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Treasury robbery, 1828

Written by Judith Curthoys, posted on Thursday, February 1, 2018

Document of the month - February 2018

Opening up the Treasury strong room to take out the money needed for the day’s business soon after 10am on Monday, 17 February 1828, Edward Goodwin, the deputy Treasurer was greeted by a grim sight. Open in front of him was a chest belonging to one of the canons, broken and empty, the baptismal plate had gone, and armfuls of bank notes.

Goodwin was bemused. The Treasury was secure place, with a stone vault, three locks on the outer doors and a further lock on the door to the strong room, and only three men had keys: Dean Smith, the Treasurer, Dr Pett, and Goodwin himself, and only Goodwin’s set was a full one. All the indications were that it was an inside job. 

The first thing he noticed, said Goodwin, under interrogation by the Vice-Chancellor, was the damage to Dr Woodcock’s chest which contained his plate and had been forced open. But the strong box had apparently been opened with a key as had the outer door. Even the desk where the keys were kept showed no signs of violence. Lying on the floor beside the chest which had held the cathedral’s plate were a chisel and a fine long screwdriver. Someone must have had access to keys.

The Treasurer, Phineas Pett, explained that he kept his keys wrapped in newspaper in a small red box on his desk in his study. The box wasn’t locked but, if he went away, he locked the box in a drawer. No-one would have known that his keys were there. College servants were interrogated, and one stated that he had seen James Rose, one of the college carpenters, with the screwdriver. 

In the meantime, searches were afoot, both for the silver and for the burglars. Christ Church turned to one of its old members, Frederick Adair Roe, who was police magistrate at the Marlborough Street station. Roe’s right-hand man, Plank, was dispatched from London to help solve the crime, and a reward of £200 offered for information leading to the arrest of the culprits and the recovery of the silver. Click the small image on the right to view a large version of the reward poster.

Unsurprisingly, information immediately began to come in. Some much-damaged silver was traced to a traveller in Hereford, but then an anonymous letter arrived accusing Rose and another man called Maddox of the crime, and announcing that they had fled north. Thomas Wheeler, Rose’s apprentice, stood up for his master, swearing that the chisel and screwdriver did not belong to him.

Much more dramatic was a confession from two men held in Warwick gaol, Sumervil and Beats. The men said that they had broken into Christ Church on Sunday morning, with Mr Sollomans, the fence, and three others from Birmingham and Lichfield.  Rose, the insider, was named as the “putter-up”.  Some of the silver had been fenced, the notes already cashed, and the remaining silver melted down in a crucible to be found at the thieves’ house.

Rose was arrested, and thrown unceremoniously into the Castle prison, but none of the silver or the cash was ever recovered.