Man transported for 10 years after brutal Preston robbery of shop owner

Market Street in Lancaster where the Preston fugitive was caught
Market Street in Lancaster where the Preston fugitive was caught
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Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the trial of a thief who carried out a savage attack on a good Samaritan...

A brutal attack upon master joiner John Bamber the owner of a beer shop in Bury Street, Preston. in early May 1849 led to a county wide search for his attacker.

The man had visited the beer shop that evening and been treated to some ale by Mr. Bamber before leaving at 11 o’clock.

Half an hour later he returned saying he had been locked out of his lodgings. Mr. Bamber offering him a bed for the night at his nearby home.

When the pair got into Syke Street the man knocked him down, hitting him on the forehead with a hard object.

When he came to his senses he discovered his gold pocket watch, a pen knife, four sovereigns and twenty shillings had been taken.

A search for the offender was immediately begun and a description of a short, stout and thick set man wearing a dark brown jacket and trousers and clogs was circulated.

A week later Supt. Wright, of the Lancaster police force, came across a stranger in Market Street, Lancaster who fitted the description.

Following him to the nearby Old Sir Simon public house he placed his hand on the man’s shoulder, told him of his suspicions and escorted him to the police station.

On being searched a gold watch, a pen knife, two sovereigns and a few shillings were discovered in his pockets.

After revealing that his name was Thomas Smith, a clogger from Preston, he was charged with the crime which he denied.

He was then escorted in leg irons to the railway station to await the mail train to Preston.

After leaving Smith at the lock up down Turks Head Yard Supt. Wright went to the home of John Bamber in Chaddock Street, taking with him the articles found upon Smith.

Bamber was still in a poorly state after his ordeal, but was able to identify the watch and pen knife as his property.

The following day Smith appeared before the Preston magistrates and Chief Constable Samuel Banister outlined the details of his arrest and asked for a remand in custody.

The magistrates agreed and a week later Smith was committed to appear before Mr. Justice Wightman at the Lancaster Summer Assizes of August,1849.

He was charged with assault and robbery, but continued to claim his innocence.

Amongst the witnesses was William Bamber, no relation of the victim, but a resident of Syke Street.

He recalled looking out of his bedroom window and seeing two men grappling on the cobbles.

The accused was punching Mr. Bamber who fell down and the witness quickly ran outside to assist him, but by this time Smith had fled.

He then assisted a bloody and bruised Mr. Bamber to his home and gave information to the police.

In cross examination he stated he was absolutely sure that the man in the dock was the culprit.

In his defence Smith claimed that he was so drunk that he recalled nothing of the incident and was surprised when sober to find the stolen items in his pocket, not knowing where they came from.

Joseph Parker, a fellow clogger, was then called and he stated he had known the prisoner for 12 years and never knew him cause harm to anyone.

Summing up the evidence Mr Justice Wightman told the jury to consider only the facts of the case.

After only a short deliberation the jury returned with a verdict of guilty on both counts.

His Lordship then told him it was a very serious offence, one that not many years before would have been punishable by death.

He then sentenced the prisoner to be transported for 10 years.