A Threatening Letter
On 19th September 1834 a threatening letter was sent to farmer William Pratt of Totternhoe, who lived at Manor Farm. The letter [QSR1835/1/6/22] read as follows: "William Pratt I understand that you are the worst enemy to the poor in Totternhoe. I understand you are creeping about a nightes and if you will creep about we will blow your brains out you learing rascle, and if that won't do we will set you all on fire you damb rascle and we can set you on fire ... furlog of and if you don't use the poor better as soon as the see how you goo on with the poor we will set the on fire you damd rascle you villaine and Dan Twidle an and ould Twidell so take notice we mean to shew you up - you all take notice and read this well for this shall be the way as we will serve. Not better .... poor we will .... by night or day". Daniel Twidell lived at the property today called Lancotbury.
On 23rd December 1834 George Bliss of Totternhoe was taken in for questioning and charged with sending the offending letter [QSR1835/1/5/22]. Naomi Giltrow of Billington, a single woman who lived with William Pratt of Totternhoe at the time the letter was sent stated that she remembered finding the letter in her master’s garden and gave the letter to her mistress. She tried to read the letter but was not able, but she knew some of the letters in it.
Frances Pratt, William's wife, remembered Naomi bringing her the letter she had picked up in the garden. She took it and put it by until her husband came home, then gave it to him. "Not being a good scholar" she could not read the writing.
William Pratt stated that he got the letter on the last day of the Luton Statute Fair, an important day for local farmers when they might buy and sell goods and hire servants. He read it over, except a word or two which he could not make out. He took the letter to Daniel Twidell junior and asked if he had any of George Bliss’s writing. Twidell had some but did not then produce any. After he showed the letter to several persons John Twidell came to his house. Twidell read the letter and took it away with him. As soon as he saw the letter he suspected it was George Bliss’s writing as he has seen it before and many of the letters appeared very like his writing. John Twidell stated that he kept the letter until after the fire at his brother Daniel’s which happened on Sunday 7th December.
Things were taken seriously because serious agricultural riots known as the Swing Riots had taken place in much of England, including Bedfordshire, in 1830 and unrest among the rural poor was still feared. Marlborough Street Police in London were called in to investigate as one of the officers, Benjamin Schofield, stated, in consequence of an application made to the Chief Magistrate of Marlborough Street Police Office. Schofield went to Tottenhoe on 14th December to make enquiries respecting the fire that had happened at Twidell's house, thinking that the letter writer's threat had been carried out.
George Bliss, the suspected letter writer, was now in real trouble and potentially facing charges of arson. Schofield called at George Bliss’s lodgingsmand found him at home with his father, sister, and other family members. He may have lived at 281-283 Castle Road as a T. Bliss is noted as living there in the Totternhoe survey of 1840.
Bliss’s father pointed him out his son to the policeman who asked him to come outside with him as he wished to ask him questions about the fire. His father resisted his going but the son came out willingly. They had a good deal of conversation about the fire. Afterwards he asked if Bliss had received any letter from a young man that morning. Bliss said he had neither received nor written a letter. He asked to look in Bliss’s box as he was not satisfied. Bliss allowed him to do so after some hesitation. There was no writing there. He then asked Bliss if he had any writing paper or pens or ink. About that time Bliss asked him what he meant by his writing letters. Schofield asked if Bliss could write. Bliss took down from a shelf a school copy book which his mother had previously pointed out as belonging to him. Schofield opened the book and asked if a certain part contained his writing. Bliss said it did. Schofield doubted this as he had in his possession a book containing some of Bliss’s writing and the two did not match. Bliss said that part was his sister’s. Immediately afterwards a paper dropped out of the book which Bliss admitted was his handwriting.
Schofield returned to Bliss’s lodgings the next day and found the copy book on the same shelf and they compared the paper of the book and letter. He then took the book away. From certain notches on the edge of the letter and the book he has no doubt that the paper was cut out of the copy book, which Bliss has admitted to be his. He also showed Bliss some writing at the end of a book of hymns which he also admits to be his writing. He believes the letter to be in the same hand.
George Bliss simply said: “I know nothing about the letter Mr Schofield shewed me. It is not my writing.” He was lucky, the court believed him and stated that the case against him was no true bill.