Not such a merry Christmas for mischievous holly thieves - The Stratford Observer
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10th Aug, 2022

Not such a merry Christmas for mischievous holly thieves

Editorial Correspondent 21st Dec, 2018 Updated: 21st Dec, 2018

FESTIVE felonies were afoot on this day in 1897 when two mischief-makers stole sprigs of holly from a Coventry garden.

William Lacey and William Warner were sentenced with two months of prison and hard labour after being charged with ‘feloniously cutting parts of two holly trees then growing in a garden’.

The wording in the document from the Warwickshire county records office, while not conclusive, suggested – rather than just coming over all festive – the thieves intended to cultivate and profit from the holly by up to £5.

Further records show the duo had previous convictions including stealing growing pears and for obscene language, resulting in more hard labour and fines.

The fine for stealing the pears was 10 shillings plus costs – some £500 today – and two shillings and costs totalling some £350 today for swearing.

Hard labour could take many forms but was usually physically demanding and carried out for long hours.

In Warwickshire it often involved breaking up large rocks or boulders into smaller rocks, sewing together sacks and sawing wood.

A particularly harrowing punishment was the treadmill which saw prisoners treading a set of wooden steps for up to 14 hours at a time.

The document details the ‘Quarter Session’ which were held four times a year during Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas.

Such records often include sentences of prisoners, bastardy orders, and coroners’ reports on inquests.

The sessions also covered administrative records such as alehouse licenses, apprenticeship agreements, local militia lists and even hair powder certificates.

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