Login

A Sacrilegious Theft

On the morning of 16th June 1870 Mr William Wilkinson, Parish Clerk of Marton, went to open up the Church in order to prepare it for a wedding taking place later that day.

On entering the chancel he noticed that the lid of an oak chest, which held the church’s plate, was open. When he examined it he realised that it had been broken into. Looking inside he discovered, to his dismay, that all the plate and a half bottle of communion wine was missing.

Enquiring with the neighbouring houses Mr Wilkinson discovered that a strange man had been seen hanging about in the vicinity of the church two days previously. It seemed that the schoolmaster with his pupils and the local choir had been practising their singing in the church, and it being a hot day, had left the door open.


The Police Arrive

The local police were brought in: Police Constable Cape had been patrolling nearby roads on the 14th, along with Superintendent Hunter of Heworth near York and both men were able to give a good description of the suspect. This the Superintendent telegraphed to most of the principal police stations in the county.

That paid dividends as Detective Inspector Hay of Leeds received information from a local pawnbroker and silversmith, Mr Jonathan Stowe of 148, North Street, that he had been sold some pieces of silver by a man who could be the culprit. Stowe had paid 5 shillings for the first batch, which seemed to please the man who returned with more broken silver later that day and was given 4 shillings for those pieces. He promised to come again with more. Hearing this the Detective went to Mr Stowe’s shop and the man reappeared shortly afterwards with another handful of broken silver for sale.

On being questioned as to where he had obtained the silver the man became quite surly and declared ‘It is no business of yours’, at which time Detective Hay arrested the man who identified himself as Thomas Ford.


In front of 'The Bench'

Ford, of no fixed address, appeared before the Justices of the Peace in the Justices Clerk’s Office at Easingwold on the 29th June when he was charged with stealing a silver cup or goblet, a pewter flagon, a pewter plate and a part bottle of communion wine from the Parish Church of Marton.

The silver was brought forward as evidence. It appears that even though the cup had been broken up this did not prevent Mr Wilkinson from identifying it, having handled it for many years in his role as Parish Clerk. He could even reassemble it, though not in its entirety – there were some portions missing.

Mr Stowe was also present to confirm that the silver items had been sold to him by the prisoner.

Robert Spruce of Stillington, a plumber and glazier, had mended the cup three years previously so was called as a witness and was able to identify the scraps as the cup he had soldered.

George Longstaffe, a Farmer from Farlington, came forward to state that he had seen the prisoner near Marton Lordship on the day the church was robbed.

When asked to answer a charge of theft and sacrilege Ford said ‘I say nothing.’

He was committed for trial at the Summer Assizes in York.


Trial and conviction

At York Castle on the 6th August Ford, who is described in newspaper reports as '45, a labourer, lately residing in Leeds', was tried for sacrilege occasioned by the theft of the communion service and the wine. He was undefended and found guilty on the grounds of overwhelming evidence.

 He was sentenced to fifteen months with hard labour.


Compiled from reports in the York Herald,  Yorkshire Gazette,  Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer,  Morpeth Herald and  Leeds Mercury published in the months June, July and August 1870.