The Fence Breakers
Anyone about on Friday 15th August 1856 at about ten o'clock at night would have seen a rather strange sight - group of men emerging from The Boot and Shoe Public House, rushing across the road to begin tearing down the fencing that surrounded a playground adjacent to The National School on Stillington Village Green.
William Garbutt, John Hodgson, Thomas Hodgson, John Taylor, George Blanshard and others were brought before the bench at Easingwold Petty Sessions in September 1856 to answer for this rather bizarre act.
The case was said to have excited much interest and a great deal of hyperbole was employed in the reporting of this rather odd affair.
Feelings of Resentment
It seems that this group of men had been unhappy with some repairs at the school which were being undertaken over the Summer Break that had lately begun. This had reignited long standing resentment that part of the Green had been taken up by the school, which was owned by Captain Stephen Croft. His father, Colonel Harry Croft, had built the school in 1821 and then had it enlarged in 1842 adding to it a fenced area which served as a playground.
A group of disaffected men had mulled over their umbrage in The Boot and Shoe Public House, debating the matter with the landlord Thomas Hodgson and had resolved to claim back what they saw as their rights to use the Green as common land by first tearing down the fencing then attacking the school itself.
However, their rather over ambitious plan was foiled by a gang of curious boys who had come over to see what the fuss was about. At this point the men fled the scene in a state of panic.
A Spirited Defence Denied
Mr Dale, who defended the men, argued vigorously that the land was waste and held in common therefore the men had every right to object to the school and fence.
The magistrates, E S Stangeways, Dr Whytehead and W C Harland, then replied that it had taken the men quite a considerable time to take action as the building had been up 35 years and the fence fourteen! They maintained that Colonel Croft as Lord of the Manor had the right to do with the land as he had seen fit as all wastelands were vested in him. Captain Croft had now inherited that right.
They declared that the school did more good than harm.
A Plea for Leniency
Captain Croft asked in a letter that the men might not be punished too severely and as a result they were all fined one shilling each with the exception of Thomas Hodgson, who though was said to have incited the act did not actually take part in it so should not have been included in the summons. He and the other men were reprimanded by the bench in the harshest possible terms.