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Saturday, 27 April 2013

WILLIAM TALFOURD SALTER (1827-1883) AND THE HAMMERSMITH SHEEP-RUSTLERS



Another case from the files of my great grandfather's cousin, Talfourd Salter QC. Several of his appearances at the Old Bailey are on record, a snapshot of the lives and crimes of ordinary people in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1855, Hammersmith (now swallowed up by west central London) was still semi-rural. His uncle the horticulturalist John Salter was able to open a plant nursery on open fields there when he fled the French coup d’├ętat in 1848. (Long story! See elsewhere in these pages.) As evidence of its still-rustic nature, witness this case of sheep-rustling in the borough.

Sheep and a London policeman, 1931. In the 1930s sheep-rusting was less of a problem in the capital.

On 19th March 1855 Henry Fowkes, a butcher in Hammersmith, bought some sheep in a field at Brook Green. He planned to keep them there, opposite his shop, and slaughter them as required. At 9.30 in the morning of Thursday 5th April, he discovered that nineteen of his new sheep were missing from the Brook Green field.

Worse still, his tame sheep had also gone, which he had put in with the new animals. This was not a pet, and Fowkes was unusual in keeping such an animal. Because it knew its way around, it acted as a leader so that, as Fowkes testified in court, “when sheep came home from market, it used to run in [to his abattoir] first and they followed instantly.” As Hammersmith faced up to the advance of London’s urban sprawl, Fowkes was dealing with a new problem – traffic. “I keep this [leader],” he stated, “to run across the road, so that the sheep should not be run over by the omnibuses.”

Sheep and London omnibuses, 1926. This is what happens if you don't have a leader.

Two days later, acting on a tip-off, Fowkes saw what he thought were the carcasses of his sheep in the shop of another butcher, William Paulin of Marylebone Lane. Paulin was arrested, and stood in the dock of the Old Bailey on 9th April, accused of either stealing the sheep or feloniously receiving the stolen goods. Talfourd Salter QC acted for the defence.

The prosecution produced a string of witnesses to establish the last journey of the stolen animals and the distribution of their skins and carcasses. A toll collector saw twenty sheep being driven towards London from Hammersmith at 7.30pm on 20th March, and a fishmonger saw them arrive at Paulin’s shop in Marylebone at 9pm. A slaughterman testified that he had been having a drink in the Sawyer’s Arms (still in Marylebone Lane today) when Paulin hired him to help kill the sheep, which took from 11pm until 5am on 21st March.

Later on that morning a butcher in Oxford Street bought twenty “recently killed” sheep’s heads from Paulin. Two days later, reported a tallow chandler (candle-maker), Paulin’s assistant arrived with an unusually large consignment of mutton fat (used to make candles) which – the candlemaker could tell from the condition and the smell – had been killed a couple of days earlier. Another butcher in Marylebone Lane bought carcasses from his neighbor Paulin on 24th March.

So much for the disposal of the inner sheep. A carter reported being hired at 7am on Wednesday 21st March to carry twenty sheepskins from Paulin’s shop to another butcher, in Warwick Lane, who confirmed that he was told they came from Paulin. This butcher sold them on to a Bermondsey fellmonger (skin and hide dealer) on 22nd March, who on 24th March sold them on to a fellow Bermondsey fellmonger – in whose premises the following Tuesday 27th March Henry Fowkes thought he recognised the pelts of his sheep.

A nineteenth century butcher’s panel

The marks found on the skins were the same as those made by Fowkes and by previous owners of the missing sheep. As for the meat, Fowkes had butchered some of his remaining sheep by the time the case came to trial. He was therefore in a position to say that the stolen carcasses found in both the Marylebone Lane butchers’ shops were from the same flock. Hidden behind the hanging joints in Paulin’s shop, Fowkes also spotted the hind quarters of his tame leader.

So there was no doubt that Paulin had received the stolen sheep. But did he steal them? It was a dark night early in the year: the toll collector said that, of the two men driving the sheep to Marylebone “the prisoner very much resembles one;” but the fishmonger thought he saw Paulin not arriving with the stolen sheep but coming out of his shop to meet them. The doubt was enough for Talfourd to get Paulin of the theft charge; but he could do nothing about the evident receiving of stolen goods, and Paulin was sentenced in that respect to eighteen months in prison.

A mysterious second sheep rustler remained unidentified and at large, a tall, slim man who was described by several witnesses on the road to Marylebone and around Paulin’s shop, when the sheep arrived and when they were killed. This mystery presence throughout the night of 20th March does seem to compromise Talfourd’s client. But I’m no lawyer.

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