Prolific Preston thief hunted down and transported for life

Local historian Keith Johnson looks back the case of a light-fingered crook who gets his comeuppance...
Kirkham Jack had stolen from premises on Ribbleton LaneKirkham Jack had stolen from premises on Ribbleton Lane
Kirkham Jack had stolen from premises on Ribbleton Lane

Shortly after midnight on the first Thursday of February 1856 two county constables, PC Hill and PC Penswick, were on patrol in the Ribbleton area when they noticed that the shutters and a sash window were open at a house in Bleasdale Street.

Concerned that a burglar might be tempted to enter the premises the officers knocked on the door several times without any reply.

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As one of the officers went round to the back of the property he observed a man, clad only in his vest and trousers running swiftly down the backs.

He immediately gave chase but after some 300 yards realising he would not catch him gave up.

Eventually, a women appeared at the door and the officers entered the house.

After quizzing the women they discovered she was the wife of a notorious thief and poacher known as John Foster, alias John Dewhurst and nicknamed ‘Kirkham Jack’, who they believed was the man who had fled.

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A thorough search of the house followed and besides a large stock of sugar, tea, butter and cheese in the kitchen they discovered three large chests in the parlour all tightly packed with clothes, guns, joiner’s tools, woollen cloth, silver spoons, jewellery and various watches.

Considering there had been a number of thefts in recent weeks the police arranged for some of the victims to view the property recovered.

Mr. Grimshaw, a grocer on Ribbleton Lane, identified some of the stock as being stolen from his shop recently and William Yeardley, a groom, identified several articles of clothing including riding breeches, waistcoats and hats.

With the suspect on the run the county police were happy to reveal the past exploits of ‘Kirkham Jack’ stating that six years early he had escaped transportation by turning approver when charged with burglary at Chorley. In recent times a charge of sheep stealing had been proved and for the last three years a reward of £5 had been offered for his capture for other offences.

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The search for ‘Kirkham Jack’ continued until late November 1856 when P.S. Derham of the county police acted on a tip-off and went with a couple of constable to West Bradford and put up at the Sun Inn.

From the inn they could see the house where the fugitive was believed to be staying and this was confirmed when they saw his wife entering the property.

Waiting until dead of night the officers made their move and as soon as his wife opened the door they pushed past her and hastened upstairs, and after a struggle took Foster into custody.

Once again it was a property full of ill gotten gains and borrowing a horse and cart they loaded it with clothing, calicoes, ironmongery, groceries and jewellery, bringing property and prisoner to Preston.

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Two weeks later at the Lancashire Winter Assizes, before His Lordship William Fry Channell, the notorious Preston thief John Foster was found guilty of burglary and breaking into a warehouse.

His Lordship informed him that as a previously convicted felon he would be transported for life.