IN THE MID 1800s, A THIRD OF OLD GAOL INMATES WERE POACHERS
In the 1840s a third of prisoners in Buckingham’s Old Gaol were locals, locked up for poaching.
In Victorian days, game was protected and to kill it you needed a Game Licence. These were only given to the rich - those with houses worth more than £100 - or to people who had inherited rank or a title e.g. sons of knights.
Poor people were doubly condemned. The Game Laws meant that they could be prosecuted for trespassing and poaching game, even on their own land! They could then also be punished for not holding a Game Licence.
In many parts of England these Game Laws were not enforced, as liberal opinion was that they were too severe, and many people felt that they were open to abuse by landowners and the wealthy.
North Bucks, however, remained isolated – a place where double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same, or similar offences) remained the practice into the 1840s.
Poor families often faced ruin as, after paying poaching fines to obtain release of their relatives from Gaol, upon release, these men would then be re-arrested and sent back to Gaol for not having a Game Licence!
This would mean another fine and with their family’s resources already exhausted, many families lost their men, their homes, and their livelihoods.
The Young Poacher by William Hensley, 1874
From the Bucks Herald, 11.12.1841
The crime of Poaching is still on the increase in this neighbourhood, but there are certain cases with which one cannot but commiserate.
A lad, who is an apprentice to Mr. Freeman, the blacksmith, of Gawcott, left his master’s service, and went with William Merry to fetch some pigs: in passing along the Stratford road, they met the carter of Mr. Neal, of Thornborough-Mill, with his master’s team.
He told them, that a little farther along the road, they would see a hare in a snare; they did see one —were so foolish to take it out—and were caught in the fact; the lad sent to Aylesbury jail for one month.
Merry escaped, he did not touch the Hare although he lent the knife to cut the string by which the snare was fastened!
Banged up for taking game from the family garden
William Paragreen [of Bufflers’ Halt] was sentenced to two months imprisonment for taking a hare from a trap set in his mother’s garden: his cousin, who had set the trap, has absconded. (Hare today, gone tomorrow?). William Paragreen was an enthusiastic and prize-winning gardener. Such folk detest marauding hares and rabbits.
[Paragreen, as a surname, seems to share an origin with Peregrine and Pilgrim i.e. people who travel, or come from outside.]
Chartists, supported by magazines such as Punch, led the battle for fairer treatment for poaching offenders. Here is a satirical poem written, probably in 1844:
A CASE AT SESSIONS
from Douglas Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine
Yesterday, at the Sessions held in Buckingham
The Rev. Simon Shutwood, famed for tucking ham
And capon into his anointed man,
Gravely discuss’d a deadly breach of law,
And then committed to the Borough Gaol
(After a patient hearing) William Flail:
For that he, Flail, one day last week,
Was seen maliciously to sneak
And bend his body by the fence
Of his own garden, and from thence
Abstract, out of a noose, a hare,
Which he unlawfully found there,
Against the peace, (as may be seen
In Burn and Blackstone) of the Queen.
He, questioned thereupon, in short,
Could give no better reason for’t
Than his little boys and he
Did often in the mornings see
Said hare, and sundry other hares,
Nibbling on certain herbs of theirs.
Teddy, the seventh of the boys,
Counted twelve rows, fine young savoys,
Bit to the ground by them and out
Of ne’er a plant a leaf to sprout:
And Sam, the youngest lad, did think
He saw a couple at a pink.
“Come!” cried the Reverend, “Come, confess!”
Flail answered, I will do no less,
Puss we did catch; puss we did eat :
It was her turn to give he treat.
Not overmuch was there for eight of us
With a half-gallon o’potatoes:
Eight; for our dear Prue lay sick abed
And poor dear Bessy with the dead.”
“We cannot listen to such idle words,”
The Reverend cried: “The hares are all our Lord’s.
Have you no more, my honest friend to say
Why we should not commit you, and straightway?”
Whereat Will Flail
Grew deadly pale,
And cried, “If you are so severe on me,
An ignorant man, and poor as poor can be,
O Mister Shutwood, what would you have done
If you had caught God’s blessed only Son,
When he broke off (in a land not His they say)
That ear of barley on the Sabbath day?
Sweet Jesus! In the prison He had died
And never for our sins been crucified.”
“Constable! Take that man downstairs,
He quotes the Scripture and eats hares.”