12 Days of Criminal Christmas: Drowsy and “Idon’tknowhowish”

beerstreetAnother day, another tale involving the dangers of drink.

William Bolton had been out drinking for all of Christmas Eve, to the extent that by 4am, he was still out and merry.

It was 1725, and Bolton was attempting to wander home, finally, at between four and five on Christmas morning, making his way unsteadily down Spring Gardens.

He was approached by Sarah Hutchins, another rather merry woman, who asked Bolton to “give me a pint, my dear”.

William had “no great fancy for going home so soon” and so went with Sarah to a night cellar at Charing Cross, and there they sat together on the steps. During the course of their company, Bolton lost everything that had been in his pockets – including silver buttons and buckles, and money.

The handkerchief that Bolton wore around his neck had also managed to disappear – but he later admitted that how it had gone, he didn’t know, “for I was very drowsy and I don’tknowhowish” – an unusual expression for “I was so drunk, I have no idea what happened.”

In fact, William was unaware of anything until he “found her hand in my pocket”, and somehow, managed to locate a constable.

Although Sarah’s defence was somewhat unreliable – she swore that Bolton kept following her, and that she only went to the cellar for a pint in order to get out of his way – Bolton was deemed to be even more unreliable, and Sarah was acquitted of picking Bolton’s pocket.

Source: the trial of Sarah Hutchins, 14 January 1726, Old Bailey Online.


12 Days of Criminal Christmas: Tragedy and Illicit Love

Sarah Oldham was a 40 year old married woman, whose husband had abandoned her. She had found love again with a framework-knitter named Edmund Kesteven, a year her junior, and for four years, they had been living together at 7 Penn Street in Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire.

Sarah and Edmund's entry in the 1891 census

Sarah and Edmund’s entry in the 1891 census, from Ancestry

They were fairly comfortably off compared to many others in the area, but they were both known to like a drink.

They were last seen together late on Christmas Eve, when they were together at home. But just after midnight, Sarah Oldham ran to the back door of her neighbour John Dove’s house, dressed in her nightdress, which was covered in blood.

She stood for a moment; then walked through into the Dove family’s living room, sank down in a chair, then slid off it onto the hearthrug and died – all without saying a word.

It was only when the Doves looked down at Sarah on the floor did they realised that her throat had been cut.

Edmund Kesteven was duly charged with her murder, but the reporting of the case made sure to link Sarah’s horrific murder with the fact that she had been living with a man who was not her husband.

The Nottinghamshire Guardian sniffily reported:

“Christmas Day at Sutton in Ashfield was marked by the horrors of a heartless murder, the conclusion to a story of illicit love.”

But the conclusion was actually yet to come. Edmund Kesteven was hanged on 26 March 1895, punished for the drunken murder of his innocent partner.

Source: Nottinghamshire Guardian, 29 December 1894. A full account of the murder is in Geoff Sadler’s ‘Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in and Around Mansfield’.


12 Days of Criminal Christmas: Drinking and Dying in 19th Century Liverpool

TheUsualIrishWayofDoingThingsThis series has already stated that Victorians liked to drink at Christmas. This was noted by elements of the 19th century press, and never made more clear than in a piece in the Yorkshire Herald in 1892.

The paper noted the ‘extraordinarily large number’ of violent and sudden deaths that had been reported to the Liverpool coroner that Christmas.

24 people had been reported to have died on Christmas Day alone, including one alleged murder, six children suffocated to death, and six elderly people found dead.

It was also reported that there had been several more deaths in the city on Boxing Day.

The Yorkshire Herald stated,

“The investigation of the coroner’s office show that drink is directly or indirectly responsible for the majority of the cases.”

Source: The Yorkshire Herald, 28 December 1892


12 Days of Criminal Christmas: Sex, Drink and Pickpockets


There are always two sides of a story – well, kind of. In the trial of Margaret Lawlor, accused of grand larceny in a case brought by Benjamin Tucker, the two sides were not altogether dissimilar – and both depicted a rather grubby Christmas Day in 1740.

Benjamin’s story:

“On Christmas Day, about three in the morning, I happened to meet the prisoner in Drury Lane. We went to the Greyhound Inn, and went to bed together, and I am sure I then had my watch in my pocket. About five in the morning I waked, and missed madam and my watch too.”

Margaret’s story:

“A wicked, vile man; he was drunk as anything, and had other women before me.”

Benjamin’s drunkenness and gullibility was ignored, but Margaret was found guilty and transported.

Source: Old Bailey Online, 25 February 1741


12 Days of Criminal Christmas: A Missing Dog in Brierley Hill

“On Christmas Day, Mr Cole Northall, a butcher, of the Delph, Brierley Hill, near Birmingham, left home with his family in the afternoon.

“On returning at nine in the evening he discovered that the house had been entered by thieves.

“It was found that some dressing drawers upstairs had been opened by a chisel, and that £15 in gold and £8 9s in silver had been taken. A silver watch had been taken.

“A dog left in the house was also missing.”

Source: Liverpool Mercury, 1 January 1858

12 Days of Criminal Christmas: When A Festive Party Went Wrong

480px-László_Self-portrait_with_beer-pot_1891Many Victorian families seem to have spent Christmas Day either getting drunk, or being drunk.

This was not helped when families decided to make life easier for themselves by spending the day at the local pub.

On Christmas Day, 1845, a group had gathered at a pub run by the mother of Philip Payne. Payne was among those present, together with Robert Nicholls, who was a friend or relative.

Philip Payne later said that Nicholls, himself, and others had ‘formed a very convivial party on Christmas Day’, but that while they were playing cards, Payne told a joke about Robert Nicholls’ marriage, which the man in question took offence to.

Nicholls’ reaction was to hit Payne in the face, flooring him. Others in the company, who appear to have been somewhat under the influence of drink by this point, then eagerly joined in, striking Nicholls again, despite him being unconscious.

When The Morning Post published an account of the party – following Nicholls being charged with assault – it mocked the victim, noting:

“the unfortunate jester with matrimonial feelings had good reason to regret that he had not adopted the wise old plan of dining at home at such a season.”

Source: The Morning Post, 27 December 1845. Illustration: “Self-portrait with beer-pot” by Philip de Laszlo.


12 Days of Criminal Christmas: Christmas In Another World

“They said before the Justice that I should keep my Christmas in another World, for they were determined to hang me.”

Statement of Esther Burnham, sentenced to death for pocketpicking at the Old Bailey, 4 December 1741