Life in Montgomeryshire during the Tudor and Stuart periods
By Murray Chapman
The National Library of Wales Journal, Vol.35 No. 2 (2011)
Introduction: On 16 December 1598, John ap Hugh of Churchstoke was examined before John Pryce, a Justice of the Peace, concerning the theft of a purse containing £5 and about two or three shillings, which he had taken out of the breeches of Richard Arneway on 5 December, at Newtown. It was an offence for which he could be hanged, if found to be guilty. This, in itself, is not remarkable: he was not the first person to be examined as a pickpocket and, certainly, not the last. But what distinguishes this examination is that it records the presence of a camel in Newtown. This must have created a sensation at the time and would have attracted a lot of interest which, in turn, presented an opportunity for a pick-purse to operate. The camel was kept in the house or backside of John David ap Rees. John ap Hugh, the alleged pick-purse, said that he was in the house where the camel was, once in the morning of 5 December, when there were few or no people there, and about two o’clock in the afternoon with Lucy Lewis. He said that he went up on the camel and continued upon it the most part of his being in the room where the camel was. He was accused of leaning upon the backs of Richard Arneway and David Lloyd ap John Wyn and so handled their breeches whilst being in the room where the camel was, which he denied. What became of John ap Hugh? The Court records reveal that no one came to prosecute him and so, after a proclamation in court, he was allowed to go free.
This provides an excellent illustration of the incidental detail which can be found in the examinations and depositions contained in the Gaol Files. My Calendar of Criminal Proceedings in the Montgomeryshire Court of Great Sessions 1581-1590 is the result of nearly twenty five years of work, and has only been made possible by the support of the National Library of Wales, which has generously undertaken its publication. If it were not for the National Library of Wales none of the Gaol Files for the county of Montgomery would have been published. We, therefore, owe a great debt of gratitude to that national institution and I wish to express my personal thanks to the members of its staff, who have made this all possible.