Six strokes of the birch for 10-year-old Preston pickpocket

Our historian Keith Johnson looks back at the case of two young shoplifters in Preston...

Friday, 8th September 2017, 12:39 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 12:30 pm
An artist's impression of one of the boys receiving the birch

On the third Wednesday of May 1904 two brothers, Morris Gilmor, aged 13, and Max Gilmor, aged 10, appeared in the dock at the Preston Borough Police court charged with stealing a purse containing 18 shillings belonging to Miss Alice Sloane of

Fishwick Parade.

The prosecution case was presented by Mr. Blackhurst who told the magistrates that on the previous afternoon at about 4 o’clock Miss Sloane had been in Church Street when the lads followed her and pushed up against her.

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She had then entered a shop to purchase some oysters with the elder lad following her there.

After leaving the shop the lads again pushed up against her and when she got home she realised her purse was missing.

She had immediately reported the theft to the police and the local constables were on the look out for the lads.

P.C. Whitby was then called to testify and he told the court that whilst on patrol in Fishergate two boys approached him after seeing two lads pick a lady’s pocket and run off with her purse.

The constable had made the woman aware of the theft and her discarded and empty purse was discovered in a shop doorway.

He had then observed the lads loitering near the railway station awaiting their mother’s arrival from Blackpool and apprehended them.

When searched at the police station the elder lad was found to have a pocket full of coins including a couple of sovereigns, four florins and seven shillings and a receipt for a £2 telegraph money

order he had forwarded to his mother.

When confronted with their crimes the brothers had confessed their guilt.

Their mother, a Jewish lady, who was weeping bitterly was then called into the witness box.

In broken English she told the magistrates that she resided in Glasgow with her husband, where they kept a shop.

Not feeling well, she had got a few pounds and taken the children to Blackpool, hoping the change would do her good.

She, however, was running short of money and had intended returning home on the Tuesday.

The lads were given their breakfast, and when she inquired for them later she was told they had not been seen. She had come on to Preston in the hope they would be there. It was then stated that interviews with the lads had led to contradictory statements although the elder lad had admitted to two or three robberies.

The chairman of the magistrates Dr. Dunn then addressed the mother and told her that no proper explanation of the boys’ conduct had been forthcoming from her and that the magistrates felt her explanation a feeble one.

After retiring for a few minutes the magistrates returned to court and Dr. Dunn addressed the lads.

He informed the younger lad that he would be given six strokes with the birch, and the older lad, who ought to have known better, would, in addition to being fined 40 shillings, receive a dozen strokes of the birch.

Upon hearing the sentences the mother and the lads burst into tears and there was some uproar in court before the lads were removed below.