Crime on Yate Common, By Catherine Vaughton

The town of Yate in South Gloucestershire has recently had its history published by Victoria County History books.

The name that Yate was given historically means Gateway, which is derived from the old English word giete or gete, which meant ‘gateway to a forest area’. During the Anglo-Saxon and into the medieval period much of the area now known as Yate was enveloped within Horwood Forest; this forest land was a place for the privileged and rich, along with medieval Lords and Bishops to visit. In later years farmers and peasants were also given the opportunity to visit the royal forest. Through the centuries the forest had been cleared for farming and for mining industries, such as coal, limestone and sandstone.  In more recent years Yate’s industrial history has included aircraft production and it now boasts an innovative shopping centre.

Despite this illustrious history, Yate has also been plagued with petty and serious crimes. Yate common had been an important source of refuge for the poor for many years. Cottages had been built on the common dating back to the medieval period, and many were still in use into the 1800s. Some of the common’s residents adopted unlawful means of survival. During the early 1800s a gang of thieves comprising around 31 members, of whom 9 were Yate residents, operated from a cottage on the common.

Photograph of calendar of prisoners held in Gloucester gaol awaiting trial

Thomas Mills, William Mills and Job Mills, Senior recorded in the calendar of prisoners held in Gloucester gaol awaiting trial, 1826

One family arrested in 1826 in connection with many different crimes were the Mills family: Mr Mills, his wife and 4 sons were all allegedly involved in criminal activity. They had a cave within their home which was hidden behind the fireplace. When the family were detained officers found 20 sides of bacon, masses of cloth, wheat, barley, oats, malt, cheese, 2 bedsteads and £50 mostly in half-crown pieces, all stashed behind the fireplace.

They were charged with various offences, and these are detailed in the calendar of prisoners held in Gloucester gaol awaiting trial (MF1462).

John Mills, was only 16 when he was charged with 9 counts of burglary; he was described as being 5″1 and having dark grey eyes, his sentence was to be transported for 7 years to Van Dieman’s Land (now Tasmania).  Job Mills, who was described as having a very large mouth, was 18 when he was arrested.  He was charged with stealing 10 sickles from Richard Gay in Old Sodbury.  His conviction was found to be ‘not a true bill’, which means that there was not enough evidence to support the charges, so the case would not go to trial. Their mother, Unity Mills was 50 at the time of arrest and the case against her was also found to be ‘not a true bill’.   The patriarch of the family, Job Mills Senior, was 55 and was accused of stealing clothes from a store in Wotton-Under-Edge, he was found not guilty.

Photograph of document called 'calendar of prisoners held in Gloucester gaol awaiting trial'

Thomas Mills and William Mills, charged with stealing clothes from a shop in Wotton under Edge

The Mill’s other two sons, William Mills 27 and Thomas Mills 28, were accused of stealing cloth from a shop in Wotton-Under-Edge. William was convicted and sentenced with death by execution, whereas Thomas turned King’s evidence in return for a less severe sentence.


The punishments meted out by the courts were harsh regardless of age, with the 16 year old John and 27 year old William receiving the harshest punishments, whereas their parents appear to have got off despite it being difficult to imagine them not being aware of the actions within the home and hoard behind the chimney.


1 thought on “Crime on Yate Common, By Catherine Vaughton

  1. Brothers Mark and John Dyer were both executed in April 1827, for shooting at William Mills while he was sitting in his parents’ house in Yate. The shooting was in revenge for William giving evidence against the other members of the gang.


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