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Gardeners -v- Scrumpers

Most of our information about the gardens before the Second World War comes from snippets in the Stamford Mercury and these make it clear that scrumping and other types of theft were a perennial problem, particularly in July and August when crops were ripening and children on school holidays. How much of this was driven by mischief and how much by hunger we will never know and the Bench rarely, if ever, seemed to pose the question.


More than once we find irate gardeners chasing miscreants over walls or in hot pursuit on push-bike, dragging offenders by the ear (probably literally) before the magistrates. The punishments make shocking reading but also emphasise the value of produce in an era when a stolen crop of blackcurrants or peas was irreplaceable and meant a year’s work down the drain.

Hard Labour for Gooseberry Thief


'Hugh Fox, a labourer in the employ of Messrs Smith & Ashby pleaded guilty of stealing gooseberries on Sunday morning from a garden in Waterfurlong occupied by Mr Samuel Weddell. He was detected in the garden and apprehended by PC Harrison at four o'clock in the morning. Defendant was fined, including costs of 40s to be paid in a week – and in default, to be imprisoned with hard labour for one month.' Stamford Mercury 10 August 1855(1) From a later entry it seems Fox was unable to meet the extortionate fine and was duly sent to gaol. 

Mr Wright's Apricots Thrown into Privy

'John Cox and Joseph Andrew Mountain, who gave their ages as 13 and 11 years respectively, were charged with stealing apricots from Mr Horace Wright's garden. Thomas William Bryan, a lad apparently younger than the others, was also placed at the bar on the same charge, but Mr Atter, who appeared for the prosecution, withdrew proceedings against him, and instead called him witness to convict the others.


Bryan deposed that on the previous afternoon they were all together near Waterfurlong, when Cox asked Mountain and the witness to go into the prosecutor's garden and get some apricots. The witness did not go, but Cox and Mountain did, and they got in by going through Mr Roberts' stack-yard and climbing the garden wall. They went after apricots, and gave the witness two. They hid some in a stack and put some down a privy.


William Robinson, a lad in Mr Roberts' employ, deposed that he met Cox, Mountain, and Bryan coming from the stack-yard: they were eating apricots. When they saw Robinson they ran away. He found the apricots produced (a nice basketful) under the clover stack, and some that were green and unfit for eating were in the privy.


Mr Wright having deposed to losing fruit, Mr Atter asked the Bench, in the event of conviction, to punish the boys and not their parents. The Mayor said there had been a great deal of garden robbing about Stamford, and the Magistrates had long wished for an opportunity of putting it down. The defendants had been caught in the act, and they ought to consider themselves getting off uncommonly well with only three weeks’ imprisonment. If they appeared again it was highly probable they would be whipped with a birch rod. Cox, who was respectably dressed, fainted on being taken to the cell.'

Stamford Mercury 5 August 1870(1)


Caught Red-Handed by Angry Vet

'Mr John Swann complained that for ten days strawberries had been stolen from his garden in the Water Furlong, and the other night he caught two lads named Jaggs. He wished to know what course he should adopt to have them punished? He was told that he might have given the boys into custody, or he could proceed against them by summons. He said he did not wish to summons them, the expenses would fall on the parents; and Mr Ward was directed to bring the culprits before the Bench on Saturday.

Stamford Mercury 13 July 1877(1)

Sometimes the theft involved less exotic crops. In December 1863 a person or persons unknown entered the garden of Sergeant Harrison and stole a quantity of potatoes he was storing on a grave.

This wasn't the only case brought by litigious veterinary surgeon John Swann. Three years earlier he'd sued local shoemaker, William Coulson, for trespassing in his garden and in 1862 he'd brought charges against a young lad for kicking a stone into the river near his home and surgery in Wharf Road.  

Occasionally the theft involved livestock rather than produce and this could attract even harsher sentencing. 

'John Mountain, 7 years old, Thomas Mountain, 10, and Robert Cole (deaf and dumb), 8, were charged with stealing from a shed in a garden in Waterfurlong a pigeon, the property of Edward Winterton, value 1s, on the 29th ult. The boys had got through a wired place and then through a hole into a hen coop where the pigeons were. The elder Mountain was sentenced to receive four stripes with a birch rod and be imprisoned for one hour, the other boys to witness the punishment.'

Stamford Mercury 11 July 1884(1)


Blame the Parents

'Sarah Hubbard and Ellen Drage, each 13, were charged with stealing onions and peas, the property of John Skellett, on the previous Saturday. They were further charged with stealing on the same day blueberries, currants and raspberries, value 2s, the property of Austin Barnett. They were seen to go into the gardens in Waterfurlong, and when discovered ran away. Drage’s father said his girl was led astray, Hubbard having told her she was going to her uncle’s garden. Hubbard’s mother said she had done all she could to prevent her girl doing such things. The Mayor said the Bench were sorry to find that this was not the first time they had been guilty of garden robberies: they had been previously warned against such offences. They would be fined 10s each or six days’ imprisonment. The Bench considered the parents to a very great extent responsible. The children could not go to a garden and get 11 lb of fruit unless they knew they had somewhere to take it. The parents would be bound over in £5 each for the future good conduct of the children.' Stamford Mercury 17 August 1888(1)


'Fred Sorfleet, Broad Street, was summoned for discharging stones from a catapult in Water-furlong on the 29th ult. PC Kew proved the case, and added that many complaints had been received from people who occupied gardens in Waterfurlong of glass being broken by stones. Defendant was fined 2s 6d, including costs.' 

Stamford Mercury 18 May 1900(1)

            ROUGH SLEEPER

'Edward Palmer of Stamford, was charged with sleeping out in a garden on Water Furlong, the property of Mr J J Bailey, the previous night. Inspector Swaby proved previous convictions for a similar offence and said he had received complaints of pilfering from the gardens in the neighbourhood recently – sent to Leicester gaol for ten days.Stamford Mercury 5 May 1905(1)

Giblett Chases Plum Thieves

'Christopher Blades (11), Florence Stubbs (12), Thomas Stubbs (14), Cecil Pauley (9), Annie Weldon (12), Nellie Collins (11), and Arthur Flecknor (9), were charged with stealing a quantity of plums, valued 2s 6d, the property of Matthew Lightfoot, on the 18th Aug. The prosecutor deposed to finding a plum tree in his garden on Water Furlong broken down and nearly stripped of the fruit. Henry Giblett, who was at work in a garden close to, stated that he saw seven or eight children on the wall of the prosecutor’s garden, who, on seeing him, ran away. He chased them on his bicycle and caught them up on the Tinwell Road. He caught Blades, who gave him the names of the others. In reply to the Clerk, the witness said he recognised only two of the children, Blades and Weldon.


All the children admitted the theft except Collins and Flecknor. PS Carter proved going to see each of the defendants, who admitted the offence. With the exception of the lad Stubbs, there was nothing derogatory to the children’s characters. In reply to Mr Daniels, Inspector Bowles said he had received numerous complaints of this sort of thing from all over town. It must be attributed to the children during holidays. Not only did they steal the fruit, but they also did a great amount of damage. The Mayor said the children had all admitted the offence and the Bench took a serious view of it. However, they would be dismissed with a severe caution and if they or anyone else were brought up again on that charge the punishment meted out would be very severe.' Stamford Mercury 11 Sept 1908(1)

A Sting in the Tail


Christopher Blades could well have been an ancestor of Alf Blades, a well-loved garden tenant and neighbour for many decades in the 20th century. 

In the afternoon of Thursday, an enclosed garden, near Water Furlong, occupied by Mr Samuel Hawes, was entered and a bee-hive robbed of a portion of the honey and honey-comb it contained. A reward was immediately offered by the clerk to the Stamford association; and, from inquiries made by the police, it appeared that two young thieves, named Samuel Lawrence and William Clarke, were concerned in the robbery: the former climbed the wall, lifted the hive, and had extracted some of the honey and comb when he was attacked by the bees which stung him on the face and forced him to relinquish a portion of his plunder. With what he could secure Lawrence re-climbed the wall and divided the spoil with his companion, who had been set to watch. The marks on Lawrence's face and the fact of his having distributed some of the honey to other boys who let "the cat out of the bag," betrayed him, and the two offenders were shortly afterwards apprehended: they were examined before the magistrates on Wednesday, and sentenced, under the Juvenile Offenders' Act, to a fortnight's imprisonment each.'  Lincolnshire Chronicle 13 July 1855(1)

Stamford Mercury 2 July 1847



Threat of Six Months' Imprisonment


'At the Town Hall, Stamford, Saturday last – John Harrison, labourer, was convicted of robbing the garden (near Waterfurlong) of Mr Henry Johnson, and adjudged to pay for the value of the articles stolen, penalty and costs, the sum of 20s. One month was allowed for payment, and for default 14 days’ imprisonment and hard labour awarded. John Toon, labourer, was proceeded against for a like offence, but the evidence (which was given by Harrison) failed to establish it. It was observed that the serious offence for committing this kind of depradations could not be generally known, or they would be prevented, each offender being liable to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour, or to a fine of £20 above the value of the article stolen or damage done, and for a second offence to be tried for felony.'(1)

Thefts weren't restricted to produce. From bottles of lemonade to pruning knives and even telescopes, the local constabulary was set on bringing the perpetrators to justice and the Bench was determined to make a stern example of those unlucky enough to be caught. 

'Some time during Tuesday night the summerhouses of Mr Healy and Mr Laxton, situated in gardens on Waterfurlong, were broken open and various articles stolen therefrom, including two overcoats, a telescope, two pruning knives &c'. Stamford Mercury 11 November 1859(1)


The Lincolnshire Chronicle adds that curiously 'There was a gun in [Mr Laxton's] summerhouse, but the thieves contented themselves with merely examining the weapon, which they left behind.'(1)

This report refers to the famous apple-breeder, Thomas Laxton, who had one of the gardens for many years.


Cucumbers, a Burned Hat and Four Bottles of Porter

'On Monday night last, a summer house near the Water-furlong (on the Tinwell Road), Stamford, belonging to Mr William Haycock, was broken open; and the offenders, after regaling themselves with four bottles of porter and plenty of tobacco, extinguished a candle which they had used with Mr Haycock’s hat, burning a hole completely through the crown. On leaving, they took with them a valuable telescope, for the recovery of which a reward is offered. The same party visited the adjoining garden belonging to Mr Mitton, of St Martin’s, and stole a quantity of fine cucumbers. Stamford Mercury 18 August 1848(1)

Two of the Most Mischievous Boys in Stamford

'George William Morley of 11 Bath Row, Frederick Baxter of High St, St Martin’s and Justin James McCartney Simpson of 1 Brook’s Court, all 14 years of age, were charged on remand, with

stealing 19 bottles of lemonade, value 9s 6d, the property of Mr T Sandall, bank manager, on 13th. Mr Sandall said he occupied a garden in Water-Furlong from the summerhouse of which the lemonade was taken. The door of the summerhouse was not locked. He found five empty lemonade bottles, the others having been taken away. From footmarks in the garden he thought the persons who had taken the lemonade had climbed over the back wall. Inspector Clarke said that Simpson was brought to the police station by PC Hill. The boy said he did not know anything about the lemonade. The other defendants were in custody and both said “We all three went into the garden and got the lemonade and Simpson had his share of it.” Simpson then said “Yes, I was with them.” PS Smith said that on Saturday he saw Morley and asked him to account for his movements on the previous night. He said he was with Simpson and Baxter on the Tinwell Road. The witness charged him with going into Mr Sandall’s garden and Morley denied it.


glass bottles

Afterwards he acknowledged that he went with the others and they drank all the lemonade behind Rutland Terrace and on Tinwell Road. The witness found about 12 broken lemonade bottles on Tinwell Road. The witness also saw Baxter, who said he had been drawn into the mess by the other boys. A letter from Miss Monro, of the High School for Girls, stated that Baxter had been in her employ and she had always found him to be honest. Insp Clarke said that Morley had been convicted a year ago of wilful damage. This boy bore a very bad character; Indeed, he was one of the most mischievous boys in Stamford, as also was Simpson. They had no complaints regarding Baxter. Whenever there was any damage done in the town it was generally traced to four boys, of whom two were Morley and Simpson.


The Bench convicted defendants of the theft and the parents were bound over in £10 each for the good behaviour of the boys. Mr Michelson said the bench had been hesitating whether to send the boys to a reformatory or not.' Stamford Mercury 20 May 1892(1)

Den-making Is Slippery Slope to Reform School


'Fred Richards, 14, George Mountain, 13, Charles 

Yates, 15, Joseph Huntingdon, 13, Thomas Whisker, 12, Lawrence Porter, 11, Walter Jinks, 11 and Frederick William King, 14, were charged with wilfully damaging, to the amount of £2, a quantity of oats, the property of Frederick 

William Kebble. All pleaded guilty. Mr J A Langley, who prosecuted, said Mr Kebble had been obliged to take out the summons because very serious damage had been committed. In a field in Waterfurlong, a number of sheaves of oats were pulled about and piled one on the other in a heap, so as to make a hut for these boys. A storm came on and the lads left the shelter and ran into Mr Edwards’s shed. The sheaves were left anyhow and the rain got into the straw and damaged it considerably. The grains of oats, too, were shaken out. Mr Kebble had had other crops damaged. The prosecutor said that as a result of the sheaves being thrown about, the straw was heated and smelt frightfully. Mr Langley said that the damage had been estimated at a low amount. Richards and Huntingdon had previously been fined for damage and Huntingdon had also been convicted of stealing fruit. The Mayor cautioned Huntingdon and Richards and told them that if they came before the court again they would probably be sent to a reformatory. All the defendants were fined 2s 6d each, including costs.' Stamford Mercury 18 August 1893(1)


(1) The British Newspaper Archive © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018

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