4 : The story of the handkerchief

When I came out of prison, the parish officers of Blean bought me some tools and I went to work in the woods for two or three months …




Parish relief

Up until 1834, each parish took care of its own poor, including collecting a rate to cover costs and administering relief. This was known as “parish relief. Jack was obviously considered a needy case for poor relief to help rehabilitate him into the Blean community.

… till Mutton (an old companion of mine) called to see me.









William Mutton

William Mutton was born on 22 November 1761 in Kingston, Kent (a village between Canterbury and Dover), he was therefore almost the same age as Jack.

William’s parents were John Mutton and Elizabeth Reynolds. John was born in 1735 in Hackington, Kent (a village close to Blean), and John’s parents were William Mutton and Marcy Horn, who were married in Hackington in 1735.
One of their other sons, William was baptised in Blean church in 1740.

This likely means that Jack’s friend, William Mutton, who he refers to simply as Mutton in his story, was a regular visitor to the Blean area to visit his grandparents.

We went to the Red Lion, on the Common, and having staid there till all our money was spent, we surveyed the house, observing what things we could best carry off, and where we could get in.











The next morning, about four o’clock, seeing the waggoner leave the back door on the latch, while he went to get up his horses, we entered the house, and stole three hams out of the chimney, a large table spoon, a tea spoon, and about half a pint of halfpence out of the cupboard and got clean off.

The hams we sold in the Borough, Canterbury for 5d a pound, and having spent all the money, we parted.





The Red Lion

Photo source: Dover Kent Archives

The Red Lion Inn (at 74 Honey Hill, Blean) was the Halfway House between Canterbury and Whitstable, and according to Dover Kent Archives[i]:

“The house is over 400 years old and was originally a farmhouse, with the lands all around going with it ….

In olden times, particularly before the building of the Whitstable-Canterbury railway, the house did a thriving trade as a halfway stop for waggoners and carters bringing goods to the city from the port of Whitstable.

They certainly needed refreshment for the roads of those times was atrocious and there were frequent petitions for its repair.

There too, the drovers used to stop for the night as they took cattle and sheep to Canterbury Cattle Market, the stock being turned out in the field behind the house.”

The Red Lion closed in 1952 and it is now a private residence. At one time it was the home of Oliver Postgate who created with Peter Firmin, programmes such as Bagpuss and the Clangers.

At a dance at the Hare and Hounds, at Blean, I snatched a handkerchief out of the hand of a maid-servant, who lived with Mr. Strood, at the Red Lion, on the Whitstable Road, with no intention to keep it, and the next day went to Strood’s house, with handkerchief about my neck, that it might be noticed by the maid, to which I intended to give it back …

… but while I was drinking, Strood’s son observed the handkerchief, and told his father, who asked me how I came by it, when I told him the truth, and the reason for putting it about my neck but, on the maid being questioned, and denying having the handkerchief, I was taken before Colonel Webb …








The Strood Family

William Strood was born about 1723 (which would make him 61 at the time of this incident).

In 1754 he married Martha Stroud, and they had a son in 1754, also called William. His wife Martha died in 1768.

Later in 1768, when he was 45, he married Sarah Goodwin, and in 1769 their son James was born. [James would therefore have been 15 at the time of this incident, and Jack later refers to him as “young Strood”.] In 1771 their daughter, Mary was born, so she would have been about 13 years old.

William and Sarah also had some younger children: Isaac (born 1772), Elizabeth (born 1773), and Thomas (born 1778.) A number of their children had died at birth or shortly thereafter.

In 1788 William’s daughter Mary (age 17) married Joseph Locker.

In 1795 his son James (age 25) married Sarah Garner Smith (a widow). James (“young Strood”) died in 1797 (age 27).

In 1795 William Stroud died age 72 and was buried on 25 December.

In June 1797 William’s widow Sarah married John Sea. She died in 1806.

… and on the 16th of July, 1784, was committed to St. Dunstan’s gaol, to be tried at Maidstone assizes …





Friday 21 July 1784

CANTERBURY, July 21. Friday last was committed to St. Dunstan’s gaol by Charles Webb Esq, John Kirby, of the parish of Blean, for stealing a handkerchief and an apron, the property of Mary Stroud, of the same parish.

… but no bill being found against me, I was discharged by proclamation.









Discharged by proclamation

A bill was the legal term for a written statement of a case, i.e. an indictment.

Jack was discharged by proclamation, which meant that he was released without trial or verdict (although technically he could be recalled later to face the charges again). This was typically the case when no evidence was presented against the accused or no witnesses were able to testify against the accused.


Wednesday 11 August 1784

John Kirby, for stealing a handkerchief and an apron from Mary Strood. Discharged

Mutton, who happened to be tried at the same assizes, for stealing wearing apparel form his fellow servant, and acquitted …

…  came away from Maidstone with me, and on our way home we consulted together on the best method we could take to be revenged of Strood, for prosecuting me for an office of which I was really innocent.


Wednesday 11 August 1784

William Mutton, for stealing a handkerchief and a pair of stockings from Thomas Brooks. Discharged

About three days after our return, we attempted his house, between eleven and twelve o’clock at night, and endeavoured to get in at the usual place, but finding that well secured, we took an iron bar from the cellar window, and got into the cellar, where we found a sack.

The door of the cellar being locked, we were obliged to break that open to get into the wash-house, where we stole about four score of pork, leaving one piece behind, for fear the family might want a dinner, cutting the leather hinges of a cupboard door, we took it down. and from thence we took two bottles of brandy and two of geneva, a pair of stockings from off the dresser, and a pair of shoes belonging to the waggoner.

After we had filled our sack, we made off to Canterbury, and sold the pork to our correspondent in the Borough.














Geneva was the name initially given to the drink, gin, by the English, and derives from the Dutch name for it, “Jenever”, which itself comes from the Dutch for Juniper – the berry that gives gin its distinctive flavour. Geneva was eventually shortened to Gin.

The British Library article, Health, hygiene and the rise of ‘Mother Gin’ in the 18th century, tells us more.

“The rise of the ‘Gin Craze’ from the 1720s made matters worse. Distilling gin was inexpensive because of low corn prices: so much so that by 1750 nearly half of all British wheat harvests went directly into gin production. And the market for gin was huge.

In London, the drink was incredibly popular with the poor. It was cheap and extremely strong, and for many people offered a quick release from the grinding misery of everyday life.

Already by the 1730s, over 6,000 houses in London were openly selling gin to the general public. The drink was available in street markets, grocers, chandlers, barbers and brothels. Of 2,000 houses in one notorious district, more than 600 were involved in the retail of gin or in its production.

By the 1740s gin consumption in Britain had reached an average of over six gallons per person every year.

Many people believed that the drinking of gin was leading to a social crisis. Crime, poverty and a soaring death rate were all linked to the insatiable demand for ‘Madame Geneva’ as the drink was known.

In 1751 novelist Henry Fielding argued that there would soon be ‘few of the common people left to drink it’ if the situation continued. The crisis required decisive political attention.

In the 1740s and 50s Parliament was forced to pass a series of acts restricting both the sale of spirits and its manufacture, in order to bring the situation back under control.”

> 5 : Highway robbery

Last updated: March 10, 2022 at 12:27 pm