Saturday, 18 September 2010
William Hoad, a Steyning blacksmith, in Church Street, was caught poaching on the Downs. There are at least three different stories about what he was poaching for, but all versions of the story agree that William was captured ‘red-handed’ on the Wiston Estate in the early 1800s, holding either a hare, a pheasant or a chicken.
He was apparently taken immediately to be tried and sentenced in the dining room of Wiston House by the then furious owner of the estate, said to have been the Rev John Goring JP, but more likely perhaps to have been his father, Charles, also a local magistrate.
It does seem more credible that William would have been reprimanded in the dining room, but subsequently tried and convicted officially at the local assizes – either Lewes or Brighton (Brighthelmston as it often was on the criminal records of that time).
Either way, William was sentenced to be transported to Australia for life and never seen again by his wife and young children. There is some evidence that he may have married again in Australia, making him a bigamist, with a new family. This was something that often happened in those days, when prisoners released on ‘ticket of leave’ had no way of funding their return to England.
Back in Steyning, with little idea of what had happened to her husband, where he was and whether she would ever see him again, his wife carried on the smithy, doing the whole job of a blacksmith herself, with the help of ‘a boy’, while singlehandedly bringing up her children. Unsurprisingly, this earned her much admiration locally. As one ‘old-timer’ put it 100 years ago, “the old lady was highly respected.”
The picture shows the Old Forge in Church Street (a photograph of an oil painting by James E. Webb, dated 1888). The Old Forge has survived and is now a private house.