Preston thief caught red-handed by teen servant girl in early raid

Local historian looks back at the case of a clothing thief who ended up on the wrong side of the dock...

By Henry Widdas, Communities Content Page Manager
Thursday, 3rd February 2022, 3:45 pm
The watch was pawned at Hayhurst on Church Street
The watch was pawned at Hayhurst on Church Street

On the first Thursday of December 1857 Mary Ann Harrington, a teenaged servant girl to Mr & Mrs. Aston, who lived in a dwelling on Fishergate close to New Cock Yard, was up early to attend to her chores, but as she was about to enter the sitting room at about 8 o’clock she heard noises from within and durst not enter for a good while.

Hearing the sound of drawers being opened she eventually built up the courage to enter but she found the door was fastened, so she burst it open and discovered a man taking things out of a drawer. She called for her master and the man scowled at her, and leaving the bundle of clothes he had gathered behind, climbed upon a chair, clambered through the window and departed.

Miss Harrington would relive her ordeal a day later when Samuel Hornby, aged 29, appeared before the magistrates charged with breaking and entering the premises of Mr. Aston, a dealer in china and earthenware, and attempting to steal a large quantity of clothing. Mr. Blackhurst led the prosecution and called her to testify. She told the court that although she had not known the man’s name, she recognised him as living down the nearby New Cock Yard.

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P.S. Topping testified that acting upon information received he had seen the prisoner mixing mortar in a yard off Avenham Lane later in the morning. He then brought the girl to the spot and as the man left the yard she had assured him that he was the culprit.

Joseph Melling, a young lad who had been walking along Fishergate on his way to work at Mears brush makers, testified that he had seen two men on the roof of Mr. Aston’s premises at about 8 o’clock and was sure one of them was the prisoner.

Mr. Watson defending the accused remarked that the evidence of children must be treated with caution and then he called Henry Hornby, brother of the prisoner, who swore that his brother had got up shortly before 8 o’clock that morning and that his brother, sister and parents all ate breakfast together. Questioned about the time by Mr. Blackhurst he stated that he had a watch that he kept by his bedside and he always checked it when he woke. Hornby’s statement was corroborated by his sister Sarah Jane Hornby.

At the request of Mr. Blackhurst the magistrates halted proceedings for a short time and when the court resumed Mr. Blackhurst called P.C. Stirzaker who had been sent to the Hornby’s house down New Cock Yard.

He testified that he had asked to be shown where the brothers slept, on entering the room there was no watch to be seen. On questioning his parents his mother had stated that it had been pawned a week earlier at Hayhurst’s. The magistrates at once committed Samuel Hornby to the next Preston Sessions, and ordered Henry Hornby into custody, charged with wilful and deliberate perjury.

Henry Hornby again appeared before the magistrates after a fortnight in custody and Mr. Watson claimed that Hornby had no intention of misleading the court, but whilst in a state of trepidation and anxiety about his brother’s fate he had unfortunately become confused. Despite his plea to have the matter dealt with by a caution from the magistrates it was ignored and he was committed to the next Lancaster Assizes, although bail was allowed.

The fate of Samuel Hornby was decided at the Epiphany Quarter Sessions in early January when a guilty verdict led to the chairman Mr. T. B. Addison sentencing him to twelve months in the House of Correction.

His brother’s fate was decided at the Lancaster Assizes of late February 1858 when a lengthy hearing took place before Baron Martin. In the opinion of His Lordship the prosecution failed to call any important witnesses and after several witnesses had spoken in Hornby’s favour he dismissed the case and discharged him.