Peberdy

Leicester, 10 March 1838: The Triplets and the Imposter

“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.

 

German Town, Philadelphia, 1831: A caution to runaways

George Ross had been placed in charge of the wool-combing and worsted-spinning business in Countesthorpe owned by his father Thomas and brother William Ross. In August 1827 George was found to have disappeared, along with (in all probability) a sizeable part of the funds of the business. William Ross ensured that news of his brother’s flight was put onto the front page of the Leicester Chronicle,  with mention of a handsome reward for any information that would lead to his discovery.

Though his father and uncles all came from Oadby, George had been born in the village of Shearsby and christened in the ancient church of St. Mary Magdalen on 14 November 1800. His father Thomas Ross was born  in 1768 and married his mother Frances Pebberdy in Shearsby on 6 April 1795. William Ross was born in 1772, Neal, born in 1791 and Samuel in 1804. Frances (‘Fanny’) Ross had not lived beyond 40 and died in January 1806. Uncle William Ross had died in February 1825.

No more was heard of George for a long while, and that might have remained the case, had it not been for another Leicestershire runaway: Thomas Shipley. He had been the ‘confidential traveller’ of a Mr. Overton, hosier, and had absconded with a sum of money belonging to his employer. He had, however, been tracked to America, arrested there and compelled to restore the greater part of the missing money. This international legal success had been orchestrated by the Leicester solicitors Messrs. Harris and Payne Johnson. They had sent their man, Bickling, over to America to identify Shipley and with the help of the American Consul brought him to justice. Over £700 had been returned, mostly from Shipley’s account in the Savings Bank. It would have been more, had not Shipley nervously thrown £100 into the sea on leaving England (at least, that’s what he told Bickling).

Not only was this achieved, but Bickling was able to report back on other Leicestershire abscondees. Shipley had been found in the home of Westbury Hill, also apparently from Countesthorpe, who had recently left behind a string of creditors there. He was one of a group of thirty or forty Leicestershire natives in the Philadelphia area alone. Among them were Poole and Jones and a fellow from Shearsby called Ross.

Messrs. Harris and Payne Johnson wanted readers of local newspapers to hear of their success in this matter and to understand that their experience was available for any other clients who had experienced losses in this manner. A piece entitled ‘a caution to runaways’ was printed in the Leicester Chronicle and re-printed in other newspapers in the Midlands.

By 1851 George Ross was back in Leicester, living in Craven Street with his other uncle, Neale and older brother William, both working as a wool-sorters.

Further research

How does worsted differ from other woollens?

What would George Ross’s life had been like in Philadelphia in the 1830s?

References

The Sheffield Independent, and Yorkshire and Derbyshire Advertiser (Sheffield, England), Saturday, August 06, 1831; Issue 537

The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, August 11, 1827; pg. [1]; Issue 872

Marriage of Thomas Ross and Frances Pebberdy. “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NJVL-MY6 : 10 December 2014), Thomas Ross and Frances Pebberdy, 06 Apr 1795; citing Shearsby, Leicester, England, reference V3; FHL microfilm 952,297.

Birth of George Ross. “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NYRK-435 : 30 December 2014), George Ross, 14 Nov 1800; citing SHEARSBY,LEICESTER,ENGLAND, reference ; FHL microfilm 585,287.

Ross in the 1851 Census. “England and Wales Census, 1851,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:SGFG-MZY : 24 July 2016), George Ross in household of Neale Ross, St Margarets, Leicestershire, England; citing St Margarets, Leicestershire, England, p. 10, 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.

Fleckney: August 7, 1828. The lost sheep

As Thomas Perkins of Fleckney recounted his view of the events at the Leicestershire Assizes on August 7th, 1828, he was anxious to assure everyone of his impartial and thorough methods of tracking down the suspected thief of his missing ewe lamb. He recalled counting his sheep in a field between three and four o’clock that day and finding them all present, but had returned at five and found one to be missing. He had spotted a footprint in the ground and took the measure of it with a stick. Asking around gave him some more clues and he headed with a friend uphill towards the next village of Saddington and the house of a possible suspect. The house was empty, but in an outhouse at the back he found a ewe and a lamb, one of which he recognised as his own lost lamb. He took it back to his own field and it was immediately taken and suckled by its mother.

Thomas then went across to Shearsby and met with John Peberdy, the son of the owner of the house where the lamb was found. He confronted him with the recovered lamb, accused Peberdy of stealing it to sell to his father, to which Peberdy confessed “I did”. Perkins than asked to check Peberdy’s shoes, noting eight rows of nails lengthways, exactly agreeing with the tell-tale footprint back in the field. Peberdy did not make any resistance to be arrested, and if he had suffered any distress of mind while in prison, Perkins knew nothing about it.

According to the Leicester Chronicle’s report of the case: “The Judge, in summing up, observed that the fact had been clearly proved, and the jury found the prisoner guilty. – Sentence of death recorded”.

But in Shearsby people thought that there was more to this story. Mary Peberdy, John’s wife organised a petition among her neighbours and prompted letters in support of her husband. Grounds for clemency pointed to a transaction between Thomas Perkins and John Peberdy in which John had ended up not being paid. Added to which, the Peberdys had four small children, stole while temporarily insane and had a nervous irritability. A letter from surgeon John Marriott certified a history of insanity in the family, with John’s mother having committed suicide and four other family members noted as lunatics. Whilst remanded he had failed to recognise his wife and she had also missed the opportunity to speak up for his good character at the trial. Nine Shearsby residents stood up for their neighbour by putting their names to the petition.

Whether as a result of this petition, or not, John Peberdy’s sentence was commuted to imprisonment and in September 1828 he was sent down to the Milbank Penitentiary for life.

Further Research

Who were the people who signed Mary Peberdy’s petition?

Who were John and Mary Peberdy’s children and how did they fare?

The featured image on this post is a Leicester Longwool breed kept in Speeton, Yorkshire since 1834. What sort of sheep were commonly kept in Fleckney at the time of John Peberdy’s theft?