Thomas Harrison, bargeman of Sudbury

Barge Below Flatford Lock, John Constable

A Terror to the Town and Neighbourhood in early 19th century Sudbury

The story of Jingles Harris appears in Allan W Berry’s ‘Suffolk County Town: A Sudbury Miscellany’. It is very likely that Jingles Harris was Thomas Harrison who was admitted to the Freedom of Sudbury on June 16th, 1790.

The Ipswich Journal, March 9th, 1811, page 4 of 4

“The conversation of Sudbury and the neighbourhood has for some time turned very much upon a man who has for several years set the justice of the country at defiance. The man, whose real name is Thomas Harrison, but who has long been known by the appellation of Jingles Harris, worked for many years as a bargeman upon the river Stour: in this capacity he obtained the character of a shrewd active fellow.

After he quitted this employment, he lived without any means of support, yet he had always money at command, and made himself a great favourite with people of his own walk in life, by treating them in public-houses. Depredations to a considerable extent have for several years been committed in the night, such as stealing grain of different descriptions out of barns. Barley, in particular, has been stolen, and afterwards privately malted, and then sold at a price scarcely amounting to the duty.

He had a cart and 3 horses, which were seldom employed but in the night. In 1806 he was concerned with one French in stealing peas. French was taken up on suspicion, and he absconded, but having received information that French had been tried and acquitted, he returned to Sudbury. From that time till the latter end of last year he remained in that neighbourhood, eluding the vigilance of the police, and boasting that he had escaped from several parties of soldiers, who had been sent to take him.

At Sudbury he built himself a house, well calculated for secretion or escape, in case of an attempt being made to take him. The house is situated on the bank of the Stour, into which, being a remarkably good swimmer, he has thrown himself, when pursued, and has got into the adjoining county of Essex.

He, however, was apprehended on suspicion of stealing wheat in sacks, out of a barn in an adjoining parish. A search warrant was granted, but the sacks and corn were not found on Harris’s premises. He, however, during the search, jumped out of a window and ran off. The next morning he was taken into custody as he was coming out of his own apartment. Many circumstances appeared, amounting to a moral certainty of his guilt, and he was committed to Halsted House of Correction for further examination; but the evidence not being sufficient to be laid before a Grand Jury, he was detained as a deserter.

A party was sent from Colchester to take him to Chelmsford, on his way to Pendennis Castle, (Falmouth, Cornwall). A second party took him forward from Chelmsford. This party, by his insinuating manners and his generosity in treating them at different public-houses on their way, he lulled them into a security of his not attempting to escape, prevailed upon them to take off his handcuffs, and in the dusk of the evening, whilst he was treating them at a public-house in Billericay, ran off and left them in the lurch.

The next day he was seen at Sudbury, but he was so subtle in his movements, as to avoid all attempts to take him, thopugh several houses were searched for that purpose. He was at length taken on Thursday se’nnight, through the sedulous exertions of Dr. Maclean, the Mayor of Sudbury, and the personal activity, perseverance and public spirit of Mr. Branwhite Oliver, assisted by some young men in the town. He is now lodged in Bury gaol.”

As Allan W Berry notes in his chapter on ‘Sudbury’s Seamy Side’, (Suffolk County Town: A Sudbury Miscellany’, page 41), “Jingles Harris was to renew his acquaintance with Bury Gaol more than once. In 1815 he was sentenced to three months there for stealing two pieces of wood from a Sudbury timber yard. He spent Christmas 1816 in Bury Gaol awaiting trial for stealing knives and forks from Thomas Fenn of Ballingdon, for which he was sentenced to be imprisoned for one year, and whipped at Sudbury.”

Not long out of prison, he was in the news again in March 1818.

View of the Old Gaol front in Southgate Street, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Courtesy of the Spanton Jarman Collection, Bury St Edmunds Past and Present Society

The Ipswich Journal, March 7th, 1818, page 2 of 4

“On Saturday night last, or early on Sunday morning, a most daring burglary and robbery was committed in the house of Mr. B. Norden, of Ballingdon, Essex. The villains first entered the larder having cut through a thick wire window, and took a round of beef, a fore-quarter of pork, and about a bushel and half of flour; they then proceeded to the house, which they entered by means of the store-room window, which they broke and unfastened, and took from thence a quantity of table cloths, sheets, shirts &c. &c.

Two desperate characters (well known at Bury gaol, from whence they have very recently been liberated), named Isaac Mole and Thomas Harris, were apprehended, and on the confession of Mole, two more accomplices were taken into custody, of the names of Joseph Groom and James Bocking, the latter of whom is admitted King’s evidence. Too much praise cannot be given to Mr. Norden for his perseverance in the apprehension of those desperate and well-known offenders; he spared neither personal fatigue nor expence; and it is to be hoped, that Sudbury and Ballingdon will be cleared of the presence of three most despicable characters.”