The story of a child’s punishment for stealing some turnips
Two hundred years ago life for the poor was hard. Rural communities who relied on agriculture were suffering from decreased employment because of increased efficiency of agriculture, enclosures and mechanisation. A typical agricultural labourer earnt just ten shillings a week and feeding a family on these wages was tough. This was made more difficult because the Napoleonic wars with France had increased the price of basic commodities.
When ends did not meet people were placed in the workhouse but with the increasing numbers needing assistance ‘outdoor relief’ was given, which meant money was given to the individuals directly to assist them rather than admit them to the workhouses. The Overseer determined how much each person received and for what reason. East Meon in Hampshire was one such rural village hit by the changes in Agriculture. The East Meon Overseers book for the period between 1819 to 1826 is still in existence and can be viewed at the Hampshire Archives. During this period outdoor relief was given to 333 parishioners, among the individuals listed as getting handouts is Thomas Titheridge.
Thomas Titheridge (b about 1774 – d1846) had married Jane Tee (b1776 – d about 1831) on 25 September 1803 in Bishops Waltham. From 1805 they lived in the village of East Meon. They had six children all born in the village.
- William (b1805 – d1866)
- Ann (b1807 – d1824)
- Henry (b1808 – d ?)
- Harriet (b1811 - d1831)
- James (b1818 – d ?)
- Maria.(b1820 – d1833)
It is because there was great deal of poverty that crime was high as people tried to survive the conditions. It is not surprising that people living in such harsh conditions found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Crime was punished harshly, with the pillory, transportation to Australia and prison being among the common sentences. Children were often treated in the same way as adults, receiving similarly harsh punishments.
By 1819 Thomas’ son, William, was the eldest child in a family of five children struggling to make ends meet. In December 1819 William found himself on the wrong side of the law and he appeared at the Epiphany Quarter Sessions in Winchester. Quarter Sessions were held four times a year and here lesser crimes were dealt with by local Justices of the Peace.
The Quarter Sessions Records read:
“William Titheridge, aged 13, committed December 29 1819 by Thomas Butler Esq. and Rev John Baynes, clerk, for 124 days imprisonment for having stolen a quantity of turnips, the property of William Weeks at Eastmeon, whereby he was adjudged to pay the penalty of ten shillings which he did not have.”
It is hard for us to understand this degree of punishment for an adult yet alone a boy of 13 - over 3 months in prison for such a minor crime is incomprehensible to us today.
William went on to marry Elizabeth Lee in East Meon on 28 July 1827 and they had 15 children all born in East Meon between 1827 and 1854.
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