Thursday, 17 April 2014

O is for Old Bailey records

I have written once before about the proceedings of the Old Bailey, London's Central Criminal Court, which are online at in a useful searchable format.

In my previous blog entry, at, I wrote about the theft of a pocket handkerchief from my fifth great uncle, Claude Crespigny. The thief was transported as a convict to Australia, which seems a very harsh punishment for a minor theft. It appears he did not survive the voyage.

In 1789 Claude Crespigny's son, William (1765-1829), accused his former coachman, William Hayward, of stealing some used harness from him. (Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.0, 15 April 2014), January 1790, trial of WILLIAM HAYWARD (t17900113-104).)

The Old Bailey Sessions House by John Ellis, 1790. Image from
William Crespigny had dismissed his coachman and then travelled from London to his country house in Berkshire. Some weeks later he sent to his coach house in Little Portland Mews in London for the harness. The harness did not come. The harness, which had William's crest on it, was probably about two or three months old.

The question in the trial was what arrangement he had made with his coachman.

When this coachman was engaged, did you make a bargain with him? - I did of course.

Does it happen to you, among the coachmen you have employed, to recollect the terms of that bargain? - Perfectly.

I will trouble you to state them: I believe at first he asked twenty six guineas? - I do not recollect.

This will be very important; I must trouble you to tax your recollection; I believe in the end, the standing wages agreed on, was twenty two guineas, together with other articles? - Yes.

One guinea for boots? - My memory does not serve me.

One guinea for breeches; does your memory serve you to that? - I cannot say.

Do you recollect whether he was to have the old wheels, in order to make up this sum? - I perfectly recollect he was not to have them; I never allowed either old wheels or old harnesses to any coachman; I do not remember that any thing was said about it.

Was any thing said about the old harness? - Nothing to my recollection; I can venture to say, to the best of my recollection, upon oath, that nothing was said; I mean to swear that if any thing was said, that I never agreed to it.

Explain to me what these articles were that were to make up the twenty-two guineas, to be twenty-six guineas? - I believe I gave him twenty-five guineas a year, to the best of my recollection; I do not keep such a very minute recollection.

I must not compliment away a man's liberty? - I think it was twenty-five guineas a year.

Court. I understood you, the agreement was twenty-two guineas a year wages; what other agreement did you make besides? - I believe there were boots and breeches, and a number of et cetera's which the coachmen generally have, but I will not say on my oath.

Mr. Garrow. Pray do not be in a hurry, Mr. Crespigny, the boots and breeches we know all the world over, are two guineas; and the old wheels, though they cost us eight pounds, sell for one? - I know nothing about the old wheels; I never made any agreement for them.

Did your former coachman account for the old wheels? - No, never: I believe they were the first wheels I had ever wore out.

The trial was a trial by jury. William Hayward was found not guilty. There seemed to be reasonable doubt as to whether Hayward was entitled to the old harness as a perquisite, as much his right as his wages. However, the court was at pains to point out that Hayward's acquittal was not setting a precedent: "it is by no means to be understood that servants have a civil right to lay hold of the property of their masters and keep it as wages."

William Crespigny's memory issues are similar to those of Arthur Sinodinos at the recent ICAC hearings, represented in this cartoon about Arthur the bilby at .