I found it at long last...the info I've been looking for in vain for the past couple of days...it was filed under the Irish family instead of the Norfolk family...phew!

Everyone keeps muttering about the rising crime rates and how prisons are the easy option and so on...while I was looking for Mary's info this afternoon I found something I'd printed off ages ago from the Norfolk Gaol Delivery Rolls from the year 1307. And it's interesting, albeit scary.

John of Sparham...these were the days before most people had a surname...was taken for the burglary of Nicholas Le Cuillour and for stealing goods worth £20....an enormous sum of money for those days...anyway John was lucky and he was acquitted, as was the man William, who was charged with him. But another William, along with his wife Emma and their daughter Cecilia were charged at the same sessions with stealing one tunic worth 5 shillings and a bed sheet from a Senicle Wace...who came to the court, to see that justice was done no doubt. Senicle got his tunic and his bed sheet back and the family were sentenced to be hanged before the next sessions were held.

Now, they were thieves...and it wasn't very nice to steal Senicle's sheet and his tunic...but he did get them back and there was no real harm done, so perhaps to be sentenced to death by hanging was just a trifle harsh.

I suppose most people know you could be transported or hung for stealing and it's usually a loaf of bread or a sheep which is quoted...but maybe those thefts were out of sheer desperation. I found a record once of a little boy of nine who had stolen a loaf of bread and he was not only sentenced to six months in prison but he also had to have ten lashes...that was in 1820.

But...there were also well-organised gangs who terrorised the wealthy...not only did they break into their houses and steal their belongings but they also roamed the streets of the cities to pickpocket and to steal away valuable carriage horses and the coaches as well...it was commonplace to have a knife in your ribs to persuade you to hand over your gold coins or your pocketwatch and if you fought back then you'd have been either severely beaten or killed. Those gangs were not robbing because they had a family of hungry children to feed...they were simple criminals and often paid the price when and if they were caught. It's easy enough from were we stand today to imagine that the past was safe and you could wander about at will and no harm would come to you. And it wouldn't if you too were poor...but it was a risky business to go abroad even in daylight, if you showed any trappings of wealth.

Out in the country districts there were highwaymen and footpads waiting on the main roads to and from London for the mail-coaches and their passengers...rich pickings could be had from them and if the coachman was unarmed, then all the better.

Highwaymen were said to be high-born men who took to the roads because they wanted adventure...stories and legends and ballads were written about them and the tales of them hiding in barns to escape their pursuers abounded...the truth was that they were just as much thugs as the footpads who went about on foot rather than horseback, and were quite likely to cut your throat while robbing you of your jewels.

The harsh penalities didn't seem to have been a deterrent...highwaymen, after being hanged, were then put in a gibbet at a crossroads to serve as a warning to others...it didn't stop them though. A couple of men from a small village still went out in the dead of night and slaughtered a sheep belonging to the landlord knowing that if they were caught they'd be hung after the next assizes...and small boys still stole a loaf of hard brown bread from the baker when he wasn't looking in the certain knowledge that if they were caught they'd be whipped until they bled and imprisoned with all manner of murderers and thieves and wrong-doers who were simply waiting to be hung. And being kept in chains in dark and stinking dungeons with the bare basics of food...

Then the rules shifted slightly and by the middle of the 1700's transportation was the favoured punishment...at first it was a boat trip to the West Indies to work on the sugar cane plantations alongside Negro slaves who were probably treated slightly better than you were....once Australia was an option as a dumping ground for criminals of every sort, then you might have been sent out there to live in squalid tented camps while you struggled for survival in unfamiliar surroundings with a completely different climate and poisonous bugs and snakes...at least if you were sent to Australia you could eventually apply for your freedom which wasn't an option in the sugarcane fields.

But whether you were a highwayman holding up the mailcoach or a robber on foot...or a murderer...you knew...just as criminals do today...what the penalty would be should you be caught. Didn't seem to put them off though.