A Gunpowder Plot in Stony Stratford

George Atkins was something of a retail entrepreneur. He established (and later sold) a drapery business in New Bradwell, leased the Radcliffe Arms at Wolverton in 1861, and had a grocery on the High Street in Stony Stratford in middle of the 19th century. Like most grocers of that period he employed a staff of about 8 or 9 people and prospered in business.

On the evening of November 25th 1859 one of his staff noticed a cord trailing from under the door of a locked room. On closer inspection, the rope was found to have been drenched in salt petre, and once the door was unlocked they discovered a trail of gunpowder and a keg of about 100lbs connected to this trail.

The intention must have been to blow up Mr Atkins’ premises, possibly that night. There was certainly enough gunpowder to cause destruction and possibly loss of life. However, although Mr Atkins had his suspicions about the culprit, he had no proof, and if anyone knew anything, they were not telling. As a result, the authorities were informed but no one was ever brought to court. Mr. Atkins probably sacked the disaffected employee and that was the end of the matter.

There are no further details. We don’t know what kind of employer Atkins was. As a Victorian, he would probably demand hard work for little reward, but, then as now, some employers were able to create better relations with their staff. Atkins himself was in court a few years later for using illegal weights. By this time Imperial measures were standard. Weights were stamped as proof of their legality and inspectors, from time to time, checked against abuse. if george Atkins used a 15 ounce weight for 1lb, for example, this would make a healthy difference in his profits over time.

Locking up Criminals

This drawing of the Market Square was done in 1819 and illustrates a very different range of buildings on the Church Street side. The building on the left was a market house, largely open but providing some shelter during market days.At the west end were the stocks and a pillory and a lock-up known as the Cage. According to Markham it measured 20 x 27 feet. It was probably open to the elements and sufficed to lock up troublesome drunks and prisoners who needed to be restrained before being transported to Aylesbury. A couple of those villains are reproduced below.
There was also a pub here known as the Crooked Billet which had a rather dubious clientele.
By the middle of the 19th century the Cage was becoming dilapidated and was no longer a secure lock up. There was a campaign for improved accommodation and a new Police Station was opened in 1862 on the land formerly occupied by the cage and additional land purchased from the Lord of the Manor, Mr Selby Lowndes, for £50. The cage, market house and several slum cottages, known as the Shambles, were demolished.
The new building was typical of the architecture of the period and in some respects resemble the structure of the Science and Art building at Wolverton, built at around the same time. The cottages for policemen were probably later additions.

Newspaper notes from the 18th Century

Here’s a selection of newspaper reports from the later part of the 18th century wen the Northampton Mercury began to publish. This collection is a miscellany of odd notes which show that in many ways human behaviour does not change, although our understanding of it does.

Northampton Mercury Saturday June 23rd 1798

The Malpas family were quite prosperous in Stony Stratford at this time, owning several properties and businesses on the Market Square. This advertisement was placed several times in the paper by William Malpas, presumably to cover himself. I guess there must have been some family quarrel and Joseph had stormed out. there was obviously some worry that young Joseph might collect on a few of his fathers debts to provide himself with some finance.

The Customers of WM. MALPAS of STONY STRATFORD, Bucks, Wine and Brandy Merchant, likewise Pin-maker, are desired not to pay any Money to the Account of the said Wm. MALPAS, to his Son, JOSEPH WILLIAM MALPAS, who has been used to receive for his Father; the said Joseph William Malpas having absconded from his Parents yesterday without Notice.
Dted Stony-Stratford, June 15th, 1798.

Northampton Mercury Saturday 5th April 1788

I assume John Cox was young and probably got carried away with the brilliance of this prank one night. He may not have been alone (moving gates single-handed would be hard) but he seems to have been the one to answer for it. He may have come from a respectable family and his father saw to it and paid the attorney Stamp Garrard to come up with a mechanism that kept his son from a criminal record.

8th MARCH 1788
WHEREAS I JOHN COX, of the Parish of Calverton, in the County of Bucks, Higler, did, in the Night of the 29th Day of January last, take several Gates from the Posts of the neighbouring Fields, and wantonly and mischievously set them up, in the middle of the High Road, leading from Stony-Stratford to Fenny-Stratford in the said County of Bucks, without considering how much I endangered the Lives of Passengers, and the InjurybI might have occasioned to the Horse and Carriages traveling the Road, by this wicked Proceeding, and for which a Prosecition has been commenced against me; but the same has been withdrawn, on my acknowledging the Improprirty of my Conduct. – Now I do hereby most humbly beg Pardon of the Public, for the indiscreet Part I have acted, and hope this full Acknowledgement of my Offence, may prevail on the Humanity of my Prosecutors and the Public, to pardon me, and to believe, that I will not only never againnbe guilty of such wanton and wicked Acts myself, but as far as lies in my Power, most zealously prevent the Commission of them by others.
Witnesses to the Signing by the said John Cox;
Stamp Garrard, Stony Stratford
William Etheridge.

Northampton Mercury Monday 30th March 1772

Arsonists about?

WHEREAS on Saturday evening the 14th. of March, about eight o’clock, a FIRE broke out on the Thatch of a house untenanted in Stony-Stratford, Bucks; and as there is the greatest Reason to believe the said House was wilfully set on Fire, whoever can or will discover the Person or Persons that actually did set Fire to the said House, shall, on Conviction thereof, be paid TEN GUINEAS, by Abraham Chapman, of Stony-Stratford aforesaid, Agent to the Sun Fire Office.

Northampton Mercury Monday 23rd September 1776

James Biddel, colourfully described here as “carbuncle-faced”, enlisted (took the King’s shilling) on September 5th and deserted in Stony Stratford on the 20th. I presume that after 15 days he found the military life much less appealing than it must have seemed on the 5th of September.

DESERTED from Captain Hamilton’s Recruiting-Party, belonging to the 14th Regiment of Foot, at Stony-Stratford, Bucks, on the 20th September, 1776, JAMES BIDDEL, aged 27 Years, five Feet seven Inches 3-qrs. High, swarthy Complexion, lank black Hair, Carbuncle-faced, strait and stout made, born in the Parish of Kingston in the County of Somerset, by Trade a Gardener, insisted at Northampton the 5th inst. had on, when he went away, an old dark-ble Coat, brown Waistcoat, dirty linen Breeches, a new pair of Pumps, and a black silk Handkerchief about his Neck.
Whoever secures the above-said Deserter, in any of His Majesty’s Gaols, and gives Notice thereof to Captain Hamilton, or to Messrs Ross and Gray, Agents to the said regiment, in Conduit Street, London, shall receive TWENTY SHILLINGS, over and above what is allow’d by Act of Parliament for apprehending Deserters.

Northampton Mercury Saturday 4th August 1787

This is one of those really sad and tragic stories that seem to occur in any century. In the 18th century this could only be accounted for by fits of madness (“temporary Phrensies”) without any understudying of the causes.

And on Friday 27th, another Inuisition taken at Stony Stratford, in the said County with the same Coroner, on View the Body of (illegible) Reynolds, an Infant about twelve Months old who was drowned by her Mother in a Bucket of Water. It appears that the Mother (Susannah, the Wife of J. Reynolds, of Stony-Stratford, Labourer) is subject to temporary Phrensies, and has not the Use of Reason at certain Periods. – The Jury brought in their Verdict that the Mother was guilty of the wilful Murder of the Infant, and was accordingly committed to His Majesty’s Gaol at Aylesbury.