Broseley Anti-Felons


The Broseley Anti-Felons


    This article was originally published in the Wilkinson Journals 9 and 11 - 1981 and 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 Morris 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 Prestwick family were vintners. Early in the 19th century they left Broseley for London where their trade flourished. Joseph Prestwick 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 Prestwick 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 Rose 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. Pritchard succeeded Thomas Mytton as the Association’s solicitor at a meeting held on March 31st 1797. Pritchard 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. 






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