A Case of Poaching

22 January 1846: Rev. E. R. Benyon to his uncle.
'We have had a serious brush with poachers at the Folly, and that Ayres (Thomas Ayres, head keeper) is much hurt tho' not dangerously. His right arm is broken in two places between the wrist and elbow, and his head a good deal cut, but he is doing very well. None of our other men were much hurt, except a broken head or two.
The fact is we have been on the look out, for the last three weeks, after seven fellow who have been all over the country at Elden (Elveden), Livermere, Fornham, Cavenham etc. For the last fortnight we have had a strong party out, and so they have at Elden.
On Tuesday night (20 January) our men went out at eight to the Folly, five in number, three on one side, two on the other, and Ayres was out also, walking about. About eleven the men heard an air gun going off several times, and they made up to the end of the Folly, the old part, when seven fellows came out, and they at once began the fight. Ayres by this time had come up and engaged with two of them, knocked one down and then we suppose received the blow on his arm from a gun.
However they succeeded in taking four out of the seven, with an air gun, a new patent cane, and a gun with bullets, caps and a whole lot of tackle. They each had two hats apiece so that they might disguise themselves, and also some false hair, and Ayres says the fellows he engaged with, and got away, he was quite sure had sham whiskers and false hair on. This is quite a new form, of course. Ayres could not move our of bed yesterday, and so I went to Bury myself, and sent the poachers with my five men in the Break to Bury, had them examined, and they are sent to gaol till Wednesday. When Ayres I hope will be able to appear, and this will give us time to look for the others as we know two of them are marked.
This of course will be an Assize case, and I hope we may send them across the water, and by this means break up a desperate gang. They were Ampton and Livermere men, the worst sort in the world particularly the Ampton ones. My curate at Ingham says they are as bad as can be, and so they will be if there is no one to look after them. (i.e. no resident landlord)
They have an illicit Beer House there, just as Hawkes used to be at Timworth, which is kept by the father of one of the fellows we have taken (Rickwood). He also keeps a horse and cart, and goes to Bury twice or three times a week, and has been seen taking these parties out late in the evening'.

26 January: Rev. E. R. Benyon to his uncle.
'Curious enough, we have been able to get hold of the remainder of the gang, and quite by accident. There were six in the gang, four we took, and the other two were quite strangers to these parts, and were working on the Rail with one of the four, Abrey who was gangman on the Rail.
This Abrey (of Timworth) and Rickwood of Ampton were at the bottom of all his and drew these two fellows in. These two lodge at the Tollgate near Bury ...Abrey
asked these two fellows to go to Culford after some 'longtails'.
28 January: Rev. E. R. Benyon to his uncle.
'I am only just home from Bury having been at the Bench hearing our case all day. All six are committed to Quad, to take their trial at the Assize. They had nothing to say for themselves, except the youngest stranger who said Abrey asked him to go, and he went and told the whole tale.

The six men were tried at the Bury Assizes on 18th March. Robert Lake of Hargham, Norfolk, railway labourer, who had attacked Thomas Ayres was sentenced to seven years transportation; Charles Abrey, railway gang master of Timworth, who had a previous conviction in 1839, to one years imprisonment with hard labour; Eleazar Rickwood, labourer of Ampton, to nine months with hard labour; Nathaniel and John Channell, both labourers of Livermere, and James Middleditch, railway labourer of Stanningfield, all received six months with hard labour. (18)