Projects 2012 > Ghosts in the Garden > Journal
On the evening of the June Gala in 1828, while James Wiltshire was paying with stolen money for a good night out in Sydney Gardens, two more uninvited guests got a share of the action by climbing the fence.
It was after midnight when one of the waiters noticed John Edwards and William Avery 'walking about the garden in a very suspicious manner'. The waiter summoned Hawkins, a Tything man, one of the mayor's officers appointed 'to keep good order' on Gala nights, and Edwards and Avery were apprehended and searched. Beneath their hats each of them had concealed a beer glass to take home, valued at 1s each by the proprietor, William Bridle, so they were both taken into custody. 'It was the first time they had ever done anything of the sort and they hoped they should no be done anything to', Hawkins reported, but they were both committed for trial and each given a week's solitary confinement.
Hawkins was kept busy on Gala nights like this because it was impossible to completely secure the Garden perimeter from intrusion, and the inebriated crowds of revellers who packed the promenades until the small hours of the morning were easy prey to the light-fingered. The pick-pocket who relieved one gentleman of nearly £21 at the July Gala in 1829 was never caught, but another man was. George Robbins had his hand in the pocket of William Broadwater Haydon esq., a gentleman from Bristol, when Haydon felt it, turned, and gave chase, collaring Robbins and declaring 'you have stolen my handkershief and I'll swear to you'. Robbins tried to drop the black hanky and throw his jacket over it as Hawkins approached but not without being noticed. There was a scuffle as a blacksmith standig nearby tried to pick the hanky up: 'I was pushed about and prevented from doing so', he said.
Robbins was committed for trial at the ensuing Quarter Sessions in Bridgwater, when Hawkins was moved to intrude again because a rumour had reached the mayor that Robbins would produce a covincing character witness in mitigation. The Bath authorities believed Robbins to be an associate of the Broom brothers - three housebreakers recently transported for life by the assize court after a break-in on the Wells Road - and were determined to see Robbins locked up, so Hawkins penned a letter to the chair of the county bench, 'to inform you of what a notorious character he has been for the last three years'. Robbins was sentenced to three weeks solitary confinement.
Things would get worse for Robbins... a year later he and a companion were shot at when they broke into a garden in Weston Lane one night to steal fruit, leaving his friend Paine with gunshot wounds. Robbins and May were sentenced to three months hard labour for that.
References: Somerset Heritage Centre, Q/SR 449, information of Henry Chapman and Henry Hawkins; Q/SR 453, Midsummer Sessions 1829, information of Henry Hawkins and William Broadwater Haydon; Bath Chronicle, 16 July 1828, 9 September 1830; Sherborne Mercury, 27 July 1829.Posted by Steve Poole