Crime and punishment: Shrewsbury 1766

Jan Lloyd is a volunteer at Shropshire Archives: here Jan relates a sorry tale of petty crime and punishment  in 18th century Shrewsbury

 The Mayor of Shrewsbury’s  Accounts from 1766 are by and large a routine list of payments consisting, for example of receipts for ironmongery, maintenance of the conduit pipes, tolls for the gates of the town and materials for coats for the Bellman and Swineherds.  Whilst cataloguing these, however, I came across the following items (Shropshire Archives 3365/666/393) which piqued my interest.

‘Pay to Edward Mansell, Beadle, three shillings for whipping Mary Roberts at the Cart’s Tail.

Pay to Joseph Bevan, five shillings for the use of his cart and horse at the whipping of Mary Roberts.

Pay to John Upton, two shillings for holding the horse’s bridle at the whipping of Mary Roberts at the Cart’s Tail. 30th January 1766’

The word ‘Beadle’ refers to a parish constable of the Anglican Church, one often charged with duties of charity. A famous fictional constabulary beadle is Mr. Bumble from Charles Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist, who oversees the parish workhouse and orphanage. To be whipped at the Cart’s Tail involved the miscreant being tied to the back of the cart, sometimes naked, and paraded through the streets whilst being whipped, giving both physical and mental punishment for their crime.

Image reproduced by permission of the British Museum

Image reproduced by permission of the British Museum

Unfortunately we do not know what Mary’s crime was but, to warrant such a penalty, one would  imagine it was fairly serious.

 The second document is as follows,

‘Pay to Edward Howells, Edward Morgan and Edward Mansell for their trouble in apprehending Mary Lloyd, a strolling woman and a shoplifter, the sum of seven shillings and six pence out of the money arising from the sale of the felon’s goods. 1st April 1766’

 This could be the same Edward Mansell, the Beadle and his cohorts. The term “strolling” woman suggests Mary was of no fixed abode and wandered around the town although she must have had some possessions worth selling to pay the reward to her captors. We tend to think of the word “shoplifter” in a modern context but there is documented proof that shoplifting took place in the sixteenth century, it being carried out by groups of men called “lifters”. There is no mention of further punishment other than losing her goods so perhaps we can presume that the crime Mary Roberts committed was far more serious than Mary Lloyd’s, in order to warrant a whipping.


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