• Lancashire’s Criminal Past

    Fleetwood policemen 1906 (Click to see more images of Lancashire's Criminal Past)

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This project has now ended

Please Note: This site has been archived and is no longer being updated. It is being maintained to allow access to anyone interested in this 2010-2012 historical project. However, we cannot guarantee that the links herein will still be active or all the content, in particular images, will display correctly.

We would like to say a big thank you to all the staff of Lancashire Libraries, Museums, Archives and Community Heritage who contributed material, knowledge and enthusiasm to this blog.

Lancashire’s Criminal Past

Starting in 2010, Archives, Libraries and Museums across Lancashire began working together on the Lancashire’s Criminal Past project. A Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £8,900 was awarded which helped to fund a series of events, displays and work with schools and community groups. This funding has also been used to fund the development of these web pages which showcase the resources held in Lancashire.

In this blog you will find a wide range of stories drawn from Lancashire’s criminal past and recorded in documents, newspapers and photographs found in the collections at our libraries, museums and archives.

They range from the petty, comical and bizarre to dark crimes notorious throughout the world.

We hope that this will capture your imagination and encourage you look closer at your Lancashire’s history.

If they inspire you, you might want to become involves in helping Lancashire’s Cultural Services to preserve this history and tell its stories. Many of these stories would remain hidden if it wasn’t for the invaluable assistance of volunteers across the county taking on such tasks as indexing old newspapers and digitizing old photographs to make them easily accessible to all.

We’re always looking for ways in which we can use the collections with local people, groups and schools. They can really help to bring our history to life and bring more meaning to your studies and interests.


Two ships cross the Atlantic

In April 1912, two ships set out to cross the Atlantic, one the newest, the other the oldest in the world. Only one made it safely to harbour…

We would commonly say “set sail across the Atlantic”, but the first, embarking from Southampton on its maiden voyage on the 10th April, was a “state of the art” iron and steel steam ship, the White Star Line’s RMS Titanic.

However, set sail is exactly what the second, which left Glasson Dock, Lancaster on its last voyage on 15th April, did. Reported at the time to be the “oldest working ship in the world”, apparently commissioned in 1790, the Success was a three mast vessel, constructed of  Burmese teak.

The Success had a remarkable history, but it’s final voyage became a footnote, only reported in the Lancaster newspapers, overshadowed by the publicity given to the launch of the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic and the tragedy which unfolded on its first voyage.

The Success had been due to set sail from Glasson at the same time as the Titanic but has had problems mustering a crew for the journey… Seafarers are, traditionally, deeply superstitious men.

“She was due to sail over a week ago, but could not put to sea as a number of the first crew, superstitious of the gruesome old vessel and its associations with some of the most horrible episodes of English penal life, declared it was haunted by the ghosts of dead malefactors, and refused to remain on board.”

The Success had been in Britain since arriving from Sydney, Australia in 1894 and had toured English ports as an exhibition ship.

As the exhibition ship’s brochure shows, the Success was billed as the “Australian convict ship” built in 1790. This date would make the ship the oldest wooden ship afloat.

The vessel was equipped as a ‘museum’ of the penal ships which transported convicts to Australia, and included life size wax figures and artefacts which were claimed to have belonged to famous criminals, such as the “original armour and headgear of Ned Kelly, the iron clad bush ranger”.

After several years as a visitor attraction in Britain, Success was sold in 1910, its new owners planning to take the exhibition to America.

The ship finally sailed from Glasson Dock on the day the Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic and sank. An article appeared in the Lancaster Observer the following Friday, and that is the last heard of the Success until  exactly three months later when the paper reported her progress. Although an old sailing ship, she had on this voyage been equipped with modern communications, a Marconi wireless, and during her passage had communicated with other vessels. The July report came from the Cunard liner the Franconia which, over those three months, had passed the sailing ship no fewer than five times as it travelled between Liverpool and Boston and had talked to the radio operator on each occasion. The success had encountered severe gales, been blown off course and nearly capsized. She had require resupplying with food and fresh water from the Franconia. But the Success finally arrived safely in Boston over a month later.

This was not to be the final drama in the ship’s remarkable history.

The Success had, in fact, been launched as a merchant ship in 1840, trading around the Indian subcontinent. In 1842, the ship was chartered to carry settlers from Britain to Australia and over the next ten years made many voyages around the world, taking ‘indentured labour’ from India to the West Indies, as well as the first emigrants to the Perth area of Australia. However, in 1852 when it arrived in Melbourne at the height of the ‘Gold Rush’, the entire crew deserted to go prospecting.

The Gold Rush had led to a large influx of population and a huge increase in crime. Unable to accommodate all their convicts, in 1854, the government of Victoria followed the British example, and acquired five ships, including the Success, to act as prison hulks. Following several escape attempts and two murders committed by the inhabitants of the Success, it was decided that prison ships were not sufficiently secure to hold male prisoners and by 1860, the ship was used only to hold women and children. The vessel was subsequently converted into a storage ship and remained at anchor near Melbourne for the next thirty years.

It was in 1890, when the Success was sold on, that it was fitted out and assumed its persona as an ‘authentic convict ship’ musuem. The Observer article lists some of the hype, including the suggestion that it was the very ship that took the “six men of Dorset”, the Tolpuddle martyrs, over to Australia. Unfortunately, the museum ship did not prove a great success in Sydney harbour and was abandoned and skuttled by its owners. Sold to other entrepreneurs  in 1892, Success was refloated and refitted, and did a tour of Australian ports before setting sail for England.

When the ship had crossed the Atlantic to America, it toured the ports of the Eastern seaboard and Great Lakes. The Success had many changes of ownership. The ship is believed to have once again become a cargo ship in 1917, but sank after being damaged by sea ice. Refloated for a second time, she resumed her role as a convict museum ship and even featured in Chicago’s World Fair of 1933. After several years on display at Cleveland, Ohio, the now dilapidated vessel was towed to moorings on Lake Eerie. Sunk once again in a storm in 1942, it was not until 1946 that the Success was finally wrecked following a fire which destroyed everything above the waterline. Artefacts from the Success are now exhibited in Sandusky Maritime Museum in Ohio.

This story comes from articles in the newspaper archive of Lancaster Community History Library and documents held by Lancaster Maritime Museum. You can learn more about this history at The Sailing Ship Success

Life and Crimes of Victorian Pendle

Evil deeds and general misbehaviour recorded in local newspapers

Do you think that crime is worse now and people behaved better in days gone by? This is a fascinating look into crimes being committed and cases being brought to court in Victorian Pendle. Stealing, drunkenness and assault using a cabbage as a weapon are some of the crimes that have been indexed in contemporary local newspapers for this period.

In 2010, Lancashire Libraries launched Lancashire’s Criminal past, which looked at crime and punishment throughout Lancashire’s history. Following on from this, volunteers have been recruited to index the local newspapers for the Pendle area, cataloguing crimes that were being committed in Victorian times. The stories and cases give an interesting snapshot in time on life and society in that area and make for fascinating reading.

To date, nearly 400 instances of crimes have already been indexed, with a wide variety of cases involved. Some cases are similar to those you might see today.

In January 1882 Joseph Dawson and James Hopkinson were both found guilty of being drunk and very disorderly in Heifer Lane Top, Colne. They were fined 5 shillings each plus costs.

Other cases are more unusual:

In December 1868, John Hartley was accused by the Marsden Overseers for the Poor of failing to support his mother. He settled the case before it came to court.

John Thornton was fined 3 shillings and 4 pence plus costs for playing cards on Sunday in July 1864.

Non-payment for children was also dealt with at the court sessions. In February 1864, Joseph Foulds had to appear before the court to explain why he had not contributed towards the maintenance of his child that he had fathered with an Ellen Ann Shaw. He had reportedly said that he would marry her on more than one occasion and he was ordered to pay the cost of the midwife, 2 shillings and 6 pence for 5 weeks and then 2 shillings from then on.

As we can see, a policeman’s lot was not a happy one. In February 1890, Ellis Bannister struck PC Brown whilst he was in custody for being drunk and disorderly in Leeds Road, Nelson. Ellis pulled PC Brown’s whistle off and tore his uniform, using what was reported as very bad language all the time. He was described as a bad character as he already had 12 convictions!

Drink played a big part of bad behaviour and many of the cases involve someone not being able to hold their liquor. In December 1863, Sarah Williams, a prostitute and brothel owner from Buck Croft in Colne, was charged with being drunk and disorderly and swearing and cursing in the street, waking up the neighbours. She was ordered to pay 5 shillings or spend 6 hours in the stocks.

The crimes indexed so far can be viewed at Lancashire Lantern, our local history website.

Interested becoming a Pendle Victorian Crime indexer? Please contact ch.enquiries@lancashire.gov.uk for more information on the project.

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You’ll find all our old posts plus additional features at http://lancashirescriminalpast.wordpress.com/

and there will be much more coming in 2012. Thank you all for following this blog.

French spy gaoled at Lancaster

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, the industrial revolution was in full swing with Britain at its forefront and there was intense rivalry between European nations to innovate and increase trade. Continue reading

“Kissing the tulip” at Lancaster Castle

Uncovering the sexual code in eighteenth century graffiti. 

Lancaster Castle has been a courthouse and prison since at least 1196 and Lancaster Castle, like many historic monuments, has its fair share of graffiti; most has been left by prisoners, but other examples include pieces by gaolers and their families, craftsmen, spectators in the court’s public gallery, and even members of the 19th century Grand Jury. Continue reading

“Most awfully deceived” in Chorley

This is No. 10 Parson’s Brow, Chorley. In 1893  this was the home of George Shellard, notorious in his day.  Shellard lived here with his wife and two daughters doing various jobs which often ended with him being fired; he apparently had a violent temper and liked a drink.  Continue reading