Aldbourne Heritage Centre


Between 1800 and 1827 a staggering 2340 people (2245 men and 95 women) were executed in England and Wales for crimes ranging from murder to theft. It was a period of severe criminal ‘justice’. One of those was a Dabchick: John Matthews alias Jones.

John Matthews was born in Aldbourne in 1791 to parents William and Mary Matthews. The Aldbourne Parish Register records that John was baptised in St Michael’s Church on 6 November 1791. According to a newspaper article at the time of his death, it appears that John later fathered a child in Aldbourne and was required to marry the girl by the parish officers but he ran away either before or just after the wedding (but there is no evidence of a marriage in the Parish Register). He assumed the name Jones and lived six years in Berkshire and later in Henley. There he seduced a Sarah Moore under a promise of marriage and by whom he had another child.  She later visited him in gaol and only then discovered that he was a married man.  John’s final days are best told through a poignant newspaper article published in the Oxford University & City Herald on 10 August 1822, a few days after his death. The article has been edited to suit the space in this magazine. The full article can be found via the online British Newspaper Archive (by subscription).

‘On Monday last John Matthews, alias Jones was executed at Oxford Gaol for robbing and ill-using Joseph Thomas, a waggoner, near Nettlebed, Oxfordshire. Although some delay took place in the falling of the drop, yet no pain to the wretched malefactor was occasioned for he died instantaneously and without a struggle. It is impossible to speak too highly of the conduct of the chaplain towards the victim from the time of the sentence having been passed to his leaving for execution. The fervent piety of the chaplain’s exhortations drew a full confession of his guilt from the prisoner and the most sincere repentance. The prisoner had told the Magistrate that he knew of the robbery of the waggoner but he did not commit the deed. At first he made a similar statement to the chaplain which had the appearance of the truth. However at the time appointed for him to receive the solemn sacrament, the chaplain pointed out the dreadful state in which John would place himself were he to make a mockery of the sacrifice of the Saviour. John listened with fear and trembling and at length exclaimed that he was a miserable wretched sinner. He declared that he alone had attacked the waggoner. The chaplain administered a second sacrament the day before the execution. John passed that day in prayer, deploring the wretched life he had lead and blaming his wickedness on Sabbath-breaking and neglect of worship. He bewailed his misspent life and hoped that his dreadful end would be a warning to other sinners ere it was too late. He begged the chaplain to give all possible publicity to his dying confession and declaration that he alone was the guilty person and asked to speak with the victim to beg his forgiveness but the waggoner was too far away. He also confessed to other crimes. John shook hands with the executioner and begged him to be attentive to his duty. On the morning of the execution he again received the sacrament from the chaplain and declared his readiness to suffer the just punishment of the law.  At eight o’clock he went to the fatal spot which terminated his earthly existence’.

John Matthews, executed on 5th August 1822 for highway robbery, once lived in Aldbourne.