The Convict Peace in the North Riding

Spent the day with the National Trust in Bransdale, tidying up Spout House farm which is due to have new tenants. Spout House is the first one you come to as you drop into the dale from Gillamoor.

While researching something to write about connected with the featured image I came across this piece in the Northern Echo of 18791‘THE CONVICT PEACE IN THE NORTH RIDING’ (1879) Northern Echo, 05 Feb, available: [accessed 05 Aug 2021].. Whilst it actually has nothing to do with this Spout House (the Spout House Inn in the report is actually in Bilsdale – ‘spout’ is quite a common name being Yorkshire vernacular for a spring), it is an interesting insight into the social life of the dales in the 19th century.

The correspondent is writing about the history of a man who was on trial for murder. ‘Writing’ is perhaps giving the correspondent too much credit, repeating gossip and rumours is more like it. I’m not sure if this would be acceptable nowadays. Still it’s a good read, if a little euphuistic, as was the style at that time.


A great deal has been said and written regarding the convict Charles Peace, now undergoing his trial for the wilful murder of Mr Dyson. Twenty-five years ago a man resembling him in stature, figure, and actions, and whose identity with the convict is now unquestionable, resided at Osmotherley, a country place, and distant from five to six miles from Northallerton. One of our travelling correspondents, who is a native of Helmsley district, communicates the following:- He states that, hearing the name of “Charles Peace” mentioned, I remembered the name, which aroused in my memory recollections which I now repeat to you. In l854 and 1836, whilst living in Bilsdale, midway from Stokesley to Helmsley, a young man of most respectable appearance and address commenced to hawk tea. His residence was Osmotherley, as above stated, being near Northallerton. He called himself Charles Thompson, and in those dales, such as Bransdale, Farnsdale, East Moors, Bilsdale, Langdale Beck, Old Byland, Snairsworth, and other dales, within easy walking distance from Osmotherley, he had a most rapid sale; and from his gentlemanly appearance and manners he was looked upon as being something superior to even the wealthiest farmers, Earl Feversham, Lord de Lisle, or any other large estate owner. He continued making his monthly calls at the various farmhouses, and each call confirmed the previous idea that he was a man of talent and respectability. When he was asked to dine he would converse upon any local topic, but it was chiefly upon religion ; and in the course of one argument at Thimbleby, near Osmotherley, he declared himself an infidel, and that he did not believe in God or Devil. The same evening at Kipwick, on Hambleton Hills, where he had to meet some members of the Wesleyan Society, he declared himself a member of that persuasion, and actually delivered an exhortation the same evening at a public meeting of the above body of Methodists. This travelled from far and near, or rather within his boundary in the tea trade, and his good deliverance of speech secured him many friends. Soon he, in conjunction with tea-hawking, commenced to frame pictures, and in this he also did a flourishing business. Then he sold watches. Many of the watches are still in the pockets of the purchasers. For those watches he received exorbitant prices; but, looking upon Mr Thompson as an honest gentleman, no person appeared to doubt but that the watches were worth the money paid for them. He professed to have knowledge of every branch of business, and from what I am told was clever in machinery. At Osmotherley, when the weaving mills were washed away by the bursting of a dam, he constructed, or caused to be constructed, an obstruction that was the means of saving more than half of the machinery from being totally lost. Now comes the most important feature of his career in the districts named. He said that he had a residence in Osmotherley. The latter place is a small country village, and from what I can gather he never occupied a house or even lodgings more than what he had in other villages or dales that he travelled in. When on his monthly visit to Reivaulx, near Helmsley he sold a farmservant a verge watch for £3 15s and remained in the house by invitation of the farmer all night2A verge watch is a pocket watch. Verge refers to the escapement mechanism.. The next morning the watch was missing. The next day a verge watch was sold to the son of a farmer named William Leckonby, of Old Byland, for £3 10s. The watch was in the hands of the purchaser for over six months, and during this time it was taken to a Mr Bonus, a native of Guisbrough, but than living at Hawnby, for repairs. A few days afterwards it was returned, and the following night after it was returned Mr Thompson remained all night at Leckonby’s house, and was missing the following morning, as was also some cash from farm servants’ boxes. At that time there were no policemen in the villages or dales, and it passed by that some tramp had entered the bedroom during the night end stolen not only the watch but plundered the servants’ boxes. A few weeks rolled over, and it was soon circulated — not without reason -— that wherever Mr Thompson remained all night there was a certainty that something would be missing the following morning. Now the good natured people had their suspicions aroused, and carefuly watched his movements, but he was not in any way daunted. When told of this pilfering he offered to render any assistance that he possibly could to trace out the offender. During those troubling times he called at a farmhouse at Ingleby Greenhow, near Stokesley, where a machinewright had some difficulty with a fixture thrashing machine as to how to get the dram of the machine to make so many revolutions to the horse’s one. Thompson said that he could solve the matter, and, with the assistance of a schoolboy named Issac Dunning, worked the problem. A pattern was made under the direction of Thompson, and a metal wheel cast at the Stokesley Foundry, which answered admirably. The machine is still working, and the wheel is still attached. He was offered cash for his trouble, but he refused, and was accommodated with a comfortable meal and a wash upstairs. He soon afterwards departed, and almost immediately afterwards it was discovered that a dozen silver spoons, a watch, gold guard, and other small valuables had also gone. The same night he travelled to the Spout House Inn, Bilsdale, on the road to Helmsley, where he called for a refresher, and was met (presumably by appointment) by a female, but previously to this she had told the host (Mr Wm. Ainsley, who is still alive) that she had to meet Mr Chas. Peace, and when the lady acknowledged and received the well-known Mr Thompson as Charles Peace, the host, who was rather particular, asked if his name was not Charles Thompson, and he replied ” No; my name is Charles Peace, and I belong to Swainby, near Osmotherley. I was born there, and my parents reside there.” By this time some strange rumours got abroad. The watch previously referred to again found its way into the hands of Mr Bonus, from a farm servant named William Smailes, who is or was a member of the Durham County Constabulary. During the reign of Thompson, alias Peace, he was known to be a most daring man. His moral character was anything but creditable. It is beyond all questionable doubt that the man Thompson is the real, veritable Charles Peace, now undergoing his trial for the wilful murder of Mr Dyson. I will further add, that the same man who had called himself Thompson was seen in Stokesley about ten years ago for a few days, during which time several burglaries where made, and a lot of valuables, chiefly jewellery, were stolen. Inspector Smith, of Thirsk, with a force of men, assisted by the Stokesley and Kirbymoorside police, were most energetic in their efforts to trace the burglar or burglars, but without any effect.

  • 1
    ‘THE CONVICT PEACE IN THE NORTH RIDING’ (1879) Northern Echo, 05 Feb, available: [accessed 05 Aug 2021].
  • 2
    A verge watch is a pocket watch. Verge refers to the escapement mechanism.

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