ALMOST 40 years before the Andover Advertiser had started, a local story that made news all around the country was the trial of a local poacher who killed a gamekeeper with a rifle when caught red-handed.

The story began on the night of 9 December 1821 when two brothers, Robert and James Goodall from New Street, together with James Scullard, aged 30, 21 and 35 respectively, got together a band of five poachers to go to Ashdown Copse near Tidworth, where land owned by Thomas Assheton-Smith was rich with pheasants. Edmund Steele, the youngest of the group, was approached by Robert Goodall, to carry the game and it was Steele who then went to Brick Kiln Street to find James Turner. They all met at the Bishop’s Blaise, near the top of New Street at 9 o’clock that night and walked from there to another public house, reported as The Crown, and then went off to the copse, several miles distant.

Assheton-Smith may have expected trouble as he had posted a posse of seven gamekeepers in the copse to keep guard, each going separate ways but then meeting up. Half an hour went by and they heard a gunshot about 50 yards away and ran to the spot where they saw the five poachers, three of whom had guns. One of the gamekeepers, James Martin, got hold of the young man Steele, who had taken fright at the turn of events and offered himself up for capture. However, the other poachers threatened to fire on the keepers, to which head keeper Robert Baker shouted, ‘shoot away then, you cannot kill us all'. There was some hesitation on either side before one of the poachers shot at Robert Baker and killed him.

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Andover Advertiser: Looking down Winchester Street, once Brick Kiln Street (David Howard collection)Looking down Winchester Street, once Brick Kiln Street (David Howard collection) (Image: David Howard collection)Panic ensued and all five poachers got away back to Andover, including Edmund Steele who rejoined the party. Not to be outdone, Thomas Assheton-Smith, aware that Andover had only two part-time constables at this period, sent for some Bow Street runners from London, the fees for which were paid by the landowner. Within a few days, they were successful in arresting James Turner and Edmund Steele but the other three, despite an offered reward of £100, remained at large and were never apprehended – though surely there were many in Andover who would have known them.

At the subsequent trial in March 1822 at Winchester Assizes, none of the gamekeepers were able to identify Steele or Turner but it was on the testimony of Steele who turned King’s evidence, that James Turner was convicted. Whether it was Turner who fired the shot that killed Baker, was never proven; Turner, at first unarmed, was said to have grabbed a gun from one of the other poachers with the words, ‘damn your eyes, why don’t you shoot?’ but he emphatically denied firing the shot.

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Steele was praised by the judge for doing his duty and emphasised that he was only there to carry the game. For this he was released without charge, while Turner was sentenced to death by hanging on 11 March 1822 at the county gaol in Winchester, one day after his 30th birthday.

He was buried in an unmarked grave in St Mary’s churchyard after a short funeral service, conducted by the resident curate, Rev William Pedder. This was long before the present St Mary’s was built but we may reasonably suppose that he lies somewhere in the present-day Garden of Remembrance. These were also the days of the so-called ‘Resurrectionists’, whereby fresh bodies were stolen from their graves to sell on to teaching hospitals in the cause of medical science; in consequence, relatives of Turner took turns to undertake an armed ‘watching’ on the grave until the risk was deemed to have passed.      

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