Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sedition and Larceny in 17th century Deptford

The Calendar of Assize records: Kent indictments, Charles II, 1676-1688 records the prosecution of people living in Kent in the late 17th century, which included at that time Deptford and Greenwich. This was a period when the monarchy had just been restored, with Charles II on the throne following the death of Oliver Cromwell and the earlier execution of his father King Charles I.

When Charles II himself died in 1685, his brother became King James II (a catholic). However Charles's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth (a protestant), thought he should be king instead and launched an unsuccessful armed rebellion in the West Country. There was clearly some support for the rising in London, as shown by the prosecution of 'Martha Tickner, wife of Edmund Tickner of Deptford, labourer, for seditious words. On 8 July 1685 at Deptford she publicly said "I hope the Duke of Monmouth will get the better of the King. And if he doth, I will hang twenty of you"' .

The religious conflicts of the period also had other echoes locally. People who failed to attend Church of England services could be prosecuted for 'recusancy'. In Deptford, 'Peter Segars, yeoman, William Dodsworth, apothecary and William Creech, mealman' were prosecuted 'for recusancy on 10 July 1681 and two Sundays following’. Similarly in 1679 Woolwich waterman John Collington was prosecuted for the same offence. Recusants were sometimes Roman Catholics and sometimes Non-conformist protestants - in both cases they refused to recognise the spiritual monopoly of the established Anglican church.

Many of the Deptford-related trials were for the offence of 'grand larceny', for stealing property 'belonging to the Crown'. It is likely that these relate to the the Royal Dockyard in Detpford, now the site of the planned Convoys Wharf development. As Peter Linebaugh shows in his excellent history 'The London Hanged', people working on and around the Dockyard long thought of taking wood and other materials home with them as part of their entitlement, part of their wage even. The huge walls around the site to this day are a legacy of the attempt by the Crown to prevent this by gaining stricter control of movement in and out of the docks. Court records are also evidence of their effort to criminalise this practice.

So in 1676 we see Edmund Cleaver of Deptford, labourer, prosecuted for stealing four 4 oars 'belonging to the crown'. In May 1679 John Peirce, carpenter, was whipped for grand larceny for stealing irons, while on the same day another Deptford carpenter was also whipped for the same offence in relation to stealing an oak plank. Two other Deptford carpenters, Robert Wood and James Eggleston, were more fortunate in March of the same year when they were found not guilty of stealing an oak plank.

Other local prosecutions included:

- John Driver of Deptford, victualler, indicted 'for allowing an unlawful game called ninepins to be played’ in July 1687.

- Thomas Ellis of Deptford, house carpenter, fined for assaulting Samuel Cellars, constable of Deptford in the execution of his office on 1 January 1688

- Richard Jones, a Greenwich labourer, was sentenced to be hanged for deserting the army in 1678.

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