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Article researched by Janet Meads 2005
Crime in Burton Latimer
Left to Right - a beadle, the stocks and a whipping post

Over the years, Burton Latimer, in general, has been a law-abiding place, most crimes committed being of the minor kind. It still is, but records still show that among the petty crimes there have been at least three murders and some civil unrest.

Starting in the 17th century, the Constables Accounts show that the village possessed stocks and a whipping post at The Cross but there are only a few reports of anyone from the village being placed in them.

  • 9th Feb 1691  1d was paid for watching Wm. Bodgenor (a labourer) in ye stocks all night for being drunk.

Most persons recorded in the accounts as being whipped were vagrants who were whipped before being sent on their way, as was the custom at that time.

The parish constable in the 17th century was elected at the Court Baron. It was not a popular appointment as it had to be carried out at the same time as the regular occupation of the nominee. The responsibilities of the constable were onerous, as they involved an assortment of duties and all cash laid out had to be accounted for. At the end of each year the constable had to provide an account of all the money he had distributed, and although he was allowed to impose a levy on the villagers to get the money back, he often finished the year being out of pocket.

The parish constable in Burton Latimer at that time was responsible for the town’s armour and any repairs needed to it. If the militia were training out of town he was responsible for getting the armour and weapons to the correct place and the hire of horses and carts to get it there. Other town equipment, such as the town plough, the kettle used when branding the beasts and the maintenance of the pound, where stray animals were kept until their owners could afford the fine to reclaim them, were also his responsibility.

If drains, rivers and watercourses needed unblocking, or roads needed clearing or mending, the parish constable had to find men to work on them. He also had to make sure that the local by-laws were being kept and those that all that were able, were paying their taxes. This was in addition to the general petty crimes that were committed and the hue and cries that needed organising when more serious crimes came to light.

Most items in the 17th century constables’ records relate to persons passing through the village and the amount of money given to them to get them to the next town. There are a few accounts of warrants being made and the costs this involved eg:

  • To bring Margerie Baxter before the justices for divers misdemeanours she has committed.

  • A warrant to carry the said Margerie to Bridewell and spent upon the watchmen

  • Paid for a warrant to bring in witnesses for the justification of William Glover and Edward Powers drunkenness

  • For watching of Edw. Hunt who abused his apprentice.

  • For returning the warrant to Kettering for binding the Alehouse keepers from dressing and eating of venison, pheasants and pootes (pullets) in their houses unless the same be of their own breeding.

  • For making of four hue and cries to send east, west, north and south after a rogue, one Giles Tompson who was whipped in our town for taking Widow Toothills petticoat off of the hedge, and was sent with a pass to Rothwell where he said he last dwelled. And in our field gave Whitlarke our beadle a box on the ear and ran from him.

  • For sending of a hue and cry in the night time for 3 cows stolen from Stoke Doyle.

  • To the watchmen at Burton feast 1638

  • “Spent upon the sheriffs men at Arche’s (an alehouse keeper) when they came to distrain the delinquents of our town for the ship money behind.”

The 18th century Constable’s Accounts have not survived but:  

  • A warrant to find and apprehend Thomas Row for leaving his four children to be cared for by the parish is in existence dated 9th May 1786. The wife of Thomas Row had died the previous year. 

By the 19th century serious crimes were being reported in the local newspapers and in very explicit detail.

  • In 1812 between 9 and 10 at night William Wetherill, Officer of Excise was returning from Kettering to Burton Latimer along Cotton Mill Lane (now Station Road) when he was set on by ‘two brutes in human shape armed with bludgeons.’ He was pulled from his pony and kicked and beaten but was saved by the approach of a another person and as he had his money hidden in his underclothes the ‘desperadoes’ did not get what they were after.

  • Also in 1812, the Leeds to London mail coach was robbed somewhere between Burton Latimer and Higham Ferrers. A report in the Northampton Mercury states that the guard put a brace of ducks with the bags in the locker when they stopped at Burton Latimer and the coachman heard him lock it. Somewhere between Burton Latimer and Finedon the guard left his seat and joined the coachman at the front where he sat until they approached Higham Ferrers when he resumed his seat at the rear of the coach. When they stopped at Higham Ferrers the mail box was found to have been forced open and sixteen bags of letters and packages were missing. It was thought the robbery must have occurred when the coach slowed down to ascend the hill near to Finedon crossroads. Bow Street Runners were commissioned to investigate the crime which was obviously beyond the local constable’s abilities and a wanted poster was circulated around the towns and villages which led eventually to two career criminals being caught and found guilty. In 1813 they were both hanged at Northampton racecourse in front of a large crowd.

By the mid to late 19th century the crimes had changed in keeping with the times. Now the village had its own village constable and criminals were sent to Kettering to be dealt with by the court there, although it is more than likely that the lad caught scrumping apples by the local bobby had a clip round the ear and was warned not to do it again. Parish constables were still in existence as late as 1916. The local paper recorded on February 25 of that year that "The Parish Council agreed to again submit the names of Messrs Herbert H. Popham, Thomas W. Sturman and Jesse Meads for the position of Parish Constable."

Most of the complaints of offences committed at Burton Latimer on the Kettering Division Charge Sheets from 1854 to 1875 were from the village farmers accusing the local men of game trespass, unlawfully fishing, shooting pigeons and stealing growing turnips or the like. Drunkenness is high on the list and

  • Thomas Giles Quincey, innkeeper of the Round House, was brought to court for opening his house on Sunday morning but the case was dismissed.
  • Thomas Croxen of the Dukes Arms pleaded guilty and was convicted of selling beer in unstamped measure.

There are several cases of assault, mainly between neighbours and a few of larceny (theft) and felony (more serious crimes)

  • Walter Tyrell was convicted of larceny and ordered to be once privately whipped by Insp. Norman inflicting 12 strokes with a birch rod.

Some shopkeepers were

  • like Edward Oswin caught and convicted of using “unjust” weights


  • as in Joseph Mason’s case, having in his possession an incorrect weighing machine to which he pleaded guilty and was convicted.

The roads were patrolled then as now, but instead of being fined for not wearing a seatbelt in ones car or using ones telephone whilst driving, the drivers in the 1850s were convicted for committing offences like:

  • William Leverett for riding on waggon on highway without a guide (part of the harness).

  • Joseph Braines for riding on cart on highway without a guide.

  • Samuel Randell for riding without guide.

  • John Howard for riding on shaft of waggon on turnpike road.

  • William Abbott and William Williamson for leaving cart on turnpike road longer than necessary.

Other crimes committed on the highway:

  • Henry Coles, Thomas Sudborough, John Ashley, James Mee and Jesse Daniels were all convicted of making fire near the turnpike road

  • John Miller, Walter Wright and James Mace pleaded guilty and were convicted for gaming on the highway

  • Thomas Nicholas, George Westley and Abraham York were convicted of obstructing footpath by standing thereon.

Thankfully there are not many men who, like

  • Joseph White in 1873 was accused of running away and leaving his family chargeable to the parish,

but he was not the first as already mentioned, or

  • William Smith a rogue and vagabond who was found to be on premises for an unlawful purpose.

One person’s name keeps occurring in the old records. In May 1875 George Westley started his criminal career by being caught attempting to take fish. In June he is convicted of obstructing the footpath and at the beginning of September he pleads guilty and is convicted of being drunk and disorderly and refusing to quit the alehouse of Sarah Miller (the Horse and Groom). By the 29th September 1875 he is accused of manslaughter and committed for trial at the assizes. It appears that he and several others were drinking and making music in the Thatcher’s Arms in Meeting Lane. They had a tambourine, a tin whistle and bones but Josiah Dent and Westley quarrelled over the ownership of the tambourine and it was slashed with a knife by Westley. He left, but waited outside for Dent and stabbed him in the stomach with the knife. Dent’s wound was serious and a doctor had to be called from Kettering and four days later he died, leaving a wife and two young children. Meanwhile Westley had fled and was eventually arrested in Oundle, still with the knife in his possession. At the inquest held at the Red Cow on the same day as Dent’s funeral, the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against George Westley and he was taken away to await his trial.

This was the first of the three murders. The second occurred in 1893.

Louisa Sophia Johnson was visiting her married sister Mary Wright who lived at Ise Brook Cottage on the outskirts of Burton Latimer. She had left Liverpool where she had been living with a married man, Richard Sabey, and with whom she had a baby. He followed her, by train, to Burton Latimer and when she left the cottage he walked with her a short distance along the road. There having put his arm round her and kissed her, he cut her throat and ran off across some fields. He was followed by some men who had seen the pair and saw what he had done to the young woman. He gave himself up soon after and admitted that he had come to Burton Latimer expressly to commit the crime. The crime caused much agitation in the village and the streets were lined with people when Louisa’s funeral took place. The newspaper accounts are very explicit and go into much detail about the murder, the funeral and the trial of Sabey, who was eventually found guilty and hanged on 18th July 1893 at Northampton Goal.

Click here for the full story of the Louisa Johnson Murder 

The 20th century once again saw changes in the type of crimes committed in the town. Burglary, arson, car theft, vandalism, graffiti, general misbehaviour and drunkenness are now the order of the day. A few more serious crimes have occurred.

  • In 1959 thieves armed with gelignite raided the Co-operative Society and got away with a large amount of cash

  • In 1979 the town’s third murder took place in Station Road where an elderly lady was battered, robbed and tied up, then left to die. Three men from London , with a local accomplice, were accused of murdering her and robbing her of £1,685 - they were found guilty and jailed.
  • 1987 was the year when several homemade bombs were found at different times in different parts of the town

Thankfully, as stated previously, these serious crimes are rare in Burton Latimer and hopefully it will stay that way.

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