In our fifth and final blog post we look at what makes up the most cases in the Quarter Sessions: theft. Theft of sheep, ducks, waistcoat, shirts, porridge bowls and just about any household item you can think of.
In 1761 we hear the voice of John Millet of Iron Acton, a victim of theft when clothes were stolen from his washing line. He immediately had his suspicions about who was responsible and started searching through the local pubs until he got to the Rose and Crown in Rangeworthy (still a pub today). There he met William Hall (a stranger) who he charged with stealing the items having ‘found two shirts and one cap upon him’.
Stealing what we would today consider small and trivial items tells us about their value to those people. Possessions like shirts were valuable assets whether they were sold to buy the next meal, or stolen to use or barter.
Most of the cases heard at the Quarter Sessions concerning theft often involves food, such as a sheaf of wheat or a loaf of bread. In 1737 Anne Hole was seen ‘at one or two in the morning milk[ing] a cow in Arnot’s grounds’, and it’s funny to imagine her running off in the middle of the night with a bucket of milk. This was no laughing matter to the owner though, as milk was money and a source of income and food for his family. These petty crimes also tell us about the small communities people lived in; everyone knew everyone and could say where you would be most of the time.
The Quarter Sessions “informations and examinations” are available for anyone to look at in our online catalogue, thanks to the dedication of the volunteers who transcribed them. You can follow up any of the cases mentioned in the blog posts, and hear more of someone’s story! It’s easy to take the Session as a point of reference and dive in, looking at where they lived, places mentioned, what their trade was, and what might have happened to them. The Sessions go beyond simple data such as name, age and occupation. They tell us how people communicated, how they viewed each other, and what they valued in life. And uniquely the statements and accounts from those involved in each case let us hear the voices of people who are otherwise silent in the official record.
Use the search reference ‘Q/SD’ to get started.