The Crimes of Walter Virgo and the “Blakeney Gang”

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Subjects: Commons, Customary Rights & Enclosures, Social Crime
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In the Forest of Dean towards the end of the nineteenth century the ‘Blakeney Outrages’ of the 1890s led to Walter Virgo and the “Blakeney Gang” being accused of acts of poisoning, maiming, stealing, poaching, midnight raids, dynamiting, arson and murder. However, their story cannot be understood without placing their actions in the historical context of the struggle for the customary right to common which in the past involved the use of direct action and political violence.

A consideration of some of the court records for the period 1870 -1900 in the Blakeney area reveal a regular pattern of young men being hauled before the courts for poaching offences and other ‘petty crimes’. Most of the men in the table below were employed in the mines or quarries and some are repeat offenders and would become associated with the ‘Blakeney Gang’. These include the Virgos, Henry Davies (Taffy) and his sons  Edmund, Evan and Harvey, James James (Sheepskin), Joseph James, Walter Willetts, Sydney Willetts, Henry Stephens, James Davies, George Vaughan, William Norris, John Charles, F Griffin,  Daniel Davies, Sydney Edmunds, Edward Roberts, Samuel Turley, William Hewlett, William Windows, George Davies, Stephen Beard, David Beach and Frank Charles.

Most were committing minor offences and hardly reveal the existence of an organised criminal network. An analysis of the table reveals that the majority of these ‘petty crimes’ reflect attempts to assert customary rights such as poaching, stealing wood, breaking down fences, etc. When conflict occurred it was mainly with those in authority who were attempting to challenge the assertion of rights such as the police, gamekeepers and bailiffs.

To find out more about Walter Virgo and the “Blakeney Gang” read Ian Wright’s pamphlet:

blakeney pamphlet frontblakeney-pamphlet-back

Please note that in a number of cases there are incomplete records.

Date Name Offence Verdict Penalty
11 Sept 1869 Walter Virgo Assault Guilty One month in prison
25 Jul 1874 Henry Virgo,
Walter Virgo,
Samuel Virgo,
Alfred Levis,
William and John Wickenden
Riot and Assault of Bailiff Not Guilty
14 Oct 1874 Henry Virgo,
Walter Virgo,Joseph Virgo,
Samuel Virgo
Breaking down a fence belonging to railway Co. Guilty Fined 5s each plus costs
27 May 1880 Walter Virgo Theft of sheep Guilty Six months prison
10 Jan 1885 Walter Virgo,
William Vaughan,
Arthur Davis,
John Newman
Allowing pigs to stray Guilty Fined 4s each plus 7s 5p costs
28 Nov 1885 Walter Virgo
Samuel Turley
Drunk and disorderly Guilty Fined 5s each plus costs
12 Feb 1887 Walter Virgo Stealing Wood from the Forest Guilty
13 Apr 1889 Walter Virgo Stealing a ewe and fencing Guilty Bail and committed to the Assizes and fined 5s for fence
8 July 1889 Walter Virgo Stealing a ewe Not Guilty
11 Jan 1890 William Hewlett
William Windows
Poaching in Wensbury Wood Guilty (Hewlett) 16 days in prison
22 Nov 1890 Walter Virgo,
Charles Virgo,
James Davies
Refusing to leave the Travellers Rest and being quarrelsome Guilty Each defendant fined 5 shillings plus costs or 5 days prison
8 Aug 1891 Henry Davies Offence under the public house act for overcrowded house Guilty 14 days notice to abate
1 Jan 1892 Henry Davies,
Edmund Davies,
Daniel Davies
Theft of Turkeys Committed for trial at
quarter sessions
Henry and Daniel Davis imprisoned for two months
25 June 1892 John and Aaron Virgo Feloniously killing a donkey by driving into a quarry Committed for trial at next quarter Committed to quarter sessions and then acquitted
25 June 1892 James Virgo Assault Guilty 10s fine plus costs
6 Aug 1892 Henry Davis,
Harvey Davis,
Thomas Beddis,
John Smallwood,
George Golding
Affray, Drunk and disorderly Not Guilty, Guilty (Beddis, Smallwood and Golding) Fined 5s plus costs each
6 Aug 1892 Henry Davis,
Harvey Davis
Drunk and disorderly Guilty
22 June 1893 Henry Harris
(employee of
Lord Fitzharding’s Fishery)
Assault on Edmund Davis Guilty Fined 5 shillings and 12 shillings cost
26 Oct 1893 Walter Willetts,
Henry Stephens
Poaching on Lydney Park Estate Guilty Fined 10 shillings plus 10 shillings cost
26 Oct 1893 Henry Davis,
Edmund Davis,
F Griffin
Poaching unseasonable salmon Not Guilty
26 Oct 1893 Edward Roberts Poaching on Black Rock Farm Guilty Fined 5s plus 9s 6d costs
18 Mar 1893 John Virgo Theft of two wicker baskets Guilty Fined 10s plus costs
2 May 1894 Evan Davies Wilful perjury – accused gamekeeper of shooting his dog Bound over to the sum
of £50 and Referred to Assizes
16 June 1894 Walter Virgo,
John Virgo
Carrying a gun without a license Guilty Both fined 5s plus costs
28 Jun 1894 Henry Davis Assault on gamekeeper and his wife at Lydney Park Estate Guilty Two months prison plus 5s fine
28 Jun 1894 Sidney Edmunds Trespass on Lydney Park Estate
13 Jul 1894 William Bodenham Poaching Guilty Fined 5 s plus costs
16 Nov 1894 James Davis,
George Vaughan
Poaching Guilty Fined 1 pound each plus costs of 24s and 16s
22 Dec 1894 Henry Davies Theft of Holly Bail ?
4 May 1895 Moses Virgo,
Aaron Virgo,
Evan Davies
Assaulting a police officer Guilty Moses and Aaron sent to prison for 1 month and Davies fined 10s plus costs
30 Dec 1899 Henry Davis,
Harvey Davis,
Evan Davis
Poaching Salmon from River Severn Guilty
21 Sept 1895 Henry Davis,
Harvey Davis,
Evan Davis
Poaching Unseasonable Salmon from River Severn Guilty Fined £5 pounds 10s each plus costs of 10s
16 Nov 1895 Moses Virgo,
Joseph James
Poaching on property of R J Kerr Guilty Virgo 3 months prison James 1 month prison
22 Nov 1895 James James Poaching on property of R J Kerr Guilty 3 months prison and bound over for 6 months hard labour
18 Apr 1896 Moses and Albert Virgo Theft of a chicken Committed for trial at next quarter Acquitted
2 Jan 1897 Harvey Davis,
James Davis,
Sidney Willets,
Stephen Beard,
Moses Virgo
Refusing to quit the Cock Inn Guilty except James Davis Bound over for £5 plus costs 10s
13 Apr 1897 Edward Virgo Stealing a tame rabbit Remanded on bail
13 Apr 1898 George Davies,
Sarah Davies
Assaulting a police officer Guilty George Davies 3 months hard labour. Sarah Davies remanded with friends or to be sent to workhouse
24 Sept 1898 Edward Bent Poaching Guilty Fined 20s plus costs
6 Oct 1898 Sidney Edmunds,
David Beach,
Frank Charles
Theft of tame rabbits and assaulting a police officer Committed for trial at next quarter Acquitted of theft. Guilty of common assault. Edmunds 6 months prison. Beach and Charles 4 months in prison
7 Feb 1899 Moses Virgo Blowing up the house of Henry Davis with dynamite Not Guilty
15 Jul 1999 Moses Virgo Drunk and disorderly while in charge of a horse and falling off horse Guilty Fined 5s plus 16s cots
23 Nov 1899 William Norris,
John Charles
Poaching at Lydney Park and assaulting a police officer Guilty Fined £3 each plus costs of 10s and Norris fined 28s for assault
30 Dec 1899 Walter Virgo Poaching fish in the river Severn Guilty Fined £3 Is plus £11 6p costs
16 June 1900 Walter Virgo Allowing horse to stray Guilty Fined 2s plus costs

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