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1801: William Cox and the burning hovel

by janet on 15 January 2012 · 1 comment

1801: William Cox and the burning hovel

From Walkern Local History Notes by H & M Venster

Here is the story of a hovel, (a conical heap) of wheat as recounted at Hertford Assizes on July 20th, 1801.

William Cox was indicted on the statute commonly called the Black Act, for feloniously, voluntarily, and maliciously setting fire to a hovel of wheat the property of James Hilton of Walkern.

The evidence produced that the prisoner had formerly been prosecuted by the prosecutor for stealing straw, in consequence of which, he had been heard to vow vengeance against him. On the night the hovel was burnt, and just before the flames burst out, the prisoner was seen near it. He discouraged those who were inclined to go and extinguish the flames saying : “Let it burn down”. He lived within 150 yards of the hovel. In his defence he protested his innocence. The jury pronounced him GUILTY: but in consideration of the extreme sufferings of his wife and children, who appeared in Court at the time, agonizing every breast capable of feeling for distress, they ventured to recommend the prisoner to mercy.

Mr Justice Gross lamented that the crime of which the Prisoner had been found guilty, should be so strongly marked with ingratitude and wickedness, as to render the humane suggestions of the Jury, and those of his own heart, fruitless and abortive, as there was a duty which he owed the public justice paramount to individual feeling, and which demanded the forfeited life of the prisoner; a duty which compelled him instantly to pronounce the dreadful sentence the Law had armed him with, which, if he neglected, he said, he should consider himself as accessory to the crime the prisoner had committed. His Lordship then addressed the Prisoner as to the nature and magnitude of his offence, and to the extreme depravity and viciousness which had urged him to it; lamented there should be found a human being so lost, so inhuman to his fellow-men, as wantonly and maliciously to destroy the means of sustenance which Providence had so benignly blessed us with for our support, especially at a time when the community were suffering under considerable privations from the effects of seasons, which the country had not yet recovered from that it was a crime of the blackest dye, from the punishment of which the Prisoner could entertain not the smallest hopes; therefore conjured him, the short time he had to live and breathe in this world, that he would employ that in fervently praying for that mercy in another world, which the enormity of his offences had prevented him from receiving in this.

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Roger Seymour July 12, 2017 at 3:57 am

I am researching a Cox family and have come across a William Cox born 1750 in Walkern and who died about 1801-1802. Is this the William Cox who burnt the hovel in 1801? What was his sentence for this crime? It seems as though it was to be the severest! Any information would be helpful.


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