Two Young Girls charged with Stealing and Receiving Coals from Meldreth Station Yard, 1887

The yard at Meldreth Station from which the coal was stolen, shown here in 1930
Photograph supplied by Tim Gane
Whitecroft Road with Bramble Cottage on the right and the junction with Chiswick End, rear left - the two girls would have travelled along here on their way home with the stolen coal
Photograph supplied by Tim Gane
Hoyland Silkstone Collieries, Barnsley, which produced the type of coal stolen, shown in 1900

The Royston Crow of 7th January 1887 carried the following report of a case heard before the Melbourn Magistrates Court on Monday 3rd January of the same year:

‘Alice Grey and Eliza Ann Blows, two young girls, were charged with stealing 62lbs.weight of coal, the property of Alfred Coningsby, at Meldreth, on 13th December last and Ann Reader, a married woman, was charged with receiving same, well knowing it to have been stolen, the last named defendant being the mother of Grey. Mr H Dalton Nash, solicitor, of Royston, appeared on behalf of the Association for the Prosecution of Felons, to prosecute. (Note: “potential prosecutors…banded together inĀ ‘Societies for the Prosecution of Felons’ in order to insure individual members against the financial burdens of going to court. These associations became common in England in the second half of the eighteenth century”, from ‘Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis’:

James Loates said “I am in the employ of Mr Palmer, coal merchant, and live at Meldreth. On 13th December, as I was leaving Meldreth Railway Station, I noticed the two defendants, Alice Grey and Eliza Blows standing about the Meldreth Station yard as I was passing by, about quarter to six o’clock in the evening. It was getting dark at the time. I knew the defendants well. I know Mr Coningsby has coals in the yard.”

Joseph Blows (note: not known if he was related to the defendant) said “I am in the employ of the Great Northern Railway Company and live at Meldreth. On 13th December last as I was returning from tea to the Station at nearly six o’clock, I heard a rattling over the fence. I called out ‘what’s up here’ and heard someone run away but did not see anybody. I walked round by the fence and kicked up against a package which contained coals. It was done up in a piece of coarse apron bagging stuff. I called for a light, picked it up and carried it into the goods shed. I called the station master’s attention to it. I could tell that it was Silkstone coals. Mr Coningsby and Mr Mark Palmer had coal in the yard…”

Police Sergeant Quincey, stationed at Melbourn, said “On the 13th December, in consequence of information received, I went to Meldreth Railway Station. I saw the last witness Blows and Mr Perkins, the station master, at Meldreth and went with them to the goods shed. I received from the last witness the apron full of coals I now produce….On the following morning, in company with Ralph Webb, Mr Coningsby’s manager, I went to Meldreth Station when Webb looked at the coals produced and identified them as being from a heap of his master’s coals in the Station yard. We then went to the heap and could see some coals had been taken away and two other pieces laid ready for going, being removed from the heap about two yards. We could see two distinct sets of footprints. We could trace them from the coal heap up to Chiswick End, Meldreth. One set of the footprints went up to Mrs Reader’s house (the elder defendant) and the other we traced up to Mrs Blows’ house. I called and saw both girls and asked to be allowed to look at their shoes. I then told them they would have to go with me to the coal yard….When I got there I showed the defendant Grey the apron produced and she said it was hers. I asked her where she had left it on the night previous. She said ‘I took it to the coal heap and filled it with coals and Eliza Ann Blows took another apron almost like it. She also filled her apron with coals and carried them home….’ I (Sgt. Quincy) went back with the girl Blows and she gave me her coals from her father’s shed. She said that was ‘sent by Mrs Reader with her daughter, the girl Grey, to get the coals when it was dark and not to pay for the coals but to steal them.’ The coals amounted altogether to 62lbs of which there were 40lbs in the packet that I found and 22lbs in the lot given to me by the girl Blows.”

It was alleged that Mrs Reader had denied any knowledge of what had happened but she contradicted this in court. The girls both wished the alleged theft to be dealt with by the Magistrates without delay and both pleaded guilty. Mr Coningsby was present and asked for leniency on behalf of Eliza Blows suggesting that she had evidently been led astray by the other party. After retiring to consider their decision, the Bench returned and fined Blows 20 shillings. Her mother applied for time in which to pay and said she had a large family of nine children and her husband was out of work. She knew nothing about it herself. The Magistrates allowed her a fortnight.

‘The Chairman said in the case of the girl Grey she was, it appeared, too young to fine her and she would be imprisoned at the Police Station for the day. With regard to the case of the woman Reader they felt hers was a bad case indeed but unfortunately the corroborative evidence was not sufficient and the case must therefore be dismissed, but she had had a narrow escape. If it was found that she was influencing these children in this way and she came up again she would be severely dealt with.’

With thanks to Linda Clarke for her help in researching this case

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