Click above to hear the  '' Lincolnshire Poacher ''


by T.G. Barley

    The BARLEY family have lived in Costessey for over three centuries.  My great grandfather Theophilus BARLEY was the son of Anne BARLEY who married William ADCOCK of Costessey.  William was a cousin of John ADCOCK the notorious poacher of the early 19th century who was transported to Van Diemans Land in 1827.

(see Costessey Poachers in the 19th century)

Thomas Theophilus Barley 1893-1947 
Thomas Theophilus Barley

    The tradition of the Costessey poachers was carried on in the BARLEY family up to the 1950's.
My father Thomas Theophilus BARLEY who died in 1957, was an inveterate poacher.  His poaching methods, which he no doubt learnt from his father, George BARLEY, were the use of drag net for game birds, mostly pheasants and partridges; the  long net and snare for rabbits.  Very seldom did he carry a gun for poaching, his methods involved moving quietly and carefully at night.  As far as I know he never fell foul of the Law.

    In the season September to March he spent many daylight hours watching for where the game birds were roosting at night on the ground.  He checked the state of the grass or crops to see whether drag netting was feasible and the safety of moving around those fields on dark nights.   His poaching area covered Costessey and extended to the surrounding villages of Drayton, Taverham, Ringland, Bowthorpe,  Bawburgh, Lenwade, Marlingford and Hellesdon.  This was the area he could comfortably cover on his bicycle. He was very reluctant to be involved in poaching from motor-vehicles which more often led to poachers being apprehended.  He was careful not to make poaching mates of those who had been before the courts for poaching.  Particularly was he loath to  be implicated with known poachers in the  PAUL family of Norwich. ( three PAUL brothers of Costessey were involved in poaching in the 1820/30's)

    My fathers poaching career started before he joined the army (Green Howards) in 1911 and recommenced in the early 1920's when he came back to Costessey.  He continued poaching upto the mid 1950's.
    I have  a list of  47 people whom he recalled had gone poaching with him in his career.  Most of these ' poaching mates' were Costessey people, relatives and friends  It is surprising that so many respectable, law-abiding villagers should willingly involve themselves in this dubious activity.  It must  be that the element of adventure was more attractive than the reward

    His poaching was certainly no secret in the village.  He cleaned and mended his nets  quite openly for all to see and he even combined poaching with his Home Guard duties . On one occasion he released a bemused owl in the Home Guard room at the Baptist Chapel.  It had become entangled in his drag net in a poaching interlude on his way to Home Guard duty.

    His catch over the years must have very considerable.  As a child I can recall, winter after winter, him coming in out of the  wet, windy, winter night  and tipping a wet net and a heap of pheasants or partridges on to the linoleum of the living-room floor of our Council House in the West End, Costessey.  A good catch would be  7 to 10  brace of partridges or 6 brace of pheasants.

    He enjoyed poaching so much that he ignored the dangers which included being caught by police or gamekeepers, immersion in rivers or drains, stampeding livestock and the general hazard of negotiating the rough terrain in the dark.  Poaching dress was always an old raincoat with buttons cut off ( to stop them snagging in the net), tied with a piece of cord and rubber boots.  Sometimes a nights poaching would provide as much as a weeks work as a builders labourer but usually the rewards were small when shared out and just sufficed to provide ' tobacco and beer money'

    The game was usually sold to a game -dealer in Magdalen Street , Norwich (near Fye Bridge) who took pheasants, partridges, woodcock and snipe.  Poached birds were always in demand as they were cleanly killed and contained no gun-shot.  The birds were often carried on the bus from to the Game Dealer in Norwich by the wife of a poaching mate or sometimes by my mother Laura BARLEY..
  Their voluminous shopping bags must have been very heavy at times when they boarded the bus to Norwich.

    The only time we ever ate any of the game was at Christmas when a brace of pheasants would be enjoyed or when a small catch was not worth taking to Norwich.  Rabbits, which were usually sold in the village, more often found their way on to our table in the baked form.  Rabbit netting used to involve a dog,  to drive them into the long net but we never had a dog, so a human  beater had to drive them into the net while my father crouched at the net waiting to kill the entangled rabbits .       I accompanied my father a few times in my 'teens,  in the late 1940's, pulling the net for partridges or pheasants or beating the rabbits into the long net.    He was reluctant ,however ,to involve me.  Having seen that I got a good education at the City of Norwich School, which he never had, he was anxious not to endanger my good reputation as I was then working in the head office of the Norwich Union Fire Insurance  Society.  I am glad I experienced that mateship in the hard school of night-poaching.

    As I have said poaching was in our blood.  My father recalled an incident in which his father George BARLEY (a master bricklayer) was assaulted and kicked in the stomach by a game keeper.  George BARLEY a respected villager was at one time a Parish Councillor.  Costessey before the Great War was dominated and much dependent for employment upon LORD STAFFORD and his great Hall and Estates.  I understand from my father that George BARLEY had a lively and vocal disregard for the power and status of his Lordship.  Seeing the estate bailiff leading some great hounds through the village George told the bailiff that it was a shame those dogs were housed and fed in luxury when many children in the village often went hungry and lived in condemned cottages.

    The BARLEY's of that century like many other country people considered it their right to share in the wild life of field and forest as much as the landowners considered it their right to preserve it for themselves.

    My father was able to carry on this poaching tradition relatively unhindered bacause after the Great War the Jerningham estated were broken up and sold .  Gamekeepers were no longer around in numbers and the local farmers and the shooting syndicates were not so effective as the 19th century gamekeepers in preserving game from poachers.

    John ADCOCK, a ploughman,  who was banished in 1827 to serve seven years  as a convict labourer in Van Dieman's Land is unlikely ever to have returned to his native land and to his wife and family. He was transported in spite of the plea by Lord Stafford to the Home Secretary to let him serve his sentence in England.  His offence was taking three pheasants at Costessey the property of  Lord Stafford and having a long record of similar offences.  My father knowing nothing of his predecessor did the same thing 100 years later in the same field and coverts with no such dire consequences.

    Time has erased much of the memory of poaching and the harsh game laws from the minds of the present day Norfolk villagers.  How many know that people like themselves just for poaching were incarcerated in rotting hulks, chained in transport ships and taken to labour in a primitive colony.  There they were assigned as virtual slave labour to landowning masters and could be punished by the lash, leg irons, the tread mill and chain gang for what are now minor offences.

    The convict system was however not all bad,  in time most could receive a ticket-of-leave or conditional pardon.  Even those transported for life could gain a pardon, conditional upon them staying in the Australian colonies.  Hopefully some of these Costessey men became the forefathers of some of those who now live so well in ' this lucky country ' and call themselves Australians.

Australian Flag

Thomas G. Barley, August 2005

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