Petty Crime – Hard Labour

Petty Crime: Hard Labour

In mid-October 1865 three youths, James Dawson aged 16, and two 14 year old lads Frederick William Lonsdale and Robert Howson, were up before the magistrates at the Preston Police Court, accused of stealing seven pigeons from a residence in Fulwood. They were also charged, along with their companion in the dock Charles Moore, aged 16, with stealing 10 pigeons belonging to Mr. T.B. Dick, the well-known Preston grocer, from his Fulwood home.


The lads all pleaded guilty as charged and Mr. Pope who defended them spoke a few words on their behalf. He said that there were four grown up men who bought the pigeons from the lads without inquiry; and had it not been for these men and their encouragement to steal the pigeons and dispose of them in exchange for cash no crime would have been committed. The parents of the lads were then called, and all stated that their sons had hitherto been of good character. Nonetheless, the magistrates sought fit to sentence all the accused to two months imprisonment with hard labour.

Chimney sweeps were a common sight in Victorian Preston

Following his release from prison Frederick William Lonsdale took up the occupation of chimney sweep assisting his father who was a well-known sweep in the town. In mid May 1868 the father touted for business around Winckley Square where many a chimney stood tall on the fashionable dwellings.

With plenty of chimneys on Winckley Square the sweep touted for business

Amongst those who engaged his services was James Catterall of 31, Winckley Square. Father and son started work early the next morning and by 9 o’clock the son was occupied in the nursery working through the fireplace there.

What followed was deposed a fortnight later when Frederick William Lonsdale appeared before a bench of magistrates chaired by Alderman Richard Pedder at the Preston Police Court charged with stealing. According to the children’s nanny, Sarah Walker, his work was interrupted by her when she came along with the children to show them a chimney sweep at work. As Miss Walker and the children were leaving the sweep asked her to close the door tightly, as the dust would fly. A request she fulfilled, but from the other side of the closed door she heard the noise of some coins rattling, whereupon she opened the door and saw the accused holding a child’s money box.

In Lonsdale’s hand were some coins, and as he saw her he dropped one copper penny to the floor. She responded by calling him a bad scamp and he replied saying,

‘I put a penny in, and was taking it out again.’

1868 penny

Sarah rang the nursery bell. The accused ran downstairs and off into Winckley Square.

Lonsdale fled out of the house and away from Winckley Square in a hurry

The police were notified immediately, but it was a week before Lonsdale was apprehended after being spotted in Blackburn. Pleading not guilty Lonsdale was committed for trial at the next Preston Sessions, bail being refused.

Lonsdale maintained his innocence when he appeared in court in early July 1868 and despite the best endeavours of Mr. Knowles, who defended him, the jury found him guilty of stealing 1s 2d .

He was then informed he would be spending the next 9 months with hard labour in the House of Correction.

Useful Sources

Preston Guardian reports on the crimes

By Keith Johnson