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Old Bailey : John and George Bird 1820

I should start by saying that I am in no way related to the two brothers in this story but was attracted to them purely by the fact their surname was Bird and that their first names were George and John, as were many in my tree.

I have read the transcript from the trial at The Old Bailey which took place on 17th February 1820.  I have also looked at various newspaper articles between then and their execution eight weeks later on 19th April. What follows is my interpretation of how things panned out.

John and George Bird were already known by police to be connected to a notorious gang of local thieves long before burglars broke into the house of William Wyllie in Fulham about midnight on 29th January 1820, which coincidently was the night King George the third died.  After forcing entry through a wooden shutter, the burglars entered the house and stole various items :

six spoons, value 10 s.; three candlesticks, value 25 s.; three pair of snuffers, value 4 s.; one extinguisher, value 2 s.; one snuffer-tray, value 5 s.; one pair of sugar-tongs, value 5 s.; one sugar-bason, value 5 s.; two pair of nut-crackers, value 5 s.; four salts, value 3 s.; two decanters, value 5 s.; two miniature paintings, value 5 s., and one table-cloth, value 3 s.


A total of goods with a value of 3 16s.  There are different ways to measure the value of old money, but it was probably somewhere between 500 - 1,000 worth in today's terms. 

The Court was shown a crow bar which had a particular shape which could apparently be matched to items damaged during the burglary. The Court was also told that a chisel and a centre bit had been used to make a number of holes in the wooden shutter on the window to enable the forced entry.  

GEORGE & ALFRED POPLE, brothers and both policemen, initially apprehended the Bird brothers in The Bell Public House in Westminster.  They both went to John Bird's lodgings and found an iron chisel behind a table.  George Pople sent his brother to search George Bird's lodgings and he found a crow bar in a cupboard.  The point was broken at one end.  The following day George Pople decided his brother may have missed something when searching George's lodgings the previous day, so went back to look himself.  This time he found a centre bit in a table drawer.  He then revisited John Bird's lodgings and discovered a pair of steel snuffers which were hanging on a nail and which were not in sight the night before.  He then returned to the burgled property in Fulham and was able to show that the crow bar was the exact shape as the one used during the burglary but found the holes in the shutter and sideboard were "rather larger than the instrument" (the centre bit).  The chisel fitted the marks on the shutter.

WILLIAM WYLLIE identified the steel snuffers and had no doubt they were the one's stolen.

Evidence was given from the prosecution that both brothers had been in The Bull Public House on that evening.  One witness, THOMAS CORDWELL, claimed they told him "they were going on a crack" and showed him a chisel and a crow bar with the end broken off.  JAMES LEDSHAM, the publican, verified that the brothers had been drinking there that evening and that he had even had a drink with them.

 

ROBERT GILLINGHAM said he saw the two brothers walking towards the property which was to be burgled at half past eleven.

George Bird's defence was that he wasn't at The Bull but was at The Wheatsheaf Public House from eight o'clock in the evening until twenty past midnight and couldn't possibly have carried out the offence. THOMAS HUISH who recognised George by sight verified that George was certainly there until half past eleven and he remembered the night as being when the King had died. 

 

FRANK MITCHAM said he and George came out of the pub about midnight together.  He was questioned at length on his memory of this and was not broken down by the cross examination.

The publican of The Wheatsheaf, WILLIAM ILET, remembered George being there that night but couldn't verify at what time he had left. He said George had some oysters and was on a table with him, another man and six members of the 2nd Regiment of Guards. He also remembered an incident earlier that evening involving George :

There was a poor man, who was discharged from the Guards, came in with pies to sell about a quarter before nine o'clock, and a person for mischief knocked his tins over, and about sixpenny worth of his pies were thrown down. There was a subscription to defray the expense, and the prisoner, George, subscribed 2d. I think Mitcham was there.

Q. How should you know Bird was there any more than Mitcham - A. It was partly the prisoner's fault that the pies were kicked down. I was very much displeased at it, and spoke crossly to Bird about it.


HENRY COLLWELL said he had been mending a pair of boots for the landlord of the Wheatsheaf that day which he had collected at four o'clock.  He said he went back at eight o'clock and saw George Bird there.  He stayed drinking in the pub until eleven o'clock and sat on the seat opposite George. He couldn't say when George left, only that he was definitely there at eight o'clock.

THOMAS BENTLEY sells oysters in the Wheatsheaf about six times every day. He confirmed George "in the smock-frock" bought some oysters from him on the last Saturday in January.  He said George was there at five and six o'clock and still there at eleven o'clock. 


John Bird's defence seems to have consisted around whether the snuffers found at the house he was staying were those stolen in the burglary.   

ELIZA JACKSON was living at the lodgings where the snuffers were discovered.  She said John Bird visited occasionally.  She claimed the snuffers were hers and they were given to her two years ago by a young man named Cooper who is "gone out of the country" (transported). She said they were plain steel snuffers, about six inches long, and always kept hung on a nail in the room and she never used them. She said they were there when the police first searched the room in plain view.  She said she had borrowed the chisel to mend her bedstead.  "I am an unfortunate girl", she added.

ANN ALLEN  verified that the snuffers had belonged to Eliza since April and claimed she was in the room when Cooper gave them to her.  She said she had cleaned them herself but said they had only been used once or twice.

J. BIRD - GUILTY . - DEATH . Aged 26.

G. BIRD - GUILTY . - DEATH . Aged 20.


First Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Common Sergeant


Newspaper reports leading up to their execution



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