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Forum Home > Other Crimes and Punishments. > William Booth. A Classic Tale, 1812.

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

This is a story that started in rural Warwickshire, moved into Birmingham, expanded across the Black Country, and finally finished on the gallows outside Stafford Gaol. It's entirely possible it included a murder over money, it certainly includes a very clever and devious man, who, if he had stuck to a legimate business would have done well, but he didn't. So on with the tale, which captivated the publics imagination, over two hundred years ago.


John Booth, a serious and devout man, married his wife Mary, around 1764, near Beaudesert, Warwickshire. Their first born was Henry, who arrived in 1765, followed by Ann, 1768, Joseph, 1770, Sarah and Mary, 1771, Harry, 1772, and finally, the last recorded, William Booth, 1776, at Hall End Farm, near Beaudesert, Warwickshire. ( The accepted figure is actually eight, but as there are no records for this birth, I will pesume it died after a few months.) John was at this time, a respected Farmer and member of the Church, and rose to become the Church Warden. There was though, a fly in the ointment, his youngest, Henry, was reportedly forever getting into trouble, theft mainly, and there was it seemed, very little he could do about it. As he grew older, William may joined his brother on some of his more adventurous deeds, which included stealing a few horses, and indeed. in the Assize records for 1809, thre is a listing for Larceny of one William Booth. In 1798, William married, at Tanworth- in- Arden, one Mary Kendrick, a Mill owners daughter, who must have known his reputation, and as the story relates, joined in his schemes. Returning from one expedition in 1808, the two brothers had a falling out over what may have been money from a sale, and for which William felt he had been short changed. Many people heard the cry of Murder, shouted by Henry, but non of them could do anything for the man they found on the ground, his skull crushed, while William was standing over the warm corpse. He got away with the resulting charge, by convincing the Inquest,  that the blow that caused the damage, was delivered by the horse. It would seem that the family failed to believe this, and William, who already had many dubious friends in Birmingham, left the district. Thus began the second part of his criminal career, for the Town was a hotbed of Forgers and Coiners. There was no shortage of skill for this trade, for not far away were the works of Matthew Boulton, and the Mint he had set up in Handsworth, then in Staffordshire.


William now displayed his sense of organisation, for he shunned the teeming back streets of Birmingham, and with a little money made from his first enterprise of Coining, and with the assistance of his father, managed to obtain a 21 year lease on a property, He then moved to this more secure location, recruiting a small team to help him. This location was a small Farm, midway between Perry Barr, and Great Barr, also in Staffordshire, which, situated at the end of a long drive, would give ample warning if approached by the forces of Law and Order. Installing the machinery, the Farm already had a  forge, he then had the farm fortified against unwanted guests, and recruited husband and wife teams to travel the country, passing off his dud coins and paper money. The dies and plates, when not in use, were secreted around the farm fields, and he made sure that he could not be implicated, by working through many agents. Yes, a clever man was our William Booth, even going to the lengths of getting himself elected as the Parish Overseer of the poor. Now if that wasn't clever, I don't know what is. The money he turned out from the farm, was especially good, hard to detect by the average shopkeeper, and indeed, even for many of the Banks of the time. It was enevitable, that at some stage, he would be discovered, and having turned down a partnership with a prominant Birmingham coiner, John Boulton, ( who grassed him up ) the Law was soon on his tail. A period of survailence on the farm followed, where it was established, that living there were his wife, Mary, Booths daughters, Mary and Charlotte, George Scott, a native of nearby Harborne, John Yates and his two sons, birthplace Stafford,  John Barrow, a local man, and Elizabeth Chidlow, who hailed from Wolverhampton. There were also two servants, John Ingley and his wife Dorothy, and son, Richard., who eventually, to escape punishment, appeared as prosecution witness's. The game was now underway, it was only a matter of time.


A Sample of the Tokens that William Booth legitimately produced.


Now you may be wondering why I am including this on the website. The answer is that I live fairly close to all what was about to happen, it was in the County of Staffordshire, and I am a regular visitor to the local Handsworth Historical Society based in " The Old Town Hall ", Slack Lane, Handsworth, which is the oldest cruck built house, 1460, still standing in the whole of the West Midlands. Besides, I promised a member I would write a piece on the subject when I had the chance, for it's a lively lttle tale.


The Lawmen, having seen weapons being carried about the farm, secured help from the mounted troops stationed in Birmingham. As the matter of coining was a Capital offence, there was no problem obtaining a Magistrates order, for forgery was getting out of hand, so successful was William Booth and others at the trade. Under cover of darkness, the party assembled to make the raid, and then made the stupid mistake of partaking of some " light refreshment " at the " Boars Head ", in Perry Barr. The pub was no more than 500 yards from the farm, and the Law Officers, complete with half a troop of Dragoons, stuck out like a sore thumb. The element of surprise was lost. This is more than apparent from the evidence laid before the Court over the two days of the trial.


The isolated position of the house was further protected by the many precautions the prisoner took to ensure his privacy. On entering the house was found a passage which commincates with the kitchen and also with the parlour which was guarded by three strong doors, the last of which was of Oak, very thick and furnished with strong hinges, a heavy lock and seven bolts, five of these positioned on the jam -side, and two on the hinge-side. This door was further strengthened by being clad by sheet Iron of conciderable thickness. The second door was secured by four strong wooden bars going across the whole breadth of the door and at one side sliding into niches cut deeply into the wall and the other half held by being placed in heavy metal holdfasts. The third door was secured by three strong oak bars employed in a similar manner to the second. There was no other means of gaining entrance to the parlour which had above it a large chamber and above that a garret. Formerly, a staircase from the passage had led to these two upper apartments but the prisoner had caused this to be removed and the entrances to be bricked up so the only means of reaching the upper rooms was through a trap-door in the ceiling of the parlour by means of a moveable ladder which could be drawn up above after being used. The trap-door was strongly made upon an Iron pivot and when shut, secured by two iron bars which ran transversly across it and slid into clamps and hasps set in floor of the upper chamber in whose ceiling was another trap-door lending access in similar manner to the garret-room.


All this of course, formidable as it was, had only been constructed to delay any unwanted guests, and give the devious William and his crew, time to dispose of the evidence in the chamber which was the main workroom of the gang. This is exactly what he was doing, when unable to get through the doors, they resorted to a ladder and scaled the wall to the upper floors. The fire was blazing merrily when they did get in through the window, but even so, they managed to secure enough of the unburnt blank banknotes to charge William Booth with forgery. In the parlour, when they eventualy got in, they found all the equipment needed for coining as well, and a search around the farm soon uncovered the Dies and Copper Plates used in making the fake notes. The most surprising find was made in an out building, all the material for making their own paper for the notes, including an implement to forge a watermark, so important in getting the notes passed. Their goose was now of course, well and truely cooked, the only question left, was just how much of a roasting they would get from a Judge.


Arraigned before Mr Baron Thompson, and Mr Justice Le Blanc, the gang was severely depleted. His wife Mary, the Ingleys, the two young Yates's and Barrow all had the charges dropped. This left the four main gang members, William Booth, Elizabeth Chidlow, George Scot, and John Yates senior, to face the forgery charge which carried the death penalty. John Yates was sentenced to 7 years Transportation, and given he must have been over 50 at the time, very little chance of ever coming back alive, assuming he survived the voyage out. George Scott, the main forger of coins, was also sentenced to 7 years Transportation, and was lucky he didn't far worse. Elizabeth Chidlow, who had been caught with the Copper Plates for making the notes, which carried the death penalty as well, and who confessed to working the press, was sentenced to 14 years Transportation. The two Judges had no mercy though for Booth, found guilty of both the main charges, Forgery and Possession of the Dies and Plates, he was already resigned to his fate. They encouraged him, in the short time he had left, to seek forgiveness from the lord in prayer, and then said; William Booth, you will be taken from hence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck untill you are dead, and the Lord have mercy on your soul.


On the day before his execution, he was visited in his cell by his father, his wife Mary, and his two daughters, Mary, aged 14, and Charlotte, aged 3. It was reported that he showed no sign of being bothered by all the fuss, but lets hope that they didn't witness the rather brutal end their father met.


On Monday,15th August,1812, William Booth was taken from cell and escorted onto the drop in front of the prison. It's not recorded who the executioner was, but from other records, it was liable to have been another prisoner, who volunteered to get out of prison early. And the lack of any expertise showed. He was stood on the drop, and told to give a signal, by dropping a handkerchief  when he was ready, The executioner pulled the bolt, but instead of an instant drop, the trap-doors went into slow motion and failed to open fully. This wasn't the only problem. the rope that had been attached to the beam slipped off as it hadn't been properly secured, and William Booth was thrown forward and left dangling on the partly opened trap. The Halter was swiftly removed, and for the first time, he displayed fear. Re-positioned,  the hanging once again got underway, and thsi time when he dropped the handkerchief, the trap failed to open at all. The whole process began again, and with the vast crowd getting a bit impatient, it was third time lucky, as the trap shot open on his third dropping of the hankie.


There's nothing they say, that can overcome the love of a child by a parent, no matter what he has done, and it was so in this case. John Booth secured a place for his dead son in the Churchyard of Saint Marys, the parish Church of Handsworth, where he was Church Warden, and for a time at least, William shared eternity with Matthew Boulton, James Watt, and William Murdoch. Following several complaints that Booth was resting too near this illustrious group, in 1819, the Vicar had the mortal remains and the Headstone removed to a more distant part of the graveyard. In later years, the stone rested against the west wall, forgotten except by a few older folk. Today it can still be seen, near the gateway, badly worn but still partly readable.

Sacred to the memory of William Booth, who departed this life, Aug.15th.1812, aged 33 years. ........... Also  Charlotte, daughter of William and Mary Booth who died August 8th.1813.

There is more but it's unreadable now. The one fact that stands out. is that he was in fact 36 years old, even the odd Church Warden can get things wrong. ( See the " Criminal Intent " album on the gallery.)

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 13, 2013 at 11:41 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

There are one or two things that spring to mind about the case, and why William Booth was painted in such a bad light. Why they had to execute him in the first place is one. He had, it was true, escaped from a charge of murder in 1808, which may have upset the forces of Law and Order somewhat. Contemporary reports suggest that when he was with his brother, they were standing at the front of a horse, Henry having recently dis-mounted. The wound that killed him was to the back of his head, and it would have taken a very acrobatic horse to inflict such a wound with it's front legs, no matter which way Henry was facing. The medical man was convinced the wound resembled a Horse Shoe, although without Forensic Science, the argument could be made for that cause, or what the Lawmen insisted, was a blow from the usual blunt instrument. Other reports, after the farm was raided, stated that among the finds was an iron bar, with, riveted on the end, a Horse Shoe. Was this an attempt to provide the Court, with a weapon to explain what William had artfully killed his brother with. It had only been fours years since his strange death, and they may have felt he still deserved to be punished. They may also have been suffering from bruised pride, they did at the start have a good case against Willam. Some forgers had previous been sentenced to Transportation for life, but in this case, the Judges were adament, William Booth was going to Hang. The other missing ingredients, are the men who made the scheme work in the first place. Not in Court were the Die maker, the Engraver, or indeed the man who made the paper that made the whole thing profitable. He at least should have easy to find, for there was a Paper Mill, not more than a mile down the road in Perry Barr. There are two other cases on the website, where you can't get away from the thought, that the Judges sentenced a man to death, not for what he was really charged with, but for some past mis-demeanours. There was a Sherriff in a quite remote township in the old West, who openly admitted, that he hanged a man for just being a damned nuisance. I wonder if they did the same to William Booth. ? ( Pictures in the " Criminal Intent " album. )

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

May 14, 2013 at 3:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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