Wroes’ burglary: the miscarriage of justice

Picking up on the story of the three men convicted in August 1842 for the burglary at Brandy Carr House, and their sentence of transportation to Australia...

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 17 August 1844

INNOCENT PARTIES TRANSPORTED

Our readers will remember that about two years ago, the house of Prophet Wroe, of Wakefield, was broken into and a silver watch stolen; also, that three men, called Benjamin and John Pickersgill and James Ramsden, were tried for the robbery at York Assizes, in August, 1842, and transported for ten years. It now appears, however, that the men were in no manner connected with the robbery, and are perfectly innocent of it. This information has been obtained from James Hudson, now a convict at York Castle, who has made a voluntary confession to the Governor of the Castle, by which it appears that the robbery was committed by himself and five other men, whose names he gives; he details the proceedings on the night of the robbery, and what was done with the property. We trust the Magistrates will take measures by which these innocent men will be restored to their homes.

Shocking that what we would consider a major news story, although covered in many of the papers, is tucked away in seemingly random ‘local news’ type columns. And that’s it, there’s no further coverage, nothing about when the men did return home. A very different news agenda to that of today.

When trade unions were illegal

A piece from before the repeal of the notorious Combination Acts which prohibited trade unions. Arendale and Ashton were sent to prison for trying to organise strike action at a local pit.

Leeds Intelligencer
Monday 17 January 1820

COMMITTED TO YORK CASTLE

Joseph Arendale and George Ashton, both of Alverthorpe, colliers, charged upon oath with having severally on the 24th December last, solicited, intimidated, and by other means endeavoured to prevail on Charles Scholes, and Richard Davis, being two workmen in the employ of W Fenton, Esq at his colliery, situate at Potovens Plain [Brandy Carr], in the West Riding, to leave off their work, contrary to the statute. – To be imprisoned 3 months.

Burglary at the Wroes: three transported to Australia

Here’s the well-known local story of the burglary at Brandy Carr House, Jerry Clay Lane, as reported by a couple of the papers at the time. A couple of points: it says Alverthorpe because Jerry Clay Lane was in the Alverthorpe-with-Thornes township; and, don’t you just love the term ‘burglariously’.

Yorkshire Gazette
Saturday 13 August 1842

BURGLARY AT PROPHET WROE’S RESIDENCE

Betwixt twelve and one o’clock, on Thursday morning last, the premises occupied by Mr John Wroe, the notorious Prophet, situate at Brandy Carr, Potovens, near Wakefield, were burglariously entered by six villains, who cut a pane of glass out of a window, and then opened the window and got into the house. Prophet Wroe was that night sleeping at his establishment in Thompson’s yard, Wakefield, and the only persons in the house were Mrs Wroe, Miss Wroe, and a servant girl. In an outhouse, however, there were sleeping B A [Benjamin Apperley] Wroe, the prophet’s son, and a servant man. The ladies heard a noise in the house, and got up to see what was the matter. The six men were proceeding upstairs, three lights their hands, and two armed with pistols and one with a gun. The ladies screamed aloud, and the thieves threatened to take their lives if they did not cease to cry out. One of the burglars, presented a pistol at Mrs and Miss Wroe, and demanded their money or their lives. One of them opened a drawer in Mrs Wroe’s room and took out a gold watch, to which was attached a gold chain and a key. The servant man in the outhouse heard the cries of the ladies and awoke B A Wroe, and they went into the house and encountered the six men coming down the stairs. B A Wroe threatened to shoot the men, but his gun was not loaded, and whilst he loaded it the thieves got off, taking the watch, &c, with them. B A Wroe fired alter them, but with no effect. The men’s faces were blackened, and they had on colliers’ working dresses. On Monday Benjamin Pickersgill, John Pickersgill, and James Ramsden, colliers, residing at Bragg Lane, near Potovens, were brought up by the police, at the Court House, Wakefield, charged with being of the party who committed the above burglary. They were committed for trial at the ensuing York Assizes.

The Gazette also produces the calendar for the upcoming Assizes.

YORKSHIRE SUMMER ASSIZES

Calendar of the Prisoners for trial at the ensuing assizes be holden this day, before the Right Hon Thomas Lord Denman, and the Hon Sir William Henry Maule, Knight.
William St Quintin, Esq, High-Sheriff

130 131, and 132. BENJAMIN PICKERSGILL (51), JOHN PICKERSGILL (25), and JAMES RAMSDEN (24), charged with having, at Alverthorpe, committed a burglary in the dwelling house of John Wroe.

The Bradford Observer is one of several titles that covered the trial in York.

Bradford Observer
Thursday 1 September 1842

YORKSHIRE SUMMER ASSIZES

THURSDAY, AUGUST 25TH
BEFORE MR JUSTICE MAULE

BURGLARY AT MR WROE’S (COMMONLY CALLED “PROPHET WROE’S”) HOUSE

Benjamin Pickersgill, (51), John Pickersgill (25), and James Ramsden (24) were indicted for having, on the 4th of August instant, at Alverthorpe, burglariously broken and entered the dwelling-house of John Wroe, and stolen therefrom one gold watch and one gold chain. Sir Gregory Lewin and Mr lngham appeared for the prosecution; Mr. Wilkins for the prisoners Pickersgill; and Mr Roebuck for the prisoner Ramsden.

This case excited some little interest in consequence of the peculiar notoriety of the prosecutor, who is the founder, we believe, of a sect of religionists professing very singular tenets, and who wear the distinctive badge of a beard. The prosecutor has been long known by the cognomen of “Prophet Wroe”, and his followers as “Wroeites”; but he himself at present carries on the secular occupation of a wool merchant at Wakefield. His residence, known as “Brandy Carr House”, is at Alverthorpe, a short distance from Wakefield ; but when the occurrence, out of which the charge arose, took place, he was not sleeping at home.

This was on the 4th of the present month, at about two or three o’clock in the morning, at which hour Mrs Wroe was alarmed by a whispering noise and footsteps, and soon after heard the door unbolted, and people walking in the passage. She rang the bell for her maid servant, who came up into her room, and soon after she saw six men in the house, three of them with lighted candles in their hands. One of them presented a pistol at her, and exclaimed, “Your money or your life”; to which she replied, “We have no money, we don’t keep it here”, and took refuge again in her bedroom, from which she screamed out loudly for assistance. Two men, of whom Ramsden she said was one, followed her into the bedroom, and threatened to blow out her brains. From a small box, one of the men took a gold watch, key, and chain.

At this juncture, Benjamin A Wroe, a youth about 16 years old, the son of the prophet, who is a master printer at Wakefield, and was sleeping in an adjoining outhouse with the groom, was alarmed by his mother’s outcries, and forcing his way into the kitchen window by breaking the glass, seized an unloaded gun, with which he confronted the six robbers whom he met in the passage, and presenting it at the breast of one of them, threatened to shoot him if he spoke or stirred. The men shrunk back, and three of them ran up the stairs, upon which young Wroe returned for the purpose of loading the gun, and the men seizing the opportunity decamped, carrying with them the watch, key, and chain. Young Wroe, who had just got his gun charged, fired after the fugitives.

Soon after the three prisoners were apprehended, and each of them was identified by Mrs Wroe, Miss Susannah Wroe, and Master Benjamin Wroe. All the prisoners were found guilty, to be transported for ten years.

But as we know, the prisoners’ ordeal didn’t end there…

Wrenthorpe, Potovens, Alverthorpe or Kirkhamgate?

If it’s bewildering today to say exactly where Wrenthorpe starts and Kirkhamgate, Alverthorpe, Newton Hill or Outwood ends, it’s no easier for people tracing their family history and finding ancestors living in Alverthorpe-with-Thornes or Stanley-cum-Wrenthorpe.

The dividing line of those two ancient townships was the Foster Ford/Balne Beck – right in the middle of modern day Wrenthorpe. The area’s informal but widely used name ‘Potovens’ referred to the densely populated area in the village centre. Under the old boundaries, Silcoates, Jerry Clay Lane, Brandy Carr and Kirkhamgate were all part of Alverthorpe-with-Thornes.

When the Stanley Urban District Council was created in 1899 its western boundary stuck to the old township divide. During the following year Wakefield City Council incorporated much of Alverthorpe, leaving Silcoates, Jerry Clay Lane, Brandy Carr and Kirkhamgate as something of a backwater in the Wakefield Rural District Council. The area wasn’t absorbed into Stanley UDC until 1935.

Here’s a couple of confusing articles about Alverthorpe and Kirkhamgate from the WW1 era.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer
Tuesday 13 July 1915

ALVERTHORPE PARISH COUNCIL AND ITS NAME

The announcement that the Parish Council Alverthorpe, near Wakefield have applied for the name the township to be changed to Kirkhamgate does not mean that there is a prospect of the name of the village of Alverthorpe itself being altered. In 1900 the parish of Alverthorpe had an area of 2,481 acres, and a population (according to the 1891 Census) of 4,811, and included Alverthorpe village and several small hamlets, all coming within the area of the Wakefield Rural District Council. The borough of Wakefield then sought to extend its boundaries by the inclusion of the district of the Alverthorpe Pariah Council, and terms were arranged between the two bodies.

The Local Government Board, however, only consented to the addition part of the area, comprising 573 acres and a population 3,631 and including the village Alverthorpe, the added area becoming the Alverthorpe Ward in the borough of Wakefield. At one end of the old district was left an area of 999 acres, with a population of 164 and this became Lupset. At the other end the Alverthorpe Parish Council were left with an area of 909 acres and a population of 1,116 made up of the hamlets of Kirkhamgate, Brandy Carr, Silcoates and Beck Bottom, the first named being the largest. Officially, this small area continued to be known as that of the Alverthorpe Parish Council. As already pointed out, Alverthorpe itself is now part of Wakefield, and it is with the object of getting rid of the confusion of names that the Parish Council have decided to rename themselves the Kirkhamgate Parish Council. Though rather long delayed, the action is considered locally to be a logical outcome of the absorption of Alverthorpe into the Wakefield borough boundary, and it is not thought likely that there will any opposition to the proposal when the Subcommittee of the West Riding County Council inquires into the matter.

Leeds Mercury
Tuesday 27 July 1915

ALVERTHORPE NO LONGER
CHANGE OF NAME DESIRED TO KIRKHAMGATE

Alderman P H Booth and Councillor W Ormerod, representing the County Council, held am inquiry at Kirkhamgate, yesterday, relative to the application of the Alverthorpe Parish Council to change the name to Kirkhamgate Parish Council.

Mr W J Skinner, clerk to the Parish Council, pointed out that in 1900 the Alverthorpe township became part of Wakefield, but the name of Alverthorpe Parish Council remained. The part which was not in the jurisdiction of Wakefield was Brandy Carr, Silcoates, and Beck Bottom. The change of name would be a great advantage, particularly with regard to postal arrangements.

At present when letters were addressed Kirkhamgate, Alverthorpe, they were sent out with the Alverthorpe letters, and were returned to Wakefield to be re-directed Kirkhamgate with the result that sometimes there was a delay of twenty-four hours.

There was no opposition.

All’s not well at Brandy Carr

Barnsley Chronicle
Saturday 21 September 1861

WHICH HAS THE RIGHT TO THE WELL

[At the Wakefield Petty Sessions, Monday 16 September], John Beecher, of Brandy Carr, charged Aaron Farrar with doing damage to his property by breaking open a door that was used to cover a draw-well. Mr Barratt appeared for the complainant, and Mr Gill for the defendant. Water is not plentiful at Brandy Carr, and wells are valuable. The complainant has a well upon the premises he occupies at Brandy Carr, and to this well he claims exclusive right. For years he has received money payments of those of his neighbours who have used the water, while those who refused payment could only obtain the water at night when he was in bed. During the past year he had the well covered with door, and had kept it locked.

On the 31st of August, and again on the 6th September, the defendant came to the well when drunk and broke the door, and for the second of the two offences he was now charged.

Several witnesses were called in support of the complainant’s case, including Mr Booth, the owner of the property, who said that the well belonged to the complainant.

Mr Gill, in defence, said there were three houses, the occupants of which had all a right to use the water besides the complainant. The defendant was the owner the house he occupied, which was one of the houses to which the right appertained, and not only he, but his father before him had all along used the water, and they had a full right to it. He should call witnesses who would prove these things – would show that not only the defendant, but the other persons to whom he (Mr Gill) had alluded had used the water as a right. Perhaps the defendant had used more violence than was necessary. He, however, was provoked. The water he had a right to use, but the complainant locked it up and challenged the defendant, offering him 2s to break the lock. He accepted the challenge, broke the lock, though now he regretted he had gone so far. However, he thought that when they had heard the evidence they would discharge the summons on the merits, but if they did not do this they would, at all events, see that there was a question of disputed right they had no jurisdiction. Mr Gill then called Sarah Ann Totty, an old inhabitant of one of the three houses, – a very demonstrative loud voiced woman – who said that for ten years she had used the water, but admitted that she paid 2s for the repair of the bucket and rope, and had besides been on terms of intimate relationship to a cousin of the defendant; Isaac Farrar, another claimant of the water, who had always freely used it, and who added that before the defendant broke the door the complainant offered him 2s to do it; and Jane Farrar the wife of the defendant, who had fetched water from the well 24 years. This last witness had paid Beecher 1s, but it was to have the bucket mended.

Mr Barratt called a person named Newton in contradiction, who said that he had seen a lock on the well seven or eight years ago.

Mr Tew said that in the opinion of the Bench the damage had been done wilfully and maliciously. The complainant must, therefore, say what the door would cost, and Mr Banks would assess the damage and give reasonable damages. The damages and costs amounted to £1 10s. 6d. Matthew Rhodes, the son-in-law the above complainant charged the above defendant with assaulting him on the same occasion, and again the defendant was fined Is, with 14s expenses.

As this case took place less than six months after the 1861 census, we can find all the people named, living at Brandy Carr in the Alverthorpe with Thornes census returns as well as their occupations. It’s interesting that the Bench took the side of the landowner over agricultural labourers and factory workers.