It was 21 May 1766, a Wednesday, and Sarah Mayes was tired. She and her husband, Arthur, had been travelling from Cheltenham to their home in Chipping Campden, in Gloucestershire, and they were exhausted.
They had only travelled around three miles, but on reaching Cleeve Hill, on the way to Winchcombe, they decided to stop for the night. They found a room at a local alehouse, the Rising Sun, and were soon asleep. On waking early the next morning, they gathered their things, and soon left, to walk the remainder of their journey home.
It was four days later when the innkeeper, Elisabeth Herbert, had reason to go into the room where Arthur and Sarah had slept. She kept a red cloak in a cupboard there, and needed it. But the cloak had vanished.
Elisabeth immediately suspected her guests, for no-one else had stayed in the room since. She called her son, glover Edward Herbert, and ordered him to go after them.
It is always surprising to find how easily people could find each other, if they needed to, in the 18th century. Despite a lack of good roads and transportation, if a magistrate raised a hue and cry, or a suspect had to be apprehended, it wasn’t that hard to find them.
For Cotswold communities were small, and communication was rather good. Any stranger in one of the towns or villages would be noticed, recognised as someone from out of town.
On asking around, Edward Herbert found the last man who had given Arthur and Sarah some work while they were trying to get back from Cheltenham. He knew their names; he knew that they lived in Campden.
Edward immediately went to a local magistrate, Benjamin Field, and obtained a search warrant. On Sarah’s home in Campden being found, and searched, the cloak too was found, and identified by Edward as being his mother’s.
On 28 May 1766, Sarah Mayes appeared before Benjamin Field to be examined as to the theft. She said,
“As we were getting up, I saw, in the room where I lay, a scarlet cloak hanging up: this (unknown to my husband) I took down, concealed, and carried away with me.”
Justice Field believed her confession – that, in a small room, where her husband was present and others were nearby, Sarah had been consumed by desire. Wanting, needing, coveting, that cloak, she had simply taken it.
Field noted, “the said Sarah Mayes confesses she herself took [it], and that her Husband was in no way privy to it.”
What happened to Sarah after this is unknown. The value of the cloak was not recorded, but given the efforts of the Herberts to retrieve it, it may have been a fairly decent item of sufficient value to make Sarah guilty of grand larceny – a capital offence.
One hopes, though, that tired Sarah, who coveted something bright one May morning, stole something old and worn, was forgiven by the victim, and allowed to return to her husband in Campden. What he thought of her impulsive action, though, also remains unknown.
Source: Gloucestershire Archives Depositions, Q/Sd/1766-1770, A8 and A9