Sacrilege and burglary at St Margaret's

Hertfordshire Mercury, 22nd May 1915


A special Police Court was held at Ware on Tuesday, when Joseph Walter Blackwell, of 63 Arlington Street, Camden Town, a man of smart appearance, was charged with breaking and entering St Margaret’s Church on May 7, and stealing a missionary box and its contents, also a hand brush and towel.  He was further charged with burglariously entering St Margaretsbury, the residence of Mr Septimus Croft, on the same date, and stealing a silver inkstand valued at £15; silver taper holder, value £3; dispatch box, value £2; silver vinaigrette, value £2; a fox pad and ivory-bladed paper knife, value £1 5s; silver top pen wiper, value £2s. 6d; silver memorandum case and pencil, value 5 shillings; and 2 shillings worth of penny stamps. The Magistrates present were Messrs A.G. Sandeman (in the chair), A.L. Ashwell, R.P. Rhodes, S.W. Harrington, and A.H. Rogers.  The cases lasted just on five hours, that of sacrilege being heard first.

The Rev. H.C. Wright, curate-in-charge at St Margaret’s, said he went to the church on May 5, and left about 8.30 p.m.  He recognized the missionary box (produced), which was standing on the table inside the church door when he left.  He thought it contained about 1 shilling or 1s. 6d. The money was placed in the box by people who bought books which were displayed for sale upon the table. George Joseph Philpott, living at High Street, Stanstead Abbots, clerk of St Margaret’s Parish Church, said that on May 5 he attended a service at the church, which he left at ten minutes past eight.  There was a cupboard in the vestry, inside which was a smaller cupboard, which was kept locked.  It contained two bottles of wine.  He identified the missionary box.

On Friday, May 7, the witness went round the church and found all the windows were securely fastened. Mrs Helen Saben said she was employed to do the cleaning at St Margaret’s Church.  The brush (produced) was the property of the church-wardens, and she put it in a cupboard in the church on Saturday, May 1.  On Tuesday, May 4, she put a towel in the large cupboard in the vestry.  On the following Saturday she went into the church about 11.30 a.m. to clean it up, and she then missed the brush and towel.

PC Field said that on May 8, at 10.30 a.m., he went with Supt Handley to the church, which he examined.  He found the door open, and just inside the door he found the small missionary box broken open, apparently by a chisel about half an inch wide.  There was also an offertory box in the church, and an attempt had been made to break that open.  He then went to the vestry, the door of which had been forced, and the piece of wood produced was part of the door, showing marks upon it similar to those upon the missionary box.

In the vestry the door of the cupboard stood open, and the smaller one inside had been broken open.  Similar marks were also found on the cupboard door.  There were two bottles in the cupboard, one of which was full of wine and the other empty.  A glass stood on the table with a little wine in it.  A glass inkstand stood in the cupboard, and the ink was turned out onto the shelf.  At the bottom of the cupboard was a large tin box, which had been broken open, and books were lying beside it on the floor.   A brass jug also stood on the floor in the centre of the vestry, and a brass vase stood on the floor in a corner close to the communion table.

The witness examined the windows, and found a small one on the north side had been broken, a piece of glass having been cut away against the catch, and the window being open.  There were two iron bars in the window, one of which was a little bent.  He then examined a larger window on the west side of the church, the glass of which was broken, and the leadwork pulled away.  There were fresh dirt marks on the wall, both outside and inside.

On the window-sill outside he found the chisel produced, and the hand-brush was lying in the grass.  On the ground underneath the window he found the small green notebook (produced), which he handed over to Supt Handley. In company with PC Frogley he searched the grounds outside the church, and in a meadow adjoining the churchyard he saw traces where someone had walked through the grass, and there were also traces of wheelmarks, apparently those of a bicycle, leading from the back gate of the church across the meadow towards the road.  There were also traces in one place where a bicycle had been lying on the grass.  The witness added that whilst he was looking round the church he found the button (produced) lying on the ground near the communion table.

In cross-examination the witness said there was a path at the back of the church, but it was not a public path. In answer to the clerk, the witness said the spot where the bicycle had been laid was not on the path, but in the meadow, and he traced the marks from there into the road. Inspector Moles said that about 11.30 a.m. on May 8 he received from Supt Handley the notebook previously mentioned.  He went to London and made inquiries at various places, and at 9.30 p.m. on the following day he traced the prisoner to 63 Arlington Road, Camden Town.  In company with Detective-Sergts Whitmore and Finnis he kept observation on the house, and at 6 a.m. on May 10 he saw the prisoner and his brother come to the house with bicycles.

On the back of one, fastened to the rear carrier, was a rush basket, and on the back of the other was the brown leather bag (produced).  He saw the prisoner hand the bicycle and the brown bag up the steps of the house to his brother.  They both went inside with the machines.  They then went upstairs to their room; which is situated at the top of the house, at the rear.  After a few moments the witness and the two detective-sergeants went to the room.  The prisoner was sitting on a chair by the side of a bed, and his brother was sitting on the bed.

The witness said to the prisoner: ‘We are police officers, and I am making inquiries about a burglary at St Margaretsbury on the night of the 7th inst., from which place a solid silver inkstand and a silver taper holder were stolen; also about a case of sacrilege at St Margaret’s Church, where a collecting box was broken open and the contents stolen.  This was also on the night of the 7th.  Near the church was found a small book, of which I believe you to be the owner.  Have you any explanation to offer as to how the book came there?’

The prisoner replied: ‘What book?  I have got no book.  You have made a mistake this time, the same as last time.  I am innocent of this, ain’t I, Ted?’ (speaking to his brother).  The brother replied in the prisoner’s hearing: ‘You ……..well know if you left your book behind’.  The prisoner then said: ‘How did you know I was there?’  The witness then said he should charge him with burglariously breaking and entering St. Margaretsbury and stealing therefrom a solid silver inkstand and a silver taper holder, the property of Mr Septimus Croft; also with breaking and entering St Margaret’s Church and stealing a collection box and its contents.

The witness cautioned him and he replied: ‘I remember I had a little green book two days ago. I did not know I had lost it.  I must have left it in some coffee tavern.  It is very easy for someone to leave it there so as to screen themselves’. The witness searched the prisoner, and found upon him, among other things, a piece of paper with writing on similar to that in the book, an instrument similar to a screw driver, and a small silver vinaigrette.  The witness asked him what the vinaigrette was for, and he said: ‘For wetting stamps’.

The witness examined the prisoner’s clothing and found a black mark on his jacket and trousers, which he drew his attention to.  He replied: ‘That’s nothing.  You can’t make anything of that.’  The witness said: ‘Have you another suit ?’ and he replied: ‘Yes, I have pawned it in the London Road, and my mother’s got the ticket’.  The witness told him he should take him to Albany Street Police Station, and from thence to Ware.  The prisoner replied:’ You will …….well, have to carry me then.  I didn’t do this job.  You know I didn’t, don’t you Ted ?’  Ted replied: ‘I don’t know’.

The witness took him downstairs to the back of the house and fetched the two bicycles into the passage.  The witness said to Ted in the presence of the prisoner: ‘Which bike is yours?’ and he replied ‘They are both Joe’s’, and the prisoner said ‘Yes, I bought that one (with the bag on it) down Club Road yesterday morning off a man I don’t know, and gave him 10 shillings for it.  The other one I have had four or five weeks’.  The witness said: ‘Is the bag yours?’ and he said: ‘Yes, I gave a shilling for it off a man in a public-house’.

The prisoner was then taken to the police station at Albany Street, where the witness found in the bag, a chisel, a gimlet, a glass cutter, a small table knife, a piece of twine, two pairs of brown gloves, and a pair of opera glasses with a lorgnette handle in a green plush bag.  At Ware police station the prisoner was charged by Supt Handley, and made no reply.

At 3 p.m. the same day the witness went to St Margaret’s Church and found that the chisel which was in the bag exactly fitted the marks made on the missionary box and the piece of the vestry door.  It also fitted the marks made on the tin dispatch box in the vestry, and the offertory box. In answer to the prisoner the witness said he could not say that the chisel, gimlet, and other things found in the bag were the prisoner’s property.

Beatrice Louise Crane, living at 63 Carlton Road, Dulwich, a domestic servant, said that on the Tuesday following Easter week she was with a friend named Rose Wadham, in Rye Lane, Peckham, and about 9 p.m. they met two men whom they did not know.  They said they were brothers.  They stood talking whilst one of the men, who was called ‘Ted’, went to buy some cigarettes.  Eventually they all agreed to meet again, and exchanged addresses. The accused said: ‘If you drop a line to W.J. Dixon, 63 Arlington Road, Camden Town, that will find us both.’

The man who was called ‘W.J. Dixon’ gave them a pocket book to write their addresses in, which they did.  The book (produced) was the one she wrote in, and the addresses in it were those she and her friend wrote.  The accused was the man who gave her the book, and she handed it back to him and he put it in his pocket. The prisoner was then charged and cautioned, and replied that he was innocent.

On Friday, May 7, about noon, a chap called George Robinson came to him and asked him for the loan of a suit of clothes for the purpose of obtaining a situation in the country, but he did not say where.  He lent him the suit, and he did not know whether the pocket book was in it or not, but he thought he must have left it in because he usually kept it there.  He did not receive the suit back until the following day.

In return for the suit instead of payment the man gave him one or two articles, amongst them being the vinaigrette.  The brown bag belonged to him, but the contents did not.  On May 7 he was sleeping in London.  The prisoner added that he would like to apply for legal aid.  He thought he was entitled to it. The Clerk said the accused would have to apply at the Assizes for legal aid. The prisoner was then committed for trial at the next Assizes. The Court then adjourned for luncheon, and afterwards the case of burglary was proceeded with.

William Knight, butler to Mr Septimus Croft, said that he went round the house on May 7 at about 9.40 p.m., and saw that all the windows were securely fastened. Emily Woodward, housemaid at St Margaretsbury, said that on May 8 she went into the dining room at about 6.40 a.m., and noticed a curtain over the back of the chair, and the lower part of the window was pushed up as far as it would go. There were muddy footmarks on the carpet, the biscuit barrel was turned upside down and stood on a chair, and the cupboards and drawers in the room were open, and books were scattered about the floor.  Letters were also scattered about the table in the library.  The witness then communicated with Mr Croft.

Rose Acres, head housemaid at St Margaretsbury, also spoke to finding the room in question in a state of disorder. Mr Septimus Croft said that on the day before the burglary he saw the silver inkstand, silver taper holder, a silver-topped pen wiper, and a dispatch box safe on his table.  On the following morning he found the dining and drawing rooms, the lounge, and the library, in disorder.  He missed the silver inkstand, silver taper holder, dispatch box, pen wiper, and 2 shillins worth of penny postage stamps.

Later in the day the dispatch box was brought to him by the police, and it had been forced open.  On the following day he missed the ivory and silver paper knife, and later on the silver memorandum case and pencil.  On the same day the silver vinaigrette was shown him by the police. Cross-examined the witness said that there was no particular mark to identify the vinaigrette by.  It was a very uncommon one, and he was certain that it was his.

PC Field said that on Saturday, May 8, about 7.15, he went to St Margaretsbury and examined the premises, which appeared to have been entered by the drawing room window, and the place was in a state of great disorder.  The witness then described in detail what he saw.  He afterwards examined the grounds outside, and about a hundred yards away he found the dispatch box broken open and the contents strewn about on the grass.  There were traces in the meadow of someone having walked through the grass from the back of St Margaret’s church with a bicycle.

Inspector Moles also gave evidence as to the condition of the place when he visited it.  He said he made an examination for finger prints, but failed to find any.  He was subsequently handed the notebook referred to in the previous case, which as already related, resulted in the arrest of the defendant. Beatrice Louisa Crane repeated the evidence given in the previous case. The prisoner was then committed for trial at the Assizes on this charge also.

This page was added on 08/01/2015.

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