Crime and Punishment

A lot of rather unkind things have been written about lawyers, and anyone who has bought a house recently will probably have their own catalogue of complaints about the ponderous and bureaucratic processes for which the legal profession charges so much. On the credit side, however, legal processes tend to be very well documented and the law, both civil and criminal, has always been a rich source of material for the family historian. In this article, I will show some examples of such material as it relates to the Lin(d)field family history, concentrating on the criminal, rather than civil, proceedings.

The first case comes from The Times of 16 November 1883 and is an account of criminal proceedings against one William George LINVELL. The article reads as follows:

“At Warwick: William George Linvell, 31, clerk in the employment of the Post Office, pleaded “guilty” to having stolen two registered letters containing bank notes to the amount of 1500. It appeared that the prisoner was left as a clerk in charge of the post-office at Leamington on July 29 in the present year, and that he took this opportunity of stealing two registered letters containing 750 in banknotes in each and immediately absconded. He was arrested in London some time later in the month of September, and more than 500 of the money was found upon him. Between the time of his arrest and his committal by the magistrates he returned a further 595 to the Post Office authorities. The Hon. Chandos Leigh and Mr Casserley appeared for the prosecution, and Mr Hugo Young appeared for the prisoner. His Lordship sentenced the prisoner to ten years’ penal servitude, characterizing the case as a very bad one.”

We have very little information about William Linvell, and cannot yet say whether he descended from the Linvell or Linville family of Fletching, Sussex, whose descendants are now so plentiful in North America. We do know that William Linvell was married in Warwick in 1880, and from his age at the time of the trial we may deduce that he was born in about 1852.

Another criminal case which obviously attracted a great deal of attention at the time, concerned a lady called SPENCER LINDFIELD. She was a midwife who achieved a considerable notoriety in 1848 when she was charged in connection with the death of a woman called ELIZA WILSON. Spencer Lindfield was the widow of a WILLIAM LINDFIELD (Ref. 1)24 who was probably born about 1780. His occupation is shown as that of gardener, and they appear to have married on 2nd June 1819, in Newington St Mary. Her maiden name was SPENCER TAYLOR. William had died before 1848, as Spencer is described as a widow at the time of the trial.

On the baptism of their daughter Caroline in 1822, they are shown as living at Princes Place, Surrey Square. It is possible that William was the same person listed in 1839 as a builder & plasterer, at an address in Bloomsbury (Ref. 2). The only William death registered between 1837 and 1848 was at Ampthill, Bedfordshire in 1846; otherwise he is presumed to have died before 1837 when the records begin.

Their daughter, CAROLINE SPENCER LINDFIELD (Ref. 3) was born on 24th February 1822, and baptised on 3rd July of that year at Newington St Mary. We know nothing further of this daughter, the only possible reference being the burial of a Caroline LINFIELD in Billingshurst, West Sussex in 1910 (Ref. 4).

All the information we have on the criminal proceedings is taken from accounts in The Times newspaper. The tone of these articles tells us much about public attitudes of the time, and I have therefore included substantial quotations from them. The first reference is reported on 21st September 1848, though it would appear from the text of the report that the accused had been charged on the 18th:

LAMBETH. – Richard Orpin, a well-dressed middle-aged man, was placed at the bar before Mr NORTON on a charge of being concerned with two aged women, at present in custody, named Linfield and Dryden, in endangering the life of Eliza Wilson by inducing her to take steps to cause abortion. Mr. Robinson, the superintendent of the P or Camberwell division of police, deposed, that from a disclosure made to him by the young woman Wilson, to the effect that the prisoner was the father of a child of which she was pregnant, and that it was at his solicitation she had gone to the women Linfield and Dryden for the purpose of procuring abortion, he felt it to be his duty to have him taken into custody. Mr. Robinson added that the young woman Wilson had not only said that she had been urged by the prisoner to go to the two women before mentioned but that he gave her 2 10s. to pay Linfield.

The prisoner, in reply to the charge, admitted that he had been on terms of intimacy with the young woman, that she had stated to him that she was in the family way, and said that something must be done, and also asked him for 30s. to get some stuff. He, however, told her he would not have anything to do with it; and he had not seen her after that time. In reply to the questions of Mr Norton the prisoner said he was a carpenter by trade, but had been coachman to a gentleman, and his wife, with whom he lived, was a laundress at Norwood. Mr. NORTON remanded the prisoner to a future day.

The report continues:

At a later hour in the day William Linfield, a rough, singular-looking fellow was placed at the bar, on a charge of having been concerned with his mother, as she was described, in carrying on practices of a highly revolting, if not criminal character. In this case Mr Robinson stated that he had accompanied the two constables who had the case in hand to the house occupied by Linfield, one of the women charged before his worship on Monday last [18 September 1848], and there found the prisoner, her son. Under his direction the constables made a diligent search, and found a number of instruments, many of them resembling those used by surgeons, together with something resembling herb medicine, &c. From the discoveries that had been made, and the appearance of the place, he (Mr. Robinson) was induced to make inquiries in the neighbourhood and found that Linfield was not only in the habit of having “respectable” female “patients”, as she called them, in her house, but of being visited by a number of ladies dressed in the first style of fashion, many of whom drove in their carriages close to, but not quite to, the house. The object for which these parties visited the old woman he (Mr. Robinson) could not positively state, but he certainly had his own conjecture on the subject.

Police-constable Thomas Cannon, 59P, here placed on the table before the magistrate a box, from which he took a number of instruments; some of them of a very curious construction, and some of which, it is feared, have been used for very mischievous purposes. Mr. NORTON having looked carefully over them directed the. superintendent to have them examined by a surgeon, a surgical instrument maker, or some competent person, who might be able to speak to their intended uses at the next examination.

The prisoner, when asked what he had to say, replied, that the Superintendent was wrong in stating that Mrs Linfield was his mother, for, in point of fact, he (the prisoner) was not aware whether his mother or father were living and from all he could learn from Mrs Linfield, it appeared that it was the intention of his father and mother – or at least of the latter – as soon as he was born, to throw him into the Surrey Canal, but Mrs Linfield, who attended his mother during his birth, becoming acquainted with the fact, managed to get possession of him and brought him up as her son.

Mr Robinson thought it desirable to mention that the windows of the house were peculiarly adapted to deaden sound. There were solid boards so constructed as to be placed inside the windows or taken down at pleasure, and on going to the house on the day mentioned he found those belonging to a back room up. He also wished to state that the prisoner acknowledged to him that a great portion of the herbs in the shop were of a highly poisonous description, and that he told people who purchased them that they were so, but if they did not follow his directions it was not his fault. The prisoner further acknowledged that women were in the habit of coming to be confined at Mrs. Linfield’s, but said they came at the proper time. Mr. NORTON, in remanding the prisoner, remarked that the case was a most extraordinary and suspicious one.

The next report is the following day:

LAMBETH: William Linfield, Richard Orpin, Mary Ann Dryden, and Spencer Linfield, who have been before examined on the serious charge of endangering the life of a young woman named Eliza Wilson, by inducing her to take steps to procure abortion, were again placed at the bar before the Hon. G.C.Norton. Mr. Games attended on behalf of the female Spencer Linfield and the young man William Linfield, who had been described [sic] as her son, but who denied the claim to the character of mother. The evidence taken on the former examination having been read over, the declaration of the young woman Eliza Wilson, taken in the presence of Mr Samuel Elyard, a county magistrate, was handed in by that gentleman, who occupied a seat on the bench. It was as follows:-

“I am in my 32nd year, and having had criminal connection with Richard Orpin, and suspecting myself in the family way, I mentioned my suspicions to him. He replied, ‘Stop till Monday, and we will go together to a woman in East Lane, Walworth and that I need not trouble myself for three or four months. He went with me on Monday, the 4th of September, to East-lane, but we could not find out the woman, and on the following day I went by myself, but did not succeed in finding her. I saw Mrs. Dryden, who resides in York-street, Walworth, to whom I mentioned that I was in the family way, and informed her I wished to get rid of it. She said it would be all right if I would pay her 4s., which I gave her. She then gave me a box of pills and a bottle of stuff, which did not have the expected effect. Mrs. Dryden then went with me on the Wednesday to Mrs. Linfield’s, in Prior-place, East-lane, Walworth, a herb-shop. Mrs. Dryden said, I have got a friend of mine come to see you. Mrs Linfield, without asking any questions, said, I will take her upstairs directly, and shortly after did so, and told me to lay on the bed on my left side. I did so, and she then performed an operation with some instrument. I went again on the 9th, and she used the instrument again, ………. I slept there that night, and paid Mrs. Linfield 2 10s. on the first day, and she gave Mrs. Dryden a few shillings for taken me there. I went to Mrs Linfield’s again on the 11th, when she again used the instrument, and when I returned home I was very ill. I told Mrs. Linfield that my father thought I was ill, and she said, ‘Nonsense. you are all right.’ Richard Orpin promised to pay the 2 10s., but has not done so. The young man called Mrs. Lindfield’s son was present on each occasion I went, and was perfectly aware of the business which I was on.

The following certificate from Mr. Chapman, the medical gentleman who is in attendance on the unfortunate young woman, was also put in, and Mr. Elyard, the magistrate, remarked that before taking her statement the young woman had expressed to him her belief that she would not recover:-

“This is to certify that Eliza Wilson is in a precarious state, and I fear rapidly sinking.

Norwood, Sept. 21. W. CHAPMAN, surgeon”

In reply to a question from the magistrate, Mr. Robinson the superintendent of the Walworth division of police, and who is taking much pains in assisting in the investigation of this singular and highly suspicious case, said there were some of the neighbours of Mrs. Linfield’s in attendance whom he wished to have examined. Mrs Elizabeth Baker, the wife of a baker, here got into the witness-box and stated she resided next door to the house of Mrs Linfield that she had seen a number of women brought to the prisoner’s house in the family-way, and all, or at least the great majority of them, left in about a fortnight. They generally came in cabs, and were taken away in similar vehicles; some of them by gentlemen.

Mr Norton – Have you noticed that some of the females were more advanced in pregnancy than the others?

Witness. – I have, Sir.

Mr Norton – And yet you say that all left there in about a fortnight?

Witness – Yes, Sir, that was about the time.

Mr Norton – Have you noticed that infants have been taken from there?

Witness -. No, Sir, I never saw a single baby removed from the house.

(This answer produced a considerable sensation amongst the crowd in the court.)

Mr Norton – Did you not observe any of those numerous women take away their infants with them?

Witness – Not one of them, Sir. As I have said before, I never saw a baby removed from Mrs Linfield’s.

In her cross-examination by Mr. Games, the witness acknowledged that she had known Linfield for many years, and that she had once attended herself in her confinement, when she acquitted herself with skill and judgment. She (witness) was not aware that Mrs. Linfield was a parish midwife, but believed she was engaged as such by some charitable institution. She did not think it likely that women who went to the house to be confined privately and conceal their shame from their friends were 1ikely to take their offspring home with them, nor did she sit up all night to see whether the infants were removed then or not. In conclusion, the witness said, that she was not singular in her remarks, for that many of the neighbours thought it strange and suspicious while women were evidently confined there, no infants should be seen.

Mr. J. Clark, a tea-dealer, also residing next door to the prisoner Linfield, corroborated the testimony of the last witness as to having frequently seen women in a state of pregnancy brought to the prisoner’s house, and leave there in a few weeks, but he did not take particular notice as to time. He had observed women at the back windows of the house while he was in the garden, but had never seen any infants, or heard their cries. For some considerable time himself and his family were annoyed by a nuisance of an intolerable description, and having strong suspicions as to the cause, he had a drain which led from the cesspool in the prisoner’s garden, and passed under his kitchen opened expecting to find something improper there, but did not find anything of the description he anticipated. He had a grating placed in the drain so as to prevent any substance passing through it, and since then the stench, as of putrid matter, was not so bad. Another neighbour, a cow-keeper, described the effluvium arising from Mrs. Linfield’s premises, and which he said was not of an ordinary description, but appeared to him to be occasioned by the decomposition of some putrid matter, and was most intolerable.

The next and last witness was the brother of the unfortunate who said that he took a letter from his sister to Linfield on that day week, when that person told him she was merely treating his sister for a liver complaint. The prisoner, who declined saying anything, was again remanded, and Mr Norton gave particular directions that the house, garden, and premises of Linfield should be strictly examined.

Mr Robinson, in reply to a question from Mr. Norton, said he had placed the instruments found at the house of Linfield before Mr Flower, the divisional surgeon, and that gentleman informed him that they were such as might be found with a midwife; but still, that in unskilful or improper hands a very dangerous and fatal use might be made of them.


The story continues in an article dated 25th September:

After the night charges had been disposed of Richard Orpin, William Linfield, Spencer Linfield, and Mary Ann Dryden, who have been in custody for some days, were placed at the bar before the Hon. G. C. NORTON, on the serious charge of having caused the death of Eliza Wilson. Mr. Superintendent Robinson, addressing the magistrate, said, that from circumstances that came to his knowledge
he did not think it expedient at present to offer further evidence, but would request that the prisoners might be remanded to a future day. The unfortunate young woman was now dead, and the coroner had been written to hold an inquest. He also said that the premises belonging to both the female prisoners had been thoroughly searched, but nothing of a suspicious character had been discovered. He had, however, caused an extract to be taken from the books at the station of the number of bodies of infants found in the neighbourhood, and the result of the coroner’s inquest upon each: and that extract he begged to place before his worship.
There followed a list of some six cases where bodies of new-born infants had been found and where verdicts of murder had been returned against persons unknown.

Mr. NORTON, on reading over the list, remarked that these things were highly suspicious, and the prisoners were remanded as requested. Mr. Games, who appeared on behalf of Mrs. Linfield and William Linfield, applied to have the latter admitted to bail ; but Mr. NORTON refused the application, observing that the case had, since the last examination, assumed a more serious character, and he could not therefore take bail.


From The Times report of 7th October, it appears that a verdict of murder had been returned by the jury on the previous day:

LAMBETH. Yesterday, after the night charges had been disposed of, Spencer Lindfield (against whom a jury on the preceding day had recorded a verdict of “wilful murder”, in having caused the death of Eliza Wilson) Mary Ann Dryden and Richard Orpin, who also stand charged on the coroner’s inquisition with being accessories before the fact, and also William Lindfield, the reputed son of the first prisoner, were again placed at the bar before Mr. NORTON for further examination. The Court was crowded to excess, and during the investigation several county magistrates occupied seats on the bench.

Mr. Robinson, the superintendent of the P. division of police, said, that the greatest possible difficulty was experienced in obtaining any information relative to the female prisoners, particularly amongst sextons, gravediggers, and persons of that class, from their having been so intimately mixed up with them, and the dread on the part of those people that any information they might give would revert on themselves. Since the last examination he had received anonymous communications, which led to an inquiry touching two women – one who had been a servant near St George’s Church, in the Borough, who was traced to the house of Mrs Lindfield in a state of pregnancy, but from the time she went there no further intelligence could be discovered of herself or her child. Another young woman, who was in a state of pregnancy, and who had received some medicine from Mrs Lindfield, died. There was an inquest on the body, and in the absence of proof that Mrs Lindfield had given the medicine herself, or any one procuring it for the unfortunate deceased, the coroner and jury were unable to establish any charge. Mr Games protested against such statements as those just made being received, as they were calculated to create a most unfavourable prejudice against his client.

Mr. Robinson observed that he had been directed to make a diligent inquiry into the matter, and he felt it to be his duty to state to the magistrate the result of his inquiries. He would only state, in addition to what he had already stated, that there was a person in court who had been in the habit of supplying Mrs Lindfield with small shells and boxes, and he would be able to state the number of shells for infants he had so supplied.

Mr NORTON thought the best course would be to take the evidence as far as it went, and (as the sessions at the Old Bailey would not be for some time) remand the prisoners to a future day, to give Mr. Robinson and his officers time to pursue their inquiries.

Mr Games said that as the three prisoners, Mrs. Lindfield, Dryden, and Orpin, would have to take their trial on the coroner’s inquisition, he could have no objection to this course with respect to them: but with respect to the fourth prisoner, William LindfieId, he should apply for his release on bail as soon as the examination was over. The evidence of Dr. Flower, divisional surgeon of police, was then taken as to the deleterious nature of the herbs found in the houses of the prisoners; after whom Henry Wheeler, the gravedigger to the parish of Newington, was called and deposed that he knew the prisoner, Mrs Dryden, very well. She had repeatedly come to the churchyard with stillborn children, and on those occasions she produced certificates signed by Mrs. Lindfield. as the midwife who had attended the mothers of the children.

In reply to the questions of the magistrate the witness said, that on such occasions the certificate of the midwife was considered necessary, and there was no account kept, as there was no necessity for registration or religious ceremonial over the body, which was buried as a matter of course. The certificates were given to the sexton, but he did not know whether he preserved them or not. Mr Norton directed that the sexton, and all other persons who could speak as to the number of stillborn children sent for burial by the prisoners, should be in attendance at the next examination, as this part of the enquiry would be very important. The prisoners were then remanded.


A further report appeared on 7th October:

LAMBETH. Yesterday being appointed for the further, and, it was supposed, the final examination of Mrs Lindfield and others, charged on the coroner’s warrant, with having caused the death of Eliza Wilson, the court was crowded to excess. When the case was called on, however, Mr NORTON was informed that the prisoner, Mrs Dryden, was so seriously ill at Horsemonger-lane gaol as to be unable to undergo an examination, or indeed being removed from that prison, for the present, and under the circumstances, the magistrate remanded the prisoners to a future day.

Mr Games applied for the liberation of the prisoner, William Lindfield, on bail. His Worship, he said, had consented, on the last examination, to admit that person to bail in two sums of 50 each, but he could not find persons to undertake for so large an amount, and he, therefore, hoped his Worship would lessen the amount.

Mr. NORTON consented to reduce the sum to 20 each, which was the lowest sum he could think of. The prisoners were then remanded.


The story continues on 20th October:

LAMBETH. – Spencer Lindfield, William Lindfield, Mary Ann Dryden, and Richard Orpin, who have been in custody for some weeks on a charge of having caused the death of Eliza Wilson, were placed at the bar, before Mr Norton, for final examination. Mr Norton remarked that, as respected the second prisoner, he did not think the evidence against him sufficiently strong, and should therefore discharge him. Mrs Lindfield, on hearing this, dropped to her knees in the dock, and prayed audibly for some minutes, when she was removed by the gaoler; she, as well as Dryden and Orpin, having been fully committed for trial.


The last contemporary reference to the trial we have so far collected is from The Times of 31 October, by which time the case had moved to the Old Bailey:

CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT OCT 30 (Before Mr Justice Mauls) – Spencer Lindfield, 66, widow and Mary Anne Dryden, were indicted as principals for the murder of Eliza Wilson, by using an instrument for the purpose of procuring an abortion, and Richard Orpin, 35, carpenter, was indicted as an accessory before the fact.


We have no further accounts as yet, which would tell us the outcome of the case, though it would appear that she was acquitted. We have the text of an article from The Times of 26th April 1852, which refers to a Mrs Elizabeth Linfield, and refers to the proceedings of about five years previously:

LAMBETH.- Yesterday Mrs Elizabeth Linfield, a singular looking old woman, who about five years ago acquired considerable notoriety by her commitment from this court on a charge of wilful murder in having caused the death of a respectable young woman by using instruments to cause abortion, but who was acquitted at the Old Bailey, applied to the Hon Mr Norton for protection against a young man whom she had brought up from infancy, and whom she had always treated as her son.


The article goes on to describe how William Linfield, the adopted son whom she had saved from being drowned at birth, had been subject to fits and also had violent attacks of cholera. This, she said, had so impaired his mind that he had more than once attempted suicide. Latterly, she claimed, his violence had turned against her and he had attempted to cut her throat. She feared that if he caught her alone he would carry out his threats and murder her. She claimed that the real name of the son was Davis, though he had always gone by the name of William Linfield.

Mr Norton thought “that the case was one which the officers of the parish of Newington should take cognizance of, and directed one of the summoning officers to accompany the applicant to Newington workhouse and request one of the relieving officers to attend to it.”

As to the eventual outcome of this sequel to the story, we have no further information except that a SPENCER LINDFIELD is shown as having died in the final quarter of 1857 at Newington, London. It would be interesting to obtain the death certificate so that we can see whether she died from natural causes or at the hands of her ungrateful adopted son.

No doubt we shall find more criminal cases involving the Lin(d)field surnames, as we gather more and more material in the archives. We know of at least two murders committed by people called Lin(d)field in relatively recent times; one, that at Monks Gate in 1810 was described in an earlier issue of LONGSHOT (Ref. 5). We have references to other cases involving less serious offences which might be worthy of further research.

In a future article, we hope to describe some of the more interesting civil litigation in which our ancestors have featured, whether as plaintiff, defendant or indeed as lawyers. If any of our readers would like to write or research such an article, I would be pleased to hear from them.


1. #1592 in database

2. Pigotts Directory of London, 1839; see #13785 in database.

3. #1594 in database

4. see #486

5. LONGSHOT vol 3 no 2.

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