“IMPOSITION EXTRAORDINARY. – The wife of Thomas Weston, of Shearsby, having lately presented to her liege lord three children at one birth, a sad Saddington butcher, named John Peberdy, resolved to profit by the “dispensation”, however hardly it might bear upon the husband of the prolific lady; and forthwith he came to Leicester, and canvassed the pockets of the charitable as “the father of the three children born at Shearsby!” He is a dark-complexioned man, wears crape on his hat; and is dressed in a black waistcoat, and a light coat.”
The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, March 10, 1838
The imposter, John Peberdy was, perhaps relying on his victims remembering an earlier report in the newspaper about the wife of a poor man named Weston being delivered of three children back in February. All the children, with the mother, were reported to be doing ‘as well as can be expected’. The newspaper had hoped that “her benevolent neighbours will bestow that assistance that her situation requires”.
On 7 June 1841 the census taker found Thomas and Elizabeth Weston residing in Crown Bank, Shearsby with children Thomas (6), William (4) and Charles (2). William was the surviving member of the triplets born three years previously. Thomas had something in common with his rival, John Perberdy, in that they were both butchers. A further link can be found in man living next door at the Crown Public House and working for Thomas’s father, also Thomas Weston. This was Thomas Peberdy (15), who could well have been the child christened in Saddington on 29 August 1827 and the son of John Peberdy.
Back in the 1830s, when faced with fraudulent claims of this kind the towns-folk of Leicester and villagers of Shearsby did not withdraw their compassion or look to technological solutions to protect themselves. Rather it was with a sense of community that they shared details of who to watch out for, down to the detail of the crape ribbon in the hat, so that no-one would be taken in unawares.
The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, February 03, 1838
“England and Wales Census, 1851,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:SGFK-H7F : 24 July 2016), Thomas Weston, Knaptoft, Leicestershire, England; citing Knaptoft, Leicestershire, England, p. 7, from “1851 England, Scotland and Wales census,” database and images, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : n.d.); citing PRO HO 107, The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey.