The Broseley Anti-Felons



This article was originally published in the Wilkinson Journals 9 and 11 - 1981&83


“The Anti-Felons” was the name by which they were popularly known. Their full title was “The Broseley Association for the Prosecution of Felons”. They were one of many such associations existing in the 18th, 19th and well into the 20th centuries, which originally had the sole purpose of bringing petty criminals to justice. They flourished in the days prior to the compulsory establishment of borough and county police forces.


In his “Portrait of an Age Victorian England”, G.M. Young says that in 1840 there were in England “five hundred associations for the prosecution of felons; but there were no county police; and the mainstay of the public police was not the (parish) constable but the yeoman, and behind the yeoman, though cautiously and reluctantly employed, the soldier”.


More than one Shropshire town had its Anti-Felon Association. Ludlow had one, rivalling Broseley’s in its long years of existence. There was one in Louth, Lincolnshire. George Eliot, in “Scenes of Clerical Life”, writing of the 1830 period, has a farmer, Mr. Hackit, “presiding at the annual dinner of the Association for the Prosecution of Felons at the Oldinfort Arms”, in the Nuneaton area. Arnold Bennett writes in “These Twain” of an architect living in the Five Towns during the late 19th century:
“Osmond Orgreave had never related himself to the crowds. He was not a Freemason; he had never had municipal office; he had never been President of the Society for the Prosecution of Felons”.


But between the days of Hackit and Orgreave Anti-Felons everywhere were more concerned with the pleasures of social gatherings than with the pursuit of justice.


Nevertheless, in recent years there has been something like a revival of the activities of the original Anti-Felons. The prevalence of theft of cattle and sheep has caused farmers in some parts of the country to act independently of the police. In December 1978, for example, farmers in Dorset banded together, each subscribing £5 annually in order to finance a system of payment for information leading to the arrest of sheep and cattle rustlers.


Precisely such a system of rewards was fundamental to the formation of the Broseley Anti-Felons. Members of the Association were owners of various kinds of property; a house, an estate, a mine, a quarry, a farm, craft on the river, an iron-works, a pottery, a shop or a public house. They each paid a membership fee and an annual subscription, and the money subscribed served to provide rewards for information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of persons responsible for thefts and acts of damage to property. The money was also to be used to pay lawyers’ fees.


There was a fixed scale of rewards, payable after conviction of the felon. In 1837, a reward of 5 guineas was offered in cases of burglary, highway robbery, arson, stealing horses and cattle; 2 guineas when pigs, poultry, hay, straw had been stolen; one guinea in the case of theft of timber, gates, fencing, of fruit and vegetables, and in the event of wilful damage to wagons, ploughs etc.; “or any kind of felony whatsoever”. In 1860 the same scale of rewards applied as in 1837.


In 1860 membership of the Association was “general for any person living within the Several parishes of Broseley, Benthall, Madeley, Willey, Linley., Barrow and Posenhall”; the Association provided “Protection on property lying within the said parishes. Membership fee was one guinea, the annual subscription 5 shillings.


The Rules and Articles of the Broseley Association, including the scale of rewards, were publicly displayed, as were handbills relating to specific offences and offering appropriate payment for information. One such handbill, dated October 14th 1914, was referred to by Mr. I.J. Brown in his article on page 4 of the Society’s Journal No. 8. The felon was there described as “some evilly-disposed person” who had damaged equipment in a Benthall mineshaft.


A more recent handbill (undated) and one of more general application, reads



“The above reward will be paid to anyone giving such information as will Lead to the conviction of any person or persona trespassing upon or damaging this property.”



(Secretary - Treasurer, Broseley Association for the Prosecution of Felons)

Arthur Meredith, Printer, Broseley.



The Broseley Anti-Felons wound up their affairs at the Lion Hotel, on July 30th, 1959. No such precise knowledge, so far as I am aware, is available about the Association’s beginnings.


Two minute-books have survived, the earlier one opening on page one, with an account of a meeting of Members held on October 9th, 1789, with a rough draft of proceedings written on the fly-leaf facing page one. It is apparent that the Association was already a flourishing concern; indeed there is later evidence that it existed in 1775.


The entries in the book are mostly clearly written, but there are some words, which I could not decipher; and the spelling is variable.


The 1789 meeting was “Held at the House of Mr. John Cleobury at The Fox Inn in Broseley.




Thos Mytton


Jno. Onions



Jno. Morris


Tho. Baker



Jno. Rose


Ben Haines



Jno. Perry


Fr. Baker



Elias Prestwick


Saml. Scale



Jno. Morris (junior)


Ed. Owen



Tho. Bryan


Jno. Guest



Jno. B. Corbet


Jno. Boden



Geo. Hartshorne


J. Cleobury



Jno. Weaver


Ch. Guest


Agreed: That Mr. John Rose be paid four shillings for the expence of a serch warrant for serching after persons suspected of stealing six geese the same to be paid by Mr. J. Guest, Treasurer.


That this Association be advertised in the Shrewsbury Cronicle immidiataly after each meeting setting forth the several rewards to be paid for the different Fellonise and misdemeanours and that a copy of the said advertisement be published in two Hand Bills.

By order of the Meeting.  Jno. Guest.”


Some well-known names appear in this list of Members. The Guests are probably the most famous. They belonged to an old Broseley family, and for many years were prominent iron-makers and coal-owners. Randall mentions a John Guest who was born in Broseley in 1522, and had a son Andrew who was buried there in 1609. A branch of the family established itself in South Wales at Dowlais in the mid-18th century and laid the foundations of a great industrial firm, which developed into to-day’s G.K.N.


Charles Guest was a trustee of the turnpike road running through Cuckoo Oak, where the principal tollhouse stood. He was a subscriber to the building of the Preens Eddy Bridge at Coalport; and he and John Guest also subscribed to the building of the Iron Bridge. John Guest “paid half the cost of the Birch Meadow Baptist Chapel, Broseley, in 1801” (The Industrial Revolution in Shropshire, B. Trinder, p. 201), and he and John Onions were buried in the Chapel graveyard.


The Norris family had an interest in limestone quarries in the Wyke-Tickwood area. Thos. Bryan had a half share with William Reynolds in the Tuckies estate at Jackfield. John Onions was an ironmaster with interests in the area and for many miles around. He was a partner with William Banks and with Francis Blithe Harries of Benthall Hall, in the Benthall Ironworks. Edward Owen was a barge-owner. The Hartshornes , the Corbets, the Barbers were coal-owners. Samuel Seale was the parish constable at Willey.


Thomas Mytton was a lawyer. At a meeting of the Association on September 30th, 1791 it was resolved by the members present that he should be “the only person in his profession that shall commence proceedings in Law against any person or persons that shall commit any depredations upon the property of any one of them or their servants”. Later, in the 19th century, the Association was to carry this “closed-shop” attitude to extremes.


The Prestwich family were vintners. Early in the 19th century they left Broseley for London where their trade flourished. Joseph Prestwich married Catherine Blakeway in 1809 in Broseley. They had a son Joseph who became Professor of Geology at Oxford and was the author of a well-known work on “The Coalbrookdale Coalfield”. After the departure of the Prestwich family for London their business in Broseley was taken over by the Listers.


Reference was made in the Minute Book entry for October 9th, 1789 to the theft of six geese belonging to John Rose.  This John Rose was the father of John Roe the manufacturer of porcelain at Caughley and Coalport. John Rose senior was a farmer, living at Swinney Farm near Caughley, in the parish of Barrow. He died in 1792 when his son John at the age of 20 was about to end his apprenticeship with Thomas Turner and join Edward Blakeway at Jackfield.


After the meeting held in October 1789, the next one reported at The Fox Inn was on March 26th, 1790, at which the firm of Banks & Onions with works in Broseley and Benthall, was admitted to the Association in joint membership. It was agreed also that a future payment of one pound eleven shillings and sixpence be made for dinner at The Fox Inn. This was presumably the total cost of the meal for the whole company.


On April 1st, 1791 at the next meeting recorded, again held at The Fox Inn, Mr. Samuel Seale, the Parish Constable of Willey, “produced a number of keys and three Chissils which he found in the house of Mr. Matthew Morris of the Parish of Willey in execution of a serch warrant on his house and it being represented to this society that Mr. Richd. Wilkes of Linley a member thereof can prove one or more of the same keys his property”. It was resolved “that the Treasurer (John Guest) be requested to wait upon Mr. Wilkes and recommend to him immediately to prosecute the offender if he is in possession of any profe which may be the means of conviction”.


At a meeting held on May 11th, 1792 it was resolved Mr. Scale be paid expenses incurred in prosecuting Sarah Moore and Edward Howels in separate actions, the nature of the offences going unrecorded. There is a reference to a disallowed claim for expenses from a Mr. Morris; Mr. Thomas Wilkinson, submitted a bill for prosecuting John Martin; a Mr. Morris was to be paid £ 6. 13. 8. “for his activity in bringing forward a prosecution against Elizabeth Brazier”. This last case must have been a serious one in view of the size of the reward, but no details are given in the Minute Book; they doubtless could be found in legal records if these have survived.


There were meetings of the Association in April 1793, October 1793, and October 1794. On the last occasion a Mr. Bennett submitted a bill for prosecuting John Peach and this it was agreed “be alowd, also that his man Thomas Merrick be alowd l0/6d for taking him”.


In March 1795 Mr. Bernard Colley was paid seven shillings for handbills and for the constable’s expenses “aprehending George Egerton”. In the following October Mr. Mytton was allowed four pounds nineteen shillings for the conviction of George Egerton. Again, the nature of the offence is not stated.


On April 1st 1796 Rob. Mills was paid 6/9 “for aprehending John Wheeler’s aprentice for stealing bricks” and it was agreed that “J. Holmes be paid 2/6 for being the active person in the business in order to bring him to justice”.


Mr. Prichard succeeded Thomas Mytton as the Association’s solicitor at a meeting held on March 31st 1797. Prichard was required to go into action at once on the application of a Mr. Simkis to prosecute Mary Roper who had stolen his window lights.


At a general meeting held on March 28th 1800 the Association’s Treasurer must have expressed some concern about members who were defaulting on the payment of subscriptions. It was agreed “that the Treasurer be directed to send to every member of this society who is at present in arrears to pay the and in case of refusal - that the Treasurer be directed to prosecute such person for the recovery of such arrears in the Court of Requests at Broseley -and in case of Nonsuit that the expences of the same be defrayed by the Society”.


It is clear from a minute dated March 26th 1802 that the Association’s meetings were not held haphazardly or only when there was business to transact. It was resolved at this meeting that the Society should meet on the second Thursday after Michaelmas and on the first Thursday after Ladyday.


At the meeting held on September 30th 1802 it was agreed that Mr. Prichard’s bill be allowed “for the different prosecutions, except Mr. Collins’ journey to Posnal to examine Eliza Ray”. Another tantalising reference to an event about which we are left completely in the dark.


From 1802 up to 1820 entries in the first of the two surviving minute books contain little of interest for us. John Guest was still Treasurer and the minutes are still in his handwriting. But he had not much longer to serve the Association. New names appear in a list of committee members appointed at the 1820 spring meeting, alongside one or two old ones. The Anti-Felons functioned much as before, but changes were to appear in the following thirty or so years which were due to events in the country at large.


At the Anti-Felons’ meeting held on April 20th, 1820, at the Fox Inn, Broseley, a new committee was formed consisting of: Mr. A. Brodie, Mr W. Hazeldine (represented by Mr. Thomson), Mr. W. Fifield, Mr. Thos. Roberts, Mr. Jno. Lister, Mr. Abr. Wyke, Mr. Samuel Roden, Mr. Geo. Hartshorne. Any four of these men could act in conjunction with the Treasurer who had been in office since before 1789.


There are some well-known Broseley names in the above list: Hartshorne, Wyke, Roden, Lister. Brodie and Hazeldine were comparative newcomers.


Alexander Brodie lived at the Rock House, Jackfield. He was the nephew of another Alexander Brodie, a Scot who became a figure almost as important as Wilkinson. Alexander senior bought the Calcutt mines, furnaces and forges in 1786 and made a national reputation for producing high-quality iron, for steam pumps and other engines, for cannon accurately bored, and for such by-products as coke and tar. He died in 1811 and his nephew took over the Calcutt works.


William Hazeldine of Shrewsbury, where he owned a foundry, had taken over the Calcutt works from Brodie by 1817, when in the aftermath of the recent Wars trade was sluggish. Under the supervision of his friend Telford, Hazeldine constructed the Menai Suspension Bridge and was constructor also of the ironwork for the Pontcysyllte and Chirk Aqueducts.


William Fifield is described in Pigot’s Directory as a Surgeon. A Mrs. Fifield was living in 1851 at Barratt’s Hill, possibly in what is still called “Fifield House”, which was a Doctor’s residence until recently.


In May 1822 there is a Minute about expenses allowed to Messrs. John Rose & Co. “in the prosecutions of Griffiths and Nevitt”. No details are given.


The Minutes of a meeting held on October 24th, 1822 were signed by 17 members who included John Onions, George Hartshorne, William Roden (“for father”), John Lister, Thomas Rose. John Onions and his father John, who died in 1819, are two of the great ironmasters and mine-owners of the age, owning furnaces in whole or in part at Lilleshall, Benthall, Broseley (Coneybury) and Brierley Hill. John junior lived at Whitehall (Church Street) in 1851. He died in 1859. Thomas Rose was the brother of John Rose. He had been a partner in the porcelain firm of Reynolds, Horton & Rose in 1803 when Robert Anstice purchased the share holding of his late cousin William Reynolds. In 1814 John Rose bought up Anstice, Horton & Rose and brother Thomas thus found himself subordinate to John and as we see attended meetings of the Anti-Felons as a representative of the firm.

Amongst the names of subscribers to the Association in May 1824 appear the Hon. Lord Forester and the Rev. Townshend Forester who later became a Canon of Worcester Cathedral.


At the meeting of April 14th 1824 “the Society (felt) itself much obliged by the services of the late Mr. John Guest as Treasurer of the Association for a period of fifty years and upwards last past”. According to this tribute John Guest became Treasurer of the Anti-Felons in or about 1774, some 15 years before the first meeting recorded in the surviving Minute Books.


John Guest was succeeded by Mr. John Onions who was “unanimously elected” and  “was good enough to accept the appointment”. Traces of pride, gratification and deference here. Alexander Brodie signed this Minute as Chairman.


There is a reference in Minutes of a meeting in April 1826 to prosecutions on behalf of four members of the Association: John Hartshorne, William Bennett, Samuel Roden and Abraham Aston. A Mr. Ashwood “was allowed expenses for advertising a robbery at his mill”. Pigot’s Directory records that in 1842 Jeremiah Ashwood was a miller and “Postmaster” in Broseley. He was also a maltster and an agent for the Globe Fire Insurance Company. In April 1827 Mr. Ashwood is said to have lost “his lead pump”. Rewards for information were agreed on in cases of window breaking and a theft of fowls. In November 1827 a “robbery of sheep” in mentioned.


At a meeting held on April 17th 1828, Mr. Onions expressed his “determination to resign” the Treasurership. Unfortunately no reason for this is given in the Minute Book. Mr. J. Lister was appointed in his place.


The meeting of October 19th 1837 decided on a new scale of rewards for information leading to successful prosecutions.


In 1844 the Association had funds of over £100 in hand and the annual subscription was reduced from 5/- to 3/6, the entrance subscription dropping to half a guinea from one guinea. In 1853 the annual subscription was again cut, to 2/6.


In 1849 there occurs the first reference to meetings being held at the Pheasant Inn instead of at the Fox. In 1859 the Pheasant was closed, for no stated reason, and it was decided that meetings in future were to be held at the Lion.


The mid-l9th century is a convenient time to look at national developments in the field of law and order. In country parishes maintenance of order was the duty of constables appointed usually by two justices of the peace. These constables often delegated their duties to deputies who were in many cases inefficient and corrupt. General dissatisfaction led to attempts to reform the system. In 1839 an Act of Parliament was passed empowering Justices in Quarter Sessions to establish a paid constabulary in the counties. This Act was only permissive and another followed it in 1856, which made it compulsory to create county police forces.


These enactments caused no immediate change in the affairs of the Broseley Association for the Prosecution of Felons, or at least in the reports contained in their Minute Books. The system of rewards for information leading to successful prosecutions continued, and the scales of payment published in 1837 were re-issued almost unchanged in 1860.

When the names of Police Constables do eventually appear (and these men were already paid by the County Police authority) they are recorded as receiving the appropriate reward listed in the Association’s scale of payments. P.C. Becket in 1881 received 10/6 for giving information leading to the conviction of Edward Doughty for the theft of coal from the pits of Messrs. Ealey & Sons (Exley?). P.C. Daniel Brew had the same amount for his share in the conviction of Annie Hill and William Purrier who had stolen “underwood belonging to Lord Forester”. In 1883 P.C. Perry of Jackfield was rewarded for the apprehension of Mary Heighway who was found guilty of stealing potatoes and turnips belonging to Mr. James Barnet of Woodhouse Farm.


Several other cases are recorded of similar rewards given to policemen. It is never apparent if they were or were not acting during their hours of official duty. Some other convictions were obtained as the result of action by members of the public, but such cases seem to have been fewer than those involving the police. In 1884, for instance, Mr. Henry Sergeant was rewarded for reporting that Richard Griffiths had stolen “peasticks the property of Lord Forester”.


During the latter half of the 19th century a change took place in the occupations and interests of the leading personalities amongst the Anti-Felons. Earlier on, the prominent men, the Guests, the Onions, Hartshornes, Hazeldines, Listers, Rodens etc., were industrialists, shopkeepers, and landowners. (John Wilkinson is never mentioned in the Minute Books, nor is Lord Dundonald, nor Alexander Brodie senior, though they may have been members). About the middle of the century men of other occupations begin to appear as Chairmen and Treasurers. Lawyers and doctors for instance, occasionally a clergyman, together with some landowners, tradesmen, small manufacturers and farmers.


In 1851 the Chairman was Robert Evans, a brick and tile manufacturer and a J.P., living at the Dunge. In 1853 Evans had died and his place was occupied by Mr. G. Pritchard, a solicitor and banker. The Treasurer was Dr. Richard Thursfield. According to Pigot’ s Directory (1842), while George Pritchard was the leading “attorney” in Broseley, George Potts was an attorney in Ironbridge. George Pritchard was very highly regarded in Broseley, as a benefactor to the poor, to orphans and widows, and “an able and upright magistrate”. The Pritchard Memorial which once stood in Broseley Square was erected by public subscription to perpetuate his memory.


Bagshaw’s Directory of 1851 states that in that year George Potts was Clerk to the Borough of Wenlock and to Madeley County Court. He lived at “The Green” in Broseley.


George Pritchard died in 1861. Already, in 1860, George Potts was Chairman of the Association. He was also Solicitor to the Association. Richard Thursfield, the Treasurer, had died. At a meeting held on October 3rd 1860, George Potts was elected Treasurer in place of Thursfield. Edward Bagnall Potts was elected Solicitor of the Association in place of George Potts.


The Potts were energetic, ambitious and tenacious. The family name recurs up to the end of the century and beyond, though entries in the Minute Books become shorter and more infrequent. The Potts’ influence was, however, of shorter duration than that of the faithful John Guest.


In 1887 a reward of 10/6 was given to P.C. Banks “for extra diligence which led to the conviction of a man for stealing a hat”. The Chairman on this occasion was Frederick H. Potts. The hat belonged to Mr. G.B. Potts. At the same meeting a Mr. Carter was rewarded for obtaining the conviction of James Barrett who had stolen plants belonging to Mrs. Bathurst. In 1851 Henry Martyn Bathurst, headmaster of the National School, lived on Barratt’ s Hill, perhaps some relation of Mrs. Bathurst who was thus robbed. In 1887 also, three men were convicted of stealing “old iron”.


Most meetings during these years were held at the Lion, but there was an attempt, briefly successful, to move back to the Pheasant. On October 26th 1870, Edward Roden supported by Rev. R. H. Cobbold, proposed that the meetings in the following year be held at the Pheasant.


In 1873 the name Thursfield appears again. Thomas Greville Thursfield was elected Treasurer. Edward Potts was Chairman. On November 15th 1882, F.H. Potts was elected Treasurer in place of Dr. Thursfield who resigned for reasons of ill health. At this meeting, held at the Lion, a reward of 10/6 was given to P.C. Tomkins of Bridgnorth for the apprehension and conviction of Thomas James who had stolen rope belonging to John Burroughs of Bridgnorth. Perhaps Thomas James was a Broseley man; otherwise this seems not to have been a Broseley matter. There are also references in 1882 and again in 1883 to the theft of artificial manure from Mr. G. W. Wheeler of Posenhall.


Rewards continued to be offered to policemen for services rendered to members of the Association until after 1900. On December 16th 1901 P.C. Davies was given one guinea “for extra diligence” in obtaining the conviction of Eliza Aston and Elizabeth Sargeant for stealing coal belonging to Mr. G. Davies senior. In the same month P.C. Bower received 10/6 “for diligence” in connection with the conviction of Frederick Sherwood “for stealing beansticks and stakes the property of Lord Forester”. For supplying information in this prosecution Mr. G. Boden was given one guinea.


No further examples of policemen receiving monetary rewards occur in the Minute Books. But in 1907 the Police Constables of Broseley and Jackfield were each given a goose for Christmas from the Association’s funds.


The last reference in the Minute Books to payment for information received concerning an alleged crime appears in a Minute dated January 12th 1934 when an application for such a reward was made on behalf of George Sherwood for reporting that Samuel Watson and Albert J. Thomas, in pursuit of rabbits, trespassed “on land in occupation of Mr. E.A. Powell of the Dean Farm. A reward of one guinea was allowed”. Not the most heinous of crimes, even supposing that trespass was a crime in 1934.


Annual Dinners for members of the Association were not unknown in the early days; there is reference to such events in the 1790 entry in the Minute Book. But little mention of them is made until we come to 1901. On December 11th in that year a dinner was provided by Messrs. Haughton for 43 members at a total cost of £5. 7. 6., plus £5. 1. 5. for wine and tobacco and 10/0 for the waiters. In 1914 dinner at the Pheasant for an unspecified number of members cost in total £6. 9. 0., plus £4. 1. 0. for wine and cigars. This event was something of a social occasion in the town. However, after 1914 there is understandably a blank in the record of the Associations’s activities, but it lasted, according to the Minute Books, until 1932.


On December 16th 1932 a dinner for 34 members and visitors was held at the Forester Arms. The Rev. C.S. Jackson was at this time Chairman, W.E. Price was Secretary and Treasurer and the Committee members were : J.T. Mear, J.H. Matthews, C.R. Jones, A.H. Dixon, T. Jones, W. Oakley, F.W. Davis, T. Marlow. J. Nicklin and W. Edge joined the Committee later on. Most, if not all, of these men will be remembered by many people in Broseley today. I imagine that with the Rector of Broseley in the chair a more tolerant attitude would be shown towards the kind of petty offences, which had so often been reported and punished in the past.


Newcomers to the town and district were not slow to join the Association. Doctors Tom and Sherlock Hoy became members in 1933 not long after their arrival here.


The Association’s accumulated funds were drawn on quite liberally over a period of years after 1934 in support of various institutions and charities. The Cricket Club benefited, the Horticultural Society also; a gift was made in aid of the local unemployed at Christmas in 1932, and a similar donation was contributed to a fund for men and women in the Forces at Christmas in 1940. In 1946 people who suffered loss and damage in the Severn floods were helped. More substantial grants were made in 1946 to the Broseley Church Tower Fund (£150) and to the Baptist, Congregational and Methodist Churches (£50 each).


On July 30th 1959 the Association’s affairs were wound up. Mr. Arthur Garbett and Mr. Will Oakley as Trustees arranged the final disbursement of money from the remaining funds. £20 in each case was given to Broseley Church, to the Methodist, Baptist and Congregational Churches and to Mrs. Boy’s Gymkhana Club, which was raising money for the Town Hall.


I am indebted to the late Ern. Harris who suggested that I should write this account and give a talk on the Broseley Association for the Prosecution of Felons; to Arthur Garbett for giving me initial guidance and for providing copies of correspondence; to Barrie Trinder ‘s splendid “Industrial Revolution in Shropshire” with its wealth of information on many aspects of this area a history; to Pigot’s and Bagahaw’s Directories; and to Randall’s still  fascinating “Broseley and its Surroundings “.