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No Smoke Without Fire

Anne-Marie Ford    -    7 November 2011

On 28th February 1857 Jackson’s Oxford Journal carried a story regarding a “Serious Charge against a Constable,” in which they reported an interesting case from the Petty Sessions at Middleton Cheney, Northamptonshire:

William Booth alias Colborne, of Paulerspury, described as a gipsy and chair-mender, was brought up in custody, under the following strange circumstances:- Samuel Martin, county police-constable said, ‘Inspector Evans told me he had seen a warrant in the hands of parish-constable Morgan, of King Sutton, to apprehend the prisoner on a charge of arson, committed somewhere in the Brackley Division, and ordered me to apprehend the prisoner; I did so on Saturday last, and he was then locked up at Towcester; this morning, I received him again, with orders to bring him here.’ On enquiry of the different police-officers and others present, such a fire had never been heard of, but it was stated that Morgan had stated it to have been several ricks at King Sutton. It seems that he was travelling about the country obtaining warrants from magistrates against men for supposed offences; and by means thereof, obtaining money from different parties, besides entertainment at public-houses, stating himself to be in pursuit of an offender, and to have exhausted his money. A warrant is out against Morgan. The prisoner Booth was of course discharged, but he had been, in due form, paraded from Towcester to Middleton Cheney, 20 miles, in handcuffs.

William Booth, alias Colborne (sic), was also blessed with another alias, that of Boswell. The son of John Boswell and Mary Ann Clayton, alias Booth, he derived the surname of Colborn from his grandfather, also a William, who married Elizabeth Boswell. John Boswell, born in Oxfordshire around 1808, married Mary Ann, who had been baptised at Church Brampton, Northamptonshire on 21st June 1807, in Paulerspury, Northamptonshire on 14th November 1859, almost as an afterthought, for they began their family in 1825, with the birth of their son, William, baptised as a Booth at Maidford, Northamptonshire, on 11th December 1825, “the son of a gypsy single woman.” The children from this union were baptised variously as Booth, Clayton or Boswell. Mary Ann was the daughter of Brington Clayton (who died in Brixworth, Northamptonshire 26th March 1861, claiming to be 100), and Charlotte Booth, herself the daughter of John and Mary Booth.

William Booth had already formed a union with Anne Boswell at the time of his false arrest, and at least one child had been born to them, Enos/Amos Boswell, baptised in Lighthorne, Warwickshire on 8th January 1857, the month before William was apprehended as an arsonist. (Enos was also to experience incarceration, and at an early age, by the 1871 census he can be found, aged 14, as an inmate of a boys’ reformatory school in Tiffield, Northamptonshire, and ten years later as a prisoner at Her Majesty’s Prison, Oxford St. Thomas.)

Anne Boswell was William’s first cousin, the daughter of William Boswell and Susannah Butler, who in turn was the daughter of Joseph and Letitia Butler; Anne had been baptised in Cold Ashby, Northamptonshire in 1797,and she and William had married at Paulerspury on 25th January 1869, their son, John Boswell, having been baptised there on 3rd January the same year. Anne’s siblings included Ambrose Boswell, baptised as Hambria Boswell at Milton, Northamptonshire on 30th May 1819, who, together with their father, William, had experienced his own troubles with the law. Twelve years before her husband’s false imprisonment, William and Ambrose had appeared at Northamptonshire’s summer Assizes, charged with sheep stealing, the local newspaper recording that:

Wm. BOSWELL, AGED 51, & AMBROSIAH BOSWELL, aged 21, were charged with stealing a sheep, the property of John Johnson. Mr Miller appeared for the prosecution. The prisoners are both gypsies. – Joseph Lovell, shepherd to Mr. Johnson, of Preston Capes, had some sheep in a field called Napton Hill, on the 15th June last. There were 43. The prisoner Ambrosiah passed witness in a field that evening, and he afterwards saw him looking over a gate towards the field in which the sheep were. On the following morning a sheep was missing, and on searching the field he found the skin, the head, and the entrails which he took to his master’s house. – John Johnson, a farmer, at Preston Capes, the prosecutor, sent for a couple of hounds kept by a person about two miles distant. They were brought to the place where the sheep was killed, and one took off in the direction in which the shepherd had taken the skin, and the other went in an opposite direction. The first hound was brought back and put upon the scent again, and he then led off in the direction which the other had taken, until about two miles off it came to a gypsy’s camp. One of them said a bloodhound had been there before. The hound they had followed then went to [the] Grinding Barrow, where there was a small piece of meat, with a bit of windpipe attached to it. William Boswell said he bought it of Mr.Lynes, of Newnham. There were several gypsies there. Some mutton was boiling in a pot, and there was some more in salt. They went to Mr.Lynes, who confirmed the prisoner’s statement as to his having bought some mutton of him; but that which was produced was not the same. Upon comparing it with the part of the neck left attached to the skin of witness’s sheep, the windpipe fitted exactly. – John Maud was constable at the time in question. The meat which Mr.Lynes produced as part of that which he had sold to the prisoner, did not at all correspond with that found in the camp, but the latter corresponded with the skin of Mr. Johnson’s sheep. – Wm. Lynes, a butcher at Newnham, sold two fore-quarters, part of a leg, and part of a loin, on Saturday night the 15th June. It was casualty mutton. The meat brought by Mr. Johnson and Mr. Maud was not part of it. It corresponded with the skin of Mr. Johnson’s sheep. – The Learned Judge, in summing up said there was noevidence against Ambrosiah Boswell. It would be too much to convict a man of stealing a sheep because he looked over a gate at it, and there was no other evidence against him. He must say that he attached no importance whatever to the tracking of the bloodhounds, and that the evidence against William Boswell was exceedingly slight. It seemed to him very doubtful whether the mutton owned by the prisoner was identical with Mr. Johnson’s. – The jury immediately returned a verdict of Not Guilty.

The case even earned a reference in The Times, dated 12th July 1839, to which T.W. Thompson refers in an article in the JGLS, pondering the antecedents of “William Boswell, aged fifty-one, acquitted in company with an Ambrosia (sic) Boswell, aged twenty-one, on a charge of sheep-stealing at the Northamptonshire summer Assizes in 1839.”

The extended family of Booths, Colburns and Boswells, whilst particularly favouring Northamptonshire, also travelled into Warwickshire, and Ambrose Boswell, son of William and Susannah,having married Maria Hodgkins, daughter of Henry and Elizabeth, nee Colburn, had children baptised in Warwickshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire; the family can be found in the 1861 census in Ledbury, Herefordshire. Here Ambrose is described as a travelling tinker, born in Northamptonshire, residing with his wife, Maria, and children Gildrey (sic), Clara and an unnamed daughter. Gilderoy had been baptised in Much Marcle, Herefordshire on 4th April 1847, “son of Maria Hodgkins, gypsy,” Clara at Leigh Sinton, Worcestershire about 1851, and the unnamed child must have been Esther, baptised at Hanbury, in Worcestershire, on 6th May 1854, but registered on the same day with the alternative name of Ambrette, born on 1st May 1854, the daughter of Ambrose Boswell and Maria, formerly Hodgkins, a tinker and chair bottomer, residing at Gorsehill, Hanbury.Subsequent census records were to find Ambrose and Maria back in Warwickshire, however, and Ambrose was to die there, in the workhouse, on 21st November 1883, “a grinder,” claiming to be 65 years of age.

An interesting footnote to this family’s history is that Ambrose and Anne’s parents, William Boswell and Susannah Butler, not only married, but felt the need to do so twice, both times in the same church, in Newnham, Northamptonshire. On 6th April 1818 the couple married, with William using the surname Colburn, and with Maria Sherriff (nee Colburn) as a witness, presumably his sister. Seven years later, on 18th July 1825, he married Susannah again, this time as William Boswell, with witnesses John and Sarah Davis, Joseph Butler and Hannah Colburn. Perhaps he was concerned that by using an alias at the first marriage, they were not properly united, or perhaps they both just enjoyed a wedding!

*If you want to know more about the Claytons and the Booths, see recent articles in Romany Routes and The Family Tree series, volume 4, published by the Romany and Traveller Family History Society. This series is a mine of information, and when certificates cost over £9 each, fabulous value! Enjoy!

Copyright © 2011 Anne-Marie Ford