Committed

The Cambridge Chronicle of 26 April 1862 contained this brief report.

Commitments to the Castle. … George Casbon, Meldreth, and John Reed, Whaddon,
running away from the Bassingbourn union with the clothes, 21 days each.

What does this mean? The report gives quite a bit of information, providing you understand some of the terminology and context.

It’s clear from reading the paragraph that all the named individuals have been accused of various crimes or infractions. What does it mean that they were committed to the Castle?

In Cambridgeshire, i.e., Cambridge County, the Castle was the nickname for the county jail (gaol in the U.K.). Thus, being committed to the Castle means being sentenced to spend time in the jail.

The term Castle comes from the fact that the original county jail was a former Norman castle. The castle was demolished in 1807 and a new jail built a short distance away. The Castle nickname remained with the new building. The site of the old castle is now called Castle Mound.

View of Cambridge Castle and Plan of Cambridge Castle engraved by Warren and published in Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of England & Wales, 1786; Public Domain, courtesy of ancestryimages.com

I have posted about people being committed to the Castle before. Ten-year-old John Casbon was briefly committed (before spending the rest of his seven-year sentence at a reform school) after being convicted of arson in 1852. James Casbon was sentenced to two months in the Castle for child neglect in 1870.

Who were George Casbon and John Reed?

George is one of the most common Casbon forenames, but only two Georges were born before 1862, one in 1836 and one in 1846. We can eliminate the first, George S. Casbon, for a few reasons. Although born in Meldreth, by 1862 he was no longer living there. He was married and working as a Wheelwright at Barley, Hertfordshire. The profile of a working man doesn’t match that of someone who would be running away from the Bassingbourn union, as I will explain.

That leaves George Casbon, the son of James and Elizabeth (Waller) Casbon, born at Meldreth 28 November 1846 and baptized there 16 March 1847, as the only remaining candidate.[1] George’s mother, Elizabeth, died of consumption in 1852.[2]

As to John Reed, I have found only one person by that name from Whaddon. He appears in the 1851 census as John Read, age 6.[3] His sister Susanna Read, age 21, is listed as head of household and a pauper. The father, William Reed, died in 1847.[4] Mary Reed, the mother, died in 1849.[5] Thus, the household we see in the 1851 census consists of their orphaned children, with John being the youngest.

George Casbon and John Reed both would have been about 16 years old when they ran away from the Bassingbourn union; but what was the Bassingbourn union?

Bassingbourn union was another name for the Royston Union Workhouse. Royston is a large town located at the northern border of Hertfordshire. In 1862, the border between Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire ran through the middle of Royston. The Royston Union Workhouse was located on the north, or Cambridgeshire side, of Baldock Road. The workhouse was located within Bassingbourn Parish in Cambridgeshire, hence the term Bassingbourn union.

Detail map showing locations of Meldreth, Whaddon, and Royston; adapted from Map of the County of Cambridge, from an Actual Survey made in the years 1832 & 1833 (London: Greenwood & Co., 1834); courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection (https://www.davidrumsey.com/); image reproduction copyright © 2000 by Cartography Associates (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)
Detail from Ordnance Survey map, showing location of Royston Union Workhouse; Cambridgeshire LVIII.SW (Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1886); Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland, Creative Commons License

Workhouses were institutions created to house and feed the poor and infirm. Each workhouse was administered by a poor law union consisting of several parishes. The Royston workhouse was built in 1836 and designed to accommodate 300 inmates.[6] In general, workhouses were segregated by sex and age: there were sections for the aged and infirm, children, able-bodied men, and able-bodied women.[7] Inmates were issued clothing, usually made from coarse materials.[8] Able-bodied inmates were expected to work, often at menial tasks; schooling and sometimes apprenticeships were provided to children.[9]

Why were the two boys in the workhouse? In the case of John Reed, we know that he was an orphan. With no means of financial support, the workhouse was probably his only option.

The situation with George Casbon is more complicated. We know that he lost his mother in 1852. His younger sister, Emma, died at the workhouse (my emphasis) in November 1853.[10] This suggests that after the death of George’s mother, either some or all of the children were sent to the workhouse.

My confusion is compounded by the fact that I haven’t been able to positively identify James Casbon or any of his children (except for daughter, Lydia, who was married) in the 1861 England census. I have speculated that James and his son Thomas were listed (in the 1861 census) in the village of Cottenham with the surname Randle. In addition, I think I’ve found James’s two youngest sons, George and John, at the Royston workhouse. The census uses initials for the inmates. Among these are the initials “C.G.” and “C.J.” (the first initial represents the surname), both from Meldreth.[11] Incidentally, the initials “R.J.,” which might stand for John Reed, from Whaddon, are also present on the same census page.

The final detail from the Cambridge Chronicle article is that the two boys were committed to the Castle for the offense of “running away from the Bassingbourn union with the clothes.” It’s unclear whether the offense was running away or taking the clothes, although I suspect it was the latter. I wish there was a little more detail. Which clothes did they take—their own or those belonging to other inmates? What did they intend to do with the clothes? Such is the way with family research—you never have all the answers.

What became of George and John? I’ll save most of George’s life for later posts but will say here that he eventually married and had a family of his own. He died at the village of Fowlmere, 18 October 1897.[12] He was 51 years old.

John Reed’s fate is unknown. I haven’t been able to identify him in any records after 1862.


[1] Meldreth (Cambridgeshire) Parish Records, baptisms [1813–1867], p. 63, no. 501; browsable images, FamilySearch ((https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 Apr 2017).
[2] England, General Register Office, death registration, Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1852, vol. 3A/134, no. 117.
[3] 1851 England census, Whaddon (Cambridgeshire), enumeration district 11, p. 4, line 12; imaged at Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8860 : accessed 24 Apr 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Whaddon >4 >image 5 of 23.
[4] “England, Cambridgeshire Bishop’s Transcripts, 1599-1860,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1465708 : accessed 24 Apr 2020) >007681883 >image 704 of 733.
[5] “England, Cambridgeshire Bishop’s Transcripts, 1599-1860,” accessed 24 Apr 2020 >007681883 > image 709 of 733.
[6] Peter Higginbotham,“Royston, Herfordshire,” in The Workhouse: The story of an institution … (http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Royston/ : accessed 24 Apr 2020).
[7] “Workhouse,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workhouse#1834_Act : accessed 24 Apr 2020), rev. 18 Mar 2020, 01:28.
[8] Higginbotham, “Workhouse Uniform,” in The Workhouse: The story of an institution … .
[9] Higginbotham, “Work” and “Children in the Workhouse,” in The Workhouse: The story of an institution … .
[10] England, General Register Office, death registration, Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1853, vol. 3A/107, no. 319.
[11] 1861 England census, Bassingbourn (Cambridgeshire), enumeration district 5, p. 77 (stamped) verso (6th page of entries for Royston Union Workhouse), lines 4 & 5; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8767 : accessed 24 April 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Bassingbourn >District 5 >image 23 of 25; National Archives.
[12] “Deaths,” Saffron Walden (Essex) Weekly News, 22 Oct 1897, p. 8, col. 8; British Newspaper Archive (accessed 14 Sep 2017.

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