Preston thief who stole more than 100 books jailed for six months

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the case of a church school thief who sold on stolen books...

By Henry Widdas, Communities Content Page Manager
Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 9:47 am
Christ Church books went missing
Christ Church books went missing

In early February 1858 Robert Casson, a youth who had been engaged as a pupil teacher at the Christ Church school, appeared in the dock of the Preston Police Court before the Mayor John Humber accused of stealing four books valued at 2 shillings each on the previous Friday.

Joseph Jackson, pupil teacher, appeared for the prosecution and he identified two copies of ‘Burn’s Notes On The Gospels’ as the property of headmaster Mr. Bakewell. Both books had a page torn out that had contained Mr. Bakewell’s signature.

A market trader named Porter who kept a second hand book stall in the Orchard was next to testify and he stated that he had bought the four books produced in court on the previous Saturday giving the accused a total of 18 pence.

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When asked why he had agreed to purchase them when all four books were marked ‘Church of England Young Men’s Society’ he replied that he did not examine them closely as he was busy at the time. He then stated that he had bought several other books from the prisoner, but probably less than twenty and when he had asked the prisoner where he got them he had always said they were his own.

A young lad called Richard Chadwick testified that he had bought one of the books off Porter’s stall on the Saturday and that when Casson saw him with it he said it was no good for examinations, and advised him to change it. When he realised the book belonged to the headmaster, he gave it back to him.

Police Sergeant Cunningham was the next to be called and he stated that he had taken Casson into custody on the Saturday and when he accused him of stealing the books he admitted it was true. When Casson was questioned about the thefts and following a discussion with Mr. Bakewell it came to light that it was not the first time Casson had stolen books. A letter was then produced from November 1856 when he had written to the headmaster asking for forgiveness for an earlier theft of books.

A key of the library that he had no right to have had been found in his possession and it appeared that following that earlier transgression he had continued his thieving. Mr. Bakewell telling the court that out of the library collection of 948 books, 143 were missing and it was believed Casson had taken most of them at different intervals.

The headmaster then went on to say that the prisoner had been a particular favourite of the Rev. Kennedy, the government inspector of schools, who thought of him as a very bright lad and consequently he had been influential in allowing him to continue teaching after the earlier theft.

Having pleaded guilty the prisoner was then sentenced to six months imprisonment in the House of Correction. The Mayor then concluded the proceedings by handing Porter a severe reprimand telling him the magistrates were of the opinion that he knew full well the books were stolen.

Christ Church was opened in 1837 and in those early days the scholars were accommodated in a building on Wellfield Road as well as within the church itself.

The church was closed in 1970 and the parish amalgamated with St. Stephen’s. Nowadays, the frontage of Christ Church remains and it is part of the County Hall complex.