Tailor found guilty of attempt to defraud

Photo:Gloucester Road today looking east

Gloucester Road today looking east

Photo by Maureen Brand

From a press report dated 6th November 1882

On 6th November 1882 Joseph Cheney, 26, a tailor, was tried at Maidstone Assizes with setting fire to his shop at 58 Gloucester Road, Brighton, in order to defraud the Sussex Union Fire Insurance Company.

The evidence

Evidence was given that Mr Cheney had rented the building for a year, had it fitted up as a tailor’s shop for £35 (which he failed to pay), bought furniture but never paid the bill, and stocked the shop with large rolls of cloth that were really dummies, and material worth only £5.

He then insured his stock, goods and fixtures against fire for £300, later increased to £350. A tenant occupying a front room above the shop paid 5s. a week rent. But when the insurance manager examined the premises he found stock worth only £50.

Witness produced

The prosecution alleged that Mr Cheney’s business was so poor and he was so much in debt that on 16th September he set fire to waste paper under the floorboards. They produced James Lawley, a tailor who had worked for Cheney for eight weeks but left because he was not paid. He told the court that Cheney had said several times that only a fire could save him; and he described how Cheney had stored waste paper and wood in the shop.

The defence

Mr Willoughby, the defending solicitor, claimed that the fire was accidental, due to a gas escape or piece of lighted paper carelessly thrown away.

The verdict

After considering the case for 15 minutes the jury found the prisoner guilty of arson with intent to defraud the insurance company. Mr Cheney protested that he was innocent and said that James Lawley was biased against him, but the Judge replied that the case had been proved and sentenced the prisoner to seven years’ penal servitude.


[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 29, December 1980/January 1981; and again in No 208, January/February 2011]

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