William Booth was born on Hall End Farm near Beaudesert, Warwickshire in 1776. Son of a church warden and farmer, he was one of eight children. In around 1799, he moved to Perry Barr and rented a farm named ‘Booth’s Farm’, where he became prosperous fairly quickly.
He returned to Hall Farm for a visit in 1808, during which his brother, John was murdered. William was accused, but later acquitted at the Warwick Assizes due to lack of evidence.
In February 1812, William’s servant Job Jones was arrested for using and possessing forged bank notes. Suspicion fell onto Booth, and his farmhouse was raided. As a result, he was found guilty and hanged for counterfeiting forged Bank of England notes.
The surge in counterfeit notes at the start of the nineteenth century was a result of the Napoleonic wars. The Bank of England was no longer able to pay out gold in exchange for bank notes and low denomination £1 and £2 notes were issued in 1797 for the first time. These notes were easy to reproduce and in the first two decades of the 19th century, British banks were plagued by persistent forgeries.
William Booth’s 200 acre farm allowed him the privacy to create his own mint, where he forged bank notes, royal stamps and coins.
On March 16th 1812, Constable J. Linwood plus ten constables and seven dragoons arrived to the farm to find it blockaded with three doors ‘so that it was almost invulnerable to the attacks of any assailant’. The property also had iron bars fixed to the windows. Entry was gained through an unprotected garret window, and a room with a printing press and machinery to forge coins was found. According to the handbill, Linwood witnessed Booth take some papers from a rolling press that was fixed to a bench in the middle of the room, and put them in the fire.
Forgery and circulating counterfeited bank notes was a crime punishable by death. Possession of these notes was punished by transportation to Australia, and this was the fate of Booth’s servant Job Jones.
Booth was executed on 15 August 1812. The handbill states that:
The prisoner heard his sentence without dismay & at the conclusion bowed respectfully to the court.
Between 11 and 12 o’clock the Prisoner was taken to the usual Place of Execution, where after some time spent in prayer he was suddenly launched into Eternity
According to a broadside from the time, initially the cord slipped and Booth fell eight to ten feet, leaving him motionless for a few minutes. On the second attempt he failed to drop his handkerchief (an indication that he was ready for his death), and asked to drop it again. In addition, it was also claimed that due to a re-drawing of a boundary line, Booth had to be re-buried. This inspired the 19th century ballad “Twice Tried, Twice Hung, Twice Buried”.
Transcription (Paragraph 1 and 2)
The trial and execution of William Booth
Who was Executed at Stafford, on Aug. 15, 1812.
For Counterfeiting Forged Bank of England Notes
William Booth, the unfortunate malefactor who has this day terminated his existence to the offended laws of his country, was born of respectable parents near Henly-In-Arden where his father is still living. He was about 33 years of age, and was brought up to no trade.
The crime for which he so justly forfeited his life, was for having in his possession without lawful excuse, a frame, mould, and instrument, for the making of paper, with the words “Bank of England” visible in the substance of the paper, and with having made or caused to be made divers [several] sheets of paper in the substance of which the said words “Bank of England” were visible, and with having the said paper in his possession without lawful excuse; and with forging divers Bank Notes for 10l. 5l. and 1l. each and divers blank bank notes, for the like sums, and also for coming divers pieces of coin resembling silver Dollars and Banks Tokens; and for forging the Hemp Or die to denote the duty of four pence; and also for forging divers promissory notes of Messrs. Raikes and Co. East Riding Bank, Hull, for the payment of one guinea each.
Booth, John N., Booths in History
This article was Document of the Month for Warwickshire County Record Office in May 2014. Further articles can be found on their website.