The Belchamps Burglars

Foxearth & District Local History Society

This records the public hanging of some petty burglars.
The account is fantastic for the behavious of Wright's mother who, according to the correspondent 'gave proof of her utter want of feeling'
One of the gang, William Cranfield, seems to have escaped hanging because of his age, and went on to become a prosperous and successful farmer in Australia
Foxearth & District Local History Society

Bury and Norwich post

April 7th 1824.


At the Suffolk Assizes. Robert Bradnum, William Cranfield and Thomas Wright were charged with the burglary of the house of George Hickford at Glemsford on December 1st 1822.

The prosecutor, an old man, , said he was very deaf and went to bed at about 9pm after fastening all the doors and windows, between one and two in the morning three men came into his bedroom, two having very black faces the other not so black, they had large sticks with them, one of them asked for money, witness said he had no money and they might knock him on the head if they liked.

They went to his hutch and took his coat which witness then took from them and threw it to his wife, they took 3s 6d from a pint mug in a cupboard, the tallest man carried away a cask of elder wine, as they were going away Bradnum came back for a dog which they had brought with them and witness was struck violently on the hand when trying to prevent them re-entering, the hand has been useless ever since.

William Russel said suspicion fell on Wright for stealing a pig on the day of the anniversary of the burglary, they went to see him at his house and found a cask which smelt strongly of elder wine, when he went back the next day the cask was gone,

John Cranfield, brother of the prisoner said that in December 1822 he breakfasted with the prisoner at his father's house on the day of the robbery, he heard him say he had blacked his face and Bradnum also was present, he went in first, his brother following, his brother gave him a glass of elder wine and he saw Wright's wife burn a cask after the constable left, James Mansfield another accomplice then called and deposed that he and others agreed to go poaching but they got nothing, Bradnum said he knew where he could get some money, they blacked their faces and went to Mr Hickford's and committed burglary.

It appears witness was 37 years old, Bradnum and Wright 26 years and Cranfield even now was only 16. Cranfield on account of his age was recommended mercy but the death sentence was recorded against him, James Downs and the three prisoners mentioned above were also indicted for stealing a pig from Mr Hickford on 10th December 1822,

Bradnum and Wright sentenced to death but Cranfield to 7 years transportation.

John Cheney was also sentenced to death for breaking into houses at Bulmer near the Plough Inn and one four miles beyond South Halstead and one at Rayleigh. Benjamin Howlett breaking into a house at Kentford and at houses in Newmarket also had the death sentence.

April 14th 1824.

On Friday se'nnight as the condemned prisoners were entering Bury Gaol, one of their number named Bradnum who was convicted of burgarly at Glemsford was accosted by his mother who said

"what are you to be done to"
he replied "hanged mother",
"well" rejoined the mother, "be a good boy and don't be hung in your best clothes but let me have them, I had better take your red waistcoat now".

April 21st 1824.

The the four wretched men who were condemned at our Assizes--Robert Bradnamm, Thomas Wright and Benjamin Howlett for burglary and John Cheney for horse stealing will be executed today at noon.

We are sorry that we reported the conversation between a prisoner and his mother was attributed to the wrong persons, the parties were Thomas Wright and his mother, the mother of Bradnum is of very good character.

April 28th 1824.

On Wednesday last, the four men left for execution at our Assizes, Robert Bradnum aged 26, Benjamin Howlett 21, Thomas Wright 26 and John Chenery 22 paid the forfeit of their life on the scaffold, almost from the break of day the road was thronged with people approaching to see this dreadful spectacle, we wished we could say they were impressed by the awfulness of the scene about to be witnessed but far from the case as they passed the street leading to the fatal spot they exhibited a disgusting levity of conduct.

When the hour of execution arrived an immense crowd of people estimated at between ten to fifteen thousand people assembled in the neighbourhood of the gaol and the number of females we are sorry to say exceeded that of the men.

As the clock struck twelve the culprits left the prison in irons and walked to the field adjoining the gaol where the scaffold was erected. Each of the prisoners ascended with a firm step and the executioner immediately fastened the ropes round their necks.

The Chaplain, the Rev W.Stocking, then prayed with the men for about a quarter of an hour, the caps were then drawn over their faces, they all joined hands and the drop fell as they ejaculated"Lord have Mercy on us"

Their sufferings appeared to last but a very short time afterwards but the sufferings of such an end are not the greatest moment which takes away the breath.

Wright had addressed the spectators, cautioning all the young men to take notice of his fate and not engage in poaching. Howlett cautioned all to avoid bad company. Wright and Howlett were fine young men nearly 6ft tall, the former contrary to his mother's wishes was hung in his red waistcoat but afterwards she obtained it and riding home on her son's coffin to Belchamp, she gave proof of her utter want of feeling and stopped with other friends at various public houses on the road to drink and at one place we are informed she actually exposed the corpse to view.

The bodies of Bradnum and Howlett were taken away by their relatives, Cheney was interred here in the churchyard at about four in the afternoon. To shew the state of Wright's mind, we insert the following letter addressed by him to one of his former confederates in crime, residing in Walter Belchamp.

April 10th 1824, Bury Gaol.
To you------I Thomas Wright do send these few Lines as your friend and beg you to leave off all your wicked ways before it is too late. Look what the hand of justis has brought me to, though no more than I deserve with me in my wickedness, therefore for God's sake and your wife's and children and your own soul take warning of my shameful death, leave off while the door of mercy remains open as life is so unsartin and death is sure and perhaps may come upon you when you not expect it and recollect if you escape the sentence of man you will not the judgement of God, so pray take my advice, not only you but many other have assisted us in unlawful and shameful things that we ought not to have done. If you can do my unhappy family any good pray for my sake, for that will be good in the eyes of the God as they are left to to the mercy of this world through my misconduct, I ought to have brought them up by honesty, but far from that to my shame you know all that.
I hope that you will show this in the ----- and hope that others will lave bad company as it is that that has brought me to a short end. Lord pray be merciful to us all.
From Thomas Wright, Bury Gaol----Death.

Cheney's family were once in respectable circumstances, his father carrying on a business at Beccles as a fellmonger, a brother and sister survive him. A few days before his death he wrote to a man in Beccles, a receiver of stolen goods, who first, he said had seduced him into crime.

All these men were so deeply sunk in crime as to render execution necessary as will be seen in the following catalogue of crime.

Robert Bradnum and Thomas Wright confessed that they had robbed Mr Thomas Mortlock, Mr A.Golding at the Cock Inn, Mr William Bigg at the Greyhound and Mr George Hickford, twice, at Glemsford.Mr R.Aldham at Foxearth Hall, Mr Thomas Parmenter at the Lodge Farm at Foxearth, Mr Thomas Halls of Stuttels farm at Belchamp and also helped to rob his barn and stole a pig, they helped to steal Mr William Snell's garden tools, Mr Liptrap's sheep at Guessingthorpe, Mr Perouse's pease and a sheep from Mr Joseph Orbell of Belchamp, they also took the springs from Mr Walker's old carriage and broke into his backhouse,

Wright further confessed that he broke into Mr.B.Granger's and Mr T.Halls houses, Mr Ashley's at Upper Yeldham and one near the Cock and Blackbirds at Bulmer, that he stole a sheep from Mr Snell, a pig from Mr Liptrap of Guessingthorpe, two from Mr Edward Downs, one from the Rev Mr Raymond and one from Mr Samuel Raymond, one from Mr Paske of Upper Yeldham, one from Mr David King at Wickham also a lamb and robbed the garden of the last, stole some malt from Mr Fisher of Walter Belchamp, some cloth from Mr Stubbins, some fowls from Mr Wrights, from Mr Spalding of Belchamp and ---Sims, some bees from Mr James Dale at Guessingthorpe, took some meat from Mr Pettit at the Black Boy, Sudbury and robbed Mr Kent at North End.

John Cheney made a confession of the following offences, breaking into a house at Bulmer near the Plough Inn and others mentioned.

(Note: from Greg Crawford.

I am all but convinced that the William Cranfield aged 16 referred to and sentenced to death, or 7 years, depending on which part of the account you read, is “our” William. The age and the place fit, but no parents are noted.

William CRANFIELD born Belchamp Walter 1807 was the only miscreant to have dodged the noose. His parents were Walker and Susan nee FINCH.
William Cranfield was transported on "Mangles 3" to New South Wales as a convict, landing at Sydney Cove on 27 October 1824. William, kept his nose clean, become a successful farmer in Australia, and had a very large family.
He obtained a Ticket of Leave in 1836, and went on to be an Innkeeper, and eventually to own a farm in the Camden area of NSW until his death in 1860, from injuries suffered in a fall from a horse.
He married a girl from London in 1835 and had 9 children. Nine months after her death in 1852, he married again, to an Irish girl from Sligo about 26 years his junior and had another 6 children. William died one month after the birth of his youngest child. His wife survived him by 24 years.
All but 2 of the 15 children are known to have married and had children, so there are now a lot of descendants scattered all over Australia, several still in the Camden area. We have identified over 1000 of his direct descendants, of whom I am one (my mother was a Cranfield).
(A Ticket of Leave (TOL) was something like parole, where a person was released from his obligatory workplace and permitted to live as he wished, but within a certain physical boundary. TOL for those sentenced to life meant they could not return to England.)
Greg Crawford ,
Brisbane Australia)

Greg would like to be put in touch with anyone with an interest in this family, or any further information at all. and would be happy to provide more details of William and what became of him in Australia. Contact us and we'll pass on his details.