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Selling Sparrows

Selling Sparrows

Selling Sparrows

Ref: JHD-01

Supplied by Sparrow Books.

The early part of the 19th century heralded a period of want and distress for the agricultural labourer and many were starving. In contrast, the gentry had their estates swelled by acquisitions awarded in recent land enclosures.

One bitter night during 1849, landowners of Stanbridge in Bedfordshire, seeking to protect their property from a gang of petty thieves, detailed two police constables to watch the activities of a local man thought to be their ringleader. The bloody events of that night were to have disastrous consequences for many families.

This true story depicts the lives of the three men who were subsequently arrested for a crime which at that time could carry a sentence of transportation to Australia. It details their trial and the intervention by the squire, convinced that there had been a miscarriage of justice.Whilst examining the effect that poverty and land enclosure was having on local people, it poses the question - were the men victims of villains?

My interest in the story of the gang was initially aroused by the fact that my great-great-grandfather was arrested and tried at Bedford Assizes in 1849, believed to be part of that gang.

A wealth of information was found whilst searching records at the National Archives in the form of appeals by one of the gang. There were notes written by the judge at the trial; letters to the convict's wife in Stanbridge, and to the local squire in Houghton Regis; appeals from the farmers, intent on keeping the convict in prison. All these gave such an insight into the character of the man that I felt they should be preserved for future generations as a record of social history of that time.

The result is a book of some 450 pages with many illustrations and copies of documents, detailing the events of the incident, the trial, and the lives of the accused men before and after the trial. It looks at the effect that land enclosure and poverty was having on families at that time leading to a rise in crime. It follows the story through different prisons, Millbank, Portland and Dartmoor; and convict transportation to Gibraltar and Western Australia.