|… and that very night, about ten o’clock we entered the house, and entered the pantry by getting thro’ the pantry window from thence to the wash house, into the fore-room, and up stairs forcing open in our way, four doors which were properly secured with good locks..
The noise awakened Mrs. Widdet, who thinking the cows were breaking in, called out as loud as she could to Mrs Brett, who was deaf, and slept in the next room. So far from being afraid of a discovery, I could not forbear laughing, when Mutton swore if I did not leave off, he would break my neck down stairs, then in a rage, burst open the door, entered her chamber, and swore he would blow her brains out if she spoke another word, demanding her keys and money, which she, with the greatest terror in her looks, complied with.
He then took from her two half guineas, two gold rings from off her fingers and about 7s or 8s, in silver; we then proceeded to search the drawers, where we found six silver teaspoons, four table-spoons, and one very large spoon, marked with her father’s and mother’s names. Mrs Widdet earnestly begged to have that spoon returned her, but Mutton swore if he did not find the money he was in search of , she should not have one thing left. Bad as I was, I could not help feeling for the distress I had occasioned, and took an opportunity, unseen by my companion, to throw he spoon to her on the bed.
We then attempted to enter Mrs. Brett’s room, which was so strongly secured with bolts, locks and chests that we were obliged, by violence, to break through a panel in the middle of the door, when Mrs. Brett shrieked out, “For God’s sake don’t hurt me:. Mutton told her, is she spoke again he would blow her brains out. She then wrapt herself round in the bed clothes, and resigned herself to our mercy.
At this moment, a party of smugglers came up to the house, and we began to be afraid of being taken, but placing myself at the head of one of the women, and Mutton at the other, we prevented them from crying out; meanwhile the smugglers (who wanted only refreshment) got off their horses close to the windows, and after staying about a quarter of an hour, mounted again and rode off.
Finding ourselves out of danger, we began to rifle her pockets, and found 18s or 19s, five gold rings we took offer her fingers and breaking open her drawers found two large silver spoons and six tea-spoons, and at the bottom of a chest, a purse with eight or nine half-crows and a remarkable crown-piece. As we could not find the cash we were in search of, Mutton asked her where the money was she had received that day at Canterbury for the hay. She replied, “I did receive it, but I left it with Colonel Webb”.
We then were resolved to carry off everything that was valuable, and having broken open another chest, found two silver mugs and apiece of India handkerchiefs, returning downstairs we examined the cupboards, and finding some beef stakes and cucumbers, we sat down and made a hearty meal, drinking about half a bottle of gin; we then went off with our booty and buried the plate between some bean rows in the Forty Acres, near St Dunstan’s Canterbury.
Mrs. Widdett’s Family
Elizabeth Friend was born in 1706. In 1740 (age 34) she married John Widdett a widower.
John had married Mary Russel in 1737, and they had had 6 children: John (born 1729), Jacob (born 1730), Mary (born 1732), Isaac (born 1734), Mary (born 1737) and Michael (born 1737).
In 1749 their oldest son, John, died, age 20.
On September 1752, the following announcement appeared in the Kentish Weekly Post.
[Small pox was probably the single most lethal disease in 18th century Britain. It killed one-seventh to one quarter of its victims. Those who survived often had significant facial disfigurement (as it seems was the case with Isaac Widdett).]
Whether or not Isaac returned home it is not known. He probably did, for what is next recorded is his burial in Blean church a couple of years later in 1755. He was 19 years old.
In 1758 Elizabeth’ step-son, Jacob, married Elizabeth ANDERSON (born 1737) in Blean.
In 1776 Elizabeth’s husband John died, and she became a widow.
In 1788 Elizabeth Widdett died, age 82 – this would have been a couple of years after the break-in described here. She she was buried in Blean church.
|After we divided the money, Mutton went back to Canterbury, and I returned home. The next morning I was taken in bed by a Constable and carried before a Magistrate, on suspicion of being an accomplice in the robbery ..
but, while I was there, Mr. Hatton, the Keeper of St Dunstan’s gaol, came in and informed the Magistrate that he had taken Mutton, as his sister’s, in Turn-again-lane, and on searching him, he found a remarkable crown-piece
|I then turned evidence, told where the plate was hid and every particular relating to the robbery. To confirm what I had said, Mr. Hutton took me to the place where I had mentioned the plate was hid, and found everything to be true as I related. Mutton was then committed to take his trial for the robbery, and I as an evidence against him.||
|At the next Assizes he was capitally convicted ….||
…. and afterwards hung on Penenden Heath.
I was sentenced to remain in gaol for twelve months, or find sureties for my good behaviour; which being out of my power, I remained in prison.
In England in the 17th and 18th centuries criminal justice was severe. It was later termed the “Bloody Code” although it was not referred to as such in its own time) due to the sharply increased number of people given the death penalty – even for crimes considered minor or misdemeanour by 21st century standards.
In 1688 there were 50 offences on the statute book punishable by death, but that number had almost quadrupled by 1776, and it reached 220 by the end of the century.
The British Library article, Crime and punishment in Georgian Britain tells us that most punishments during the 18th-century were held in public.
“Executions were elaborate and shocking affairs, designed to act as a deterrent to those who watched …
(In London) prisoners were transported to the gallows along a three-mile route by cart, often followed by a huge, jeering crowd numbering several thousand people. Prisoners were executed in front of these noisy, riotous audiences and many hangings resembled more of a fair than a solemn legal ceremony.
Other hangings, by contrast, were sombre affairs, accompanied by deep mourning and widespread commiseration for the condemned. White doves were sometimes released by the spectators as a symbol of their sorrow, and executions were accompanied by a hushed silence as the frightening moment of death arrived.”
Penenden Heath derives from the Saxon word ‘pinian’ meaning ‘to punish’, which would date the site as a place for executions before the Norman Conquest.
The List of Executions on Penenden Heath shows that a William Hutton was executed on 17 August 1786 – however, names were often mis-spelt back then, so this was surely William Mutton.
“The average number of executions was 80 per year with a peak of 219 in 1801. Crimes against property still featured heavily in these lists, with burglary being the crime in 438 cases and housebreaking in a further 70. The move towards abolition of the so called “Bloody Code” during the latter part of the period had begun and was reducing the number of executions.
Commencing in 1862 all executions were applied only to those convicted of murder. Abolition of public executions came into force pursuant to the Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act passed by Parliament on the 29th of May 1868. Accordingly, as at that time all executions were moved from Penenden Heath to Maidstone Gaol.
The last hanging took place on Penenden Heath in 1830.
|Tho’ I turned evidence against Mutton, and was the cause of his being convicted, he bore me no ill will, and frequently conversed with me in the most friendly terms. The morning before he was executed, he talked with me for nearly two hours, giving me the best advice, and particularly begged of me to leave off going into the company of bad women, for “you know, Jack” said he “that keeping their company has brought me to this, and will likewise bring you sooner or later, if you don’t shun them”.
This was true, for when I worked, I wanted for no money or friends, and thieved chiefly to supply their endless wants. If the Magistrates would seriously endeavour to discourage their nocturnal meetings, it would save them a great deal of trouble, and prevent many a young man from coming to the gallows.
“He bore me no ill will”
Jack’s story doesn’t quite match with this report in the Kentish Gazette:
> 9 : More stealing & house-breaking
Last updated: March 11, 2022 at 17:17 pm