BOOTH-L Archives

Archiver > BOOTH > 1997-07 > 0868386205

From: Eldon Jensen <>
Subject: BOOTH, William: English Forger
Date: Tue, 08 Jul 1997 12:23:25 -0600

From BOOTHS IN HISTORY by Dr. John N. Booth page 39
"William Booth was responsible for eliminating from English law the fate of
hanging for non-homicidal crimes. As we will see, the process cost him his
own life.
The son of a respectable farmer and church warden, John Booth, and his
wife Mary, he was born on Hall End Farm near Beaudesert, Warwickshire, on
21 February 1776. One of eight children, he was accused of murdering his
brother John while revisiting Hall End on 19 February 1808. The judge
acquitted William Booth, who had a reputation for kindness toward his
neighbors and the poor, observing that it is better for 20 men to escape
who are guilty than for one innocent man to be hanged.
Since circa 1799, Booth had been living on a rented farm with 200 acres of
mainly barren heathland, at Great Barr. Booth's Farm Road at Great Barr
still commemorates his stake which existed until 1974. Upon this
unpromising farmland he seemed to grow more prosperous with the years,
helping the destitute with a Robin-Hood-like generosity. A servant of his,
Job Jones, was arrested in February 1812 for passing a counterfeit L2 Bank
of England note and "being in possession of 47 other similar forged notes."
Suspicion fell on Booth. Knowing the fortress-like construction of his
farmhouse, the Staffordshire constabulary swore in ten specials and
enlisted seven dragoons from Birmingham to storm the building. After some
resistance, entry was gained through a garret window, disclosing a large
quantity of machinery for forging coins as well as a printing press for
producing high quality paper currency. Five months later at Stafford
Assizes, 31 July - 1 August 1812, in a speedy trail, the peaceful forger
was condemned to death. His accomplices were then transported to Australian
penal colonies.
Thousands of people gathered before the Stafford gaol, 15 August 1812, to
watch the big and well liked 'farmer', arms pinioned to his side, climb the
scaffold under a tree and suffer innumerable prayers. Capped, but haltered
improperly, the condemned man fell through the trap eight or ten feet from
the platform to the ground. Bruised but uncomplianing, the heavy-set
William Booth climbed back up the scaffold and inquired solicitously
whether the chaplain had been hurt in the incident. This time he was
successfully hurled into the hereafter.
Relatives loaded the body on a cart. On the way to St. Mary's Parish
Church in Birmingham for burial the coffin slipped off into the shallow
waters of the Tames River giving rise to the legend that it took two
hangings and a drowning to finish him. In the churchyard of Birmingham's
'Cathedral of the Industrail Revolution," where lie the tombs of
steam-engine inventor James Watt and noted engineer/manufacturer Matthew
Boulton, the forger William Booth rests to this day. For years his grave
was a pilgrimage center for the morbid.
Where did William Booth secure the complicated machinery to make forged
coins? Examples of his work can be seen in the Birmingham Museum and Art
Gallery. Interestingly, Matthew Boulton (1729-1809), the honored
industrialist who helped make Watt's steam-engines a commercial success,
struck cions at his Soho plant, near Birmingham, for the Sierra Leone and
East India companies, Russia, and in 1799, a new copper coinage for Great
The Booth and Boulton families attended the same church, St. Mary's during
the 1790's and 1800's. This author asks, did Boulton's legitimate
occupation, successes and possible acquantanceship, inspire William Booth's
illegitimate operations and give him access to the necessary machinery? Was
the forger, himself, the engraver of the dies? Is so, with higher
motivation, he might have become one of the master silversmiths and coin
designers of the time rather than the greatest forger in English history.
Such furor was raised throughout the nation over the harsh sentence of
death for the popular counterfeiter's activities that the issue of capital
punishment was hotly debated in parliament. As a result the law was
changed. William Booth experienced the distinction of being the last person
in England to be hanged for a non-capital crime.
'After-all,' a friend lamented, 'the poor chap was only trying to make a
dishonest living.' "

Terri X Jensen

Terri Jensen

* *
* *

This thread: