Criminals: Felons, incendiaries, horse-stealers

The apprehension and prosecution of such offenders in the Colneis Hundred: 


‘A meeting at The Mariners was called for Monday 25th April 1785’

Part 1: 1785 – 1815

The Colneis Hundred Association first became known to me when researching the crimes perpetrated upon John Cockle, Surgeon of the Parish of Trimley St. Martin, in 1817[1].  If the term  ‘Hundred’ is unfamiliar to you, a simple explanation is that it was originally  an old administrative area pre-dating the Conquest in 1066, probably Anglo-Saxon in origin. In some counties the Hundred is called a Wapentake, notably but not exclusively the North, West and East Ridings of Yorkshire. A Hundred may have contained 100 hides

‘The largest administrative division of a Shire. The Hundred was nominally 100 hides, but in practice the size of a Hundred varied widely from place to place”

and a hide was:

“The standard unit of assessment used for tax purposes. It was meant to represent the amount of land that could support a household, roughly 120 acres. There were four virgates to every hide.”[1]

The Colneis Hundred in Suffolk was one of the smallest, stretched between the two rivers Orwell and Deben. It extended about ten miles south east from the Liberty of Ipswich and was bounded at the end of the peninsula by the ocean. Carlford Hundred lay to the north. There were eleven parishes in Colneis[2] : Bucklesham; Falkenham; Felixstowe; Hemley; Kirton; Levington; Nacton; Trimley St Martin (with Stratton Hall); Trimley St. Mary; Walton. Interestingly, in White’s 1844 ‘History, Gazetteer and Directory of Suffolk’[1] Colneis is the only Hundred to have a mention of an ‘Association for the Prosecution of Felons’, although different manifestations of the same organisation occur across the counties of England and Wales. It was incorporated with the neighbouring Hundred of Carlford in 1756.

Many of you may well be familiar with such land Associations similar to the one serving the Colneis area but such is my ignorance, an entirely   new line of research opened when setting out to discover just what constituted a Hundred Association and why people became part of this organisation. Participants from Trimley St. Martin were not the only subscribers for as its name infers, the Association embraced all the parishes in the Colneis Hundred and later in its history, some outside these confines.

Colneis Hundred boundaries and parishes

The Parishes of the Colneis hundred

 The Background

What was a Hundred Association?

‘Associations’ were not restricted to the geographical area of a Hundred and therefore the use of the generic term ‘Hundred Association’ is not completely accurate. A cursory glance at the Ipswich Journal from 1780 to 1870 reveals ‘The Bosmere and Claydon Association’, ‘The Loes and Wilford Association’, ‘The Bungay Tuns Association’, ‘The Lothingland Association’, ‘The Badwell Ash Association’ and ‘The Lowestoft Association’, to name but a few. Associations might be focused on one place, such as the ‘Tunstall Association’ or ‘The Rose and Crown Association’ in Ipswich and as may be seen by this latter organisation, they were as likely to be found in urban settings as rural.

It has been estimated[3]  in excess of four thousand Associations were extant throughout Britain in the late 18th/early 19th century although no complete listing exists. Their origin dates from about the middle of the eighteenth century onwards. Many of them survived well into the middle of the nineteenth century, with a few creeping into the early twentieth century, although improved policing throughout the Victorian era gradually rendered them unnecessary. The members of these Associations were not from the labouring classes but largely those who employed labourers in both agricultural and commercial settings.

Why were Associations formed?

Policing as it exists today was unknown in the eighteenth century despite the introduction of The Bow Street Runners in London by Henry Fielding (author of ‘Tom Jones’) in London in 1749[4]. The formation of an organised East Suffolk wide Constabulary[5] was not introduced until 1840 under the legislation provided by the Rural Constabulary Act[6]. However, this did not cover all East Suffolk until 1867, as Southwold, Beccles, Eye and Orford had their own Constabularies. Prior to this policing rested only to some very small degree on the shoulders of the High Constable[7], although his responsibilities focused more on the maintenance of highways, bridges, drainage and maintenance issues rather than on base criminals. It was the Parish Constable, generally elected by the Vestry officers, who had the burden of implementing the law by arresting and holding the felonious party. The role of Parish Constable, which may have originated at the time of the Anglo-Saxons was unremunerated and probably unrewarding for the selected individual.[8]    It was not the duty of any Constable, High or low, to bring about any prosecutions arising from the apprehensions of criminals, although a High Constable, would almost, by definition, have been a person of substance. As may be seen, the local constable, who frequently occupied the post reluctantly, was not responsible for prosecution and was often reluctant to imprison a felon as this could have been in his own home.

During the eighteenth century, prosecutions could only be brought by two bodies of people:  The Crown   and the wronged individual, namely, the victim:  unlike France or Scotland, there was no Public Prosecutor. Prosecution may well have depended upon self-representation, with all the unreliability this offered. The use of an Attorney created prohibitive costs for all but the wealthiest, placing a considerable burden on the average freeholder and effectively removing it from his course of action. Crime detection was a nascent art during this period and such limitations did not encourage private individuals to pursue and prosecute their malefactors. Those with access to a good income could afford to pursue, hold and prosecute but small land holders might not be able to afford this process. Justice was available to all in theory but in practice only the wealthy could afford it. Many of the Justices of the peace were likely to be landowners or clergymen who might possibly have their own interests to consider. If someone was wronged by malefactors, there was little to be done without incurring great expence.

An Association of people who might be subjected to criminal acts gave all of them mutual support and strength to support each other. The Associations were free standing, private organisations and it should be stressed they were not vigilante groups. Everything was done following the letter of the law: notices to the public describing the details of the crime; apprehension through such means; imprisonment pending trial and prosecution through the Attorney for the association. Justice was distributed to the victims and a strong deterrent message sent out to would-be future perpetrators. Non-prosecution was not a possibility. If you were an injured party, you were compelled to bring the case to court. Individual resolve against felons, strengthened the whole association.

It should be mentioned that in addition to providing protection against felony, the Association did upon occasion make announcements of a seemingly legislative nature. On 14th May 1803 a notice was placed in The Ipswich Journal informing the readers of an order made by the Association:

 “… It was ordered, That all Drivers of Carts or Waggons, who shall be found riding therein, or on the shafts thereof, without any person being on foot to guide the same, or not having any person being on foot to guide the same, or not having any reins to guide such carts or waggons, shall be prosecuted at the expence of the association. W. Batley…”

This attempt to staunch the reckless driving of the age, may or may have been effective but demonstrates it was clearly a problem and not one that went away. Cases continued to be reported in national newspapers, for example in Bell’s Weekly Messenger on 20th October 1822:

An inquest was held on Monday at the Fox  Inn, Cowley, Middlesex, before Thos. Stirling, Esq. on the  body of Mr. Benjamin  Mason… who died….the deceased was standing  on a bridge….when  a  wagon coming across, with the wagoner riding on  the shafts… had not full command of his horses….(Thomas Stirling)  … was knocked down and giving three sighs, expired.

It was clearly a common occurrence and one that the Association addressed on their own account, suggesting a level of autonomy which bypassed the Vestry officials of the relevant parishes.

What helped the formation of Associations?

Firstly, although the above caveats attended the injured parties, the legal profession grew apace throughout the eighteenth century and moved towards a considerable degree of respectability. It was in the interests of both attorneys and clients to form an Association which would provide work for the former and cover for the latter. Secondly, this was the century which saw the expansion of newspapers. The London Gazette, was the earliest of newspapers originating in 1665[9],  ‘The Ipswich Journal’ was founded in 1720[10], ‘The Bury and Norwich Post’ in 1782 and ‘The Times’[11]  in 1785 to name but four important titles. Although circulation was greatly limited in comparison with today, they were important forms of communication to the wider world. They were funded primarily through advertising and could be used not only for political comment or local news but also for the posting of Notices and Rewards. Thirdly, the growth of Insurance following the destruction of the Great Fire of London in the seventeenth century grew exponentially in the eighteenth. Lloyd’s of London[12] started to provide maritime insurance sometime after 1686, and the Royal Exchange Assurance Company[13]   in 1719. As the concept of insurance expanded into the lives of ordinary people it became an obvious way to protect oneself. With these over-arching infrastructures in place, the stage was set for those on the Colneis peninsula to band together into an organised body of men and women.

There is perhaps a fourth factor, and that is the growth of what has been termed the Agricultural Revolution, although there is no defined moment when it began. It was a series of events between the seventeenth century and nineteenth centuries leading to increased productivity and technical improvements. The thirty-year period, 1785 to 1815, was to prove a time of social and political upheaval and war. The French Revolution, begun in May 1789 caused great perturbation amongst the landed gentry of Europe, causing fear of more widespread revolutions. The French Wars, including those between France and Great Britain led to the deaths of millions in both military and civil terms, perhaps two and a half to three million. Families were separated as men were enlisted into the Militia and towards the end of that period a series of bad harvests created a shortage of food in Britain. Those working on the land were dependent on the farmers for work and agricultural wages were low. Anyone who was dismissed would be aggrieved and angry, leading to anti-social acts such as arson and felony. Farmers felt the need to protect their land, buildings and crops and in such an environment Associations flourished.

Who was responsible for founding the Colneis Hundred Association?

The Association attorney, William Batley[14],  whose name authorises the posting of the Association’s notices, was born in 1758 and had been apprenticed to Samuel Kilderbee in 1775. Is this relevant? Yes, because Samuel Kilderbee[15], was a close associate of George Nassau, the then Lord of the Manors of: Grimston with Morston; Stratton with Seabridge; Candlent; Walton cum Trimley; Kirton; Falkenham Dodnash. It is possible the influence of Kilderbee and Nassau were instrumental in introducing Batley to Nassau’s tenants. Batley was just 27 when he became the Attorney for the Colneis Association. He was to go on become a man of considerable substance and standing[16], becoming the Town Recorder for Ipswich and a Freeman of the Borough. His work as Attorney to the Colneis Association was to last about twenty-five years or more and he was replaced by Simon Jackaman, who had been apprenticed to Batley in 1787. Samuel Kilderbee was also master to two other apprentice Attorneys, James Wenn in 1790 and John Dunningham in 1797. Wenn and Dunningham became the Attorneys-at-Law for George Nassau and were responsible for all communication with his tenants. Two caches of letters survive from the period 1804 to 1824, where mention of individual tenants may be found. The sphere of influence is apparent.

The Colneis Hundred Association

The formation of the Colneis Hundred Association  appears to have taken place on April 25th 1785   if the following undistinguished advertisement in ‘The Ipswich Journal’[17] is accurate.

Colneis Hundred April 27th 1785

At a meeting held at the Mariners in Trimley on Monday last, an Association and Subscription was entered for the purposes of apprehending and prosecuting Felons and other offenders in the said Hundred. Any persons desirous of becoming subscribers, are requested to apply to William Batley, attorney, at Ipswich, the Treasurer and agent to the said Association.

The participants:

Falkenham                                                   Trimley St. Mary

Mr Samuel Quilter                                        Mr. John Browne

Thomas Hyem                                                James Chapman

James Turner                                                 Robert Daniel

William Turner                                              John Page

Mrs   Ann Kirk                                               Joshua James

Jonathan Daines                                            Thomas Ixer

James Turtle [sic Turtill]     


John Chandler                                              Walton                                 

Anthony Collett, Esq

Levington                                                    Mrs. Catherine Page                                  

Mr Stephen Johnson                                                                     

Nacton                                                          Mr. William Everitt               

Philip B. Broke, Esq                                     Thomas Baker                                 

John Pain

Trimley St. Martin                                                                                      

Rev. Henry J. Close                                                                       

Samuel Ralph                                                         

Samuel Cutting                                                       

Mr. James Scarlett                                      

John Noble                                                     Attorney, W(illiam) Batley

 `The Ipswich Journal, 30th April 1785

The twenty-seven attendees came from villages in the Hundred. All of them held land or property, mostly as Copyholders[18], principally from George Nassau, the Lord of the Manor. The land they farmed differed in acreage, frequently crossing parish boundaries, with a variable annual income dependent on the weather and successful harvests. Their involvement in agriculture was direct and dependent on employing labourers, particularly at important times of the year. Their living would have been precarious: any major criminal incident such as arson, theft of crops and livestock impacted on their ability to operate and flourish. Later in the Association’s life, membership included Freeholders[19] such as George Cobbold of Capel Hall.

To belong to the association required a subscription, a feature common to all Associations. It was this which paid for the insertion of notices in newspapers, the capture and confinement process and most importantly, prosecution. From the beginning, the aims of the infant Association are clearly expressed.

‘…the apprehending and prosecuting (of) Felons and other offenders in the said hundred.’

Over the years, the annual notice changed to include the terms ‘Felons and Horse-stealers’. The nature of the Membership subtly changed over time and significantly so in 1828 when the Association was re-formed. The discrete area of Colneis relaxed over the decades, eventually embracing membership from the other half of the Hundreds of Carlford and Colneis. However, in 1785 it appears to be the smaller tenants whose property was less rather than the major landowners such as Nassau or Cobbold.

There was one important factor in the success of the Association; the location of the annual meeting, namely The Mariners. From 1785 until 1865, the subscribers assembled at the largest Inn in the area. It was the public arena for all matters of importance from the discussion of the implications of the proposed Inclosure Act in 1804/05[20]  and from about 1813 or thereabouts, the subscribers invariably enjoyed Dinner together. This was the Era of Conviviality and Club Culture; the Dining hour was any time between midday and three o’clock and good humour and drink probably flowed in equal measure. With the long, light evenings before them all the participants would have sufficient time to return home by horse, chaise or even by foot in a range of intoxicated states. Or maybe not. Perhaps they didn’t indulge too deeply, although if they did, it is possible they sang the Drinking songs of the period, all of which was a good counteraction to the seriousness of the business hour. A robust rendition of “All the roast beef of Old England’[21] would doubtless have found favour during the period of the French Wars, rich as it is in anti-French sentiments and xenophobia.

How much?

Initially, subscriptions were paid by twenty-nine people, some of whom may be found in the 1805 – 7 documentation relating to the Inclosure Act. By 1803, it had risen to thirty-three. There is indication of the cost of a subscription but one authoritative source[22] suggests it may have been based on size of land holding and ranged from 5/- to £1; equivalent to £39.50 – £158.00 in 2019 monetary terms.[23] The collective monies were intended to cover the cost of notices, rewards and prosecution. If the cost of prosecution were around £2 – £3, six or seven court cases might be managed during the course of a year. A brief notice in The Ipswich Journal on 1st October 1803 announced additional subscriptions which provides an indicator of premiums paid some eighteen years after the commencement of the Association:

Wm. Rooke, Esq.                 £50-0                         John Steele               £1-1

Rev. Rob. Hughes               £10-0                         Wm. Turner               £5-0

Rev.Wm. Walford                £10-0

(n.b. no home parishes are given to  the names of the Subscribers.)

In 1803, £1-0-0 was worth £103.57p[24] . In 2019 monetary term William Rooke, Esq. paid £5,178.5 for his membership.

 How many tenants were involved?

Of equal interest is how great a percentage of the relevant population were subscribers. This is not an easy question to answer as there are no accurate records with which to compare those mentioned in 1785 advertisement in The Ipswich Journal. Two sources exist which provide broad brush strokes of the land holding population:  the 1790 Suffolk Poll Book, provides a list of the forty-one men who voted in the relevant Colneis parishes but not of course, those who did not vote. The criteria for voting was:

“… (to  be) possessed of freehold land or property worth at least 40s. a year, as valued for the land tax assessments, were qualified to vote. This requirement was only occasionally enforced by checks at the hustings. This   included leaseholders for life (but not for years), annuitants, place-holders in government service and the holders of rent charges, mortgages on freehold property and benefices. …. the 40s. threshold very low, and county electorates contained artisans, smallholders and tradesmen as well as farmers. By this period, however, the majority probably were tenant farmers, generally occupying their land by yearly tenancy-at-will arrangements with their landlords rather than by leases for terms of years…”[25]

The second source is the 1807 Inclosure Act[26]  which names and records the forty-seven people to whom awards and allotments were made.

The  land awards made to the various tenants ties in with the profile of the Subscribers. The initial twenty-nine founding members of the Association represent approximately 70% of the relevant electorate who voted in 1790. But it isn’t an exact match because the 1807 Inclosure Act did not include Walton, Felixstowe, Bucklesham or Levington although Nacton was part of the same Act. (Landowners often cooperated with each other when bringing an Act to Parliament as it diminished and shared the costs.) The absence of these villages skews the figures but a combination of the three data sources provides an outline of those who held land. In 1801 the first Census[27] recorded the total population of Bucklesham, Falkenham, Felixstowe, Kirton, Levington, Trimley St. Martin, Trimley St. Mary and Walton as being 2,675. (The population of Trimley St. Martin was 256.) There is more work being done in creating a profile of these individuals and their intimate working relationships with each other, including marriages and friendships.

If the landholding population totalled approximately a hundred men across the Hundred, it may be seen the bulk of the adult population would have probably been approximately seventeen or eighteen hundred who depended on the land for their livelihoods. Dismissal from a job or a docking of wages, for whatever reason, would easily cause resentment and disenchantment. Individual acts of reprisal were almost inevitable and hence the acts of felony, incendiarism and horse-stealing which gave rise to huge rewards to any informants who could supply names and addresses.


I am currently working on some of these cases as well as the post-1815 period when the Association developed and expanded and hope  to produce part two in the near future.

Much of this Blog was researched during Lockdown 2020. It has not been possible to use Suffolk Archives to investigate in greater depth; this will have to wait until the ‘The Hold’ opens, hopefully later in 2020. Consequently, this article may be subject to future change and alteration.

If you have any comments or would like to be part of this Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:

LR  19/06/2020



Hay, D. and Snyder, F., 1989. Policing And Prosecution In Britain 1750-1850. Oxford: Clarendon.




[2] ‘Colenesse, … This is a name of extraordinary difficulty ; and I can only guess at it. The forms -nese, -nesse may represent the dat. of the A(nglo).S(axon). ness, a promontory, a head-land ; while -neise, -neyse may be the O(ld). Norse nesi,… with the same sense. The hundred of Colneis does, in fact, consist of one long headland, which narrows down to Langer Point. The name, accordingly, is ‘ Col-ness ‘ ; where the sense of Col- is not known. But both Cole and Colne are river-names, and either will suit. I suggest that one or other of these names was the old name of the Deben ; it has been shown … that Deben is a new name, due to the place-name Debenham’

Skeat, W., 1913. The Place-Names Of Suffolk. Cambridge.

[3] Hay, D. and Snyder, F., 1989. Policing And Prosecution In Britain 1750-1850. Oxford: Clarendon, pp.113 – 169.

[4]   You can read more about Constables and eighteenth century policing in London on this site.

[5] 2020. [online] Available at: <; p.173.[Accessed 8 June 2020]


[7] Part of the definition of ‘Constable’ from Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary:

‘The first constable of England was created by the Conqueror, and the office continued hereditary ’till the thirteenth of Henry VIII. when it was laid aside, as being so powerful as to become troublesome to the king. From these mighty magistrates are derived the inferior constables of hundreds and franchises; two of whom were ordained, in the thirteenth of Edward I. to be chosen in every hundred for the conservation of peace, and view of armour. These are now called high constables, because continuance of time, and increase both of people and offences, have occasioned others in every town of like nature, but inferior authority, called petty constables 2020. » Constable – A Dictionary of The English Language – Samuel Johnson – 1755. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 8 June 2020].

[8] Tate, W., 1969. The Parish Chest. 3rd ed. Cambridge: [s.n.], pp.176 – 187.






[14] For an image of William Batley:


[16] Portrait of William  Batley:

[17] Ipswich Journal, 1785. Colneis Hundred. [online] p.Page 3. Available at: <; [Accessed 7 June 2020].



[20] 1804. LETTERS And Papers Relative To The Enclosure Of Lands In Trimley St. Mary, Trimley St. Martin, Kirton, And Nacton, Co. Suffolk; 1804, 1805.. [Letter] The British Library, Collection Area: Western Manuscripts.

[21] “All the Roast beef of Old England” by Henry Fielding and Richard  Leveridge (1731)

[22]Douglas Hey article


[24] Ibid.


 [26]  B/150/1/3.16   Enclosure award, parishes of Trimley St.Mary, Trimley St.Martin, Kirton & Nacton. 3 maps, parchment, coloured (1 map for Trimley St. Mary & St. Martin, 1 for Kirton & 1 for Nacton). (1 award; enclosure by private act, not including open field arable). Deposits Acc. No. 35  Suffolk  Record Office,  Ipswich Branch


7 thoughts on “Criminals: Felons, incendiaries, horse-stealers

  1. A fascinating blog, Liz, an amazing amount of research. What an excellent piece of village history has been recorded during Lockdown. The linking of the then villages in The Hundred is also intriguing, how times have changed! Well done, Liz, can’t wait for part two. Sandra(Abbott)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting read, Liz. You have done an amazing amount of research. I shall look forward to the next instalment.


  3. Congratulations Liz. Excellent national and local history. Here is a case in point for a Trimley St. Martin man reported in the Ipswich Journal:
    21/8/1824 p2 (5) Wednesday last Charles Freeman, of the parish of Trimley St. Martin, horse driver to Mr. Benjamin Ashwell, of the parish of Trimley St. Mary, farmer, was convicted on his own confession, by John Edgar, Clk. in the penalty of 10s for riding on the shafts and in the waggon of his said master, and driving the horses furiously on the King`s highway, in the parish of Nacton, to the danger of his Majesty`s subjects.” (This has to refer to Benjamin Ashwell III since his father was already living in Helmingham from October 1823.)


    1. Thank you, Charles for your kind comment and information. Interesting to note Benjamin ASHWELL (father, I assume) was one of the Association Subscribers who backed the notion in 1803 of prosecuting what might be termed ‘shaft dodgers’. He was living in T. St. Mary at that point, according to the Ipswich Journal report. (14/05/1803)


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