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The thief put the rabbits under his coat and crossed the yard

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 10, 2014

By John Workman

  • Food produce, not dissimilar to how Mr Pester's rabbits may have appeared in 1905, waiting to be collected

  • Mr Pester, West Bromwich shopkeeper appears on this 1901 census return. Could this be the same man in the story?

  • Above and below: Two views of West Bromwich Station in the 1950s

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THE definition of poaching is the illegal hunting, killing or capturing of wild animals without the landowners permission and invariably involves the use of stealth and a lot of nerve in the dark hours of the night, a crime that in ages past could possibly have carried the death penalty if the miscreant had been caught.

Although the following story sent to us by Michael Perkins of the Amblecote History Society has no direct correlation with poaching, it does bear a similar hallmark, albeit a crime committed in broad daylight by a bloke stealing a clutch of dead rabbits at a Black Country station.

The month was September, the year 1905, and the place West Bromwich Railway Station. The extract that follows is taken from the brief for the prosecution regarding the case of The Great Western Railway Company versus George Smith: "George Smith will be charged for that on the 16th day of September 1905 in the Borough of West Bromwich did falsely steal four dead rabbits together of the value of 4 shillings the property of the Great Western Railway.

"The rabbits were stolen from hampers which had arrived by train at the West Bromwich Station of the GWR. Upon the 'Up' or booking office side of the station there is a central block of buildings with doors leading into the booking hall, outside being a carriage yard. Looking towards the doors of the booking hall there is on the right hand side of the building a pair of gates leading directly onto the platform, and providing a means of ingress and egress for milk cans and other heavy passenger traffic, while on the left on the other side of the building and at right angles to the platform, is a pair of gates giving access to the coal yard.

"Close to the gates on to the platform, and nearly opposite the gates on the far side of leading to the coal wharf, are a few steps leading up out of the station yard, giving access to a footpath which runs parallel with the railway track, and leads into a public road known as Lyng Lane.

"The case for the prosecution is that on Saturday the 16th of September 1905, five hampers of dead rabbits arrived by train consigned to Mr Pester of West Bromwich. The hampers were placed on the platform for removal by the consignee, some being placed near the double doors leading on to the platform, and some being placed at the other end of the platform and accordingly not far from the coal yard.

"About 4.30pm a chimney sweep named Samuel Lloyd was standing in the station yard near these gates, and observed the defendant take a couple of rabbits out of one of the baskets and (after offering a rabbit to a cabman who refused it) walk away with the rabbits. The defendant subsequently returned and informed Lloyd that he had sold the rabbits for fifteen pence.

"An hour later a lad named John Walker saw the defendant come out of the gates leading to the coal yard carrying a couple of rabbits in his hand. On seeing Walker the defendant put the rabbits under his coat, passed across the yard, and went up the stone steps to Lyng Lane. The boy followed him and saw him stop a woman and heard him offer the rabbits for sale, and eventually sell them to her for fifteen pence.

"We think Counsel will find that the boy makes a good and intelligent witness. Counsel will notice that the depositions do not actually contain a statement placing the property in the rabbits in the Company. No doubt this can be obtained from the porter Frederick Brown. Counsel is requested to attend the next Quarter Sessions of the borough of West Bromwich and conduct the prosecution on behalf of the Great Western Railway Company." (The Counsel was Harwards and Evers of Stourbridge and Birmingham).

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