Mr Barrington’s gelding
I’m in the midst of writing up my dissertation, hence the lack of posts in recent weeks. Most recently I’ve been going through issues of Severall Proceedings in Parliament, a newsbook set up in October 1649 under the auspices of the Commonwealth’s new licensing act. It was licensed by Henry Scobell, the clerk to the Commons, and edited by Henry Walker. In issue 9, in amongst material on the war in Ireland and reports on parliamentary legislation, is this:
Last Sunday night was lost a large Dapple grey Gelding, that paces and Trots with heat in his feet, who before had lost a dark Grey trotting mare, wall eyed, a ban[…] face, 5 years old. And a Flea-bitten grey Gelding, that paces and trots of 18 years. Mr Barrington of Colchester will give content to any that shall help him to the knowledge of them.
Walker had a habit of dropping obscure small ads into the midst of high political news, but even so I had to stifle a laugh when I read this.
Mr Barrington is, I think, Henry Barrington who was from one of Colchester’s longstanding elite families. His wealth came from brewing; he was mayor of the town in 1631, 1641, 1648 and 1658. He was an Independent who clashed with more moderate Presbyterians over government of the town. In 1653 he would go on to sit in Barebone’s Parliament.
I’ve had a look through the Essex assize records and the case never came to trial. So it’s not clear whether whether Mr Barrington ever did get his gelding back. What the records did reveal is that gelding theft seems to have been to mid-seventeenth century Essex as bike theft is to early twenty-first century Cambridge – that is to say, completely endemic. Here are all the cases of gelding thefts heard at one assizes session in Chelmsford on 26 July 1649:
- 10 April 1649. Indictment of Thomas Albrett of Billericay labourer there stole a bay gelding worth £5, belonging to Thomas Cordwell. Pleads not guilty; guilty; to be hanged, reprieved after judgement. Witnesses: Thomas Cordwell, Edras Humfrey. (ASS 35/90/7/23)
- 10 May 1649. Indictment of Edward Smith of Feering labourer, there stole a bay gelding worth £15, belonging to William Mihill. Ignoramus. Witness: William Mihill (ASS 35/90/7/57)
- Indictment of William Barnes alias Avis Playse (sic) of Little Baddow labourer, 1 June 22 Chas.I, there stole a fleabitten gelding worth £5, belonging to William Meade. Ignoramus. Witness: William Meade. (ASS 35/90/7/50)
- 24 June 1649. Indictment of William Markes of Beaumont labourer there stole a “yellow bony” gelding worth £8, belonging to James Heard. Pleads not guilty; not guilty. Witnesses. James Heard, Edward Cole. (ASS 35/90/7/41)
- 3 July 1649. Indictment of John Rutter and William Baily of Barking, labourers, there stole a abay gelding worth £3, belonging to the same Henry. Pleads not guilty; both acquitted. Witness: John Savidge. (ASS 35/90/7/12)
- Indictment of John Archer of “Walden” labourer, 11 July, at “Hallingbury’ stole a grey gelding worth £8, belonging to Geo, King gentleman Pleads not guilty; not guilty. Witnesses: George King, Roger Smith. (ASS 35/90/7/20)
Horse theft increased significantly during the civil wars, for obvious reasons. But even in times of relative peace it could have significant profits. In the 1590s, a ‘flea-bitten ambling gelding’ could fetch over £3. As the records above attest, typically thieves were labourers down on their luck, although there is some evidence of organised gangs operating sophisticated enterprises, with stolen horses taken outside the county and sold elsewhere. But Barrington also attracted significant criticism from the Presbyterian minority in Colchester, so it’s possible there were more personal reasons at play in the theft of his horse.
Yes in good times and bad these advertisements for return of stolen horses appear. Walker wasn’t the only one dropping thes in the middle of big newes. At the Restoration, even in the midst of the proclamations of Charles II reported in the Mercurius Publicus No. 21 (May 17-24, 1660, the 4th of the Mudddiman/Dury issues) they show up. From p 329 “MAy 18. A bay Mare a Barb, with a star and blaze on her face, hollow ey’d, long eared, and a long thin cressed and week, and a brand on the neer buttock. a litle faln in the same buttock, and one white foot behind, about fifteen hands high. A dapple gray Mare about six years old, with three white feet, with something a white face; a short tail, and upon the flank on the near side, the hair is rubbed off about the breadth of a half crown. She is well grown and square before and behind with a short neck, about 14 or 15 hands high. If any one can give notice of either of these to Mr. Moses Hacket a Shoemaker at the Golden Lion between Salisbury house and the Savoy, or Mr. Braddock in Dukes-yard by the Mews, Farrier, or to Mr Arthur Scott at the Bell in Bristol, he or they shall be well rewarded for their pains.”
Horseflesh wasn’t the only thing for which recovery was advertised. Following the above ad was another for the recovery stolen pewter dishes “Stole out of Sir Richard Everards house in Little Queen Street the 16 day of May 1660, 17 pewter dishes, some markt with the Talbots head, and some with the Sheaf of Arrows tyed together with a Snake; if any person can give notice of these dishes, as abovesaid, shall be well rewarded for their pains.” I don’t know if this Richard Everard is the first or second Baronet.
By the time of the Glorious Revolution it seems 1 guinea was the standard eye catcher. In the Orange Gazette Numb. 18 Tuesday March 5 to Saturday March 9 are two ads, “MArch the 2d. Stolen or Strayed away out of Hullet Grounds near Taucetter in Northhamptonshire, a black bald-fac’d Mare, 5 years old near 15 hands high, with one wall-eye, the other a gray eye, two white feet behind, gray hairs in her Tayl, and a knob on one of her cheeks. Whoever gives notice to Mr. George Bayle at the White Horse in Taucester, or to Mr Edward Smith at the Cabinet in Norfolk Street, near the Strand, London to so that she may be had again, shall have one Guinea reward” and MArch the 4th, Stolen or Stray’d out of the Ground of Richard LAke in Shenvil in Essex, two Horses, the one a brown Horse 14 hands or upward, well Limbed, has a wallEye and weak Sighted, with a Scar in his Fore-head, he Trots and Gallops. The other a dark Horse 13 hands or upwards, with a white Snipe on his Nose; he has all his Paces : If any one can give Notice of the said Horses, so that they may be recovered to the Putter Pot in Leaden-Hall-Street, shall have a Guinea reward or proportionable for either of them.”
There are even ads in midst of the Revolution for the return of man’s best friend. From the Orange Gazette Numb. 11 Friday February 8 to Tuesday February 12 1688/9 “Lost on Sunday Evening last in Wild Street, a little Spaniel Bitch white with Liver-colour Spots, her legs something speckled. Whoever brings her to Mr. William Richards House in Bowe-Street, Covent Garden, shall have a reward.” The Orange Gazette ads appear at the end of the newes at the bottom of the last column.
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