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Extracted from the Northampton Mercury by Kay Collins, 2008
Henry Newell

Northampton Mercury July 11th 1835

The announcement of the case being heard at the Assizes

Henry Newill, 45, charged with having maliciously set fire to a stack of straw and an out-building adjoining, in a farm-yard in the parish of Chelveston-cum-Caldecott, in the occupation of Joseph Chettle.

The case was reported in the Mercury on July 18th 1835


Henry Newill, aged 45, was placed at the bar, charged on suspicion of having set fire to a stack of straw and an out-building adjoining, in a farm-yard belonging to Joseph Chettle in the parish of Chelveston-cum-Caldecott.

Joseph Chettle lives at Chelveston-cum-Caldecott, in this county (Witness was here shown a plan of his premises, which he attested to have been made by a Mr Ray, a land-surveyor, and to be correct). Prisoner at the bar lived at Chelveston in February last. On Monday night, the 2nd Feb. a fire took place on the premises of witness, in which a stack of straw and an outbuilding were burnt. The outbuilding and stack of straw were laid down in the plans in the hands of himself and his Lordship. A black stroke in the plan denoted the straw stack, which was a regular one, placed across the yard as a fence. It had been so stacked since the harvest.

(The foreman of the jury observed, that this sort of stack is similar to a clipped hedge. The plan was now handed to the jury).

Witness continued – The stack was about five feet high. The outbuilding was a shelter-hovel for cows and pigs – it had one door to it, and was divided by a partition, the inner portion (with the door) being for pigs. On the night of the fire there were pigs within it; when the witness arrived on the spot the cows had been driven out. The roof was thatched with straw – the walls were of stone. The distance from the dwelling-house was about fifty or sixty yards. The greater part of the hovel was destroyed; as was also the stack where it adjoined the hovel. Was alarmed about eleven o’clock on the night of the fire. Had gone to bed a little before nine, and was fast asleep at the time. The prisoner’s house is laid down in the plan – it is situated about 207 yards from witness’s premises, and the spot where the fire took place, going by a footpath, and crossing a style. Witness had stepped the distance since the plan was taken. The stile is situated about 40 yards from the place of the fire. The footpath leads across witness’s homeclose. From the stile to the prisoner’s house the distance is about 290 yards. The stile leads into the public street, where witness’s farm adjoins it, separated therefrom by a wall of about five feet in height. The prisoner must have crossed this wall or a stake-hedge in the opposite direction. There are windows in front of prisoner’s house, which look towards the scene of the fire. The barn on witness’s premises could not intercept the view. The beforementioned wall was between the barn and the stake-hedge, which latter was about four feet high. Knows Sarah Partridge’s house, which is about thirty yards from the stile. (The plan was again handed to the jury, who examined the site of Partridge’s and the prisoner’s houses, the stile & the spot where the fire took place). There is a house belonging to one Smith a few yards from the prisoner's.

The fire was got under in about two hours. A great number of men were present, it happening to be a club-night. Saw the prisoner about seven or eight o’clock on the morning after the fire – met him in his (witness’s) homeclose, where his cows were grazing. He was going towards his own house. Prisoner said, "how strange it was that he had not known of this fire! If he had known of it, all the parish should not have kept him at home". He then alluded to his quarrel with Charles Smith on the night of the fire. He said "Smith begun to pull his fence up, and he asked him what he meant by it? Charles Smith replied, "I’ll be a match for you". Prisoner rejoined, "I think you have matched me pretty well". Smith said, "I wont be ------ by any of you – by you, or Joe Chettle, or Mr Allen". (Earl Fitzwilliam is witness’s landlord and Mr Allen is his Lordship’s steward.) "Then", prisoner continued, "my wife persuaded me to come in, saying 'she wouldn’t quarrel with any such fellow as he (Smith) was'." Prisoner at the same time stated that he had been to Mr Green, the lawyer, at Higham, to know what could be done about the matter, and had returned between eight and nine o’clock, shortly after which he went to bed. He added, that he stood before his window with a light, that Smith might see him pull off his coat and waistcoat, and think he (prisoner) was going to bed. He put the candle out, and went to the window to look and see if he could discern Smith. He saw Smith in his (prisoner’s) garden. Smith walked up the side of the fence (which divides Smith’s premises and witness’s) towards witness’s close; prisoner thought he was going to look at the gap through which his horses sometimes got into prosecutor’s close. He said he then got into bed. Sent for the prisoner about ten days after the fire, when a Mr Leighton was present. On that occasion Mr Leighton asked prisoner if he could find anything out? He said he wished he could. Witness and Mr Leighton told him there would be 200£ for him if he made the discovery. He answered that he would tell without the reward, if he knew. Nothing more of importance then occurred. They questioned him about Smith, but he said nothing in particular respecting him. Conversed with prisoner several times. Some rags were found by Mr Leighton, who sent them to witness. (The rags were here produced). On one occasion after this, witness conversed with prisoner, who said “if he were prosecutor, he would have a search warrant and search every house until he found something like them.” Witness asked him if he knew of anything similar to them on Smith’s premises, and whether he could find any thing out? He (the prisoner) replied, that “he would not swear, but he thought they were something like those that Smith had under his hovel, making something with rags and paper – he did not know what – but it was like a poultice.” Witness asked him if Smith was then in want of a poultice for a horse or anything, and prisoner said he didn’t know that he was. Smith was doing this on the morning of the Monday on the evening of which the fire took place. This had been mentioned by prisoner on the morning after the fire; he then used similar words to those just stated. There were two pieces of rag. Witness found some tinder, on the 4th March, close to the spot on which the fire commenced. Looked round the premises carefully on the morning after the fire, and if those rags had then been there he must have seen them. Men were that morning employed to clear the yard of the unburnt straw, and witness observed that they had done so. The tinder lay in the road by which the men fetched water to quench the fire, and close to the straw which was burnt. (A letter marked B. was here handed to witness)—Received that letter by post on the 1st of December. Gave the letter to prisoner (first reading it to him), to take to Mr. Allen, the steward. Prisoner observed that he supposed it came from some of Charles Smith’s party. The letter was sent two or three days after the receipt of it: got it again subsequently to the occurrence of the fire. Was afterwards before Mr. Hill, the magistrate, when the prisoner was taken up. The prisoner was present and the letter was produced.

Mr. Burnham, attorney, was here sworn. It was on the 27th March that the prisoner was before Mr. Hill. The examination was not taken down in writing. At subsequent examinations the evidence was taken in writing, and the prisoner was committed.

Prosecutor's evidence continued. Three more letters were produced before Mr. Hill, one of which the prisoner confessed to have written, and to which his name was signed. Has never seen the prisoner write.

By the Court. Did not show the rags to prisoner, but believes that he was present when Mr. Leighton picked them up.

Andrew Leighton gave evidence as to the finding of the rags and tinder. He was on the premises on the morning succeeding the fire, and it was impossible that these articles should have been there at that time.

Sarah Parker is a widow living at Chelveston; prisoner at the bar is witness's brother-in-law. She remembers the night of Mr. Chettle's fire. Prisoner came that night to witness for some pills; she asked him what o'clock it was, and he replied that some clock struck nine as he came up street; this was coming from the direction of Mr. Chettle's premises. Prisoner stopped at witness's two or three minutes.

Henry Partridge is a labourer living at Chelveston. His house is about 40 yards from the stile near the prosecutor's premises; saw prisoner after nine o'clock on the night of the fire.

Mary Bridgman is the wife of Thomas Bridgman, a labourer at Chelveston. Her house faces the stile against the premises of the prosecutor. Went to bed about half-past 10, and soon afterwards heard a rap at the door or window. Got up, and saw a light which seemed to be at the corner of the wall of Mr. Chettle's hovel, near the straw stack. The fire was then very bright.

By the Court. The fire appeared to be at the corner of the hovel; but witness is short-sighted, and will not speak positively. The night was dark.

Thomas Bridgman met the prisoner on the morning after the fire. He told witness that he had known nothing of the occurrence.

Israel Sykes gave similar testimony, at the conclusion of which his lordship kindly intimated to the prisoner that the trial was likely to last a considerable time, and inquired if he would like to have a seat. A chair was brought. His lordship left the court for a few minutes. The jury also retired.

Isabella Wagstaff is fourteen years of age. The prisoner is her uncle, and she lived at his house. She went to bed between nine and ten o'clock on the night that Mr. Chettle's fire took place. Did not hear her uncle come home that night. Got up about six o'clock in the morning. Her uncle told her of the fire near Bridgman's bouse, when she was going to her work about seven o'clock. Does not know that she had previously seen her uncle that morning. He said “Ah girl, you and I were in bed when this farm was on fire”. Witness replied, "It has not been on fire, has it?” Prisoner replied, "It has". Sometimes the witness and sometimes her uncle got up first.

Cross-examined by the Prisoner. Did not see prisoner on the night of the fire, when he came home.

John Parker accompanied the prisoner to Mr Chettle’s premises, to look for the rags which he (the prisoner) said were in the yard. When near the spot of the fire, they stopped. Could not see any paper. Prisoner climbed up the wall, and looked over. He said he saw some rags, and pointed them out to witness, who also saw them.

Elizabeth Chettle is sister-in-law to the prosecutor. On Tuesday the 3d of March witness remembers going to Mr Hornsey’s shop. Whilst witness was there, the prisoner came in for some tobacco, and, addressing witness, said he was grieved to see the burnt rags lying about the prosecutor’s premises. He said, “they have lain there more than a week – no one taking any notice of them”.

Jesse Morris is a schoolmaster, at Chelveston. Talked with the prisoner two or three days after the fire, in witness’s schoolroom. Witness said to prisoner, “we had an alarming circumstance happened the other night”. Prisoner replied, “Yes, but I did not see anything of it, and I wonder that I did not.” He added that he was ill in the stomach that night: he could not undress himself, and walked about the room. He fancied he heard some one in his garden, and went to the window, but saw nothing of the fire. He had since been to his chamber window and thought that the barn must have shut it out. Witness replied he could not think that could prevent it any more than it would witness from his premises and John Burrough’s, from both of which witness saw the fire. Those premises are not near prisoner’s. Witness said the fire broke out about ½ past nine o’clock; and prisoner replied that he thought so.

Charles Smith lived at Chelveston when the fire took place. One tenement parted witness’s house from prisoner's. Was at Wellingborough on February 2nd.  and returned a little after four o'clock. Took up two hurdles which he had lent to pri­soner to place against a hovel in which he had a sick horse, Prisoner came up to witness and asked him what he had done. Witness answered "Enough: you have been the greatest enemy I ever had in my life”. I took the hurdles and went across the orchard with them. Heard prisoner say, "he would see what he could do with me". Had before this built a new house which crossed a gateway through which the prisoner had made a road.

(A letter, marked A, was here handed to the witness.) His wife received this letter by post, about ten days before Oct. 29th. Has seen the prisoner’s writing, and believes this letter to be his. Gave Mr. Leighton an old bed quilt after the fire: the quilt was hung upon the outside of the hovel to keep the wind from witness's horse. The burnt rags and remnant of the quilt pattern together. Witness's wife missed a portion of the quilt after the fire. The quilt had hung on the hovel above a twelvemonth. Left Chelveston on the 1st of March, went to Riseley, and other places, and did not return home to Chelveston till the 9th. On the night before the fire witness went to bed as soon as he had placed the hurdles against the hovel: was ill with a pain in his back, and could not mount his horse for some time, this made him go to bed early. Was not in his hovel mixing rags and paper on the morning of that day. Ten days previously witness did mix a bran poultice for his horse. Had used rag in mixing this poultice.

Tryphena Smith, wife of the last witness, identified the quilt. It had been hanging against the hovel twelvemonths. Missed a portion of the quilt about a fortnight before Mr. Leighton came for it. Had seen the quilt entire after the fire occurred. [Letters marked A and B were handed to witness.] She believes these letters to be the prisoner’s writing. By the Court — Is certain that the letter is in the prisoner's hand-writing, and not at all disguised.

Margaret Smith is fifteen years old. Prisoner never asked her about her father having poulticed a horse's foot; he never inquired what time her father went to bed on the night of Mr. Chettle's fire.

Joseph Caucutt is constable of Wellingborough. Had prisoner is custody on Sunday March 29, having taken him on the day previous. On the morning of March 29, witness took prisoner his breakfast, and asked him how he was? He re­plied that he was very poorly, having had no sleep all night. I asked him what was the reason? He said, he did not like his situation; adding, "do you think I'd better tell about the fire?” I said I would give no opinion about it. "Well", he said. "I will tell you, let the consequence be what it may. It was not I who set the place on fire, but it was Smith". I asked him how he knew that? He replied "because Smith told me the night before the fire happened, that he would do it:" he said he could not swear this because he did not see the act committed. 

The examination before the magistrates was then read, in which the prisoner states his belief that Smith avowed his intention to set fire to Mr. Chettle's and other premies: and also states that the letters were written at Smith's instigation. The letters were then read; one of them was addressed to Mr. Chettle, and says that the writer supposes he shall be charged with the fire as he has left his home. It was signed Henry Newill.

Another was in the following terms— "You have had this hand-writing before, and so has Charles Smith, and he lays it to Henry Newill, which is rogue's part, for he set me to write them. Charles is a rogue — he stole and hid his horse — he told me that you and Allen and three more farmers should be all in flames together before May-day — but I will swear against no man but what is the truth.  March 14 1835.

Mr. Chettle proved that he received this letter on March 29th.

Here the case for the prosecution closed.

The prisoner in his defence stated he was not guilty. He had never differed with Mr Chettle, and could owe him no malice. He wished to know why his wife could not be called in his behalf? His lordship explained the law to him, and he then called

Isabella Wagstaff. I woke in the course of the night of the fire, and saw my uncle in bed. I do not know what time this was. I do not know when my uncle went out in the morning, or what time he got up. I slept in the same room as my uncle. It was light when I saw him in bed.

The summing up of the evidence occupied his lordship more than an hour and a half; at the conclusion the Jury requested to look at the letters, and they were handed into the box. The foreman, after a few minutes consultation said "I am sorry to state that we believe the prisoner Guilty".

In answer to an inquiry from his Lordship the Foreman stated that they believed the premises were set on fire not to injure Mr. Chettle, but Mr. Smith. His lordship said that the prisoner should have whatever benefit could arise fron this impression on  the part of the Jury. The indictment charged the prisoner with an intention to injure Mr. Chettle, the prosecutor.

His lordship would not now pass sentence, as there were points to be reserved for the consideration of the Judges. There was another indictment for the sending of a threatening letter, to the trial of which his lordship would now proceed. The prisoner was immediately put upon his trial for sending the following letter to Charles Smith, of Chelveston:—

“Sir, — Me, and my father, and my grandfather, have known this to be a road for 180 years, and now you have built it up, and I will burn it down before October 29th, 1834".

The letter had no signature. Charles Smith lived at Chelveston in August last. Re­ceived the above letter from the hands of his wife. Owned six houses in Chelveston, one of which was the prisoner's. Before building the house of which the prisoner complained, there was a road through the gateway which the prisoner al­ways used. Understood by the word "it" in the letter that the writer meant the new-built house. Is well acquainted with the hand-writing of the prisoner.

Tryphena Smith corroborated her husband's testimony. His lordship briefly summed up, and the Jury almost immediately pronounced the prisoner Guilty. Judgment respited until next Assizes.

Northampton Mercury - 1st March 1836

Henry Newill who was convicted at our last Summer Assizes of arson, but respited in order that the opinion of the Judges might be taken on a point of law, was now brought up to receive judgment, the Learned Judges having decided that the conviction which took place before Sir Stephen Gaselee was a proper one. Lord Abinger however informed the prisoner, that although sentence of death would be recorded against him, yet that his Majesty would in his mercy spare his life, but any other mercy than that of commuting the punishment of death for transportation for life, he was not to expect.

Tuesday, March 1, 1836.

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