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My local Lincolnshire Poacher

The village I live in is very small. When I was researching for my MSc project on poachers in

Lincolnshire I knew the odds were small for finding a poacher from my village. But there was one. James Chessman was born in West Torrington, he was baptised in the church on 20 December 1814.[1]

In 1841, James was living with his parents in West Torrington and working at a ratcatcher.[2]

Photograph of ratcatcher

On 24 January 1849 James married Mary Gilbert at West Torrington church.[3] In 1851 James and his wife Mary were living in West Torrington, they had 3 children James Ogel (aged 9), Mary (aged 6) and James (aged 1).[4] It seemed strange that there were 2 children called James. Then I noticed how much younger Mary was than James. She would only have been around 11 when James Ogel Chesman was born in 1842. His birth was registered in the Caistor Registration District in the name of James Ogle.[5] It seems possible that he is James’ illegitimate child. In later years, he dropped the Ogle and went simply by Chessman. Their daughter Mary was baptised at West Torrington on 12 January 1845.[6]

On 26 September 1859 James Chesman Snr was committed to Louth prison to served 2 months hard labour for night poaching.[7] One volume of Louth prison register is on Findmypast and it is a great source. Full of information as you can see from the illustration below.

Louth Prison Register

By 1861 the family had moved to Market Rasen and were living on Nash’s Row. 11 year old James, Maria who was 5 and 4 year old George.[8] On 11 July 1862, the Lincolnshire Chronicle reported that James was brought before the Spilsby Petty Sessions charged with stealing a sheep. He pleaded guilty on the grounds of poverty but the court rejected that because the man who he had stolen the sheep from had only recently paid him 26 shillings. He was sentenced to 18 months hard labour at Spilsby Prison.[9] In 1871 James and Mary, with their son George, were living on Walesby Road in Middle Rasen. James and George were both agricultural labourers.[10] In 1875, John was caught up in the prosecution of notorious local poacher, John ‘Curley’ Guest who, when caught with a rabbit claimed that Chessman had given it to him. On Chessman testifying that this was true, the case was dismissed.[11] In 1881 James and Mary were still living in Middle Rasen and James was, once again, a ratcatcher.[12] On 18 August 1885 James was caught trespassing in pursuit of game at Linwood. He was fined 18 shillings and 6 pence at Market Rasen Petty Sessions on 7 September.[13] On 12 April 1887 he was again caught looking for game, although he said in court that he had been looking for watercress. He was fined £2 1s.[14] In 1891 the family were living at 38 Fraser Street, Clee. James was a labourer.[15] They had their daughter Maria and her husband George Porteous living with them.

Photograph of cemetery
Chessman's grave site

James died on 16 March 1893 and was buried on the 19th in Scartho Road cemetery in Grimsby.[16] There is no headstone but thanks to the burial register on Findmypast that includes the grave reference we were able to work out the rough location of the grave,

How typical was James as a Lincolnshire poacher? James was caught poaching aged 45 in 1859 in Market Rasen and aged 71 when he was caught in 1885 in Linwood. This made him quite an unusual poacher in the county where 40% of the poachers I identified in my dissertation were in their twenties. However the youngest poacher was 10 and the oldest was 85. It was unlikely that James suddenly started poaching at 45, he was just unlucky enough to be caught then. He was a married man, this was typical of poachers in Lincolnshire who were much more likely to be married than single. At the time he was poaching in Market Rasen in 1859 there was a great deal of poaching going on in the area. In 1885 there was much less poaching going on around Market Rasen with the greatest concentration happening in the south of the county.


[1] Baptisms (PR) England. West Torrington, Lincolnshire. 20 December 1814. CHESMAN, James. Collection: England & Wales, Christening Index, 1530-1980. accessed 22 October 2020 [2] Census records. England. West Torrington, Lincolnshire. 6 June 1841. CHESMAN, John [Head]. Class: HO107; Piece: 647; Book: 6; Enumeration District: 2; Folio: 5; Page: 5; Line: 10. accessed 21 October 2020. [3] Marriages (PR) England. West Torrington, Lincolnshire. 24 January 1849. CHESMAN, James. England & Wales Marriages, 1538-1988. accessed 21 October 2020 [4] Census records. England. West Torrington, Lincolnshire. 30 March 1851. CHESMAN, James. Class: HO107; Piece: 2107; Page: 1. accessed 21 October 2020 [5] Births (CR) Index. England, Caistor Registration District. 1st Quarter. OGLE, James. Vol 14, Page 292. accessed 21 October 2020 [6] Baptisms (PR) England. West Torrington, Lincolnshire. 12 January 1845. CHESSMAN, Mary. Collection: England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. accessed 22 October 2020 [7] Louth Prison. Nominal Register of Prisoners. CHESSMAN, James. 26 September 1859. Series: PCOM 2 Piece 342. National Archives (Great Britain), Kew, England. Collection: England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935. accessed 22 October 2020. [8] Census records. England. Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. 7 April 1861. CHESSMAN, James. Class: RG 9; Piece: 2394; Folio: 15; Page: 24. accessed 22 October 2020 [9] Lincolnshire Chronicle (1862) Stealing a Sheep at Linwood Lincolnshire Chronicle. 11 July. p6d. British Newspaper Archive. accessed 19 October 2020. [10] Census records. England. Middle Rasen, Lincolnshire. 2 April 1871. CHESSMAN, James. Class: RG10; Piece: 3423; Folio: 74; Page: 4. accessed 22 October 2020. [11] Lincolnshire Chronicle (1875) Market Rasen Petty Sessions. Lincolnshire Chronicle. 22 January. P8b. British Newspaper Archive. accessed 19 October 2020. [12] Census records. England. Middle Rasen, Lincolnshire. 3 April 1881. CHESSMAN, James. Class: RG11; Piece: 3281; Folio: 75; Page: 13. accessed 22 October 2020 [13] Stamford Mercury (1885) Market Rasen Petty Sessions. Stamford Mercury. 11 September. P4a. British Newspaper Archive. accessed 19 October 2020. [14] Lincolnshire Chronicle (1887) Linwood. Lincolnshire Chronicle. 22 April. P7c. British Newspaper Archive. accessed 19 October 2020. [15] Census records. England. Lincolnshire, Clee. 5 April 1891. CHESSMAN, James. Class: RG11; Piece: 3281; Folio: 75; Page: 13. accessed 22 October 2020 [16] Burials (PR) England. Lincolnshire, Grimsby, Scartho Road Cemetery. 19 March 1893. CHESSMAN, James. Collection: Lincolnshire Burials. accessed 22 October 2020

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