Hard labour for Preston railway station luggage thief

Local historian Keith Johnson looks at a crime from yesteryear...

Thursday, 9th March 2017, 12:12 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:51 am
Gregson sold the stolen items at Lancaster Market, above

Thefts from the railway were certainly a problem in Victorian times and they were highlighted in early December 1875 when the newly elected Mayor of Preston, Joseph Bithnell Hallmark,ironmonger, served as chief magistrate at the Preston Borough police court.

Before the Mayor was Thomas William Gregson, a young man, very respectably connected and a resident of Knowsley Street. He was accused of stealing a hamper of drapery, valued at £10, the property of Peter Thornley, of Preston, and also a trunk containing goods belonging to Robert Woods, draper and clothier, of Blackpool.

Peter Thornley was called and stated that he was a draper residing in Church Street and that he had, in mid-November, left a hamper in the left

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luggage department of the North

Union railway station at Preston. On returning three days later he found that most of the contents were missing.

William Atkinson testified that he had been at the luggage office on the previous Saturday and seen the accused load the hamper on to the Lancaster-bound train. According to a clerk at the luggage office, he had been given permission by Mr. Thornley to take the hamper to Lancaster and return it that evening.

Emma Ellery told the court that she had been on Lancaster Market that Saturday and Gregson was selling articles from the hamper at knock-down prices. The goods for sale included shirts, jackets and cloth. She asked him why he was selling things so cheap and he told her had bought them from a man in Preston, who did not know their true value.

As to the second charge, Ralph Lingard, a railway porter at Preston, said that he was at the station when the six o’clock train from Manchester Victoria arrived on the third Saturday of October.

The luggage that arrived included a trunk marked for Mr. Woods which was left in the office. A few days later, Gregson had turned up and claimed the trunk, saying it was authorised by Mr. Woods and paying the five penny surcharge before loading it on to the Ulverston-bound train.

Witnesses were called who had been at Ulverston market that day and one spoke of selling three coats on behalf of the accused for £9 and earning 13 shillings commission, whilst a women testified that she had bought some articles at a bargain price.

The thefts had come to the attention of Detective Officer Watson of the railway police and, after extensive investigation, he told the court that he arrested Gregson in the Liberal Club in Gin Bow Entry in late November. When confronted with the alleged crimes he had refused to comment, other than to say he reserved his defence.

After much consideration amongst the magistrates the Mayor announced that Gregson would be sent for trial at the Epiphany Quarter Sessions in January. Despite a plea from his solicitor, Mr. Blackhurst, an application for bail was


The court was crowded throughout the hearing and the prisoner’s mother and grandmother had to be removed in consequence of their distressed condition.

Faced with the overwhelming evidence Gregson had time to reconsider his situation before the trial took place in early January. Before the chairman Mr. W. H. Higgins, QC, he

entered a guilty plea with regards to both cases. After consulting amongst themselves the magistrates informed Gregson that he would be sent to prison for nine calendar months with hard labour.