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Dear Reader #136

Dear Reader,

Preparing a new series, Women at War, three novels set in France in 1944. Research ongoing, writing will start later this year.

My direct ancestors Robert Gadsden and William Gadsden were grocers.

Robert was born on 30 November 1714 in Hanslope, Buckinghamshire. On 18 October 1743 he married Elizabeth Richardson in Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire, but the marriage did not produce any children. Elizabeth died young and, on 18 July 1755 in Newport Pagnell, Robert married for a second time. His new bride was another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Crips, a widow. This marriage produced seven children, including their first born, my direct ancestor William.

Grocery stores in the 1700s sold a wide variety of items including sugar, tobacco, spices, coffee, tea, rice, chocolate and dried fruit. They featured local produce and items like those listed above from abroad. Earlier and later generations of Gadsdens were traders who travelled far and wide, to America and Africa, for example. Its tempting to think that Robert and William developed their stores from these overseas connections. However, instead of travelling they focused on selling their goods from their local stores.

Robert died on 21 July 1768 in Newport Pagnell. William was only twelve and so too young to take over the family business. Instead, he had to learn the trade as an apprentice. He commenced his apprenticeship on 13 March 1772 in Newport Pagnell.

William’s apprenticeship

William was born on 3 August 1756 in Newport Pagnell and baptised five days later. After his apprenticeship he married twenty-year-old Elizabeth Chibnall, also in Newport Pagnell. The couple produced nine children, including my direct ancestor William and the baby of the family, Robert. Both were to feature in trials at the Old Bailey.

It would appear that William, born 1756, ran a steady business as a grocer. Maybe on account of the land tax introduced in 1798 he moved his family and business to London. He settled in Shoreditch and died there on 14 July 1819, a death that triggered a tragic chain of events.

On 17 February 1820 twenty-two-year-old Robert Gadsden was indicted for feloniously breaking and entering the dwelling-house of John West, Esq. This incident occurred at one o’clock in the afternoon, on 29 January 1820 at St. Marylebone. John West’s wife, Harriet, was present when Robert allegedly stole a shawl, value twenty shillings, the goods of Sarah Griffiths.

Sarah Griffiths gave evidence: “I am servant to Mr. John West who lives in Baker Street, Portman Square, St. Marylebone. On the 29th of January, about one o’clock, I was in the house; Mrs. West, and five of the servants were at home. My shawl laid on a table in the housekeeper’s room, opposite the window which looks into the area – it was about a quarter of a yard from the window – the sash was down; nobody was in the room. I was upstairs, heard an alarm, came down, missed it, and found the prisoner in custody.”

William Ledger gave evidence: “I am servant to Mr. West. I had been out to fetch some water, and as I returned I saw the prisoner down the area – he was a stranger. I watched him, saw him lay a bundle of wood on the ledge of the window, lift up the sash, and with a stick that had a hook to it, he drew out the shawl off the table, put it under his jacket, and walked on into the passage of the house. I ran downstairs, secured him in the passage, and saw him throw the shawl down.”

Finally, Richard Coates gave evidence: “I am a constable. I was sent for, and took the prisoner at Mr. West’s, with the shawl.”

The shawl was produced in court and sworn to. Then Robert spoke in his defence: “I went to see if they wanted any wood; the shawl laid on the window-ledge, and I carried it into the passage. He took me, and it fell from my hand.”

Verdict: Guilty.

Sentence: Death.

The shock deeply upset Robert’s mother, Elizabeth, and she died less than a week later, on 23 February 1820.

Robert condemned. Look at the ages of those sentenced to hang for petty crimes.

Sentenced to hang, Robert appealed. On 11 April 1820 he found himself on the prison hulk Bellerophon moored at Woolwich. With his appeal successful, he was transferred to the Caledonia, which set sail in July 1820 for Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land.

Initially transported for life, Robert gained a full pardon on 13 July 1840. However, before that the authorities granted him parole. On 1 April 1829 in Hobart, Robert married Elizabeth Lewis. A daughter, Elizabeth, arrived a year later. Sadly, she died before her fourth birthday.

Van Diemen’s Land 1828

After his pardon, Robert remained in Hobart. He died there in 1870. While he was in Australia, maybe Robert corresponded with his brother, William. If he did, maybe William reflected on his appearance at the Old Bailey. However, before exploring that case, some details about William.

William Gadsden was born on 10 December 1790. On 14 May 1810 he married Maria Beadle at Saint Matthew, Bethnal Green, London. The couple produced five children including my direct ancestor Sarah.

William broke the link with the grocery trade and made a living as a willow cutter, a silk weaver and latterly as a stone mason. His appearance at the Old Bailey occurred on 15 January 1817 as a witness.

The trial featured James Taylor, 17, and John Blake, 18. They were accused of stealing one pair of boots, value one shilling.

John Burton, owner of the boots, stated: “I live at Hackney. On the 17th of December, between two and four o’clock in the afternoon, I lost the boots from my tool-house, adjoining my dwelling-house; my yard door was on the latch, and so was the tool-house door; I missed the boots after four o’clock. I went next day to inquire if any jack-ass boys had been seen about, and found that the prisoners had been our way, selling catsup. I went to town, and found the two prisoners at the Bull’s Head, Kingsland’s Road; they were taken into custody.”

The Old Bailey, early nineteenth century

James Ingram gave evidence: “I am a smith; I was at the Bull’s Head, in Kingsland Road; about half-past five o’clock in the afternoon, the prisoner, Taylor, came into the house with a pair of boots, he asked me if I knew anybody that would buy them; I told him I would go and see; I took them out of his hand, and went to Saunders’ Gardens, which is close to the house, and offered them to Gadsden for twelve shillings. He offered me ten shillings for them; I went to Taylor, and he said I might let him have them – I did, and gave the money to Taylor, and he gave me a shilling for my trouble; he told me if Blake should come in, and ask what I sold them for, to say six shillings. In about a quarter of an hour Blake came in, and said, if he had been there at the time they should not have been sold for that money. I was quartered at the Bull’s Head.”

William Gadsden said: “I gave ten shillings for the boots. I gave them up to Armstrong.”

John Armstrong: “On the 17th of December, Mr. Burton applied to me. I and my son, accompanied him to the Bull’s Head, in Kingsland Road, and found Ingram and Blake sitting there together, we took them. I left Ingram in Burton’s care, and took Taylor, who was there. I took Ingram to Gadsden’s house, and he gave me the boots; we took the three to the office, and I heard both Taylor and Blake say, it was the first thing they had ever done, and that it was through distress.”

Joshua Armstrong: “I was with my father, and took the prisoners; they said it was the first robbery they had ever committed.”

Verdict: both Blake and Taylor guilty.

Sentence: Transportation for seven years.

I wonder if William and Robert ever reflected on their experiences at the Old Bailey and the fateful day in January 1820 when Robert stole a shawl and set in motion a chain of events which meant that they would never see each other again.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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