I’ve just spent the afternoon in the library reading through a selection of old newspapers from 1771/2 along with numerous copies from the ninetheenth century. I was hoping, initially, to find anything mentioning a Mr. Stevens, Tailor as in a survey of the city (1772) made by John Gwynn several Stevens are listed. As my ‘several-greats’ Grandfather was born in Oxford in 1811 and was a tailor, I wondered whether one of these might be a relation. Anyway, unsurprisingly I found no such mention, but what I did find were a few tantalising glimpses into the 18th century city.
The first is the theft of some lead on October 11th 1771:
“Whereas a considerable quantity of lead has been stolen from off the gate of the physic gardens’ opening into Rose Lane. This notice is given that whosoever will give information to the Rev.Dr. Wetherell, Vice Chancellor, so that the offender or offenders may be brought to justice, shall upon his or their conviction, receive a reward of five guineas.”
Whether or not the guilt party were ever brought to book I don’t know. A couple of weeks later, another audacious theft occurred, this time in Holywell Street:
“Whereas on Monday the 21st of this instant October 1771, the iron rails to the steps of Mrs. Wise’s house in Holywell were taken away. This is to give notice that if any one will discover the offender or offenders so that they may be brought to justice, shall, on his or their conviction receive half a guinea reward from Francis Kibblewhite in Holywell.”
Looking at my 1772 survey, I see that Mrs. Wise lived at what is now called No.2 Holywell Street. Mr Kibblewhite lived at what is now No.38.
Following a burglary on November 8th 1771 in Old Butcher Row (modern day Queen Street) the reward offered for information was much more tempting – provided of course, one had information with which to complete any deal, and thus be tempted to impart.
“Whereas the dwelling of Mr. John Greenway situate in the Old Butcher Row, in this city was last night broke open and divers sums of money and other valuable effects stolen thereout. Notice is hereby given that if any person or persons will discover the offender or offenders so that he, she or they may thereof be committed, he shall receive the sum of fifty guineas from me.”
This very large amount of money (a guinea was equal to £1 1s) was offered by Francis Greenway. The following week on November 16th, the news appeared again with an addendum:
“N.B. It is discovered that a plain round gold snuff box and eight gold rings, chiefly Mourning ones belonging to the family were at the same time taken away.”
The following week this appears, just below the same story repeated for the third week and addressed ‘To the Publick’:
“Whereas some evil designing persons have maliciously propagated various infamous aspersions which tend to injure our characters relating to the late robbery committed at Mr. John Greenway’s home in old Butcher Row; in order to vindicate and clear ourselves of the said aspersions, we did severally make oath that we were not in any wise directly or indirectly concerned in the said robbery or have any knowledge of the person or persons who committed the same, and we do declare that the said aspersions so far as they tend to lessen or injure our reputations and characters are totally false.”
The letter is signed again by Francis Greenway although whether he is including himself as one of the aggrieved I’m not sure. Below his name are the names of two servants, Mary Staunton and Jane Carpenter who made their oath before the Mayor, John Austin. Francis Greenway offered a further 5 guineas to whosoever gave information leading to the conviction of the slanderers which he increased to 20 guineas later on. This was not the end however. On December 7th 1771 when the same story appeared with the same letter to the publick beneath, Francis Greenway wrote:
“And as it is apprehended more than one person must have been concerned in the above burglary, this further notice is given that any one giving information against his accomplice or accomplices shall be paid the above reward of 50 guineas upon his, her or their conviction and will likewise, upon being admitted evidence, be entitled to a Free Pardon.”
That was still not the end of the matter. On December 21st, he added that the reward of 50 guineas was “besides the forty pounds allowed by parliament for me.”
These notices or stories were printed every week and did not stop being printed until March 21st 1772. Whether anyone was brought to justice I don’t know.
Perhaps the most enigmatic story or notice I read however was that printed on February 8th 1771.
“Whereas a person (supposed to be a Gentleman’s Servant) went out of Oxford, December 12th 1770 over Magdalen Bridge and took the Watlington Road riding a horse with a long tail and leading another with a cut tail on which a Portmanteau was tied: whoever recollects seeing the same person and can give information of his name and place of abode so that he may be spoke withal, shall on such proof receive half a guinea reward from the printer.”
Not exactly 50 guineas, but a very curious notice which has left me, as have the stories above, with so many questions. Who stole the lead and Mrs. Wise’s railings? Who carried out the robbery in Old Butcher Row – was it an inside job? And who was the man on the horse, leaving the city over Magdalen Bridge in the winter of 1770? Time – as far as I’m aware – hasn’t told so far. So, maybe I will.