Prolific Preston thief ‘Peg Dan’ spent much of his life in custody

Local historian looks back at the life of a long-time criminal who could not stop stealing...

By Henry Widdas, Communities Content Page Manager
Thursday, 24th June 2021, 3:45 pm
The Old Brittania on Friargate where Clarke had his watch stolen
The Old Brittania on Friargate where Clarke had his watch stolen

At the Preston Michaelmas Sessions of October 1870 amongst those brought before the chairman Thomas Batty Addison was a familiar face as Thomas Waring alias Thomas Robinson, also known as ‘Peg Dan’ by his associates, stood accused of stealing a watch.

The prosecution alleged that in late August Waring had visited the Britannia Inn on Friargate and taken up a conversation with Michael Clarke. After Waring had left the inn Clarke realised his watch was missing and after alerting a police officer the pair went in search of the accused. Waring was discovered in the Three Tuns on North Road and was eventually taken into custody, but not before he had caused the police great difficulty whilst arresting him.

After the arrest a police officer returned to the scene of the scuffle and nearby on North Road the missing watch was discovered and subsequently identified by Clarke.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

According to Mr. Hawthorne who represented Waring, there was no evidence to implicate the accused, and its discovery in North Road was no proof at all. In his opinion a dismissal of the case was the only just outcome. The jury clearly thought otherwise and returned a guilty verdict. Mr. Addison then informed the court that the prisoner had at the previous Preston

Sessions been accused of stealing £4, but thanks to Mr. Hawthorne’s eloquent pleadings he had been acquitted. The chairman went on to inform the court that Waring had seven times been before the courts of justice, and three times acquitted and that his most recent conviction had been in July 1865 when he was found guilty of burglary and sentenced to 12 months in prison by himself.

Addressing the prisoner Mr. Addison told him that he had no option than to send him to penal servitude for seven years.

The decision was received by weeping and wailing by the young ladies in the public gallery who left the court in tears as Waring was taken down to the cells.

By April 1886 Waring was 39 years old and a labourer by trade and had served two terms of seven years penal servitude, on the second occasion he had been convicted of stealing a mare valued at 80 guineas.

Appearing once more at the Preston Quarter Sessions he was this time accused of stealing a jewellery case belonging to George Singleton a second hand dealer.

It was claimed he had visited his shop and whilst Singleton was distracted he had stolen the article. This time he made a long speech pleading his innocence and the jury acquitted him.

The chairman Mr. W. H. Higgin QC was somewhat taken back by the verdict and he promptly made the jury aware of Waring’s previous convictions and before the prisoner was dismissed he told him that if he was caught again he would send him down for 10 years.

By August 1886 Waring was in trouble again as he appeared before the Leyland Petty sessions accused of breaking and entering the Bay Horse Hotel and stealing silver coins, cigars and whisky that were found on his person.

He had been discovered in his stockinged feet about to creep out of the inn. In view of his past record he was sent to the Manchester Assizes held in late October before Mr. Justice Cave.

He chose to plead guilty and claimed that he could not find work as once any employer learnt of his criminal record he was cast aside and was unable to earn a honest living.

He pleaded for clemency, but got none as Justice Cave sentenced him to a further term of five years penal servitude. His only consolation was that it was only half the sentence Mr. Higgins had promised him.