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The Death of an Unwanted Child

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is lucky enough to have some stray Assizes records from the mid 17th century. The collection was bought in 1934 from a dealer who had bought them from a waste paper merchant! Some examinations for cases being bought to the Assizes in 1672, 1678 and 1680 all highlight the Aman family and their nefarious ways.

At the Summer Assizes on 1678 [HAS1678S72] Hannah, daughter of John Aman and her mother, also called Hannah, were tried for the murder of a bastard child. Hannah was the girl who had smuggled stolen goods out of her father's house in her petticoats in 1672.

The mother was examined on 18th May: "This Examinant saith that shee did agree with one Alexander Bowin of Maulden in this said County to take a child of which he was the putative father begotten on the body of his servant Bigge, and did keepe the said child at her house in Ridgmont aforesaid accordinge to theire agreement but upon further consideration shee not willinge to keepe the said child any longer for soe little allowance, the said Bowin paid her for soe longe time as she had kept the said child, and agreed with her daughter Hannah Aman to keepe it for the future, and further saith that her daughter Hannah Aman after shee had agreed with the said Bowin did leave the child in the parish of Edlesborough in the County of Bucks in a by place in there field a mile and a halfe from the said towne where it was found on May day in the morninge almost dead the morninge being a very rainy morninge. And this examinant further saith that she fetched the said child from Edlesborough the day before her daughter Hannah Aman carried the said child to Shortnold in the said Country, where it dyed the very night ensueinge".

Hannah the daughter was then examined: "This Examinant saith that after her mother had lefte the said child and would keepe it noe longer shee did agree with Alexander Bowin the putative father of the aid child to take the said child, and to leave the said child somewhere that it might never come to light againe, yetupon a little pause she said soe as it might not come to mischiefe; the said Bowin promisinge and giveinge her a bond of five pounds for the payment of fiftie shillings, and that after her mother had fetched the said child from Edlesborough shee did carry the same to Shortnold in the said County of Bedford upon Thursday being the Ninth day of this instant May, and there shee lodginge with it in one Goodman Deacon's barne the child fell to vomiting and soe dyed, and was buried at Streatley in the said County the 11th day of May aforesaid, notwithstandinge shee being before charged by the Constables of Ridgmont where shee then was to carry the said child to Maulden which she promised them soe to doe, and that shee did intend it; yet contrary to her promise she carried the said child to Shortnold aforesaid which was quite out of the way to Mauldon aforesaid, Shortnolld beinge as farre from Mauldon as Ridgmont was".

The assize records reveal that no true bill was found against either Hannah senior or Alexander Bowin but the calendar of prisoners and a complaint made about the family two years later reveal that Hannah junior went to prison for the crime.

Parish registers reveal that the child was called Katherine as a Katherine "supposed daughter of Alexander Bowin" was baptised at Maulden on 10th February 1678. The Bigge family have a number of entries in the register in the late 17th century but Katherine's mother cannot be identified. The parish register for Streatley includes no mention of the burial of Katherine, or any unknown child, in 1678. Alexander Bowin is not mentioned as being baptised, married or buried in Maulden. Shortnold is not a recognizable place and it is most likely Shortnold's or something like it, in other words, the house or farm of someone with the surname Shortnold or similar.