DARING BURGLARY AT BARWICK Back to the Main Historical Society page
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from The Barwicker No. 92
Dec. 2008

On a cold Sunday night the last day of January 1897, Barwick villagers were shocked to discover that some thieving hands had been busy at work in their midst. The quiet village which then normally contributed little in the way of news was the talk of the district for a few days as a burglary was the sole topic of conversation.

Close to the Gascoigne Arms Inn on Main Street was a butcher’s shop and house occupied by Mrs. Mary Cockrem. Mrs. Cockrem’s husband John, who was from Aberford, came to Barwick about 1880 and took over the business from his brother. In 1895 John died aged just 39 and Mary with assistance from her brother, Mr. George Hewitt, continued to run the business.

At the end of the house attached to the shop was a wide passage which opened into a yard, where a stable and a slaughter house were located. The door of Mrs. Cockrem’s kitchen opened into this yard, but it was almost concealed by a sort of porch or awning which was erected only a few feet from the right hand side of the entrance to the kitchen. Between the awning and the door was a sliding window into the kitchen, and it was through this sliding window which was unfortunately unlocked that the dastardly deed was committed while Mrs. Cockrem was at Church.

It was reported that the burglars knew “how the land lay” because the downstairs rooms were untouched and they headed straight to the bedrooms. The door giving access to the staircase was in a corner opposite the fireplace and at the bottom of the stairs lay Mrs. Cockrem’s collie dog. It apparently uttered a slight objection to the intruders but when her father, Mr. George Hewitt Snr., looked in to check on the fire it was snugly ensconced on the hearth rug. On Wednesday the 3rd February the local paper, the Skyrack Courier, sent a reporter to Barwick to interview Mrs. Cockrem.

He travelled by train to Scholes and walked the remainder of the distance. He reported that “The country presented a somewhat desolate appearance; a thick covering of snow mantled the earth; the hedge-rows and trees, bare enough in all truth, caught the descending flakes and robed themselves in garments of snowy grandeur, but the wide and almost unbroken stretch of snow on every side gave a sense of utter desolation to the scene. From the footprints in the snow I could discern that I was second or third person who had that morning passed along that ill-kemp lane, which at one point was adorned by a manure heap.”

Close to Barwick the reporter met a friendly farmer who immediately started to talk about the burglary:
“Who could ha’ done it?”
“I don’t know, but one of my lads – a hired lad – who lives at Scholes, says he saw two men near t’mill on the way comin’ from Scholes to Barwick on Sunday afternoon, and lots o’ other folks saw them at night in the village. One wore an overcoat, and t’other wore a reefer sort o’ coat, with shiny buttons. No, I don’t know they were brass, but they shined in t’dark.”

Several other people reported seeing “the man with the shiny buttons” and his companion acting suspiciously but no one saw them near the butcher’s shop. When he arrived at Mrs. Cockrem’s house he found the lady attending to domestic duties. He reported she was very “cut up” over the affair but agreed to be interviewed.
On Sunday night my youngest daughter, Anne, and I went to church. We left here about a quarter past six.”
“Did you lock the door?”
“Oh, yes, I locked the door, and took the key to my father
(Mr. George Hewitt Snr.) and mother, who live just round the corner.”
“Can I see your father? “
“I don’t know where he is. He works on the road, and he may be at Garforth one day and somewhere else the next."
“Your father, I understand, came into the house in your absence to see to the fire. Can you tell what he found when he came in?”
“Well he, came into my house about seven o’clock, and he did not see anything wrong.
“When you came home what did you find?”
“We got home about a quarter to eight, and got the key from my father. My daughter ran to unlock the door, but when we came towards the door we saw the window open. It’s fastened up now, but it wasn’t then. You will see it’s a sliding window.”

She went to get her father and brother who came and opened the door and started to look around the rooms.
“But didn’t you observe anything unusual about the kitchen?”
“No, nothing was disturbed, but I was too upset to notice anything particularly.”
“We all [then] went into the front bed-room, which is occupied by my daughter, Clara. This bedroom was very much disturbed. There is a chest of drawers in it, and every drawer was out. The bottom drawer was forced open with a chisel (a jemmy, I reckon); and all my daughter’s little boxes were ransacked. [They had taken] a silver hunting watch, half a dozen tea spoons and sugar tongs, which my daughter had presented to her, and a locket [from this room]."

The other bedroom, the window of which looked into the yard, was a double-bedded room, and was occupied by Mrs. Cockrem and her little boy and girl, Harry and Annie.
My bed was turned upside-down, but they did not find anything there. We never kept any money under the beds. I had two brooches on the top of the drawers, and they were both taken. I also had a watch on a stand taken. There was a chest of drawers in the room, but none of the drawers were locked – in fact, we had no keys for them. In a little end drawer in the chest was a cash box, and, although the drawer was not locked, the box was. This is the box here.

The reporter examined the box which had been wrenched open with some sort of jemmy or sharp instrument.
Well”, he asked “How much money was taken?
– “There was £14 in gold and silver, mostly in gold, which was for the market, and lots of coins my husband had collected.”
“How many coins?”
“I don’t know. There might have been about sixty or seventy 1864 pennies – I never counted them – and a lot of old silver coins, but I don’t know how many of them there were either.”

Harry Cockrem, aged 8, fetched P.C. Wilson, who was stationed at Barwick, to the house about 8 o’clock and after obtaining all the information he needed he went to Cross Gates and appraised Sergeant Dove, P.C. Greenwood and P.C. Jackson of the situation. Afterwards he went to Leeds and updated the West Riding Police Office.

Despite a thorough search of subsequent editions of the Skyrack I could find no more details of this crime and therefore assume no criminal was ever brought to justice. I’m sure that Barwickers kept an eye out for “the man with the shiny buttons” and possibly took more care in securing their property. A lesson which still stands true today.


1891 Barwick Census
General Register Office – Death Index
The Skyrack Courier - 6th February 1897

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