Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Community Histories > Luton > LutonIntroduction > The Trial of Thomas Crawley

The Trial of Thomas Crawley

The junction of London Road and Ashton Road September 2009
The junction of London Road and Ashton Road September 2009

Luton has had its fair share of murders over the years but few have been celebrated as folk songs. An exception was the murder of Joseph Adams by Thomas Crawley. His trial at the Bedfordshire Assizes was reported by the Northampton Mercury of 27th July 1833.

"Thomas Crawley the Elder was indicted for the murder of Joseph Adams by striking him with a stick on the right cheek from which he lingered and died. The indictment contained a variety of counts, in which the offence was differently laid".

"The prisoner pleaded not guilty".

"Mr. Gunning and Mr. Austen conducted the prosecution and Mr. Byles the defence".

"Mr. John Williams, builder, produced a plan of the road and fields near the scene of the murder, and spoke to its accuracy".

"Sarah Newman stated that on Sunday the 7th of April, she met the deceased, Joseph Adams, going along the London road leading to Luton; she was going to Harpenden; it was near to the Gibraltar public-house. It was half past eight o'clock. She afterwards met the prisoner and his son. The prisoner had a boy's shoe in his hand; he said, "My boy can't wear this high shoe". Witness said she could not help that. He next asked witness which way she was going - she said it made no difference to him".

"Benjamin Peach, a lad, deposed, that on the 7th of April he met the prisoner and his son on the road near the Luton lime-kilns. They had straw hats on, and the prisoner's was rather over his eyes. The prisoner had a green-wood stick in his hand. About 40 yards behind witness met Adams, who said something to him. The boy had turned his head, and was looking at witness; he then ran up to his father, and said - "That man and boy are looking at us".

"Cornelius Peach, brother of the last witness, was with him on the morning in question. It was near the Gibraltar Inn that they met the prisoner, his son, and Adams. Adams was an infirm, worn-out, old man. Witness afterwards saw the prisoner and his son at the Red Lion Inn, at Luton [2 Castle Street], and knew them again. Witness saw a stick there, and can swear to it as the one he saw in the prisoner's possession. Witness went, with Mr. Drage and the younger Crawley, to Kidney Wood, and to a spiny [sic] near it, on Monday morning - where there they found a hornbeam stump, from which a stick had been cut, and splintered off".

"Joseph Mead was going to Pepperstock on Easter Sunday the 7th of April. Between the brick-kilns and Kidney Wood he met a man, a boy, and the deceased, within the length of the court of each other. He saw the same persons at the Red Lion on the same afternoon".

"Hannah Burgess lives at Mr. Crawley's Lodge, near Luton. On Easter Sunday she met a man and a boy near the brick-kilns. The man had a stick in his hand. The prisoner is the same person; but was dressed differently".

"Benjamin Farmer, when walking along the road on the day in question, saw the prisoner stooping down by the bank near to the brick-kiln; and soon afterwards, at a distance of two minutes' walk, met the deceased".

"Mary Pain, of Pepperstock, was going to the Baptist Meeting at Luton, on Easter Sunday. She came into the road at the Three-want way. About half-past nine o'clock witness arrived at White's-hill. She there saw the deceased, sitting opposite Biggs's shed. His head was bleeding, and he was leaning on his hand".

"James Waller lives at the brick-kilns, a short distance from White's-hill. He was called to the assistance of Adams by the last witness. Deceased was bleeding from a wound in the cheek. Witness and some other persons put him into a cart, and carried him to his brother's, at Luton".

"Daniel Ellingham heard of the deceased being robbed, and went in pursuit of the person who robbed him. At White's-hill witness saw some blood, and about four poles further from Luton he found a stick - it was bloody, and the blood was wet. The place where he found the stick is a 'goodish bit' before they come to Mr. Crawley's lodge".

"William Clarke, the constable of Luton, produced a stick which he had received from the last witness".

"Ellingham recalled - [he took the stick in his hand] - The mark of the blood was still at the end of the stick. It was quite green, and fresh cut, when he picked it up, and had not been cut many hours, if one".

"John Drage produced a watch chain, found near the scene of the murder".

"Mary Rayment remembers Easter Sunday. She knows Mr. Thompson's field, near Crawley's Lodge. She was going along a pathway at the end of Mr. Thompson's field, when she saw a man and boy about twenty yards from Burr's field. They were running, apparently from Biggs's shed".

"Thomas Butlin keeps the Red Lion, at Luton. Knows Blackwater-lane, and was there at half-past ten on the morning of the murder. He saw a boy in an old straw hat and old coat, and afterwards went into a house in Pound-lane, and apprehended the prisoner. In the evening of the same day witness found a stick between Clark's field and the Three-want-way - it was a hornbeam stick, and was lying by the side of the road. Witness was shown the place from which the stick was cut".

"[The stick was produced, and identified]"

"Cross-examined - Did not search the prisoner. His dress was altered, but witness cannot say that it was done in his house".

"Mr. Charles Austin called. - Witness's partner is clerk to the magistrates. On Easter Sunday, a few minutes before eleven o'clock in the forenoon, he was at the deceased's brother's house. The prisoner and his son were there. Witness had their shoes taken off. The boy had high shoes on, nailed and tipped, and an old shoe in his hand, with no prominent heel. The boy said he had worn the left shoe on the left foot. Witness had the prisoner's and the boy's shoes taken to White's-hill, near the pool of blood - it was near to Biggs's shed, which is on the left side of White's-hill, out of Luton. There is a bend in the road. Observed footmarks about the bank; one mark made by the right foot was within a few inches of the blood, and another within 12 or 14 inches of the spot. There were no marks of the boy's shoes near the blood. Witness examined the footmarks very carefully. He observed the marks before he fitted the shoes, and then put the shoes on the pattern. The impression of the iron on the soles with the pattern was very strong indeed. It was short on one side and wide on the other. Witness knows Burr's and Thompson's fields; a footpath leads from the lime-kilns to the meeting-house at Luton, and passes under the hedge of Thompson's field, through Burr's field. Witness next endeavoured to trace the footmarks from the bloody spot; and going up the road, found three or four drops of blood. They next searched the grass on the opposite side of the road. Ellingham pointed out the place where the bludgeon was found, and within 30 or 40 yards of it were marks of the prisoner's shoes - it was across the road, in Thompson's field. In a spiny [sic], in Clarke's field, witness found a hazel stub - it was 70 or 80 yards from the road. Witness found that a stock had been cut from it. He compared the bludgeon with the stump, and it matched exactly. Witness also tracked the footmarks of the prisoner from the road up to the stump".

"[The stump and bludgeon were fitted in the presence of the Jury]"

"John Williams examined - Witness went with Mr. Austin to examine the footsteps, and to compare them with the prisoner's shoes. About five or ten yards out of the turnpike road found footmarks of a man. Witness sand Mr. A. examined them as far as the footpath, compared the prisoner's right shoe with them, and was perfectly satisfied as to the identity. He next traced the footmarks through Burr's field into another of Thompson's fields, where, on coming to the gate, he saw footmarks very distinctly. Witness then followed the footmarks by his eye through a third field of Thompson's, and continued to trace them, by a circuitous route, into the road near to Lord Bute's lodge - from thence to New Mill End, and on to the sack factory. When he got to Brown's windmill, he observed that the prisoner's footmarks tuned across the road in the direction of a pollard tree, and, on examination, witness found that they led towards the tree - it was afterwards pointed out to him by Peach and Drage".

"John Crew saw the prisoner and a boy coming down Thompson's third field about ten o'clock on the morning of Easter Sunday".

"John Field traced the footmarks of the prisoner and his son from Blackwater-bridge, past the sack factory, to the end of Davis's field, into the Hitchin-road. The road was hard there, and witness lost the track. There is a straight lane from thence up to Donkey Hall [HighTown]".

"Mrs. Ann Bowles, of Donkey Hall, Luton, stated that the prisoner and his son came to her house, on Easter Sunday, just as the bells were chiming for church. Prisoner asked how his wife's father was, and witness told him he had left her house, and then lived at a cottage on the bank near Pound-end [Park Street area]. He asked for some water for the boy, and then went in the direction of Pound-end, down Love-lane [Midland Road]".

"John Drage, constable, stated that the church-bells tolled at Luton from ten o'clock on Sunday mornings until half-past. On Easter Sunday he went towards the Three-want-way to stump in the spiny to match it. It was near the Gibraltar that it was found. It had been recently cut and slabbed off. Went to a pollard tree, which witness pointed out to Mr. Williams. He saw a rag of a handkerchief, hanging from underneath it; pulled it out, and found a watch in it. It had no chain nor seal on it (Watch produced)".

"Cornelius Peach recalled -went with Drage and the boy to a tree in the back lane. He confirmed Drage's statement".

"Elizabeth Adams was called to prove the identity of the watch. She said she believed it was her uncle's; but could not positively swear to it, as she did not know it by the face or any particular marks".

"Elizabeth Milmone proved the death of the deceased. He died at twenty minutes past nine o'clock on the Tuesday morning after the assault".

"William Clarke, constable, produced a knife which he took from the prisoner at the house of Daniel Adams, in Church-street; also, a smock frock, which he took from the prisoner at the same place".

"Mr. Thomas Waller, surgeon, at Luton - Was called in to attend the deceased at his brother's house. Witness found him supported in a chair, with a very extensive contused wound in the right cheek, commencing at the angle of the eye and extending across the bridge of the nose; the eye had dropped in. On examining the wound, witness found the bone extensively fractured or broken into several pieces. The wound was inflicted by a club, or cudgel, or some blunt instrument such as the stick produced. Is confident the stick would produce such a wound. Witness attended him until his death on the following Tuesday morning, within forty-eight hours after witness first saw him. The cause of death was effusion into the base of the brain. The accident which the man had received was the occasion of his death. When witness said accident, he meant the wound received from the blow; this produced rupture of blood-vessels, and so on to concussion of the brain, which was the immediate cause of death. Witness saw him on Sunday; he was sinking from loss of blood, but perfectly collected. Crawley, the prisoner, was there".

"Thomas Erskine Austin is clerk to Mr. Williamson, who is the clerk to the magistrate. Witness attended the examination of the prisoner as Mr. Williamson's clerk".

"Mr. Byles took a legal objection to the production of the deposition of the deceased, of which the witness was about to speak, and the counsel for the prosecution consented to withdraw it".

"Mr. Waller, in his cross-examination said, when he first saw the deceased, he did not think his dissolution was near at hand; he was not a dying man at that time. The deceased himself said he hoped he should get better".

"C. Hamilton Shaw, Esq. - Saw the deceased on Monday before he died. He was sworn, and he then made a statement which was reduced to writing. The prisoner was present at the time. It was read over to Adams, and he put his mark to it. Witness countersigned it. Is a magistrate of this county".

"The deposition was put in, and was about to be read, when Mr. Byles submitted that as it purported to be a "further information" in continuation of the deposition which had been withdrawn, it could not be received as evidence"

"Mr. Justice Littledale allowed the objection, and the deposition was not offered as evidence".

"Thomas Crawley, the younger, was then put in the witness-box, after being cautioned by the Learned Judge not to criminate himself in any thing he stated. He deposed that he was the son of the prisoner, and lived at Watford. On Easter Sunday, he went with his father on the way to Luton. They met an old man on the road near the Gibraltar, whom witness after saw bleeding at Mr. Adams's at Luton. His father cut a stick near the Three-want-way, which he chucked aside, and afterwards cut another out of a hedge. He got into the field through the gate. Witness saw the old man again after his father cut the second stick. Witness did not accompany his father so far as the shed on the hill. His father told him to go through a gap in the hedge, and wait in the field. Witness did so. When he left his father, he (the elder), had a stick. Witness could see the shed from the field. His father came to him soon afterwards, and they went to Donkey Hall, where a woman gave him some water. When his father joined him he had no stick".

"This was the case for the prosecution".

"After a lengthy summing up by the Learned Judge, at nine o'clock on Wednesday night the jury returned a verdict of guilty".

"The Court immediately called upon the prisoner to say why judgement of death should not be passed upon him, and Mr. Justice Littledale then proceeded to deliver the awful sentence and implored the unfortunate man to make the best use of the short time that remained for him, to make his peace with his Creator for the great crime of which he had been very properly convicted by a jury of his countrymen".

"The prisoner during the trial did not appear to be in any way affected by his perilous situation, and on his way from the Court, he remarked to one of the constables who attended him, "that they could only hang him"."

"The following is the substance of the depositions of Joseph Adams, the deceased, which were now allowed to be taken as evidence against the prisoner: "The deponent said he was coming from Kinsbourne Green; where he lived, to Luton, on Sunday, April 7th, when he was overtaken by a man and a boy, who went before and then staid behind him; then followed him again, and laid down on the bank by the side of the road. The boy went before, and then came back to the man. The man knocked the deponent down with a stick, by a blow on the head, took his watch, and ran away. The prisoner, Thomas Crawley, the elder, is like the man who struck and robbed him". This deposition was taken before S. Crawley, Esq., M. P. for Bedford, on the day of the robbery. The next day, he made a further deposition before C. Hamilton, Esq. another magistrate, in which deponent said: - "The blow was struck near to Biggs's shed. I had previously seen the man cut two sticks. It was the same man I spoke to the Peach's about, and whom I saw meant some harm to somebody. I came up to the man, and passed him, and then he followed me, and knocked me down". The prisoner was produced, and then deponent said, "I'll swear him to be the man who knocked me down. The watch and chain now produced are my property".

From the evidence of the newspaper report it seems as if the attack on Joseph Adams took place in London Road more or less at the modern junction with Ashton Road (which was not there in 1833). This matches the description as it is near the later house called Whitehill and is at a bend in the road, as stated by Charles Austin in his evidence.

 Ashton Road with Saint Mary's - presumably Joseph Adams' destination - September 2009
Ashton Road with Saint Mary's - presumably Joseph Adams' destination - September 2009