Five men hanged after horses stabbed in Preston attempted robbery

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at an horrific animal cruelty case that ended with five men at the end of a noose...

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 12:30 pm
Farmers and their horse and cart were a common sight

The village of Farington was the scene of a most barbarous and deliberate act of cruelty and attempted robbery on the last Saturday of August 1827.

As George Green along with his son John, farmers of Ulnes Walton, were returning from Preston with two carts accompanied by local blacksmith John Critchley, they alighted at the Blue Anchor public house in Farington.

On leaving the inn they were followed by a party of several men, most of whom were known by Green and Critchley. The first cart was drawn by a single horse and driven by John Green; the latter was drawn by two horses and driven by his father, who also had an ass tied to the side of his cart,

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They had not proceeded more than 50 yards before three of the party who followed them from the Anchor, got into the old man’s cart, and he, with good nature, suffered them to ride. The remainder of the party straggled about the cart, and at length two of them got on the back of the ass.

About this point the man that disengaged the cart was drawn out, and the old man and those in the cart were suddenly upset. The old man complained of the bad behaviour he had experienced, while some of the group set all right again. However, before they had travelled much further they were upset again in a similar fashion.

John Green who was driving ahead then stopped his cart and ran back fearing for his father’s safety, in the chaos that followed some of the unwanted company went to the unattended cart and took off it a basket containing soap, tea, sugar and salt which they placed in a ditch by the side of the road.

In all the commotion the young filly, a leader in the latter cart, was observed to tremble and appeared as if exhausted. On examination it was found that it had been stabbed in the belly, a fate also inflicted on the other two horses. The mare that was also pulling the second cart had clearly been stabbed most viscously and by Sunday morning it was dead. Eventually, the unruly mob departed taking the basket of groceries with them.

The blacksmith Critchley set about reporting the incident immediately and identified the culprits as Robert Robinson, aged 18, John Robinson the elder, aged 29, John Robinson the younger, aged 22, Henry Nelson, aged 22, William Nelson, aged 20, and James Nelson, aged 29.

Those men, together with Lawrence Robinson, aged 16, all of Farington, underwent a police examination at Preston before magistrate Mr. T. B. Addison and they were all fully committed to take their trial at the forthcoming Lancaster Assizes.

The Lancaster Assizes took place in early September before Mr. Justice Bayley and they were charged with killing a bay filly, the property of John Walmsley, at Farington.

Although they all pleaded ‘not guilty’ the evidence submitted implicated two of the men. Consequently, John Robinson, the elder, and Henry Nelson were found guilty of stabbing the three horses and the other accused were acquitted.

The guilty men had to wait until the following day to hear their fate.

Mr Justice Bayley after describing the stabbings as a cruel act informed the pair that they would be transported for life.

That same Assizes saw Mr Justice Bayley pass sentence of death on five men convicted of highway robbery and they were days later hanged outside the Lancaster Castle walls watched by a large crowd.