The 1830s were a period of intense stress in the rural Sussex countryside. The end of the Napoleonic wars triggered an economic depression with consequences on agriculture. The reform of the “Poor Laws” (1) left many families hungry and demography was eating Parish budgets. “Captain Swing” was opposing the mechanisation which was depriving “AgLabs” of their winter revenues and enforcing productivity gains. Protests and riots were becoming commonplace even in the most remote villages of East Sussex.
Folk turned to poaching and gleaning to supplement their minimal diets. The courts showed no compassion, pronouncing after summary hearings, harsh sentences of transportation in the knowledge that most would never find their way back.
Religion was globally of little succour. The traditional Church of England no longer represented the poor (if it ever had) and anticlerical feeling was high. New currents of religion gained popularity. Baptist, non-Conformist, Calvinist, Methodist and Presbyterian preachers began to win the hearts of country folk, who would march their family more than ten miles to service on a Sunday morning in their best attire, to hear their ministers “rabble-rousing” sermons (2).
At the same time, John Wesley (the Wesleyan Methodist) was openly confronting political issues such as the abolition of slavery in the colonies whilst Cobbett was comparing the impoverished rural English farmer and the liberty and prosperity of his American counterpart.
With the consequences of eating a raw vegetable in a field or committing theft and burglary being roughly the same, it’s hardly surprising that some decided to help themselves to a larger part of the unfairly divided riches. This was the case of at least one of our ancestors.
Thomas Funnell was born in Burwash. Son of Thomas and Mary Funnell, he was baptised on the 16th of May 1802 by Joseph Langley, Curate of Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Burwash.
On the 26th of July 1824, aged 22, he married Lucy Wood (3) two years younger, born in 1804 at Dallington, the village down the road (4).
In 1827, Lucy gave birth to James Funnell. Thomas never recognised him and apparently they had no other children (4).
Thomas was embarking in petty crime with familiar Sussex names like Buss, Langridge, Bond, Eastwood, Elliott, Sands and Blackford.
In 1837, Thomas was fined for “assaulting the police” with Thomas Buss. On the 26th of February 1838, it was his wife’s turn along with John and George Langridge, to be found guilty of assaulting the police in the person of John Vigor.
Thomas Funnell’s reputation was made when […] the most spectacular subsequent event against organised crime came in June 1838 with the arrests of members of a gang of audacious robbers’ responsible for the break-ins at various premises in Burwash and neighbouring parishes, including the huge burglary at William Pitt’s Ticehurst warehouse. The arrests were triggered by George Langridge (twenty-four) who was having an affaire with fellow gangster Thomas Funnell’s (thirty-six) wife Lucy. In an attempt to get rid of Funnell, Langridge flamboyantly waved a hat taken in the Ticehurst raid to give credence to his informations that stolen goods were stored at Funnell’s and Edward Elliott’s (twenty-two) cottages. A formal search proved the point, whereupon both Funnell and Elliott confessed. Langridge’s strategy collapsed when he was indicted as an accomplice on the evidence of the hat. George Eastwood (twenty-nine) was also taken, along with Ephraim (twenty-two) and Job Bonds (twenty-four) for another Ticehurst burglary, at Benjamin Buss’s. Eastwood proved more slippery with a ‘full confession to that, and several other burglaries’, including one at Catsfield, which implicated Langridge. Eastwood also admitted to a barn break-in, again at Ticehurst, with two men who went unnamed in the documentation, but this exonerated the Bonds brothers, who were realeased. Another prisoner, Edmund Hawkins (twenty-six), who confessed to burgling the Bear Inn, escaped from custody while on remand in the ludicrous circumstances outlined above. Mark Blackford may have been an accomplice, as he was in the audience at the committal hearing, though he ended up being fined for drunkenly intervening. Finally, Charles Sands (twenty), domiciled at the notorious Wheel, was unsuccessfully charged with lamb theft. Transportation sentences of fifteen, fourteen and ten years were respectively imposed on Elliott, Langridge and Funnell. Eastwood received a year’s hard labour for the bar break-in and Sands was acquitted. Eastwood’s two accomplices remained at large. During the very week that this Assize convened, there were two break-ins after wheat in Burwash, in the following week another farmer lost five bushels (5).
The 1841 census records Lucy Funnell in Burwash with James Funnell, M, [Son], age 14, born Sussex; occupation Farm labourer (6). Thomas was certainly “away” serving his sentence. However, it is not sure that his transportation was carried out.
In 1851, the census information shows Thomas is back in Burwash with Lucy. A granddaughter, Elizabeth Venice born “about 1847” is living with them. The parish records (4) of St Bartholomew, Burwash note (Page 82, Entry 655) the baptism on the 16th of August 1846 of Funnell Elizabeth Venus, daughter of Mary Funnell, spinster. The fathers name is not given. The baptism was conducted by John Turner (6).
In the 1861 census, Thomas is recorded as an AgLab lodging with Anthony and Elizabeth Buss in Ticehurst. Elizabeth at the age of 14 is living at the Rectory of Burwash, unmarried servant and “Needle Girl”, one of seven domestic staff of Rector Joseph Gould, his wife and 37 year old daughter.
In 1871, Elizabeth can be found at Frankham House, Wadhurst, the home of Magistrate and landowner, Henry Dixon, a widower aged 46 and his four daughters Lydia (15), Elizabeth (14), Mary (13) and Ellen (8). She is 24, born in Burwash, acting as Nurse and Domestic Servant. There is also a Sarah A. Langridge, 20, born in Rotherfield working as Housemaid, a Governess, Alice Williams, 38, from Ireland, Ellen Lusted, 20, Cook from Salehurst and Charlotte Parker, 20, Parlourmaid.
As for Edward Elliott and George Langridge, they were transported together on board the Canton, departing London on the 22nd of September 1839. They arrived Van Diemans Land on the 12th of January 1840.
Edward Elliott died on the 6th of April 1842. His prisoners record states he left a wife and a child in the UK and that he had continuously suffered from poor health (8).
George Langridge received a conditional pardon in 1849. He married Jane Horton, formerly Roberts, nee Duncombe, on the 24th of April 1851 at the Independant Chapel, Hobart, Tasmania. They had one child Elvina Langridge who was born on the 28th of June 1851 and christened on the 16th of September 1851 in Hobart. She died on the 9th of June 1853 in Sorell, Tasmania (8).
George murdered Jane, by strangulation, on the 2nd of August 1856 in Richmond, Tasmania. At trial, he was convicted to the death sentence and was executed by hanging on the 19th of September 1856 in Hobart, Tasmania (8).
If you can shed any light on these Funnells, please use the comments.
(1) More on the Poor Law
(2) “rebel-rousing” with a Sussex accent
(3) Sussex Marriage Index
(4) Information from The Weald
(5) Crime, Protest and Popular Politics in Southern England, 1740-1850 by John Rule, Roger A. E. Wells, Roger Wells
(6) Information from Sussex Online Parish Clerks
(7) Birth certificate refs. 3rd quarter 1846 Ticehurst 7 492
(8) Thanks to Steve Langridge for this information (sent 26/7/09).
30th Mar 1851 Census
Thomas Funnell, M, Head, married, age 48, born Burwash, Sussex; occupation: Farm labourer Burwash Village, Burwash, Sussex
Lucy Funnell, F, Wife, married, age 47, born Dallington, Sussex; Burwash Village, Burwash, Sussex
6th Jun 1841 Census
James Funnell, M, [Son], age 14, born Sussex; occupation Farm labourer, Village, Burwash, Sussex
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