Burglary at the Grapes Inn, Attleborough

A vicious and armed attack on two of my ancestors in 1879.

The Grapes Inn, Attleborough, Norfolk.  I wonder if that is my great great grandmother Ann Smith (nee Peach), standing in front of the beerhouse in this old photograph?

I first heard of The Grapes from my late grandmother Doris Brooker.  She recalled in her childhood, her father, Frederick Smith, once taking her by horse and cart to a pub in Attleborough, that had a grapevine growing in the doorway.  If you look at the above photograph, I think you can see growth on the front of the building.  Was that the same vine?  I had just seen a census that recorded her grandfather, as the victualler of the Grapes Beerhouse in Attleborough. It connected.  She didn't know, but that beerhouse was where his parents had lived.

Here's how they relate to my late paternal grandmother:

My 2nd great grandfather Robert Smith, had been born in Attleborough in 1833, to a local family.  His father, Robert the senior, had lost his farmland, and at one point, lead a local riot against the background of the Swing Riots.  After being imprisoned in Norwich Castle Gaol, Robert the senior made a living as a hawker, umbrella maker, and as a labourer.  In his fifties, he finally escaped the Agricultural Depression by taking the new railways to Sculcoates, a cotton spinning town in Yorkshire.  Robert the junior and other siblings though, remained in Attleborough.  

His wife, Ann (nee Peach), was born at Etton, Northants, in 1835, although her mother, Sarah Peach (nee Riches) was from a local Norfolk family.  When Ann was an infant, her father David Peach was convicted of stealing two steers, and transported to Tasmania.  His wife, Sarah returned to Norfolk with her daughter.  Ann subsequently must have grown up in a very poor single parent family in the town.  Her mother Sarah, unable to remarry, made a living as a charwoman.

So both Robert and Ann were born into more poverty rather than riches.  They married at Attleborough in 1857.  Robert had become a bricklayer.  

Between then and 1876, Ann gave birth to at least six children - Harry, Frederick (my grandmother's father), Alice, Emma, Samuel, and Nellie Smith.  They must have worked hard to get what they had.  By 1879, they were running the Grapes Inn on Levell Street in Attleborough.  From there, they ran a beerhouse, a bricklayer's yard, a builder's merchant yard, and possibly a pork butchers.  Here they are at the Grapes in 1881:

That's the background.  That 1881 Census shows the family two years after the event that I am now going to retell.

The Attleborough Burglary

It was about one o'clock in the morning on the first of March, 1879.  The beerhouse was closed.  My great great grandmother Ann Smith, was suddenly awakened by a noise and a light on the landing.  As she reached out to the bedroom door in order to investigate, a masked man carrying a revolver pushed into the bedroom, exclaiming "hoi-a-hoi!".  Her husband Robert now awake, the intruder pointed the pistol at his face.  The threat made, the burglar backed out to the landing.  Just then, their eldest son Harry, awoke by the commotion opened the door of another bedroom.  The intruder turned his revolver onto Harry, pointing it at a distance of six inches into his face.  Harry slammed the bedroom door shut, and the gun was fired into it, splintering the door.  The burglar then bolted from the Grapes, running out of the front door.  Robert, Ann, and Harry surveyed the house.  The intruder had kicked over a lamp, and the flames needed to be put out.  The house had been ransacked.  Robert's silver pocket watch and chain had been stolen, some money, a carving knife, and some silver from a dresser.

The thief was a 20 year old John Clarke, originally from Shields in the North of England, but who had spent some time himself as a bricklayer, on the West India Docks in London.  He was on a rampage in Norfolk.  Armed, he committed a spate of burgalries at Attleborough, Spooner Row, Shipdham, and Foulsham.

The following Tuesday, he was at Little Walsingham.  It was becoming to risky for him to continue his crime spate in Norfolk, and he was heading for the railway station, to escape back to London.  He was tracked by the Police to a Little Walsingham pub, where they preceded to question him.  He made a dash for it.  As the police officers pursued him through the village, three times he raised his revolver and fired the gun at them - missing every time.

He reached the village of Great Walsingham.  The Police officers had by now commodeared a horse and cart to pursue him.  Locals joined in, including a game keeper's son called Codman.  More shots were fired - one through Codman's apron!  They chased him across the fields.  Another bullet struck a horse in the neck.  The rider of that horse, PC Goll, diismounted and forced Clarke to the ground - the gun fired again during the struggle.  Goll managed to part him from the revolver, and to handcuff him.

Clarke was found with a number of stolen items including my great great grandfather's watch.  He also had a piece of glass, painted with a death skull, that he would use with a lamp to frighten his victims.  The next morning, he gave a full confession.

He was taken later that day to Norwich Shirehall.  Angry crowds beseiged the building and a force of police had to keep order.  There he was charged, and Robert, Ann, and Harry gave their accounts, and identified their stolen properties.

At the May Assizes, John Clarke was sentenced to twenty years penal servitude.

Norfolk News 10th May 1879

Eastern Daily Press 8th March 1879

Norwich Mercury 8th March 1879

My great grandfather Frederick Smith with his son Lenny.

The man with the mattock - my Swing rioter ancestor of Attleborough

Another genealogist gave me a hint some twenty years ago, that they'd seen one of my Attleborough Smith ancestors as listed among the inmates of Norwich Castle Gaol.  I never followed it up until today, when I bought a second hand book called "Unquiet Country".  Voices of the Rural Poor 1820 - 1880. Robert Lee 2005.

The guy behind the till in the book shop said that he had been tempted to purchase it.  I replied that I might find one of my ancestors in it.  I didn't think that I would.  Then sitting on the bus, on the way back, as I reading through the chapter "Seems we have a revolution on our hands",   I read about an incident in Attleborough, Norfolk during December 1830:  

At least their slow walk gave the two men time to weigh up what was happening.  The churchyard was crowded.  Francklin noted that many faces were muffled and masked.  In evidence, too, were a number of sinister looking sticks, clubs and cudgels, some resting on the ground, some shouldered, some being slapped rhythmically against tensed, sweating palms.

"See the flag Dover?" muttered Francklin from the side of his mouth, 'Seems we have a revolution on our hands'.  Still furled, but unmistakable and carried with defiant pride, the tri-colour flag of revolutionary France provided a splash of colour in a damp corner of the graveyard.

The background was the Swing Riots.  Since August, many agricultural labourers and paupers took direct political action in protest against their deteriorating condition, that had been escalating with a long history of enclosure - the privatisation of pastures where the poor grazed their meagre livestock.  A favoured target were the new machines of the Agricultural Revolution, such as the threshing machines, which reduced the need for much labour on the land.  Masked gangs would set fire to them.  A mythical hero called Captain Swing gave name to the riots.  Workhouses would be attacked - the places where the poor were expected to plead for food and shelter, living as inmates for the offence of being replaced by such machines.  Tithe barns would also be attacked - the farmers were falling over themselves to blame the Church for excessive taxation, that prevented them paying a living wage to their labourers.

Some of the labourers cried out "half, half," holding up sticks and a mattock was held up, the mattock was not held up till after I had agreed to reduce 10 per cent ... they became more violent...

East Anglia was the epicentre of the Swing Riots.  Continuing in Attleborough, the rioters harangued the annual tithe meeting where the parson organised tithes for the forthcoming year.  The Parson, the Rev. Francklin, was assaulted when he refused to drop the tithes to a half.  He was forcibly imprisoned by the Swing rioters.  One of the masked men lifted a mattock (a pick axe-like tool as top photo) when the parson refused to give more than a 10% reduction in tithe tax to the farmers that employed them.  Another called for a knife, to cut off his head.  The parson and his associates were beaten, the vestry pilloried with stones.  Previous to arriving at the church meeting, the mob had already destroyed three threshing machines, and attacked the workhouse, demanding that the master fed them, or they would march him around the town with a stone hanging from his neck.  This really was revolution in backwater Norfolk.

Then I read the names of the accused at the subsequent trial:

For their breach of the peace, and for having broken into and entered the vestry room of the parish church ... and for having beaten the Rev. Fairfax Francklin ... threatened him and kept him a prisoner for several hours', Robert Smith was imprisoned for two and a half years, Samuel Smith for two years....

and after that was decided he (witness) would communicate the result (to the labourers); saw Robert Smith with a mattock ; a cry was raised...

Hang on.  Is that my 3rd great grandfather Robert Smith of Attleborough?  It appears so.  That hint twenty years ago.  He was married only three years earlier, to Lydia Hewitt - by the Rev. Francklin!  No wonder they didn't have any children for a few years.  He was serving time in Norwich Castle.

Robert was born the son of Raphael and Mary Smith, in Attleborough during early 1807.  At least three generations had lived in Attleborough, perhaps many more.  Indeed, both of his parents carried the Smith surname previous to marriage.  The Samuel Smith convicted with him may have been a cousin of his.  Robert must have been around 24 years old when he raised that mattock at the parson.  He had two young children to feed and a wife.  Times were incredibly difficult for the poor.  I wonder if he was behind the voice that was reported during the Attleborough Riot by a witness:

Above the confusion of the voices one rang out, more stridant and confident than the rest 'We are the strongest party' the man cried. 'We always have been and we always will be.  This is only the beginning.  We have begun at the foot, and we will go up to the head.'.

That was the voice not of a mob rioter, but of a revolutionary.  Not just the beating up of an elderly parson perhaps.  It had to be nipped at the bud, and after the military declared the Riot Act, the magistrates did just that.

While Robert languished in the gaol of Norwich Castle, his younger brother, Raphael Smith, passed away age 21.  Tough times to live.

Robert was released and fathered several more children.  In 1841 he was living at Lydia's father's farm at Hill Common, with six of their children.  But Robert was diversifying.  He was recorded on that census as a hawker - a salesman.

Three years later, in 1844, Robert's wife Lydia past away, age only 37 years.  In 1849, with children to care for, Robert married a second time, to a widow named Frances Saunders (nee Husk).  Her children by her previous marriage joined the household.

In 1851, Robert, living still in Attleborough with his family, was now working as an umbrella maker!  Then something happened.  The railways had arrived, bringing opportunities for many poor Norfolk families to move away.  The cotton mill towns were beckoning.  Robert, in his fifties, and Frances, left my 2nd great grandfather Robert Smith in Attleborough, and moved up North to Sculcoates, East Riding, Yorkshire.  In 1861, there they were, until 1870 when Robert finally passed away.  The Man with the Mattock.

Meanwhile his son Robert Smith (the junior) did quite well in Attleborough.  He was a bricklayer.  He had a trade.  He married Ann Peach (who's own father had been transported to Tasmania in 1837 for stealing cattle), and they for many years ran a beerhouse and builders yard in Attleborough, called the Grapes.  Their son Fred Smith also apprenticed into a trade.  He became a wheelwright, moved to Norwich, where he met my great grandmother Emily Barber.  They had several children in Norwich, including my grandmother Doris Brooker nee Smith.

Fred Smith with his daughter Doris in Norwich circa 1908.