The Old Bailey Online shows us a great deal about the everyday lives of early modern people, often inadvertently. Something of the makeshift economy that keeps single women afloat in London – both its legal and illegal elements – appears in the case of a household of women. Somewhere to the west of London proper, in the growing suburban parish of St. Andrew Holborn, a drama emerged involving four women who, at least for a time, lived under the same roof. This story shows that beneath the seemingly placid facade of household heads could live an interesting mix of different people in different situations. This home had a landlady and her daughter, a lodger and someone who sublet from the lodger, setting up the opportunity for an attempted crime that needed just one more thing: a chance to be alone in the shared room.
In mid-December of 1678, Anne Moundsel appeared before the court, charged by Mary Brasier with felony theft. Moundsel was a lodger in Mary’s room – we have no other details of the women’s relationship besides the weekly rent that Anne paid (6 pence). However Anne Moundsel apparently was close enough to Mary Brasier that she was able to convince Mary to deliver a letter on Anne’s behalf somewhere on the Strand, the bustling commercial street running from Temple Bar into Westminster. Mary Brasier complained to the court that she had been sent on “a false Errand, with a feigned Letter into the Strand, to a person whom she could never find” while her roommate used her absence to systematically rob Mary of a gown, a petticoat and other linens.
Brasier’s complaint was supported by another woman of the household. Eleanor Hasset, her landlady, revealed that the scheme had involved her innocent daughter. Anne Moundsel reportedly had asked the landlady’s child to write a letter and promised her something in return. The mother reported “the Child told her, She suspected the Prisoner was a Thief, and that she her self thought so too” and so Eleanor set up a sting, watching to see the schemer put on Brasier’s gown and gather up her other cloth, then leave the house. Determinedly, Hasset set out in pursuit, fetching the miscreant back once and yet again when Moundsel tried to flee. And then she saw that justice was done.
The Proceedings concludes with Moundsel’s counter-claim that she had been permitted to borrow the dress and was taking the rest for mending, but standing against the clear narrative of her roommate and the landlady, the court and the jury demurred. Anne Moundsel was found guilty of theft and sentenced to branding. This likely would have been a “T” for theft on the thumb – Anne Moundsel is fortunate that she didn’t commit her theft closer to the start of the eighteenth century: from 1699 to 1707, brandings were done on the face in order to more clearly mark out a felon.
Baldwin, Neil. n.d. “The Strand.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed January 23, 2018. http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/STRA9.htm.
Clive Emsley, Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker, “Punishments at the Old Bailey”, Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 April 2011).
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 23 January 2018), December 1678, trial of Anne Moundsel (t16781211e-13).
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.2, 23 January 2018), December 1678 (s16781211e-1).