Drunken thief crept into man’s Preston hotel room to steal belongings

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the case of a clumsy thief who woke up his victim in the early hours...

Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 5:00 pm
There was a theft at the fashionable Bull Inn in 1851
There was a theft at the fashionable Bull Inn in 1851

The present day Old Bull on Church Street dates back to 1773 when the Earl of Derby acquired the premises where the original White Bull of the late 17th century stood and carried out extensive work to make it the most fashionable place in town.

It was always seen as a safe and secure place for well heeled visitors in the stagecoach days to dwell awhile and treasured its reputation. Consequently an incident on the fourth Saturday of May 1851 caused much consternation.

That evening Mr Strafford, a commercial traveller of Camden Villa, London, was staying at the hotel, and retired to rest at 11.30pm. Sometime after 1 o’clock in the morning he was awoke by hearing a noise in his room.

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He immediately got out of bed and discovered that a pencil case, a penknife and 16 shillings had been taken out of his trouser pockets, and, in consequence he rang the bell, disturbing the chambermaids.

One of the maids heard a noise in the passage, and she observed another guest entering his bedroom.

That man was Peter McClellan, a tailor, who had recently been staying in a lodging house down Stoneygate. The police were immediately informed and PC Thornton after hearing details of the theft went to McClellan’s room and arrested him. At the Lock Up, down Turks Head Yard, he was searched and all the missing items were found upon him.

On the following Monday morning McClellan, aged 23, appeared at the Preston police court accused of the robbery and chambermaid Catherine Rogerson testified that she remembered the accused coming to the hotel late on Saturday night and was surprised that he had been allowed to stay as people without luggage were normally turned away. Having been woken by the sound of the bell she had quickly made her away to the passage and had seen the prisoner entering his room.

Also called was Elizabeth Martin who deposed that she admitted the prisoner although she knew it was against the rules to allow a person without luggage to occupy a bedroom. Constable Thornton was then called and he confirmed he was the arresting officer and stated that whilst taking the prisoner to the Lock Up he had said I have got myself in a horrible mess and its all through effects of drink. The prisoner declined to answer any of the witnesses questions and was committed for trial at the next Preston Sessions.

Mr. Strafford then made a request that the prisoner be removed to Salford for trial, as the sessions were being held there at present and he would not be available in July when the Preston Sessions were held due to other commitments. His unusual request was refused and McClellan was held on remand until July.

Despite the non-appearance of Mr. Strafford the evidence was overwhelming and the jury returned a guilty verdict after little deliberation. McClellan was then informed he would be sent to prison for six months. It had been a disturbing episode for the Bull Hotel who made sure their staff were more diligent in future.

The hotel gained an even greater reputation in the decades that followed and later as the Bull & Royal it served both the gentry and royalty alike until 1975 when the new Crest Hotel opened.

Nowadays the public bars are as popular as ever and remind us of the building’s historical past.