John Duffield 1773-1819

From the description above it will be seen that John Duffield and his family lived in Darlaston during a period of great prosperity for those who wished to work for it. The slump came with the end of the Napoleonic War in 1815. By this time, of John and Maria's eight children, seven were still living, as shown in Appendix 1.

John Duffield worked in the metals trade, that was the predominant occupation of this area. In 1813, on the baptism of his son Henry, he was described in the Parish Register as a setmaker of Cramphill Bank, Darlaston but by 1819 he was working as a stamper with his own press.

The following information on the last six months of his life is based on local and national newspaper reports, documents found in The National Archives (TNA) and information from local Record Offices.

In March 1819 John Bolton, an unemployed die-sinker, met John Duffield at the Wagon and Horses on King Street in Darlaston, and proposed that they walk in the fields. When they were there, he asked him whether he knew Mrs. Bissaker. When he answered in the affirmative, Bolton then asked him if he would do the same for him as he had done for her. Duffield said, “What’s that?” Bolton replied, “Stamp some shillings”. Duffield said he would, and asked when he could send any over? Bolton said, in a few days he should come to Birmingham, and they agreed to meet at a public-house in Livery Street. Duffield said he wanted 6d per score for stamping the shillings, but Bolton agreed to give him 3s per gross (equivalent to a farthing for each counterfeit shilling that he stamped, and about 7d per gross less than Duffield's asking price): Bolton was to find the blanks and dies.

The conversation about Mrs. Bissaker is highly significant as it shows that John Duffield had previously been stamping shillings for her. It is believed that Mrs. Bissaker was Mary Leek, who married John Bissaker at St. John, Coventry on 25th November, 1783. John Bissaker, together with John Henshal, was hanged for forgery at Whitley Common, Coventry on 23rd April, 1800.

Criminal Registers show that Mary Harris, alias Bissaker, together with Frances Bird, was tried at the Warwickshire Lent Assizes in March 1807 for High Treason, in colouring counterfeit silver coins, and sentenced to be Drawn and Hanged. Coining covered a variety of offences in which coin or paper money (the King's currency) was counterfeited or interfered with, or individuals either used, or possessed such false or diminished currency. Counterfeiting gold or silver coins was a form of treason for which anyone convicted would be drawn to a place of execution on a hurdle and hanged.

The Criminal Entry Books show that on 18th April, 1807, Mary Bissaker received a Conditional Pardon and her sentence was commuted to a term of 2 years Hard Labour in the House of Correction. Gaol records show that she was transferred from prison to the House of Correction in May 1807. After her release Mary Bissaker must have continued in the same line of business, and by the time that Bolton approached Duffield, she had already been arrested again on various charges of Coining, and had been committed for trial at Warwick Assizes.

Mary Bissaker was tried on Friday 2nd April, 1819 on charges of:

Felonly and traitorously having in her custody & possession 1 Edger, Edging Tool, Instrument or Engine for making graining around the edges & or marks resembling the edges of money coined in the Royal Mint.

Felonly and traitorously colouring with materials producing the colour of silver 1 piece of base coin resembling a shilling.

Possessing one round blank of bare metal of fit size and figure to be coined into count. money resembling a shilling.

Assize Records in T.N.A. show that Mary Bissaker was found not guilty on the first of the offences that she was charged with, but guilty of the others, and sentenced to death. The index to Petitions in T.N.A. shows that Mary Bissaker petitioned for a Pardon but this was refused. Unfortunately the originals of Petitions for this period have not survived. It is unlikely that with a previous conviction for the same offence, her petition would have been received with much sympathy. On the 23rd April, 1819 Mary Bissaker was hanged at Warwick. She was buried on 27th April, 1819 in Birmingham at St Mary Whittall Street Cemetery, and the records show her to have been 56 years of age. The Hue & Cry and Police Gazette of 15th May, 1819 reported "At the late Warwick Assizes, 37 persons were capitally convicted, of whom three were left for execution, viz - Mary Bissaker, for counterfeiting silver coin; ......". No other person was charged with her, so on this occasion the person actually stamping the shillings escaped justice. This person was almost certainly John Duffield as indicated by his conversation with Bolton reported above.

Following the meeting in March 1819 between Bolton and Duffield, they next met two or three days later at the Three Tuns, Livery Street, Birmingham. They met again at the same place in a few days. Shortly afterwards they met a third time at the same house, when Duffield brought Josiah Wilkes with him. Josiah Wilkes was a first cousin of John Duffield. John's mother was Hannah Wilkes and her brother Thomas was the father of Josiah Wilkes. William Bissaker, the son of John and Mary Bissaker born in 1792, was also at this meeting. Bolton, Wilkes, and Duffield met next at the Leopard, in Great Hampton Street, and afterwards at the same place two or three times. They drank together at those places and paid jointly; there was no work yet ready.

About two days later they met near St. Paul’s Chapel. Bolton did not then deliver anything to Wilkes; but between that place and the Leopard he gave him a pair of shilling dies, and about 30lb of blanks, silvered, and ready for striking with the impression. Duffield was present, and Bolton said he had brought the dies and blanks. Duffield told him to give them to Wilkes. A day or two after, Bolton met Wilkes at the Leopard and received back the 30lb blanks, stamped with the impression on both sides, and paid £3 for them, being at the rate of 3s per gross as agreed. Two or three days later, Bolton met Wilkes at the Queen’s Head, Handsworth and this time took another man, Thomas Earp, with him. They delivered to Wilkes about 30lb more blanks, in the same state, and to be stamped as before. Nothing was said as to what was to be done with them, but Wilkes took them: the blanks were wrapped in separate papers. They had some drink, which Bolton and Earp paid for. In a few days Earp and Bolton received the blanks stamped on both sides from Wilkes, who brought them on an ass to the same place, when another parcel of blanks was delivered to him. This traffic was carried out on two or three days a week for some time, and at different places.

From the rate of traffic from March to July 1819 it seems probable that Duffield would have received approaching £100 for his stamping work. This was an enormous sum for the period when the average weekly wage was only a pound or two. It is not clear who was paying Wilkes and Earp for their part in the scheme. As Duffield seemed to be using Wilkes to do his fetching and carrying for him and also to ensure that he never had the coins or tools on his person, it is possible that he was paying his cousin Wilkes, from his portion. Their gang would have been responsible for putting into circulation over £2,000 worth of counterfeit shillings. It seems remarkably foolhardy that they continued the trade over the period when Mary Bissaker was tried and hanged.

On Wednesday, the 14th of July, Bolton and Earp met Wilkes in a lane at the back of the New Inn, Handsworth, and delivered to him 50lb of blanks, to be stamped and brought to the same place on Saturday following. When Bolton and Earp got there on the Saturday, they found that Wilkes had arrived, and that he had his son and an ass with him. They left the lad sitting on a bank, and went further down the lane, when they received back a part of the 50lb stamped, and delivered to Wilkes 50lb more blanks, which he was to bring back stamped on the following Wednesday. They appointed to meet in a lane, opposite the New Inn, leading to Smethwick. They then went into the New Inn, where they saw a person, whose name was Green, sitting on a table.

Thomas Green, a maltster of Darlaston, was to prove the undoing of the gang. He knew Wilkes, who also lived in Darlaston. On Saturday the 17th of July, about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Green was in the garden at the New Inn, Handsworth, which adjoins a lane, and heard Wilkes, whose voice he well knew, say to someone, “Sit down.” He looked over the hedge, and saw Wilkes’s son with him, and an ass. Green observed and listened, and shortly after saw two men come along the lane. On their arrival, Wilkes got up and spoke to them. The three men then went further down the lane with the ass, leaving the boy sitting on the bank. Green then went to the end of the lane, which he crossed, and went down the hedge side till he came within a short distance, where he could observe them without being seen. Bolton and Earp then exchanged parcels with Wilkes. They arranged to meet the next Wednesday. Thomas Green gave information of what he had heard and seen to Mr. Partridge, the constable.

Thomas Partridge, in consequence of the information he had received, went with Mr. Butler, another constable, to the New Inn, Handsworth, on Wednesday, the 21st of July, where they apprehended Earp and Bolton. Partridge soon afterwards apprehended Wilkes, who, after some conversation, said, upon being asked by Partridge what he had got “Thee knowest”; Partridge said “I do”; Wilkes answered “I wish I did not.” The parcel hidden in Bolton’s umbrella contained 1,740 blanks; that found upon Earp 1,140; and those in Wilkes’s saddle-bags contained 2,589 counterfeit shillings. Partridge searched Wilkes’s house, and, under a bench in the shop, found a parcel in an iron pot, covered with a bag, containing 1,377 blanks. He also searched Duffield’s house, and found a counterfeit shilling, and in the shop, presses and other apparatus which he used in his trade.

        Figure 3. Screw Press and dies used to
        manufacture coins. Courtesy of Bev Parker.

William Payne, a Constable from Birmingham, questioned the prisoners on 21st July. Wilkes said he would tell the truth, whether for or against him; he had the money from Duffield, at Darlaston. Upon Payne observing that it would take three persons to work such a press, Wilkes said, he and another worked the fly, and Duffield fed it. The third person involved in the physical stamping of the coins was never named or charged, but it is quite likely that it was James Duffield, the eldest son of John, who would have been 20 at this time. James Duffield was transported in 1820 for a series of other offences, as described later.

When Duffield was questioned by the Constable, he said he was a poor unfortunate man, with a large family, and wanted money to pay his poor-rates; he trusted, therefore, that mercy would be shown to him.

On being asked how long he had been in that way, he said, only a very short time; and that he had had the dies from a person who received them from Bolton. The Constable took up Duffield’s press, but found nothing suspicious about it. He had examined the shilling found in Duffield’s house, and one taken from Wilkes’s saddle-bags, before the Magistrates, and they were both struck from the same die.

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