Petty theft – women sentenced in the police courts

Many of the cases that appeared in front of the magistrates at the Victorian Police Courts related to theft of relatively low value items. Nevertheless, the value of the goods seem to have mattered less than the act of stealing itself. The following accounts are from a single court session on April 22nd, 1860. Included here are prosecutions for theft of a shawl, a single wine glass and, particularly poignant, some plate steel which landed Jemima Ashton with six months in prison, despite having a baby in her arms at the court appearance.

Taken from the Birmingham Daily Post available to view by subscription to the British Newspaper Archives, or free of charge at the Library of Birmingham Local Studies centre.

Police court 1860

Stealing a piece of meat.- An old woman, sixty-nine years of age, named Ann Bowler, was brought up on a charge of stealing a piece of veal from a stall in the Market Hall. She pleaded guilty, but as the prosecutor did not wish to press the case, she was discharged.

Stealing a shawl.- Two young women named Sarah Sponley, Minories, servant, and Mary Ann Costello, Carey’s Court, burnisher, were charged with stealing a shawl, value £1, 1s, 9d, the property of Mr. Bright, draper, Bull Ring. About four o’clock on the previous afternoon, the prisoners went into the prosecutor’s shop and asked to put a shawl by, offering to pay 5s on it. The shopman, who was serving them, saw something under Sponley’s cloak which he believed to be a shawl. He immediately called to the shop walker, “P.Q.”, signifying “Look out”, and caught hold of the bulk under the woman’s cloak, which in the scuffle fell to the ground, and proved to be a shawl belonging to the prosecutor.  Police-Sergeant Frankish was called in and the prisoners were given into custody. Sponley denied her guilt, and was committed to the Sessions; but the other was discharged, the evidence not being sufficient to implicate her.

Robbing an employer.- A married woman, with an infant in her arms, named Jemima Ashton, residing in Barford Street, was charged with stealing several articles of plated ware, the property of her late master, Mr. W. Barker, plated ware manufacturer, Paradise Street. The prosecutor stated that the prisoner had been in his service since October last as a burnisher. Since that period, from time to time, salt cellars and other plated articles have been missed. On the previous day, Mr. Isaac Aaron, pawnbroker, Edgbaston Street, went to the prosecutors warehouse and picking the prisoner out from a number of women stated she had at different times pledged the articles with him. These were, on being produced, identified by Mr. Barker. On being charged with stealing things, she at first denied, but afterward admitted to the robbery, but begged to be forgiven on account of her family. Mr. Welch, after remarking on the serious nature of the case, sentenced the prisoner to six months imprisonment. 

Robbery from a liquor vault.- An old woman named Harriet Jones was charged with stealing a wine glass from the shop of Mr. George F. Greensill, liquor merchant, Digbeth. A witness named Thomas Bingham deposed that he went to Mr. Greensill’s shop on the previous afternoon to have a glass of hot gin. He saw the prisoner with a glass in her hand, and she took it out of the shop with her. Witness informed the prosecutor of the robbery, and he followed and overtook the woman. She instantly produced the glass from underneath her shawl and said “here it is”. She was then given into the custody of Police-constable 189. The prosecutor stated that he must press for a punishment in this case, as robberies of a similar nature are of most frequent occurrence. The prisoner pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven days imprisonment. 


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