Crime Keeps You Young, or Maybe Not?

Mantrap (Felbrigg Hall)

Mantrap (Felbrigg Hall)

Here’s a short news item from The Norfolk Chronicle for April 16th., 1785.

On the 23rd of March died Ann Simms at Studley-green, in the parish of Brimhill, near Bow-wood, in Wiltshire, in the 113th year of her age; and was, till within a few months of her death, able to walk to and from the seat of the Marquis of Lansdown, near three miles from Studley. She had been, and continued, till she was upwards of 100 years, the most noted poacher in that part of the country; and frequently boasted of selling to gentlemen fish taken out of their own ponds. Her coffin and shroud she had purchased and kept in her apartment more than 20 years.

Just how smart this lady must have been to avoid being either caught and transported or injured while poaching is shown by the following notice from the same newspaper, just five years before:

Wolterton [Norfolk], Nov. 9, 1780
Whereas the Game has been greatly destroyed, and much Damage has been done to the Gardens and Plantations adjoining to Wolterton House, as also to the Woods and Coppices lying and being in the several Parishes of Wolterton, Wickmere, Mannington, Itteringham, Barningham, Calthorpe, and Saxthorpe, the Property of Lord WALPOLE. This is therefore to give Notice, that from and after the 24th of this Inst.,  Mantraps and Spring Guns will placed in the several Gardens, Plantations, Woods, and Coppices abovementioned, that no Person may wilfully trespass thereon, as in these Gardens, Woods, Plantations, and Coppices, there is no Foot Path, or Road whatsoever.

Gamekeepers could be rather trigger-happy as well, as witness this report in The Ipswich Journal for 13th November, 1790:

A poacher being upon a nobleman’s manor in a neighbouring county, and refusing to tell his name to the gamekeeper, the latter, without further notice, aimed his piece at the stranger, and shot him in the leg. Had he killed the man he must have been indicted for murder; but from the pecuniary inability of the poacher to bring an action against him, it is probable that only the bare reputation of the gamekeeper will suffer.

Occasionally however, the tables were turned by a clever poacher and the biter bit. This appeared in the same newspaper for 27th August, 1796:

A few days ago, a gamekeeper to a Nobleman in this county, set a man-trap for a suspected poacher who, watching the keeper’s retreat from the trap, took the liberty to remove and secrete it in the way of the keeper’s intercourse to the spot, who unfortunately, just before day-light the next morning, being heard to call out for help, was found personating his intended visitor in the trap.


William Savage lives near the beautiful North Norfolk coast in Eastern England and writes historical mystery novels set in Norfolk between 1760 and 1800. The first book in the series, “An Unlamented Death“, appeared in January 2015. A second book, “The Fabric of Murder” will be published on May 1st, 2015.

Will is also a local historian. In that guise, he researches topics relevant to the general period of his historical writing, gives talks to local groups and societies and is a regular volunteer guide at a nearby National Trust property. He finally has time for doing all this now he has retired.

About William Savage

Independent researcher and author of mystery stories set in Georgian Norfolk.
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