Mary Jones, alias Rigby, an elderly woman, with a girl 13 years of age, were brought before Mr. Combe, in the custody of Horsford and Pring, Mendicity officers, on whose statement it appeared that on Monday morning they saw the prisoners in the neighbourhood of Islington, and knowing the eldest prisoner to be a notorious imposter, they determined on watching their manoeuvres. At length they observed them go to several gentlemen’s houses, where the woman presented the following printed documents for the purpose of procuring alms :-
“I do hereby certify that the bearers here of in my employment in the coal mines in the parish of Hadley Old-Fields, in Shropshire, when a most melancholy accident of fire-damp took place in the pits in which the unfortunate sufferers were at work; 25 men, 14 boys and 16 horses were burnt to death, and 9 more dreadfully injured, leaving their friends, 10 widows, and 36 children to bewail their loss. The accident has caused the works to be stopped, and reduced the bearers to a state of misery, and almost starvation. Not less than 450 were thrown out of employment by the above melancholy event. We hope, therefore, that our sufferings will plead for us, and that these facts will move your hearts to enable you to assist us in our present time of need. Gentlemen, their characters are unimpeachable for sobriety, industry, and honesty. They have worked for me many years, and gave me every satisfaction. They will honestly account to their fellow sufferers for every trifle they may be intrusted with by a generous public, who know that fire is obtained at the hazard of the lives of their fellow-creatures.
“ Rev. C.Clayton,
“J. Onion, Master of the works.
“The smallest trifle will be thankfully received by us with the sincere gratitude - July 24, 1839.
“Houlston, Printer, Wellington.”
Horsford stated that there were no less than 14 connected with the prisoners’ gang, and their depredations had been numerous and successfully practised for a considerable time. Since the year 1837, the prisoner and her husband had been frequently committed to the House of Correction for similar practices, and her husband was at present in prison, having been committed for three months. He apprehended the eldest prisoner and two other women some time ago under similar circumstances at Homerton. He found in her possession numerous documents exactly similar to the above, which he now produced.
Mr. Combe asked her what she had to say?
Prisoner.- The papers were given to me by a gentleman, who told me to take them to Islington and leave them there. She did not know who he was. She worked for a gardener at Brentford, but she was going to Wales.
Mr. Combe closely questioned her, when she made very evasive answers, and contradicted herself, on which he committed her for one month to the House of Correction and hard labour, and he directed that the girl should be taken to the workhouse.
In the mid 19th century it was traditional for Shropshire pit girls to travel to London usually to work in the surrounding market gardens - but they were often tempted to other types of money raising. Many would go just for the Autumn after nodule picking had been completed on the heaps and a fresh crop had been weathered out by the frosts in the Winter following (for further information see ‘East Shropshire Coalfields’ by the writer, page 111)