Bonsons at the Old Bailey


Is this your family too?

If you want to share your photos and information, to make corrections, fill in omissions or just have a chat, e-mail me on


Web Design
old bailey map2

In May 1753 Thomas Bonson , was indicted for stealing three linnen shirts, two linnen shifts, one linnen apron, one holland sheet, two pillow-cases, one dimitty petticoat, one black velvet hood, two linnen towels, three linnen napkins, one dimitty mantle, two pair of dimitty sleeves, five dimitty waistcoats, seven linnen caps, five linnen forehead cloaths, one diaper bibb, three diaper clouts, fourteen damask clouts, one muslin handkerchief, two silver thimbles, one fan, and one diaper table cloth, the goods of William Temple, who had a chandler's shop in Ship-Yard, near Temple-bar where Thomas Bonson was a lodger. He appears to have become involved in a domestic dispute between Temple and his wife. The wife was leaving her husband who she claimed had not only beaten her, but who still had a wife living and she had put her clothes into Thomas Bonson’s trunk.

A character witness was Thomas Abbot who said; "I am a house painter, so is the prisoner, he was doing work for me at Richmond lodge, he had been at work for me the two last summers and all this spring; he has been trusted in many places of consequence at Richmond, Hampton-Court, Mr. Pelham's, &c. under me. If he had been a person of that disposition, he had it in his power to have done great mischief."

When asked "What is your opinion of him as to his honesty?", he replied;

"I have a very good opinion of his honesty, he is a very sober honest man, I would trust him with untold gold."

Fortunately for Thomas he was acquitted.

Less fortunate was Edward Bonson. He was tried in December 1765 charged "for that he, on the 25th of October, about the hour of one in the night of the same day, the dwelling-house of William Wood did break and enter, and stealing 2 linen curtains, value 10 s. 1 linen head-cloth, value 2 s. 1 linen tester-cloth, value 2 s. 6 linen valences, value 2 s. 2 looking-glasses, value 4 s. 1 wooden tea-chest, with 2 tin canisters, the property of William Wood : one feather-bed;  value 10 s. 1 mattrass, 1 pillow, 1 woollen blanket, 1 quilt, 1 copper tea-kettle, and 2 brass candlesticks, the property of Thomas Stockdale ; 1 looking-glass in a wooden frame, 7 aprons, 4 pair of linen sleeves, 1 yard of linen cloth, a cotton gown, 3 linen caps, a pair of thread stockings, and 2 pieces of green baize, the property of Anne Adamson Weston , spinster; a copper saucepan and cover, a brass saucepan, a tin saucepan, a tin boiler, 2 wooden tea-chests with 3 tin cannisters, a looking-glass with a wooden frame, a pillow, 3 blankets, a copper warming-pan, a brass candlestick, a linen napkin, the property of Francis Snell ; 1 feather-bed, 1 pillow, 2 woollen blankets, a quilt, 6 china cups, 6 china saucers, a copper saucepan and cover, a copper tea-kettle, a brass fender, an iron poker, and iron shovel, a pair of iron tongs, 1 serge curtain, and 1 serge valence, the property of Thomas Clain , in the said dwelling-house."

The house that was burgled belonged to William Wood who lived in Castle-street (now Shelton Street) on the back of Long-acre, joining to Tottenham turnpike in Islington road. Edward Bonson kept a chandler's shop in Parker's-lane ( Now Parker Street, Holborn).

Initially Bonson acknowledged taking these things away and "owned he was in the garden, and they carried the stolen goods upon the rising ground, and put them over the pales."

Some of the goods had been recovered; the brass candlestick, copper warming-pan, and a blanket, were all at the prisoner's house; the blanket was on his bed. Other goods were found at were at one Crofts's, a broker, at the Bell in Drury-lane.

The evidence of Terence M'Ginnis, a constable was that; "On the 4th of November, I went to the prisoner's and Crofts's houses, and found the things produced here. Another witness, Thomas Stockdale said; "I had word the prisoner was taken, and I went to Parker's-lane to his house; there I found the feather-bed, mattrass, 2 blankets, and the copper tea-kettle. I went to him in Clerkenwell-prison. I asked him about the things; he told me Mr. Crofts had bought near 13 beds of him: he told me Parry went into the house, and he stood without to receive them, and there is a little mount in the garden, from which he put them over the pales."

In his own defence Edward Bonson, who as was usual for those days had no lawyer to represent him, said; "I never sold any of them things to Mr. Crofts; neither was I ever in the prosecutor's house; if Mr. Crofts was here, I dare say he would say who he bought them of. I lived with one gentleman 7 years, and with another 2. My last master was a bankrupt, then I left him, and became acquainted with Mr. Parry." At this point he would have been quite desperate because he knew that due to the value of the goods taken, this was a capital offence.

He had reason to be fearful; a guilty verdict was returned and Edward Bonson was sentenced to be hung.

The Record of Proceedings show that James Wilkins , Robert Scott , Edward Bonson , Stephen Wheat , Robert Tull , Thomas Reynolds , and Mary Pyner , capitally convicted in December sessions, were executed on Wednesday the 15th of January 1766.


NewgateMost defendants sentenced to death were to be hanged at Tyburn (where Marble Arch stands today). Execution was a public spectacle, meant to act as a deterrent to crime: convicts were drawn in a cart through the streets from Newgate, and, after they were given a chance to speak to the crowd (and, it was hoped, confess their sins), they were hanged, surrounded by huge crowds, as depicted in plate 11 of William Hogarth's Industry and Idleness.

In 1605, a wealthy merchant and tailor named Robert Dow bequeathed 50 pounds to have a bell rung outside the cell of the condemned at midnight before an execution. The Bellman of St. Sepulchre (a clerk at the church) would recite the following while ringing a handbell:


    All you that in the condemned hole do lie,

    Prepare you for tomorrow you shall die;

    Watch all and pray: the hour is drawing near

    That you before the Almighty must appear;

    Examine well yourselves in time repent,

    That you may not to eternal flames be sent.

    And when St. Sepulchre's Bell in the morning tolls

    The Lord above have mercy on your soul.

Idle Prentice Executed at Tyburn

Early the following morning, the prisoner would be moved from Newgate Prison on a cart, often seated on his own coffin, with a prison chaplain. When the procession reached the steps of St. Sepulchre, the criminal would be given brightly colored nosegays by friends, the church bell would sound, and the clerk would chant, "You that are condemned to die, repent with lamentable tears; ask mercy of the Lord for the salvation of your souls." As the parade passed by, the clerk would tell the audience, "All good people, pray heartily unto God for these poor sinners who are now going to their death, for whom the great bell tolls." According to the popularity of the criminal, he could be pelted with rocks and other missiles or cheered along the two-hour trip to Tyburn.

The convict was placed in a horse drawn cart, blindfolded, had the noose placed around his/her neck, and then the cart pulled away. Until the introduction of a sharp drop in 1783, this caused a long and painful death by strangulation (friends of the convict often helped put them out of their misery by pulling on their legs).

After the execution there were sometimes struggles for possession of the corpse between assistants to the surgeons, who wanted it for teaching anatomy, and friends of the convict, who wanted to give it a proper burial. Concern at the disorder which occurred at such scenes led to the transfer of executions in 1783 to outside Newgate Prison.

[Home] [Bonson Homepage] [The First Bonsons?] [William c1773] [Descendants] [Holbrough Homepage] [Midgley Homepage]