Local historian Keith Johnson looks at the intrigue surrounding a case of robbery and handling stolen cash...
Every so often, a trial at the Preston Sessions in Victorian times led to a rush for seats in the public gallery. The first Saturday of December 1857 was one of those occasions.
On trial were John Edward Harris, barber, perfumer and dentist of Molyneux Square and Isaac Beesley, hat manufacturer of Walker Street. The pair, both well-known characters in the town, were accused of receiving stolen Bank of England notes and local MP Richard Assheton Cross conducted the prosecution case.
Back in October a prostitute named Jane Jackson, aged 27, pleaded guilty of robbing Abraham Kinsley of two £5 notes and three sovereigns in Cottage Street, being sent to prison for six months. During her trial she made certain disclosures that implicated Harris and Beesley as receivers of the stolen £5 bank notes.
The convict Jackson claimed that on the night of the robbery she had knocked the prisoner Harris up and handed him the notes on account of a previous conversation she had with him about disposing of stolen property.
Having been allowed out on bail prior to her conviction, Jackson told the court she had pestered Harris for payment with regards to the money, stating that he had called at her home in Shepherd Street late one night whilst her friend Alice Ann Brown was there, saying he would only give her half their value.
Subsequently, Harris had ordered a young apprentice lad to return the bank notes to his accuser, wrapped in a copy of the ‘Punch Almanac’.
Jackson, a mother of three children, admitted that she had worked as a prostitute for six years, often meeting gentlemen in the Eagle & Child on Church Street. She told the court she was never a thief prior to the occasion with the drunken Kinsley.
Next to give evidence was Alice Ann Brown, who told of her working life as a prostitute living with three other women in premises that fronted as a dressmakers and was, in fact, a brothel.
She stated that Jackson had passed the money on to Beesley in front of her, and that he had promised to exchange it. She then remarked that when Harris heard of this he had told them that Isaac Beesley was a big rogue and they would never get the money back.
The opinion proved to be true, as a few days later Beesley denied ever receiving the £5 notes, calling Jackson a liar.
In defence of the accused it was claimed the evidence of such abandoned women could not be taken seriously – they being inhabitants of hot beds of vice. The chairman Mr Thomas Batty Addison remarked that if it was true the accused men rendered assistance to those committing robberies they should not escape justice.
The jury returned in a short time, declaring both men guilty as charged, and they were both sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, with hard labour. The news of their conviction soon spread through the town as the public gallery emptied.
The Eagle & Child was owned by Lord Derby’s family until the 1890s and was a popular inn.
It was knocked down in 1931 when the entrance to Stoneygate was widened.