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The Swing Riots
The Stotfold Riot by Mr Bert Hyde

Places > Stotfold > Agriculture

The trial

The prisoners did not come to trial until the Lent Assizes at Bedford which began on Thursday 3rdMarch 1831.Their cases came up on the second day, Friday 4th. There were two barristers for the prosecution but, as was usual in those days, none at all for the defence. Five of the accused were charged with having on 2nd Dec. 1830 "unlawfully and tumultuously assembled in the Parish of Stotfold and having conspired to obtain by force and violence, an increase of wages and for other unlawful purposes " .The five were Thomas Cooper, aged 41, described in the Gaol Register as "a bad character" ; Thomas Millard,24; William Godfrey, 61; Robert Reynolds,21 and James Gentle,37, described as "orderly". The other five were charged with having on the same day" feloniously broken into and entered the shop of Benjamin Howard at Stotfold and stolen a loaf of bread, value sixpence". They were William Payne, aged 30, described in the Gaol Register as a "bad disposed fellow" James Blows,26, described as "orderly". John Shaw,30; Henry Gentle, 35 and William Saunderson, 27.

No detailed report of the trial exists so we do not know who the witnesses were. John Lafont wrote, "The publicans ought to be the chief evidences; their names are: Mrs. Plyer and granddaughter at the Chequers; Mrs. Payne at the Plough; and a man named Porter who keeps a beer shop (The Whitehorse) ; these can all swear to felonies against the prisoners". But whether any of these publicans were actually called to give evidence at the trial we simply do not know.

All the defendants were found guilty. Five were given prison sentences ranging from two to eighteen months. The other five, three on the first charge and two on the second were sentenced to death. All these death sentences were commuted as happened in many cases in those days. Three, Thomas Millard, Robert Reynolds and James Gentle, received prison sentences but two, Henry Gentle and William Saunderson, were ordered to be transported for 14 years.

There is not much to show why Henry Gentle and W1lliam Saunderson were dealt with more severely than the others. No doubt the justices wanted to make an example of some of them and perhaps Gentle and Saunderson were just unlucky in being the last prisoners sentenced. More likely, however, in the case of Henryy Gentle it was because of his past record. He had been in prison on three previous occasions; twice for assault and once for fowl stealing. Saunderson on the other hand, seems to have had a clean record. He had been charged at the 1828 Epiphany Quarter Sessions at Bedford with stealing barley from William Vaughan of Manor Farm but the case was dismissed as no true bill. There is an Australian source that says he had served 5 months on a previous conviction. If this is true it would perhaps explain why he too was ordered to be transported.

Of all the prisoners Shaw the notorious gypsy got off the lightest for although he received six months according to the Gaol Calendar, in the Gaol Register his sentence is only six weeks. He was the first to be released, being freed on 14th April 1831.


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Page last updated: 4th February 2014