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Assault on Gamekeeper - 1862

Nichol's Yard (right) in 1950s - now demolished.
The layout of the buildings had altered little in the previous 100 years
The High Street is on the right and Hilly Farm at the top of the picture

On 30th January 1862, three Burton Latimer men, William Patrick, Arthur Artheston and Henry Clarke were charged with intent to murder and grievous bodily harm. The victim of this attack was William Issitt, gamekeeper to Captain Tibbits, Barton Seagrave Hall.

Mr. Issitt gave to following account in court which was reported in the Northampton Mercury; "On the morning of Thursday 30th January, I was out in a lane leading from Barton, about half-past five, when I saw three men. They came up and stopped opposite me and spoke to one another, I didn't hear what they said. I bid them good morning, one came up to me and looked me in the face. It was a dark morning. He asked me what the *** I wanted here, I replied "Not you." He then began to shove me about. I remonstrated with him, and told them to go about their business. I turned to leave, when he seized me by the collar and struck me with a flail doubled up which he had in his hand, at the same time saying he would knock my bloody brains out. I held up my left hand and warded the blow as best I could. He He struck me on the head, and then turned sharp round, and as he did so I struck him over the head a light stick which I had in my hand. Another man came up with a great bludgeon, I saw it in the air and tried to elude the blow, and while I did that the first man knocked me down with a blow across the head with the flail, which was open then. It knocked me backwards into the hedge. He said "I'll make you remember hitting me." A third man then came up with another flail, and they all struck at me. One hit me with an open flail very hard on the head. I kept my left arm up as best I could. They were at me for two or three minutes. I begged them not to kill me. While they were striking me a fourth man, Patrick came up. He had been under me as a gamekeeper for years. He had a dog at his heels. I tried to raise myself up, when a blow caught me to the head, and made me insensible.

When I recovered there were four at me, with three flails and a bludgeon. Patrick had a flail in his hand and they beat me for some time. I called out as well as I could with my mouth full of blood, at last I lay still and they left me. The ditch and hedge served somewhat to protect me, sometime after they left me I managed to raise myself and call for assistance to a man whom I had ordered out that morning and was expected to be near. Two of the men then came back and and beat me again very much. I lay quiet for a quarter of an hour, and then got to my knees and crawled along till I got to a side gate kept by a man named Alfred Scott, and by his assistance I got home. I quite believe the two prisoners, Artheston and Clarke, to be two of the party. The fourth man, who is not here, I observed very particularly. He was ther man who looked me in the face. The dog which was with Patrick was afterwards brought to my bedside, and afterwards I saw it at the Police Office. One of the men had something dark round the lower part of the face as a disguise. [It was stated that the dog had been accidently shot while in possession of the police. Its skin, however, had been stuffed, and it was brought into court. It was a brindled lurcher, as near greyhound as may be.]

Cross-examined by Mr. Cave: I didn't know any of the three men who came to me first. I said "Good morning" to them all, and one of them replied. They came walking along the road. I couldn't swear positively to the two prisoners, but I haven't a doubt about them. I never had a quarrel with Patrick only what regarded my duty. We have prosecuted him several times for poaching. I have been a witness and prosecutor in four cases against Patrick. - By Mr. O'Brien: Patrick has said that if he ever caught me out in the night he would do for me. - By his Lordship: He has said that more than once. I had been out in the night on the watch, but he had been in and was out again, just to run round before break of day. The men had packs on their backs but I don't kow what they contained. Flails are very commonly used by poachers in this part of the country by way of defence to keep the keepers off I suppose - not to take game with. There is a handle about 4ft. long, and an iron which swings from one end of it. The part that would fall upon me is of iron, square, with sharp edges.

A farmer's flail, once used in the threshing of corn. The poacher's flail would have been
adapted as a weapon as described above.

Mr. Dryland: I am a surgeon at Kettering. On the morning of the 30th of January I was called in to the prosecutor. He was very faint from loss of blood, and still bleeding from several wounds on the head. I found three contused wounds on the left temple; one wound on the left arm below the elbow, and one one each leg below the knee. Yje left arem was covered with contusions from the wrist to the shoulder, as well as the left leg and thigh. He was in great danger for about 24 hours, but after that he recovered rapidly. I attended him for three weeks. The wounds were the very ones which might be expected from a flail. They were incised wounds, as if made by a square instrument instead of a round one. - By his Lordship: The blows seemed to have been very violent indeed, on the arm especially. I think if the blows on the arm had fallen on the head he must have been killed.

Alfred Scott: Toll-Keeper at the Barton side-gate. "Issitt came to the gate on the morning of 30th January, about half-past six. I assisted him home. He told me the place where he had been assaulted, and I went to it. It was about a quarter of a mile from the gate. There were traces of a recent scuffle, blood, and I found Issitt's cap there. I traced footsteps down the side of the road, turning into a field called new field. That would lead across into the Barton Road; there is no path there. Some of the turf had been pared off there, and the shoemarks were very distinct. They went along the road a little way, along the spinney towards Burton. It was then hard on seven o'clock. Later that morning I saw Inspector Osbourne, and pointed out the footmarks to him. I saw him measure them, and afterwrds cover them over. Next day I saw Inspector Osbourne compare the marks with some boots: they were as exact as could ever be. We could see four seperate and distinct foot-prints." Mr Cave, acting for the defence then enquired at what time Mr Scott was awake, to which he replied: "I was up that morning about quarter before six."

Inspector Osbourne: "I went to the place of the assault on the 30th January, and saw footprints which I traced - the footprints of four men. They turned on the road to Burton Latimer, across a field where the turf had been pared. Persons going to Burton that way would escape going through the toll gate. I measured the footprints, and covered them up. I counted every nail in the impressions and entered them into a notebook. The impressions of the nails were on three of the footprints. I went to Higham station and telegraphed to Wellingborough. From Wellingborough I received a telegram which induced me to come by the goods train to Northampton. I got there at 12 o'clock and put myself in communication with the Borough Police, I then went to the lodging house of a man named Bonham in the Mayorhold, and watched the house all night.On the opening of the door at about half-past six, a dog came out. I had heard something about a dog before. I went into the house with other constables and found Patrick there. I told him to get up, I wanted him. When I went downstairs I found the other two men on the storey below, in the charge of two other constables. I asked Artheston to let me look at his boots. He did so, and I told him he'd do. I looked also at Clarke's boots, and told him the same, and charged them with assaulting Issitt. At the bottom of the stairs I found two coats, which Artheston and Clarke said they knew nothing about. As they were going to the station I walked behind them, and saw Artheston drop something from his pocket. A gentlemen picked it up and handed it to Inspector Evans. [A sort of long tippet or raff of brown fur was shown in court, such as might be tied under the chin and over the head so as to form a sort of artificial whiskers and beard.] I found a pair of boots in the house for which there was no owner. Next day I compared the three boots with the footprints - they corresponded in every respect. Scott and police constable Pierce were then with me."

Other witnesses were callled, amongst them Thomas Miller: "I am a shoemaker in Burton Latimer and I know Nichols Yard. Patrick used to live there and the dog used to live about our yard. On the morning of 30th January I saw Atheston, Clarke and another man come up the alley from the Town street and into Nichols's house. The time was around half-past six. I have seen Patrick with other men before that day, but I did not see him then. I had known the other men since a little after Christmas."

Maria White: " I live in Nichols's yard. Patrick is a brother to Mrs Nichols. On the morning of 30th January I saw Patrick and the other men in the yard about half-past seven. Another man was with them. They were going from Nichols's house in the direction leading to the street. I had seen the men in the last fortnight going to and from Nichols's."

Henry Mason: "I am the porter at the Wellingborough railway station. On 30th January at about ten o'clock, four men came and had tickets. To the best of my recollection Artheston is one of the men, but I am not positive. They had a dog with them, a dark brindled greyhound dog. I didn't observe they had anything more with them besides a small bundle."

George Simpson: " I am a carpenter at Burton. Sometime before the 30th January, Patrick brought a net hoop to my shop to be repaired. I asked him what is it for? It's for pegging nets he replied. I asked if he had been to see his "old friend" Issitt. He said he had not been lately, but intended to go in a few days, and if he had the opportunity he would give the old *** it. I have been subpoeaned, compellled to come here. I didn't want to have anything to do with it." That was the case for the prosecution.

Mr Cave, representing the prisoner suggested that there was something improbable in the gamekeeper's story as to the origin of the struggle. he could bot concieve on the face of it what possible motive there was for such an assault. The only man who had a semblance of a grudge against him - Patrick - did not come up until after he was in the ditch. He assumes that Issitt may have attempted to search the men, which he had no right to do; and they were upon that assumption entitiled to defend themselves to a great extent. Beyond that they would not be justified in leaving, but even if they did it would not justify the charge of attempted murder. At this stage the judge recalled Issitt who distinctly stated that he did not attempt to search the men. The defence counsel then proceeded to contend that the evidence indicating the identity of the prisoners was exceedingly weak, and that footprints proved nothing, with shoes of that kind being worn by a number of men in the local neighbourhood. he also contended that Issitt was in no condition to identify Patrick if he had been injured as such, nor was he likely to recognise the dog in such circumstances.

In summing up, the judge suggested that the jury dismiss the question of whether the prisoners had any intention to kill and murder Issitt, because it was evident, that whoever the men were, they had left their victim alive on the ground when they had ample opportunity to to do further damage. They had intended to do him harm, but the question to consider is whether these are the men by whom this outrage was committed.

The jury found all the prisoners guilty of assault with the intention of doing Mr Issitt grevious bodily harm. In summing up the judge commented that no-one could doubt the propiety of the verdict. he did them the justice to believe they did not intend to murder Issitt, but they assaulted him in a most cruel and merciless manner. A more cowardly and ruffianly assault he had never heard of. Four men armed with flails fell upon a single man and continued to beat him with a reckless indifference to the consequences. It was through God's mercy alone that they did not take his life. For 24 hours his life and theirs were in the balance; for if Issitt had died then they would have been guilty of his murder, and he should have felt it his duty to sentence them to death, without the slightest hope of mercy. There was only one small circumstance in their favour - that Issitt had struck the first blow and this may have induced them to further violence. When men engaged in these lawless pursuits and, being detected gave themselves up without resorting to violence, he was disposed to to take a lenient view of the case. But the conduct of the prisoners had been such as to call for a severe sentance, and they were accordingly sentenced to ten year's penal servitude.

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