Light-fingered sisters jailed for stealing meat from butcher

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at a meaty court case that was a family affair...

Thursday, 30th September 2021, 3:45 pm
The accused acted suspiciously in the Market Place
The accused acted suspiciously in the Market Place

It was a family affair when Ann Riley and Bridget Holding appeared before the magistrates at the Preston police court in the third week of December 1856, charged with stealing a loin of lamb and piece of beef.

The court heard that on the previous Saturday night, the young married sisters had called at the Lady Of The Lake Inn, in St. John Street, and after partaking of a glass of ale, they requested the landlord take charge of a basket they had with them. Holding stated that her husband would shortly call for it.

Police Constable Steenson stated that he and P.C. Hilson saw the prisoners at about nine o’clock in the Market Place and as they seemed to be acting suspiciously they kept an eye on them. Firstly, they went to the shop of Mr. Dawson, a Church Street butcher, and then into the adjoining butcher’s shop belonging to Mr. Turner.

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According to the constables after leaving Mr. Turner’s shop they went to the butcher’s shop of Mr. Cook in the Strait Shambles and then into the Lady Of The Lake inn.

Later when P. C. Hilson went to the public house, he got possession of the basket which Holding had left, and upon opening it found the lamb and the beef.

He afterwards found out that the lamb had been stolen the same evening, from the shop of Mr. Turner, and the beef from the shop of Mr. Cook.

Later that evening he took both prisoners into custody; and in reply to the charge he made against them of stealing the meat, they stated that a man named Swift, who resided in the country, had given them the lamb, and that they had purchased the beef.

He afterwards searched the house of the prisoners, who resided together in Rose Street, and seized a large number of shawls and other articles he believed to have been stolen.

The prosecution applied for a remand for a couple of days, in order to trace the owners of the property seized, and the magistrates agreed to keep the sisters in custody.

On the following Friday they appeared before the Mayor Lawrence Spencer and a bench of magistrates.

No further charges were added despite police efforts to link them with the suspected stolen items found at their home, and the women continued to plead their innocence.

P.C. Stenson told the court that with his colleague he had watched the two accused manoeuvring their way through the Market Place on the evening in question, and had seen them discreetly help themselves to oranges, onions and potatoes, prior to visiting the butchers shops.

The magistrates after a short deliberation returned with a guilty verdict. Addressing Holding first, the Mayor told her that as this was her first offence she would go to the House Of Correction for six weeks. Turning to Riding he stated that as she had before been convicted of felony, she was sentenced to three months imprisonment.

The short-lived ‘Lady Of The Lake’ public house was situated opposite Lord Street in St. John’s Street, next to the Pig Market, a street that later became part of Tithebarn Street and where the bus station now stands.