Saturday, 24 December 2011



The last executions on Penenden Heath attracted a huge crowd. Because of fears of disorder and even of a rescue attempt, there was a very strong military presence which escorted the wagon carrying the prisoners, sitting on their coffins, from Maidstone gaol to the place of execution.

The brothers William and Henry Packman, aged 18 and 19 respectively, had been found guilty firing of a farmer’s barn. In his summing-up the judge had observed that their accomplice, Bishop, who had turned King’s Evidence, was ‘according to the jury, more guilty than you’ but that did not save them. Another man, John Dyke, guilty of setting fire to a barn at Bearsted, suffered a similar fate.

On the scaffold, invited by the chaplain to admit his guilt, Dyke stubbornly refused. Others had perjured themselves, he said. The Packmans were likewise steadfast, shaking hands before, in the last seconds, William, whose wrists seem not to have been bound behind him, tore the hood off his face, declaring that he wished to see the crowd. After the bodies had hung for the usual hour they were cut down. The father of the Packman brothers took his sons to Canterbury for burial.

            In the early afternoon of Christmas Day, the house of William Chainey at Benenden was broken into, the robber making off with more than £20 in notes, sovereigns and seven shilling pieces. The thief also took several initialled shirts, a red waistcoat, several silk handkerchiefs and a velveteen jacket. He also stole a two pistols. A young boy saw the man, describing him as youngish and tall, wearing a short round frock and long trousers. He looked to be carrying something in his shirt front. The boy described him as looking rather like a millwright. But the thief seems not to have been caught.

The Times carries an extensive and detailed report on crime and vagrancy throughout the country. At the time counties and towns were preparing for the first time to establish police forces. Part of the report refers to matters in Northbourne near Deal.

Here the principal felonies were sheepstealing. Such thefts occurred weekly and rarely was anyone caught. The animals were usually slaughtered in the fields at night. There were other minor thefts of poultry and honey from hives. Fruit, when in season, was taken as well as all kinds of garden produce and sacks of corn and barley. Farm tools went missing, even the wheels from barrows, in fact anything ‘not under lock and key.’

1 comment:

  1. Life was tough then. It all sounds a little like the grimmer parts of a George RR Martin novel.

    Mac Campbell
    Damn Fine Horror