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William Gotts, “a very dangerous fellow”


Hanged at Norwich (The History Press, 2011) by Neil Storey makes brief reference to a William GOTTS, convicted of horse theft and executed on Castle Hill on the 19th August 1738. It is also recorded that he was buried in Heigham churchyard (just west of the City of Norwich). The following extracts from R.W. Ketton-Cremer’s, Country Neighbourhood (Faber, 1951) provide some local colour regarding the activities of our villain. The materials for this work are derived almost entirely from the letters of the Rev. Patrick St. Clair to his friend and patron Ashe Windham (1672-1749) of Felbrigg Hall.

LETTER 34 (p 139) – undated but the date can be fixed by its reference to the death of Mr Fulcher, the park-keeper, who died on the 14th May 1738.

St. Clair writes: “A son of Thomas Gotts, a very dangerous fellow, was apprehended on Friday last at Holt. He had a bundle of 6 pair of buckskin breeches, and a case of pistoles. They carried him before Justice Ellwin, and no doubt he was sent to the Castle. He is accused of having stolen a mare from the Widow Wells at Edgefield, and suspected to have committed several Robberies.”

LETTER 42 (pp 160-1) – dated 12th August 1738

The editor, Ketton-Cremer, writes: “The arrest of Will Gotts was mentioned in St Clair’s letter of 14th May; and on 5th August he was convicted at Norwich Assizes of ‘several Felonies and Horse-Stealing’, and sentenced to death. According to the Norwich Mercury, he was ‘about 25 Years of Age, has been a Smuggler, and deserted several Times from the King’s Service’. Two nights before his execution he tried to escape, and managed to free himself from his irons, but to no avail.”

St. Clair reports: “Will Gotts, son to Tom, your old carrier, was cast for stealing a mare from Mrs. Wells of Edgefield, and is to be hang’d; he was a sad rogue, and all our neighbourhood were very afraid of him.


Thanks to Ian Gotts of Kings Lynn for this

Who is William Gotts son of Tom?


No trace of a William GOTTS born around 1713 to Thomas GOTTS – and, incidentally, an almost exact contemporary of Dick Turpin – can be found in Free Reg or IGI, though a Thomas GOTTS was born at Roughton in 1664 to John GOTTS & Margaret LAWRENCE and was still alive in 1694, when his mother’s Will bequeathed him 5.


The nearest baptism found in Free Reg is William b & bp at Fakenham on 17 November 1719, son of Esther GOTTS, widow. The location is good but this would make him 29 when the “sad rogue” was executed. That said, the report was not precise about the age.


Finally, why was William buried at Heigham, then a village some distance from the castle and beyond the city walls?


Please send any information Ian Gotts at Kings Lynn




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