Seven years of hard labour for pickpocketing

Our historian Keith Johnson takes a look back at a game of blame over a street theft...

Thursday, 8th December 2016, 11:35 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:36 pm
The victim bought the two women pies on Friargate

On the last Saturday of April 1867 local butcher Thomas Hodgkinson closed his shop on Stanley Street and went for a night in town.

What followed was to lead to the appearance in the dock at Preston police court a couple of days later of William Langley, his wife Catherine and Mary Doherty.

The three being accused of robbing the butcher of his purse and stealing £8 and some coppers.

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Before the Mayor Edmund Birley, the butcher told the court that shortly before midnight he was going up Friargate along with Mrs. Langley, when Mary Doherty approached them near the Sun Inn.

Both women asked him to treat them to a glass of ale, but he refused and instead bought them each a twopenny pie.

As they left the pie shop both women were holding on to him and he felt a hand draw something out of his inside waistcoat pocket.

He then felt in his pocket, and missed his purse that contained over £11. He immediately announced that he had been robbed and Doherty quickly scurried off up the Plough Inn lobby.

Mrs. Langley gave the appearance of being shocked that her friend had done this and they immediately went down the lobby to Doherty’s lodgings, and asked her for the purse. She claimed she had not got it.

A couple of witnesses testified that all the parties had been drinking together during the night at the Shovel & Broom on Bridge Street and that Mrs. Langley had been telling them that Hogkinson had a purse full of sovereigns.

P.C. Brindle told the court that he had apprehended Doherty at the request of the butcher and whilst he was taking her away, two women had tapped him on the shoulder and said to look in the Plough Inn privy if he wanted to find the purse.

On checking it out he found the purse and it contained only £3. Suspicion was eventually laid at the door of all the three accused.

Another witness testified that he had seen Mr. Langley accuse Doherty of the theft and then followed him down the lobby seeing him take the purse out of his pocket and drop it down the side of the privy after taking some money out.

Although later, whilst on remand, Langley made a statement saying another woman had handed him the purse and asked him to get rid of it.

Such were the contradictory statements that the magistrates ordered all three prisoners to stand trial at the next Preston Sessions.

The trial took place in mid May and various witnesses testified as to the night’s events with accusations from all the accused as to the culprit.

William Langley entered a guilty plea as to receiving part of the money; but the women both pleaded not guilty. Doherty was defended by John Addison who cast doubt on the butcher’s recollection of events.

He told the court that Mr & Mrs. Langley were dubious characters and had been in trouble before,.

Whereas Mary Doherty was of good character having obtained a letter written by mill owner John Goodair, of the Brookfield Mill, stating that during the five years she had worked for him she had displayed an excellent character.

In his opinion there was no collusion between the women and it was obvious that Mrs. Langley had taken the purse, given it to her husband, and that he had put it where it was found minus the missing money.

Mrs. Langley denied that she had any knowledge of the money whatsoever and insisted Doherty was the thief.

After the summing up by the Chairman Mr. T.B. Addison the jury retired, returning within minutes with a verdict of guilty against both women.

A shocked court room then heard the chairman sentence Catherine Langley to seven years penal servitude; William Langley to 13 months in the House of Correction and Mary Doherty to 12 months in Lancaster Castle.