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The Violence of Poaching in Sandy

CRT130sandy27 is a collection of Quarter Sessions extracts and pieces taken from local newspapers. Two of the Quarter Sessions accounts refer to disagreements on Sandy Heath to do with possible poaching. On 29th December 1792 [QSR1792/51] John Cooper, son of Ann Cooper of Sandy Warren made the following complaint: "On Monday night last [Christmas Eve] about Nine o'clock set out with one William Goss of Sandy aforesaid, labourer, to the said Mrs. Cooper his Mother to take a Survey about the Confines and Borders of the Warren along the possessioning Way in a place called Deep Dale, which parts the said Parish of Sandy and Potton in the County aforesaid, and with a View to look for Snares of Engines which might be set by Poaching evil Minded Persons, or People who Come there to trespass on the said Warren".

"They were followed by some persons, Inhabitants of Potton aforesaid who had been secreted there for the purpose of waylaying the said John Cooper and his Men, unlawfully Armed with Great Sticks, Pickax [sic] etc. to set upon and beat them if Opposed and Molested or interrupted in their own evil purposes to wit John Daniel, William Gilbert, John Christy, labourers in husbandry and Joseph Westrop, cordwainer, all of the parish of Potton aforesaid, who presently Came up to them and the said John Christy with an Oath accosted this Informant and said "Damn you. What Business have you here, who tolerated you upon this Bit of Ground?" to wit, a Bit of Ground adjoining to or near the said possessioning Way, but most undoubtedly in the said Parish of Potton and beyond the limits of Sandy Warren, called Brownie Piece".

"That he, said Cooper, made Answer "Why, we are not doing you any harm". That John Christy, who was then Armed with a Turnep [sic] Picker and standing in a Resolute Posture as if Determined for Mischief, brandishing his said Weapon, replies "Damn you if I Get or have the first Blow, that that I hit, shall not have a Second" and John Daniel said immediately "We'll lay them fast asleep, one upon Another, in the Ditch". They said they had waited there sometime for this Informant and his party to Catch him off his Bounds and Christy doubled his Fist and run it against the face of this Informant and also against the Face of said William Goss and then asked them if they called that Striking, but that he did not strike either of them than as above recited".

"That William Gilbert said directly "If we don't do for you at home, you will be had from far or near, they'd Come on purpose, so we may as well do you as they, you will be done for before Winter is out"."

"That John Daniel made answer directly "Here is not half our Gang, the Other are got so drunk they could not Come; that they had then one gone for Nine Pints of Beer". That said Joseph Westrop seemed more mild and not so desperate or Menacing as the other three, and said little or Nothing; or at least nothing of a threatening Nature and seemed to Act only as directed by them or as they dictated".

"The said Informant therefore, upon his Oath, saith that he is so alarmed and terrified at these Menaces and threats and hath been ever since that Evening so in feat of his life or Some bodily hurt from their hands, that he durst not as heretofore go round the said Premises upon his Mother's Business, or stir out as usual when it becomes Evening or towards Night, and therefore prayeth Security of the Peace from the said John Christy, John Daniel and William Gilbert, not out of Motives of Malice or ill will, but merely for his personal safety only".

The Gaol database, which only begins in 1801 does not record a suitable John Christie or Christy but John Daniel of Potton is listed twice for snaring. The first time was on 25th November 1808 when he was forty (making him thirty two at the time of his encounter with Cooper), the second was on 23rd February 1809. He was described as 5 feet 6 inches tall, with brown hair and a dark complexion. On both occasions he received three months imprisonment showing that he was caught the second time immediately after leaving prison for his first offence.

The register lists two William Gilberts from Potton, either of whom may be the man above. The first was caught snaring on 8th February 1806, aged thirty five (which would have made him twenty one at the time of the encounter with Cooper). He is described as 5 feet 4 inches tall, with black hair and a dark complexion. He was sentenced to four months imprisonment. The other Gilbert was caught breaching the Game Laws in 1827 when he was sixty four (which would have made him twenty nine at the time of the encounter with Cooper). He was 5 feet 4½ inches tall with brown hair and hazel eyes and "Dark on the right eye".  He was sentenced to three months imprisonment where he spent half his time on the treadmill and half of it with the cook.

Almost exactly twenty three years after John Cooper's unpleasant encounter, on 16th December 1815, John Bywaters of Sandy: "saith that William Simonds of the parish of Sandy in the said County, gardener, hath wilfully and maliciously threatened to do him some Bodily Hurt, and particularly, that on Tuesday last, at a public House in the parish of Sandy aforesaid: He the said William Simons uttered the following Words, addressing himself to John Bywaters "I will go and catch Hares and Rabbits when, and wherever I please, and if I see you, John Bywaters, or any one else following me in trapping and snaring, I will shoot you dead". The said John Bywaters, therefore, upon his oath affirms that he goeth about in danger of his Life - from the said William Simonds; and that he cannot without great Fear and Apprehension of danger from the said William Simonds, go about the common Concerns of his Business, And therefore, he, the said John Bywaters, hath desired from me the said Justice Sureties of the Peace against him the said William Simonds". No William Simonds or Simmonds or Simons or Simmons who matches this description occurs in the Gaol Database.