William Grimshaw, Convicted of Burglary in
Cambridge on March 14 and Put to Death at Cambridge Castle on March 28, 1801
William Grimshaw was accused of burglarizing the home of Alderman Butcher in Cambridge in early 1801. He had previously worked as a chimney sweep at Butcher’s home, and apparently stole silver plate and other articles. At about the same time, Richard Kidman was similarly accused of stealing plate and other valuables, apparently with Grimshaw as an accomplice, from several of the Cambridge schools. Grimshaw was brought to trial and convicted on March 14, 1801. On March 28, he was put to death by hanging at Cambridge Castle, which was then being used as the Cambridgeshire County Gaol (jail).
Little is known of William Grimshaw’s background except that he was born in London, and his mother was a traveling peddlar. William was apprenticed as a chimney sweeper for seven years before committing the crimes that led to his execution.
There are two versions of an account of the cases and legal proceedings against William Grimshaw and Richard Kidder, one published in 18011 (click here) and the second in 18502 (click here). The later (185) version includes a detailed description of Grimshaw’s final days (p. 84-86):
THE DYING WORDS AND CONFESSION
Who was executed at Cambridge, on Saturday, the 28th
of March, 1801, for a Burglary.
The unfortunate man, who this day paid the forfeit of his life to the offended laws of his country, was born in the neighbourhood of London. His mother, who was a travelling pedlar, on passing trough Cambridge, put her son apprentice to one Wordsworth or Wadsworth, a chimney-sweeper, with whom he continued for seven years, faithfully discharging his duty to his master, who always considered him an honest and industrious lad; from which time he continued to follow his business in Cambridge, until the discovery of the offence for which he has suffered, the circumstances attending which are as follows.
The various robberies which have been committed in the University within these three years past, had excited a considerable degree of surprise in the minds of the inhabitants, and hitherto baffled all attempts that had been made to bring the perpetrators thereof to justice. In the night of Saturday the 24th of January last, the house of Mr. Alderman Butcher of this place was forcibly entered, and a considerable quantity of plate and other articles taken thereout. Suspicion falling upon a man of the name of Richard Kidman, he was immediately apprehended, and underwent several examinations; he continued, however, to elude all enquiries until the end of about a week, when he confessed (hints to that effect having first dropped from his wife) that himself and Grimshaw had been the cause of the various alarms which had been made in this town, and that they had jointly or separately, committed the several depredations which had taken place in the University and Town.
Upon this information, several Gentlemen in the Commission of the Peace, accompanied by proper Officers, immediately repaired to the house of Grimshaw, when he was secured; and on searching the premises, a large quantity)· of plate was found under the floor and staircase, amounting to nearly the whole of Mr. Butcher’s, together with several articles belonging to other people. The next day Grimshaw underwent an examination, when he was committed to the castle, to take his trial at the then next assizes, for the above offence.
At the assizes for the County of Cambridge, held before Sir Nash Grose, one of the Judges of the Court of King’s Bench, on Friday the 13th of March Grimshaw was indicted for robbing Alderman Butcher’s house as above-mentioned; and after a very fair and impartial trial, in which most of the stolen property was identified, was found guilty on the clearest evidence. He made no defence, but called several respectable persons to speak to his character, who had known him for a number of years.
On Saturday he was again brought into court, and on the Judge’s preparing to pronounce the awful sentence of death, he petitioned his Lordship in the most supplicating manner for forgiveness; and his cries and lamentations for mercy were so affecting, us to excite tears of compassion from a number of people present; but from the numerous depredations which had been committed, as well as the occupation of the unhappy culprit, which placed him in nearly a similar situation with a confidential servant, it was thought impossible, consistent with duty to the public, to intercede in his behalf. His Lordship therefore assured him, that mercy could not be extended to him in this world, and advised him to prepare for that awful moment when he must appear before the tribunal of his Maker, there to give an account of all the evils which he had committed.
During his confinement he expressed the utmost contrition for his past misconduct, declaring that a connection with bad company, and a constant neglect of his Christian duties, had so hardened his mind, and habituated him to evil, that he was at length tempted to commit those deeds for which he was about to suffer an ignominious death. In addition to the various robberies in which he assisted, many were committed by himself, amongst which are, Emmanuel, Catharine hall, and King’s colleges, one room at Caius college, four rooms at Trinity college, and the one for which he was to die; and further, that there was scarce a garden in the neighbourhood of Cambridge but what he had at one time or other entered; but that he never had been guilty of the dreadful crime of murder.
From the time of his condemnation his conduct was such as became a person in his melancholy situation. He was constantly attended by two respectable clergymen, who administered to him every consolation in their power. His conduct was marked with deep penitence, and his reliance on the mercies of his Saviour was firm and unshaken. On the morning of execution he received the Sacrament, said the foregoing particulars were all he had to relate, and that he died in peace with all mankind. At twelve o’clock he was conducted to the place of execution, attended by the chaplain of the castle; where, after a short time spent in prayer, in which the unfortunate man most fervently joined, he addressed himself to the surrounding multitude, beseeching them to take warning by his untimely end, and earnestly solicited their prayers for his departing soul.
He then drew their attention to a report which had been circulated during his confinement, of a murder which was committed in this place upwards of twenty years ago, the knowledge of which he entirely disclaimed; and declared he was innocent as he hoped for mercy from that God before whom he was about to appear. He was then launched into eternity, amidst the cries and lamentations of a vast concourse of people.
The length of time which elapsed from the commencement of the above robberies to their discovery, had induced a belief that the perpetrators thereof would escape punishment; but the awful end of this unfortunate man is a proof, that however for a time they may escape the vigilance of justice, there is one who seeth in secret, and who will not fail to punish openly. If his untimely end should prove a warning to others, or bring one hardened sinner to repentance, he will not have died in vain.
Charles Cooper published the following brief description of the Grimshaw and Kidder cases in his “Annals of Cambridge”, which was published in 18523.
In this and several preceding years, many burglaries were committed in Cambridge. Most of the Colleges were robbed of plate to a considerable amount. It was at length discovered that the parties concerned in these robberies were Richard Kidman, a whitesmith, residing in Bell Lane, William Grimshaw, a Chimney sweep, who dwelt in a lone house near Christs College pieces, and Henry Cohen, a Jew, who disposed of the plunder. All these parties were apprehended and tried at the Lent Assizes this year, before Sir Nash Grose. Kidman pleaded guilty to two indictments and received sentence of death, which was ultimately commuted to transportation for life. Grimshaw was convicted of a burglary in the house of Alderman Butcher, and was executed at the Castle, on the 28th of March. Cohen was arraigned for being an accessory before the fact to a burglary in Caius College, but being acquitted, was remanded till the Summer Assizes, when he was tried on another indictment and again acquitted.  Cambridge Chronicle, 7 Feb. 25 March, 4 April, 25 July, 1801.
Another account of the plate robbery cases was published by Henry Gunning’s “Reminiscences”, published in 18544:
CHAPTER V. – 1799.
SINGULAR PRESERVATION OF A WOMAN BURIED A WEEK IN THE SNOW
PLATE-ROBBERIES – REMINISCENCES OF KENNETH COURTENAY –
THOMAS CASTLEY – CHARLES SIMEON – ROBINSON, A CELEBRATED
DISSENTING MINISTER – HENRY W. CHAMPNEYS. 122-158
The plate-robberies which I have before mentioned as beginning in 1796, were this year continued to a great extent. The Combination-room of Caius College was entered, and a quantity of plate stolen.
Also the Buttery of Christ’s College was entered, and several articles of plate stolen.
King’s College Chapel was similarly visited, and a collection of gold and silver medals of considerable value were carried away. The College offered a reward of five hundred guineas.
Three rooms in Trinity College were also entered, and the plate stolen.
It was very remarkable in all the above robberies, that there was no violence used in getting at the various articles stolen. The doors appeared as if they had been opened by the keys of the owners, and were all found closed in the morning. Another extraordinary circumstance was, that though such prodigious rewards were offered for the discovery of the offenders, no one came forward to claim any part of them, by furnishing the slightest information likely to lead to their detection.
Suspicion, however, fell on Richard Kidman, who had been apprenticed in early life to a gardener; he had afterwards worked with a glazier of the name of Wetenhall, ,and had learned his trade. He had for several years been a repairer and cleaner of wooden clocks: in this trade he was particularly clever, and however complicated the movements, he never found any difficulty in setting them right. His practice in this way was considerable, but not sufficient to account for some purchases of land he had lately made in the town and neighbourhood of Cambridge. He built two small houses in Belllane, (now Northampton-street,) in one of which he lived, and the greater part of which, particularly the bricklayer’s work, was done by his own hands. There had been in circulation for two or three years a great number of sixpences made by him, and called Bell-lane sixpenses; he also wore a pail’ of shoe-buckles which he had made for himself.
After the large robbery at Trinity College, officers from Bow-street came to Cambridge, and went to search his house. Though they had no warrant, he readily admitted them, and suffered them to examine every part they thought proper. They found several crucibles and a number of mechanical tools which he used in his trade. The officers were so deceived by the simplicity of his manners and his readiness to assist them in their search, that they left him under the impression that no suspicion whatever attached to him. It appeared, however, from his confession after conviction, that the whole of the Trinity plate was at that time concealed in his small house; but the place of concealment was so ingeniously bricked up that it appeared to be a part of the original building.
After the Combination-room at Caius College had been robbed, Mr. Wilkins, the architect (who had recently built a house for his own residence at the back of the colleges, and who had been employed in rebuilding the College Hall at Caius and two large rooms in the Lodge), undertook to build a plate-closet which should defy the ingenuity of man to enter.
A few weeks after its completion, the Buttery door was one morning found open, and the two doors of this
impregnable closet were also open, and the whole of the plate gone, consisting of many articles of considerable value, – amongst them a most superb and massive silver waiter, with tea and coffee services. It was very strange that no violence seemed to have been used in effecting this robbery.
The Colleges were in the greatest state of alarm, each expecting to be plundered that had not before suffered. The most absurd reports were in circulation. Some persons insisted that the robberies must have been committed by college-servants; others suggested that some members of the societies must have been concerned; and some Fellow-commoners, whose connexions were not very well known, and whose reasons for coming to college were not apparent, were also among the suspected; nor was it until 1801 that the slightest clue was obtained to elucidate these mysterious robberies.
In the early part of that year the house of Mr. Alderman Butcher, in St. Andrew’s Street, was entered by picklock-keys, and a variety of plate stolen. A man named Grimshaw, who had a short time previously swept Mr. Butcher’s chimneys, was strongly suspected. This man had principally built for himself a small house, on a piece of waste land adjoining the road leading to Newmarket. A strict search was made, but as it proved a fruitless one, Mr. Butcher ordered that the house should be pulled down, when a large portion of the stolen plate was discovered. As Grimshaw and Kidman had been so frequently seen together, constables were immediately sent to search his house, where they found a silver pint-pot belonging to Caius College, which Kidman was in the constant habit of using, and twenty-seven teaspoons, from which no pains had been taken to erase the college marks. The pintpot had not the least appearance of silver, but when cleaned was easily identified by the college servants.
Grimshaw was tried at the following spring assizes, convicted, and subsequently executed.
Kidman was indicted for the robberies in Caius and King’s Colleges. He was persuaded to plead guilty, on the understanding that if he did so, his life should be spared. The object of the prosecutors was to get a conviction of Cohen, a Jew, who was considered to be the receiver of all the plate stolen by Kidman, and who was indicted as an accessory before the fact. Alley (the celebrated Old Bailey barrister) attended on his behalf, and contended that Kidman’s wife could not be a witness, as she could only speak as to what had taken place in her presence between Cohen and her husband. It was argued, on the other side, that as Kidman had been condemned to death, the testimony of his wife could not affect him. Sir Nash Grose decided on the admissibility of her testimony. She deposed that Cohen was frequently with her husband; that he urged him strongly to steal the plate from Cains College, which was very valuable; that after the plate had been stolen, and melted by Kidman, it was carried away by Cohen, who paid for it in her presence. She deposed that on one occasion he paid for it in ten ten-pound Bank of England notes, four of which had been spent, but the other six she gave up. On her cross-examination she said that she did not know her husband’s life was to be spared if he pleaded guilty, or that she had persuaded him to do so. On the same questions being repeatedly put to her, she was sometimes silent, and when she did answer, prevaricated very much, and at length confessed that she had persuaded her husband to plead guilty. The Judge, on summing up, said that her evidence must be received with great suspicion, and unless strongly corroborated, the jury must have considerable doubt, to the advantage of which the prisoner was entitled. After a short deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of – Not Guilty.
He was tried a second time as an accessory after the fact. Kidman’s wife was again the principal witness. She now deposed that she had never seen any money pass between her husband and Cohen; that if she had said so, it was not true; in a word, she unsaid all that she had said on the first trial, and the prosecution was given up. The prosecutor’s counsel applied to the Judge for her safe custody, that an indictment for perjury might be preferred against her. To this the Judge assented, and she was secured. I do not recollect that any further proceedings were taken against her. On the former trial of Cohen, a great number of witnesses, highly respectable and every way entitled to credit, spoke to his character; most of them had known him many years, had dealt with him, and always found him a very honest man. Many were in attendance, but the Judge considered that no further testimony to his character was requisite.
Kidman’s sentence was transportation for life.
Cambridge Castle was the site of a number of executions in 1801, which was one of its busiest years for executions in England, with 219 hangings (more than one every other day):
1800 – 1827 Public Executions (in England)
In this 28 year period 2,338 people were hanged, comprising 2243 men and 95 women.
The average number of executions was 80 per year with a peak of 219 in 1801.
Crimes against property still featured heavily in these lists, with burglary being the crime in 438 cases and housebreaking in a further 70. The move towards abolition of the so called “Bloody Code” during the later part of the period had begun and was reducing the number of executions.
Name of Criminal
Cambridge Castle Hill
Cambridge Castle is well described on Wikipedia as shown below. The engraving of the Castle was made about 70 years before Grimshaw’s execution.
Cambridge Castle, Cambridgeshire, England
Cambridge Castle, locally also known as Castle Mound, is located in the town of the same name in Cambridgeshire, England. Originally built after the Norman conquest to control the strategically important route to the north of England, it played a role in the conflicts of the Anarchy, the First and Second Barons’ Wars. Hugely expanded by Edward I, the castle then fell rapidly into disuse in the late medieval era, its stonework recycled for building purposes in the surrounding colleges. Cambridge Castle was refortified during the English Civil War but once again fell into disuse, used primarily as the county gaol. The castle gaol was finally demolished in 1842, with a new prison built in the castle bailey. This prison was demolished in 1932, replaced with the modern Shire Hall, and only the castle motte and limited earthworks still stand. The site is open to the public daily and offers views over the historic buildings of the city.
Castle Mound today
(Note: Wikipedia picture replaced with photo by Chris Taylor from: http://www.ecastles.co.uk/cambridge.html)
An engraving of Cambridge Castle in 1730, including the motte (l) and the gatehouse gaol (r)
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Mound (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Another engraving made in about 1772, about 29 years before William Grimshaw’s execution, is shown below.
Title: Cambridge Castle
Engraver: Godfrey, Richard (London, born, 1728)
Medium: Original Engraving
Publisher: Samuel Hooper, Ludgate Hill, London
Note: Francis Grose’s “The Antiquities of England and Wales”: An eminent English antiquary, Francis Grose (1731-1791) first served as a paymaster in the Surrey militia. His book-keeping methods, however, were less than stellar and after losing a considerable sum of money he turned to authoring works on heraldry and antiquities. His first and best known publication, “The Antiquities of England and Wales”, was published in parts beginning in 1773 and was completed fifteen years later in 1787. Both for its fine scholarship and accurately rendered engravings, the work became a cornerstone for early English architecture and cultural study. The volumes were published in London by Samuel Hooper. Both Grose and Hooper also designed some of the plates and commissioned such engravers as Francis Jukes (1745-1812), Benjamin Pouncy, Adam Smith, Samuel Sparrow and others to work upon the project. Many of the early architectural views were engraved by Richard Bernard Godfrey (London, b. 1728), a well respected eighteenth century engraver of antiquities. This original engraving entitled, “Cambridge Castle” was engraved by Richard Godfrey in 1772 and was published by Samuel Hooper, Ludgate Hill, London for Francis Grose’s “The Antiquities of England and Wales”.
1Grose, Nash, Cohen, Henry, Hotham, Baron, Blanchard, J.H. Newby, J. The Trials at Large of W. Grimshaw and R. Kidman, (with a Short Narrative of their Lives) for Burglaries and Robberies, Committed in the House of Mr. Joseph Butcher, and in Caius College, in the University of Cambridge; and of Henry Cohen, as an Accessory Before the Fact, Tried before the Hon. Sir Nash Grose, One of His Majestys Justices of the Kings Bench, on Friday and Saturday, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth of March, 1801, also of Henry Cohen, as an Accessory After the Fact, Tried before Baron Hotham, One of His Majesty’s Justices of the Kings Bench, on Wednesday, July 21, 1801: Cambridge, Printed by J. Burges, Printer to the University and Sold by the Publisher, and J. Deighton, Cambridge; T. Hurst, Pater-Noster Row, London; and J. Dingle, Bure St. Edmunds.1801. ‘The Making of Modern Law: Trials, 1600-1926’. Gale 2012. Gale, Cengage Learning. University of Texas at Austin – Law. 24 April 2012 <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/MMLT?af=RN&ae=Q100970476&srchtp=a&ste=14>
2The Trials of W. Grimshaw & R. Kidman, for Burglary, (With A Sketch of Their Lives;) and of H. Cohen, as an Accessory Before and After The Fact, On The 13th and 14th of March, and July 22nd, 1801; with Further Particulars of Kidmans Return from Transportation, His Voyage to America, Return to Cambridge, Death, and Burial; and the Confession and Execution of Grimshaw: Cambridge, 1850. ‘The Making of Modern Law: Trials, 1600-1926’ . Republished by W. Rowton, Corn Exchange Court, St. Anrews Hill, 1850. Gale 2012. Gale, Cengage Learning. University of Texas at Austin – Law. 24 April 2012 <http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/MMLT?af=RN&ae=Q100458989&srchtp=a&ste=14>
3Cooper, Charles, 1852, Annals of Cambridge, Volume IV: Cambridge, Mecalfe and Palmer, p. 470-471.
4Gunning, Henry, 1854, Reminiscences of the University, Town and County of Cambridge, from the Year 1780, Volume II: London, G. Bell, p. 125-131.
Webpage posted April 2012. Completed May 2012.