, long shaped face, Brown Hair, Hazell eyes, cut on the forefinger of left hand, Born Kenn, farmer, last resident in Kenn, Married, 7 children, Able to read and write, Executed 8th September.
20th August 1830 Mary Wall.
age 32, height 5ft 2inch, Stout build, Fair complexion, Round faced, Dark brown hair, Grey eyes, Scar on the forehead, pock marked, Born Clevedon, labourer, last resident in Kenn, Widow, 8 children, able to read and write, Transported for life.
S/R/O/Number. Q/AGi 14/4.
Ilchester Gaol Felons Register.
Summer Assizes 14th August 1830.
John Old aged 21 Labourer, Committed by T Rowarth and W A Harford Esq. May 11th 1830
Charged on his own confession with setting on fire three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole
Found guilty; Sentence Death; reprieved to Life Transportation. removed to Captivity Hulk at Devonport 7th October 1830.
John Rowley aged 30. Labourer, Committed by T Rowarth and W A Harford Esq. May 11th 1830
Charged on suspicion of setting on fire three wheat mows, property of Benjamin Poole,
Found guilty, sentence Death, Hung at Kenn Moor 8th September 1830; Body buried 9th September at Ilchester Church Yard.
Richard Clarke aged 19 Labourer, committed by W A Harford Esq. no date given.
received from Shepton Mallet Gaol on 14th August 1830??
Charged on suspicion of setting on fire three wheat mows, property of Benjamin Poole,
Tried 14th August 1830 by Sir John Vaughan and Sir William Bolland (Knights)
Found guilty, sentenced to Death, Hung at Kenn Moor 8th September 1830; Body buried 9th September at Ilchester Church Yard.
Isaac Old, aged 23, Labourer, committed by T Rowarth Esq.
Charged on his own confession with setting on fire three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole
Verdict Evidence for the Crown; Discharged.
James Rowley aged 19, committed by T Rowarth Esq. 25th May 1830.
received from Shepton Mallet Gaol 14th August 1830.
Charged with setting on fire three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole.
Found guilty, sentence Death, reprieved to Transportation for Life. Removed to the captivity Hulks Devonport 7th October 1830.
Mary Wall aged 32, married,
Surrendered in court,
received from Shepton Mallet Gaol on 14th August 1830.
Charged with standing indicted for unlawfully aiding and abetting John Rowley and others, to commit a felony
Found Guilty, sentenced to Death, Reprieved to Life Transportation, Removed to ship ‘Hydery’ at Woolwich 19th March 1832.
James Old aged 19, Labourer, committed by T Rowarth Esq., May 11th 1830.
received from Wilton Gaol 14th August 1830.
Charged with suspicion of setting on fire three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole
No Prosecution. Discharged.
William Wall aged 35, Labourer, committed by T Rowarth and William Harford Esq.’s, May 1830.
received from Wilton Gaol 14th August 1830.
Charged with setting on fire three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole.
Found guilty, sentenced to Death, Hung at Kenn Moor 8th September 1830; Body buried 9th September at Ilchester Church Yard.
James Cook aged 23, Labourer, Committed by T Rowarth Esq., 21st May 1830.
Charged with Stealing 2 lambs of James Evans, also Charged with suspicion of setting on fire three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole
Verdict I G. [Ignoramus] Discharged.
The Lent Assize March 29th 1831.
Prisoners under Orders.
Wall Mary aged 32
Tried, Wells 14th August 1830.
Death commuted to Transportation for life.
Document HO 19/5 Record Office Kew Index of Petitions.
Wall William Number ZO 38 Somerset. Not granted .
Wall Mary Number ZO 38 Somerset Not granted
Petitions against Hanging and transportation for life.
Document HO 17 128 Bundle ZO 38
Petition of behalf by Thomas Culliford.
To the Kings Excellent Majesty;
The humble petition of Thomas Culliford in the parish of Clevedon in the County of Somerset, Husbandman.
Sheweth that at the assizes held in the city of Wells in the county of Somerset, in the month of August 1830 before Sir John Vaughan Knight, and Sir William Bolland Knight. John Rowley, John Old , Richard Clark and James Rowley, were severally convicted for burning three wheat mows, the property of Benjamin Poole in the parish of Kenn in the county of Somerset, and William Wall and Mary his wife, were severally convicted as accessories before the fact, to the maliciously burning of the said wheat mows, and the said John Rowley, John Old, Richard Clarke and James Rowley, William Wall and Mary his wife were sentenced to be hung.
That the said William Wall, who is about the age of 35 years, has now living by his said wife seven children viz; 6 sons and one daughter, the eldest of the said children being about 13 years old and their youngest being 1 year and 9 months old, and that the said Mary is now pregnant, and about 6 weeks off her accouchement; That the said William Wall has been until his connexion with the said persons who perpetrated the said offence, an industrious man, and in the habit of raising crops of corn, and potatoes, and has thereby obtained a living for himself his wife and family. That you petitioner Thomas Culliford, is now 61 years of age and he has a wife named Sarah who is 59 years old, and the said petitioner has by his wife 2 only children, namely Prima, who is now the wife of Henry Pim of Wedmore in the county of Somerset blacksmith, and the said Mary, wife of the said William Wall. That the petitioned and his said wife, have conducted themselves honestly, and have always maintained characters void of reproach, and they brought up their said daughters decently, according to their station in life, and also gave them a moral and religious education, And your petitioner and his said wife are in the greatest affliction and anguish of mind, on account of the ignominious fate of the said William Wall and Mary Wall, and the consequent bereavement of their numerous infant family; And your petitioner humbly implores your Majesties clemency, towards William Wall and his said wife, and particularly on the behalf of your said petitioner’s daughter Mary Wall, and that inasmuch as no legal proof was adduced on the trial of the said William Wall and Mary his wife of any act having been done by either of them, towards the accomplishment of the crime of which they have been convicted as accessories, and that Isaac Old, upon whose testament the said convictions took place, was an accomplice in the burning of the said Wheat Mows, and the only evidence to prove the actual participation of the said William Wall and Mary Wall, with the commission of the said crime: and that the said Isaac Old was an unstable witness, and he was contradicted in a material part of his evidence by Henry Badman, an unprejudiced witness as to expressions made us of, by the said Isaac Old, upon the occasion of his being dismissed by the said William Wall from his service, previous to the said Isaac Old’s having confessed to his participation in the said crime, and the said Isaac Old’s evidence is also at variance with the confessions of John Old and other accomplices in the said crime, which denies that the said William Wall and Mary Wall were concerned in the commission of the said crime, and also inasmuch as that the children of the said convicts without the care of a mother, will, in all probability will become a burthen on the Parish, a disgrace to their relatives and outcasts of society, and your Petitioner fervently yet humbly presumes to hope, that considering also the part taken by the said Mary Wall in respect to the said crime, might have been adopted under the dominion and control of her said husband, your Majesty will extend your pardon to the said Mary Wall and your Petitioner assures your Majesty that he will take every care in his power, and will exert himself , to the utmost of his ability, to assist in the breeding up of the said children of the said convicts your petitioner’s grandchildren. and with the view of making them honest and useful members of society; the realising of which object is the utmost hope which you petitioner can cherish, for the continuation of his existence in this world.
And your Petitioner as in duty bound will pray that your Majesty will enjoy every blessing.
We the undersigned inhabitants of the Parish of Clevedon in the county of Somerset, humbly represent to you Majesty; That Thomas Culliford of the Parish of Clevedon Husbandman, and Sarah his wife, two of the persons named in the preceding petition are well known to us, and that they have always maintained characters for honesty industry and sobriety Clevedon 28th August 1830.
Joseph H Shephard,
Written on the outer part of the parchment
Somerset Summer Assize 1830
William Wall Sheep Stealing Arson and Larceny
Mary Wall Aiding and assisting in the commission of a felony.
William Wall for execution of the 8th September
Mary Wall Death Recorded.
To the Kings Most Excellent Majesty
The humble petition of William Wall late of the Parish of Kenn in the county of Somerset Husbandman, but now a prisoner in the Gaol of Ilchester under sentence of death.
Sheweth that at the last assizes held at the City of Wells your petitioner and his wife Mary, were convicted as accessories before the fact to the maliciously burning three wheat mows, the property of Benjamin Poole of the Parish of Kenn aforesaid.
That on the morning upon which the three said wheat mows were set fire to, your petitioner had left hisd house with his horse and cart with potatoes which he took for sale to the market in the City of Bristol, and that he left home at the usual hour in the morning, and returned home in the evening: and that your petitioner was not privy or consenting to the setting fire to the said wheat mows.
That your petitioner voluntarily surrendered himself up for examination before the magistrates upon the said charge, relying upon his innocence. That Isaac Old upon whose evidence the petitioner and his wife were convicted, was an accomplice in the burning of the said wheat mows, and the only evidence to prove the participation of your petitioner and his wife in the burning of the said wheat mows, and the said Isaac Old was incited by malice and desire of revenge to implicate your petitioner and his wife in the said crime, in consequence of your petitioner having quarrelled with and turning away the said Isaac Old from your petitioner’s service for not conducting himself properly in his employment, and he was contradicted, in a material part of his evidence as to expressions made use of by him towards your petitioner at the time of his dismissing the said Isaac Old from his service, and before the said Isaac Old had confessed to his being concerned in the said crime: and you petitioner denies that he was concerned directly or indirectly in the commission of the said crime.
Your petitioner, therefore humbly prays that your Majesty will extend your Royal Pardon to your Petitioner and his said wife..
And your petitioner in duty bound will ever pray etc.
Marked on the side of this petition are the words ‘ Mr. Baron Vaughan is fully aware that Wall did go to Bristol as agreed upon after the plan had been settled by Wall.
To the Kings most Excellent Majesty,
The humble petition of Sarah Coliford most humbly sheweth that your Majesty’s petitioner has a daughter who is confined in Ilchester Gaol under sentence of transportation charged with being an accessory in setting Mr Pools Wheat Ricks on fire, but of which crime she solemnly declares she was perfectly innocent she being confined to her bed at the time and her husband who was hung for the same was in Bristol at the time the fire took place, but one of the villagers Isaac Old or Owels by name did one of the worst of them and pretended to turn evidence for the crown or King’s evidence and swore falsely against my husband and me out of spite as we kept a cider house and because we refused to let him bring a most abandoned set to our house he swore he would do us some injury to my daughter and her husband kept the cider house on our account, and refused to entertain him and his vile associates
They set the Wheat Ricks on fire and he swore my daughters husband were concerned in it in consequence of which he was hung and my daughter was sentenced to transportation for life leaving their seven poor children destitute of father and mother the 8th child was born in prison soon after her confinement which child is still with its mother in the prison at Ilchester. My poor daughter has not enjoyed a days health since her confinement but has been confined to her bed most of her time and been subject to fits which was brought from excessive grief for the melancholy end of her beloved and innocent husband and of being torn as she fears for ever from her seven friendless babes for they are very young and their cries for their poor mother is most heart rending the 8th child the infant which was born in prison she cannot be prevailed to part with till death parts them the villain who swore falsely against them was an old offender who was confined in Ilchester for 2 years and has a narrow escaped for his life for cutting a horses throat yet such a Mans evidence was taken and an innocent man hung his distressed wife far advanced in a state of pregnancy confined in a loathsome prison torn from her weeping family to languish out her miserable existence destitute of one simpathzing friend to commiserate her miserable condition We are persuaded if Your Majesty knew the rights of it that neither she nor her husband would have suffered but we her disconsolate parents do most humbly beseech you your Majesty to extend your Royal clemency towards our unfortunate child so as she might be liberated and sent home to her poor distressed orphan children for if she is not soon released by your Majesty’s clemency death will soon put a period to her sufferings. We humbly implore your Majesty have compassion on her aged parents who are fast sinking under weight of years and grief and their unfortunate child and her helpless offspring and to the latest hours of our existence we shall in duty as well as by intention be bound to pray for your Majesty and all that appertains to your praying the almighty may abundantly Bless and Prosper your Majesty and all the Royal Family with his choicest blessings in this life and finally grant you all Crowns of Glory in the world to come. So prays your Majesty’s humble petitioner Sarah Coliford mother of Mary Wall at the Widow Millerds, Bell Lane Frome. Somerset.
Should these lines ever reach your Majesty’s presence we humbly beg your Majesty will graciously please to cause an answer to be set to our request and as in duty bound we will ever pray your Majesty’s humble and loyal servant and subject
Sarah Coliford mother of the said prisoner Mary Wall.
but if according to the rules and regulations it falls into any other hands first we pray that nobleman (or whoever he may be) to exert his influence in favour of the prisoner my daughter before it be too late so as she may be restored to her distressed and fatherless children and as in duty bound will ever pray. The prisoner has been in confinement upwards of 13 months and is now very ill the prosecutor Pallford he believed they were both innocent
The Wall children were taken in, and brought up by, various relatives. In the 1841 Census Thomas and Sarah Culliford, (Mary Wall’s mother and father) had Ruth and Daniel living with them in Moor Lane Clevedon. Robert was living just around the corner, in Kenn Road, and Joseph was working as a farm servant for Kiddle at Highdale Farm Clevedon.
David William, Son of Mary Wall was born in Ilchester Gaol and baptised 21st December 1830. The posthumous son of William Wall, he was sent with his mother Mary when she was transported to Tasmania. The ships surgeon reported that her behaviour was ‘Very good’ on the voyage and added in a special note that her ‘manners and habits’ were ‘most respectable’
The ‘Hydery’ ships surgeon had occasion to report on Mary Wall’s pneumonia and on a separate occasion as to her child having diarrhoea.
In September 1834 in Tasmania she was convicted of ‘improper conduct’ [no detail given] and sentenced to work in the crime class for six months. In effect this meant that she would be at work in the Female Gaol for six months. After that she would be ‘assigned to the interior’ i.e. would be made available as a servant to a household in the country. [Archives Office of Tasmania.]
On 12th October 1835 William Hawkins, who had been transported for housebreaking received official permission to marry Mary Wall.
William Hawkins was a Westcountry man who had come from Banwell; he had been transported on the ‘Andromeda’ and there is a record of his appearance at the County Assizes.
Banwell Parish registers, Baptism, …
William son of George and Sarah Hawkins. 19th July 1807
George Hawkins married Sarah Cox at Bedminster 9th July 1806 both of Bedminster
Banns called between G Hawkins and Nancy White 17th November … 1 December 1805 ……. Entry endorsed Contradicted by N White July 1806 …. married to another woman.
Q/AGi 14/3, Number 3246) Ilchester Gaol felons register
Hawkins William, Aged 19 5ft 7ins, tall dark complexion, dark hair, dark eyes, born Banwell, labourer, Committed by F Randolph DD …..
Lent Assizes at Taunton 25th March 1826.
William Hawkins aged 21 years labourer.
Breaking into the dwelling house of Mary Urch in the daytime (no-one being there) and stealing a silver watch, a purse, and money, her property.
committed by F Randolph D.D.
I am indebted to Betty Plunkett a descendant of Mary Wall for the following items : —
The Surgeon’s report of the illness of both Mary and David Wall (William’s posthumous son) and also the record of his burial in Hobart Tasmania. Plus the information from the Archives Office Tasmania on the transportees Old and Rowley, which she kindly obtained for me..
Copied from the Australian Joint Copying film 3198 Adm.. 101/35
[Those words which could not be read are represented by —–]
Nature of No. Men’s Name, Ages, the History, symptoms, Treatment, & Daily
Disease of Qualities, Time Progress of the Disease or Hurt
Case When taken ill And how disposed of
1.8. April 22nd 1832 Lat. 48.00’ . Long 8.10’W
Diarrhea Case number 12
Mary Wall’s child a healthy boy of twenty months has been [ailing]….. since he came on board cutting teeth & fretful; his mother to quiet him put him to the breast as she still had milk although he had been weaned for upwards of six months. A looseness in consequence came on about a fortnight ago of a light coloured watery fluid and great wasting of the body for which he has been taking the mist ——- The purging is now frequent & the motions dark & slimy has thirst & heat of skin pulse quick ——- belly ——-.not tender.
Apr. 23rd motions not so frequent & are of a better quality is much emaciated wine.
Apr 24th bowels very frequently moved in the night motions slimy & green no appetite & pulse hardly perceptible —– developed in…——.
25th much the same contd. medicine Wine
26th motions of a better colour and watery Contd. Med at ——..¼ wine & sago.
May 8th since the 27th ult. The child has been rather loose in its bowels but the stools have been natural it slept well & took its food tolerably but has been still falling away. In the night pain came on in its bowels and purging of slimy green foetid matter came on with severe tenderness ?? and has some cough.
May 9 much purged but the motions are more natural and —– freely got little rest from cough pulse —-.& quick & skin hot. Pulse —-
10th very restless all night bowels better but takes nothing.
11th bowels frequently opened in the night stools slimy & greenish.
12th stools more natural. Contd. med. ..
13th motions of a better colour and not so frequent is much emaciated and eats nothing
May 14th purging mostly stopped but he loses flesh daily body generally cold and pulse not perceptible Sulph. Quinine…[prescribed]
15th much in the same way. Contd. med.
16th Cont. Med. 17th Contd. med. 18th Contd. med.
19th pulse rather sharp & some heat of skin omit. Med ——-
20th free from complaint but extremely reduced allowed wine & sago daily —–.occasionally and by the end of the month he began to improve.
Pneumonia case 2 Mary Wall age 38 A convict from the County of Somerset who embarked on the19th March 1832 at Woolwich
On the 23rd complained of a sharp cutting pain in the left breast lung which prevent her taking a full expiration – want of appetite and general uneasiness. Pulse 110 & thrush tongue foul & bowels irregular no alteration from posture. Tongue very foul is from misfortune and two years imprisonment pale & dejected which time has been passed in very bad health having suffered from many attacks of a similar kind…——-…pain relieved in the evening and bowels freely opened. Pulse ——–.
21st passed a tolerable night & has very little pain any where puls 100 & soft. ——.some return of the pain in the chest pulse remains soft…—–.Pulse ——
25th free from pain in the beast but feels rather uneasy in the stomach and bowels and is rather constipated. Pulse ——
26th no complaint but weakness appetite returning and bowels quite free.
29th spent the night with more griping pains and constant purging pulse 80??? and soft —–.purging checked and is quite easy
March 30th in the night the bowels again became very uneasy and had constant inclination to stool but unable to void any thing pulse rather quick feeble and small abdomen tender to the touch tongue clear & skin moist but cold…Vespere(could be vesper = evening) bowels not opened but the pain is much relieved…
March 31 feels very much better bowels freely opened in the and had some sleep pulse more soft & slow no pain in the abdomen except on firm pressure.
Apr. 1 no pain in the belly except from the blister bowels not opened since the operation of the oil; pulse 80 & soft skin moist & feels warm —- Pulse ——Vespere (I think this means evening) some griping from the action of the —– .in which has not yet operated feels no pain or uneasiness otherwise
Apr. 2 bowels freely opened in the night and had no complaint afterwards but weakness. Allowed 3 [Glasses?]…of wine and a little rice daily for one week.
Burial records for Hobart Tasmania.
David Wall (Orphan School) 1833 aged 2yrs 6months. Prisoners child No 2957.
One would imagine that the privations in gaol and on the ships journey, coupled with the illness on the voyage, had been too much for him to withstand. Even although he lived to get to Tasmania, he was not strong enough to survive after he got there. It seems the words in the Bible are indeed true, when it says the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon their children. Not even born when the crime was committed, he suffered the extreme penalty just as surely as his father William Wall had.
Three baptisms of Mary’s children born of her marriage to William Hawkins.
Eliza born 8. 1. 37 Baptised 12. 2. 1837
George and Sarah Ann both baptised 15. 8. 1839.
Eliza Hawkins married Daniel Abbot & she bore him 16 children.
John Old and James Rowley Transportees
In the records of the Archives Office of Tasmania in Hobart, the following information can be found.
(CON 18/3) the Convict Description book at Hobart Tasmania. John Old Farm Labourer and Ploughman; Height without shoes 5ft 7.5inches; Age 22; Complexion Swarthy; Head Oval; Hair Brown; Whiskers None; Visage Oval; Forehead Perpendicular; Eyebrows D Brown; Eyes D Grey; Nose Short; Mouth MW; Chin Short; Remarks I on Rt Arm. Coming from Nr Bristol Somerset.
Old had been transported aboard Argyle as prisoner Number 121 arriving on 4th August 1831. A year all but 10 days after his trial at Wells.
The shipboard record or Indent (CON 14/2) has the same with the addition ‘can milk’ after ploughman, but such was the number of convicts being transported that muddles were bound to occur, and he is entered as having been tried at Bridgewater Assizes rather than Wells. It is stated that he could read but not write. His next of kin are entered as Sarah Old at Kaens, nr Bristol? 3 B and 3 S all in farm service at N/l (near Location?) Isaac, Jas and Wllm. Ann wife of Jas Jelly, Lab Nr Bristol?.
Marked down at the side column – – This Offence Arson /3 Wheat Stacks burnt/. Conduct on shipboard is marked Good.
[Shipboard entries were to say the least rushed; Compton Bishop is marked down as Nr Uxbridge rather than Axbridge in another instance; and one imagines that the ships clerk dealing with them had to put down what he had heard uttered in a broad Somerset dialect, as quickly as he could.]
Once ashore Old’s behaviour changed, his Conduct Record (CON 31/33) shows him as having been set ashore on the 5th August 1831. Marked in the top right hand corner are the words – – Transported for maliciously setting fire to a stack of corn. – – Gaol report not known. – – Hulk Report Good. Single, ?? this offence. Arson/3 wheat stacks burnt/ single.
There is some confusion on his conduct record with four entries being heavily crossed out. Dates do not follow in sequence and it looks as though there may have been alterations.
The first readable entry says simply – – Jany 26th (1832?) Roberts/Neglect of duty Action/ Ct? M/?
The next – – Fbry 22nd 1832 Roberts/Neglect of duty and disrespectful conduct 25 La(shes?) /C Pell?.
The third entry – – Oct 11th Roberts/Returned to Govt Restdown, not to be ass. for 6 months and then not in Hobart, Vide Lieut Govn’rs (???) October 1836.
Followed by – – August 10th 1837 CnGang/Misconduct (having?) in possession Sugar without being able to account for it. 35 lashes /PS/
Nov 8th 1838 Lav. Govt. Farms/Insolence and refusing to work, 25 Lashes /WG/
Sept 3rd 1839 Domain Farm/ Absent without leave and being in a public House B??? /PS/ FL 1.1.40 Loss 17.11.43
App. 9June 41? R 2 con for a C Pardon for Aust Colo? 1/7/45
In the side column is marked – – ??rn see 1249 John Hall by Order of S Price Esq. A S 31 Oct 1840 2 Years Hard Labour.
For Rowley the entries are more tragic and the first record shows as an entry in the Surgeons Case Book (Reel 3210 Admin 101/69) on the Transport Strathfieldsay which arrived 15th Nov. 1831.
Name Jas Rowley Prisoner – – Put on sick list 31 July. – – Nature of disease Appoplexia Epileptia. – – When put off sick list 4th August – – How disposed of Dead.
Marked down in the treatment book as case number 9 Jas Rowley Prisoner Plymouth Sound July 31 it says:-
When labouring amongst the sick between nine and ten in the forenoon combating inflammatory diseases which at this time was of very frequent occurrence, the unfortunate subject of this case entered the hospital calling out for my assistance in a very imploring manner. As I was engaged at the moment with a patient whose vein I had just opened I looked over my shoulder and desired him to sit down and I should be with him immediately.
He continued to evince great impatience however, and I hurried through with the case on hand in order to attend to him. On asking him what he complained of he fetched a deep sigh and said he was gone! that his head was on fire, and at this moment he fell down upon the deck, and was immediately seized with convulsions of the sacral extremities; and a convulsive rotary motion of the head.
As the light was obscure and the case not admitting a moments delay I started to abstract blood from the arm rather than run the risk of being failed in attempting a section of the Jugular which independent of the obscuring of the light would have been under the most favourable circumstances, difficult by reason of the convulsions.
Notwithstanding a large orifice was made it was with some difficulty that eight and twenty ounces of blood was abstracted. As the circulation had become languid on the on the accession of these symptoms his feet were plunged in a bucket of hot water and held down by one of the sick attendants whilst another was employed in applying cold steepes to the head. The convulsions abated towards the close of the bleeding and he made repeated efforts to express himself but could not. The feet were kept immersed in hot water for half an hour when he was put to bed when bottles of hot water were enveloped in blankets and his feet kept in contact with them by an attendant. Cold Steepes were at the same time kept constantly applied to the head. A few hours afterwards a cathartic enema was administered which was immediately rejected. Deglutition was so completely suspended that nothing whatever could be administered per orem. The sick attendant was strictly enjoined however to wet his lips frequently with a potion compound of Water, Sugar and Citric Acid.
Convulsions continue, stertorous breathing, Pulse 70 weak and failing – – Urine passed involuntarily. The arm was again opened and twenty four ounces of blood abstracted without any apparent benefit. The cold steepes to be continued to the head.
Saw him at 2 O’clock this morning when it appeared obvious that he was no better although the convulsions were less violent. The temples and nape of the neck were scarified and cupped when about twelve ounces of blood was abstracted. The head which was shaved yesterday was covered with a large blister and rectifaecients applied to the lower extremities.
No mitigation of symptoms whatever – – Pulse extremely languid and weak. Convulsions continue altho’ less forcible, probably from debility induced by remedial means. Speech and deglutition completely suspended. Cases urine and faeces involuntary only.
No mitigation of symptoms convulsions? – – pulse increased in frequency but is weak and fluttering. Pupils dilated and insensible. The Blister rose pretty well and continues discharging freely. As the powers of life have become so exhausted as not to justify further use of the lancet it is deemed necessary only to employ remote irritants from which however little benefit is likely to be derived. With this view Vesications have been applied to the insides of the thighs.
Aug 3rd No better convulsions continue. The vital powers obviously sinking.
The blisters applied to the thighs have risen partially, that on the head nearly dried out. Involuntary discharge of urine and faeces.
About 4 O’clock this morning the convulsions ceased and at 8 he expired.
On his Conduct Record (31/37) Rowley Jas prisoner number 748 is marked down as Transported for being an accesory before the fact to maliciously setting fire to a stack of corn. Gaol report not known Hulk Report Good – – Single Then below simply marked, in thick, black, lettering
Died 4th August 1831.
Sermon Beneath the Gallows.
Revd John Leifchild non-conformist minister, travels to Kenn to preach a sermon to the crowd at the execution. With a personal account extracted from his privately published biography.
After the departure of the cavalcade, the Revd John Leifchild ascended the platform, and, amidst the most profound silence, addressed the immense concourse to the following purport.
He had, he said, obtained permission from the High Sheriff to address a few words to them from the very spot whence three of their fellow creatures had just been launched into eternity. It had been truly gratifying to him to observe the good order and decorum which had been evinced on that solemn occasion – – in fact conduct more becoming than he had ever witnessed.
He had just been made acquainted with the almost dying words of the men who had just suffered, and before he concluded his address he would repeat them. It was an awful reflection that three of their fellow mortals who were so recently numbered with the living were now standing before the tribunal of their god. Such a fact was an affecting and fearful comment on the scriptural declaration the ‘The wages of sin is death’ While the impression of the dreadful scene they had just witnessed was fresh upon their minds, he hoped they would make a proper application of it. – – – that they would continually bear in mind, that in this, as in most cases of a similar description, the influence of bad company had lead to the most fearful results. His only object in addressing them was to point out the dreadful nature of sin. Though it may for a season escape the condemnation of man, still its doom would certainly follow.
All had sinned against God – – All had broken his holy laws – – and all were amenable to him. – – but he trusted that the unhappy men who had suffered the dread penalty of the law, had during the interval between their condemnation and execution, applied themselves to the God of all Grace, through whose mercy and atoning merits of his son Jesus Christ they may possibly have obtained the forgiveness of their sins.
It was a pleasurable task for him to point his hearers to the springs of salvation, where they may obtain eternal life, and escape the dread vengeance of an offended God. That God in his mercy had sent his only begotten son into the world that those who believed on him might find means to escape the punishment due to their sins, and, by sincere repentance to obtain life eternal.
But the hearts of those whom Jesus Christ came to save were not open to conviction, they persecuted him whilst on earth, and in his dying moments how unlike was the treatment that he received to that experienced by the three men who had just forfeited their lives. For the sufferings of the Son of God there was no pity – – for Him there was no sympathy – – for Him there were no tears of sorrow shed. In His dying agonies he was assailed with clamours and revilings, and insulted with every offensive epithet which the malice of His enemies could invent.
But what conduct did he evince on that trying occasion? Did the saviour of men implore the Divine vengeance upon the heads of those who reviled him? Oh no. When reviled, He reviled not again; and amidst all the taunts of his persecutors he cried aloud in the agonies of death ‘Father forgive them for they no not what they do’ That Saviour was now arisen from the dead, having triumphed over the cross and the sepulchre, and had taken his seat upon the right hand of God, where he was ever ready and able to save to the uttermost all who applied for his mercy.
Let all remember that there was but one way of salvation – – that there was ‘but one name given under heaven whereby men could be saved’ and he trusted those who then heard him, would themselves bear in mind, and tell the same to all their friends and acquaintances, that there was but one way of salvation, and the Lamb of God alone could make intercession for them.
If (said Mr Leifchild) there should be any among you who are strangers to this way of salvation, remember that you expose yourselves to a more tragical fate than you have just witnessed; oh remember that you are immortal beings – – that you must appear before the bar of God; that if you die in your sins – – (and it is possible that you may be cut off without even the preparation which the unfortunate individuals had who have just left the world) – – you will undoubtedly, be consigned to everlasting misery.
What occasion had these men for deep sorrow and regret when brought for the last time to witness scenes familiar to them from their infancy, – – how often may they have paced this very spot in the innocence of childhood! – – But alas they had submitted to the power of temptation, and behold their fatal end.
O Ye who are now under the influence of temptation think. You heard them warning you with their dying breaths to flee from the wrath to come – – to avoid evil company and habits of intemperance, which inevitably lead to disgrace and misery in the present world and in that which is to come.
If you study your present and eternal welfare let me earnestly entreat you to attend to these things, and let them take firm hold upon your memory. Mr Leifchild, in continuation, said he wished those whom he was addressing to attend diligently to three rules which he would lay down for the guidance of their conduct. First that they would pray to God every night and every morning, to be kept from the power of temptation. Secondly that they would avoid bad company and intemperance; and thirdly to keep holy the Sabbath day.
A neglect of prayer invariably led to thoughtless habits, and intemperance was the handmaid of want and misery. ‘You have heard (said Mr L) these men affirm in their last moments, that intemperance had been their ruin – – that had they not frequented the cider shop they should have escaped the untimely fate that awaited them’. He would say to the young of both sexes, in the language of Soloman ‘If sinners entice thee, consent thou not’. and ‘The companion of fools shall be destroyed’
The Sabbath should be kept holy, because on that day our Lord had arisen from the dead – – on that day the Holy Ghost had descended at the Pentecost. ‘I cannot conclude’ said Mr L ‘without expressing my sympathy with the bereaved relatives of the unfortunate men who have just ended their mortal career.
I trust that none will be so cruel as to visit upon unoffending heads, the guilt of those who have expiated their crimes upon this fatal spot. May God be merciful to the poor babes, May they take warning by the fate of the parent, and may they be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord’.
The Revd gentleman concluded a very powerful address of which the above is but an imperfect outline, by thanking his hearers for the attention they had given him, and then offered up a suitable prayer.
When Mr Leifchild had concluded J H S Piggot Esq. stepped forward and said ‘As one of the magistrates of this district, I beg to express to you my thanks for your truly appropriate address, and I trust it will have due effect upon those who have heard you’. The High Sheriff also complimented Mr Leifchild upon the good effects his address was likely to produce.
Sunday at Home
August 3rd 1867
A sermon under the Gallows.
The late Dr Leifchild used to describe an extraordinary incident in the early days of his ministry at Bristol. The following version of it we find in a collection of remarkable facts in his personal history, printed for private circulation.
‘The late Revd Robert Hall and myself were once staying at the village of Clevedon, about ten miles from the above city, and then first becoming a favourite seaside resort for visitors from the adjacent parts. We had been associated in the service of dedicating to God a new place of worship, which had been erected chiefly by the contributions of some friends at Bristol, – – [The new chapel had in fact been opened in 1827 not 1830] – – many of whom were present to witness the results of their efforts in a village which had been, but a few years before, entirely destitute of the means of religious instruction. The neighbourhood for miles around was at that time in a state of the darkest ignorance, and, as a consequence, all manner of vice and impiety abounded.
At the time of which I write a gang of youths of desperate character, who by their daring crimes had become formidable in the locality, had been apprehended at a little distance from this place; and three of the ringleaders having been convicted, they had been condemned to be executed at a spot as near as possible to the scene of their outrages, with a view to holding out a salutary warning to their companions.
The execution was to take place on the morrow, and an unusual excitement prevailed in the whole neighbourhood. It was naturally supposed that a vast concourse of people would be gathered together on this occasion, and a Christian lady, full of zeal in the cause of truth and religion, waited on Mr Hall with an earnest request that he would attend and address the assembled multitude. She was ignorant of his physical incapacity for such service, but yet so far succeeded in impressing him with a sense of its importance, that he sent for me, and entreated me to go in his stead.
I felt at once that it was an opportunity not to be lost, and therefore consented without hesitation. Several friends, meanwhile, engaged to furnish religious tracts, to the number of several thousands, for wide distribution on the spot.
I started the following morning, the day being Easter Monday, [It was in fact a Wednesday in September and the day of Congresbury Sheep Fair] and reached the place, a few miles from Clevedon about ten o’clock. It was a spacious common, an area capable of holding ten or twelve thousand persons. As I approached I saw people crowding towards the place from all directions. The rude apparatus for the execution, which had been hastily erected during the night, rose conspicuously to view.
A cross beam had been set up, under which a temporary platform had been placed upon the top of a waggon. Upon this platform stood the three youthful culprits, who, with ropes around their necks, and with terror depicted upon their countenances, were for a while exposed to the awe struck multitude.
The rope having been properly adjusted and fastened to the beam, upon a signal the waggon was drawn away, and the bodies of the wretched youths remained suspended in the air, amidst the groans of the vast and motley throng, and tears and loud lamentations of mothers, many of whom were present with their own offspring as spectators of the scene.
I now requested from the sheriff permission to address the multitude at the same time soliciting his aid to preserve order. He assented, and agreed to afford me his presence, after the dead bodies should have remained suspended for an hour, as the law required.
At the expiration of that interval I was asked to occupy the very platform from which the criminals had been launched into eternity., and under the beam from which the ends of the fatal ropes were still vibrating in the air above me. For a moment, indeed, I was appalled.
The height to which I was elevated, the mass of human beings whom I saw gathering around me, and waiting, with upturned faces and a painful curiosity, to hear my words, all conspired to fill me with unwonted emotions. But no sooner did I open my lips than the liberty of my speech, the strength of my voice, and the ready occurrence to my mind of suitable thoughts and images were such as assured me of the Divine Presence and support to a degree I have never experienced before, and which to this day I devoutly remember and acknowledge.
For one entire hour the attention of this rude and strange audience was enchained, their silence being interrupted only by audible sighs and exclamations from excited feelings. My spirit was stirred within me, and I was animated with new life. My voice rose to an unusual pitch, and I was heard even to the extremity of the crowd. After first addressing them in the language of Warning and Exhortation, I turned to that of invitation and entreaty.
I spoke to them of the Crucified One, who had himself been made a spectacle to men and angels. I told them of the penitent malefactor who hung by his side, and as I repeated the words of that malefactors prayer. ‘Lord Remember me. Remember me’. I heard the words reiterated with low sobs by many in the crowd, while tears streamed from eyes long unused to weep.
When I spoke of mercy for the guilty in the breast of Him who was for their sakes nailed to the cross, and when I pointed to the heavens where he was now sitting in authority to show pity and pardon to the penitent, they looked up into the blue firmament, as though they beheld heaven opened, and expected his visible appearance there.
At the close, after a solemn prayer, in which all appeared to join, the Sheriff publicly thanked me, and commending my address to the consideration of the people, ordered them to disperse peaceably. They did so but not before they had made a rush to the place where I stood distributing the tracts I had brought with me. ‘Give me one, Sir, Give me one’ was the request repeated by a thousand voices, until all the tracts were distributed, and the place was again quiet.
On returning that afternoon with Mr Hall to Bristol, and on recounting to him the above particulars as we drove along, we saw villagers on every side repairing to their respective homes, and reading or listening to the tracts which they had received with evident seriousness. Mr Hall was deeply affected; the tears stood in his eyes as he exclaimed to me, with emotion, ‘Sir, I envy you the honour God has put upon you this day. Sir I would give all I possess to have had the privilege of delivering such an address’.
Some months afterwards I had the satisfaction to learn that two or three individuals, at the least, had from that day forsaken their evil courses and turned unto the Lord.
During my visit to Bristol in 1838 I went to Clevedon, and conversed with some of the old inhabitants who remembered these circumstances, and who with thankfulness reverted to the great moral change which had been wrought in the neighbouring villages since that period. I found also, to my great joy, that in the immediate vicinity of the spot where I stood on the occasion above described, a convenient place had been fitted up for the preaching of the gospel, where numbers regularly assembled on every Sabbath day, and where a devote band of Christians met weekly for praise and prayer.
My own thoughts on the inhuman way in which the execution was carried out, and the possible collusion between the prosecution and the witnesses they called.
If some readers should think that I am taking the line ‘The incendiaries are innocent’ or ‘The Kenn three must be released’ let me make it plain that I am not. They were guilty of arson, and also stealing sheep and potatoes, either as principals, or as accessories, before, or after the acts. They knew what the penalty of the courts was for these offences before they committed them.
It is comparable to someone today who drinks whilst driving, knowing full well that when caught their licence is forfeit. It is no good then, when caught, to protest at the severity of the punishment.
My quarrel, is not with the justice of the sentence, but the way in which the evidence was presented, and the ruthless savagery, with which the sentence was carried out. There was correspondence in the local paper the Clevedon Mercury, many years after the execution, in which mention was made of the relics of the ‘Farm Waggon’ which was used as the platform of the scaffold. This was simply drawn from beneath the victims, leaving them to strangle. Yet for years the trap-drop had been used, on the scaffolds at the county gaol, in order to give a set drop and quick death. What the authorities had contrived was indeed similar to a Lynching party, such as took place in the United States at that period.
To put it brutally but plainly, in spite of the pussyfooting of the paper, (Bristol Mirror) in saying that the prisoner Clarke was “slightly convulsed”. It really meant that he was struggling hard, against strangulation and slow death – – – as reported by Peter Farley’s Journal 11th Sept. Yet so determined were the authorities to make an example, that they disregarded all better feelings, in order to obtain as large an audience LOCALLY as they could get.
It was common at that time to think of a public execution as a day out and treat, as we today, would so use a bank holiday. It would certainly seem by the numbers present, that a release from work had been given to many in the district, in order that they might ‘benefit’ from the lesson of the hanging.
It is acknowledged that in those days ‘Sensibility’ (as Georgette Heyer would have termed it) was not as great as it is now. Yet making the prisoners travel for six and a half hours, in the prison van, with the prison Governer, their executioner and his assistants, and their own coffins, in the van with them; only to face another hour and three-quarters of delays when they got to Kenn, before they received their quittance, was little short of sadistic mental torture.
William Wall, had I believe quite callously and deliberately, inflamed his lodgers with both drink and words, into incendiarism. He no doubt thought himself safe, because he had provided himself with an alibi of sorts. He could prove that when the fires were started he was on the way to Bristol, with an innocent neighbour Mitchell. What he had not reckoned with was the possibility of being charged, as an accessory before the act.
Neither had he reckoned on his wife, becoming so ensnared by his words that she was carried away, and rendered herself liable to the death penalty also. As witness his last attempt on the scaffold itself, to appeal on her behalf, and on behalf of his children.
It is quite probable that had the Incendiaries kept quiet that nothing would have been proved, but their own loose talk and foolish behaviour, combined with the weakness of Isaac Old when he was questioned about lamb stealing, brought about their downfall. Mary Wall had in particular, been far too free in her talk to others in the village, and aroused natural suspicions.
As for the trial, many questions remain as a puzzle at the moment. The obvious evasion of the Clerk to the Justices, in his statement on Isaac Old, that “He was not then under any charge relative to the fire”. is blatant. The defence lawyer did not appear to have noticed, but Old had stated “I do not know for what I was committed”. Isaac Old was not charged with firing the ricks at the trial, as he was King’s Witness. If Isaac Old was not examined as he swears, why was he charged on the Assize Calendar; with on his own confession firing ricks? Why also were statements by independent witnesses as to his truthfulness brushed aside.
It has become my belief that Isaac Old was probably himself the biggest villain of all, but that he had entered into collusion with the crown in order to provide them with the largest possible number of prisoners. On reading the appeals it would seem that much of his evidence was given as a form of revenge against the Walls, because of his dismissal from their service. Much of the evidence that he gave was quite clearly untrue, as regards his original charge, and his later interrogation. His statement that he left the house later than the others and could see from the lane, the fires where they started can even today be shown to be impossible.
The statements of Clarke and Rowley, which were read into the court but not printed in the paper, and the other statements will certainly make interesting reading, when and if they can be obtained. Unfortunately at this time they are nowhere in evidence, had they been deliberately mislaid? Reading the charges on the Assize Calendar, Richard Clarke, seems to be the most hardened of the ‘gang’ was he so in fact? Or was this just braggadocio to impress the others, because he was the youngest?
James Old was called as a witness for the defence. Why did he make no effort to blacken his brother Isaac’s evidence?
“James Old; brother of John and Isaac Old. ‘I have seen Isaac Old at William Wall’s house. I have never heard him say that he would as soon swear false as right. I never heard him say anything about a false oath’ “. (Bristol Mirror account.) Yet examination of Isaac’s statements proves that he was swearing to some falsities.
As Isaac Old was a King’s Witness, he could not be tried or sentenced, he would have had an amnesty. Yet if James had succeeded in refuting Isaac’s evidence, there was a possibility that the other prisoners could have made a better impression, and might even have been found not guilty of the arson charges. This was the most serious charge which they faced, sheep stealing, although carrying the death penalty, was normally commuted to transportation. Although it is doubtful if the authorities would have commuted the death sentence, so determined were they in this instance, to have an example to make.
Had there been a secret deal to let his other brother John Old, escape the death penalty with a commuted sentence, on the charge of stealing potatoes? Was there an agreement not to prosecute James, who was incriminated by Isaac in his statement, if he in turn, promised not do his best for the defence? The sudden decision not to charge James Old, in spite of him being on the Assize Calendar, as one of those suspected of firing the ricks, suggests very strongly, collusion between the prosecution and witnesses.
Why did the defence case make no comment on Isaac Old’s statement “John Rowley, James Rowley, Richard Clarke and James Old then went out of the house. It was about three o’clock, they went towards the mows. I went out in about ten minutes”. (Bristol Mirror account.)
If Old had not gone with them, he could not have seen in which direction they went, at night. (see map) Neither could he have been charged on the Assizes Calendar with :-
“On his own confession, with wilfully setting on fire three wheat mows property of Benjamin Poole”.
Why were the sisters of Wall, and Rowley, refused the chance of a last meeting with their brothers? Could the prisoners have passed on information which would have blackened the names, of others who had not been tried? The reason given by the High Sheriff, J A Gordon for refusal, that it “would draw the minds of the prisoners from the contemplation of the solemn ordeal they were about to undergo”. (Bristol Mirror account.) certainly shows a callous disregard, for the last opportunity of the two sisters to bid farewell to their brothers.
Had the prisoners not for the last six and a half hours been contemplating the “solemn ordeal”? Travelling in the prison van with their executioners and coffins, they would have found it difficult indeed to have avoided it. It was unlikely considering the distance to travel, that relatives had been able to visit them, when they were in Ilchester Gaol after the trial, and awaiting their execution. Why not then give these two women the chance to bid farewell to their brothers?
The newspaper reports bear very close similarities, and it is obvious that some of the papers shared a ‘stringer’ between them as the repetition of phrases shows. There are discrepancies between the Bristol Mirror and the other papers, on more than one occasion. Which was the correct account? These and many other questions remain to be answered. Perhaps one day they will be.
That Benjamin Poole had instigated the charge of running, or owning an unlicensed cider house, against Wall, is doubtful. We shall never know for sure, but he certainly did not receive the money paid to the ‘common informer’ under the act. That went to the witness Parsons (or Parker) according to which paper you read
One thing of which we are aware, is that one of the families who suffered although quite innocent, was that of Farmer Benjamin Poole. To lose three mows of wheat, worth by today’s value £12,000 to £15,000, at a time when agriculture was deep in recession, would have been a severe blow to running the farm.
Benjamin Poole ceases to sign as a member of the Kenn vestry after 22nd October 1834. We know that by 1839 he was dead, as according to the 1839 Kenn Tithe Award his wife was running the farm. If this death had been hastened by the tribulations he had gone through, we cannot tell. Neither I suppose will we ever be able to find out.
Local families of the period
The 1841 Census records Laurel Farm as; Hannah Poole 55 Farmer, with a son Charles 15 years old.
Joseph Poole was in Rose Cottage on the Yatton Road in the 39 Tithe Award; in the 1841 Census he is shown as a publican.
Local People and Families of the Period
The Wall Children were:-
Henry Baptised 13th Apr 1816
Thomas Baptised 3rd Jan 1819
James Baptised 14th Jan 1821
Joseph Baptised 16th Mar 1823
Robert Baptised 15th May 1825
Daniel Baptised 18th Mar 1827
Ruth Baptised 14th Dec 1828
and would have been respectively 13 years, 11years, 9years, 7 years, 5 years, 3 years, 1 year old, as well as the child, David William who was born in Ilchester Gaol, and baptised 21st December 1830. Posthumous son of William.
The Wall family
William Wall aged 35 born in and resident in Kenn
Mar 21-04-1816 at St Mary Redcliffe Bristol
Mary Wall his wife aged 32 Born Mary Culliford born at Clevedon, daughter of Thomas and Sarah Culliford; Granddaughter of John and Perina Summers of Clevedon.
The Old family
Isaac Old aged 23
John Old aged 21
James Old aged 19
First, third and fourth children of:-
Isaac Old of Yatton, and Sarah Old (Nee Gale) of Nailsea.
Dec 8th 1782.
Richard Gale Husbandman Nailsea Married Sarah Onions (Widow) July 1782.
2nd April 1805.
Sarah Daut of Richard and Sarah Gale Baptised
Holy Trinity Church Nailsea.
Isaac Old of Yatton married Sarah Gale of Nailsea
Isaac Baptised May 26th 1805
Ann Baptised 1807.
John Baptised April 9th 1809
James Baptised Jan 13th 1811.
Mary [OWLES] Baptised 21st March 1813.
The Rowley family
John Rowley aged 30
James Rowley aged 19
sons of Thomas and Martha Rowley of Kingston Seymour.
Rowley Thomas – – Kingston Seamoor married Apr21st1794
at St Andrews Church Clevedon
Kincott Martha Spinster of Clevedon Apr 21st1794
John Rowley born 1800?
Not in register at Kingston; baptisms
James Rowley baptised 24th June 1811 Kingston Church,
Richard Clarke aged 19 resident and born in Kenn.
James Cooke aged 23 resident in Kenn.
D/P/Kenn 13/2/1 S.R.O.
Extracts from the Kenn Overseers accounts
April 30th 1830
An account of the Bread given away by the vestry of this parish – being the produce of ten shillings and sixpence paid by Isaac Old for a misdemeanour by order of the Magistrates.
William Rollings 1 Half Quartern.
James Pain 2
William Rollings Snr? 1
John Gooding 2
James Parsons 1
James Lilly? or Tilly 1
John Day 1
Thomas James 2
Shep?? Coombs 2
Thomas Hedges 2
E Gosling 1
N Stock 1
John Neads 2
William Hunt 1
John Clark 1
James Peak? 2
James White 1
John Hedges 2
George Gooding 2
George Wall 1
Sarah Old 1
1836 Received of James Old for Bastardy Arrears 16/-
1837 Received of James Old for Bastardy 16/6d
Sept 1837 Received of James Old for Bastardy 18/6d
Jan 1838 Arrears of bastardy by James Old 3/9d
Hannah Poole was a Hollyman before her marriage to Benjamin Poole
In the 1841 Census there are two Baker families both farmers.
Thomas Baker aged 60 and his wife
Robert Baker aged 45 with a wife and 8 children
Their descendant still live in the area today.
John & Ruth Tinklin formerly Ruth Gosling, John Tinklin held a lease in Kenn
Charles & Hannah Dogget, formerly Hannah Gosling, The Doggets were a local farming family, one of them holding East End farm Tickenham Road Clevedon on lease from the Elton Court estate.
The will of John Gosling names his natural children Ruth, Sarah and Hannah, borne by the body of Hester Wylde. These three would have been distantly related to William Wall as his niece had married into the Gosling family.
Ann Rowley married Thomas Hedges 22nd July 1822, they would have been living in Tithe Map number 210 in Duck Lane. The Hedges Family had been in the general area as land holders both in Kenn and Clevedon from the 1600’s
In 1830 Thomas and Martha Rowley and their family lived in Clevedon, at Nailsea Wall in Middle Cottage. Now gone it was later called Poplar Cottage, they show as tenants of William Pike in the 1830 Church rate, the cottage was built on a strip of land reclaimed from the roadside waste. It was not until later that they moved to the cottage at the field where the hanging took place. By 1851 they had moved over to Nailsea.
I am greatly indebted to
Mrs Mary Bryan 33 Salisbury Road
Farnham Hants GU14 7AJ
Mrs Betty Plunkett 36 Daglish Street
Wembley 6014 West Australia.
Descendants from William Wall’s family and from Mary Wall’s second marriage, for information on the later years of the families
To the staff at the Somerset Record Office (especially Jim Skeggs) for the ready help and advice so cheerfully given.
Mr Ray Naish of Kenn for making documents available for my records.
1. Bath Journal
2. Bristol Gazette
3. Bristol Mercury
4. Bristol Mirror
5. Felix Farley’s Journal
6. Taunton Courier
7. Western Flying Post
Somerset Record Office documents.
Baptisms Register Kenn Church.
Baptisms Register Kingston Church
Baptisms Register Ilchester Parish Church (Gaol Baptisms included)
Q/AGi 14/4 Ilchester Gaol felons register.
Q/AGi 15/3 Ilchester Gaol prisoners descriptions book
QS/R Various documents including the Diet orders.
The Calendar of the Lammas Assizes at Wells, Somerset
Tithe Map and Award for Kenn Parish.
Document HO 19/5 Record Office Kew Index of Petitions.
Number ZO 38 Somerset.
Nailsea History Society
Record file cards for Holy Trinity Church Nailsea.