Page 3 : First time in prison

I now began to think seriously of my crimes, and determined within myself, to leave these wicked proceedings, and endeavour to get my living by honest means; however, returning to Canterbury, I unfortunately met with some of my old companions, in great distress, without money or even victuals.

They proposed to go out with me that evening, at first I gave them a denial, saying I was sorry for what I had done, and resolved to leave off, but then earnest entreaties soon overpowered my reason, and, at last, consented to go with them.

About nine o’clock that night, we went to Mr. Sandy’s at Blean, (whom I had robbed before) and having hid myself on the gratten-wall, heard Mr. Sandy say to his waggoner, “As they ha’nt been here for two nights, I don’t think they’ll come tonight.”  By this I was sure some of my companions had been here before.

The waggoner, however, persuaded his master to take the fowls into the house, which, after a little consideration, he complied with. I then took notice of the place where they hid the key, which was in a hole in the wall. When they had been in bed about an hour, I went to the hold, and took the key of the back door, by means which we entered the wash-house, and stole from thence nineteen fowls, leaving only an old cock and a stag, with which we got safe off ….. and sold them the same evening to a person in Canterbury, for 1s 6d, a couple.


The work of a waggoner

In farming, a wagoner looked after the horses under his control, and drove them in accordance with whatever work was to be undertaken, e.g. ploughing, reaping, harrowing, carting etc.

A waggoner was also the name for someone who drove a horse-drawn wagon, taking produce or goods to market.

The Jolly Waggoner was an old English folk song: A waggoner looks back on his life. His parents had disapproved of his choice of profession but has no regrets. He can be cold and wet, but he simply stops at the next inn and sits with the landlord, drinking. In the summer he hears the birds sing. In the autumn he has lots of work and the money rolls in. What a jolly life!


Fowl usually refers to chickens or other domesticated birds that lay eggs or are raised to be eaten. If you were poor in the 18th century, you would keep chickens as they were easy to raise. Hence chickens very popular.

A male fowl is a cock or rooster.  A female fowl is a hen. A “couple” would be one of each. A stag was a male chicken (usually under 10 months of age) with coarse skin.

The next evening I stole eight couple and half of rabbits, out of Mr. Fleet’s stowage at Wildcourt, and sold them to the same person.







The Fleet Family

The Fleet Family were another established Blean family. Early records show that John and Sarah Fleet had a number of children, including Thomas (born 1689), Sarah (born 1693) and Christopher (born 1697).

Christopher Fleet married Sarah CULLEN in 1724 and they had a number of children: John (born in 1726), Thomas (born in 1728), John (born in 1731) and Elizabeth (born in 1734).

The Mr. Fleet referred to in Jack’s story is probably the Thomas Fleet (born 1728) who married Sarah Lypiatt. She died in 1778 in Blean, and he would have been about 60 at the time of this incident. He died a few years after this incident in 1796, age 67.

Two or three nights after, I stole from Mr. Lawson, at the Hare and Hounds, on the Common, two geese, which I sold to a publican without Westgate, Canterbury.










The Lawson Family

Mr Hammond Lawson was the licensee of the Hare and Hounds at the time of Jack’s story. He was the brother of Twyman Lawson (not mentioned in the text) who was the first licensee.

Twyman Lawson was born in 1731 in Blean, and married Sarah FLEET in 1752. She was born in 1726 the daughter of Thomas Fleet (who had been born in1689, see above).

Hammond Lawson was born in 1738 in Blean, and married firstly Elizabeth SANKEY in 1763, age 25. Elizabeth died the following year, and in 1769 (age 31) Hammond married Mary Cornwell.

Twyman Lawson died in 1773 (when Jack was about 12) after which Hammond took over the running of the pub.

In 1777, Twyman’s widow Sarah Lawson died in Blean.

Hammond Lawson died in 1786 – a few years after this episode of Jack’s story – and his wife, Mary, died in 1817 (age 78).

Mr. Lawson happening to call at the house soon after, saw the geese, and knowing them be those he had lost, occasioned a discovery for which I was apprehended …


…. and committed the 23rd of November, 1783 for the first time, to St Dunstan’s gaol, to take my trial for the same at the next Quarter Sessions, held at the Old Castle, Canterbury …










… where I was acquitted.







Wednesday 3 December 1783

A few days ago was committed to St. Dunstan’s gaol, near this city, by W. Deedes, Esq; John Kirby, late of the parish of St. Cosmus and Damian in the Blean, on suspicion of stealing two geese, the property of Thomas Cullen and Hammond Lawson.

The court system in England

The criminal court system in England and Wales has always been divided into several categories of court, in a hierarchical structure, though courts themselves have changed and evolved. For the time of Jack’s story, the following hierarchy was in place:

  • Petty sessions where minor offences were dealt with by mostly unpaid, non-professional judges known as Justices of the Peace (also known as magistrates).
  • Quarter sessions which were held four times a year and were also presided over by Justices of the Peace.
  • Assize courts where the more serious criminal trials tended to be heard, taking place at least twice a year and presided over by professional judges.
  • Court of King’s Bench which was a central royal court sitting at Westminster with an overriding jurisdiction over the other lower courts. It was dissolved in 1875 and replaced by the King’s Bench Division (or Queen’s Bench Division) of the High Court of Justice.

Source: Criminal trials in the assize courts 1559-1971, The National Archives

Note: Acquittal happened quite frequently – usually through lack of evidence.

St Dunstan’s Gaol in Canterbury

St Dunstan’s Gaol no longer exists, and the old Sessions house in the castle grounds was replaced in 1808.

Picture source: The Session House & Gaol, Historic Canterbury,

>  4 : The story of the handkerchief

Last updated: March 11, 2022 at 14:28 pm