Articles tagged with: prison

Wiltshire's Orator Henry Hunt and the Peterloo Massacre

on Thursday, 15 August 2019. Posted in Wiltshire People

Henry Hunt portrait taken from: Peterloo Massacre, containing a faithful narrative ... Edited by an Observer Manchester : J. Wroe, 1819.

16 August 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre where 60,000 people demonstrated in St Peter’s Field, Manchester demanding parliamentary reform. Eighteen people were killed and hundreds injured when the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry and the 15th Hussars were sent in to disperse the crowd and arrest the leaders.

Politician, Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, a principal speaker at the St Peter’s Field meeting, was born at Widdington Farm in Upavon, Wiltshire on 6 Nov 1773.

Henry Hunt, Upavon Baptism Register

Hunt was educated at Tilshead on Salisbury Plain by a Mr Cooper and later in Hampshire. In his memoirs Hunt recounts he was ‘sent to boarding school at Tilshead in Wiltshire, at five and a half years of age… This school, which was situated in a healthy village upon Salisbury Plain, consisted of a master and an usher, who had the care and instruction of sixty-three boys. The scholars were better fed than taught’.

Although his father hoped he would go into Holy Orders, he was inclined towards farming, and began work on the farm aged 16. His experience of the local poverty and rural administration is what has been posited as the driver towards his radical views.

He married a Miss Halcomb, daughter of the innkeeper of the Bear Inn, Devizes and had two sons and a daughter, but the couple separated in 1802, and he eloped with a friend’s wife, Mrs Vince.

He farmed at various locations in Wiltshire, Sussex and Shropshire, and became involved in politics and became a noted public speaker. His rousing speeches at the mass meetings held at Spa Fields, London gained him his ‘Orator’ nickname.

He was invited by the Patriotic Union Society to be one of the key speakers at the scheduled meeting in Manchester on 16 August 1819.

Mary Jane Oland - from Shepherd’s Daughter to Career Criminal

on Saturday, 18 June 2016. Posted in Archives, Crime

I don’t think that I’m alone with my interest in historical crime and punishment. I was interested in seeing if I could piece together a criminal history of someone picked completely at random. With this in mind, I looked through one our archives from the Wiltshire Constabulary, a ‘Divisional Criminal Photographic Album, with particulars of crime and personal details. 1900-1916’. the date range I chose ensured that I didn’t breach the 100 year closed file rule; this allows anonymity which in this case is quite a sensitive subject.

I decided to choose a female prisoner, Mary Jane Oland, born on the 1st May 1870 in Kempsford, Gloucestershire- just over the county border. Mary was the daughter of a shepherd and his wife, Thomas and Harriet Oland. It appears that she was of average education; as well as can be expected for a labourers’ child, she would have definitely attended the local village school.    

Wiltshire Constabulary F5/610/2

It is unclear why, Mary, turned to the life of crime, but it appears to have stemmed from a mental health issue. A taboo subject, especially during this period. Marys’ first conviction was on the 28th June 1883 at the age of 14, shockingly, she was bound over by Swindon Magistrates for an attempted suicide. To investigate this devastating start to Mary’s downward spiral, I looked at the Swindon Advertiser- newspaper reports often give a lot more detail than a criminal register or calendar of prisoners. On Saturday 30th June 1883, it was reported that Mary had cut her own throat in an attempt to avoid returning to service near Bath. She had stated that she had been cruelly treated by her employer Mr C Williams, a farmer. Prior to the incident, Mary had appeared to have gone AWOL with another young employee, a boy, whom she had taken to Bristol and Box over a period of about four days. Was this just an attempt to run away? There was no criminal intent by poor Mary; it was so obvious that she was unhappy.

The following year, Mary was accused of stealing items of clothing in both Swindon and Marlborough, these offences were swiftly followed by two offences of burglary.    

Calendar of Prisoners A1/125/92 (1885)

By the age of 16, Mary was breaking into dwelling houses and stealing jewellery. Her previous convictions of theft had seen her do hard labour, in those days this would have meant supervised physical work outside the prison walls. This new conviction gave her a custodial sentence with which hard labour was included. Mary was incarcerated in Devizes Bridewell Prison, where there was a large, multi-person treadmill installed. This treadmill was driven by the prisoners for long sessions and the wardens could tighten the screws to make the treadmill harder to turn. Hence prison wardens being dubbed ‘screws’.                           

Dr Who and his Journeys to Wiltshire

on Friday, 22 November 2013. Posted in Wiltshire Places

Unless you are one of the minority of people who do not own a television, you will no doubt be aware that 50 years ago the BBC began broadcasting a television programme which has become a cultural phenomenon. ‘Doctor Who’ was predicted to last only five years but is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this month, an incredible achievement and one that the BBC is celebrating with a documentary about the making of the show, as well as a special anniversary episode called ‘The Day of the Doctor’.

However a much smaller number of people, mostly die-hard ‘Whovians’ or local people who remember the filming, will be aware of the connections between Dr Who and the county of Wiltshire.


Wiltshire has provided the landscape for episodes of Dr Who on a number of occasions – memorably in 1971 the village of Aldbourne provided the backdrop for the Jon Pertwee story: ‘The Daemons’. Aldbourne was transformed into the fictional village of ‘Devil’s End’ where the Doctor’s nemesis, The Master, was masquerading as the local Vicar in a diabolical plot to take over the world. The five part story culminated with the destruction of Aldbourne church – fortunately not in reality!

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