William Briggs was probably baptised at St. Margaret’s, Great Barr on 10 Sept 1797 the son of William and Mary Briggs. Although there is an alternative baptism in St. Giles, Cheadle, Staffordshire on 24 Nov 1788 for William the son of George and Elizabeth Briggs but this is less likely because of the relative distances of the two places.
(The name William Briggs was not very common and only 3 have been found in a 10 year span.)
Very little has been found about him as he does not appear to have married or to have had children.
William survived long enough to be recorded in the 1841 Census HO107/977 folio 22
Address – Rose cottage, Township of Great Barr, Aldridge.
Joseph Newell age 70 Occupation Ag. Lab. Born Staffordshire
Sarah Newell age 65 Born Staffordshire
Elizabeth Newell age 13 Born Staffordshire
John Smith age 70 occupation Ag. Lab Born Staffordshire
William Sharrod age 30 occupation Ag. Lab. Born Staffordshire
William Briggs age 50 occupation Ag. Lab. Born Staffordshire.
Bearing in mind that in 1841 the ages were rounded down to the nearest 5 or 10 this gives William a date of birth of 1787 – 1791
William was not found in the 1851 Census but a death was found in the Walsall Union Registration District in the March Quarter 1842 for a William Briggs age 55.
Amongst Aldridge Pauper’s vouchers at Stafford Record Office is one (ref. D120/A/PO/231) dated 29 Sep 1822 which was The Parish Constable’s (William Prince) Account or bill for various items including summons, warrants, journeys to Wednesbury and Wolverhampton etc. Total £1 19s 6d. Amongst the brief details was a summons for William Briggs for Bestiality[i] and a journey in search of him.
It is assumed that this is a follow on from a Vestry Meeting recorded in the vestry minute book (ref. D1104/4/1, 1807-29) entry for 31 August 1821 which records a meeting ‘to take into consideration the best mode of prosecuting a certain individual for committing an unnatural crime upon a Bruit[ii] Beast.’ The meeting was dissolved without coming to a decision! No names were given.
No Newspaper Reports have been found to show that William was actually brought to Court and his name is not recorded in the Calendar of Prisoners for Stafford. However the social stigma would have been horrific at the time if the accusation was made public. An indication of public opinion about the offence is shown in:-
Google Books. “The History and Results of the Present Capital Punishments in England. Saunders and Benning, 1832” which has a chapter on Sodomy and Bestiality and does not appear to differentiate between the two and gives a brief history of the penalties against bestiality and sodomy.
“The punishment of death has been, however, awarded against it for many generations. So strong indeed was the vengeance which men entertained against the criminals, that the measure of punishment was the chief thing thought of. The old Goths either burnt or buried alive the victims and these tokens of vengeance continued for many centuries. But there was an interval, for although Alfred included the crime of bestiality amongst his class of capital offences, it seems that in the reign of Edgar, both that and sodomy were visited by the ecclesiastical discipline of fasting, and abstinence from the Lord’s Supper. However, matters did not long continue thus. In the reign of William I, it is probable that castration was the penalty, and very soon afterwards, we are assured that the old custom of burning and burying were the law of the land in this respect, But when Richard I. came to the throne, the punishments were again altered, and it was the rule to hang a man and drown a woman. Notwithstanding this, it is said that the Lombards introduced the vice into England in Edward the Third’s time. Probably they revived it here, and it is likely that it continued more or less until the days of Henry VIII., when an act passed, making it felony without benefit of clergy, and although the repealing act of Queen Mary interrupted the course of punishment for a moment, the fifth of Elizabeth re-enacted the statute of Henry entirely and absolutely. Women then suffered by the rope as well as men, and the law on the subject has remained the same to this present day [i.e. 1832], the consolidating act of Lord Lansdowne merely declaring that the two offences under consideration shall be punished with death.”
The offences do not appear to have had a high incidence if the table they published for London and Middlesex are an accurate indication.
[i] OED definition of Bestial is an Unnatural connection with a beast. Or the quality of being bestial which could mean behaving in a cruel, brutal, beastly or obscene manner.
[ii] OED definition of Bruit is noisy.