Projects 2012 > Ghosts in the Garden > Journal
A series of criminal depositions in the Somerset Heritage Centre at Taunton provides welcome evidence of some of the ways in which the lives of Bath's poorer classes were touched by Sydney Gardens - an urban space more often associated with polite society and the 'visiting company'.
The spectacular fireworks that formed the centrepiece of Sydney Gardens' twice yearly summer Galas attracted a number of punters they were not really aimed at. But with entry priced at 2s 6d for events like these, most poorer people could scarce afford a ticket. The quarter session depositions demonstrate nevertheless that people in the lower reaches of the town were sometimes able to recall dates with reference to them - as in 'on the morning after the fireworks in Sydney Gardens', etc.
In the Summer of 1828, James Wiltshire was a young man with a plan. He shared his Milk Street lodgings with his mother and a man named John Burns. These were some of the cheapest areas of rented housing in Bath; close to the river and prone to flooding, so it's safe to assume that neither Wiltshire nor Burns had a lot of cash to spare. On the night of the King's birthday Gala, Wiltshire allegedly told a friend of his 'that he had got some clothes at home which he wanted to pawn to get some money to go to Sydney Gardens with'. The only trouble was, they weren't actually his to sell. John Burns kept all his worldly goods in a locked blue box at the house: a hat and coat, two pairs of trousers, three waistcoats, a few handkerchiefs and some loose cash. Wiltshire forced the box open, took out the clothes and sold them for 10s to a Jewish peddler named Joshua Abraham, who had, earlier in the year, already served two months for receiving stolen goods. He then went for a good night out amongst the fireworks in the Gardens.
Wiltshire was committed for trial for stealing Burns' box but appears to have been acquitted. It was his first bruch with the law, but hardly his last. Noted as a 'notorioously bad character' in 1831, he was committed as a rogue and a vagabond in November 1828, gaoled twice for defaulting on fines imposed for assault in 1829 and 1831, given eight months for stealing butter in 1832 and committed again for housebreaking and stealing a box of valuables in 1834.
References: Somerset Heritage Centre Q/SR 449, Midsummer sessions 1828, voluntary examinations of William Shedden, James Wiltshire, Joshua Abrahams and others; Bath Chronicle, 28 Nov 1828; 24 Sept 1829; 14 Jul, 10 Nov 1831; 12 Jul 1832; 27 Mar 1834.Posted by Steve Poole