1864: Bathing and Fishing Felonies in Swindon

From the Swindon Advertiser, August 8th 1864


Bathing in the Canal

Henry Cox, of New Swindon, milkman, was charged by Mr. H. L. Dunsford, with bathing in the Wilts and Berks Canal. Mr. Dunsford said that in consequence of the great damage done to the banks of the canal by persons bathing, he had been compelled to prohibit bathing altogether in the canal. Cox, who had been cautioned twice, however persisted in bathing, and also in taking a number of persons with him. Cox did not deny bathing in the canal, but said that his object in doing so was to instruct a lot of young lads in the art of bathing.

Fined 5s. and 10s. Costs.

Theft of Fish by Emptying Canal

Henry Hicks, James Hicks, Archibold Thompson, Cassimer Mazonowich, and Thomas Wallis, all of New Swindon, were charged with fishing in the Wilts and Berks Canal.

Mr. H. L. Dunsford, who appeared for the canal company, said that for a long time past they had been losing a considerable quantity of water from the canal summit level, at New Swindon, and so mysteriously did this water disappear that for a long time neither he nor his men could account for it. At length it was discovered that one of the lads now charged, a son of the lock keeper on the branch canal between New Swindon and Rodbourne, was in the habit, at the instigation of other lads, of drawing off the water from the pounds between the locks, in order to enable them when these pounds were dry to get in and carry off the fish.

As an illustration of the quantity of water thus wasted, he might mention that on one occasion, when one of the pounds had been emptied the water was a foot deep in one of the adjoining lanes. The loss of this quantity of water in a dry season like the present was of serious consequence to the canal company. Each pound of water was worth from £15 to £20, and these pounds having been let dry several times he, Mr. Dunsford, hoped the bench would make an example of the offenders by imposing the highest penalty allowed by law.

Mr. Dunsford then applied that the charge against Wallis might be dismissed in order that he might give evidence against the other lads. The application having been acceded to.

Henry Thomas Wallis, a lad about 12 years of age, was sworn; he said: On Monday afternoon, the 25th of July, I saw James Hicks, and after that I went and fetched the key of the locks from my father's house, and unlocked the paddle. I let the water run for about an hour, until it was all run out of the pound. The four defendants, Henry and James Hicks, Thompson, and Mazonowich, then got into the canal and got the fish out. Thompson asked me to get the key and let the water out, and he gave me threepence for doing it; Mazonowich also gave me some tobacco. I had let the water out before, but none of these boys were then with me. Whilst we were getting the fish out the policeman came and we all ran away. James Hicks asked me to empty the pound.

P.C. Samuel Bence, sworn, said: On Monday the 25th, I received information that a number of boys had let the water out of the canal, and were getting fish out in abundance. I went at once to the spot and found at least a dozen boys there, including the four now present. Henry Hicks had 7lb or 8lb of fish on him. I could not identify all the boys. I had seen the pound empty on two former occasions, and I had had complaints of its being run out on other occasions besides the two of which I speak. I took the rod away from Henry Hicks.

This being the case for the prosecution, Mr. Dunsford pressed for the extreme penalty in order that a stop might be put to an offence which was causing a most serious loss to the canal company.

The bench ordered that the two Hicks' to pay a fine of 25s. each, in addition to the costs, 7s. 6d. each.