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Poaching in Burton Latimer and Surround - 1800's

Images of a poacher and gamekeepers from the Victorian era

Poaching within Burton Latimer and the surrounding areas was a common place occurrence during the 1800's, and local land owners John Harpur and William King went as far as to send the following open letter to the "Northampton Mercury" in August 1806;

"Whereas the GAME upon the MANOR of BURTON LATIMER has of late Years been almost extirpated by Poachers, unqualified Persons and others, sporting thereon: This is to give Notice, that the Lords of said Manor are determined to preserve the Game; and Persons offending after this public Notice, will be prosecuted as wilful Trespassers."

A map detailing land ownership in the parish in 1803 can be seen here

Two major pieces of legislation regarding poaching were passed in the early 1800's; the Night Poaching Act in 1828, which made it illegal to hunt during the night. This applied to open or enclosed areas and the use of hunting implements ranging from guns to nets and bows. If found on the land, perpatrators could be arrested for trespass by the landowner, his gamekeeper or servant and police officers and face up to a six month prison sentence. This was followed in 1831 by the Game Act, which classed certain species as game and laid down dates when hunting was permissible. This included hares, partridges, pheasants and grouse. A license was also required to hunt such game. If found hunting out of season then perpetrators would be fined by an amount equal to the value of the game they had taken. This further restricted the act of hunting for much of the population.

From 1829 to 1840 an additional seven gamekeepers were appointed to Burton Latimer and the surrounding land to enforce these laws. Details of gamekeepers within Burton can be found here

However, these appointments seemed to have a negligible impact on the situation with reports of poaching published in the Northampton Mercury on a regular basis, such as occurred in 1866; "William Daniels of Burton Latimer, found guilty of setting a snare on land in the Barton Seagrave parish - being fined 10s with 10s 6d costs". Or "James Johnson, Labourer, also charged with a breach of the law on lands occupied by Robert Hafford, however there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the case and magistrates dismissed the charge."

A more serious charge related to a habitual offender, William Nichols of Burton Latimer, reported in the Stamford Mercury in July 1861; "Nichols appeared at the Oundle petty sessions accused with serious assault on J. Saunders, gamekeeper at Deenethorpe. Saunders had been knocked about to such an extent that he was unable to attend and the prisoner was remanded. It transpired that the prisoner and others were engaged in the nocturnal pursuit of game when they came in contact with the keepers and a regular poachers melee took place, the prisoners head showing evident signs of having been seriously battered, the hair on which was completely matted with blood."

Nichols was again charged in 1862. The Northampton Mercury reported; "After spending eleven nights in the lock-up, William Nichols was charged with committing a certain trespass in pursuit of game. - Defendant said he was not trespassing, for he was not off the road at the time - witness William Issitt stated that he was a gamekeeper, residing at Barton Seagrave. About half-past eight on the evening of 21st May he saw defendant leave the road leading from Isham to Burton. Defendant came on to where he (witness) was standing, with a gun in his hand. Saw defendant go into a ditch on Mr Everitts land, and look into a rabbit hole. Nicholls was in the ditch for quarter of an hour, after which witness observed him shoot a rabbit. When defendant saw him he turned away as if to avoid him. Witness overtook defendant and said to him, " Oh Will, what you are - at your old game?" Defendant was fined £2 and costs of 12s 6d. In default, two months hard labour." Later that year, gamekeeper William Issit was badly beaten by a poaching gang from Burton Latimer, details of the incident and ensuing court case can be read here.

Another article from the Northampton Mercury in 1868 reported; " William Nicols, shoemaker of Burton Latimer and an old offender, and his son Joseph, were brought up on remand charged with being in the night time or early morning of 9th August in a field of Mr Bagshaws at Warkton, with nets and a dog for the purpose of taking game - The offence was proved by William and Joseph Palmer, gamekeepers to the Duke of Bucoleuch, who said that when they tookdefendants into custody, a large black dog set upon them and some other parties unknown came to their rescue and threw large stones at them (one of which was produced in Court) and threatened to kill them. The defendants , who pleaded not guilty, and tried to prove an alibi, were committed to the House of Correction for three months, at the expiration of which they are required to find sureties of the peace for twelve months."

It appears that there were two sorts of poachers, opportunists such as Johnson and determined criminals such as Nichols. When the latter clashed with gamekeepers there was no quarter given on either side as shown in this incident reported in the Huntingdon, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette in 1832; "On Friday night a number of poachers entered the private land near Pytchley, armed for an engagement with the keepers. There were upwards of 30 poachers, and about half the number of keepers and assistants. About 3 o'clock in the morning they met and a dreadful conflict ensued. A person who saw the field of action declared if 20 pigs with their throats cut had been left to run about, the ground would not have appeared more saturated with blood. The keepers all of them are dreadfully mutilated, and it is supposed that two of them cannot recover. One of the poachers, named Ball was taken; his head was much lacerated. He had been transported for the same kind of offence before. The route pursued by the poachers might be traced by blood above two miles on the road to Burton Latimer. How long are these detestable Game Laws to disgrace the Country?"

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