In the mid 19th century, rural crime and rural policing were issues that concerned not only local people but also those further afield.
In April 1840, a London newspaper report entitled “Rural Police” reported from Tetbury, stating that:
“the rural police of Gloucestershire do not appear to prevent crime…for crimes of the darkest turpitude continue to be perpetrated there.”
The main crime was that a poison-pen letter writer was sending letters to various people in Tetbury, threatening to burn their property.
This was a serious issue; earlier in the century, Tetbury had been one of the places where swing riots had taken place. At this time, farm property and implements had been destroyed, and hay ricks burned, causing injuries and financial loss.
In 1840, the letter writer carried out some of his threats, setting fire to several corn ricks and other properties belonging to a Colonel Kingscote and one of his tenants, Mr Morse, who lived in Kingscote. Property was destroyed as a result and 90 ewes burnt to death in a barn.
Kingscote was a small village within the Tetbury union, only consisting of a couple of hundred residents.
Colonel Thomas Henry Kingscote JP (1799-1861) was the Lord of the Manor, based at Kingscote Park, and had presumably been targeted because of his position and wealth. It is likely that the poison-pen letter writer had a grievance about local wealthy landowners.
The letters continued to be sent on an almost daily basis, and papers as far afield as London and Berkshire reported that “the excitement is increasing”.
The poison-pen letter writer was never brought to justice, but his actions caused a ripple of intrigue across the community 170 years ago.